Monday, August 6, 2012

Meal Planning, Take Two

Now, those of you who know me will know that I ALWAYS plan out my meals.  To wing it at the grocery store has not been an option for me since the first week of my marriage.  Lately, though, as I have been adjusting to homeschooling and adjusting to an intensely active toddler, I've been rethinking my planning methods.  My normal method has been to plan weekly based on the sales that are running here in Cincinnati. We have very competitive grocery chains here in our area, so I've had very good success keeping the costs down using this method.  The problem has come more for me as I'm waiting too long to think through the upcoming week and find myself scrambling to write out my plan before running out the door.  It's still successful, but I feel like we're repeating the same things way too often.

Not too long after this phenomenon began, I was reading a friend's blog post about planning meals monthly  and seasonally.  It sounded like a great idea so I gave it a whirl.  Here's my opinion...for some people, it would be a great way to plan.  I like the idea of planning once a month and not having to think it through so many times.  However, I found that I was spending more per week following this method because it didn't allow for the freedom to buy according to sales as much.  I think if you live in a rural area where your options for shopping are limited, a seasonal rotation would be a great idea.  Here it would still be helpful for those of you who have a little more available fund-wise and would rather have a set plan.

What I've decided to do is a more tentative approach.  I'm planning monthly, incorporating many dishes that I know we regularly eat and can  make cheaply at any time.  However, I reevaluate every week and make several changes as the ads come out.  My monthly plan is not something I could print up and hang on the refrigerator.  It's way too scratched out and edited!  However, I've found that it's really helpful to at least have a starting point to go on for those weeks when my brain power is not at its fullest...something that happens more and more often as the pregnancy progresses.  I've made a pretty comprehensive list of meals, separated into three sections...meals to be made every month, meals to be made every other month and meals that I make only occasionally.  Next to these columns I've included a short list of new recipes I've been meaning to try for who knows how long.  It's been a great help so far.

I'll keep tinkering around with my planning methods, and if I find that this system works really well for us, I'll post more particulars.  I can't be the only one struggling with my planning skills.  Either way, it never hurts to reevaluate here and there.  I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Creative Leftovers...Prunes

Okay, maybe this isn't what you'd normally think of as a leftover, but if you've ever had a reason to buy a container of prunes (ie surgery, pregnancy), you may be in the predicament of repeatedly forgetting they're there.  Because of their potent powers (you know what I mean!) I've been a little hesitant to let the kids at them, which is my normal method for eradicating fruit.

No, it's not the handsomest of fruits, but boy is it good for you!


Here is the happy medium I've found for using them up safely.  I've been using them diced in place of raisins. I don't know how comfortable I feel with the normal handful of raisins for a snack thing, but I have great success with adding them to my baked goods.  I recently chopped them about the size of raisins and added them to some whole wheat carrot muffins and they were fantastic.  (As an aside, I'll add that we go for the super healthy muffins for breakfasts so Daddy doesn't have to partake!  I think he'd rather die than eat a whole wheat, flax-infused carrot muffin with prunes in it!  Trust me, it's way tastier than it sounds!).  I've also tried adding chopped prunes to our morning oatmeal with good success.  We're nearly done with the container now...I think we'll have to actually buy some raisins or apples soon.

Do you have any great ideas for using up spare prunes?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pulled BBQ Chicken

I've really been hunting for ways to eliminate oven usage this summer, considering the 100degree + weather during my last trimester.  My friend, Cindy, posted this recipe on her blog a while ago, and I thought it'd be a great opportunity to give it a try.  It was fantastic!  With only three boneless, skinless chicken breasts, we had enough meat for eight pulled chicken sandwiches--plenty for dinner for our family, plus a good bit left for Andy's lunch the next day.  It's inexpensive and easy and so tasty!  Try this link out and leave a comment if you get to try it!

Cindy's Pulled BBQ Chicken

Friday, July 13, 2012

B-B-Q Sauce

Every now and then you just need to think outside the sauce bottle, right?  Or perhaps, if you're like me, you've forgotten that your stash of cheap sauce is gone mid grilling!

Here's a quick and easy recipe for a good Barbecue sauce from our contributor Claudia.

Good B-B-Q Sauce


1 1/2 cup catsup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. liquid smoke

Mix well, heat, simmer 5 minutes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Using Flax Seed Meal Update

I've had a little break from preaching the benefits of flax seed meal, although I've continued to use it on a regular basis.  Last night I was able to experiment with in a way I've really been curious about.  I was out of eggs (I naturally forgot about it) and started to make some muffins.  It was the perfect opportunity to test out the claims I read on the flax seed bag.

To use flax seed meal in place of eggs in baking, measure out 1 Tbs. of flax seed meal and put into a small bowl.  Add 2 Tbs. of water to the flax seed and let it soak for two minutes, then add it to your baking just as you would regular eggs.  Use this once for each egg needed.

I tried this in my banana blueberry muffins last night and it worked out great.  The texture was great and they were nice and fluffy and lovely.  I'll keep trying it out in other things and keep you all updated.  This is a way that using flax seed meal could really pay!  It would be nice to save the eggs for the good stuff!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Baked Spaghetti

Here is another recipe for a meal that was given to us during Andy's recovery.  My mother-in-law made this for us, and it has such a great flavor I couldn't help but beg for the recipe.  This is also another great freezer recipe that I plan on for when the new baby comes in September.  As an added plus, it's cheap to make and easy, too!

Baked Spaghetti


3/4 lb. spaghetti
1 lb. ground beef
1 jar or can spaghetti sauce
1/4 cup zesty Italian dressing
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
shredded mozzarella cheese

Cook spaghetti according to package instructions.  Meanwhile, cook ground beef in skillet.  When beef is done, drain and add spaghetti sauce.  Simmer for about 10 minutes.  When spaghetti is done, drain well, and add Italian dressing and Parmesan cheese.  Mix well.

Put 1/2 the sauce with meat in the bottom of a 2 quart casserole.  Place spaghetti mixture on top.  Add remaining sauce.  Top with mozzarella cheese.

Bake at 425 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until bubbly.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Daughter Date!

Here was a great idea for a Mommy/daughter date from our contributor, Susan.


This breakfast came from McD's because it was on the way home from the spot I dropped off Al and Timothy to hunt.  It was so worth it.
Feed everyone else their breakfast, especially on a day when they have to eat and run, then just set up breakfast for you and your daughter. You won't regret the extra effort you have to put into it to make it happen, and you will be giving her a very precious memory. ♥

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

Yes, yes, I know.  It's been just about forever since I've posted here.  Although the morning sickness is totally gone for me, it's been a challenge to write lately because of busyness and just plain tiredness.  I'm turning over a new leaf, though.  I've been planning multiple posts in my mind and just need to sit down and write it out!

Here is a recipe that I've been meaning to post for a while now.  While my husband was newly home from the hospital, we had many meals brought to us by the lovely ladies of our church.  Here was one of my favorites from Pat--an easy meal that freezes really well.  When I make it, I plan on doing a double, or possibly triple batch to load up the freezer.

Chicken and Broccoli Casserole


2 boxes instant wild rice mix (such as Uncle Ben's)--cooked
4 chicken breasts--cooked and diced
10 oz. frozen chopped broccoli--defrosted
1/2 onion, chopped (optional)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cups shredded cheese (your choice)

Put cooked rice in the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole.  Sprinkle onion and broccoli on top of rice.  Put chicken on top of broccoli.  Mix the two soups together and spread over chicken.  Sprinkle cheese on top.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Pancake Problem

I don't know if you have this problem or not, but every time I make pancakes I overshoot a little.  Inevitably I make enough batter for 5-10 too many pancakes.  They never do well in the refrigerator for reheating...they just get soggy.  What's a frugal girl to do?

My friend, Christine suggested this solution.  Freeze any leftover pancakes and reheat them as needed during the week in the toaster.  I'm happy to say, after a few surplus freezes, we had plenty for a weekday fast breakfast.  We tried it this morning and the pancakes were crisp on the edges and tasty.  It was a great tip for a fast breakfast that even the kids can make.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hello All...

After a very long bout of morning sickness and surgery recovery for my husband, I'm feeling a little better and am planning on posting here on a regular basis once again.  I have to say, life looks a lot nicer from the second trimester!  Stay tuned for more recipes and frugal tips.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bear With Me...

I'm so sorry, but I'm deep in the throes of morning sickness right now, so I really can't bear to think about this blog much!  I'll keep more up to date when I'm able.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Extreme Leftover Makeovers . . . . Part One

by Christine

Last night's chili stares me in the face.  While delicious the night before, the cold lump of gooeyness is not particularly appetizing right now.  I could merely reheat last night's meal, and serve it for the second time in a row . . . or I could get creative.  Tonight, I choose the high ground . . . I will use my creativity for the domestic purpose of stretching leftovers from their original form and transforming them into a new creation.

Tonight's plan is simple.  Boil some shell pasta.  After the pasta is cooked and drained, mix in some of the chili remains from last night.  Spread the mixture in a casserole dish (it already looks and smells better).  Top with a generous helping of shredded cheese.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees or until heated through.  Dinner Complete. 

(If you were a real domestic hero, you could make some veggies and some bread - tonight, I'm lucky to get dinner on the table!!!)

Now, how do you get creative and make something new from something old?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Easy Blueberry Pancakes

My friend, Cindy always comes up with some good ideas.  Here is a recent one that I am very excited to try out soon!

Easy "Blueberry" Pancakes

What a clever way to get sugar-free flavor when the fruit is out of season!  Thanks, Cindy!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Hows of Frugality...

This may seem like a very simplistic post at first, but understanding what frugality is and getting my thoughts in line with frugality was a big key to helping me make good savings.  There are a lot of people trumpeting the praises of couponers and so-called sales as the key to keeping your costs under control.  There is some validity to that, but cutting costs is achieved by thinking through your purchases and expenses before they even happen.

To me, key aspects of frugality include a day to day evaluation of what we use by these standards:

1. Do I really need this?


This is a big one to me.  We assume we need many things that we really can do without.  Do we need to buy seventeen different cleansers to clean our house, or is there one or two that can be used for everything?  Do I really need this (usually disposable) item, or is there something I can buy that can have many uses instead?   If I put in a little elbow grease, can I do without this?

Some things we choose to do without in my house: paper towels (we use rags), paper napkins (we use cloth homemade napkins), ziploc bags (I use plastic, washable containers), snack packs (I buy cheap fold-top bags and portion myself).

2. Can I make this last longer?


There are some things that you just can't do without, or you really don't want to have to do without.  I get it!  There are some things I choose to buy because the convenience factor is important enough for me to spend the money...say for, dishwasher detergent.  It's pricey, much more so than regular sink washing detergent, but it's oh, so much more helpful to use a dishwasher.

Every family needs to evaluate what is important and decide where to spend the bucks.  There's no one answer for every family, because every family functions differently and has different needs.  When  you find something that's important enough to you to spend on, see if you can make it last longer.  Do you really need to fill the entire detergent dispenser to clean your dishes?  Do you use too much laundry soap?  Check the labels on things and experiment a little.  You may find that it'll last much longer, thus you won't have to buy as much per year.

3. Remember that every cent counts.


We all know the famous adage "A penny saved is a penny earned."  Changing your thinking about the small things across the board can really make the savings add up.  I've found that when I begin to think "It's only ten cents more, let's get that one" as opposed to "This is ten cents less, let's get this", I gradually see an increase in  our costs.  Granted, there are times when it's worth it to spend the extra ten cents, but many times it really doesn't matter.

The cents really do add up! Let's say you save ten cents on five separate items at the grocery store.  Whoopee...that's only a fifty cents.  That's two dollars per month...twenty-four dollars per year.  That may not seem like a lot, but it is savings that your family doesn't even miss.  You'd miss that money a lot more if you skipped a date with your spouse to save money, or couldn't take two of your kids to the zoo that year.

4. Frugality is a choice.


You can be frugal with your resources, no matter what they are.  Someone who makes $200,000 per year can choose to blindly spend or evaluate every purchase, the same as someone who makes $20,000.  When you take the time to look at your expenses and evaluate the necessity or frequency of them...for groceries, for entertainment, for car/home maintenance, for gift-giving, you're taking huge strides toward frugality.  We Americans tend to be very wasteful and envious.  Just because someone on HGTV has something doesn't mean we really need it, too.  Let's not judge people by what they have or how much they spend, but on the person that they really are.  Blind spenders are unwise, and often selfish.  Even with unlimited resources, money can often be put to much better use.  There are people and charities that really need things.  If you are lucky enough to not have to be frugal, you can still choose to be frugal, so you can leave something for your kids or others who have needs.  Some of the most frugal people I know are people who have what I would consider lots of money at their disposal.  They just have the self-control to not spend it all.

Think it through...everyone has room for growth in this area...even me!  One thing I've learned is that frugality is a conscious daily decision, but it's also growing experience.  It doesn't happen overnight, but all your efforts help toward your goal.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

For those of you with a Swiffer Wet Jet...

A few years ago, I finally bit the bullet and bought a Swiffer Wet Jet.  There are some things I like about it, but there are some real financial negatives about it, too. (batteries??? in a mop???  seriously???).

If you love your Swiffer and need a way to cheapen it up a bit, consider this.  I recently saw at the Dollar Tree in the cleaning stuff section that they had small, rectangular microfiber cloths.  They were roughly the size of the super expensive pads that I needed to buy again soon, so I got some and decided to try it out.

They come by twos, so of course, that makes them fifty cents each.  They stuck just as well as the pads, and did a great job of cleaning!  Plus, they're washable!  These washable pads are probably about the same price as the disposable ones, or possibly cheaper if you buy the pads at full price.

I've seen that the Dollar Tree also carries the dry, disposable cloths for sweeping as well.  Search around the Dollar Tree...there are great deals to be had if you're a clever shopper.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Make It Cheap: Broccoli Casserole

Sometimes you just find a recipe that sounds great, but you just don't want to plunk down the bucks to make it.  I've found that  many recipes can be slightly adapted to make it cheap...and it often is even better!  Here's a recent experiment.


Broccoli Casserole (the real recipe...I'll give you what I did after)

2 10 oz pkg frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
2 c cooked rice
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 small onion, chopped
butter

Cook onion in butter.  Add remaining ingredients and cook until cheese is melted.  Put in a 2 qt. casserole dish.  Bake at 350 degrees 1 hour.  Can freeze it before you cook, just add 10-15 minutes to the bake time if you're cooking it from frozen.



Here's what I did...



Broccoli Casserole by Hannah


Throw a bag of frozen broccoli on the counter to thaw.  Melt a big spoonful of margarine in saucepan (1/3 c?) and add the small chopped onion to it.  Add 2-3 T. flour and a chicken bouillon cube, cook a minute, then add milk a little at a time until it's about the consistency of cream of chicken soup.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cube up about 1 1/2 inches of velveeta and pitch it in.  Stir until it melts.  Add a handful of cheddar cheese, and stir until it melts.  Put in the cooked rice.  Chop up the now mostly defrosted broccoli and pitch it in.  Add salt and pepper if necessary, then bake as directed in the recipe.


By doing this I saved two cans of cream of chicken soup, and about half the cheese with things I always have on hand...and it was amazingly good!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Just a quick cooking tip...

Do you ever grimace when you think of chopping and peeling because of the inevitable mess?  I used to.  Now I don't mind so much, because I've come up with a cheap method for keeping all the messies contained.

Before you begin you chop and peel-a-thon, grab one of those always present plastic grocery store bags that you probably have stored somewhere around your kitchen (at least if you're like me).  Open the bag and flatten it out immediately above your cutting board, or right in front of you for peeling.  It's so easy to just pitch the mess in if it's there before the mess happens!  No nasty trips to the trash can, trailing carrot peels across the floor!  No drippy egg shells!  When you're done with your mess making, simply tie the bag and pitch it.  It also helps keep flies out of the trash to have all the food products contained.

I have to say, Rachel Rae does something similar.  She has a garbage bowl that she uses like this.  It's a great idea, but my question is why dirty a bowl if you don't have to?  Also...who wants to have to scrape out those sticky things when you're washing the dishes?  Not me...much easier just to pitch it in a bag that's free and disposable.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Almond Ring Coffee Cake

Here is one of my Mom's personal favorites that our contributor, Claudia makes.  It is very simple, but has such a lovely flavor!  I'm hoping to be able to nab a few more of Claudia's fantastic breakfast pastries in the future.  Brew up a pot of coffee to go along with this; they really are the perfect match.

Almond Ring Coffee Cake
 3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter or margarine
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg

FILLING:
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract

GLAZE:
2 to 3 Tbs. milk
1 tsp. almond extract
1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
Sliced almonds, toasted, optional

In a mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour and yeast.  In a saucepan over low heat, bring milk, butter, sugar, and salt to 120-130 degrees; stir into flour mixture.  Add egg; beat for 3 minutes. Stir in enough remaining flour to for a soft dough.  Turn onto a floured surface; knead 4-6 minutes.  Place in a  greased bowl, turning once to grease top.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.  Beat filling ingredients until smooth.  Punch dough down.  Roll into an 18 inch x 12 inch rectangle.  Starting at the long end, roll up tightly and seal edges.  Place on a greased baking sheet, sealing ends to form a ring.  Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.  Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden.  Remove to a wire rack. Combine milk and extract; whisk in sugar until smooth.  Drizzle over coffee cake.  Sprinkle with almonds, if desired.  Yield: 8-10 servings.

Source: Taste of Home

Friday, January 20, 2012

How (and Why) to Shop at Aldi...

Now, I realize this seems like a bit of a simplistic topic, but not everyone is up on the rules and quirks of being an Aldi's consumer.



For those of you who are NOT couponers and don't have a competitive bunch of grocery stores around you, Aldi is a great place for you to shop.

I have memories of Aldi from back in the '90s when everything was canned, the meat and produce was atrocious, and the best you could find was cheap prices on Veg-All.  In fact, this memory kept me from taking advantage of the Aldi that is just down the road.  Then entered a hike in milk prices, along with an Aldi milk sale.  I went to the trouble of going there as well as my normal stop, and was able to save nearly $5.00 per week just on milk, eggs, and bread.  Then I got a coupon in the mail for $5.00 a $25.00 worth of groceries for Aldi and I rose to the challenge of doing all my grocery shopping at Aldi for two weeks in a row.  I have to say, I wouldn't want to be exclusively an Aldi shopper here, since the grocery stores are so competitive, but in the rural area I grew up in, I'd seriously consider it.  The most remarkable difference I've found in Aldi is in the quality of produce.  Not everything is fantastic there, but in my estimation, the quality is about as good as Walmart's produce, at a fraction of the cost.  If you're lucky enough to be there when they're getting rid of day old bread, you're really in for a steal.  They sell white loaves for as cheap as 15 cents and wheat for around 30 cents, and they're delicious.  Their bread is much better than any of the generics I've had from Walmart, Kroger, or Meijer.

If you're in a grocery rut, and you'd like to try something new to lower your costs, get $10.00 in cash and try out your local Aldi...it may surprise you how much you like it!



Now, here are some things to remember about shopping at Aldi's.

1. They don't pay anyone to collect carts.  They give an incentive to their customers to bring the carts back, namely, you have to put a quarter in the cart to use it.  You will get it back when you return the cart, but don't forget your quarter.  It will make you miserable, I promise.

2. They don't provide bags.  You need to either bring your own, or hunt around the store for boxes to use.  My kids get the biggest kick out of bagging our own groceries...they think it's one of the best things about shopping at Aldi's.

3. There are very few marketing techniques used at Aldi's.  If you rely on end displays and flashy signs, you may be surprised at how little you're saving.  The savings are all over at Aldi's.  If you know what things cost from store to store (I'll be posting on this some in the future), you'll see the prices and notice a difference immediately.  They generally don't give you visual clues to the deals--you have to be a smart shopper to start with.

4. If you have small kids to take to the store and you're overwhelmed at the prospect, Aldi's is a great place to start.  Their stores tend to be small and rather informal.  It's easy for you to see a runner...and the bathrooms are small and conveniently located so you can continue shopping while you wait.  They are very family friendly, in my opinion.

5. Their coffee is terrible.  This is just a personal head's up.  MOST of the generics I've tried have been really good.  Not so with the coffee...so look out.

6. The fresh meats are usually not a deal, at least here, if you shop meat sales at other stores.  The quality seems to be pretty good, but I haven't been overly impressed with the prices of them.  The frozen meats tend to be a great buy, however.

7. If you're someone who doesn't do a lot of cooking from scratch, but you want to cut costs, this is the place for you to be.  There is an Aldi version of just about every pre-prepared or meal kit I've ever seen at a fraction of the price.  It's a handy place to shop the week you're just too busy to cook.

8.  Shop at Aldi for staples like crackers, canned fruit, and snack foods...that's where you get the best consistent deals.

9. Bring cash or a debit card...they won't accept credit.

Try it out, and if you're a loyal Aldi's shopper, give me a shout out about your favorite/most dreaded aspects of the store!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Flax Seed Challenge (part 2)

Here's my most recent update on the flax seed challenge.  Congratulations to me, I've purchased my first flax seed product.  I was thinking about buying some last week, but was a little put off about what to buy.  They have golden flax seeds or regular flax seeds about the size of a sesame seed, but they also have flax seed meal.

regular flax seeds

I needed to think on the practicality for a week or so, and I decided to go with the flax seed meal for this reason:  it'll be less visible to the nutrient-resisting faction in my family.  If there is a way I can incorporate the flax seed without it being visible, then that's definitely for us.  After all, it's a time-honored Mom tradition to hide vegetables and whole grains within foods, isn't it?

That was my line of thinking, then a clearance at Meijer sealed the deal.  Meijer carries a medium size bag of regular flax seed (16 oz.) and flax seed meal for the regular price of $3.59.  For some reason, the meal was clearanced to $2.99 this week.  I took it as Divine intervention (after all, the virtuous woman is supposed to seek wool and flax, right?), or perhaps just an ironic prod in the right direction! 

The Bob's Red Mill bag has all kinds of interesting information on nutritional value, as well as the heart-stopping claim that you can use a flax seed meal/water combination in place of eggs in baked goods.  Can that be true?  Only 2 Tablespoons to replace an egg?  If it is true, the purchase will be worth it!  

I'll be giving it a whirl soon, and keep you updated on the results! 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sixty Minute Rolls by Susan

This recipe is so super easy that I made 10 batches of it the day I catered a rehearsal dinner for 100....and all the cooking & baking was done within a 24 hour time frame. If you are making these for a banquet or a family reunion, the best way to store them without taking up a lot of space is to use shirt boxes which can be found cheaply at a Dollar Tree. Then stack the covered boxes one on top of each other....filled with rolls which have cooled.



Recipe for Sixty Minute Rolls
Ingredients: 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup real butter, 4 to 5 cups bread flour, 3 TBSP sugar, 1 teasp salt, 2 pkgs active dry yeast.....directions: add 3 1/2 cups of flour, sugar, salt and yeast to mixing bowl. Mix until blended. Place milk, water and butter into microwaveable 2 cup measuring cup and heat for 1 1/2 minutes. Pour into flour mixture and mix until well blended. Add remaining flour 1/2 cup at a timec sturring well between each addition until dough forms ball and cleans sides of the bowl. Knead for several minutes (I use my kitchen aide mixer). Lift dough out of the bowl and spray bowl with nonstick cooking spray. Place ball of dough back in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover, let rise in warm draft free place for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Punch dough down. Turn dough onto floured surface. Divide dough into half. Roll each half into a lg circle. Spread with softened real butter if desired (I do this step). Using a pizza cutter, cut into 12 pieces. Beginning at wide end, roll each piece up into a crescent. Place rolls on greased baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Cover, and let rise for 15 minutes. Bake at 425 degrees for 12 mins. Brush with melted butter. Makes 2 dozen.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Looking for Silicone Muffin Cups?

I thought I'd post on this, because I was very excited about this deal.  In honor of the upcoming Valentine's Day season, the Dollar Tree is all decked out in pinks and reds.  One of the items they had this time was silicone muffin cups.  There are six in each package, which of course sells for $1.  I got two, thus providing enough for my entire metal muffin tin.

Using silicone eliminates the need for both greasing and purchasing of paper muffin cups.  I tried them last night and they work great and clean up really easily.  They're usually much more expensive than $1/6, so if you want a cheap way to try them out, swing over to the Dollar Tree!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Flax Seed Challenge...

Over the holidays, my sister-in-law Kathi, and I were chatting about some of our cooking and nutrition challenges.  Somehow we got onto the topic of flax seed.

golden flax seed
For those of us unfamiliar with flax seed, they do have a startling number of health benefits!  Kathi apparently was given some by a friend, but hasn't been able to try it yet.  I've never bought it, but having heard some about it, I thought it might be a good try.  I've heard that some of the organicy, so-called 'crunchy' Moms use flax seed all the time in many different ways.

It is really good for you, and after pricing it, I've found that it's not out of this world expensive, so can we incorporate it into our diets?  Can we afford it on a regular basis?  Will the hubby and kids like it or even be able to tell?  Will we notice any health benefits (such as cancer fighting, cholesterol lowering, weight-loss miracles)?  I don't know, but I've decided to give it a try.  I'm 'making' Kathi try, too, for additional input, and since she already has it at home and hasn't tried it yet.  

I'll be posting occasionally about my flax seed challenge.  I'll be pricing it, reviewing the health benefits, thinking through any necessary frugal considerations, and I'll let you know what we think of it overall.  Let's start off this year at least giving this super food a chance, shall we?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Creative Leftovers...Smoky Potato and Corn Chowder

Okay, one of my favorite things to do is find creative ways to use up those leftovers cluttering up your refrigerator.  If I can make something yummy and new, no one minds eating leftovers.  Here was my most recent challenge which worked out beautifully.

Leftovers: Mashed potatoes, corn, some limp celery, Polish Sausage.

My solution: Make soup using my method found here.

In a stock pot, saute 3 carrots, 2 stalks celery, and 1/2 onion in a little oil.  Add salt, pepper, and a little parsley. When tender, add 2 cloves smashed garlic.  Dice up the 1/2 link Polish Sausage pretty small and cook with the vegetables until brown.

Add in 3 cups chicken broth (made with chicken base and water), mashed potatoes (there was quite a bit leftover...maybe 3 cups?).  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour.

Add in the corn and heat through.  Adjust seasoning...I need a little extra salt, and a fair amount of pepper.  Then whip around my immersion blender a little just to make it creamy.

Mmmm...it was fantastic. The sausage added a hint of smokiness that really flavored the soup well. I garnished it with sour cream and a little cheddar cheese on top.  It was so popular that the kids and I each had seconds and didn't save any for my hubby!  You snooze, you lose!  (Actually, he wasn't hungry, so he was having self control, but we showed no mercy anyway.)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

To Coupon or Not to Coupon...

I've had a lot of questions lately about my grocery budgeting and how I keep costs low.  I've written a previous post (see it here), which explains some of my personal tips to try and cut the grocery budget.  I'm amazed lately, though that when someone finds out my grocery budget, they automatically assume that I'm an extreme couponer.

I'd like to just set the record straight a bit on that point.  I like coupons.  I get great deals using coupons.  Coupons are great, but they don't keep my costs low.  I use coupons to get things we would normally just do without!  Every now and then, it'll help reduce my costs substantially, but I have to say, if I had no more coupons tomorrow, my budget would stay the same...or close to the same.

My meal plans are not planned around coupon deals, but around what is always cheap, or what's on sale that week.  A lot of my frugality is achieved through doing without things.  We don't buy paper towels or paper napkins.  We don't often buy chips or frozen foods.  We don't buy pricey detergents.  We aren't fixed on one particular brand for most things.  There are a lot of conveniences that are paid for at the grocery store.  As the prices keep going up and up, it's a challenge to me to find new ways to cut the costs.  What do we really need, and what is nice, but not worth the price?

I wanted to clarify this, because I've shopped for years without being able to use coupons.  I want to be an encouragement to those of you who are looking for ways to economize, but don't want to invest 20 hours of your week clipping.  There are other ways.  Women in the depression cut costs and made do on next to nothing without couponing...we can do it, too.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Note on Entertaining...

I recently read a great post on the reality of being a good hostess.  To be real, this is something that has been a real challenge for me, especially as a newlywed, but I love to entertain now.  Read up Cindy's take on a good hostess: Splenda = serving.