Monday, August 12, 2013

Think Christmas--No it's not too early!

Today is part one of my 2 part series on how to prepare for Christmas financially.
I know what you're thinking 'Christmas, is this woman crazy?'.  Well there's only about 4.5 months until Christmas (see a countdown clock here) and you know that those 4.5 months will fly by.  Don't get caught with your proverbial pants down this year; prepare early!
Personally I'm one of those wackos that starts shopping for the next Christmas on the 26th of December.  I like to pick up gift sets, wrapping paper, ribbon, bags, ornaments and boxes as early as the day after Christmas.  Other items go clearance the first week of the year.
But enough about that, today I want to talk about how to prep for Christmas. 
  1. Start Saving.  Estimates vary from source to source, but it seems as though the general consensus is that Christmas costs the average family approx. $800.  If you haven't started planning yet that means you should be saving approx. $44 a week in order to pay cash for Christmas.  I'm not saying you should spend $800, only that you should look at your finances, set a budget and start to save.
  2. Look for ways to offset holiday expenses.  Some ways to do this...
    1. Swagbucks earns you points for using their search engine, watching videos, answering polls, doing surveys and shopping through their affiliate links.  You can redeem your points for giftcards.
    2. Secret Shopping.  MSPA has a list of accredited secret shopping services you can sign up for.  NO real secret shopping service will ask for money upfront.  On average shops pay about $5 and you'll get to eat for free!
    3. Survey sites.  I don't belong to too many of these, but I have gotten onto a few consumer panels via Communispace that pay me $10 in Amazon gift cards every month that I'm actively giving my opinion on new products!  Mindfield is a great company to start with.  They have high pay outs and a low cash out threshold. 
    4. Unload unwanted items via eBay, consignment sales, craigslist or consignment sales.  This will get you cash and help declutter--a win-win!
  3. Make your list, check it twice.  Giving is wonderful, much better than receiving if you ask me, however do you really need to buy for your 2nd cousin twice removed, or your hairdresser or your daughter's pre-K teacher?  Probably not.  Make a primary list of people you need gifts for.  Next make a list of people you'd like to be able to give to.  Baking cookies, making fudge or even a thoughtful card are probably all you need to to for those secondary people.  Remember you don't have to give to everyone, especially if you're on a tight budget.
Hopefully this has given you a little food for thought.  Check back next week for part 2 in my 'Think Christmas!' series!

**This post does contain affiliate links.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Roast Pork and Pepper Sandwiches

We all get stuck in cooking ruts.  You know the times in your life when you end up cooking the same 2 dozen or so dishes in a cycle.  In an attempt to breakout of the seemingly endless loop of 'best hits' I've been cooking I decided to attempt roast pork sandwiches.  I was going for something similar to a Philadelphia style roast pork sandwich.  The results...erethral.  The pork had the benefit of marinating overnight and simply zinged with flavor.  To make this dish even better it's a fantastic make ahead dish.
The marinade recipe below is my house recipe.  I use it on chicken, fish, pork and it is delicious on potatoes.  This keeps in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.  You can easily double, triple or halve this recipe, but I definitely recommend making at least what the recipe calls for because it makes creating a flavorful dinner a real snap.

Marinade Ingredients
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or micoplaned
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
 Marinade Directions
Put all the ingredients in a mason jar.  Screw the lid on tightly and shake.  Presto, done.

Pork Sandwich Ingredients
  • 2-2.5 lb pork loin, tied if need be
  • 1/3 c. house marinade
  • .5-1.5 c. chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced
  • 2 sweet onions, sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Rolls, whole grain mustard and provolone cheese
Place the pork tenderloin in a gallon size zip top bag and pour 1/2 c. marinade over it.  Make sure the pork loin is well coated.  Allow this to marinade at least 8 hours, 24 hours is best.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Heat the olive oil in a large, oven safe saute pan (I love my Cuisinart stainless set seen here) over medium high heat.  Sear the pork loin well on all sides and remove to a plate (this will take 3-5 minutes per side).  Deglaze the pan with half a cup of chicken stock.  Once the brown bits are up add the Worcestershire, bell peppers, onions, salt and pepper.  Stir well and place the pork loin on top.  Place the pan in the oven and cook about 2 hours (about 20 min. per lb of pork.) until the pork is done. 
Allow the pork to rest 20 minutes.  Slice the pork nice and thin.  Serve up with the pepper and onions on a lightly toasted roll topped with provolone and mustard.
Make Ahead: Follow the directions.  When the pork comes out of the oven allow it cool at room temperature for an hour.  Refrigerate the pork and veggies.  To reheat place the veggies in a sauce pot with 1 c. chicken stock and warm over medium heat.  While the veggies are warming slice the cold pork very thinly. (A benefit of letting it get cold is it will be much easier to slice)  When the veggies are warm place the pork in the pot and allow to warm.  If you've sliced the pork thinly enough it should only take 1-2 minutes to heat.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Kroger Shopping 7/28-8/3 and Why it Pays to Shop Markdowns

I don't often walk out of Kroger going 'Wow, I saved so much!'.  Though I do most of my staple shopping at Kroger (some produce, milk, meat, baking items and those items that I need to fill in dinners) it's not a store I typically stock up on things from.  I consider it a good day if I save 25% at Kroger.  Today, however, I hit a jackpot of deals that I had to share!

The savings ratio on this trip isn't as impressive as other shops, but we needed some odds and ends (the reason I went into the store in the first place), so that raised my total. 

The truly impressive savings to me are the toilet paper and the fire logs (yes I know it's almost August what do we need those for, hang in there with me).  The logs, brace yourself for this, were just $2.19, yep you read that right.  An employee was bringing a cart with markdowns out and I saw them sitting there with a $2.19 price tag on them.  I asked him if that was per log.  He said 'Nope, we found them hiding out in the back.  I scanned it and it printed out a tag for that price'.  I was sold.  Those logs are more than that per log and I got 6 for that price.  I'll tuck them in the garage until cold weather season rolls around and then I'll be thankful to have gotten them!
The toilet paper was, for whatever reason, marked down to $6.49 from $12.99 (50% right there) and I had a $0.50 off coupon that doubled to a dollar, bringing 20 rolls of toilet paper down to just $5.49 (or just $0.27 a roll, my stock up price is $0.35 or lower).
I also got some pork chops on markdown ($4.29) plus I used a $1 off fresh pork coupon and a half gallon of Skim for $0.99 that still had a week left on the expiration date! 
It was definitely worth my time to scan the markdowns today!
The other deals I got today were included in the buy 5 save $5 sale.
  • 2 Crest Kid's Toothbrushes $0.79--used 2 $0.50 off coupons from 7/28
  • 2 2+ Gerber Meals $1.99--used a BOGO cash register printed coupon
  • 1 Oral-B Complete Toothbrush $1.49--used a $0.75 coupon from 7/07
I also bought other items, but those were the great deals in total I spent $23.49 and saved $17.51, which is over 42% and the savings amount doesn't include the markdown prices; if you include that I saved over double that amount!

So at the end of the day the lesson from this?  Take the time to shop the clearance.  What you find won't always be a great deal, but you never know what you'll find!

Back to School Shopping; Not Just for School Aged Kids

Everyone's talking about 'Back to School' right now.  Summer is wrapping up and teacher in-service is well underway is many parts of the country.  I'm sure most of us with non-school aged kiddos aren't paying too close attention to the wheeling and dealing centered around the back to school crowd, but maybe we should be.
Over the next few weeks I'll be keeping you posted with the best deals on items that are either a) for the under 5 set or b) items that we all need.
One of the best times to shop here in Tennessee will be this weekend (August 2-4) when school supplies, clothing and computers will be tax free!  For the details on Tax Free Weekend click here .  I know I'll be heading out to do some shopping.  In TN our sales tax is 9.75% so shopping during this weekend is like getting a 10% discount right off the top!
Now so far I haven't seen too many phenomenal deals, but that doesn't mean there's not anything out there worth shopping for!  Here are a few deals worth stopping in for.
  • Office Max.  They have a bag in your Sunday paper that gets you 20% off of anything that fits in the bag (some exclusions apply).  The best deal with this (in my opinion) is ink.  Ink isn't cheap and rarely goes on deep discount.  Stock up now to print coupons for a few months.
  • Toys R Us  Crayola Crayons are $0.25 a pack when you buy for (limit 8).  I stock up during back to school sales for my toddler.  If you have a tot you know how many broken crayons you can go through.  Remember to save your broken Crayolas for a craft project I'll be featuring in August!
Check back for more deals.  I'll be adding to this list as the week progresses.  I'm sure more stores will be advertising great deals, plus I'll be scouring the stores on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and bringing you my findings!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

CVS Shopping Trip 7/28/13

I don't shop drug stores weekly.  For me I find it more time efficient to focus on deals available to me at Publix, Kroger and Target--stores that I frequent regardless of a good deal.
However, every now and again CVS has a deal or two I can't pass up!  Last week and this week were two of those weeks.  Last week I stopped in and bought 2 packs of Huggies Pull-Ups for $15.73 and received $5 CVS reward dollars (I used 2 $3 off coupons).
This week I picked up the following
  • 2 Herbal Essence Shampoo--1 BOGO coupon from 7/28
  • 2 Pantene Shampoos--1 BOGO from 7/07
  • 1 Starbucks Coffee--1 $1off printable
  • 1 Oral-B Battery Toothbrush--1 $3off from 7/28

So I paid $2.38 out of pocket after coupons and reward dollars and walked out with $5.50 in reward dollars to spend another day!  Considering I was down to my last bottle of shampoo these deals couldn't have come at a better time!

My best drug store shopping advice.
  • Go with a list and shop the deals; nothing else.
  • Pick ONE drug store to shop.  Running all over town for deals and trying to keep track of rewards isn't worth the time in my opinion.  I simplified my life by picking a conveniently located drug store (CVS) and I don't shop any other drug stores regardless of the deals they offer. I realize that doesn't work for everyone, but it's worked well for me so far!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Life Hack: Non-Stick Cooking Spray

Here's a quick tip.  When you need to spray a muffin tin, cake pan or pot with cooking spray do it over your dishwasher!
I simply open it up and do all my spraying right over the door.  This way the mess is contained and when you run the dishwasher it's all washed away!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Money Saving Monday: Utility Bills

I don't know about your house, but in mine the electric bill is the largest bill (outside of the mortgage) that we pay each month.  Utilities can really eat up a chunk of your household budget, so why not try to keep them as low as possible. 
While we all like to enjoy the creature comforts of the 21st century (myself included) we don't like to shell out the big bucks associated with them.  Here are a few ways we try to reduce our utility bills.

  • Keep it as cool in the winter and as warm in the summer as is comfortable.  I typically let our house get up to 76 degrees in the daytime in summer months.  Yes it can get warm, but it can save big bucks.  Likewise in the winter we let the house go down as low as 62 degrees at night.  Pile on the blankets and snuggle up to the one you love!
  • Adjust the heating/cooling while on vacation.  It's not practical to let your heating/cooling go to extremes on a daily basis, but when you're away adjust it so you aren't wasting electric unnecessarily.  
  • Don't run the dishwasher if it's not full.  How many times have you run yours 3/4 full.  If you can squeeze in a few more dishes wait until after breakfast to run it.
  • Utilize rain barrels and harness the power of the sun.  When it's cold out, but sunny, raise the blinds and let the sun shine in.  If it's hotter than the sun out there lower your shades to help keep your house cool.  Put up a clothes line!  It might be low tech, but it works.
  • Shut the HVAC off!  For 2-4 weeks in Spring and Fall we turn our HVAC off.  We open the windows, air out the house and enjoy the beautiful weather.
  • Make sure your doors and windows are well sealed.  If you can see your curtains blowing in the wind it's probably time to look at sealing them up.
  • Utilize the grill in summer.  I love to bake, but when it gets above 80 you'll be hard pressed to get me to bake.  The oven heats up the house too much!  In the warmer months we grill, grill, grill--keeping the heat outside, where it belongs.
The list could go on and on, but I feel as though these are some of the most effective ways to save some $ while still being practical.  Do you have a favorite way to save on electric, gas and water? Share it with us!

Life Hack: Safely Disposing of Razor Blades

If you're a DIYer or crafter you probably go through a few box cutters, Exacto knife blades, craft knife blades etc...I know that some people are probably just throwing these in the trash, but you could dispose of them a little more safely with just 10 seconds of work.

I tape my used blades to a piece of cardboard and then throw them out.  This not only keeps it from ripping the trash bag, but will keep animals from eating it, kids from cutting themselves and lower risks to your hard working trash people!

Stay safe out there!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

In Season: Early Spring

The birds are chirping, the sun is shining and pollen is floating freely in the air--must be spring.  As soon as the weather warms we start craving juicy Watermelon, succulent tomatoes and sweet corn.  Unfortunately for our pallets we've still got a ways to go before any of the a fore mentioned items begin to bud. 
Just because summer's bounty isn't ripe for the picking doesn't mean there aren't some items that have begun to show their lovely faces!  Here are a few things you can start to look for.
  • Lettuces
  • Strawberries
  • Herbs
  • Leeks
  • Green Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Peas
I try to shop and eat as seasonally as my wallet and family's patience allows.  This means we haven't seen a plump, delicious tomato in over six months.  Sometimes it's hard, but I can tell you that the light at the end of the tunnel is that much sweeter because we wait.  Buying seasonally will allow you save money, reap the best nutritional benefits, eat locally and get the best tasting product.
What am I eating right now?  Strawberries and asparagus have been wonderful.  Today Kroger I picked up asparagus for $
What's in the garden?  Lettuce, leeks, peas, carrots and a bounty of herbs are all in the ground and happily soaking up some rays.  In three to four weeks I'll be able to start harvesting lettuce and peas.  About that time peppers and tomatoes will be ready to go into the ground. 
I know it's tempting to eat whatever whenever, but I promise you if you try eating seasonally you'll learn that food really does taste better coming from closer to home!
If you're interested in a seasonal diet I recommend checking out the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  It really changed the way I see eating!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Money Saving Monday: Fix What's Broken

As Americans we're more likely to throw something away and replace it than we are to fix it.  What's wrong with us?  I've never sat down and figured out how much we save by being DIYers but I can tell you it's a lot.
There are ways to save BIG dollars like refinishing furniture and cabinets or doing your own car repairs/maintenance.  However you don't need to be an avid DIYer to save yourself a boat load.  By doing preventative maintenance and minor projects yourself you can still rack up a substantial savings.  Here are a few ideas.

  • Clean your vacuum!  Your users manual has a section on cleaning/preventative maintenance; read up on it!  I clean my filters monthly and clean the hoses and rotators twice a year.  You will definitely extend your vacuum's life by treating it right.
  • Have a hole?  Sew or patch it yourself!  Even if you're not a sewer you can still patch a minor hole.  Big box stores like Wal-Mart sell iron on patches in a variety of colors.  If the hole is in a place where it's highly visible you can always sew an embellishment over it!    
  • Give it a fresh coat of paint.  When our mailbox post was looking broken, faded and in need of replacement what did I do?  I painted it!  It's amazing what a fresh coat of paint will do for almost anything.
The bottom line; think the next time you reach for the trash can.  I've been challenging myself to throw away less.  I'm thankful I have a handy hubby, but I promise you don't need to be the blocks Mr. Fix-It to fix yourself!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Lean, Mean, Green Juice

I'm not a big proponent of diets.  Most of us can't stick with them and then end up feeling unsatisfied and frustrated come the end of the day.  I am a big proponent of eating a well balanced diet.  I'm always looking for a way to get more veggies into my diet and turning them into an unfiltered juice is the easiest way I've found of doing this. 
Most smoothies feature too much sugar and not enough nutritional benefits to justify the calorie intake.  My solution is to turn to juicing (pureeing really) raw fruits and veggies.  You could make a fresh juice with just about any fruit or veggie.  The most important thing is to use a good blender.  This doesn't mean a super expensive counter top hog, but that $10 blender you got in college probably isn't going to cut it.  I bought my Oster blender from Wal-mart.  It's a 600 watt blender with just a few buttons, and it breaks down easily for cleaning.

This recipe makes two 16oz juices.  I recommend consuming immediately.  If not, refrigerate and shake well before drinking.

1 ripe banana, sliced
4 strawberries, quartered
1/2 orange, sectioned (I use 1 clementine)
1 handful spinach
1 carrot, diced
1/2 c. orange or apple juice

Put the carrot, spinach and juice into the blender.  Pulse the blender until the carrot is broken down enough for the blender to run smoothly.  Run the blender on high for 30 seconds.  Add in the banana, strawberries and orange, pulse 10 times.  Ta-da!  You made a healthy, delicious juice drink!

Don't be scared of it, the spinach gives it a green color that some don't find appealing, but you really can't tell it's in there!  This is full of antioxidant and fiber.  I often drink this in place of lunch.  You could add a cup of yogurt to this to give it more body.  Give it a try, you just might enjoy it!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Money Saving Monday: Family Activities

Movies, museum excursions, zoo outing, baseball games and other family activities can really eat into one's budget.  There are ways to have family fun without breaking open the bank.
We allot $30 a month for 'entertainment'.  Thirty dollars might not sound like much for a family of 3, but I assure you we get at plenty of outings out of our $30.
Here are a few ways to get the most out of your entertainment budget; whatever it may be.
  • Take advantage of discount sites such as Living Social and Groupon.  I've gotten tickets to our local Discovery Center for 50% off.
  • Use coupons or discount tickets.  Frequently the grocery stores or fast food restaurants in our area pair up with attractions.  Entertainment books, Clipper magazines and other discount magazines also have coupons for area attractions.
  • Use any type of student/military discounts.  Many attractions offer 10% off with a student or military ID.
  • Take advantage of free days.  Many museums, national parks and zoos have a free day fall and spring, for residents.  Just provide your driver's license.  The Memphis Zoo here in TN is free on Tuesdays from 2PM until close.
  • Some movie theaters run a special discount period, ours has 'twilight shows' (4-5:30) that costs just $5.50 and children under 3 are free (score!)!  We also purchased a popcorn bucket for the year for $17 during a promotion.  This will allow us to fill it up for $3!  It's a great way to splurge without spending a fortune!  You could even split the upfront cost of the bucket with a neighbor, friend or family member!
Now if you're living paycheck to paycheck or you just don't have the money to spend on family outings--don't.  There are lots of FREE options for a day of family fun.  Here are a few of my family's favorite ways to spend a day out for free.
  • Pack a picnic and go to the park!  Parks are free and the fresh air is good for everyone.  By packing a picnic lunch you've made it an affair!  If it's raining hit up your local mall's play space.
  • Find free local events.  Check with the community center, your local newspaper and follow favorite restaurants and attractions on Facebook.  For Easter Chick-fil-A had an Easter egg hunt with prizes, face painting and a bouncy house...all for free!  We did buy 2 biscuits and a cup of coffee (1 biscuit was free w/a coupon) for less than $5.
  • Take in the local beauty.  Do you have a a picturesque town nearby?  We frequently go to the town of Franklin and window shop and take in the fresh air!  
  • Go to the library!  Our library has story hours (Barnes and Noble also does this) twice a week.  It's a great way to spend an hour.
The most important thing about your family is that you get to spend time with them.  So whether you're spending time around the dinner table or at the zoo know that in the long run no one will remember that you did or didn't spend money on family together time!

M.I.A. and Looking Forward

I hope everyone had a wonderful, peaceful Easter. I'm sorry I've been MIA for the last few days.  Between prepping for Easter and catching (another) head cold I've been wiped out!  Never fear though, I'll have some great posts coming in the next 2 weeks!
My husband and I finally got my new raised garden bed finished and some plants in the ground.  I'll have some pictures of our new raised bed and a guide to early spring planting up later this week!  Just because it's not warm out yet doesn't mean you can't grow some fantastic and super nutritional produce!

I've decided to follow along with Crystal over at Money Saving Mom while she does her 30 Day House Cleaning Challenge!  You'll be able to stop in here every evening and see what I've tackled.  I'll be bringing you my own organization tips, a trip to the Dollar Store for 'getting organized under $10' and a peek inside my (slightly OCD) garage sale organization!  We have a HUGE community yard sale here every August and I spend the whole year boxing up items in anticipation of this.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Laundry Room Re-Do--Part 2

So you want to re-do your laundry room, need a little inspiration?  Here's the (almost) finished product of my laundry room re-do.  I'd still like to install a new light fixture, but I'm going to shop around and hopefully not spend more than $15 on a new one.
Here's a shot of the back wall.  Unfortunately my shelving and its contents covered up the stripy-ness (yes that's a word), but I'm still happy with the end result.  I found a home for all my overflow baking products, cake boxes and other paraphernalia.  The microwave also got a new home over the washing machine.  We installed a metal support bracket on the microwave shelf since it's pretty heavy.
 I bought these 'under the shelf' style baskets for $5 a piece at Lowe's.  I'm using them to store floor cleaning supplies and dryer care items.  I love these for bottom shelves where space often gets wasted.

We took the door down, lightly sanded it, primed it, painted it and installed new brushed nickel hardware.  All of our interior doors have brass hardware; we're changing out one set of hardware a month until it's all brushed nickel.
Aren't those brackets lovely?!  They're antique brackets that I've had sitting around for months (or years, no judging please) and decided here was as good a place as any to put them.  This shelf is extra tall for my super tall serving pieces.

The whole project took one weekend.  Here's the cost breakdown.

  • Paint & Primer--had on hand $0
  • Shelving--had on hand $0
  • 3, 1"x2" boards--$21
  • 2 antique brackets--on hand, $0
  • Contact Paper--$5 (with lots left for other projects)
  • 1 metal bracket--$3
  • Storage Containers--$4
  • 2 Storage Baskets--$10
  • New Door Hardware--$11
  • Command Hooks--had on hand $0
So for $54 I got a new laundry room.  This is $4 more than we had budgeted.  I told myself this is O.K. because we would have replaced the hardware anyway.  I got to use some things I had laying around (there's a lot of that in my house) and I got a new laundry room with lots of great storage!

Have you redone a room on the cheap lately?  Share it with us!

Pineapple Upside Down Cake--Ulimate Quick Dessert

Have a late night sweets craving?  Need a dessert to take to a dinner ASAP?  Just want to make your family something special and delicious without spending hours slaving in the kitchen?  Look no further than the quick and easy classic Pineapple Upside Down Cake.  This cake goes together in a snap, bakes in about 35 minutes, is best served warm (so no waiting!) and is made with pantry staples!


1/4 c. butter
1/2 c. lightly packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/3 c. chopped pecans
7 pineapple rings (1 20oz can with 3 leftover)

3TBSP butter, room temp
1/4 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 c. flour
1/2 c. milk

Preheat the oven to 375.  Spray a 9" cake pan with baking spray.  Make the topping by melting the butter and mixing in the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Spread the topping in the bottom of the pan.  Lay the pineapple rings in the pan.  Fill any holes with chopped pecans.  Set aside.

Using a hand mixer or wooden spoon mix the butter and sugars together.  Mix in the egg, salt, cinnamon and baking powder.  Mix in half the milk and then half the flour.  Mix in the remaining milk and flour.

Carefully pour the batter evenly over the topping.  Use an offset spatula to smooth the batter over the entire pan.

Bake the cake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow the cake to cool for 5 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge.  Place a serving plate on top of the cake pan and carefully flip the cake over, tapping the bottom of the pan until the cake releases.  If any of the pineapple rings stick to the pan pull them out and lay them back on top.

This cake is best served warm which means no waiting for a cake to cool!

**Adapted from the King Arthur recipe 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Laundry Room Re-Do

We've lived in our house for 3 years now.  We've done something to every room in our house.  Every room but one...our laundry room.  It's one room we're in and out of all day, everyday and we hadn't touched it! 
Well I finally got tired of the beat up paint, lack of storage space and the seemingly cramped quarters.
The problem?  I didn't want to shell out big bucks for a room makeover.  Especially for a room that few people see.  So I talked it over with the hubs and we decided on $50 to redo the room. 

Here's a few before shots of our laundry room.

The Problems
  • Off to the right  used to be a white wire shelving unit that held the microwave and other misc. junk.  It was taking up so much floor space I couldn't get a laundry basket comfortably in front of the dryer.  
  • The door was storing my large collection of sprinkles, but it rattled when the door opened, the kids could get into everything and the shelving was scratching the paint on the door.
  • I needed more shelving to store large serving dishes, candles and other odds and ends.
  • My brooms, mops etc needed a home.
  • The walls were scuffed, peeling and the room was generally depressing.
Plan of Action
  • Paint the back wall a cheery color to brighten up the space.
  • Repair the other 3 walls and give them a fresh coat of paint.
  • Install an additional shelf above the washer/dryer and 1 shelf on the opposite wall.
  • Find the cleaning supplies a home.
  • Organize and beautify!
Here's the work in progress.

 After we repaired the walls we taped off some wide stripes on the back wall and got down to painting.  We decided to keep the remaining 3 walls neutral, so we just gave them a quick touch up.  We reused paint from other rooms in the house, so no cost to us there.

Thankfully we save anything we think we could ever use, so we had leftover shelving from a closet.  That gave us enough shelving for our additional 2 shelves.  We pulled the existing shelves down, sanded them, painted them and then I topped them with some bright, cheery contact paper I bought at Wal-Mart.

The hubs mounted all our shelves and I went to work filling them up with all my stuff!  The cleaning items got a new home on Command Hooks (I love those things) on the back of the door.

Want to see the final product and get the cost total for this laundry room re-do?  Stop by tomorrow and get the skinny!

Stop over at Not Just a Housewife for a linky party showcasing some very neat Spring projects. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Money Saving Monday: Be a Planner

Every Monday for the rest of the year I'll be bringing you a money saving tip!  If you have a favorite way to save some money feel free to chime in!
Today I'm talking about being proactive as a way to save money.  How will this save you money? 
In today's culture we're all about now.  By thinking about the future you can save yourself a substantial amount of money. 
Here's an anecdote for you.  In October our living room TV died.  It just gave up on living.  It was football season, and we were sad.  A large portion of the US would probably have purchased a new TV that very week.  Well, as much as we wanted to, we refrained and started researching TVs.  We went TVless for 7 weeks while we scoured the stores for the very best deal.  In the end we got a great deal on a very nice TV.  It was tough waiting, but in the end we saved over $250 by having a little patience.
This is a great way to save a lot of money, but it's also a great way to save small amount on a daily basis (which will add up over time).  By purchasing thing like laundry and dish detergent, sponges, diapers and dry groceries when they are on sale I can save a big chunk of change on our grocery bill!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Publix Best Buys 3/20-3/27

This week's Publix Ad is GREAT.  I walked out with far more than I normally do.  Here are the best deals of the week.

  • Publix 1lb Butter $2.00
  • Steamfresh Veggies $1.30
  • Simply Mashed Potatoes $1.89 ($.75/1 & $1/2 Publix Q) $.65ea
  • Eat Smart Veggies $1
  • Sabra Hummus $2.00
  • International Delight 32oz $1.55 ($.55) $1
  • Sargento Shredded Cheese $2.09 ($.55/2 & Free Egg Publix Q) $1.81ea and Free Eggs!
  • Craisins & Craisins Trailmix $1.23
  • Uncle Ben's Rice, boxed mixes $1.00 ($1/2) $.50ea
  • Mueller Pasta $.80
  • Dole Pineapple $.71 ($.50/2) $.21ea
  • Swanson Broth $1.30 ($.40/2) $.90ea
  • Toufayan Flatbread $1.25
  • Mott's Medley or Apple Juice $1.50 ($1/1 Medleys) $.50
  • Domino 5lb Sugar $2.49 ($.50) $1.49
  • Texas Toast Croutons $.89
  • Purex Detergent $3.50 ($1.00/1) $2.50
  • Reese's PB Eggs $1.55 ($1/2 & $1/2 Target Q) $.55ea
In total I spend $44.80 (wwaaayyy more than usual) and saved $72.28; that's 62%!  I also picked up the penny item this week (Publix brand 'sandwich cookies').  I was lucky this week and I had a Publix gift card which covered my run!  Hurray!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Starbucks Groupon--Friday, March 3/22

My husband just got an e-mail that there will be a Groupon deal on Starbuck's gift cards tomorrow!  He got the deal a day early (though I have no clue why I didn't!) so check your inbox and see if you got an invitation to purchase this deal early.
The deal is a $10 gift card for $5.  I love this deal because I love Starbucks as a place to curl up with a book and get away from my life!
This usually sells out so if you want it be sure to buy first thing in the morning!
If you're not a Groupon member you can click here for my referral link to sign up!  I admit I don't buy too much from Groupon, but they do have some spectacular deals from time to time.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

No Time? How to Get a Healthy Dinner on the Table in No Time!

We're all busy.  We have lives to live.  Sometimes life's schedule goes a little over and those best laid dinner intentions are quickly shoved onto the back burner.  We turn to take out, drive thrus, frozen fish sticks or worst yet, no real dinner at all. 
If this happens sometimes it's not a bad thing.  Variety is the spice of life.  I'm not crusading against Happy Meals here.  What I am saying is that this happens to a lot of us more often that it should.  With a little prep, a well stocked pantry/freezer and the willingness to do a little work you can get dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.  I don't know about you, but where I live it's going to take me 30 minutes to run out to our closest restaurant (Mexican) and back.
Well, you say, enlighten us please.  Gladly.  Here's a few tips on how I get dinner on the table after a crazy day and a few ideas to get you started.
  • Keep a well stocked pantry/freezer.  Pasta, jarred sauce, frozen veggies, frozen ravioli, sandwich meats and cheeses can be great jumping off points for a meal.  If you don't have to run to the store, you're more likely to make dinner.
  • Don't beat yourself up for serving a boxed mac and cheese to your family.  Do serve a vegetable alongside it.  I love the Birds Eye Steamfresh veggies...I don't even have to dirty a dish!
  • Cook for your freezer.  Making meatballs, enchiladas, french toast or soup?  Make a double batch and freeze one. Then all you have to do is defrost, warm and serve!  You've already done the work, now reap the benefits.
  • Breakfast is your friend.  Breakfast is quick and cheap.  When all else fails I always have the ingredients on hand for pancakes or waffles.  I mix up a batch and serve them alongside a big fruit salad.
  • Do the prep ahead of time.  If you know it'll be a crazy day don't wait until 5PM to think about dinner.  You can chop veggies, marinade (or in some cases cook) meat and do other prep work hours or days ahead of time.  By washing and chopping vegetables and pounding out meat ahead of time I can put Chicken Piccata and a salad on the table in just at half and hour!
  • Don't set yourself up for failure.  If you even think the day is going to be wild don't plan on making lasagna for dinner.  Plan ahead if you can and if the day has gotten away from you take stock of what you've got and work with it.
I hope this has given you a little inspiration to use what you have and avoid the dinnertime crunch.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Chicken and Dumplings or are they Noodles?

Everyone makes Chicken and Dumplings a different way.  Some people make dumplings that get dropped into the soup, some get dropped on top and some people make it with an egg noodle.  I grew up with a thick noodle style dumpling, and I like it a lot, but sometimes the clock wins.  No matter which way you whip 
This recipe uses a Dutch style egg noodle.  You want a starchy type noodle for this.  The type I use says 'Dumpling Style Egg Noodle' right on the bag. 
I make Chicken and Dumplings in two days because I think it's easier.  If you do it in two days it allows you to create a more flavorful stock and to skim all the fat off the stock easily.  Doing this also means that it comes together in a snap the day of.  If you have a whole day to do this though feel free to make it in just one day.

  • 1 whole chicken, 4-5lbs (giblets removed)
  • 1 gal water (or more, you need enough to cover the chicken by 1-2")
  • bay and 1/2 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 1 onion, halved
  • 1 carrot, halved
  • 2 stalks celery, halved
  • 2 cloves garlic, halved
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 8oz dumpling style egg noodles
  • salt & pepper

Place the chicken, water, bay and peppercorns in a large pot.  Bring the chicken to a boil and back the heat down to a simmer.  Cook for about 1 hour, until the chicken is cooked through.  Remove the chicken to a baking sheet and allow to cool enough to handle; leave the broth on the stove.  When the chicken is cool enough to handle pull the chicken off the bones; leave it in nice chunks and put it in the fridge.  Discard the skin. 

 Skimming stock.

Place bones and ingredients 4-7 into the pot.  Allow the stock to simmer for 2 hours.  Cool the stock completely and skim off the layer of fat that has formed (you can skip this step for 1 day prep).

When you're ready to make the Chicken and Dumpling bring the stock to a boil and add in the chopped carrot, onion and celery.  Cook for 30 minutes, until the veggies are fork tender.  Add in the dumpling style noodles and cook according to the directions.  The noodles I use take about 15 minutes to cook, much longer than the standard type egg noodle, so plan accordingly.  During the last 5 minutes add in the chicken to warm through.

Season the dish with lots of salt and pepper and serve up for your family to enjoy!

Publix Best Buys 3/13-3/19

At first glance I wasn't over the moon about this weeks Publix ad, but after shopping I was pretty pleased with what I purchased. 
This week was a higher than average Publix total but I bought some salmon for dinner tonight at just $5.99lb, which in landlocked TN is a great price!  I'm always pleased with Publix's salmon.  It's not wild caught (which is my preference) but I've never gotten a pin bone in it and it's always fresh.

  • Dole Fruit Bowls $2.00 ($1/2) $1.50ea
  • Post, Honey Bunches of Oats $1.60 ($1/2) $1.10ea
  • Welch's Squeezable Grape Jelly $1.30
  • Bertolli Pasta Sauce ($.60/1 & $1/2 Publix Q) $.65ea
  • Bailey's Coffee Creamer $1.67 ($1/1) $.67
  • Vosko's Greek Yogurt $1 ($1/3 Publix Q) $.67ea
  • Fresh Express Salad $2 ($.55/1) $1.45
  • Smart Balance $1.49 ($1/1 or $1/2, I used $1/1) $.49ea
  • Vidal Sasson Professionals Shampoo/Conditioner 2/$5 (BOGO coupon) $1.25ea
  • V8 Splash $1.35
  • Pedigree Denta Stix $1.99 ($1/2) $1.50ea
  • Green Giant Frozen Veg. (boxes) $.99 ($.60/3) $.79ea
There are of course, other great deals that you can find on Publix website, but these are the ones that I think give you the most bang for your buck.  I really like the Bertolli sauce, so to get it for this price is a steal!

 Not all my buys are featured here...I had started putting groceries away when I remembered to snap the shot!

This week at Publix I spent $25.94 and saved $33.90!  That's a savings of 57%!  I love shopping at Publix! 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Toddler Time--2 Year Old Meal Plan Ideas

Some of the most popular posts here at Courtney Cooks It are my ideas for baby and toddler foods.  So back by popular demand, Toddler meal ideas!  Once a month I'll be posting recipes, meal plans and snack ideas for your toddler. 
Currently Miss. Sophie is two,

which means most of my ideas will be ideally suited toward kids of her own age.  This kid is an eater though, so portion wise some of these ideas might work well for kids toward three!
Before we talk about what I'm feeding her today let's talk about what I fed her last year. 

  • When Sophie started eating solid foods I fed her what we ate.  I might pull back the seasoning a little and, of course cut it very small or puree it, but she basically ate the same thing we did. 
  •  I made sure she had a wide exposure to different flavors and a minimal exposure to sweets and processed foods.
  • I let her experiment with the food.  If she made a mess, well she made a mess!  They're babies, let them have fun!
Alright, back to the present.  Here are some great ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.  Sophie will typically have just one snack in the afternoon (after nap) but some kids are two a day snackers (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 snacks a day). 

Disclaimer: I AM NOT a pediatrician, dietician or any other type of -tician.  I AM a concerned mom who cares what her daughter eats.  I am sharing with you what has worked well for us.  

  • Greek yogurt and fruit or toast
  • Oatmeal with applesauce or fruit mixed in, topped with a little honey
  • Eggs, wheat toast and a fruit
  • Fruit salad with toast
  • Cereal, we like Chex or Fruity O's (from Cascadian Farms) topped with fruit
Lunch (one item from each category)
  •  Lunch meat (Sophie likes the Oscar Meyer, Carving Board), hard boiled egg, meatballs, cheese, mac and cheese or shredded chicken breast
  • Tomatoes, peas, corn, sugar snap peas or green beans
  • Fruit  I buy whatever happens to be in season.  If the fruit is out of season, expensive or sub par I usually reach for a natural, no sugar added, applesauce or a Dole fruit cup in fruit juice (never one that has been sweetened with sugar or sugar substitutes).
  • Pretzels, crackers, Triscuits or ghram crackers.
  • Dried fruits
  • Chex Mix
  • Fruit
  • Fruit/Yogurt squeeze pouch (I love these)
  • Smoothie
  • Pita/Veggies and Hummus
  • 1/2 a PB&J

....Whatever we're eating.  It's very rare I make anything special for Sophie.  If we're having soup I may drain off the broth so it's easier to eat, if it's spicy I might back it down for her.  If we're having something she's really not a fan of I heat up something simple like cheese ravioli, oatmeal, pasta or a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.  I think it's important to expose kids to different foods.  If we feed them 'kid food' at every meal how are we supposed to one day just expect them to eat regular fare?
I also give her a fruit with dinner, regardless of whether we eat one.  She loves fruit and it's a healthy dessert option!

I hope this might help you decide what to feed your toddler today.  Check back Friday for a great, kid-friendly, pizza dinner!

Money Saving Tip--Read the Tag

I was shopping for some pinto beans at my local Kroger yesterday to make these slow cooker 'refried beans' from Pennies & Pancakes when I noticed something hinky.   

 It was cheaper to buy two, one pound bags, than one, two pound bag. 

  This isn't the first time I've noticed something like this in a grocery store.  I always buy 1lb bags of carrots from Kroger because it's cheaper to buy 2 of those than 1 of the 2lb bags.

Do I save a lot of money by reading the tags?

You betcha'!  It's always good to look at the price per unit and determine what makes more sense.  Why would I spend more money on the same amount of product?!  I also find that by buying the smaller size of a product and using the coupon on it I decrease the cost.  If I buy a smaller tube of toothpaste, but get it for free isn't that better than buying the larger tube and getting it for a dollar?

No matter what you're buying always take a quick peek at the tag--taking 10 seconds to do the math could add up to saving big bucks over the course of a year.

Life Hack: How to add Non-Skids to Tights!

If you're the caregiver for a little girl you've probably seen them wipe out in tights.  Few, if any, of the tights and stockings I've bought for Sophie have come with non-skids on the bottom.  It's frustrating.  All the socks I buy have them, why don't the tights?!
Well within a few weeks of Miss Sophie walking (and falling, and sliding) I got sick of having to put socks over the tights.  I mean, after all the tights should be in place of socks, not in addition to!
Enter one of my new favorite life hacks!  I had some fabric puffy paint in the craft room so I decided to add some stripes to bottom of the tights.

Voila, instant (well near instant) non-skid pads!  I add 3-5 stripes to each foot and allow them to air dry for 6 hours.  If you want to get creative you could draw any shape you want.  If you've got more than one child you could add their initials, draw hearts and flowers, polka dots--anything you can dream up!  Once the paint is dry it's machine wash safe and keeps her from slipping and sliding across the kitchen floor.
Best of all this is a super inexpensive way to fix the problem.  A bottle of puffy paint is less than $1 on sale and one bottle will do lots of tights.  I used Scribbles paint.  If you have a craft store I recommend buying it there, but this isn't an awful price for 6 bottles; plus it gets shipped right to your door!


Monday, March 11, 2013

Turkey and Broccoli Mac

I don't know about your family, but my daughter and husband will eat anything if I pour cheese sauce over.  I like Macaroni and Cheese as much as the next person (maybe more) but it's not really a meal, it's more of a side dish.  So instead of serving a bunch of things on their own I mix them into my Mac and Cheese!
This is another recipe that's a basic method.  You could mix in cauliflower, peas or spinach in place of the broccoli.  Chicken, sausage, ham or even hot dogs would make good substitutes for the roasted turkey.
If you make this ahead of time and refrigerate the Mac and Cheese tack an extra 10 minutes on the cooking time to compensate.  I roast the turkey, boil the pasta and blanch the broccoli in the afternoon which makes this a snap to prepare.

8oz al dente short cut pasta
1.5 c. shredded, cooked turkey
1.5 c. blanched broccoli, cut into bite sized chunks
1/2 c. white onion, small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. sharp cheddar
1/2 c. Parmesan, divided
2 c. milk (I use 2%)
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp Worchestchire
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
dash of cayenne


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a small soup pot saute the onion and garlic in the butter over medium heat.  Once the onion is translucent sprinkle the flour in and stir continuously.  You may prefer to use a whisk.  Cook until the flour is well combined.  SLOWLY pour in the milk while stirring (or whisking) vigorously.  If you do this all at once it will turn into a clumpy mess.

Stir in the Worcestershire, mustard and cayenne.  Allow the sauce to come to a simmer.  Be sure to stir it frequently and do not let it boil.  Once the sauce has come to a simmer turn off the heat and mix in the cheddar and half the Parmesan.  Season the sauce to taste.
Fold in the pasta, turkey and broccoli.  Pour the mixture into an oven safe casserole (I use a round one that has a lid for easy storage) and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan.  You could also add some bread crumbs to the top if you like.
Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minute.  Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before enjoying.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Split Pea Soup

It would appear I've been in a soup mood lately.  Out weather has been cold, wet and dreary so soup is a welcome respite from what's going on outside.
Split Pea soup is another easy and fast soup to make.  Unlike most dried beans split peas need no soaking and no long cooking time.  I make this soup from start to finish in 2 hours, but if you're in a hurry you can crank the heat and finish it in about 1 hour.
When you reheat the soup it will likely need some extra water or stock to bring it back to your desired consistency.  This would also be a great soup for the freezer, but it comes together so quickly I've never felt the need to freeze it.
You could also elevate the presentation of this soup by topping it with homemade croutons, grated Parmesan or crispy ham.

1 lb split peas
2 TBSP olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 cup ham or 1 ham hock
6 cups ham stock, chicken stock or water
salt and pepper
1 cup frozen peas
lemon wedge (optional)

In a large, heavy bottomed soup pot, or enameled cast iron pot heat the oil over medium heat.  I use an enameled cast iron pot for most soups; it holds in the heat and cooks very evenly.
Saute' the onion, celery, carrot and thyme until softened, about 10 minutes.  Add in the peas, bay, ham and liquid of choice.  I had made boiled ham and potatoes for dinner the night before, so I had some great ham stock leftover.  Chicken stock is a great choice for this though, but water is sufficient in a pinch.

Bring the soup to a boil, then back the heat down to medium low, cover, and let the soup simmer for 45 minutes.  After 45 minutes check the soup, give it a stir and taste.  Season the soup to taste.  If the soup has absorbed all the liquid add some more.  I sometimes use up to 8 cups of liquid for this soup, water is sufficient for the extra 2 cups though.
Cook the soup for an additional 15 minutes.  Add the frozen peas and allow to cook 10 minutes.  If you like you can omit the frozen peas, but I like the color, texture and freshness they add.
Once the peas are warmed through you have 2 choice.  To blend or not to blend that is the question.
If you like a more rustic, chunky texture take it to the table.  I like a smoother consistency so I blend half the soup.  It is entirely up to you.  If you're in a rush I wouldn't bother.
Serve this in big bowls and enjoy with crusty bread or a warm biscuit.  I like a small squeeze of lemon over the top.  It sounds a little crazy, but it adds a wonderful tangy, bright freshness that I find very satisfying.
I wish I had a photo of the finished product to share with you, but, as with most good food in our house, my husband started devouring it before I had a chance!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Banana Nut Bread

Banana nut bread is the perfect solution for those pesky overripe bananas.  I like to whip this up as a thank you or get well soon gift.  It's inexpensive, quick to make and universally loved.  This version has a wonderfully earthy quality to it, achieved by the addition of the almond  meal.  Almond meal, or flour, is available at health food stores and specialty food retailers.  I buy mine from Trader Joe's.


1 stick room temp butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
3 very medium, very ripe bananas
1 TBSP milk (or soy or almond milk)
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup chopped pecans


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9x5" loaf pan.  I use a silicon pan, but use whatever you have.

In the bowl of your stand mixer combine the butter, sugar, eggs, milk and bananas.  Mix on medium speed until the bananas are broken up and the mixture is incorporated.  If your bananas are nice and soft this will take about 30 seconds.  If the bananas are on the hard side I recommend mashing them with a fork before adding them in.

In a small bowl mix the remaining 8 ingredients.  Add them into the wet mixture and mix just until combined.  If you over mix your bread will be tough.

Pour the batter into the greased loaf pan and put in the oven.  Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 1 hour (but maybe up to 1 hour 15 minutes).

This type of bread freezes beautifully.  I often make this in advance of company and pull it out the evening before I plan to serve it.  
For a truly enjoyable experience slice it, toast it and spread it with some butter.  YUM!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Beef Stew

The very best beef stew is made with leftover Pot Roast, but no matter how large a roast I make we never seem to have any leftover!  After many stew-less years I finally set out in search of a great Beef Stew recipe.  It was much harder than I imagined.  I finally settled on Mark Bittman's Beef Stew recipe from his book, How to Cook Anything.
How to Cook Everything (Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition) 
This has been a go-to cookbook of mine for years and he didn't disappoint me!
I made a few variations from his recipe and I think you should feel free to experiment too.  I thought this would be good (and very healthy) with a few handfuls of spinach thrown in at the last moment.  This makes about 8 servings of stew.


2lb sirloin tip roast, or any other low-cost roast, 1" dice
2 TBSP oil, I used olive
3 large red or yellow potatoes, 1" dice
1 large turnip, 1" dice
2 large white onions, 1" dice
2 cloves minced garlic
8oz carrots, 1" dice
3 cup. beef broth
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
3 TBSP flour
1 cup frozen peas
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 TBSP butter 


Heat the oil in a large enameled Dutch oven (7.5 qt) over medium high heat.  When the oil is hot carefully add half the meat.  Allow the meat to brown 3-4 minutes, turn, and brown 3-4 more minutes.  You want to develop a beautiful brown crust on the meat; this is where the flavor lives. 

Once you've browned the meat remove it to a bowl and repeat with the remaining meat.
When the meat is done add the onions, garlic, salt and pepper.  Sweat them over medium heat until the onions are wilted, about 5 minutes.  Once they're wilted sprinkle the flour in and stir vigorously.  Cook the flour out for 2 minutes.  
Next slowly add the beef broth while stirring.  Be sure to scrape up all the lovely browned bits from the bottom of the pot.  After the broth is in add the thyme and bay and bring to a boil.  Back the heat down to a simmer, cover and let cook for 1 hour.
After one hour add the potatoes, turnip and carrots.  Bring the stew back to a boil, back down to a simmer, cover again and cook 45 minutes.  You want to cook it until the veggies are fork tender.  
When the veggies are tender add the peas and adjust the seasoning (it's amazing how much salt potatoes soak up).  Cook the peas 4-5 minutes.  Stir in the butter.
Enjoy the warm and delicious beef stew with a nice crusty bread.

Easter Centerpiece #1

If you're in need of a little Easter inspiration stop over at Another Cent Saved and check out my Edible Easter Centerpiece!  
I had fun creating this delicious sugary display (and more fun eating my favorite Starburst jelly beans!).

If you need to purchase Easter decor this year stop over at the Dollar Store.  They had some very cute Easter decorations out; small tin buckets, very cute Easter eggs and some adorable pinwheels I'll be featuring on cupcakes later in the Spring!  I walked out with a big bag of stuff for just over $7!

Shopping at Aldi

One of my favorite blogs, Money Saving Mom, had an article from a neat blog, Gimme Some Oven, yesterday.  These ladies have written a 3 piece article on Aldi that I really enjoyed reading. 
I just started shopping Aldi at the the beginning of the year.  Boy I could kick myself for not doing it years ago!  I've yet to spend over $10 in a trip and I am coming out with a bag full of produce, Greek yogurt and other assorted goodies.  My favorite buy of late is a bottle of pure maple syrup for just $4.99.  I've been wanting some real maple syrup for weeks, but at well over $10 a bottle it just wasn't fitting into our $50 a week grocery budget!
If you're on the fence about shopping Aldi click on over to Gimme Some Oven and see why these ladies choose to shop Aldi!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fast and Easy Roast Chicken and Veggies

Congratulations, you've spatchcocked your first bird!  If you haven't, ask your local meat market guy to do it for you (I've asked at 3 of my local stores and 2 of the 3 said they would butterfly the bird at your request).  Now that your bird is butterflied we can roast him flat and quick.
This is after browning, but prior to roasting.

1 5ishlb butterflied chicken
2 large russet potatoes, skin on diced about 1"
6 large carrots, cut about 2"
1 lemon
1 onion, roughly chopped or 1 frozen pearl onions
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme
2 TBSP olive oil


Preheat the oven to 350.
Place the potatoes and carrots in a large oven safe stainless skillet (mine is a nice deep 12" skillet) and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and cook 3-5 minutes.  You want them to just yield to a knife, but they should be firm.  What we're doing is par-cooking.  The chicken will cook in a shorter time than the veggies, so this step allows everything to finish at the same time.
Strain the veggies and allow to sit.
In the same pan heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Pat the chicken dry with paper towel; drying the chicken will allow it to brown properly.  Once the pan is hot liberally season the chicken with S&P and place it carefully in the pan skin side down.  Allow the chicken to brown 3-5 minutes.
Once the skin has begun to turn a lovely, crispy, golden brown lift the chicken up and place on a plate.  Turn off the heat and toss in the carrot, potatoes, onions, garlic and thyme.  Squeeze the lemon over the top and season.  Return the chicken to the pan skin side up.  Drizzle the pan with another tablespoon of oil (or dot with a few pats of butter).
Place the pan in the oven for approx. 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and golden.  Allow it to rest for 15 minutes before caving.  Plate it up and serve it for your whole family to ohh and ahh over!

Monday, February 25, 2013

On Anatomy of the Bird

People are scared of butchering birds.  I used to be too.  Want to get the most bird for your buck (insert laugh here) you'll need to buy it whole.  I can find a whole chicken for about $1.19lb vs. $2.99 for boneless skinless chicken breast.  Not only is the whole bird cheaper, but you get a lot more flavor and mileage from it.
Thankfully most markets take care of the bulk of dirty work for us.  The whole chickens come plucked, cleaned and void of head and feet.  The innards we need for gravy making come neatly bagged up and ready to go.  Nothing scary--just a neat, clean package of bird ready to be roasted.
Well most of us would think of roasting first, but it's not the only thing to do with a whole chicken.  Now bear in mind that anything we do to the chicken we can also do to a turkey.  In theory we could also do it to a game bird, but those tiny little guys are more than I'm willing to tackle.
This is the first part in a multi-part series on how to deal with a whole bird.  Today we'll take it easy; we're going to spatchcock, or butterfly, the chicken.  Why spatchcock?  It cuts the cooking time down and gives you 360 degree crispy roasted skin (and let's face it that's why we eat it anyway right?).

Still with me?  Haven't gone running for the hills yet?  Good. 
First things first equipment.  You'll need a good sharp pair of kitchen shears.  I have these purchased from Amazon and I love them.  If you're shopping for a pair of shears the most important feature is that they come apart.  If they don't come apart they aren't going to be cleaned properly.
You'll also need a large cutting board, a bowl or bag for the trash and somewhere to deposit dear old Bob once you've dispatched of him.

Alright we're ready.  Step one.  Over the sink remove the bird from the packaging.  Most of the grocery store birds are packed in liquid, which you don't want running all over the counter.  Drain it and set the interior pouch aside.  Move the chicken to your cutting board, butt toward you, back up.

Next hook the thumb of your non-dominant hand inside the chicken to hold him steady.  Carefully insert the shears to the right of the backbone and start to snip.  This will take a good bit of pressure, it is after all, bone we're cutting through.

Once you're through the right side open the chicken up.  Grasp the tail and hold it tightly.  Now you'll want to snip down the other side of the chicken removing the spine completely.  If you make stock toss the spine into your stock bag. 

Here comes the fun part.  Open the bird up like a book, inside facing up.  Take your hands, place them on the breast bone and push down.  You want to crack the breast bone so the bird lays as flat as possible.

You're in the home stretch now.  You could just stop here.  I do one more thing to help the chicken cook evenly.  In order for the wings to stay close to the body and brown properly without burning you'll want to tuck them in.  I cut one small slit in each breast and tuck the wing into the slit.

That's it.  You've made your previously roundish bird into a nice flat surface.  My favorite cooking method for a spatchcocked chicken is the grill.  Check back tomorrow for an easy one pan recipe using your beautifully butterflied bird!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Quick Bite: Potato Soup

Here's a great soup recipe that is cheap, comes together fast and will keep your crew full and warm!
I talked about my love of soup over on Another Cent Saved the other day.  This soup, like my corn chowder, is a crowd pleaser that will be on your table in a flash.

  • 2 large Russet potatoes, diced
  • 6 slices bacon, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp thyme, preferably fresh
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 2 TBSP flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

In a stock pot cook the bacon over medium heat until crispy.  Keep an eye on it; it will go fast (secret: I almost always over cook it, ere on the side of caution).  Remove the bacon and set aside.
In the bacon fat over medium heat soften the onions and garlic.  Once they're softened add in the chicken stock, 1 cup milk, potatoes, salt & pepper and thyme.  Bring everything to a boil over high heat.
Allow the soup to cook for 12-15 minutes, until the potatoes are softened.  Once the potatoes are fork tender transfer half the soup to a blender.  CAREFULLY puree the soup until smooth and silky.  Transfer this back to the soup pot.
Now here's where I deviate a little from other potato soup recipes.  Take 2 ladle fulls of soup, the remaining cup of milk and the 2 TBSP of flour into the blender and puree.  The flour will help give the soup a thicker body.  If you dump it directly into the soup it will turn clumpy.  Once it's smooth pour it and the cream into the soup and stir.  Cook over very low heat for 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.  I occasionally like to add a few dashes of cayenne or a tablespoon of whole grain mustard.
Serve garnished with cheese and bacon.  I hope that you and your family enjoy it!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


I had to use an exclamation point in the header--my husband will do just about anything for a meatball.  I make meatballs in several different ways.  The recipe that follows has become my family's favorite meatball.  This make approximately 36 meatballs; I keep half out and put half into the freezer.  Feel free to double the recipe (I often do).  Meatballs are a lot of work.  When I double this I always have my husband hand to help me roll them or be a set of clean hands.

  • 1lb 80/20 ground beef
  • 1lb mild Italian sausage
  • 1 1/2c. diced onion (1 large onion)
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper, peeled, seeded and diced (3/4c)**
  • 1TBSP minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 3oz. chopped fresh spinach (about 4c)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1c. ricotta
  • 1/2 c. grated Parmesan
  • 1/2c. bread crumbs
  •  1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 TBSP Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 TBSP basil
  • 1/4 tsp chili flake
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
In a large non stick pan saute' the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat.  When the onion is softened add the spinach, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, basil, red bell pepper and chili flake.  Saute' until the spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes.  Move off the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
While your veggies are wilting put the beef, sausage, egg, ricotta, Parmesan and bread crumbs in a LARGE bowl.  Once your veggies are cool to the touch add them to the bowl.  Using your hands (there's just really no way around this) mix all the ingredients together well, but do not over mix.  Make sure to break up any lumps of sausage and beef.
Once everything is incorporated you're ready to roll (hahaha).  I use a 1.5" ice cream scoop (about 1/8c sized) to make sure that each meatball is the same size.  Set your newly formed meatballs on a baking sheet or 9x13 pan.  They should just touch. 

Now comes the trick to nice round meatballs.  Pop them into the freezer for 30 minutes.  This is a softer meatball, freezing them helps them keep their shape while baking.
While your meatballs are baking preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Once they've firmed up put them in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
How you serve them is up to you.  I usually refrigerate them until about an hour before dinner and then I let them simmer in marinara for about an hour.  Serve them over spaghetti or in a bread heel and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

**To roast your bell pepper you've got a few options.  You can a) crank the grill up to high and allow them to char on each side for 3-5 minutes, until the skin is charred and the pepper sizzles b) do the same thing directly on a gas burner of your stove or c) do the same thing in your broiler.  Once you've charred them put them in a bowl and cover with saran wrap for 5 minutes.  This lets the steam from the peppers loosen any un-charred skin.
If this doesn't sound like something you'd like to tackle you can purchase jarred roasted bell peppers from the grocery store.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

How To--Line Your Roman Shaes

We have cheap bamboo shades in our living room...

They don't really provide a lot of protection from the sunlight that comes pouring in around 2 in the afternoon.  Maybe not the best choice, but they were about $4 on clearance at Lowes and we needed shades, so home they came.  Well we've lived with the glare on the TV and the squinting while trying to read long enough.

What to do?  Buy new shades?  Well that's not really in the budget.  Well why line the back with something?  So the hubs and I tried some upholstery fabric, home decor fabric, muslin and finally felt.  We settled on felt the same color as the shades.  It let in some light, but diffused the light coming in enough that we no longer felt like we were living on the sun.

Here's what we did.

We took the blind down and stretched it across the dining room table.  Next I measured the blind, I kept the felt in about 1" from either side.  You could go all the way to the edge, we had stitching running down the shade at 1" in so I felt it was a convenient place to hide my glue seam (though after doing this the glue didn't seep through at all, so this wasn't really an issue).  If you're blind is a full length (I think our windows are 63" tall) I recommend using a rottery cutter to cut your fabric.
After I cut the fabric I laid it out on the blind, then rolled it up so it would be out of the way.  I fired up the glue gun and secured the top all the way across.  A little glue goes a long way.  I could have done this myself, but the extra set of hands sure was handy (haha).

Now a few inches at a time I ran some glue down the shade and secured the felt to it.  Don't use too much glue or the blind will be stiff and won't roll properly.

When I got to the end I ran glue across the bottom and secured the felt to it. 

Wow...look at that!  You lined a shade. 

I paid about $4 for the felt bringing my investment for the shade to a whooping $8.
The motto in our house is "It's broken, fix it!".