Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saving for the new year...

I was so happy with the sale ads this week! My purchases were reminiscent of what I used get for my $50 when I started this blog. I was able to get A LOT of produce and stay at about $55 after tax. I didn't even really use many coupons. Maybe $10 worth or so. This is the picture from my trip to Hy Vee. The picture from my trip to Price Chopper turned out horrendously blurry, so we'll just forget about that.

It's been a rough year for us, in some ways, and a very blessed one in others. I have a lot spinning in my head right now about how we're going to move forwarded financially and with a renewed commitment to savings. I'll be updating in the next few days about all of those ideas.

In the meantime, here is our meal plan for the week,

Saturday - cereal / leftover spin dip macaroni and cheese / chili, guacamole and brown butter brownies

Sunday - 100% whole wheat cinnamon toast / cheesy vegetable chowder (a double batch for the freezer!) / my mom's chicken and rice

Monday - bagels and cream cheese / brown bag lunches / chicken broccoli cheddar braid

Tuesday - cereal and fruit / brown bag lunches / egg in the hole

Wednesday - 100% whole wheat cinnamon toast / brown bag lunches / tortellini soup

Thursday - cereal /brown bag lunches / cheesy vegetable chowder from the freezer

Friday -100% whole wheat cinnamon toast /  brown bag lunches / dinner at ballet

For snacks, we'll be eating cinnamon sugar pretzels, bagels and cream cheese, pumpkin applesauce, veggies and dip, crackers and fresh fruit.

See other meal plans at

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Sad, Sad Tale...

I haven't updated with a final picture and the recipe that I used for my first apple pie. It's taken me this long just to admit to myself what really happened.

I know you are all asking, "What really happened?"

What really happened is this...

After a super long Christmas day that included a sick husband and three kinds 5 and under, I slaved away making that beautiful first apple pie for our celebration with my in laws. I was successful in constructing the pie, and I figured that was half the battle. I'd used a tried and true recipe, so I know it would have tasted just fine at the very least.

Now, I can't account for the flavor because I never got to taste it.

As we were loading the car on the day after Christmas, without my knowledge, my husband set my first apple pie (in my new Crate and Barrel pie plate) and a bowl full of homemade salted caramel ( in one of my favorite latte bowls) on the washing machine. That was running. I was buckling my girls in to the car when I heard a crash and a shatter. Everything tumbled to the ground and landed in a million apple-y pieces on the garage floor.

My father in law called the incident an exercise in "character building." I might have failed.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Vanilla Bean Salted Caramel

One of the items on my menu of things to bring was a fruit or a sauce to go over my mom's cheesecake on Christmas Eve. I was hoping to make my favorite blueberry sauce, but when NO BERRIES of any variety were on sale Christmas week at all, I had to go with inexpensive plan B. I did a quick recipe search on Google and realized I could make a salted caramel sauce pretty easily and without much expense! As a bonus, it could double with the apple pie I was planning to make for Christmas with my inlaws. I had a vanilla bean on hand from a Christmas stocking from LAST year, so I decided to doctor it up a little with a vanilla bean salted caramel recipe. Here is the recipe I chose,

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 vanilla bean, sliced and seeded
1 teaspoon sea salt

Slice a vanilla bean in half.  Using the back of the knife, scrape the seeds from the pod.  You can save the pods, and put them in a jar of sugar.  Pretty soon, you will have the most fragrant and delicious sugar. (I used mine in my apple pie.) Pour the cream into a measuring cup and add the vanilla bean seeds, and sea salt.  Set aside. Put the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat.  Bring the sugar to a boil. Let the sugar cook (do not stir using a spoon, at most, you may swirl the pan to avoid hot spots) until it reaches a deep amber color. Whisk in the cream mixture.  It will bubble and go nuts, but keep whisking.  It will come together. (I whisked mine for a few minutes over the heat.)

This was ABSOLUTELY a show stopper! Everyone loved it. It was wonderfully easy, and my kids really enjoyed watching me make it too. As a side note, if you don't have a vanilla bean I wouldn't say that you HAVE to buy one. The vanilla bean is just a Christmas Eve kind of fancy bonus! I would think you could add a little extra vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste to your cream mixture, and it would still be outstanding! The sea salt is what really shines through. Without the vanilla bean, the salted caramel sauce costs right around $2 to make. I can't believe it's cheaper than buying a bottle of caramel sauce. The flavor  is 1,000 times better!

For more recipes see Balancing Beauty and Bedlam.

Monday, December 26, 2011

My First Apple Pie!

I made it very late last night. I was mega tired and in a mega hurry, but I thought it turned out well! Pictures of the finished project and recipe to follow soon!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Meal Planning

We're starting to cook Christmas food around here!  This is my first of two trips to the store. I spent $50 of my allotted $100. Even with $100, I had to be extra conscientious at the grocery tab we were racking up as my $100 also had to cover our meals for the week.  Rather than sharing our meal plan for the week, I'll share what we're cooking for our various events! These are the frugal ideas I cooked up for some of the various events we had going on. Some of the new recipes will follow soon!

Christmas Eve -

My Mom's Cheesecake with my Salted Caramel Sauce

Christmas  Day-

Blueberry Lemon Scones (cranberry orange recipe, sub blueberry and lemon)
My dad's favorite Holiday Broccoli Salad
Twice Baked Potato Casserole
Red Hot Jello
Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream for Jesus's Birthday

The Day after Christmas with my in laws -

Veggie Tray
Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels (Next year I might fill a popcorn tin with these! People have loved them!)
Apple Pie with Salted Caramel Sauce

Merry Christmas!

For more meal plans see

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cheesy Veggie Chowder

 (Not a great picture because my people were IMPATIENTLY waiting to eat!)

I think I initially saw this recipe on MoneySavingMom from LuLuTheBaker. My people absolutely LOVE Broccoli Cheese soup, but I had never made it! When I saw that this recipe was so EASY, I figured I should give it a shot. Oh, we loved it! My only regret is that it doesn't make much. The second time I made it, I double the batch, so we had some for the freezer! I highly recommend it! It's very tasty, hearty and EASY. And ya'll know I love anything that will get veggies in my kid without a fight!

Here is my adapted recipe,

2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped carrot
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
4 cups chicken broth (I used bullion cubes and water for $ saving purposes.)
3 baking potatoes, peeled and diced
1 Tablespoon flour (I used a little more.)
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup milk
1 lb of broccoli
2 heaping cups shredded cheddar cheese

Melt the butter in a large soup pot.  Add onions, carrots, and saute over medium heat until tender.  Add garlic and cook 1 or 2 additional minutes.  Add chicken broth and potatoes, bring to a boil, and cook until potatoes are tender.  Mix flour with water, add, and simmer until soup is slightly thickened.  Add milk and broccoli and cook until broccoli is just tender and soup is heated through.  Stir in cheese, allow to melt, and serve.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel Recipe

It should be illegal for something this easy (AND CHEAP!) to be THIS GOOD.

A lady I work with has a gift basket company. Before the Holidays, she tests a lot of new recipes out on the people in the office. These delicious little pretzels turned up last year, and I thought they were OUTSTANDING. Of course, she wouldn't tell me how to make them! I searched the internet and came up with NOTHING. Now, imagine my excitement when they turned up on Pinterest! Here is the recipe,

Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels 

1 (16 oz) bag pretzel twists 
⅔ cup vegetable oil 
½ cup sugar (I used homemade vanilla sugar.)
2 tsp cinnamon 

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Pour pretzels into a roasting pan. In a medium sized bowl mix together vegetable oil, cinnamon and sugar. Pour over pretzels and stir to coat. Place in oven on top rack and bake for 30 minutes, removing twice to stir.

I haven't been able to stop eating these since I made them! I am hoping to make a few more batches next weekend to take to our Christmas festivities. If you're looking for a last minute DIY Christmas gift, these would be great. You can easily make a lb of these for under $3 if you buy your pretzels on sale. If you're looking for a last minute idea for your teachers, friends or neighbors, try tying a cup of pretzels in cellophane and tie with a ribbon! You'll have all of your last minute gifts covered in a snap!

See other recipes at

Twas the week before Christmas...

I know I've been a little bit MIA on the grocery project, but believe me, we're still going strong! It's gotten a little tougher. I really think the quality and availability of grocery coupons has gotten a little more difficult. I did just pick up a SavingsStar card, and I also "inherited" a printer, so hopefully I can start to put that to good use! If only I can find time to actually SIT at the computer to get some work done! We're just SWAMPED here right now!

The above pictured was right around $35. The plan for the remaining money is to buy 2 gallons of milk from Aldi, several loafs of bread at the Oroweat outlet and a few bags of cheese from another local sale. I'll be honest when I say that our pantry is looking very sad. I truly do not have a lot to work with at the moment. We've been out of chicken and ground beef for WEEKS. As I was coming home yesterday, I realized that I don't really have anything special to cook for the week before Christmas. Next week's budget will cover the food that we need to share at our various festivities, but we'll be out of time for special cookie baking, projects, etc. It's a little bit of a bummer, but it is what it is. When you take a pay cut like we took in September, some things have to give. I guess special holiday baking is one of those things! Maybe I'll be able to figure something out with the things that I do already have. If not, we at least already did a little!

Here is our menu plan for the week before Christmas,

Saturday - cereal / garlic cheese bread with marinara / ham sandwiches and fruit

Sunday - 100% whole wheat cinnamon toast / cheesy vegetable chowder (a double batch for the freezer!) / stuffed shells

Monday - cereal / brown bag lunches / spin dip macaroni and cheese

Tuesday - cereal and fruit / brown bag lunches / egg in the hole

Wednesday - 100% whole wheat cinnamon toast / brown bag lunches /eggs, hash browns and bacon

Thursday - cereal / spaghetti with marinara and sauce / ham sandwiches and fruit

Friday -100% whole wheat cinnamon toast / possible inexpensive lunch out / dinner will be from a new round of groceries

For snacks, we'll be eating cinnamon sugar pretzels, crackers with cheese, pumpkin applesauce, graham crackers, veggies and fresh fruit.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cranberry Pistachio Cookies

Last weekend, as part of our Advent Conspiracy celebration, I decided we would spend the afternoon baking for the girl's Sunday School teachers. I planned on making a pistachio cookie recipe that I had seen on Pinterest, but when I went to get started, I discovered it required a sugar cookie mix, which I didn't have! Instead, I adapted a recipe from to use the ingredients that I DID have.

My family really liked these. (Yes, "liked." They are long gone!) They turned out very moist and flavorful, and the salt from the pistachios gave them that great salty/sweet factor! The best thing about this recipe is that you don't have to give a cookie mix any credit!

My adjusted recipe is as follows,


  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 (3.5 ounce) package instant pistachio pudding mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup chopped pistachios
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars. Add pudding mix, eggs and vanilla. Combine flour and baking soda; add to creamed mixture and mix well. Fold in pistachios and cranberries
  3. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. 

50% off Domino's TOMORROW!

Don't worry about dinner tomorrow night! Dominoes will be hosting their first ever Global Pizza Party! You'll be able to place an order priced at half off through a special tab on Domino's facebook page!

I'm stoked! We've ordered their new pizzas a few times, and we've been really happy with the quality and price! Plus, the party is on Bible study night, and I could always use a little help with dinner before we run out the door!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Spin Dip Macaroni and Cheese

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine mentioned that she had made a spinach dip macaroni and cheese recipe that she found on Pinterest. I was seriously like, "Why haven't I thought of this????" I have the BEST spinach dip recipe EVER! Incidentally, she said her fiance didn't like the recipe all that much, so I decided just to adapt mine.  The recipe is as follows,

1 cup chopped artichokes (I omitted simply because I didn't have any.)
1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed (I used fresh.)
8 OZ. cream cheese
3/4 cup chicken broth (approximate)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
dash pepper

In a small saucepan, boil artichokes and spinach in a cup of water for 10 minutes. Heat cream cheese for 1 minute in microwave or saucepan till hot. (While you are doing this, prepare your noodles as directed.) Then, stir all of the ingredients for the SAUCE together.Once your sauce is well incorporated and warm, stir in your hot noodles. If you wanted, you could definitely spread this in a pan, add some cheese and brown under the broiler! We were going for FAST on this night, so I didn't!

This recipe went over VERY well with my family. Everyone absolutely loved it. My daughter even ate it cold in her lunch one day. SO good!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Free Stocking Stuffers!


It's Dec 1! Are you feeling the pinch yet? Coming up on the expense list this week, we have recital costume dues (for 2 costumes this year!), an oil change, and we need diapers! *phew*

Would some free stocking stuffers help?

My favorite free stocking stuffer idea at the moment are the McDonald's coupons through RecycleBank for just 100 points. You can easily earn a free ice cream cone or smoothie in five minutes. Here is how,

Join Recyclebank (if you haven't already!)
Once you're logged in, click on "Earn Points" (I recommend completing the Green Your Seasons and the Ziploc offer as these will quickly give you 100 points.)
Next, click on "Get Rewards" and go to "Restaurant Offers"
From there, you can use 100 points to order a coupon for a free oatmeal, a free ice cream cone or a free smoothie!

So easy! We've ordered these many times and have had no problems with mailing or redemption! These are so perfect for the kid or college student in your life!