Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Cost of Food in September 2008

DH and I are spending a little more on groceries than we have in the past but I'm not sure if the cause is that prices have gone up or we're buying more expensive food and trying to eat healthier or perhaps a little of all. Regardless, we manage to eat well for quite a bit less than the USDA Thrifty Plan and a lot less than Trent over at The Simple Dollar. (Of course, we only feed two!) But his recent article on what's an appropriate food budget for a family of four got a lot of comments and seems to have kicked up some dust! Personally, I think $770 a month for two adults and two children is outrageous (I fed two adults and four children four years ago for less than $250 most months) but what do I know? Anyway, we aren't the only Americans paying more for food, apparently.

According to the USDA Food Plans, for the month of September 2008 the "Thrifty Plan" cost for a month of food for a man my husband's age was $160.60 and for a woman my age it was $155.60. That totals a little over $316 for a month. In April, the cost was right at $300 and that $16 increase took place over only five months.

One of the things I'm doing to help keep the grocery spending under control is trying new recipes. Yep, trying new recipes! I don't try the ones with weird, hard to find or expensive ingredients but I search for those using tried and true, inexpensive, on hand staples from our pantry. So far it's working out very well. We've had a few new to us dishes lately that were tasty and thrifty.

There are a lot of great sites with inexpensive recipes but a few of my favorites are: Cheap Cooking, Cheap Eats, Eating Well, and The USDA's Recipe Finder. The recipe finder has a nice collection of nutritious and inexpensive recipes. The Broccoli Potato Soup is very good and with Autumn upon us it's definitely a featured item on some of our upcoming menus. I use fewer potatoes and add cauliflower so it's lower in carbs and a little more nutritious.

Are you spending more for food now than you were earlier this year or are you spending about the same? And what measures do you take to help keep your food budget under control?

Enquiring minds want to know!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Poor Man's Steak

My mom has some bookkeeping she needs to get caught up on tomorrow, so I'm not going to her house to help her. That means I'll need to cook dinner. I went through the freezer and pantry waiting for something to jump out at me but nothing did. I'd like to have something different, something we haven't had in awhile. I pondered a few ideas (spaghetti? nope! swiss steak? nope!) and finally gave up, figuring I'd just make soup or stew.

Later, I read this MPM entry from the Frugal Domestic Goddess and in it she mentions Poor Man's Stroganoff, which is really good, but a little too high in carbs for us. But the name of the dish brought to mind a dish I haven't prepared in quite awhile - Poor Man's Steak, from the More-With-Less Cookbook.

We haven't had that in quite awhile and it's a very tasty and easy to make main dish. It's also pretty thrifty and uses ingredients we always have on hand.

We like it with a salad and steamed green beans.

So, here's the recipe:

Poor Man's Steak

Combine and mix well:

1 1/2 lbs ground beef (I use ground turkey or a combination of beef and turkey)
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs or crushed crackers
1/2 cup water
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Pat out about 3/4 inch thick on cookie sheet. Refrigerate overnight. Cut into pieces, dip in flour, and brown in small amount of hot fat. Preheat oven to 300. Lay pieces in baking dish or roaster and pour over:

1 to 2 cups mushroom or tomato sauce

Bake 1 1/2 hours.

The meat is in the fridge now. I make a double or triple batch as it freezes well and the leftovers are also very tasty for lunch the next day.

If you ever want to make this and forget to prepare the meat the night before, it's worth a try doing it the day you want to eat it. We don't like the results nearly as much when it's prepared that way but it's still very edible. :)

Monday, October 27, 2008

It's that time again - Menu Plan Monday!

It's Menu Plan Monday again. Wow, how fast time flies!

This week's menus are again dependent on leftovers. We're finally feeling some cool weather and although I don't like the cold weather I do like that it ushers in some of my favorite foods like chili and soup.

Tonight we're having beef roast with carrots, potatoes, turnips, and onions.

The rest of the week we'll have, in no particular order:

Boneless chicken breast tenderloins, lightly breaded with parmesan cheese and whole wheat flour, served with salad and steamed spinach

Beef wraps made with leftover beef roast and served with salad

Chili made with ground turkey and served with corn muffins

Leftover chili over boiled and mashed seasoned turnips, salad and green beans

I'm missing one night's dinner because Wednesday I'll go to my mother's house and cook for her and pop and will bring home some of whatever I cook. Right now I don't have a clue what it will be but I should know by tomorrow night.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Helping kids build great holiday memories

I read this entry about creating an Autumn Extravaganza Memory Box and I absolutely love the idea. I'm already in the process of making a recipe book for each of my grown sons and have started working on the contents and format, but wasn't sure how to pull it all together. Happy Housewives to the rescue!

I plan to have recipes, pictures, and perhaps a quickie family tree just for fun. The pictures I put in it will hopefully bring back happy memories of childhood celebrations and the dishes they prepare from the recipes in it will be joyous reminders of generations gone by.

I can't think of a better gift for young people, single or married, and I wish I'd thought about something like this when my children were younger. Actually, I wish my grandmother had thought of it!! I'd have taken more pictures with the intention of putting them in the guide, I'd have made notes by recipes that Jon stuck his tongue out at this dish and Jeremy acted like he was choking at that one. But I didn't do any of that so whatever I come up with now will have to do.

This should be fun and I'll blog about the guide as it comes along.

Pictures of My Way Wings

I decided to make My Way Wings (and legs) a slightly different way today and get a few pictures of the process.

My way wings
Rather than fry the chicken in oil and butter, I baked it in my small convection oven at 300 degrees for 20 minutes.

My way wing sauce
I removed the chicken, rolled each piece in the sauce, coating it well, then put it in a very shallow baking pan and put it back in the oven.

My way wings and legs baking
The chicken was cooked for about 20 more minutes alternating between the bake setting and the broil setting. When the timer went off after the 20 minute period, I let the chicken sit in the oven for another 15 minutes.

Finished wings and legs
And they're beautiful, savory, and quite flavorful..not to mention messy!

Turkey Meatloaf and My Way Wings

Last night we had a dinner guest who doesn't eat chicken so we had turkey meatloaf, carrots, and green beans instead of Chicken & Biscuits. The guest seemed pleased (I didn't think to tell him the meatloaf was turkey and he had two servings of it) and so did DH.

Here's how I made the meatloaf:

1 lb ground turkey
1 tsp Knorr chicken bouillon
finely chopped onion (I use a lot but use what your family likes)
1 large egg
5 saltine crackers
freshly ground black pepper to taste
chopped garlic or garlic powder to taste

Mix all ingredients and place into a loaf pan or casserole that's been lightly oiled. Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes. Simple and easy and very tasty.

I work tonight from 4 to 9:30 so I'm going to make dinner early. I'll have some before I go and DH can have his whenever the mood strikes him. What are we having? I'm so glad you asked. ;)

We're having chicken wings made with Country Bob's sauce and a few other choice ingredients. Along with the wings we'll have a medley of broccoli, cauliflower and sugar snap peas and leafy salad.

I really love wings but I don't like them too hot. About a year ago I came up with my own recipe for wings my way and I call it...My Way Wings. Clever, huh?

Here's the recipe:

2 lbs chicken wings (I usually mix wings and drumsticks)
Butter or olive oil or a combination of both
Country Bob's All-Purpose Sauce
Hot sauce (I use Louisiana hot sauce but some people prefer Frank's or Crystal's)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed, with juice
salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of ginger

Heat butter and/or oil on medium in a skillet or saucepan large enough to hold the wings. Rinse wings, pat dry and put them in the skillet. Turn the wings now and then so that all sides brown slightly. (I usually fry them about 10 minutes.)

While the wings are frying, turn the oven on to about 250 and mix the Country Bob's sauce, hot sauce, garlic with juice, salt, pepper, and ginger. Remove wings from pan and drain on paper towels or newspaper.

Place the wings in a baking pan and cover with the sauce mixture, turning the wings so that they're covered on all sides. Bake at 250 for about 30 minutes or until done.

Once the meat is cooked, turn the oven off and leave them in for another 15 to 20 minutes.

Sometimes I add a little Teriyaki sauce or a little Worcestershire sauce or whatever else appeals to me at the time but it seems that as long as I use this recipe for the base, the wings are always great.

These are great as part of a complete meal but are also an excellent snack while watching a Dallas Cowboys game. These wings rock...even if the Cowboys don't. At least not this year.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Freezer Food Friday - Chicken & Biscuits

I'm very late getting this posted today because I had to be at work early this morning. At any rate, here it is, finally! Thanks to What a Crock!, the host of Freezer Food Friday. I enjoy participating and hope more of you will join us!

I absolutely love Chicken and Biscuits and although I don't eat it often it surely is comfort food for me. I've tried a lot of recipes for Chicken and Biscuits and though most turned out fine, this is one I prefer, though I admit that I make it slightly different each time because how I prepare it depends entirely on what I have on hand. This is one of those "take it and make it your own" recipes.

Chicken & Biscuits

3 cups chicken, cooked and chopped (I use leftover chicken)
3 cups chicken broth (water and chicken bouillon work, too, as does vegetable broth)
5 small carrots, chopped
1/2 to 3/4 onion, chopped (I use more)
4 celery stalks, chopped (I leave this out most of the time since it gives my man person mean heartburn)
8 ounces mushrooms, fresh (canned work too)
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 cup frozen green peas (green beans are good, also)
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup cold water (sometimes I use the juice from canned vegetables)
biscuits, uncooked (home made are great but canned work too)

Bring chicken broth to a boil and add garlic and vegetables. Simmer about 15 minutes. Add chicken and peas or beans and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes. Make a paste with the cornstarch and cold water and carefully add it to the chicken mixture a little at a time, stirring well. Cook and stir until similar consistency to gravy. Remove from heat and cool.

If you're going to eat it now, just pour everything into a casserole dish, top with biscuits, and bake at 375 for about 30 minutes or until the biscuits are light brown.

To freeze, pour into a glass casserole dish, cover with foil, place in a good freezer bag and place in freezer.

When ready to eat, thaw then place in 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and place raw biscuit dough or pre-made biscuits on top. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until hot and biscuits are lightly browned.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fall is almost here! Cool front moves through

Last night we had a cool front move through and the temperature dropped quite a lot. It should warm up today and the next few days will be warmer but certainly not hot. Yaaaay, Fall is just about here!

The menu plan for this week hasn't panned out as I thought it would. Tuesday night we went out for Mexican food and last night we were running late for our first night at a new church (a customer showed up right as we were closing) so we grabbed something on the way. The best laid plans of mice and men, right?

I'll cook tonight, though. I get off work at 4:00 and taco soup sounds really good to me but DH isn't mood for that. He likes the idea of meat loaf for supper so I'll probably make turkey meat loaf, salad, and spinach or green beans. I might make two loaves, one for the freezer. And I hope there are leftovers tonight so I can make a meat loaf sandwich to eat for lunch at work on Friday. Talk about comfort food!

I get bored with ground turkey and ground beef and keep my eyes open for new recipes using those, especially soup recipes. So, if you have a recipe that would be good with ground beef or ground turkey, please share! One can't have too many recipes...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Spicy Wild Rice

We love rice, just about any kind of rice, but it's so high in carbs neither of us can eat a lot of it. Wild and brown rice are a little easier on the blood sugar and of those we prefer wild rice. So, wild rice is our quick and easy side dish on busy nights. I keep a small container of cooked wild rice in the fridge and it's easily modified to suit any main dish. One of our favorite ways to eat wild rice is this highly seasoned, sassy way.

Spicy Wild Rice

1 tsp olive oil
1 or 2 green onions, chopped (top and all)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 cups cooked wild rice
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp crushed red pepper
a few dashes of Louisiana Hot Sauce

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over low heat. Add chopped green onions and garlic and saute until soft. Add rice and seasonings, turn heat to medium, and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes.

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride

The state of the U.S. economy has a lot of people skittish and some say they're even afraid. A recent survey conducted by Decision Research shows that fear about our current economic state outweighs fear of terrorism.

I don't know that I'm afraid but I'm certainly concerned and more than just a tad angry about it all. However, being concerned, angry, or afraid doesn't solve the problems and doesn't make me feel any better. But what does make me feel better is knowing that YHWH is in control and I'm fairly prepared for recession and even a depression.

An article in The Modesto Bee has practical advice about saving during these tough times. The advice given is pretty standard stuff - cut back on expenses and save your money. Cook more and eat out less. Don't drive a gas guzzling vehicle. Buy used or sale clothing items. We've all heard this advice before yet most of us don't follow it.

Why?

I'm not sure but I think it's because most of us have a devil may care, play now pay later attitude about life in general and money in particular. When I was 20 I didn't worry about having money for retirement. I just assumed I'd have it. Don't ask me where or how I thought I'd get it because I don't know the answer to that. I was young, naive, married and raising children and with the day to day stresses, my future 40 or 50 years down the road simply wasn't a factor. It didn't dawn on me that someday I'd be approaching 50 and staring my golden years in the face. And now here I am.

It's taken me time and a lot of work but I have money saved and I don't have a lot of debt. I do have some old debt that I'm trying to pay off. I'm making dents in it a little at a time and it's working for me. It sure would have been a lot easier if I hadn't accrued the debt, though. If I'd saved/invested all the charges I incurred and all the money I've blown over the years I'd be quite comfortable right now and years down the road.

I have no credit cards and rarely use a debit card or check. I use cash for almost everything. To me, plastic just isn't money. It's something else, I'm not sure what, so I go to great effort to not even be around it. I know, there's something wrong with me to feel that way but a lot of Americans are like me. We simply can't handle credit.

If you're one of those, admit it now, cut up the cards, and get them all paid off. You know you should, you know you need to, and you probably know that your life will be a lot better in the long run if you do.

If you don't see plastic as something other as money, that's okay. You might be one of the lucky ones who could save quite a lot of money if you just quit using the cards. You might be one of the lucky ones who has plenty of money and just likes the convenience of credit cards. But at what price convenience? The credit card companies abuse you and you say, "More, more!" If that's okay with you, great. But if it isn't okay you know what to do about it.

If you aren't one of the lucky ones and credit helps you get through the month, like Dave Ramsey says, deliver pizzas, cut hair on the weekends, look into a paper route..just do what it takes to get those debts paid off and start saving money.

We don't know just where our economy is headed. It might tank and it might not. But there are some things you can do to prepare, even just a little.

Decrease your spending, increase your income, and increase your money reserves. Even if you can't increase your income, you can do the other two. You'll feel a lot better for it.

Don't expect the government to be there for you in the near future or your old age and don't just sit around wishing things would get better.

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Finally....wedding photos, Part I

I finally got some of the pictures back from my oldest son's wedding. I still need to scan pictures of the rehearsal dinner but I'll go ahead and share some of the the photos now. And there are so many pictures it's going to take me awhile to go through them all and decide which ones to share here so I'll post a few pictures every once in awhile. I don't want y'all getting wedding picture overload!

Before wedding
This is Jeremy, my son, on the church steps

Beautiful bride
And here's Lydia, his beloved, on those steps

So cute!
And the happy couple on the steps. Aren't they beautiful? The people, not the steps!

The newlyweds
And another of the newlyweds

Green and white
The bride and her 'girls'

Men in black
The groom and his 'boys' - the young man in the front to your far right, is my other son, Jon

The happy couple
The bride and groom playing around at the reception

That's it for now. I'll try to share some more tomorrow or the next day.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - Planned Overs and Overs...

Another week where I'm late getting my menu posted! I've had a very busy day and this week I have somewhat hectic work and personal schedules so I'm focusing on planned-overs. I really like planned-overs as they're quite a boon to the schedule and the pocketbook.

Anyway, if you haven't already, make sure to check the great menus posted on Laura's Menu Plan Monday entry.

Sunday night we had Jewish Chicken made with boneless, skinless chicken breast tenderloins. I'd planned to turn the leftover chicken and sauce into the base of chicken enchiladas for tonight's dinner but we had a late lunch and neither of us is hungry tonight. So, we'll have that Tuesday night with salad and a little fresh fruit.

The rest of the week we'll have:

Smoked sausage skillet casserole, a real favorite of ours. It's so simple and quick to make and here's the recipe:

Smoked Sausage Skillet Casserole

2 Tablespoons oil
2 to 3 potatoes, washed and chopped (sweet potato and turnips work, too)
1/2 to 1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 lb smoked sausage sliced thinly sliced (we use turkey sausage)
1 can garbanzo beans (optional but definitely great in this)
1 can green beans or 1 1/2 cups frozen or fresh green beans
Chopped garlic or garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Additional seasonings to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet. When the oil is hot, add the potato and onion and let them cook until tender and lightly browned. (I'll cook a little extra sausage to use in beans later in the week - I like the meat in beans to be browned first) Add the sausage and let it brown lightly then add the garbanzo and green beans. (If using fresh green beans, put them in with the potato and onion) Add seasonings, stir it all a little to encourage even heating, then serve and enjoy!

Adjust the quantities to make enough for your crowd. When the kids were home, I'd make large amounts of this and rarely was there any leftover. Now I cut the basic recipe in half for the two of us. We usually eat it with a salad and it makes for a quick yet hearty meal.

Cheese pancakes with homemade breakfast turkey sausage

Chicken pie made from the Chunky Chili Chicken from the freezer with tossed salad and steamed spinach

Beans cooked with smoked sausage and served with tossed salad

And that's it for the week - quick, easy, and tasty.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Looking under bridges - more thoughts on giving

Last night my youngest son and I had a discussion of God, Gnosticism, blessings, "paying it forward", and several other things. My son feels a real need to give more to others but for some reason just hasn't done it. I can definitely relate to that. My man person and I have been blessed and we need to share more generously. We talked about how one can give generously when money is limited and he had some excellent ideas. He also reminded me that one needn't give to a large organization (or any organization at all) and suggested finding local individuals or families that need help and reaching out to them. When I asked him how to find people who need help he quickly said, "Look under bridges." and I immediately knew he was referring to the lyrics of Under Bridges by Christian band Brave Saint Saturn. Since looking under bridges can be risky he also suggested speaking to the pastors of local churches. Surely they know which members of their flock can use some help.

James 1:26-27 reads

"If anyone among you thinks himself to be religious, while he doesn’t bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

Scripture makes it very clear that we're to help the fatherless and the widows. I believe their affliction is that they have no man to provide for and protect them and are therefore often among the most economically disadvantaged and endangered members of society. Visiting them in their affliction then is tending to their basic needs of food, clothing, and housing. In other words, we're to protect them.

So a person who wants to help others might go to the local churches and talk to the pastors about the fatherless and widows in the congregation. Spending a little time with the fatherless, perhaps taking them a few groceries, making sure their basic needs are met and even doing something fun with them would qualify as visiting them in their affliction. A widow might need groceries, a ride to the doctor's office, help paying her electric bill, the kitchen sink unstopped, etc. If you can do more, that's great but even a little help is still help.

And no, I don't think we should help only the fatherless and the widows but I do think there's a biblical mandate to do so. I don't know about you but I'm very guilty of not doing that and I want to amend that.

There's so much we can do and if we all do just a little, we won't need the horrific welfare system we have. Giving should be a private enterprise, not a public one but no one should be forced to give. We should, however, be encouraged to give so I encourage, no I challenge, you now to find a way to give in your community.

I do think there are many people who want to give of their time, talent, and money but aren't sure just how. Here are some sites that might give a little assistance in that.

Be The Cause

Charity Guide

Do Something

Volunteer Match

Don't forget the idea of doing what you can locally. I'm all for giving to areas far beyond where we are geographically but if we all do what we can in our own neighborhoods, what a blessing that is. So now, go and find someone who can use a little help and give them that help.

Saturday Supper - Lima Beans and Corn Muffins

I'm off work today and spent a good portion of the day relaxing in my recliner catching up on House episodes. It was nice to spend most of the day doing basically nothing.

This evening we went to Wal-Mart to pick up some things and when we returned, I made lima beans and corn muffins. The lima beans turned out exceptionally well and the muffins were good though they were from a mix.

Here's how I made the lima beans:

I just poured a bag of frozen lima beans into a pan of water, added chopped onion and garlic, sliced smoked turkey sausage, a little Knorr's chicken bouillon, and some pepper. I let the beans come to a boil then turned them down to low and let them simmer for about 35 minutes. Right before serving I added just a small sprinkle of Spike seasoning to each bowl. They were very tasty and there's just enough left for my lunch at work tomorrow.

I work tomorrow until 3:30 PM and plan to spend the late afternoon and evening cooking the Jewish Chicken I should have cooked today and doing some other cooking for the coming week.

I need to do a complete food inventory and might do that on Monday. If I do, I'll post it here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Freezer Food Friday - Quick comfort for coming cold!

Jewish Chicken is one of our favorite dishes. It's comfort food for us, so easy to make, and so hearty when Autumn arrives. We like it with wild rice and green beans or spinach and a leafy green salad. It freezes beautifully and this afternoon or tomorrow I'm making several batches of the chicken and quite a bit of wild rice for the freezer.

Yes, I know that no Jew (Orthodox, anyway) worth his/her salt would eat it but I didn't name the dish. I just make it and share it with others!

So here it is:

Jewish Chicken

Chicken breasts (4 to 6 pieces for every 2 cans of soup)
2 to 4 cans cream of whatever soup or homemade version
1/4 to 1/2 cup milk
5 to 6 onion slices
1/2 cup grated cheddar or other cheese, optional (omit if freezing)
salt and pepper and other spices you like

Rinse chicken pieces and pat them dry. Place chicken in a shallow baking pan and bake at 350 degrees until almost done, about 30 minutes. Remove chicken and drain grease. Mix soup and milk in a bowl until smooth and creamy, using more milk if necessary. Pour the soup mixture over chicken, add onion slices to the top, and bake another 15 to 20 minutes. If desired, sprinkle shredded cheese on it before the second baking time. The more soup you use, the more gravy you get and that's the best part.

To freeze this, just prepare it and put the cooked chicken and gravy in freezer containers. Label with contents and date. When ready to eat, defrost the container contents, warm in low oven or microwave, and top with cheese right before serving.

Variations: Chicken thighs and legs work well in this recipe. Also, add jalapenos, chiles, mushrooms, chopped squash, etc. for variety and color

For more suggestions, recipes, and ideas for filling your freezer with tasty meals, take a look at What a Crock!, the host of Freezer Food Friday.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Times are hard but don't stop giving!

Times are hard for a lot of us right now. Keeping body and soul alive is getting more difficult and sometimes its hard to see ways to give when we're barely making it ourselves. But we still need to give, even if we only give a little bit.

Here are some things we do:

Buy a food box from Angel Food Ministries and donate the contents to the local food pantry or to an individual or family that needs help. Each box costs $30 and certainly is helpful to someone in need. If you can't afford to pay the $30 by yourself maybe you can get a few friends to go in with you on it.

In that vein, use coupons and sales to get food pantry donations for very little to nothing. If you can't do that but you have extra foodstuffs give some to the local food pantry. Just a can or two of vegetables or a bag of rice will be put to use.

The man person repairs eyeglasses for a living. It isn't unusual for someone who has very little or no money to show up at his shop needing a repair. And it isn't unusual for him to complete said repair for nothing. They have repaired glasses and he has the blessing of helping someone in need. Everyone's happy! If you can knit or crochet, maybe you can make hats or gloves to help warm someone this coming winter. If you know something about carpentry maybe you can donate your time and expertise to an elderly neighbor who needs a door re-hung or a few shingles nailed down.

Most of us have something to give - time, talent, or money. Give it some thought and come up with creative ways to give to others even through these tough times.

For more ideas on giving generously during hard times, go to Like a Warm Cup of Coffee.

Thrilling Thursday! Just stuff...

I read a great blog entry at Oh My Aching Debts and thought I'd share it with y'all. I don't know if you're guilty of any of these things but I have been. I don't do them anymore (well, not often and not on a large scale) and it's horrifying to think that I ever did any of them as often or as large scale as I did! But it goes to show that we're human and even Dave Ramsey fans like me can fall off the wagon. I really do try to stick with the program and for the most part my man person and I do a great job. But we could always do a better job and we're working toward that.

My youngest son (age 24) is back in town, hopefully permanently. He just got a job working for a local soft drink distributing company. The work is hard and the pay isn't great but it's better than what he made driving a truck and he's home. For that I'm very glad. I think there's some good potential for him with that company and I'm very proud of him for wanting to budget and save money. In light of that, I loaned him Dave's Financial Peace Revisited book. He really needs to read The Total Money Makeover but he's listened to me espouse the glory of Dave and his principles enough that he knows a lot about the basics. He definitely comprehends the envelope system and, in my opinion, that's the place to start.

This morning I see a periodontist. Yuck. My dentist wants to know how much, if any, bone loss I have so off to see this new Doctor I'll go. I have to be at work at 4 this afternoon so I'll have a little time before and after the dental appointment to relax before work.

I haven't had a chance to play with my new toy yet but hope to do that over the weekend. I'm off Saturday so I should have plenty of time that day. I can't decide if I should try cornbread first or something savory like garlic bread. Regardless, I'll post about it here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ummm...why?

This isn't cooking related but I saw these Bowl Buddies and thought to myself, "Ummmm...why?" and just wanted to share with the rest of you. What a weird thing on a Wednesday morning!


Monday, October 13, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - thrifty and easy

I'm late today getting this posted but I had to be at work at 7:30 this morning and had a very long work day. Oh well, as they say, 'Better late than never!'.

This week we're once again concentrating on thrifty meals. We usually do that but since I soon have to pay the other half of the dental crowns being made for me, this week's dinners will focus on what we have on hand.

Sunday night we had leftover Chili Corn Chip Pie with tossed salad. I love that dish when it's set for awhile and gotten kind of soft. It's also easy to chew!

Beef and Vegetable Soup was on the menu for tonight but my man person decided he wanted something else so he went to Burger King while I was at the chiropractor's office and got us a couple of sandwiches and we split an order of fries. Waaaay too high in carbs but a nice treat it was.

Tuesday night we'll have the soup with tossed salad and popovers or maybe I'll use my new toy I got from Cook's Choice today. It's their new loaf bowl and I can't wait to try it! I can make the loaf bowl with a hearty bread recipe and put the soup in it. Yummy!

Here's the new toy:

Cook's Choice Loaf Bowl

By the way, if you want one of these loaf bowls, watch the Cook's Choice site. The loaf bowl will be available in a day or two for $14.95 and that includes a small but nice color cookbook with plenty of ideas for using the three Better Baker bowls from Cook's Choice. As usual, if you have questions about the loaf bowl or any of their products just call them. They give some of the best customer service I've ever seen.

The rest of the week we'll have, in no particular order:

Beef Pie made from thickened Beef and Vegetable Soup and served with spinach and tossed salad

Slow Cooked Swiss Steak, Carne Picada Style with tossed salad, green beans, and steamed carrots

Salad night with biiiig salads we so love

Breakfast, more than likely sweet turkey italian sausages and eggs with a low carb tortilla or some low carb lavash bread

And that's it for the week! For more menu ideas, make sure you look at Menu Plan Monday. In fact, don't just look - participate!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Low Carb Breakfast Muffins

Breakfast is an issue for me. I'm not hungry when I wake up and although I prepare breakfast for the man person, I generally don't eat. Sometime between 10 AM and noon my stomach finally realizes it hasn't been fed and the battle is on.

This is something I try to keep on hand to help stave off those sudden hunger pangs. It's also a little something I often can eat not long after waking. If I don't have time to eat one when I get up, I take one or two to work with me and when the weakness catches up with me, I heat one or both and can eat them fairly quickly.

These aren't muffins at all but I'm not sure what else to call them!

Low Carb Breakfast Muffins

For each muffin, you need a small amount of breakfast sausage (I use homemade turkey sausage), one egg, about 1/4 ounce of your choice of cheese, and any seasonings you choose.

Spray the muffin pan with vegetable spray and into the wells of the pan, place a small amount of patted out sausage. You don't need a lot, just enough to cover the bottom of the well. Put that in a 300 or so degree oven and let it bake until partially cooked. Remove and drain any grease from the pan. Top the sausage with your choice of cheese (I like most cheeses but really love swiss or provolone in this), then crack an egg onto the top of the cheese. Lightly salt and pepper and pop the muffin pan in the oven and bake until the egg is cooked to your liking.

When the muffins have cooled, place them in a zipper bag or covered container and refrigerate. When its time to eat one, just put it in the microwave on Medium High for 30 to 45 seconds.

These are also great with onion, bell pepper, and other omelet type additions.

There you have it, a breakfast idea that's low in carbs, high in flavor, quick, easy, and portable.

Enjoy!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Saturday cooking

Today I did a little cooking in preparation for the coming week. I get off from work around 3 PM for the next three days and rather than deal with being tired and not wanting to cook and therefore being very tempted to eat out, I made a few things.

One of them is Corn Chip Pie, one of my all time favorite Fall/Winter dishes. It's really too high in carbs for us to have it often but I made a small pan of it and we had some for dinner tonight. The man person will probably have some for lunch tomorrow, too.

I also made Beef and Vegetable Soup just like what I made at Mom's house Wednesday except I used beef back rib bones which were inexpensive to begin with and marked down to make them a very good bargain. This is such a simple and tasty soup.

Beef and Vegetable Soup

Water
1 bay leaf
beef ribs or beef back rib bones
vegetables, chopped, raw or cooked (chopped carrots, potatoes, turnips, onions, celery, green beans, corn, fresh spinach, etc) **I use this as an opportunity to clean out the leftover veggies from the fridge**
garlic, chopped
salt, pepper, other seasoning
beef or onion bouillon (optional)

In a large pot of water and one bay leaf, boil beef ribs or beef back rib bones. When the meat is cooked and tender add the vegetables. Cover, reduce heat, and let simmer for at least an hour. When vegetables are tender, add chopped garlic, salt, freshly ground pepper and any other seasonings you wish. At this point I taste the soup and if it doesn't have quite enough flavor I add a beef or onion bouillon cube or two. Cover again and let simmer another 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with a salad and fresh bread for a healthy and hearty meal.

I prepared a couple more dishes but will post about them tomorrow afternoon.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Between a rock and a hard place and slidin' into the weekend

I spent most of Wednesday at my mother's house. While I was there I made a great beef and vegetable soup. Unfortunately, I didn't get pictures of it but I'll post the recipe over the weekend. I'm off today and should have time to do that.

Right now I want to discuss something that is preying on my mind.

I went to Mom's house to help her clean and organize the house but we didn't get a lot of that done. What we did get done was some talking about a lot of things that needed to be discussed.

Mom is 73, Pop is a tad younger. Pop never had children and with him recently being told he has dementia and being put on Aricept, he seems to worry about what's going to happen to him. Who can blame him? But he has Mom and me and my three sisters and hopefully we'll be enough. At any rate, Mom and I talked about their finances, which are pretty dismal, and what my sisters and I can do to help. Now, one of my sisters lives about 150 miles away and the other is several states away. My youngest son just recently moved back to east Texas and the other is in Austin. I have a niece in Iowa and the rest of my nieces and nephews are around Dallas. So basically, my youngest son and I are the closest, physically, to Mom and Pop. That means that most of the things they need done, things like yard work, house cleaning, shopping, and such, will be up to us. I'm okay with that and so is my son. I know the others will help in whatever ways they can.

But I'm really struggling with my parents finances. In the last two months Mom and Pop have made at least two major bad decisions regarding finances. Neither of them have doomed them to a life of poverty but one decision led to them giving away several thousands of dollars and the other almost destroyed the credit they've worked 40 years to build. Neither of these decisions/actions is in character for Mom and this has me concerned. But my sisters and I can't just take their checkbooks and credit cards away. We can't stop them from giving money to whomever they choose. They are grown adults, they're still competent and independent so there isn't anything we can do, right?

I'm very concerned about these recent developments and haven't a clue just what to do about them. If you have experience with aging parents and/or dementia, please give me your insights on this.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Maintaining finances in tough times....

I found this article on maintaining finances during stressful times in life and it touched me. I'm not sure why but the fact that my stepfather has early stage dementia probably has something to do with it. I think Mom is still in shock over the diagnosis and my stepdad is dealing with fear of the unknown.

Fortunately, they make good money but I'm not sure how much, if any, they've saved. I know that they've been paying on and not using credit cards for awhile and are faithful about paying bills on time. But I also know that they plan to quit their jobs in December of this year, with the intention of traveling awhile. Honestly, I'm concerned about their finances but don't know how to ask them about it. I mean, I can't just say, "So, how much debt do y'all have?" Well, not without starting a fight, anyway!

At any rate, the above mentioned article caught my eye and I recommend it to all. The author's recounting of her mother's death, her father's handling of finances, and how the benefits were reaped during a very difficult time of life should be a lesson to the rest of us. We really don't know what the future holds and financial preparation is not just for our benefit but for that of those left behind.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

How to eat on the cheap!

I've spent some time this morning perusing sites looking for advice on cutting grocery expenses. I do pretty well as it is but it's good to keep abreast of such things and I get email fairly often from people new to budgeting and frugality asking if I'll post more "how to" entries on those topics. Not only that, who knows when and where some miraculous suggestion will appear?? It could happen! And I don't want to miss it when it does! Most of the sites say the same things - do this, do that, etc. But some of the advice is so good (and so overlooked) that it really does bear repeating.

One of the spots with such advice is About.com's Frugal Living's hints for cutting grocery expenses. The guide's advice is sound and thorough. Make sure you check out the additional resources toward the bottom of the pages. There are some golden nuggets there!

By the way, the article on recession proofing your finances is very good, also. Mmmm, maybe the Fed needs to read that!

Being prepared in small, as well as large, ways

At 7:45 last night, during a minor thunderstorm, our power went out. Most of the businesses and homes around us were dark, too. We quickly went to the drawer where flashlights, batteries, and candles are kept and put them to use. The chiropractor next door came over to see if he could borrow a flashlight and was impressed that DH knew just where to find one. That led us into a conversation about preparedness and how important it is. We can't be prepared for everything life throws at us but we can be prepared for many things. Like the power going out for an hour and a half.

We aren't die hard survivalists (and I wouldn't call us survivalists at all) but we do believe in being prepared for some things we can anticipate. You know, things like sudden loss of livelihood, birth or death in the family, car repair, etc. We keep bug out boxes ready. We have a good supply of food that gets rotated every two to three months. We both take prescription medications and though we can't have a year's supply of it we do have extra. We also have items that might be useful for barter.

I don't think we're at all "weird" because we do these things. It makes sense to be as prepared as one can be. Blessedly, we've rarely had to rely on our stash of food, clothing, or trade items and when we have had to fall back on them it's been for something minor like a storm taking the power out for a few days or needing extra cash for an unexpected expense. When it's happened I've been grateful we had the forethought to prepare. But preparation can start in small ways.

Planning your grocery shopping trips is an easy way to help your family be prepared. Having on hand the food you need for a week or two definitely takes some planning, especially if you're doing it for a large family or on a budget. Running out of ingredients can be a real time and budget buster so try to prevent it! Sometimes shopping at one store makes more sense than going to several so figure out what works best for your family. We use a very simple method: scour the sales ads, stock up on food we eat that's at a great price (remembering to watch for unadvertised specials in the store), store the food properly, then plan menus that use that food, including leftovers. It's short and sweet and works for us.

Creating a weekly menu is another simple way to be prepared. If it saves you time, money, and stress, what a great thing! Planning for leftovers in your menu is an extension of menu planning. Don't throw the leftovers out and don't let them become a science fair project. Plan for their use and either freeze them or use them in another meal later in the week.

Reading this blog and others will help a beginner learn how to find sales, stock a pantry, and cook/eat from that pantry. If you haven't been prepared in larger ways and would like to learn more, here are a few of my favorite sites on the subject:

Emergency Essentials

Food Storage for $5 A Week - prices have definitely changed since this list was created but the principle is still valid

Provident Living

Ready.gov

Safely Gathered In - Fantastic step by step instructions in preparedness

Survival & Emergency Preparedness

You can start small, perhaps just putting together a good medical emergency kit and stashing away a few bucks and some non-perishable food in a safe place. Watch for sales on non-perishable nutritious food or non-edible supplies and stock a few items here and there. You needn't do it all at once and most of us don't have the money to do it all at once. But a little here and a little there can provide a better sense of security. And that's a very good thing, indeed.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Ooops, a change in the menu

Tonight we were going to have leftover Chunky Chili Chicken with brown rice, tossed salad, and green beans but we weren't in the mood for that. In fact, we weren't really in the mood for anything on this week's menu so we ended up eating broiled chicken tenderloins, turnip greens, and peas and carrots. It was good and we were both satisfied.

Afterwards, while looking over the menu, I got to thinking about making over the Chunky Chili Chicken, turning it into a different dish for tomorrow night. It was very good the first time and certainly can just be warmed and eaten again but I'd like to make it into something else.

My first thought was some kind of tortilla casserole. The Chunky Chili Chicken is very thick but I have a 1/2 can of stewed tomatoes languishing in the fridge and if I add those and a little bit of frozen corn and maybe some broth or V8 juice and layer it with tortilla chips and chopped green onions then top with cheese it might be a very tasty dish.

Another idea is to add more tomatoes, broth and perhaps some green beans to the Chunky Chili Chicken and turn it into soup. I think that would be excellent with hot water cornbread or even homemade yeast rolls.

I'm going to consider this awhile and decide in the morning what to do with it. I have to be at work at 4 PM so I'll have it ready for the man person before I leave and I'll have some when I get home around 10 PM.

If you have an idea on what to do with the Chunky Chili Chicken, please let me know. I'll post about what I end up doing with it.

Quick visit to a local coffee shop

Today my youngest son's girlfriend and I went to Mugshot, a brand new local coffee shop. The employees were very nice and friendly, the decor was warm and very inviting, and the drinks were good.

First I ordered an Undertow, also called a John Wayne or Teardrop. The employees on duty hadn't heard of it so I explained how to make it. They actually made too much of the drink but I don't think they fully understood my directions. However, what they made was absolutely delicious. Afterwards, I ordered a medium Caffe Mocha. I requested it be made with just 1 pump of Mocha rather than 2 and it was very tasty but after a few swallows I realized it was way too sweet for me. I'm not sure if they used more than 1 pump of Mocha or if the syrup is just very sweet. Also, I couldn't taste the espresso in the drink so it was more like drinking hot chocolate than Mocha. Again though, it was a good drink. It just wasn't what I wanted in a Mocha. Alisha ordered a White Chocolate Mocha and said it was very good. We split a piece of excellent coffee cake but I only had two small bites of it. Okay, so I went over my carb goal a little. Ehhh, it doesn't happen often and I did shoot a bit of insulin first.

I'll go back to Mugshot but will more than likely ask for a medium Mocha with just a quick 1/2 pump of Mocha and see if that's better. I really do like a stronger espresso taste and will ask for another shot. Maybe those two modifications will make the drink the perfect Mocha for me!

I want to love their drinks. The shop is right across the road from the man person's business and it would be so convenient to be able to just run over there for some java. Also, I've been looking for a sort of "hang out" place, somewhere I can go to read or just sit quietly and I think Mugshot might be it. It certainly has the potential!

Here's hoping....

Sunday, October 5, 2008

This week's eats - a few fall favorites

Wow, two weeks in a row participating in Menu Plan Monday! It just doesn't get much better than this. ;) And with fall foods like squash coming in, it's bound to be a great week of eating!

Sunday night we had beef chuck roast, broiled in the convection oven, with roasted vegetables, including squash. As usual, the leftovers will be used in other meals throughout the week.

Tonight, leftover Chunky Chili Chicken with leftover brown rice, tossed salad, and green beans are on the menu.

The rest of the week our meals will be, in no particular order:

Shredded beef roll ups, using Joseph's low carb Lavash bread, leftover beef roast, chopped tomato, finely shredded carrot, finely shredded squash, and choice of dressing

Beef pot pie, using low carb tortillas for crust and leftover beef roast and vegetables, thickened, for the filling, served with salad and spinach

Chicken soup using leftover Chunky Chili Chicken as a base with vegetables, broth, and perhaps a few homemade noodles added

Salad night where we eat biiiig salads with just about every vegetable on hand in them

Open face beef roast sandwiches using the Lavash bread, leftover beef roast, and faux mashed potatoes

That's it, folks. Several easy meals mostly made from leftovers of foods cooked on my days off. The meals are all thrifty, very tasty, filling, and easy to make.

For more menu planning ideas, peruse Menu Plan Monday.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Weekend eats

Lunch today was chili cheese dogs sans bread. I just heated some turkey franks, topped them with hot leftover chili and shredded cheddar cheese and they were very tasty.

We didn't eat Chunky Chili Chicken for dinner last night as I'd planned. When I got off work the man person was too hungry to wait for that so we grabbed some fast food. Ugh, not my favorite thing but I tried Burger King's new Mushroom Swiss Steakhouse Burger and it was actually very good. Surprisingly so.

Tonight we'll have the Chunky Chili Chicken. I thought I had a couple of cans of black beans but couldn't find them in the cupboard so I'm cooking a small pot of them now. Once they're cooked I'll let them cool off and they'll be ready for the recipe this evening. The Chunky Chili Chicken is very good with a nice leafy salad and some steamed green beans and I'm looking forward to dinner tonight.

Tomorrow night we'll have beef roast with vegetables. We should have plenty left to use throughout the week in beef pot pie, soup, etc.

Since I'm off today I'm working on the menu plan for this week. As usual, it's comprised of mostly what we already have on hand and it's both thrifty and easy. I'll post the week's menu tomorrow or Monday morning.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Freezer Food Friday - Chunky Chili Chicken

I received this recipe in email from a local grocer. I'm not sure where they got the recipe but it's very tasty and perfect for the freezer. Most of the ingredients are things I keep on hand but if I don't have something I just leave it out or substitute.

I'll post the original recipe then freezer directions and some of my favorite variations at the end.

By the way, this is what we're having for dinner tonight with tossed salad and green beans. Tonight I'll make it with chicken breast tenderloins and it will be just scrumptious, I know.

For more freezer food ideas, visit What a Crock!

Chunky Chili Chicken

1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped
10 oz can whole tomatoes and green chilies, crushed
30 oz black beans, with liquid
12 oz can beer or substitute chicken broth
5 Tbs olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 sweet onion, chopped
1/3 cup pitted ripe olives, sliced
1 cup baby corn (optional)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp cumin seed
1 Tbs chili powder
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp cilantro leaves, minced (optional)
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

In Dutch oven, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add chicken and saute until no longer pink, about 4 minutes each side. Remove chicken from pot and wipe pot dry. Heat remaining oil and saute onion, garlic, bell pepper and cumin seed for 5 minutes, stirring often. Stir in chili powder, oregano, tomatoes and chilies, tomato sauce, beer or broth and salt and pepper. Add chicken back to pot. Cover and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. Add beans, corn and olives. Simmer 15 minutes longer. Stir in cilantro, if desired. Serve hot topped with cheddar cheese.

To freeze this, just prepare it and freeze in airtight freezer containers without the olives and cheese. When ready to use, heat, add the olives and top with the cheese.

I've made this with meat from chicken breasts and legs and it turns out very well. It also is good using turkey. I've never made this with beer because I don't keep beer on hand. I just use broth or stock and have even used beef broth before with very good results. I also don't use the baby corn most of the time and I generally leave out the red pepper because bell peppers and the man person don't get along too well. Now and then, though, I make two batches, one without bell pepper and one with a lot of bell pepper. I've added mushrooms to this dish before with good results. It's very versatile so take it and make it your own!

As a side note, recent additions to my freezer are chili, spaghetti, baked and creamed squashed, and Jewish chicken. Yum!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Fall is coming & with it, some of my favorite foods

The temperature here this morning was 55 and the high was in the 70s. In a couple of days, we'll have warmer weather but that won't last much longer. No, its not yet time to drag out the winter clothes (hmm, where is my coat, anyway?) but it is time to start gearing up for Fall, one of my two favorite times of year. I absolutely love the cooler weather we start experiencing right about now and it's approach prompts me to perform certain household "chores" that I reserve for Spring and Autumn.

One of those is window cleaning. Although I don't like to wash windows at all, I do enjoy washing and re-hanging the now fresh smelling curtains and seeing the clean glass in the windows. Another thing I do just twice a year is defrost and clean the freezer. I don't like this job at all but it needs to be done and the finished product makes the drudgery of the process worth the doing. I love seeing the freezer shelves clean and neatly stocked with the great sale purchases we've made. My heart almost sings to best buy beef, clearance chicken, and discontinued frozen goods all purchased for a fraction of the original cost! But I think the very best part of Fall is cooking.

Since the outside weather is a little cooler, the inside weather can be a little warmer and nothing oven and stove top at bringing about the warmth. And ahhhh, the smells of banana bread baking, stew simmering, meat roasting, and on and on and on...

Anyway, I'll post my Freezer Food Friday entry in the morning and there will be some of our favorite fall foods on there. What are your favorite fall foods?