02 January 2015

2015 Meal Planning Challenge

I've done meal planning in the past and it works out really well. I tend to stick with crock pot dinners for a few reasons: I work from home and don't like to take lunches because that time will need to be made up, the hubs (while well intentioned) isn't the best w/recipes (it can take him 10-15 minutes to chop up an onion), and I can prep most of them way in advance.

This year I'm going to try and do two things: 1. let the hubs do more in the kitchen and 2. stick to a $30/wk grocery budget. There are only two of us and there really isn't a reason to not try and keep the grocery bill low. I tend to stock up on staples when they are on super sale and there are only a couple things that I just buy as we need them. The benefits, of course, are having more money and also not stressing about what the meal for the day is going to be.

I spent quite a bit of time last night looking through the recipes on Budget Bytes to add to things we already love to eat. I added quite a few recipes and did my grocery shopping today. There were a couple things that did put me over and I didn't freak out. I don't drink a ton of milk but when I do it needs to be organic and I prefer Organic Valley, which for loads of reasons is pricey right now (about 4.50/.5 gal). Normal milk just doesn't work for me or with my body. Also bulgur is also kinda pricey at 4.89 but I know it will last me a while. Ground beef was on sale this week and it made more sense to buy the bigger pack and split it up for the rest of the meals for January. I also needed to purchase more Active Dry Yeast, which usually lasts me about 4-6 months but costs 3.99. Even knowing these things I was a little bummed. I came home and put away my groceries then looked at my calendar and realized something awesome. I have meals planned out through Jan 17 with only a couple things left to buy for that last week (sour cream, elbow pasta, northern beans and maybe a loaf of french bread). I'm jazzed. You're talking about maybe $5 in groceries. I could stock up on more staples like flour and make my own french bread and I made need some olive oil by that point but overall it's looking very nice.

Here is a recap of the rest of my purchases today and the meals I have planned through Jan 17.

Purchases: I bought a cheap rice cooker at Wal-Mart for $15.71 after finding a bag of craft stuff from Hobby Lobby I didn't need and had previously forgotten to return. I got back 13.40. I remembered I had a Target store credit (10 something) and also needed some TP. I checked the Cartwheel app and saw they had some deals for dry beans. Along with lentils and jasmine rice, I got my TP and 2 calendars for the year in the dollar section. I ended up spending about $3 out of pocket.

Meals: I do want to say that most of the meals listed below come from Budget Bytes or are ones I found on Pinterest. There are a couple that I added because I knew I had stuff to make in my freezer already. Also, I will eat leftovers or oatmeal for breakfast/lunch on most days but I do currently have some turkey and cheddar for sandwiches. The hubs is a bit pickier but he has agreed to try out the whole leftovers thing again so that I can focus on just buying food for breakfasts and dinners.

Jan 2 - Jan 3

  • Pan Pizza (BTW this was delicious but I did use a different recipe for the dough, which made enough to have for next Friday's pizza)
  • Bulgur & Chickpea salad; Hamburgers & Fries - buns were on sale and so were frozen fries at one dollar a piece. Too good to pass up.

Jan 4 - Jan 10


Jan 11 - Jan 17

  • Herb & Citrus Roasted Chicken - I've only got legs and oranges but it should work.
  • White Chicken Chili - the chicken will be from the leftovers
  • Spaghetti w/Meat Sauce
  • Black Bean Soup with Rice
  • Chorizo con Huevos - I love chorizo and have it in my freezer often. I may even had a potato to bulk up this dinner.
  • Fried Shrimp (Oven) & Red Potatoes - I bought some frozen shrimp a week ago and the hubs picked out some weird over potatoes at the same time.
  • Jalapeno Popper Mac & Cheese - I'm excited about this one but if I see chicken nuggets on sale ... it's on!!
Depending on the sales ad on Sunday, I may decide to buy a few more veggies to supplement lighter meals during the third week or add a protein like chicken on a couple days. So far this is the plan and I'm quite happy about it. There are 14 other days left in January and I already have 3 meals planned on those with 11 more to pick. Once the fridge and freezer thin out, I'll have to see what is left and what I will need to buy and stock up on again.

Last couple of tips... while I was doing all my searching last night, the brains over at Budget Bytes mentioned just prepping all your veggies at once instead of as you need them and then freezing them. I already did this with onions because it's quick and frozen onions don't stink up the fridge. IDK why it didn't dawn on me to do this with celery or carrots. So while my pizza dough was rising, I chopped up my whole package of celery and carrots along with a green pepper, red onion and vidalia onion. I made little pizza packs with enough toppings in each for a pan pizza, packets of celery and carrots for soup and then 1 cup packets of onions to save me time later on. I put them all in snack bags then tossed all the snack bags into 1 gallon freezer bag. Typing all this out makes me even more tired. bleh. 

Time for hot cocoa and some games.

January 2015

Eww. It's been awhile.

Let's recap 2014. I kinda failed on the remembering to transfer money to my savings account each week for the 52 week challenge. BUT I did have that Ally account set up and managed to save quite a bit of money. Between direct deposit and NOT adding it to my money/bill paying rhythm, I was able to forget about it for most of the year. I did take money out twice - once for an unexpected bill and once yesterday to pay off a credit card. The best part ... still have money in that account.

There isn't any reason to STOP putting money from my check since I haven't really missed it and I've been earning interest so that pay will keep going.

I did successfully complete my Goodreads challenge and I read 20 books in 2014. Here is the link if you want to join me for the 2015 challenge. I decided to up the ante and go for 30 books.

On the laundry front, the homemade detergent from July is just about gone. I've used up almost all the ingredients I purchased so this week I went to Wally world and stocked up again. I was able to save myself $5 this time since I already had the scoop and container. I did have to make more about 3 months in and realized that it would nice to just do the whole batch in one go. We get our dishwasher tablets from Costco and I kept the fancy plastic tub they come in. I think between the two containers I will have enough storage. We'll find out tomorrow. :D

Stay tuned ... I have another post coming soon about my meal planning challenge for January.

28 August 2014

Summer is almost over...

In a couple days, it will be my brother's 29th birthday and I will feel incredibly older. It's also one of the last days of summer and I'm super bummed. I am not looking forward to winter at all. Snow does not excite me and neither does the cold that comes with it.

I mentioned in my last post that ZipList was overhauling their site and to be honest, I'm a little under-whelmed. I'm super bummed that meal planning isn't a feature anymore. It makes keeping track of what recipes on what day a bit of a chore.

I did download Paprika for my Mac since YummySoup has been swallowed by some black hole. I've been super lazy about switching over but I think it just needs to happen.

The end of August also means the end of my "no beef" experiment. I am SO looking forward to a wonderful burger. It was fine just eating fish and chicken for a month but nothing is as tasty as beef. A friend shared the PornBurger site with me and it's just gorgeous. I kinda want to try them all as sliders.

My summer in summary - I grilled stuff, hung out with a sweet baby who is totally adorable, gave up red meat for a month and did a 30 day drawing challenge. I also started Couch to 5k, which is challenging but wonderful. I have a few plans up my sleeve for fall and hopefully it all works out and I can share some other awesome things with you.

01 July 2014

Where the EFFFFFF have I been?!?

I haven't really been anywhere tbh... I've just been hella lazy. Now that summer is mostly here, I'm trying to make up for lost time and posts.

Let's do some quick updates on the challenges because you know I'm the worst at sticking to things.
  • Money saving thing - yeah I suck at this. Doing the auto deposit to Ally was the best idea because I rarely remember to move money from one account to another. I made it about 15 weeks so I'm only like what 9-10 weeks behind? I guess that's not too bad.
  • Goodreads Challenge - well if you haven't figured it out yet I'm a legit nerd who loves books. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that I'm 3 books ahead of schedule.
  • Meal Planning - Generally speaking once summer hits I tend to stop planning. I know this sounds very weird but I get so excited to see sun that I forget about stuff in my fridge and I just want to throw some meat on the grill. Also, if you have been using ZipList to keep track of the Food Winners and Meal Plan, I got an email that says stuff is changing soon so yay?
Today I decided to make up for lost time by trying some ideas on a different Pinterest board called "Things to Try" ... Did I ever mention how creative I am?!? :p

Random thought here - I just realized that I have a Food and Dessert Winners board but not one for other pins. Looks like I'll be making a new one shortly!

So the two new things for today were homemade laundry detergent and homemade cleaning solution. I do have to say that both were kinda awesome but I'm going to start with the laundry one first since it's got the most crap to work out and type up.


Here is a list of all the stuff I bought along with my local Walmart prices. (Don't judge so much ... if Target had all this stuff, I would have bought it there.) Also, here is the pin and blog that gave me the rad idea.

Homemade Laundry Detergent Shopping List

  • 1 box of Borax - 3.97
  • 1 box of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda - 3.24
  • 1 can of OxiClean (1.3 lb) - 3.86
  • 6 bars of Fels-Naptha soap - .97 each (5.82)
  • 1 can of Bounce bursts - 6.97
  • 1 gallon sized plastic canister with lid - 2.97
  • 1 coffee scoop (2 Tbsp) - 1.67
So my total investment today was 28.50. And now to do some real math and pray I don't break my brain. Okay, here goes ... I found this website to convert dry gallon measurements to Tablespoons since that seemed the easiest way to calculate cost per load. Per the site, there are approximately 298 Tbsp per 1 dry gallon. Since I'm doing one scoop per load, that means 149 loads. I bought enough product to make 1.5 gallons but since I didn't think things through enough and my container was tiny, I only made 1 gallon. So if you bought all the stuff to make this and just went balls to the wall and made it all then you would have approximately 223 scoops of laundry soap. If I include the cost of my canister and scoop, then the cost per load is 13 cents. The next time I make this I won't need to buy those things so the cost will be 11 cents unless something goes up in price. We are halfway through the year so 26 weeks left (that's math I CAN do :D lol). I think we do about 5 loads a week ... I say I think because the Hubs is the chief laundry dude. He's awesome! So this should last us well into 2015 and that would be f*cking awesome!! Also, feel free to check my shady math and let me know if I derped it up hardcore because that's very possible. 

Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipe (1 gallon)
  • 4 cups of Borax
  • 4 cups of Washing Soda
  • 4 bars of Fels-Naptha soap, grated
  • 1.5 cups of OxiClean
  • 1.5 cups of Bounce bursts
If you decide to just make the whole 1.5 gallon, you will still need to measure out the Borax but everything else would be a dump job. Also, the bars of FN soap do need to be grated. I have a food processor so I used the grating plate then pulsed it to make it fairly fine and match the size of the Bounce bursts. Of all the ingredients listed, the only ones you really need are the Borax, Washing Soda and FN bars of soap. The recipe from the pin used Downy Unstoppables to make stuff smell better but after smelling lots of things like that at the store, Bounce was the one calling my name. I read through loads of comments and found that a lot of people were adding OxiClean to their loads to make things whiter and thought to just mix it in and be done. Simple is the way to get the hubs to try these weird ass ideas that I have.

Hopefully this inspires you to try something new and now deep breath and lets talk homemade cleaner. This was silly easy. You just need to buy two things. Vinegar and Dawn. The blue one and if you can find the Classic (not concentrated) kind then this will make your life much easier. If not, don't sweat it just work out the parts per differently. Here is the pin and the website with the directions. Originally I was going to use 1 part Dawn to 2 parts Vinegar until I saw that I had purchased Dawn Ultra. So it's really more like 1 part Dawn to 4 parts Vinegar. You just pop all that into a spray bottle and give it a gentle mix/swish and that's it. I used it to clean up the bathrooms and the kitchen and the dishwasher sides/front/seals. I did see that someone loaded this mix into a dishwand with the sponge at the end. I totally bought one of those and cleaning the shower/tub was a snap. Mine looks like this and was 2.97. My goal the next time I have off is to pare down my bottles of cleaner and simplify my closet and the cleaning crap under my kitchen sink.



03 April 2014

Short Rib Pot Pie

When I received the March issue of bon appétit, I was super excited. The cover was gorgeous and I immediately knew that I wanted to make whatever I was drooling over. Fast forward a few weeks because hello I'm lazy as shit and forget things super quick.

I finally got a chance to make this last Monday and I haven't been able to shut up about it since. This picture doesn't even do it justice. It was just so amazing and wonderful. I felt it was better than my attempt at Beef Wellington though the hubs respectfully disagreed. In talking with people, I realized how much I had changed the recipe based on reviews and comments on the bon appétit website. I decided to do a blog post about it and not only link the original recipe because it's SO good but also tell you what I did differently.



Short Rib Pot Pie Recipe
(Original: bon appétit)

Crust:
  • 1 ready made pie crust (like this)

Filling:
  • 2-3 lbs boneless beef short ribs, cut into 2" pieces
  • salt and pepper 
  • 1/3-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1-14 oz package of pearl onions 
  • 1-8 oz package of mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic 
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste 
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups red wine
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 6 sprigs thyme, plus 2 tablespoons off the sprig
  • Flaky sea salt like Maldon
  • 1 egg
  • 6 cups of water or beef broth

Cooking:
  • Dry the short ribs off with a paper towel if they seem a bit wet or juicy then season with salt and pepper. Don't be shy but don't try and kill anyone either. Toss them in a bowl with flour. Heat the oil in a nice heavy pot using medium-high heat. I have a Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven that is just perfect for this kinda stuff. Best Christmas present! You want to shake off any extra flour then brown the sides of the meat. You will want to work in batches and it will take about 8-10 minutes per batch. Be patient. This step is kinda important. Once that's done, take them out and but them on a baking sheet or in a bowl. Just not the flour bowl but that's gross and you'll get the shits.
  • Add the onions to your pot and cook them for a few minutes. They'll pick up some of the yummy bits and pieces and start turning a golden brown. Add the mushrooms that you chopped up and continue cooking for just a minute or two. Make sure to season this with some salt and pepper. Transfer this to a bowl using a slotted spoon. 
  • Reduce the heat to medium then add the garlic to the pot and cook for about 2 minutes. Be SUPER careful not to burn the garlic. Add the tomato paste and cook until it's turned a darker red color. You will want to stir a lot while you do this part. It will seem like it takes forever but it's worth it.
  • Add 6 cups of water or beef broth and bring the pot to a boil. Add the short ribs back to the port then season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat and let it simmer uncovered. This is where you have to be patient. It's going to take a long time to get these to be super tender. Let it do it's thing for about 2 1/2 - 3 hours. Just come and check it from time to time. You know you're getting close when the sauce begins to thicken so that it coats a spoon.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 and take 1 of the pie crust rolls out of the fridge along with the egg.
  • Take out the herb sprigs then add the onions and mushrooms to the pot along with the extra thyme.
  • Once the dough has sat out for a bit, roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Transfer the pot contents to a shallow 2 quart baking dish. Mine didn't quite fit so I made 3 mini pies with the leftovers in some ramekins. Place the rolled out dough over the filling and trim the edges a bit leaving some overhang. Tuck the edges under and crimp it - You know ... make it look pretty. Cut a couple slits in the top of the crust. Beat the egg in a small bowl and brush on the crust. Sprinkle some sea salt on it to make it look hella fancy.
  • Place this dish on a baking sheet to make it easier to put in the oven. Then bake until the crust is golden brown and it's all wonderful and bubbly. This takes about 50 minutes unless you used all small dishes, which would mean about 35 minutes.
  • Once it's done, take it out and leave it alone for at least 5 minutes. Go finish making some sides like mashies.
  • Enjoy 

Protips:
  • Ain't nobody got time to make pie crust ... also the store brand works just fine.
  • One of the commenters on the bon appétit website used chuck roast and said it was just as good. If you try it out and it still rocks, let me know. I may because I want this again and soon.
  • I use two kinds of salt. Most of the time it's pink Himalayan salt. For the fancy crust, I used Maldon salt to make a statement.
  • I buy the small jars of minced garlic. It's easy, relatively cheap and always ready to go.
  • When it comes to tomato paste in small quantities, I tend to use Amore. It's more concentrated and higher quality. For stuff like sloppy joes, I'll just use the can one.
  • If a recipe calls for red wine, I generally stick to Merlot. My grocery store sells these cute little sample bottles for around a dollar or two that are the perfect amount. Drinking wine isn't my deal so no point in going big.
  • I use Better than Bouillon Beef Base thanks to brains over at Budget Bytes. It's easy, works out to be much cheaper and I've found that it tastes a lot better.

Overall this recipe was super yummy and definitely one I will do again. The hubs did make a special request for future attempts. He wasn't a huge fan of the pearl onions so I will most likely sub 1-2 largish onions chopped up instead. Or maybe just forget and cut back a little and cross my fingers that he forgets.