Thursday, April 28, 2011

this weeks menu

Menu planning is an essential part of caring for your family, whether youre on a tight budget or not, whether you are gainfully employed or not...and believe me, it saves a lot of money for our family when I plan. I wrote a post on menu planning a while back, and if you havent checked it out, heres the original post: Planning a menu. These are all ideas that have helped me save money for our family over the years.

Lately Ive gotten off menu planning, simply because I am having a hard time figuring out what to make since my taste buds have went off (wayyyy off) the usual things like chicken, pasta, salads, etc. And its hurting our pockets!!! And driving my husband bonkers...So I am bound and determined to make one and STICK TO IT!! For the sake of my husbands sanity.

Now, I personally dont plan for a certain meal for a certain day, I know people who do and it works very well for them, it just doesnt for us. Mostly because of me and what I feel like making. I also ask my husband and kids what they would like on the menu and try to accommodate them if I can. I do stick to the menu, or at least a variation if I change my mind, such as instead of fried chicken I make roasted or grilled, or instead of peas green beans, rice instead of potatoes. But I always use whats on hand. The one problem I have is fruit and veggies. There absolutely must be fresh fruit and veggies on hand all the time, and those are our major cost contributors. But I refuse to budge on that, and will scrimp on other things.

Also, I try and avoid making things my family doesnt like, unless I am seriously craving something.

Heres what I have planned.

Breakfasts will be: fruit, grains and a protein with milk. Grains will include pancakes, waffles, bagel sandwiches with either ham and egg or cream cheese and fruit slices, oatmeal and cereal (whole grain cheerios, shredded wheat or life), or muffins. Fruit will most likely be bananas, oranges or berries. Yogurt may top the waffles. Breakfast burritos may make it on the list as well; containing eggs, bacon or sausage, cheese and salsa in a flour tortilla, or a combo of eggs and toast.

Snacks will be: a protein, a grain and fruit or veggies, milk or juice. Grains may be a muffin, half a bagel, flour tortilla or bread, popcorn, pudding, yogurt or an oatmeal bar. Fruit is the same as breakfasts, but may include apples and grapes. Veggies will be carrot sticks, broccoli, sliced bell peppers, snap peas or cherry tomatoes. Protein is cheese, chicken or turkey rolled up, nuts, or peanut butter. We have snacks twice a day, mid morning and afternoon/after school. The girls take the same in their lunches, unless they buy, then I pack them a snack of fruit, protein and a grain (usually dry cereal or an oatmeal bar, sometimes half a peanut butter sandwich).

Lunches: leftovers, quesadillas, soup, sandwiches (grilled cheese, peanut butter, turkey, chicken, etc), mini pizzas or chicken fingers with a veggie and fruit side, plus mac and cheese (for the chicken).

Dinners for 2 weeks:
  1. Chicken sandwiches, corn, grapes
  2. Grilled pork ribs or chicken, grilled corn and potato salad, strawberries
  3. Chicken alfredo with veggies (broccoli, bell peppers, yellow squash) twice, plus lunch
  4. Beef fajitas with beans and rice, grapes
  5. Beans and ham with bread and a salad, twice
  6. Tostadas from leftover beans with avocado, cabbage and salsa fresca. 
  7. Beef roast with carrots, mashed potatoes, apple sauce and biscuits
  8. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, strawberries.
  9. Shredded beef tacos from leftover beef roast, sauteed bell peppers and corn
  10. Teriyaki chicken, steamed rice, broccoli and carrots
  11. Fish, mac and cheese, peas and carrots
  12. Chicken parmesan with linguini and a salad
If anyone would like a recipe, just let me know and I will happily post it! 
Happy planning!

A chili recipe

Its not quite cold here anymore, the last few days have been warm and Ive gotten a good breeze coming in through the windows to keep us cool, so this recipe may seem a bit out of season. I had it on my menu plan to use up leftover beans for last week (when it was still pretty cold), but surprise dinners out with family pushed it back and its no longer cold enough for it. But, it was planned and bought for so I had to make it....and I really didnt want it, until I had it. It unexpectedly hit the spot and I was glad I did.While this isnt one of those completely made from fresh recipes, its still healthy and really yummy!

Homemade chili

1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef or turkey, or you can use shredded beef, turkey or chicken
1 lbs pinto beans, cooked
1 large can spicy tomato sauce. This saves me a step, but you can use regular tomato sauce and spice it up. I use El Pato brand mexican hot style tomato sauce.
1/2 a large can of chopped tomatoes
1/2 a large brown onion, chopped
chili powder
1/2 tbsp garlic salt
1 tbsp crushed red peppers (optional)
2 jalapenos, chopped (optional)
2 green serrano chiles, chopped (optional)

Brown your meat with the onions (peppers too), garlic salt and 2 tbsp chili powder. Drain. I use a large metal coffee can. You can add additional heat by adding the crushed peppers, jalapenos and chiles. I didnt last night for the kids. It still had a kick from the spicy tomato sauce and chili powder though.
Add your beans, tomato sauce and tomatoes to a large pot and stir in chili powder to taste preference.

Next, add in your meat and onion mix, stir in and simmer on low for an hour or so, long enough to mix up a batch of cornbread and bake it.
I forgot to take pictures of the chili and cornbread all served up! I like mine with a dab of sour cream and a sprinkle of onions, the rest of my family with cheese. This is a good recipe to serve up when feeding a lot of people, its simple and inexpensive to double or triple the recipe if needed.

If you try out my recipe, let me know how you liked it!

mothers day gift ideas

I have a super fantastic mom. The best in the world. But, I always have a very difficult time trying to decide what to get/make her for Mother's Day. SHE says shes happy with anything, but my brothers and I know thats not quite the truth. Shes not very expressive...she shows gratitude but never awe or excitement over a gift. Not sure why that is. We know shes grateful. We know she loves us, but does she REALLY love the gift?! Nobody knows!

Every year I try to come up with something great, store bought or handmade. And every year I have a hard time choosing what to make or buy. There are so many great things out there, so many great IDEAS. Sadly I cant do them all, so I have to make a choice. Ive narrowed down the great many choices to just a few, and thought I would share them with you all, just in case you're having a hard time choosing too. These arent in any specific order, but I do love them all!

I love these frames, and will be making some in the near future, and I encourage you all to check out the whole series of frame ideas from Shanty 2 Chic, heres just one of a few ideas they have shared:
Im not much of a jewelry maker, but these from little birdie secrets make me want to give jewelry making a shot:
Ever reliable for ideas, Martha Stewart has great ones for Mother's Day
This one is simple but oh so elegant, perfect for my mom because she likes to dress up her scrubs in simple little ways with pins.
This is gorgeous!!! And I personally would love this, since I consider myself a mama bird, but my mom would too!
These are just a few things Im contemplating, among a few other ideas floating around in my head. I hope I gave you all some ideas and a bit of inspiration!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Something for the home

When we got our house, there were these 2 doors someone, sometime had bought at Im assuming an estate sale, sitting in our basement. Both old. Very old, and not fitting any of the doorways in this old house. Theyve also got AT LEAST 4 coats of paint chipping and peeling. We had absolutely no need for them, but I kept them anyway since Im incredibly fond of old things. Theyve sat in the basement collecting dust for almost 4 years now. Until Sunday.

I came across an idea awhile back before my cyber break and decided to put my husband to work. (Arent I a wonderful wife?) While I didnt bookmark or save an image of the general idea, I did have it in my head and explained to my super awesome husband what I wanted. He said no.

Im kidding! He took a door similar to this: (sorry, not the original door, forgot a "before" pic)

 And with the help of my brother, turned it into this:
Yes, we still have our Christmas lights up. We like sparkle all year  'round.

 Ive been scraping some of the paint off, and will have to wait for hubby to get back home from a work trip to sand it and apply paint. Of course, I still have to decide what COLOR to paint it! I cant decide between a creamy white or a black, both of which occur in our home on furniture. But Ive also been contemplating green or yellow or blue too...decisions, decisions. Plus, I dont know if I want to leave the knob and put the hinges back on or not....the knob is not very vintagey.

Basically, all he did was cut the door in half and screwed it all together. He then cut some wood from old cabinet doors for the shelves and fit them in and anchored with more screws.

I cant wait to finish it and bring it inside!! Ive already started working on a candle holder for one of the shelves last night, and once thats done Ill post with a tutorial. Hopefully tonight or tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A mid afternoon rant on....

POPCORN! Yep. Popcorn. Microwavable popcorn anyway. Im fond of convenience in certain things-popcorn being one of them as its a quick and easy and fairly inexpensive snack. But lately, microwavable popcorn has seriously been bugging me!!! Not only have I gotten bags that wont pop, but bags that arent fully popping. I mean bags that leave behind half a bag of kernels even after the popping has stopped....And its not just me! Or rather my microwave. So, I have decided that this next shopping trip Im buying a jar of kernels and popping them myself. And since its going to be plain Jane popcorn, Im going to use a bunch of different things to jazz it up. Hey, my mom used to do it...
Heres some recipes/add ins and tips Ive found.

This one doesnt sound so healthy, but the fact that there is chocolate in the title and its in a patriotic bowl sold me. Im a sucker for red, white and blue. And chocolate.

Chocolate popcorn:

  • 2 quarts popped popcorn
  • 1 cup peanuts (optional)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C). Oil a 10x15 inch baking pan with sides.
  2. Place popcorn and peanuts into a large, metal bowl, and set aside. Stir together the sugar, corn syrup, cocoa powder, and butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat until it comes to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Stir in the vanilla, then pour over the popcorn. Stir until the popcorn is well coated. Spread the popcorn into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, stirring several times.
  4. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool to room temperature. Break into small clumps, and store in an airtight container.
Caramel popcorn: think Ill add peanuts to this one.

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 quarts popped popcorn
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F (95 degrees C). Place popcorn in a very large bowl.
  2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil without stirring 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in soda and vanilla. Pour in a thin stream over popcorn, stirring to coat.
  3. Place in two large shallow baking dishes and bake in preheated oven, stirring every 15 minutes, for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cool completely before breaking into pieces. 
Kettle corn:
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once hot, stir in the sugar and popcorn. Cover, and shake the pot constantly to keep the sugar from burning. Once the popping has slowed to once every 2 to 3 seconds, remove the pot from the heat and continue to shake for a few minutes until the popping has stopped. Pour into a large bowl, and allow to cool, stirring occasionally to break up large clumps. 

Spicy popcorn:
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup popping corn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Heat oil in deep pot over medium high heat. Add corn. Cover pot and pop the corn, shaking pan often. Remove from heat. Drizzle with melted butter. Combine spices in a small dish and sprinkle the blend over hot corn. Serve.

A few other "toppings":
Garlic salt
Parmesan cheese
Dry taco seasoning mix
Dry ranch-style seasoning mix
Lemon pepper
Italian herbs: oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme, and crushed rosemary.
French herbs: marjoram, thyme, summer savory, basil, rosemary, sage, and fennel
Cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg

From the popcorn board:

To pop popcorn on a range-top, assemble the following:
  • A 3 to 4 quart pan with a loose lid that allows steam to escape
  • At least enough popcorn to cover the bottom of the pan, one kernel deep
  • 1/3 cup of oil for every cup of kernels (Don't use butter!)
Heat the oil to 400 - 460 degrees Fahrenheit (if the oil smokes, it is too hot). Test the oil on a couple of kernels. When they pop, add the rest of the popcorn, cover the pan and shake to evenly spread the oil. When the popping begins to slow, remove the pan from the stove-top. The heated oil will still pop the remaining kernels.
Add your spices AFTER popping.

Did you know....?
You can re-pop unpopped popcorn kernels? (thats quite a POP!! hahaha) Just soak the ones left in the bowl in water for a few days in a tightly closed container in a dark place. Test a couple kernels after a few days and if they pop, great, if not, soak some more!! So much for me getting irritated with the microwaveable kind!
Theres a national popcorn day? Sort of? Some say its January 19th, others say whatever date the super bowl falls on.Who cares? Its a great treat!

  • Americans consume some 16 billion quarts of this whole grain, good-for-you treat. That’s 52 quarts per man, woman, and child.
  • Compared to most snack foods, popcorn is low in calories. Air-popped popcorn has only 31 calories per cup. Oil-popped is only 55 per cup.
  • Popcorn is a type of maize (or corn), a member of the grass family, and is scientifically known as Zea mays everta.
  • Of the 6 types of maize/corn—pod, sweet, flour, dent, flint, and popcorn—only popcorn pops.
  • Popcorn is a whole grain. It is made up of three components: the germ, endosperm, and pericarp (also know as the hull).
  • Popcorn needs between 13.5-14% moisture to pop.
  • Popcorn differs from other types of maize/corn in that is has a thicker pericarp/hull. The hull allows pressure from the heated water to build and eventually bursts open. The inside starch becomes gelatinous while being heated; when the hull bursts, the gelatinized starch spills out and cools, giving it its familiar popcorn shape.
  • Most U.S. popcorn is grown in the Midwest, primarily in Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri.
  • Many people believe the acres of corn they see in the Midwest during growing season could be picked and eaten for dinner, or dried and popped. In fact, those acres are typically field corn, which is used largely for livestock feed, and differs from both sweet corn and popcorn.
  • The peak period for popcorn sales for home consumption is in the fall.
  • Most popcorn comes in two basic shapes when it's popped: snowflake and mushroom. Snowflake is used in movie theaters and ballparks because it looks and pops bigger. Mushroom is used for candy confections because it doesn't crumble.
  • Popping popcorn is one of the number one uses for microwave ovens. Most microwave ovens have a "popcorn" control button.
  • "Popability" is popcorn lingo that refers to the percentage of kernels that pop.
  • There is no such thing as “hull-less” popcorn. All popcorn needs a hull in order to pop. Some varieties of popcorn have been bred so the hull shatters upon popping, making it appear to be hull-less.
  • How high popcorn kernels can pop? Up to 3 feet in the air.
  • The world’s largest popcorn ball was created by volunteers in Sac City, Iowa in February, 2009.  It weighed 5,000 lbs., stood over 8 ft. tall, and measured 28.8 ft. in circumference.
  • If you made a trail of popcorn from New York City to Los Angeles, you would need more than 352,028,160 popped kernels!

Now go eat yourself some tasty popcorn!

tickle me tuesdays!

I have decided that each Tuesday Im going to share things that tickle me in one way or another. It could be a poem, a craft, a movie or book, or a recipe, anything that brings a smile to my face and puts joy in my heart. So, tickle me tuesdays is conceived by my desire to bring a smile to your face too.

With 3 kids going to be in school this fall and a new baby on the way, quick and easy sewing patterns and projects have inspired me to create several things for them all to save a bit of money, and nothing says quick and easy like this pleated skirt tutorial from sew, mama, sew!
Isnt it darling? And once you read the tute you will see what I mean by easy! 

I am totally loving these fabrics for it, from joanns.
I LOVE the colors. So bright and yet would carry perfectly into fall!

I love this one because its corduroy!
I plan on buying plain tees and tanks and adding embellishments, such as these:

Fabric rosettes from Little Birdie Secrets
Floral love tee from Maybe Matilda
And another from Maybe Matilda-lace embellished tee
My oldest is hitting middle school this year (YIKES!!) and I want to make the transition easy and fun for her, so I have made a list of things I want to make for her, with these topping the list in coordinating fabrics and colors. I figure a few will make it fun to carry her stuff to school in!:

A new pencil case similar to this. Ive made my girls several of these already, but weve got to have matching bags, right?!

These are just a few of my favorite handmades right now.

I hope I tickled you!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter egg leftovers

How many Easter eggs did you dye this weekend? And what are you planning with all those hard boiled eggs no one hunted down and ate?

I dyed 2 dozen+1, just for the Easter bunny. So, after yesterday and todays breakfast, I still have 15 eggs left...yeah, that many. So, what to do with all of them? Heres my plan-save a few for snacking, and use the rest for the following recipes!

Salmon salad with vinaigrette:
  • 1 pound green beans, trimmed
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 4 (3-ounce) salmon fillets
  • 4 cups mixed salad greens
  • 1/4 cup vertically sliced Vidalia or other sweet onion
  • 2 hard-cooked large eggs, sliced
1. Preheat grill to medium-high.
2. Place beans in large pan of boiling water; cook 2 minutes. Drain and plunge beans into ice water; drain.
3. Combine vinegar, mustard, oil, shallots, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in small bowl, stirring well with whisk; set aside.
4. Using a mister, spray both sides of each fillet with olive oil; sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 tea-spoon pepper. Place fish, skin side up, on grill rack; cook 8 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with fork, turning after 4 minutes.
5. Arrange 1 cup greens in each of 4 bowls; top with onion, egg slices, and beans. Top with salmon; drizzle with dressing.

Made these for lunch today.
English muffin egg pizzas:
  • 4 English-muffins
  • Olive oil
  • 8 tomato slices
  • 4 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
  • Grated mozzarella
  • Oregano
  • Kosher salt
Toast English-muffin halves and place on a cookie sheet. Drizzle each with olive oil, then layer on tomato slices, hard-cooked egg slices (1/2 an egg each), and a little grated mozzarella. Sprinkle with oregano and kosher salt. Broil 5 minutes or until the cheese melts.

Warm potato salad with bacon

  • 1 lb bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
  • 8-10 potatoes, chopped and boiled, not peeled
  • 6 or 7 hard boiled eggs, brought to room temp
  • 1 bunch chives, chopped
  • 1 cup mayo
  • mustard
  • 2-4 tbsp vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp sugar
Boil potatoes until just fork tender, drain. Let cool slightly. Chop eggs and add to mixing bowl. In a small bowl mix together mayo, mustard, vinegar and sugar. Combine eggs with potatoes and mayo mix, add salt and pepper, stir together. Top with chives and bacon. Serve warm or at room temp after its been refrigerated.

 Hope you enjoy these protein and vitamin d packed recipes!

Spring renewal

I love spring. Mostly. Except when its rainy and gloomy. Every. Day. Which it has mostly been since February. Its teased us with a few warm and a couple HOT days, with the sun poking out maybe once a week otherwise.

It has, however, brought my "garden" in full bloom and our new lemon tree blossoming. So instead of seeing brown and dead when you come by, you see green and pink and white and yellow and purple, and smell the heavenly scent of our lavender and roses.

I had wished to have another veggie garden, and may still add some more strawberry bushes and another lemon tree, but aside from flowers in pots I dont think Im going to be doing much else. I have a lot of work to do inside before baby comes (once we actually know what baby is!).

Im a huge fan of perennials, because Im a little lazy when it comes to yard work. And because theyre less temperamental for the most part. Im an even bigger fan if they add something besides beauty, such as scent or heat tolerance or attract birds and good insects while repelling bad ones. Not to mention, fresh flowers inside to brighten a room!

What we have currently in our yard is:
Sweet broom-smells and looks just like its name. Attracts bees and grows to be quite large and can be pruned as a bush or tree.

Snapdragons are heat tolerant and fairly drought tolerant, although do better with adequate water supply. Theyre great show pieces and fillers for large or small gardens, and ok for pots. Plus, they make excellent and inexpensive bouquets in many colors. I have white, pink and yellow.
Lavender smells awesome, as you all know. Its great in home remedies, sachets, teas, cookies...I could go on. Its also very beneficial to a garden for several reasons-heat and drought tolerant once established, attracts bees, and repels certain pests. Its also very showy.
Rosemary, like lavender, has many uses. Its slightly more difficult to care for, they need less sun than lavender and prefer cooler spots, but offer too many benefits to not choose for your garden. Cooking is a huge one for me, but the scent is so amazing I would use it no matter what. And its soo pretty!!
How many people can resist a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade? That in itself is reason enough to plant a few lemon trees.
Fresh strawberries are sooooo much better than store bought. Im not going to list all the qualities of strawberries, Im just going to say- FRESH STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE! Theyre pretty easy to grow, but plant with thyme to deter pests.  
Petunias are just pretty, and they come in tons of colors perfect for spring and summer. Theyre annuals so must be planted every year, but theyre so pretty and easy to grow. Theyre great ground cover and grow fairly bushy close to the ground....look great around rose bushes. They need full sun. I keep them in pots, typically I choose the white ones.
Planning a garden can be fun, but also a little intimidating. What to buy, how much, where to put it all, do want gets a little crazy when youre surrounded by tons of flowers at the nursery, especially when you want them ALL. The best way to buy; plan ahead. Know where youre going to put it all, what the sun/shade ratio is and how much water you can or are willing to use, and know how much time and effort you are willing to put into planting and care of your plants. Dont waste your money on something like azaleas, unless you have the time to prune and baby, and lots of shade. Its a good idea to know what colors youre wanting as well, this way you can avoid buying colors that dont go well. Also, think about pots. Tons of flowers, fruits and veggies do fantastically well in them, and if you have a porch like I do, add depth and beauty closer to the front door.
I do a lot of my planning using websites/info like the following:
Just to name a few. These have loads of info on planting guides, zones, mixes, even composting. 

Gather a few supplies; hoe, rake, spade, hose, and prepare for a pretty welcome for your family, friends and neighbors. And yourself!!

Im back

I took a break from the cyber world for awhile, and felt like I had left friends behind! I stopped reading blogs and searching for new things to do, and I stopped blogging. But Im back, and hopefully I will be a better blogger from here on out. I hope to make several posts at first to make up for lost time, but first, some super exciting news!!

We will soon be adding A NEW BABY TO OUR FAMILY!!!

As of right now, we dont know if were having pink (for the 4th time!) or blue (we hope!). This little joy has been shy for a few ultrasounds and wishes to remain a secret. I have a feeling its going to be a little first I was absolutely certain the baby was a boy (I had dreams, felt different), but one day, I woke up with the certainty that we're going to have another girl. I really am ok with either and only wish for a healthy baby and continue to have a healthy pregnancy, but I would LOVE to be the mommy of a little boy.

I am currently 21 weeks, and its been pretty smooth sailing for the most part. I had some incredible exhaustion and some mild morning sickness, but aside from some difficulty sleeping and minor discomforts, its been an easy thrill ride. I do have a strange aversion to poultry and pork, and certain things dont taste as good as they used to. Beef seems to be my meat of choice, followed by shrimp, and fruit is a big craving, particularly strawberries, oranges and bananas.

Look for strawberry recipes to pop up here and there, and maybe a couple of beef dishes (here Im having difficulty since we mostly eat chicken!).

And of course, lots of baby posts!!