Saturday, April 30, 2011

Big Meal on the Cheap (and Healthy)

We were out of town all day today.  We went to dear nephew's birthday party and it was a good time, but I definitely could've used the time to clean the house.  Oh well, my family knows how I live; they will deal with it.  All the clutter is picked up.  Hopefully tomorrow I can run the vacuum and get the kids to dust the living room before everyone comes.

Since we had quite a bit of time in the car today, I spent it menu planning.  I have most of May done, but more importantly, I have the menu for the big party tomorrow.  Here goes...

BBQ pork steaks (from the freezer)
BBQ/grilled chicken breast tenders (from the freezer)
potato salad (have all the ingredients)
cauliflower and broccoli salad (had to buy both cauliflower and broccoli, but have the rest)
fruit tray (had to buy kiwi, strawberries, cantaloupe, and pineapple)
fruit salad (need frozen peaches, and a banana)
wheat rolls/buns (have all the ingredients)
chips (I bought some last week to take to my Mom's.  She is bringing them back.)
2 two liter bottles of soda (for my side of the family who takes it intravenously)
tea (have it)
gallon of milk (to eat with the cake-must purchse this as I've let myself run out)
cake (1/4 sheet chocolate cake with buttercream icing-and lots of icing flowers for my brother)

Total out of pocket will be about $25.  This will feed 14 people, a couple of whom can eat the amount of 3 people each) and my brother who is excessively hooked on processed foor and picky to boot.

Pictures will be forth coming.  Right now I'm going to go start cooking.  Oh, and I probably won't be getting 8 hours of sleep tonight.  Eventually, I will do better on that baby step.

My original thought was to make a curried chicken salad, but I think I will make that with the leftovers and have it for dinner on Monday night as one of the girls has a Girl Scout meeting and both have volleyball.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Rice-A-Roni: Only Waaayyyy Better and 1000 Island Dressing

When I was thinking about what I was going to do this week, these recipes didn't come to mind, but as I was getting lunch ready today, I knew I had to share.  Food this yummy is too good not to share with friends.

Let's start with the rice.  It is a seasoned rice that tastes much like chicken flavored Rice-A-Roni. It has a very similar taste without all of the yucky preservatives.  I made it with brown rice, but I'm sure that white rice could be used too, if desired.  The original recipe came from Taste of Home as a prepared mix where you just pull out what you need.  I don't eat it often enough to need to have the mix prepared ahead of time, so I just pare down the orginial recipe to make what I'm needing for that meal.  I used 2 cups of rice today and it made enough for the daycare kids' lunch, my lunch and I'll have plenty to repurpose into Spanish rice tonight to have with our nachos.

Here is my version of Chicken Rice-A-Roni
  • 2 cups brown rice

  • 2 Tbsp. dried parsley flakes

  • 1 teaspoon onion powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  • dash of dried thyme

  • 4 1/2 cups chicken broth

  • 1 tablespoon butter

  • Mix all ingredients in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.  After 45 minutes, remove from heat, keep covered until serving.  Fluff with fork and serve.

    1000 Island Dressing
    I worked on this a bit duing Salad Week (Baby Step 2), but wasn't super thrilled with the results so it went on the back burner.  I've been skipping salads lately because I was out of dressing and I finally got annoyed with that so I cranked out a batch of Caesar dressing and tried this 1000 Island recipe.  I'm not sure where the original version came from.  It was cut and pasted and tucked in my recipe book.  I can't even tell you how old it is.  But I made a few changes to it and have come up with a dressing that I like very much.

    1/2 cup mayonnaise
    2 T. Ketchup (I used a store brand organic, but I will experiment with tomato paste at a later time.)
    2 tsp. sweet pickle relish (I had some I canned last summer.)
    1/8 tsp. salt (I just used a pinch.)
    1-2 shakes of pepper
    1 finely chopped hard boiled egg

    Mix all ingredients together.  Keep refrigerated as this contains eggs.  The dressing in the photo does not have egg in it.  I ran out of time to boil and egg before lunch.  The dressing is ok without the egg, but I like it better with egg.

    You'll notice that with the rice and salad are 2 wedges of a cheese quesadilla.  Yeah, they're made with white flour tortillas.  I keep trying different wheat tortilla recipes and while they all taste good, I can't get them rolled thin enough.  Mine end up looking like tortillas on steriods-too much bulk for the amount of cheese.  They do not make good quesadillas.  So, I'm  back to square one with those. :(

    Honey Oatmeal Cookies

    This has to be fast.  It is 11:42 pm already, so there's no way I'm getting 8 hours of sleep tonight. :(

    This recipe started out as Oatmeal Animal Crackers.  I goofed up because I was using the original recipe and guessing what changes I had made.  I was too lazy to check my post and see what the changes were.  They ended up a goopy mess, so the second time around I made some changes that I thought would be good (still didn't check the correct recipe) and ended up with these awesome cookies.  They are a little sweet, but it IS a cookie.  If you wanted to cut back on the sugar, I'm sure you could cut it back to 1/4 cup without too much difference in taste.

    The recipe:
    1 cup rolled oats
    1 cup whole white wheat flour
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
    1 tsp. baking soda
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1 tsp vanilla
    1/4 cup honey
    up to 1/4 cup water

    In a food processor, measure in the oats, flour and sugar.  Pulse several times until the oats are ground up (it doesn't have to be a fine flour, but more ground than regular oatmeal).  Cut cold butter into chunks in the processor and pulse until the mixture resembles crumbles.  Add baking soda, salt and vanilla.  Pulse a couple of times.  Then turn the food processor on and drizzle in the honey followed by the water.  It should make a somewhat sticky dough.

    I used a mini scoop to make same-sized balls and rolled them in my hands to smooth them out.  Place them on parchment paper or greased cookie sheet about 1 1/2" apart.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 8 minutes-10 minutes.  Cool on the cookie sheet a couple minutes before transferring them to a cooking rack.  Store in an air tight container once cooled.

    I made these on Monday and they are still moist.  I honestly can't believe there are any left.  I put them in a different container, so I think Hubby and the kids don't realize they are cookies!  LOL

    UPDATE:  I just made these cookies by subbing the honey for maple syrup.  I'm not sure how many cookies I'll end up with because I keep eating the dough.  They are THAT good!

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011

    Stuffed Pepper Cups-casserole style

    Image credit
    I have wonderful memories of my Mom making stuffed pepper cups.  She would make a big pot of mashed potatoes to go with them and then I would up-end my pepper cup on top of the potatoes and mix it all together.  Of course, corn was served as the side.  Can we say starches?  Yeah, I'm a big fan.

     Fast forward to when I have my own family.  I want to share the pepper cup love, but times are tough and peppers are expensive.  Early on in my marriage, I started only using one pepper and chopping it up in the dish and making it a casserole.  Of course, healthy food choices weren't in my radar at the time, so I also used knock-off Velveeta and Minute Rice.

    Now that I'm more concerned with what we eat, I've changed the way I make this dish.  I use brown rice and cheddar cheese and now I only cut the pepper into eight big pieces as the kids don't care for green pepper and if they are big, they are easy to fish out before serving it to the kids.  Today, I had the brilliant idea to make this casserole into a crock pot meal.  I had a few errands I needed to get done once the daycare closed and the kids wanted a bit of outside time too, so a quick meal was definitely in order.

    The problem I encountered was that I don't think I've ever cooked "real" rice in the crock pot before.  I didn't get it exactly right this time.  The flavor was spot-on, but the rice was overcooked and got too mushy.  I'll know better how to judge the time when I make it again.  The girls didn't seem to mind and they each had a big helping of it, served with a side salad.  Little guy is anti-casserole, so he took his two obligatory bites and left the table.

    1 green pepper, seeded and cut in 8 large pieces (or diced if you like green pepper throughout)
    2 cups brown rice
    3 1/2 cups water (you can add more later if needed-I used 4 1/2 cups and I think it was too much)
    1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
    1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes (I'm using up the stockpile of canned goods-I think dicing a couple fresh , peeled tomatoes would work fine and maybe adding some juice for the sauce, but it probably isn't needed)
    1/2 cup hamburger helper seasoning mix
    2/3 - 1 pound browned ground beef with diced onion and garlic (I had 2/3 pound packages already browned in my freezer that I used.)

    Stir together.  Cook on low for 4-5 hours.  Add 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese.  Stir and replace lid.  When cheese is melted and rice is tender, meal can be served.  My problem was that my meal was done at 1 pm and we didn't eat until 6:30 pm.  The rice ended up being overcooked.  Next time I will know that 4 hours is probably enough.  Trial and error, right?

    Mayonnaise success!

    After a couple botched attempts at making mayonnaise earlier in the year, I had put it off because I really have this thing with failure.  I don't like it!  LOL  I had resigned myself to just buying it from the store, but each time I picked up a jar of mayo that I knew was filled with GMO soybean oil, I cringed.  Finally, I set out to do more research on the subject and discovered a couple things I was doing wrong (in my opinion anyway).  First, I was using recipes that were above my culinary palatte-meaning I didn't like the way they tasted to start with-way to fancy.  Second, I wasn't using all room temperature ingredients and thirdly, my bowl was too big.

    Armed with this new information, I set out to make mayonnaise for a thrid (or fourth, I can't remember) time.  I found that a hand or immersion blender with a whisk attachment is perfect.  Other recipes use a blender.  I'm all for whatever works.    Also, if you are using a hand blender, you will need a container with a small diameter but one that is tall enough to keep the splatters in.  My hand blender came with a cup type thing that I think was intended for smoothies.  Another helpful tool would be a non-slip mat.  With one hand on the blender and one hand on the oil, the cup will start spinning and throw oily egg yolk everywhere if you don't have one (or con a child into holding the cup for you).  And, yes, I did throw oily egg yolk all over my kitchen (and the next day I did the same thing with egg whites).  I look at it as God's way of keeping me on track with my kitchen scrubbing duties.

    1 egg yolk
    1/2 tsp white vinegar
    1 pinch sea salt
    1/3 to 1/2 cup GMO-free canola oil

    Keep in mind that many recipes use balsamic vinegar and/or olive oil, but I didn't care for the taste of those.  This is a plain version for sure.

    Put the egg yolk, vinegar and salt in your bowl or whatever vessel you are using and whisk it slightly to combine those three ingredients.  Next comes your oil (and the tricky part).  To begin with you want to add the oil and blend it in drop by drop to create an emulsion.  One of the biggest problems is that when you start, it is so hard to add the oil slowly.  I solved that by using the Pampered Chef decorating bottle with the piping tip.  When I tip it, only a small amount comes out and once I get the emulsion going, I can squeeze the bottle to add the oil faster (but not too fast).  The bottle holds approximately half a cup, so I'm limited to making that amount for now.  I don't suggest that everyone run out and get the decorating bottles, but I do think that it's important to look around at what you already have in your kitchen that can serve as double duty.  I'm sure there aren't any Pampered Chef consultants who are out there selling those bottles as oil droppers, although maybe they should as I've never decorated a cake with them. =)

    Here, the emulsion is just starting.  You can see that the oil is completely mixed with the egg yolk.

    Still going.  The whole process to add the oil took about 5 minutes for not quite half a cup of oil.  The slower the better is the key on this.

    Voila!  Homemade mayonnaise.  When making this, I tasted it at the end and thought it needed a touch more salt, so I added it and whisked it in with no problems.  I think that more vinegar could be added too if you found that it needed it, just be sure to mix it thoroughly.

    This mayo uses fresh (non-pasteurized) eggs, so it is only good for a few days.  Although, my personal, live on the edge opinion is that if you are using farm fresh eggs, you have a bit larger timeframe than if you are using grocery store, already 3 week old eggs.  I'm not too worried about it though since I'm only making half a cup at a time.  This amount would easily be used up if making egg salad or even on sandwiches for the family if everyone uses it.  It shouldn't last long!

    A big thank you goes to my 10 year old photographer.  I couldn't do the oil, blender and take pictures all at the same time.

    Week 17: Party Planning: on budget and following the baby steps

    First, I want to apologize.  I had great expectations of blogging every day last week, but with all the extra kid stuff and Easter stuff I had going on, I just ran out of time to come up with a post every day (or even every other day).  It was so crazy last week that I showed up to my parents' house on Friday evening without a birthday gift for my neice and nephew (who's party we were having on Saturday).  Thank God for Wal-Mart.  I was able to run in and pick up a couple gifts after the neice's soccer game and everyone waited for me to wrap them so we could start the party.  Disclaimer:  that is probably the one and only time you'll ever hear me "say" what I just said. 99% of the time I can't stand WM and would rather do without than go in there, but desperate times called for desperate measures I suppose.

    This week promises to have its own level of looniness.  We have something going on every night again this week.  On Saturday, we'll be heading across the state for another nephew's birthday party.  Then on Sunday, my baby girl (the middle child) will make her First Holy Communion.  Of course, there will have to be a party with a big meal included.  Now, as this falls on the weekend of my big monthly shopping trip, I'm going to attempt to make most of the party food with what I already have so I can keep May's grocery budget from being blown on the first day.  I will be feeding 14 people.  My goal is to use "real" food and do so without spending tons of money.  The exception is that I will probably end up buying a cake from the store, because it is worth it for me to spend $14.99 not to have to listen to my brother complain about having to eat homemade everything.  Of course, I will fix another dairy-free dessert so my Mom can have something too (and that will be real!).

    Posts this week will include a mayo tutorial (finally), an animal cracker recipe that flopped but made some wonderful oatmeal honey cookies, recipes for curried chicken salad and a fruit salad (both of which I'm thinking will be part of Sunday's menu) and, most importantly, some pictures of my beautiful girl in her dress on her special day!  I also need to work on May's meal plan and get my grocery list ready.  As soon as that is finished, I'll post it too.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    Quote of the day

    "Eating snot is not hel-fy (healthy)."
    Spoken by my 3 year old to one of my daycare kids who was wiping his nose with his sleeve and then trying to eat the snot (blech).

    At least someone is listening! LOL

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011


    Here's some of what I've been up to.

    Double batch of mini pancakes
    Raisin, cranberry and walnut granola
    Chocolate chip cookies
    Strawberries ready for flash freezing
    Today I tried breakfast cookies.  It was a colassal disaster!  Sometimes I just need to stick to the recipe.

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    Week 16: Sleep and drink

    Two of the foundations for a healthy lifestyle are two that I fail at miserably and I've been putting it off long enough.  Starting this week, I will try my hardest to get 8 hours of sleep each night and drink more water each day.  I will shoot for 8 glasses, but since I barely drink 2, 8 is a lofty goal.  I will increase my intake overall.

    As far as sleep, my kids get at least 10 hours, my husband gets 8 and probably closer to 9 if you count time spent sleeping on the couch while he's "watching" TV, but me, I average 6 hours of sleep each night.  I have good intentions, but the bread needs to cool or I just want to get that load of clothes into the dryer, or I haven't updated my blog yet.  Please, tell me you do these things too.  I don't purposely choose not to sleep, but by placing other priorities ahead of sleep, I go without.

    Now, drinking water should be easy.  I gave up soda, other than the occasional Sonic Happy Hour Cherry Limeade, and I like water, so why don't I drink more of it?  I haven't decided yet.  I think it has to do with being too busy to go to the bathroom.  Giving the issue extra attention this week should help me figure it out, I hope.

    Well, it's 9 pm and I have to be in bed in one hour.  I need to scout around the house and figure out what has to be done before 10:00.

    Good night!

    I've been a busy girl!

    The kids were gone from Friday evening until Sunday morning, and I worked like a crazy woman on Saturday to get a few things done.  I completely reorganized all 3 bedrooms and got the office back to looking somewhat presentable (I have a decent garage sale pile in there that is cluttering the place up).  Unfortunately until Sunday evening I didn't have an opportunity to get much cooking/baking done, but I started at 7 pm last night and have been a busy little bee.

    So far, I've made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, a batch of banana muffins, more granola for Hubby to take to work, a double batch of pancakes and waffles (had some for lunch, but froze 23), cut up 2+ pounds of strawberries to freeze for smoothies, made up another batch of hamburger helper seasoning mix, and cooked 2 pounds of ground beef with onions and garlic to be frozen for quick add-ins to meals for the week.

    Why, you might ask, would I make all these things ahead?  Well, it seems that when it rains it pours and I've got the week to prove it.  Tonight, there is volleyball practice for girl #1 and a game for girl #2.  Tuesday is Brownies for girl #2 (and I'm the leader).  Wednesday is choir practice for girl #1, Thursday is volleyball game for girl #1 followed immediately by singing at Holy Thursday Mass and in the middle, girl #2 has v-ball practice, Friday is mega-garage sale day for me (as I'm off and I never get to go garage saling on Friday) and then packing for trip to Grandma's for birthday parties and Easter and girl #1 has to sing at Good Friday Mass where we'll be leaving town immediately following.  Oh, and my ladies' group at church is organizing the Easter Vigil Recpetion following Mass on Saturday, which I'm the chairperson of, so I'm getting all that stuff together and trying to talk people into working it (at 10 pm the night before Easter) as I'm out of town.

    Now, I'm hoping to get as much cooked ahead as I can, because with this week's schedule it would be so easy for me to drive through a fast food place each night as we're pressed to get out the door and to whatever activity.  But, I'm not going to do it.  We might end up with a hodge-podge of food, but at least we'll have something nutritious and already paid for.

    I do have pictures of my various food activities of the past several hours.  However, we bought a new camera on Friday evening and I haven't had time to sit down and load the software and figure out how to download the pictures.  I am incredibly excited that this camera has a special food mode.  I have no idea what that means, other than there must be enough other geeks like me that like taking pictures of their food!  I'm hoping that I can read the manual during volleyball practice and get it all set up tonight so I can get pics up.

    I'm off to do lunch dishes now and prepare snack and start baking biscuits for dinner tonight.  I'm hoping that daycare baby decides that this is a lovely day to sleep more than an hour for her afternoon nap!

    Friday, April 15, 2011

    Life update

    Just a quick update-Hubby's surgery yesterday went well.  For the first time in over 20 years (as he recalls) he can breathe out of the left side of his nose.  Thumbs up to that!  He has some pain, but it is much less than we expected (me mainly), so that is nice.  He rested most of yesterday, but already this morning he's been up and around, going to the doctor with me and taking the van to fill it with gas.

    My eye doctor appointment went well also.  I do have several places on both eyes where the retina in thinning, but it is typical with someone as nearsighted as I am.  I just have to watch for changes in vision and call them immediately.  If they catch it quick enough they can use a laser to tack the retina back to where it should be (Hubby equated it with spot welding.).  The longer I would wait, the more damage that would be done and they would have to go in and do a much more invasive surgery, so I'll be sure to watch for any changes.  Although, the way the doctor described it, the changes wouldn't be subtle, so not likely to be ignored.  That's good for me because sometimes I'm completely oblivious! =)

    My family definitely has many things to be thankful for.  My prayers have definitely included praise and thanksgiving!

    As for not eating out, we didn't do bad.  I picked up a sausage, egg and cheese burrito for little man at Sonic after dropping the girls off at school Thursday morning.  The rest of the time (over 6 hours) we ate cashews, craisins and pretzels.  On the way home from volleyball, I stopped at the store to pick up a 4 pound flat of strawberries that was on sale and while I was there I realized that since we had just snacked throughout the day, there was no "meatless" meal for my girls to take to school for lunch on Friday.  I caved and got 2 nacho Lunchables.  Not that it helps much, but I added grapes and whole wheat chocolate chip mini muffins.  We weren't perfect, but I could've eaten out 3-4 times yesterday, so at least we avoided that.

    Hubby and I are without kids until Sunday morning.  I'm not sure what is on the agenda, but I hope to do some baking ahead since it will be very cool (overnight frost warnings) this weekend.

    What do you hope to get accomplished this weekend?

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    French bread, the second time around

    When I first switched to whole wheat, I made my favorite loaf of French bread and was less than excited with the results. Several weeks later, as I've become used to working with wheat flour and have found that it absorbs much more liquid that white flour, I think I know the secret to better French bread-less flour.

    Here's the revised recipe.
    1 1/2 cups hot water
    3 tsp. olive oil
    2 tsp. salt
    1 Tbsp. sugar
    2 3/4 - 3 cups whole white wheat flour
    1 Tbsp. yeast

    In a mixing bowl (I used my stand mixer), mix together the first four ingredients.  Add 2 cups of flour and work it in until combined.  Add yeast and stir it in.  Then add additional flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until you have a slightly tacky, but workable dough (for me it was 2 3/4 cups).  Sprinkle your work area with flour and turn the dough out.  Knead it for 5 or so minutes until you have a smooth dough.  If you have to add a bit more flour so it isn't too sticky that's fine, but make sure you add as little as possible.  Form the dough into a ball and return it to the mixing bowl, cover with a towel and let it rise 45 minutes to 1 hour. 

    Remove from the bowl, punch it down and form it into a long loaf shape.  Place it on a well greased baking sheet and cut diagonal slits in it approximately 1/2 inch deep.  Cover and let rise another 45 minutes.  Remove towel, brush with milk and bake in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Giveaways, not mine... yet

    While the general idea of my blog has to do with healthy lifestyle and eating, there is definitely a thrifty aspect, so right now I'm blogging about two giveaways for Britax Frontier 85 carseats.  My "little guy" isn't very little.  He turned 3 in January and is 42 pounds and 40 inches tall.  I don't feel like he is old enough to be in a booster seat, but he is too big/too tall to fit comfortably in many of the carseats on the market.  In our main vehicle, he sits in a Britax Regent (which is awesome, but Britax no longer makes it).  In the grandparent's van, he has an Evenflo Big Kid booster and I'm not thrilled about it.  I'm sure it's a fine booster, but I'd like him to be harnessed as long as possible.  The Frontier harnesses to 85 pounds and can then be used as a booster to 120 pounds.  I would really like one, but they are pricey.  And, everyone can say there's no price to great for my child's life and while that's true, my budget doesn't seem to understand that.  Therefore, I want to win one from Mommy of 1 and Counting or Shining 2 Save.  If you are interested, I would head over to either (or both) of these blogs and check it out.

    Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins and life

    I made chocolate chip mini muffins for the kids this morning.  It has cooled off to the point that I can once again use the oven.  Using the roaster oven is probably cheaper, but it's a hassle to run up and down the stairs between mixing and baking and I'm being generally lazy at the moment! LOL

    Muffins bagged and ready to go into the freezer.
    This recipe originally came from one of those teaser mailings for recipe cards.  I got 10 cards in the mail and if I agreed to send them $9.95 plus shipping and handling for the rest of my life they would send me a bunch more every month.  Well I flipped through the cards and 9 of them went in the trash, but it's that 10th one that's been around for a while.  I've changed it a bit over the years to make it healthier, but really, it's a chocolate chip muffin.  It's never going to be the epitome of health, so here it is.

    2 cups whole white wheat flour
    3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 Tbsp. baking powder
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1/2 cup butter, melted
    1 cup milk
    1 egg

    2ish Tbsp. Demerara sugar (or brown sugar)

    You know the drill.  Mix the dry.  Add the wet.  Stir until combined.  Spray your muffin pan and fill accordingly.  Then I take a small pinch of the sugar and sprinkle the tops.  For 52 mini muffins, I used about 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar.  It just depends how big or small your pinch is!  Bake in a 400 degree oven for 9-11 minutes.  Try to wait until they cool to eat.  The chocolate WILL burn your mouth if you eat them directly from the oven.

    Now for the life part.  Hubby is having sinus surgery tomorrow.  I'm hoping and praying that it goes without any complications.  Then on Friday, I am seeing a retinal specialist.  It seems that the retina in my right eye is thinning and when you are as nearsighted (read-blind as a bat) as I am, you are at a dramatically increased risk of detached retina.  On Friday, the specialist will determine if it is something that just needs to be closely monitored or if it will need surgery.  Let's all pray for the monitoring, because I don't get sick days in my line of work.

    I may not post much over the next couple of days, but I hoping to stick to the menu and not eat out, other than maybe taking the kids to get some breakfast before school tomorrow.  We will be dropping Hubby off at 6:45, then dropping the girls off at school at 7:00, and I'll keep little man with me at the hospital.  I think I will need a little extra sanity tomorrow as I try to keep a 3 year old happy during a 4-6 hour stay in a waiting room and a grumpy Hubby who I think is seriously underestimating what recovery from this surgery will be like.

    Someday I'll look back on this week and laugh.  Really.  If I keep telling myself this, that makes it true, right!

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    My money-saving wonder appliance!

    Last week and over the weekend, the weather here was unseasonably warm, to the tune of 90+ degrees.  In an effort to save money and use our resources wisely, I don't like to turn on the air conditioning (or heat) until it is absolutely necessary.  I like to make it through June, although that is usually stretching it.  But, turning on the AC in April, NO WAY!  That is just plain craziness.

    There are definite detriments to cooking everything from scratch and expecting to live in your non air-conditioned home.  By Saturday afternoon, we were in need of bread, but firing up the oven to bake a couple loaves was out of the question when it was already 92 degrees in the kitchen.  My plan was to wait until after the kids had gone to bed and bake at night, hoping that the heat would be gone by morning.  But, who wants to be up until 1:00 am baking bread, not I.  Hmmmm, and here lies the problem.

    Luckily for me, I remembered my roaster oven.  I had used it a few times last summer when it got too hot to use the oven.  It worked pretty well with quick breads and I think I roasted a chicken in there.  I dug it out Sunday afternoon and plugged it in, down in the basement.  My basement, which is at least 10-15 degrees cooler, was an awesome place to set the roaster oven.  Not only do we not hang out down there (so if it gets warmer, no big deal), but it completely eliminated the added heat from the upstairs.  Of course it helped that a cold front had moved in and it was a mild 86 degrees.

    So far, I've baked applesauce bread, whole wheat bread, cinnamon bread, cinnamon rolls and a meatloaf in my roaster oven.  I was concerned at the beginning that the lid might collect condensation and that it would cause problems with the bread, but it doesn't and it didn't.  Right now, I have the roaster sitting on the corner of the daycare kids' eating table and I pushed it up into the corner when it was on, so they couldn't get close to it (I don't think the outside would burn them, but I've got a couple curious guys that might try to life the lid and peek in if I wasn't looking.).  I'm not sure how much electricity it uses, but I figure it has to be less than the oven (smaller space to heat).  It takes the same time to bake as it does in the oven, so no added power there, plus my air conditioning remains off.  It's a win, win, win.  The only problem that I have with using the roaster is the space inside limits what dishes I can use.  It's too narrow for my muffin pans, so I'll be making mini loaves for the time being.  It will hold my cake pan, but not a jelly roll pan, which I use frequently.  There will be a learning curve, but hopefully it won't be too bad and maybe we'll be able to make it all the way to the end of June with no AC.

    Week 15: Eat out with purpose and not "just because"

    Last week was not a good week.  We ate out all too much and for no other reason than I didn't have food that was easy to prepare.  When faced with fatigue, it is all too easy to hit the drive-thru.  That has a few consequences.  First, fast food is expensive.  I spent $18 on lunch for the kids and myself on Saturday.  Then I was so kind as to pick up something for Hubby, which was another $3.  There was $21 for one meal (and of course the kids were hungry by the time we got home).  I spent $27 on produce (mostly organic) for the entire week.  One meal versus an entire week's worth of produce for about the same amount of money.  Which money was better spent?  Obviously the produce.

    Another consequence of the drive-thru is the lack of substantial nutrition.  I just said that my kids were hungry by the time we got home.  Chances are it was because they ate a lot of simple carbohydrates that were quickly used up.  If they had eaten at home, they would have had a good balance of complex carbs with a nice dose of protein and healthy fats.  It would have taken a few hours to burn the energy that was consumed.  Additionally, the vegetable based grease that most of the food is fried in can do a number on one's intestional tract.  I need not go further down that path.  LOL!

    This week (and forever more hopefully) I will work to have readily available food, so we aren't tempted to run to the drive-thru when we are tired or rushed. 

    Eating out has its place and that would be when it is planned.  On my menu plan, there are times when I know we'll be traveling out of town or going from one event straight to another and we'll need to eat out.  In theory, I have budgeted money for that and we can do it once or twice a month.  This month, however, I have already used my eat out money (plus some), so I'm going to try very hard to find ways around eating out the rest of this month.  My first challenge will be tonight!

    Sunday, April 10, 2011

    Applesauce Bread

    It was my original intention to make applesauce muffins this week to use up some homemade applesauce that I had in the fridge.  However, the temperature has been record breaking this week and I didn't want to turn on the oven.  Today, I finally figured out a way around that (will discuss in a future post), but I couldn't make muffins-the pan wouldn't fit.  So today I made mini loaves of applesauce bread.

    1 1/2 cups applesauce
    2/3 cup of sugar (can cut this back to 1/2 cup, but my applesauce was unsweetened, so I bumped it up a bit)
    1 egg
    1/4 cup melted butter
    1 tsp. baking powder
    1 tsp. baking soda
    1/2 tsp. salt
    3/4 tsp. cinnamon
    1 1/2 cups whole white wheat flour (any flour will do)
    1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional-I didn't use any this time because I forgot.)

    Mix wet ingredients together.  Add dry ingredients.  Stir until just combined, overstirring will result in a tougher bread.  If using nuts, fold those in.  Fill 3 mini loaf pans half full (or muffin cups 3/4 full-bake 10 minutes, or you could even use an 8" x 8" pan if you wanted more of a breakfast cake-bake probably close to 35-40 minutes).  I baked the loaf pans 30-35 minutes.  I checked mine at 30 and they weren't quite done.  It took 33 minutes for me, but I was using an alternative baking implement, so that might have made a difference.

    Mayonnaise, take 2

    I tried making mayonnaise using the recipe from Kitchen Stewardship a few months ago when I made ranch dressing.  It didn't turn out at all.  I found out that it was because I used olive oil and I don't like the taste of olive oil, so it pretty much ruined the whole thing for me.  I decided to make it again this week since I finally purchased organic canola, a fairly tasteless oil.  I had no trouble making the emulsion, but the taste didn't suit my palate.

    In other words, it was an epic fail.  I have already checked out several other recipes and think that I need a fairly bland version, maybe egg and oil only.  I'll try again later this week.  It has become necessary to come up with something soon as we are completely out and if Hubby goes shopping, who knows what kind of garbage will come home in addition to a jar of mayo. LOL!

    Falling off the wagon

    Please tell me that other people fall off the wagon.  It would make me feel a little better.  As I type this, I have grand plans of climbing back up, but I must tell my tale of woe.

    There have been several things going against me this week.  First, I am miserably tired this week.  I'm not really sure why.  I think it could be the heat.  Which brings me to the second issue-heat-ugh!  It was been in the upper 80's and today it was 92 degrees... in Missouri,,, in April.  What the heck is that all about?  I've only had my heat off for a week or so and I'm determined not to go straight from the heat to AC.  I refuse.  This decision makes my house very warm in the afternoon.  So, do I want to bake bread or muffins or how about roasting a chicken?  I think not.  I don't have the time anyway.  Reason number 3.  Hubby started a part-time job last week working Thursday through Sunday (evenings on Thursday and Friday and all day over the weekend).  Of course, both girls are in volleyball and wouldn't ya know it, both girls' practices and games fall on nights Hubby's working (a couple of times on the same night).  I have been meeting myself coming and going, leaving the house at 5:30 when the daycare kids leave and not getting back home until 8:00, which is just in time to get the kids in bed and get supper for Hubby who gets home about 9:30.  Oh, and don't forget my house that is still about 87 degrees.

    OK, pity party over.  I'm putting my big girl britches on now and I'll stop whining. ;)

    On Thursday, I stopped by Arby's and picked up dinner because I didn't get dinner cooked before it was time to leave for volleyball (both practice and a game).  Then on Friday, Hubby gave the girls powdered donuts (gasp!) as a treat because they were having a hard time finding anything for breakfast all week.  Please note that oatmeal, cereal, eggs, nuts, toast, muffins and bagels were available-they just didn't want them.  I didn't have the heart to tell him that he purchased complete junk for our kids, so I let them eat 3 each and go to school (although I did make them eat half an egg sandwich before the donuts).  By that night, I was exhausted and only fed the kids cheese and crackers and whatever else they could scrounge up.  Yeah, I know-good Mom.  This morning they had the rest of the donuts before we left to go hit some garage sales and we ate Sonic before coming home.  I took a nap with little man and while I was sleeping, the girls ate half a bag of Doritos that Hubby had brought home from work.  They all had a big glass of knock-off Kool-Aid at Hubby's aunt's house while she trying to convince me of the nutritional value of said drink!  On the way home we decided to grill and I ended up spending $62 at the grocery store stocking up on sale cuts of meat, thereby blowing the food budget.

    Now, it's Sunday (fell asleep before finishing this post) and here are my plans to hop back on the wagon.  After church this morning, I will be making that mayonaise that I set out to do.  Then we'll head out to do the actual grocery shopping.  I have $50 in gift cards that I purchased before "the fall."  When I get home, I'm cranking out a loaf of wheat bread and one of cinnamon raisin bread for this next week.  Then we'll be heading back to church to watch the oldest's performance of Godspell Jr.  When we get home, I'll get the kiddos in bed and hopefully make some applesauce muffins and maybe a batch of pancakes.  If it gets too hot, I'm giving up and turning on the AC-we can't live without good food.  It's costing me waaaayyyy too much! :)

    Thursday, April 7, 2011

    Whole Wheat Biscuits

    For years the art of making biscuits alluded me.  I tried several different recipes, and even bought Bisquick and used that recipe.  They all ended up tasting like big chunks of flour.  I decided that I couldn't make a decent biscuit and resorted to buying them in a can (oh, the shame, LOL).  And, even though I tried to work toward a better diet, I still bought the canned biscuits and thought that the only way to get rid of them was to not have biscuits at all.  Then, late last fall, I found the Homesick Texan blog.  I was actually looking for a recipe for tortillas (which is still a disaster, by the way) and I happened across a biscuit recipe.  It looked simple enough and eventually I tried it.  The biscuits were amazing!  I, who doesn't really care for biscuits, ate about four from that first batch.  They were great with butter and honey, jam, or even a fried egg with cheese as a quick breakfast on the go.  You would think my biscuit problems were solved, right?  Not so much.

    When I started making these biscuits, I was still using white bread flour.  When I made the switch to whole wheat flour, the biscuits were not the same.  I would compare the wheat version to a light brown brick.  I was definitely sad.  This week they appeared on the menu again.  I tried them with a few modifications and hit the jackpot.  Here's what I did:

    1 1/2 cups whole white wheat flour
    1 tablespoon of baking powder
    3/4 teaspoon of sugar
    1/2 teaspoon of salt
    1 stick of butter, cold (8 tablespoons)
    3/4 cup of buttermilk, cream or half-and-half (I used a bit of lemon juice in my regular milk and let it sit 5 minutes)
    Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
    In a food processor, add the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, butter (cut in pieces).  Pulse several times until the butter is well incorporated (looks like crumbs).
    Add the liquid slowly while running the processor.  When the dough starts to clump up or ride the blade, turn the dough out on a floured surface.  Knead for a minute until the dough is smooth.  If it is sticky, add a bit more flour-just a little at a time though, because if you add too much, you'll be eating bricks.
    (I do this next step, but I'm not sure why!)
    Take dough into a ball, and hit it with a rolling pin, turning it and folding it in half every few whacks. Do this for a couple of minutes.
    Roll out dough until it’s 1/4 of an inch thick, and then fold it in half.
    Using a biscuit cutter (or whatever you have that will work) cut out your biscuits from folded dough.
    Place on a greased baking sheet close together (so they rise up not out), and bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
    Makes 10-12 biscuits.

    I didn't get a picture before they all got eaten.  Maybe the next time I make them, I can add one. :)

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    Week 14: Healthy Fats

    I've been researching fats in our diet for quite some time.  But, after watching The Oiling of America, I decided to make saturated fats a priority.  I ditched margarine quite a while back in lieu of butter.  That was a pretty painless transition as far as food and cooking go, but butter is quite a bit more expensive.  I dealt with it and worked it into the budget.  Some day I'd like to be able to buy organic butter, but we are going to have to seriously reduce our butter consumption as a family before this is a remote possibility.  Right now, I use between eight and ten pounds of butter a month.  That's about $20 every month.  With organic being $4.75 a pound in my area, I am just not able to make that a priority at this time (maybe someday though).

    I began using coconut oil as a moisturizer last summer when middle kid's eczema was out of control.  Only recently have I started using it in baking and, while I like it, I found that coconut oil has a learning curve.  The oil solidifies at 76 degrees.  Since my house in the winter averages about 63 degrees, it has been a problem to keep the coconut oil liquid.  I keep my flour in the freezer and I'm used to just measuring it out straight from the freezer and into the mixing bowl it goes.  Even if I heated the oil to a liquid state, the second I put the flour in, it lowered the temp of the oil resolidifying it.  Then I had cake crumbles that resembled struesel rather than cake batter (it baked up fine, but I wasn't sure it would).  Since I'm sometimes a slow learner, I've done this on a cake, 3 batches of muffins and some bread dough.  Now, before I start, I measure out my flour into a separate bowl and sit it on the stove to "warm up."  I also set my eggs and milk out if I need those as well and the coconut oil works much like a polyunsaturated fat (veggie oil), remaining in a liquid state.

    I have olive oil that I use for stir-frying and in some bread recipes.  I don't like it straight at all, so no vinegar and oil salad dressings for me.  LOL

    Lastly, and the reason I'm choosing oil as the baby step this week, is that I finely purchased organic canola oil.  It is not a suggested oil by Sally Fallon in The Oiling of America because it is a poly unsaturated oil.  For me, canola oil is an acceptable choice because it contains Omega-3 fatty acids.  Other popular oils, such as corn or vegetable oil, contain mostly Omega-6 fatty acids and while they are not terrible by themselves, when consumed in great disproportion to Omega-3's, they can cause numerous health problems (information from Nina Planck's book Real Food: What to Eat and Why).  However, buying canola oil proved to be more challenging when I found that rapeseed (canola plant) is genetically modified.  Everyone knows how I feel about genetically modified foods, and if you don't, you can find it here and here and here.  LOL-it appears that I have addressed this issue in a number of posts!

    Anyway, I've been searching for a reasonably priced organic canola, which would seem to be an oxymoron.  I finally purchased a 32 oz. bottle of Spectrum Organic canola oil for $10.89-that pains me to even type it!  It was the cheapest certified organic oil that I came across.  I'll be saving it for salad dressings and for when I try to make my own mayonaise.  It's too expensive to use in everyday cooking and I don't care for the taste of olive oil in my dressings, so that's why I purchased it (otherwise I probably would have just weeded it out of my family's diet altogether).

    Someday, I might start using lard or suet (pork or beef fat).  Right now, I don't really have a need for it, so I'll cross that fatty bridge when I get to it.  For right now, butter and coconut oil will be our main cooking fats, with occasional use of olive oil and canola oil.

    Things to look forward to...
    whole wheat biscuits
    a new and improved 1000 island dressing recipe (hopefully made with homemade mayo)
    banana muffins

    Sunday, April 3, 2011

    It's official...

    I am a grocery nerd!  I get totally excited about great food purchases.  This weekend I did my big monthly grocery shopping trip to three local grocery stores and made a Sam's run, and came out $4 under my projected total!  One of my stores, Hy-Vee, was having a big two day sale on a few items that I regularly purchase:  shredded cheese (Kraft, $1.25 for 8 oz. bag) and strawberries (2 pounds for $2.18).  For strawberries in particular, that is a good price this time of year, so I put it on my list.  When I got to the store last night, they had already sold out of the two pound clamshells and were offering 2-1 pound clamshells instead (limit 2).  No problem, I picked out two packs and put them in my cart. 

    It was only when I put them up on the belt at the checkout that I realized I had picked up organic strawberries.  I asked the checker to price check them, because my budget couldn't handle the $3.99 that the organic ones were selling for.  Nope, they were $1.09 each (no wonder they were limit 2).  I went ahead and paid for them, but was so excited about my great luck that I went back in and bought 2 more to freeze!  Woo-hoo!  I now have two-and-a-half pounds of organic strawberries washed, sliced and flash freezing as we speak.  I cut the others up to eat for breakfast and send in lunches tomorrow.  Very few people I know get this excited about getting a good price on anything, much less groceries.  I just had to share.

    What's the best food deal you've picked up lately?  I love talking about food deals! LOL

    Friday, April 1, 2011

    Just for fun!

    Yesterday for the daycare lunch, I needed a bread to go with my grilled chicken, sauteed green beans and raisins.  Since I was a little short on time, I used the recipe for 40 minute wheat buns.  Then I got all fancy and used the braiding that I saw on Tightwad Mom's Frugal Forum (awesome idea and I'm looking for a reason to need fancy hamburger buns) to make a loaf for the kids.  They thought it was awesome and ate the whole thing.  The only change I made to the original recipe is that before baking, I brushed the top with some honey water.  It gave the bread a hint of sweetness that I love in a dinner roll.  For the loaf, I would bake 20-25 minutes.  I baked it for 16 minutes and in the middle it could have used a few more minutes.

    Waste in the fridge drawers

    Not a whole lot left on a Friday evening!  We'll probably eat this for lunch tomorrow before going grocery shopping..
     There was a period of time a few years back when I would go grocery shopping each Saturday and bring home at least two bags of produce.  While putting away those bags, I would empty the unused produce from the drawers in the bottom of the fridge and throw it away and replace it with the new.  I shudder to think how much I wasted, both in terms of money and my family's health.  Instead of eating the produce that I had purchased (because I knew I should), I fixed my family box meals and fruit and veggies from cans.  Is that horrible?  Not if you are just starting the journey to  feed your family better food than McDonald's or whatever other fast food place, but not as good as using local, fresh ingredients cooked from scratch.  It's all a process and hopefully a year from now, I'll be further along than I am now.

    So, the question becomes, how do you reduce your produce waste?  I'm definitely still working on this as I threw away an orange and had to peel some green onions down to hardly anything to be able to use what was left (and that was 2 days ago).  Here are some of the things I'm working on and I can say that it's been a long time since I've had to completely clean the produce drawers out to put in new.

    Tip #1:  Meal planning
    I used to go to the store with no idea what I wanted to buy.  I would just buy what looked good.  If I made a list, it was to make sure that I wouldn't forget things that we had run out of-and of course 9 times out of 10, I forgot the list.  I would meander through the grocery store thinking of things to make.  Inevitably I would get to the end of the store and realize that I hadn't picked up a key ingredient for "x" dish and I would walk back across the store for it, picking up 10 other "must haves" on the way.  I'd get home and realize that I didn't have as much, or any, of whatever as I thought I did.  Another trip would have to be made, again picking up a lot of "must haves."  When I first started my daycare business, we budgeted $1000/month on groceries.  This did not include eating out (which we did at least once a week or so).  It's infuriating to look at that number now, thinking how much debt we could've paid off by doing better in the grocery department.

    That was the old way.  Now, I plan every meal we are going to have for the month:  breakfasts, lunch, dinner and morning and afternoon snacks.  I also take into account that hubby and the girls take their lunches everyday to work and school and I have to make sure to have something for them to take.  I make my shopping list by looking through my freezers, pantry and fridge and making sure that I use up what we have and adding to the list what we need to buy to make the dinners that I've planned for (trying to take into account grocery store sales).  I check my bulk supply.  Do I have enough flour, sugar, cheese, butter, etc. to make it through the month?  And, lastly I plan my produce.  When I meal plan, I choose a fruit and/or veggie for each meal.  I plan fruits and veggies as snacks and each week I write those down on my list.  Occasionally, there will be a great sale on blueberries or some other fruit and I'll swap it out with something that was more expensive so I don't end up with a lot leftover at the end of the week.  That keeps the food fresh and it keeps my from overbuying and throwing food out that has been hanging out too long.

    Tip #2:  Salads
    No matter how well I plan, there will always be some leftovers.  Whether not as many daycare kids came on apple day, or little guy didn't feel like eating many strawberries one day, I'll have a few things here and there.  One way to use them up is in a salad.  Chop extra apples and mix with some mayo, cheddar cheese cubes, raisins and walnuts to make an apple salad.  Slice extra strawberries, that last banana and remaining cantaloupe into a bowl and have a fruit salad (my kids love fruit salad on breakfast for dinner night).  For veggies, shred your extra carrots up with some leftover cabbage and make a slaw.  Have too much lettuce?  Instead of making a salad a side dish, make it the star by having taco salad or chef salads.  You can chop up all the extra tidbits of veggies and let the family make their own salad.  If there are some remaining at the end of the meal, can you use them the next day as a snack with ranch dressing for dipping?  Or could you blanch them and toss them in the freezer to put in a veggie soup?

    Tip #3:  Smoothies
    It is a running joke that I will stick anything in a smoothie (pureed chicken anyone?  And yes, it tasted awesome! LOL).  Smoothies lend themselves to using up produce.  The only thing that I've ever had trouble with in a smoothie is blackberries and that is because the kids don't like the tiny seeds (makes them gritty) and I'm too lazy to strain them out.  Many fruits can go into a smoothie raw (apples I cook in the microwave until soft, but we very rarely have extra of them).  Several veggies need some prepping.  Crunchier things like carrots and cabbage have to be boiled soft or you'll end up with chunks in the smoothie and that doesn't go over well with the preschool crowd-at least in my house.  Spinach can go straight in, so can kale (I've heard) but I haven't used it, so I'm not speaking from experience.

    Produce I've used successfully in smoothies:  strawberries, blueberries, bananas, peaches (remove the pit or it will break your blender), apples/applesauce, pears/pearsauce, oranges, clementines, tangerines, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, watermelon, kiwi (again don't usually have extras), mango, pineapple, papaya, carrots, spinach, cabbage, sweet potato (previously mashed), squash and pumpkin (cooked, pureed, and frozen), potatoes (leftover baked potatoes that I mashed for smoothie purposes).  I'm sure there are other possibilites-don't limit yourself to the usual.  The worst thing that can happen is that it will taste bad and if you are using produce that would likely have gone bad and you had to throw it out, are you any worse off for trying?

    Tip #4:  Reinvent it
    Can your produce be turned into something else?  Last week, I had to pick up a prescription and we use a local grocery store.  On my way I saw that grapes were on sale for $1/pound.  That seemed like a good price for this time of year, so I picked some up.  Of course, I should've known better (if I were following my own advice).  They weren't on the menu plan; therefore, they were barely eaten.  By the time I got to them, they were starting to get a little soft and had started to dry up at the stem.  They were definitely no longer good for eating off the vine.  It pained me to think of throwing $3 of grapes away.  I started thinking about what I could do with them and came up with jelly.  I'm almost out of grape jelly, so I got out my trusty Ball Book of Canning and Preserving and read about making grape jelly.  As it turns out, I didn't have near enough grapes to be making jelly without having to do a lot of fractional math, which I can do, but it would be difficult to concentrate with seven kids running around my ankles.  Grape juice on the other hand was completely doable, so I pulled off those grapes, washed them and cooked them down.  Granted they only made about 2 cups of juice, but I was able to use that juice in a smoothie, saving some money by not using other juice.

    Other ways to reinvent your produce:  cook, puree and freeze veggies like carrots and squash to be used in quick breads, pasta sauces, and muffins.   Secondly, apples, pears, and other soft fruit can be cooked down into a sauce or fruit butter (spread for breads-yummy)

    Tip #5:  Prep it and freeze it
    This works really well with produce that doesn't fit well in my smoothie category.  I buy onions when they are super cheap (last time it was 3 pounds for $.70, so of couse I had to buy 9 pounds!), and if I can't use them all in a reasonable time, I chop them and freeze them in recipe sized portions.  I do the same with green peppers as those things are too expensive to let go bad.  You can shred zucchini, carrots or yellow squash in cup-sized portions to be used in quick breads.  Bananas can be either peeled and frozen whole or mashed and frozen for use in smoothies or muffins.  Pineapples have been on sale lately for $.99 each.  I'll buy 3 or 4, core it and cut the outside off and freeze them in rings.  They work great in smoothies and the kids love them just as they start to thaw making them a great summer outside snack (where a hose is handy)!

    Those are my ideas.  Do you have any ideas to reduce produce waste?  If so, I'd love to hear them.  I'm always on the lookout for ways to stretch the produce dollar!

    This and That turned lunch!

    Start with leftovers.
    Is it only me, or do you ever look in your fridge and see a bunch of mysterious containers with bits of this and that?  This was me yesterday as I tried to find something to eat.  I fixed the daycare kids peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (after I had burned the waffles to a crisp trying to reheat them!), and I do NOT eat PB & J ever, so that left me hunting in those mysterious containers.  I came up with half a serving of whole wheat spaghetti noodles from Monday's lunch, some taco meat from Tuesday's dinner, the beans that I didn't end up using from the taco dinner (I had some refried beans already made up that we used instead) and the couple tablespoons of corn from the kids' lunch.  Hmmm!  What to do?  Throw it all together with some salsa, zap it in the mircrowave and top it with shredded cheese and the dab of sour cream that was in that container.  I was a little skeptical at first, because it didn't look super appetizing, but it smelled great.  I dived in and guess what, it was great!  I sort of wished there had been more noodles and I would've made myself a second helping.  It was actually good enough that it will appear on next month's menu. 

    Add in some extras
    What did I gain by doing this?  I cleaned my fridge of four different foods that, by themselves, weren't enough to make much of anything, and probably would've been discarded at the end of the week.  By experimenting, I discovered a great new dish that I think my Mexican food lovin' girls will scarf down.  I saved money by using up what we already had and didn't cook something else.  Lastly, I came up with another way to repurpose my food, so that leftovers won't have to be just leftovers. 

    I can have spaghetti on Monday, nachos on Tuesday, pizza made from the spaghetti sauce on Wednesday, and Mexican spaghetti (my new recipe's name) on Thursday made from Monday's pasta and Tuesday's meat, beans, cheese, etc.  If I had a lot of meat leftover, I could also incorporate it into the pizza or make the pizza on leftover tortillas or make pizza burritos.  Now, my family could eat Italian or Mexican every night, but if you don't want the leftovers that close together, you could freeze the separate items and use them in the following weeks.  No matter how you do it, you will be reducing your food waste, and saving yourself money.
    Voila!  Lunch.
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