Sunday Review: prepping and cooking for the week

October 7, 2014 Comments Off

In the past, we were most successful with our food plan when we set Sunday aside as the prep day. On that day we would pre-cook whatever we needed for the week (especially setting aside lunches), and make a tentative menu plan for that week. In order to keep things going at the blog (I’m rather on a hiatus on home improvement right now), I’ll post links and info to what we got done.

SAVINGS

First, the Target Cartwheel system continues to infuriate me. They have backed off on posting products by a third party with 95 percent of it Archer Farms or Market Pantry products. This isn’t going to fly with me as I use some name brands that I will continue to use.

This was the fatal mistake Wal-mart made (replacing all their name brands with Great Value) and it really bit them in the butt – they actually have lost so much market share they are still recovering! Why Target wants to go this way too baffles me. It has been shown to be a shoot-in-the-foot move.

The savings runs pretty minimal – like 5% – which is better than nothing but not as good as if I bought a name brand product on sale with a coupon. Target if you want people to get behind this savings program, get your act together!

The best savings is when you can combine with coupons and get a gift card back. Savings to date (according to Cartwheel): $103.31 (this doesn’t include price drops, sales items, coupons – just Cartwheel).

FOOD

Chicken: I found some with $3 off coupons per package as they were reaching expiration date. I used the seasoning salt mix from The Recipe Crayon Box and cooked them all up in a skillet. Chopped them up and froze them back in Foodsaver bags in the freezer. These can be used later to top salads, make chicken salad, fold up in a wrap etc…

Generally, when I was most successful at prep, I did chicken like this every week. It makes getting lunches together for the work day far easier.

Chicken broth: We bought two Deli chickens from Target and after stripping the carcass made our own chicken broth. This is from an Alton Brown recipe and is best done on a day you will be around the house.

Once it cools, strain it and freeze in muffin tins. Pop out of the tin and store in the freezer for recipes that need chicken broth. Trust me, there is no reason to pay for chicken broth and this goes a long way. You get double duty from your chickens!

Beef broth: To gain beef broth, just cook a roast in your crockpot earlier in the week and drain juice off. Freeze back in ice cube or muffin tins, pop out and store in a freezer bag.

Seasoned Taco ground beef: I put back about a pound, cooked with a homemade taco seasoning mix. Like the chicken, this can be used as toppings to a salad, in a taco wrap, pizza topping etc… see the beef Pinterest board for other ideas on how to use it. I’m still trying out a lot of the recipes on my Pinterest board and haven’t quite settled on one particular taco seasoning yet.

Mini-Shepherds Pie: from Tablespoon.com uses up some leftover veggies, leftover mashed potatoes with a ground beef base. We couldn’t find refrigerated pie dough so made it from this recipe (pretty buttery let me tell you), on Hen Cam.

This recipe was a winner and would make a good one to set back for lunches. I’d make it the day after you had Roast Beef for a meal – you would have beef broth and maybe leftover mashed potatoes to use.

Salisbury Turkey meatballs: from Pioneer Woman. We initially made these with ground chuck, but actually like them better from ground turkey. Cooked some egg noodles and set them aside for lunches.

RECIPES FOR THE WEEK

Later in the week, I’ll be trying this Beef Wellington recipe, easy French Bread pizzas for the Kids Movie night, making Fajitas with this Greek Tzatziki sauce/dip. After a trip to the Farmers Market on Saturday, I’m hoping to make some batches of this Spaghetti Sauce we liked and can it back.

Next Sunday, I’ll be focusing on making different recipes for freezing, but also getting more veggies prepped in the fridge for snacking.

Battle of the Brownies

September 23, 2014 Comments Off

brownie_battle_pinterest_recipes

These are four of the most highly pinned Brownie mixes on the Pinterest. We decided for husbands’ birthday we would do a Battle of the Brownies and see which one comes out on top. Just comparing the recipes weeded it down pretty quickly so let’s compare and see why:

Main Ingredients #1 #2 #3 #4
Sugar 1 1 1 1 ¼
Flour ½ ½ ¾ 1
Cocoa ½ ¼
Butter/Oil ½ ½
Baking Powder (tsp) 1 1 2 1
Vanilla (tsp) 1 1 2 1
Eggs 2 2 2 2
Water (Tbsp) 1 0 2 0

All of these recipes can be mixed with the dry ingredients and stored back. Wet ingredients (i.e. oil, butter, shortening, Vanilla, Eggs and water) would be added prior to baking. See the blog link for the actual recipe!

#1 The Best Brownie Mix by Crazy for Crust. This bloggers gives a lot of detail on her website about using the recipe and provides 5 more Brownie variations using this mix (i.e. Reeses Brownies with Oreo Crust, PB&J Brownies, Cookies and Creams Brownie Bites, One Bowl Brownies with Almond Joy, and Nutter Butter Truffle Brownies).

#2 Homemade Brownie Mix by Raining Hot Coupons. As you can see #1 and #2 are pretty much the same recipe except #2 has more cocoa. BTW this website has a ton of ads. It’s the primary reason I won’t return to the blog no matter what the information is.

#3 Brownie Mix Recipe by Creative Homemaking. This recipe increases flour, vanilla, baking powder and water but decreases cocoa. Probably the increase of vanilla, baking powder and water is due to the increase of flour.

#4 Homemade Brownie Mix by Chef in Training. This recipe is probably pretty delish but I decided to pass since it uses vegetable shortening, which I rarely keep on hand in my pantry (usually only at Christmas when doing holiday baking). It’s interesting that this recipe has an increase in flour and sugar but decreases cocoa (the smallest amount in comparison with the other recipes). This recipe would also have the highest amount of calories due to the fat and sugar numbers.

Just analyzing the ingredients, I tried #1 and #3. Both had the same brand of flours, sugar, cocoa, etc…, baked in similar pans, and in the same oven. We tried them side by side so we could see and taste the difference immediately.

Wow! I expected #1 to be well, number one, but #3 was the clear winner of all four of us samplers.

#1 had a more cake taste (Brownie on the left in photo). Honestly, it tasted like a cupcake not a brownie. It didn’t rise well and the color was a bit less Brownie-like. The fat used in this recipe was melted butter – it might work better with oil, which the second recipe used.

#3 Brownie Mix Recipe by Creative Homemaking had that crust that Brownies get (you can clearly see it in the photos – it’s the Brownie on the right) which makes them appealing. Even though the recipe had less cocoa it still had a rich chocolate fudge taste you get with brownies. It also had a more pleasing aftertaste – maybe that was due to the increase of vanilla…?

Whatever the reason, #3 was a clear winner for our family!

Organizing the Media

September 6, 2014 Comments Off

Despite all the moves back and forth, there is still stuff we can clean up, sort, trash etc.. here at the house. Last week I sorted through three tray boxes of paperwork, sorting and trashing paperwork. There was a lot less to go through than I expected and I think that was because of the clean up prior to the move to Missouri.

I’ve already gone through the entire book collection in preparation to moving it to digital. I’ve got my Wishlist set up to look for sales (I may join Amazon Prime for a year in order to get better prices). The plan is to budget $30 or so a paycheck on buying digital formats of book favorites so they will take up less room in the new house and be easily transported to wherever we are.

After the book clean up, I have 6 cardboard cartons of books for the library for donations – I’d trade them if we were still in Springfield as they had a great used bookstore – not so here in Tulsa. It’s just too much bother to put them in a garage sale or on Craigslist though for the thrifty minded person you could do that.

The last four days, I’ve been going through the music collection, and while much was ripped to digital some slipped by and I had bought some new music when in Missouri. Today, I’ve wrapped up the last CD on that chore. I’ll be donating or trading these all in. Again, the point is to lighten the load of what is physically taking up space.

Tomorrow, we’ll see if the VHS to DVD converter machine works. Definitely we do not need VHS tapes here! If we are not successful, I will set them back to be done by a professional. This is one of those chores that should have been done years ago.

I also have camcorder tapes that needs to be transposed but since they were with an old camcorder that is now broke they will most likely have to go to a professional to be done.

Next weekend, we tackle the biggest chore – sorting 20 years of family photos! Most have not been dated. I’ll be relying on how old the kids look in the photos and any other seasonal tip offs (such as Halloween costumes! LOL). This is a HUGE pain but needs to be done. If we work together I think one or two weekends will see the majority done in terms of dating sequence.

These will be transferred onto digital with only the best being kept for wall or shelf display. This will be the biggest chunk of the tedious chore because scanning takes far longer than physically sorting. I bought a photo scanner last Christmas season (heavily discounted) but have not had the motivation to get it done.

All of this just furthers a process of letting go – physically and mentally. During the last move I still felt some twinges in the goodbye process; now I have given myself complete permission that it is okay to get rid of this stuff. I think husband feels the same as he has been less resistant on releasing items, especially some of his books which has greatly surprised me.

In Missouri we lived in a much smaller house and I can see that we can let a lot go to make smaller-home life  comfortable and enjoyable. This realization has given me more ease of mind with the process of discarding items and papers.

In about three years from now we will downsize from 2700 sq. feet to 1200 sq. ft. with our son living on his own post college graduation and our daughter away at college, we need to be working today towards our future home. Besides being organized now with a less cluttered home just makes me feel better!

Adapting drawers for herb and spice jars

August 24, 2014 Comments Off

The three drawers in the island will eventually be replaced when we build a new island. For now though, I needed a way to keep my herb and spice jars easily sorted.

These French Quarter bottles (Target’s Archer Farms spices) were too big to fit into the drawer with the old organizer, so we came up with this easy and quick solution: a piece of scrap quarter round, trimmed to size, and glued into place. One drawer was warped so a few tacked in finishing nails kept it in place.

This works with any bottles that have a neck as it is the neck that rests on the wooden bar. It angles the jar so it is easier to grab and it keeps them from sliding around in the drawer.

herb_spice_jar_drawer1

 

DSCN2069

Downsizing the book collection

August 19, 2014 Comments Off

bookmounds

There are two major storage issues I need to start addressing now: 1.) books and 2.) photos. We will downsizing sometime in 2016-17 from this house we have lived in for about 17 years at 2600 sq. foot home (4 bed, 2.5 bath) to an almost-tiny home of 1 or 2 bed with one bath (less then 1200 sq. ft).

Reading is one of my biggest hobbies and when we retire, I plan on having all my favorites at the touch of a button. E-readers also makes sitting in lines or at the doctor’s office much easier to bear. I will not have room for rows and rows of bookshelves (which we own 8 now) in the new house. And if we decide to travel, the collection can come with us anywhere.

Some books of course will be kept in their current physical book form – they are now out of print, not available as an e-book, or give too much comfort reading in a paperback form (especially as some of my favorites are rather thick books with gorgeous covers!). However, many can be sold, traded or donated to the library once we have a digital format.

We own a lot of books, and when we moved back to Oklahoma from Missouri, we started to move all the Agatha Christie mystery books onto an e-reader. You would think that these books wouldn’t cost much – after all Christie has been dead for decades! but they still sell for about $7 on Kindle!

However, if you pay attention they often go on sale, so I’ve started compiling a massive wish list of books to move onto Kindle – and each paycheck, allot $20 to buy whatever is on sale that is on the list. If you are big reader, you owe it to yourself to start doing this too – it’s far too expensive to move over a physical collection into digital in one swoop.

So it’s time to say goodbye – the amount of space saved and the convenience will be massive!

Upping the Savings Game at Target

June 15, 2014 Comments Off

Okay, I upped my Target game. I saved 19% which is the best I’ve done since I bought the Juicer and got a $10 rebate on it! Yeah!

Remember, I am not an extreme couponer, so whatever savings I can get I weigh that against effort extended and if I was able to buy brands that I wanted. So this is what I did differently:

1.) I was careful with Cartwheel to get into the store before certain deals expired that I knew I wanted – such as meat, fruit and vegetable savings. These are three areas that are hard to find with coupons.

2.) 3 offers were buy one and get a second 1/2 off and each of one those deals had an additional coupon on it (Paper towels, Fiber One Cereal and Cheerios). Two of these were “accidents” and I could have upped this game a bit by looking through the ad. I am bad though about not reading ads as they bore me and I think a lot of it is hype, not savings.

3.) 6 of the 12 Cartwheel items I had a coupon for. It’s very important to coupon the Cartwheel items because it really ups the percentage to maximize savings.

4.) 78% of the items had coupons as opposed to when we scored poorly (overall items bought 50-60% had coupons). I changed this by doing some online looking for coupons (spent about 30 minutes developing my list and Googling).

I regularly buy the following brands so I signed up through their websites to receive coupons or newsletters (it’s important to use an email just for sign ups – this email will eventually get leaked and spammed so I use a different one for family/friend correspondence):

Hunts tomato sauce related products
Pillsbury – sometimes biscuits/rolls, frozen cookie dough
Betty Crocker – Blueberry Muffin Mix
Campbells – slow cooker sauces, sometimes soups
General Mills – Cheerios and cereals
Ronzoni pasta – veggie type (love it!)
Jif peanut butter – creamy daughters favorite
Pepperidge Farms – Cinnamon bread, Goldfish crackers
Land O Lakes – butter
Bummel and Brown – butter
Gold Medal Flour
Quaker Oats
Annies Mac and Cheese
Silk – Soymilk/Almond Milk
Uncle Bens Rice
Kashi Cereal
Sargento or Kraft Cheese (sliced)
Jennie-O turkey
Horizon Milk and Cheese
Minute Maid Orange Juice – Vitamins added
Pancake syrup – what is on sale/coupon
Disposable razors – what is on sale/coupon
Paper towels – what is on sale/coupon
Toilet paper – what is on sale/coupon
Other Health, Beauty, Medical needs, etc… I will go into another time

5.) Target states we saved $53 which is deceptive remember as they count their own sales (not my coupons or even Cartwheel).

Okay yeah! I feel like I am making sense with this and it saves me money without making me go crazy shopping around town, having my kids eat off brands they don’t like or “extreming” it.

Bargains no more

June 15, 2014 Comments Off

You probably want to read about some amazing deal I found: like a fantasy $10 dresser I redid and sold for $500. Personally, the reality is that those deals are getting harder and harder to find – if not impossible.

All the popularity of painting furniture on Pinterest, Facebook and in junk/vintage booth stores has made it rare to find “deals” anymore. Even average furniture has gone up in price on Craigslist and so I am not here to tout bargains. I actually am a bit tired of having to buy something only to spend weekends getting it back into some sort of shape for my home – it’s one reason the blog has not been so busy this last year as I’ve had re-decorating burnout…

LR_lamp_mercuryglass

I did find two matching lamps for the Living Room – they are the Mercury Glass style (I did try the Mercury glass spraypaint featured in many Pinterest pins and the reality is that it was crap and not at all professional in end product).

If I had bought similar ones on sale at Hobby Lobby they would have been about the same price though these are a bit better in quality. I am also no longer spending money at Hobby Lobby due to them breaking the law and trying to shame women working at below a living wage into being baby machines (or maybe breaking the law in New York advertising fake bargains from China – or maybe breaking the law in Oklahoma by holding secret meetings with government officials).

They would have cost me twice as much if bought at Pier One and these are about the same quality as Pier One lamps. But a steal? No.

lamp_table_chair_LR

I also found two matching end tables for the Living Room on Craigslist. Again, no real bargain at $120 for two. However, these are high quality pieces, nothing wrong or damaged with them, with hardware I won’t have to replace. It’s also a huge problem trying to find two matching tables – generally you find an end table with a matching coffee table (not what I wanted as it didn’t work with the room’s configuration).

I will be painting them as soon as I replace the couch and chairs. While the black and white striped curtains, the black chair, wall color and floor will remain the same, the sofa and the chairs will be changed. I may go with a gray couch and patterned upholstered chairs or gray chairs and a colorful couch. Not sure.

The chair here? Craigslist for $80. Why so high? Because it’s real leather not fake vinyl. The springs are excellent and while I might put a wax on the wood, I’m not repainting it. It’s pretty much ready to go.

Nothing wrong with dumpster diving or finding a broken dresser to fix up – but even broken things are Craigslist are going for twice what they did two years ago (I saw a dresser missing two drawers priced at $100! Really? and the ad stated – “redo like on Pinterest”).

On the bright side – it means the economy is improving. The downside is that the days of scooping up treasures next for nothing is pretty much gone.

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