Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving today - where ever you may be in the world. I will tell you about our random Thanksgiving week at a later point!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Shoppings - keeping up on "free money"

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve done a shopping update. However, I was pretty pleased with the results of this week’s shopping expeditions, so I just couldn’t resist sharing!

While CVS had several really good deals this week, none of it were things I was really interested in. However, I had a dilemma, I had $14 worth of ECBs that I didn’t want to just expire nor did I want to have to start over with zero ECBs. While it builds up quickly, it does require spending a little more to get the ECBs built back up. It’s the sneaky trick of CVS to keep you coming back! A trick I’m okay with though.

My solution: They were doing a deal on L’Oreal moisturizer. Buy a moisturizer for $15.99 get $15.99 ECBs back. I figured I could spend my $14 ECBs and pay $2 oop and earn $15.99 back and come out basically even (while then establishing more ECBs for future shopping). However, CVS has this great little machine that you can scan your card at and it’ll pop out extra coupons, etc (and your quarterly ECB rewards). So, I scanned my card and what should come out? A $2 coupon off of the any L’Oreal product! Perfect! I was getting $15.99 back in ECBs after spending only $13.99!

And then, just because I could, I did a quick browse down some of their sale aisles, and found the last of the fall stuff on sale. All for 75% off! Long story short, I wound up buying 5 really pretty fall decorations (including a really nice wreath) for $6.95. Spent $7.42 oop (including tax) and got $15.99 back in ECBs.

I’m very cautious about my fall and winter decoration spending and try to only buy a few things each year (at most – generally I limit it to 1 sometimes 2 items). However, to get five lovely fall pieces for $6.95, I call a fair deal.

Check Mix was on sale here for $.99 plus I had a $.60 coupon, so I grabbed a bag of that for $.39 (even though Chris is also trying to get away from a lot of the processed foods, we go to a lot of things that ask us to bring a snack or something…so super cheap chips, etc are always a must buy!).

Puffs was also on sale for $.99 per box

And then the best price was Almay mascara. This was one of the FAR items for the month. But what made it even better was that I had a coupon for $1.00. So, I paid $5.99 for the item but will get back $6.99!

Total: $9.96 - $1.60 coupons = $8.91 (with tax). I paid for most of that with the last of my gift card and then paid the last $3.29 oop.

Again, like CVS, to really keep the balance going on paying minimal out of pocket, you have to sometimes spend a little more than you might have otherwise to reap the future benefits.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Post Election Giggle

So one week ago today, Chris and I were up early to get to the polls before work to cast our ballot. And then we were up very late watching the end results of the election. Now that the dust has settled a bit and life is continuing on a bit better, I thought I would share with you a story I found very entertaining and revealing about America’s voting knowledge.

There is a woman at my work who hails from the Czech Republic. She is here in America on a Green Card, so therefore is NOT an American citizen (naturalized or other). A few weeks prior to the election, she had received a voter registration card in the mail, which we discussed whether or not she should fill it out and just see if she could get a voting card. Decided against this plan; however, I’m still curious as to if they would have given her a voting card.

Any ways, when I saw her last Tuesday, I was highly entertained by the fact that she was wearing an “I Voted” sticker. We were joking about her sticker (given to her by her boyfriend after he voted), and I made a passing comment about wondering how many people would actually accept her wearing the sticker as if she actually had voted (keeping in mind that everyone at work – we’re a small company – knows she’s not an American).

Imagine my shock when she told me later that of the eight people who had noticed and commented on her sticker that day, SIX actually thought she had voted and engaged her in a discussion about the voting this year, etc. Only two of us (myself and another missionary lady) just laughed at her upon seeing the sticker.

Oh, I weep for this country some days…even if it is weeping through tears of laughter at times.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Yoghurt Success

A few weeks ago I attempted making yoghurt. I've always been a huge yoghurt fan but with a lot of my dietary changes, I've been finding that a lot of the yoghurt I used to buy from the store I can't eat any more. Many of them contain high fructose corn syrup (which I've decided is an item I no longer want in my diet) and even more of them contain gluten or potential gluten ingredients. The one brand that I really love is an active culture yoghurt and very expensive (especially if you eat yoghurt a lot - which I do). So, I decided to bite the bullet and try my hand at the art of yoghurt making.

I did lots of research, bought everything needed (not much!), and earlish one Saturday, started the attempt.

And failed. It turned our runny and gross looking and tasting and just was not a success.

Undaunted, I attempted it again. This time, I had a little more luck. It was edible but not very tart or tasty and not very creamy. Much runnier than I like my yoghurt. I ate my way through the batch, but knew that I was going to have to find some solutions because of the amount of work it took to make the yoghurt (the constant checking of temperatures, etc), it really wasn't worth it for me, despite the lower cost.

And then I found an interesting concept. There is a blog that I ran across the other day: A Year of CrockPotting. This lady made it her goal to use her crockpot every day for a year. And so she has a year's worth of crock pot recipes...some good, some bad, all reviewed by her. And one of them was how to make yoghurt in your crockpot.

Intrigued, I read the directions. Super easy! I was skeptical, but hey, if it worked and made yoghurt that came out better at all than what I had come up with previously, it might just be worth it. So I tried it. And let me tell you, it was amazing. Super easy and it came out creamy and tasty and tart and just as yoghurt should be!

I've written the recipe out on a seperate post (I found her instructions a little overwhelming), but enjoy!

Crockpot Yoghurt (plain)

- 8 cups milk (whole seems to come out best for thickness but you can use lower fat...isn't quite as creamy).
- 1/2 cup natural, live, active culture plain yoghurt (I highly recommend Dannon - Activia). Once you've made yoghurt once, you can just save 1/2 cup from your current batch and use it in the next batch (although I've read that it's a good idea to start fresh every few batches).
- 1 packet of plain gelatine (optional but seems to help with the thickening; I've also heard to try powder milk as well, particularly if you use a lower fat milk to start).
- thick bath towel
- crock pot

Plug in your crockpot and turn to low. Add the 8 cups of milk, cover, and cook on low for 2.5 hours.

Unplug the crockpot and leave it for 3 hours.

After 3 hours, scoop out 2 cups of the milk and put in a bowl. Add the yoghurt and gelatine (if you wish) and whisk it together (try to get the gelatine and yoghurt as dissintegrated as possible).

Dump the contents of the bowl back into the crockpot. Wrap the crockpot in a heavy towel for insulation and let it sit for 8 hours.

After eight hours, you should have a nice, thick yoghurt!

Chill in a container in the fridge. The yoghurt will last for 7 to 10 days.

Don't forget to save some starter for another batch!

Easy, easy, easy! Just make sure you start so that you can go to bed or whatever while it's sitting for the eight hours!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Apple Pork Chops

Last week I shared my menu for the week. And here at last is that Apple Pork Chops recipe I promised to post!
  • 4 pork chops
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1/4 tsp rosemary
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 large apples (sliced)
  • 1 cup apple/orange/ juice (I actually use grapefruit juice as the acidity of orange juice really bothers my stomach - turns out amazingly!).
  • 1/4 tsp thyme

Sprinkle pork chops with salt, pepper, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

Dice the onion. Sauttee in butter.

Add pork chops and brown on both sides.

Add juice and apples.

Turn heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes (stir frequently) or until done.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

It's Election day here in America. Given the fact that I came home to SIX messages yesterday all asking for my vote, it's about time! We're having some people over tonight to watch the election coverage. Regardless of who wins, I can't help but wonder what is going to happen to this country in the next few years.

If you can and you haven't - go do your civic duty and VOTE! And win a pretty sticker.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Menu Planning

One of the big things I've been working on in my menu planning is to be really conscious of using up food before it goes bad. I will admit, over the years of learning to keep house, I've had a bad habit of letting certain things expire or go bad before we eat them up. Leftovers, not so much. However, certain condiments or even fruits and vegetables...yeah, those went bad a lot. I think a much of the problem stemmed from really not being fully aware of what is in the fridge at all times. I was always good about cleaning it out (i.e. tossing the bad stuff), but not so much about the planning ahead to make sure it doesn't go bad before we eat it!

Any ways, long story short, as I'm planning, one of the first things I do is check to see what we have and what needs using up. Rather than determining what we might want to eat first and then seeing if we have the ingredients, I'm starting at the opposite end and determining what ingredients I have and then determining what I can make from them. It's really helping the budget out with only having to buy one thing to fill in a gap rather than buying 5 things so we can eat whatever meal it is that sounded good. And it's forcing me to increase my cooking repertoire looking for recipes that use the ingredients I have! (For those veterans of you out there who are much better at this sort of things than I am, shake your head all your like, but I'm figuring it out!)

A secondary goal of mine is working on stretching food.

Nearly two months ago now, as I began seriously working on the whole menuing thing, I started trying to incorporate a "meatless meal" into our week. Why? Because it's cheaper! And I think it's good for the body as well. Besides, I never have time to cook breakfasts, and as so many of those are meatless, it just fits in really well.

The other thing I've been doing is seeing how I can stretch the meat at meals where we do cook meat. For example, if the recipe calls for 1 pound of hamburger, I'm seeing if I can use 3/4 of a pound (add more filler to make up the difference) and using the other 1/4 of a pound in something else that doesn't call for as much meat. Actually, because (continuing my example of hamburger) packets often contain a little bit more than a pound of meat, setting some of it aside for a second meal really doesn't effect the amount of meat in the current meal.

I've come to realize that when I cook, I tend to use whatever is in the packet (I know, I know, the stores just love me!). I guess it's that whole convenience thing. Rather than thinking, "hey there's an extra 3 ounces of meat in this packet, why I don't I brown it all, set aside some of it for a meal tomorrow that calls for meat, and then make the rest of whatever meal I'm making today"...I instead just use the whole packet.

Any ways, those are some of the habits I'm focusing on as I really try to develop good menuing skills.

So, this week, I was going to give you a glimpse of my dinner menus for the past week. Telling other people my plans tends to make me a little more conscious of actually following through on said plans! Although since I've already followed through on these plans, I don't know the logic on that. Oh well!

Sunday: I made roast chicken with green beans and baked potatoes (made in the crockpot! How? Very simple. Wash them, poke holes into them, rub them in olive oil and salt, wrap them individually in foil, and cook for 4 to 6 hours on high in the crockpot. Very little mess and they come out fantastic!).

Sunday afternoon, I stripped the rest of the meat off the bones, and boiled the bones for broth (some to be made into soup and some to be frozen to be used in a soup at a later point)

Monday: Scrambled eggs and toast. Yummy! I love breakfast for dinner!

Tuesday: Chicken Enchiladas (made with the chicken from the roast on Sunday) and Mexican rice (made my own; turned out pretty good...well...other than the whole burning the bottom of the rice thing...have to work on that!).

Wednesday: Pork chops and Apples and broccoli and mashed potatoes. A new recipe for me (developed by the whole menu planning thing of looking in my fridge and going, "My brother just gave me a ton of apples - what do I do with them?" (and as of yet not being brave enough to try making gluten free apple pie...something to attempt in the nearish future I believe). I will post this recipe (well, my version of this recipe) sometime soon.

Thursday: Leftover day. Because Chris leaves for class at 5:30, I've designated this leftover day every week.

Friday: Mexican Omelet (this requires ground hamburger - or in my case - ground turkey). I made stuffed peppers on Saturday and set aside some of the turkey to use in this. Tasty recipe from my Mum which I had never actually made until just recently.

Saturday: white chili with corn bread

Sunday: roast beef and baked potatoes (I bought a big bag of potatoes the other day - got to use it up!) This will be for Chris with the plan of freezing some for a later time, but it will also translate into lunches for the week for him. Sadly, beef and I are truly not getting along very well, so I will not be partaking. However, I'm a sucker for Poor Man's Pasta, so I think I'll make that do! Besides, I bought the roast awhile back - prior to realizing my bodies new aversion to beef - and it really needs eating up. We're supposed to have a guest this weekend, but I'm not sure if that's going to pan out or not. I think I'll go ahead with the roast regardless.

One Year Ago Today

On this day, one year ago, we completely changed our lives. We drove away from jobs and home and loved ones to a new adventure of the very m...