December 31, 2009

2010 New Years Resolutions

Ah, New Years Eve. A day to ponder, reflect on the past year, then stay up late and drink copious amounts of alcohol. Unless you're us. And your husband is working on a co-worker's yard tomorrow. In which case you accomplish the first 2 and then go to bed at your normal time. So let's focus on that "ponder and reflect".

Here is what I've come up with for my 2010 resolutions.

1. Choose one thing to give up buying. For those who know me, you're aware that I'm horribly obsessed with knitting. However, with knitting comes yarn (you can't really knit without it). A product which I am even more obsessed with. If I were to give up knitting I would be perfectly content as long as I just had piles and piles of yarn around me. The problem is it is pricey. So I have resolved that this year I will not make a single purchase for yarn or knitting related thing with money that I or Ben make/receive (unless it is a gift certificate). I have a lot of stash yarn that I need to use up so that should keep me busy. However, I told my mom this and for Christmas she gave me a coupon stating she will get me $20 worth of yarn/supplies every month. So I won't be totally deprived. :)

2. Become better at blogging. My biggest problem is remembering to take pictures. I will try to be better about this. Also, not just letting my mind wander and rambling away. To create posts that people would actually want to read.

3. Become a more self-sufficient family. This year we want to get chickens and plant a garden. This will hopefully mean we don't have to go to the store as often and can buy less since we can get food from our own backyard. This will mean building a chicken coop. I am hoping that we can use our tax return to do that. We are zoned for a maximum of 12 chickens or other small creatures for "food or fur-bearing purposes". So maybe I can finagle a goat as well. Ben's mom is also doing her garden again this year, so I am hoping that we can plant whatever she doesn't and we can trade.

4. Fix up the house so that it is more comfortable. This will not save us money, but in some areas is necessary.We have a very nice house, but it was in bad shape when we moved in. We need a new roof - it leaks. We also only have a fireplace insert and two room heaters to heat the whole house in the winter, and a swamp cooler for summer. While these do work and we can live fairly comfortably, the house is still very chilly some days, as well as very hot in the summer. I am hoping that this year we can at least replace the door in our room and the window in the boys room and get a new roof. This will help with less cold coming into the rooms during the night. We will be doing these ourselves, with the help of family, so it will be cheaper than hiring someone.

5. Work more on the grocery budget. Within the next week I will post how we did for December. My goal is to lower the grocery bill by using less meat and moving toward produce that is in season. Making even more things than buying it as long as it is cost effective to do it at home. It doesn't make much sense to make something if it will be more expensive than buying, unless there is a severe health benefit.

I could probably add lots more things to the list, but I think this is a very good list as it is. So I will leave it. I think these are all very reasonable goals that can be done this year. We'll see how it goes.

December 29, 2009

What's Cookin': Salisbury Steak

Yesterday was Ben's birthday. I had spent all weekend asking him what he wanted for dinner, so that I could go shopping for it, but he never decided. He said he didn't care. I didn't figure out what I was cooking until about 2 o'clock yesterday. I rifled through the freezer, looking to see what we had and what I could defrost and prepare in time. I wanted something special. I found a package of ground turkey and knew it wouldn't make a very good meatloaf (too bland tasting) but would make a great Salisbury steak, smothered in onions and gravy. 

Salisbury Steak with Onions
1 lb ground turkey (or beef) - 2.50
1/2 C bread crumbs - .72
2 eggs - .28
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce - .36
1 tsp garlic powder - .03
2 small or 1 medium onion, sliced - .04
2 Tbs spread - .04
1 1/2 Tbs flour - .01
1 can beef broth - .88

Combine turkey, bread crumbs, eggs, "Worc" sauce and garlic powder in a bowl. Form into patties (I got 6 good sized ones). Then cook them. You can either do that under the broiler on high, flipping after 6-7 minutes. Or you can grill them on a George Forman-type grill (or outside on the BBQ). It took about 8 minutes for them to cook through on my little GF.

Meanwhile, melt the spread in a large pan, then add the onions and cook until tender. Add the flour and stir to coat all the onions. Cook for a minute or two to get rid of the floury taste. Add in the beef broth and simmer until thickened. Place the cooked patties in the pan and cover with gravy. Serve with mashed potatoes (1.00) and a veggie if you have it. We didn't so the onions had to count.

Total: 5.86*

Variations: If you do this with ground beef then reduce the bread crumbs to 1/4 C. I added more because ground turkey doesn't hold up quite as well as beef and it needed the extra "glue". You could probably use ground chicken too if you found some. This meal is pretty basic and I can't think of much else to change aside from using homemade stock (cheaper and healthier) But if you have a variation please let me know!

*This is a little higher than it really was because I didn't have the prices on some of my ingredients. I used the prices from the Vons website and they're always higher than where I usually shop from. So I would say closer to $5.20.

December 28, 2009

Here's A Tip: Storage, Cleaning and Stretching It

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! Sorry for such a long delay in posting, we had a very busy Christmas week. Today is actually a collection of a few tips, rather than just one.


Cleaner: I had a conversation with my sister the other day about how she had to go to the store and get cleaners for the bathroom. It was kind of a long list of sprays and wipes and such. I told her to not even bother. Use baking soda and vinegar! Baking soda works well by itself for scrubbing without scratching, and vinegar does well to remove stains and mildew. You can also combine them for extra cleaning power. Vinegar is acidic so it will kill germs just fine. I started using these exclusively when I got pregnant because I didn't want to handle chemicals, and now continue to use them because I not only don't have to worry about chemicals around the babies, but because they clean better than any of the sprays I had! The only things I keep on hand are Clorox wipes, and I only have those to wipe the counters after things like cutting up raw meats (I'm a little OCD that way). To use BS as a scrub, add enough water to make a paste and then use a cloth or sponge to scrub with.

Tortillas: We love corn tortillas around here and have always bought the giant packages (you know, like 80 tortillas in one thing). At first they would go bad before we ate them all, so I started putting them in the freezer between each time we used them. But I didn't like having to defrost the whole thing just to use a few, plus each defrosting and refreezing seemed to make the taste and texture a little worse each time. So now I divide my tortillas into zip bags -they fit perfectly in the quart size - and freeze them in portions with a label and date. For us, it's 10 tortillas per bag, which usually means 2 for each of us as well as 2 for Ben's lunch the next day. This also makes finding room for them easier as I can place the bags in different places, rather than trying to find room for a large package.

Cleaner Containers: I have reused a grated Parmesan shaker to store my baking soda in. It's perfect for sprinkling on surfaces and small enough to carry from room to room. I just refill it from the big box I keep in the pantry. I've also reused an old Febreeze bottle by washing it out and filling it with half water/half vinegar. I didn't want to go buy a spray bottle and I got the added bonus of the first couple of uses smelling good. I use it to clean just about any surface - even mirrors and windows. Just make sure you label your containers very well.

Stretching It
Dryer Sheets: To make my dryer sheets last longer I buy the biggest box I can find and then cut all the sheets in half. This way I get twice the amount of sheets, cutting the cost in half. They work just as effectively and I've never had a problem with static while using just a half sheet.

Dish Soap: When we moved into this house there was no dishwasher. Now, we have two dishwashers: my left and right hands. Because I wash dishes by hand, I use quite a bit of liquid dish soap. This is a tip that we have been doing since we got married. Think of dish soap as a "concentrate" and dilute it 1:1 with water. You can even dilute it more than that and it works just fine. I kept the last liter size bottle we had and now fill it from a giant jug we keep under the sink. I fill the bottle with half water and half soap. Then when it is about half empty I add more water to come to the top. I might do this one or two more times - just until I feel that there is not enough soap. We bought that large jug well before I had Brett in June and it is only half gone now.

December 22, 2009

The 99 Cent Store

A few weeks ago on the day I went to the library I also went to the Dollar Tree store. I have been hearing lots of stories from various blogs about how awesome dollar stores are. So I wanted to try it out. It was horrible. It was filthy, with trash and items from the shelves all over the floor. The displays were a mess, where everything was just left in a pile from people rifling through them. I left the store and crossed that one off my list, never to return.

The other day we ran by Goodwill on our way to the grocery store to drop off some stuff that we didn't need any longer. Right next to Goodwill is a 99 Cents Only store and I peered in through the window as we drove by, noting that it seemed to be much more clean and organized. So on Sunday I decided to try it out and see what I could find. My purpose was the go get little presents for boys for Christmas. I have a new favorite store.

Would you like to know what I got?
2 sets of plastic tools, so they can work with daddy
2 coloring books and 2 boxes of crayons, since they like to color
2 toy trains
4 packages of stickers, because they love stickers
5 gift bags to package presents
1 framed picture that goes perfectly with our soon-to-be color scheme

Wanna know how much I spent? $18.21. Yep! Would have been at least double that at Target or anywhere else.

It was awesome! I was so happy with the store and everything I got. The store itself is very clean and organized. There were a few places where some things were a little messy, but you could tell that the owners (or a dedicated employee) took care of the store. And the items! They have a whole half wall of tupperware and plastic items. And another whole shelf unit of ceramics & glass (plates, mugs, glasses, jars, etc.). A pretty large kitchen utensil section, a large grocery section with things like teas, pastas, canned goods, a frozen section, even a small refrigerated bin that had cauliflower in it. And I found the juice that I love at a price of 2 cans for $0.99! I fell in love. Everything in the store is $0.99 or less. And its ok if anything breaks (or gets destroyed) because it didn't cost 20 bucks! I am thinking I will go back and get a whole ton of drinking cups and plates for when we entertain. And maybe another picture... And another coloring book... And maybe some juice...

*By the way, what do you think of the new background? I can't decide if I like it or not...*

December 21, 2009

What's Cookin': Turkey Tetrazzini

I make this quite often and it always goes over well. Today I made it with leftovers!

Turkey Tetrazzini
1 lb spaghetti, cooked and drained - .00 (leftovers!)
1/4 C spread - .08
1/4 flour - .04
1/2 tsp salt - .00
1/4 tsp pepper - .00
1 C chicken broth - .04 (I used bouillon)
1 C milk - .14
2 Tbs dry sherry or water - .02 (totally guessing there)
2 C cubed turkey - .00 (leftovers!)
3 Tbs grated Parmesan - .90

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet melt the spread. Add flour, salt and pepper and cook, while stirring, until white and bubbly. Add broth and milk and bring to boil while stirring constantly. Remove from heat, toss in sherry, turkey and pasta. Spread into a greased casserole dish, sprinkle with cheese and bake about 30 minutes or until bubbly and cheese starts to brown.

Total: 1.22

Variations: I usually make this with chicken and heavy cream rather than milk. However, I didn't have cream (plus it's expensive) and I had turkey! It's not as rich, but tastes just about the same, only better because the turkey was exceptional. If you were to add in the price of chicken and cream it would add about $3.00 based on prices around here. You could also probably do this with ham, but if you do be careful with the salt. The recipe calls for a can of mushrooms, but Ben doesn't do mushrooms so I leave that part out.

This usually makes around 6 servings - 4 for dinner, 1 for Ben's lunch, and 1 for the kids and I - but tonight... Tonight we ate the whole thing.

What's Cookin': Turkey Dinner!

Before Thanksgiving we bought a turkey which, until Saturday night, had been sitting in the fridge ready to be eaten. I don't know how, but it had stayed frozen. I had procrastinated about cooking it because I had an incredible fear of cooking a whole giant bird in the oven. I've never done it before. And it wouldn't fit in my Crock pot (which is stupid-proof for cooking) so that idea was out. I was afraid I would either over or under cook it. When I bought those 6 chickens last week Ben told me that I had to cook the turkey before I did anything with them. So we did. It turned out perfect! Better than perfect! I put it in a brine Saturday night and let it sit, which gave it amazing flavor and made it so juicy. Ben and I were both incredibly impressed. We are thinking that next year maybe we will do our own Thanksgiving on Wednesday. I had to get a picture of the meat because Ben attacked it to try it out before I remembered to take a picture of the whole thing.

The Best Turkey Ever
1 Turkey (about 12 pounds) - 16.91 ($2.00 off coupon!)
1 quart apple juice - 1.26
3 quarts water - .00
1 Cup kosher salt - .32
1 Cup brown sugar - .42
5 cinnamon sticks - .70
1 Tbs red pepper flakes - .20

In a giant pot large enough to hold the whole bird, combine all but 2 quarts of water on high heat. Heat until the salt and sugar has melted and the mixture just starts to froth. (The recipe said boil, but I was impatient). Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Place the bird in the liquid and add the rest of the water, or enough to cover it completely. Place the pot in the fridge over night. Ours sat in the brine for about 16 hours. If you don't have room in a pot, use a large bucket and just add the liquid after it has cooled. If you don't have room in the fridge, add a large amount of ice to the pot/bucket and that should keep it for a couple of hours.

About a half an hour before you are ready to put it in the oven, remove the bird from the brine, pat dry, and let sit for awhile to allow some of the extra liquid to drip out. I placed my cooling rack over the sink and let it sit on that to drip dry. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Place the turkey in the oven, breast side down (this keeps them juicy), and cook for about 3 - 3 1/2 hours. It's done when a probe thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 180 degrees, and the breast should be about 160 degrees. This was about 3 hours and 15 minutes for our gas oven. Remove and let sit for about 20 minutes to let the juices redistribute. Carve and devour!

We served this with about a pound of mashed potatoes with gravy (about 2.00 with milk and butter), two cans of green beans (1.00), a box of stuffing (1.43), and leftover biscuits from Mum's Christmas Party (.00).

Total: 24.24

Variations: I got the recipe for the brine from the roast chicken book I got at the library. And of course I changed it a bit because I can't leave things alone. It called for equal parts juice and water, but I didn't want to use all our juice so I decreased it by half and added extra water. I also added in the red pepper flakes. I'm not sure if they really made a difference but holy cow that turkey was good.

This was a very expensive meal for us because of the turkey. But this was sort of our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner combined. All four of us ate until we were stuffed - Ty kept walking around rubbing his belly which was horribly cute - and we have a TON of leftovers. Ben's finally happy because we have turkey leftovers in the house, and I'm happy because I got over my fear of cooking a whole turkey!

December 17, 2009

Needs & Wants

Tonight we are going to the store because we're just about out of some essentials (like coffee creamer. Ben can't live without it) and Foodsco has a killer sale on whole chickens ($.67 a lb!!). At least it seems to be a killer sale. I haven't been doing this long enough to know for sure.

My new routine, like I've said before, is go to through the flyers and make my list from those, adding up the prices as I go. I don't have a "per week" number, but if we're over what I think we should spend or what's left for the month then I scratch out the extras that we don't really need. Today it was bacon and mayonnaise.Unfortunately we're still over, but this is a gradual process.

Retraining my brain and how I shop has been a continual challenge for the past month and a half. Even though we did really well last month, I'm still trying to do better. Because of this challenge, I've been thinking a lot about needs and wants as far as food goes. I am going to try to cut out a lot of the things that are extras, while still keeping the things that make Ben happy because... well it makes him happy and I like it when he's happy.

For example, tortillas. Premade tortillas are a want. Something I can easily do at home but always just bought because I was lazy. This will save us money.

Three or four or more kinds of cheeses are a want. I don't often use anything except cheddar and sliced American. So I should just worry about stocking up on those, and leave the mozzarella and Parmesan for a really good sale since we don't really use it. (Although the boys do come in asking for "white" cheese sometimes.)

Red meat is something I'm thinking of seriously cutting down on. It's so blasted expensive. We like chicken around here, and with whole chickens being so cheap I can happily start using it more.

Also, I know I've seen recipes for Hershey's syrup, which is definitely not a need. I can make that rather than buy it. If I can just get it down to keeping the staples on hand, then I think we can do better.

There are so many more examples of all the extra stuff we get. I have a top shelf in my pantry full of things that have only had an ounce or two used up because I thought at the time that I needed it. Asking myself "is this a need or want?" will help us reduce the amount of food that just gets wasted. Which is good since I hate throwing money in the trash.

December 15, 2009

What's Cookin': Breakfast Paninis

Last night was just tacos with beans and leftover ground turkey (pretty boring) so today I'm mixing it up a little bit and giving you what we had for breakfast. I had the idea yesterday, made it for Ben today, and he said it was really good. I also made some for the boys and I and they scarfed them down. Alas, I don't have a picture because I didn't think about blogging it until after they were gone. If I make them tomorrow I will take a picture then.

Breakfast Panini
1 egg - .14
1 slice American Cheese - .15
2 pieces thin "deli style" ham - .14
2 slices sourdough bread - .12
2 tsp. Mayonnaise - .04 (I didn't actually measure it, this was just a guess for price)

Scramble the egg and cook it in a small pan. Meanwhile, spread each slice of bread with mayo. Place cheese and ham on one side. Add the cooked egg, folding to make fit if you have to. Place other piece of bread on top, then grill in a sandwich press, or in a pan while pressing down with a spatula.

Total: .59

Variations: You could use almost any cheese and any meat you like. Turkey and swiss with the egg would be tasty as well. You could also add more condiments like dijon mustard.

Ben likes to have protein in the morning so he doesn't fall asleep by 9 a.m. You get a good amount of protein out of this from the egg, ham and cheese combined which will fill you up for longer. You can't get a breakfast sandwich ANYWHERE for .59, and this one's tastier than any you could buy. Combine it with a glass of fruit juice and you're set for the morning!

December 12, 2009

My Library Trip

It's been a really long time since I've been to the library. I had forgotten how much I love it. It's like getting presents, except you have to return them in three weeks. I could have spent hours and hours looking at books, but I had left the kids home with Ben so I had to come back eventually. These are the books I got today.

Feed Your Family for $12.00 a Day by Rhonda Barfield - I skimmed through it briefly and in the first part of the book it looked like it had a bunch of shopping tips. I might already know most of these but I figure if I learn just one new thing then it's ok! The back of the book has recipes.

All-New Hints from Heloise A Household Guide for the 90's by Heloise - When I was little I used to read the Hints by Heloise section in the newspaper all the time. I loved it and was so excited when I saw this book at the library. In fact, the people on the computers behind me might have heard me say "Oh, sweet!".

Favorite Brand Name Slow Cooker Recipes - I LOVE my crock pot and am always looking for new things to do in it. I've got a few books already but I figured looking through a new one won't hurt. Having a crock pot with three small children is a life (and dinner) saver.

150 Things to Make with Roast Chicken by Tony Rosenfeld - I have been thinking more and more about transitioning to buying almost exclusively whole chickens since they are cheaper that way and most of the time I use shredded chicken. So why pay more for a package of breasts when I will get the same result with a whole chicken? I will just use chicken breasts for special things where I want whole pieces. The first part of the book was brines and how to roast the chicken. I had a conversation with the very nice librarian about how she had roasted her first chicken the other day and that it was amazing and that I had to try it. So I will have to try something from this book and report back to her.

I'm so excited about what I found! I think the best part about getting books from the library is that you can read the books, gather your favorite parts, and then take them back so that you don't have to find space for them. At least that's nice for me.

Maybe I will do some sort of review for the books once I am done with them.

December 9, 2009

What's Cookin': Sticky Chicken and Potatoes

My mom in law gave me this recipe awhile ago. The first time I tried it it came out too salty (might have been user error), so today I messed with it a little bit and it turned out great. No picture today. I forgot. My price for spices is a little high since I'm just going off of the prices on the Vons website. I buy my spices for cheaper but I can't remember the exact prices. This is just an estimation.

Sticky Chicken & Potatoes

2 1/2 lbs chicken breasts or tenders - 4.23
2 tsp salt - .00 (Salt doesn't become .01 for me until I use a Tablespoon)
2 tsp onion powder - .20
2 tsp paprika - .46
2 tsp thyme - 1.20
1/2 tsp garlic powder - .01
1/2 tsp pepper - .00
1/2 tsp chili powder - .05
5-6 potatoes, individually wrapped in foil - .42

Mix spices together and rub over chicken. Place wrapped potatoes in bottom of crock pot. Lay chicken over potatoes. Set on high for 6-7 hours.

Total: 6.57

Variations: Her recipe called for cayenne rather than chili powder, but I was out so that's what I used. Also, hers called for 4 tsp salt, but like I said I cut it in half. I was thinking today that it would be good with either lemon zest added to the rub, or lemon slices placed on top of the chicken while cooking.

The potatoes turned out the best I think. Some of the juices from the chicken seeped into the foil while cooking and flavored the potatoes. They were excellent. I served this with a salad for our veggies, which added maybe 2 dollars more. This fed all of us until we were stuffed and I have half the chicken left over for a second meal later in the week as well as two potatoes for Ben's breakfast.

December 7, 2009

What's Cookin': Mexican Pasta Bake

Ok, the only thing about this that makes it "Mexican" is the seasoning packet. But I needed a name and that worked. If anyone comes up with a better one, pass it along! This is my own recipe I made up tonight and it turned out super yummy. Even the boys asked for seconds - and getting them to eat anything other than cheese, crackers and apples has become almost impossible. So I say it was a very huge success.

Mexican Pasta Bake
1/2 lb ground turkey (or beef, turkey was on sale) - 1.25
1 lb pasta - .89
1 bell pepper, chopped - .75
1/4 C onion, chopped - .06
1 Chicken Taco seasoning packet - .98
1 C tomato sauce - .24
1 C shredded cheddar cheese - 1.44

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta according to package. Be sure to adds lots of salt to your water to flavor the pasta. While that's cooking, heat a large pan and either spray with cooking spray, or coat with oil. Add your turkey and cook until browned. Drain if there is too much extra liquid. Add the peppers and onions, cooking until they are tender. Add seasoning packet, along with any water the packet calls for.

When pasta is done, drain and return to pot. Stir in turkey mix, tomato sauce, and about half the cheese. Spread in a greased casserole dish, top with remaining cheese and pop in the oven for about 20 - 30 min, or until the cheese is just starting to bubble and crisp.

Total: 5.61

Variations: Like I said, you can use beef or whatever's on sale. You could also make it with shredded chicken or pork. Or try some extra veggies. If you like spicy you can add hot sauce or a can of hot diced chilis. All these would increase the price of course, but would be good in any variation.

This made enough for two helpings for me (I was hungry), two helpings  for each of the boys (comes out to two adult size portions) one for Ben and plenty left over for lunch for everyone tomorrow. I would say 8 or more portions, depending in the size. 5.61 for two meals worth!

December 5, 2009

What's Cookin': Potato Soup & Buttermilk Biscuits

Welcome to What's Cookin'! This will be my recipe portion of the blog where you'll find out what's coming out of my kitchen and how much it cost me to do it. My goal is $5 or less -inspired by $5 Dinners. Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don't.

I will try to start taking pictures, but don't have one tonight for two reasons: One, we are still out of batteries. Two, I just plain forgot (even if we did have batteries). So imagine a steaming hot bowl of potato soup with fresh homemade biscuits...

Potato Soup
1 Tbs. spread - .02
6 (ish) russet potatoes (about 2 pounds) - .19
1/2 onion, chopped - .12
1/4 water - I don't count this because it's almost impossible to calculate for us
3 C milk - .42
2 C water - .00
1 tsp salt - .00
2 tsp instant chicken bouillon - .08
1/4 tsp garlic powder - .00
1 bay leaf -  .13
1 Cup shredded cheddar cheese -1.44
1/4 lb bacon, fried and crumbled - .82

Melt spread in a large pot over low heat and add onions and potatoes. Cook until onions are tender. Add 1/4 cup water, cover, and cook about 10 minutes, until potatoes are starting to get tender. Add everything else but the cheese and bacon. Bring to boil over medium heat, cover, reduce to low and simmer for about 30 minutes. Using a potato masher, mash some of the potatoes so it becomes creamy. Or you can use a food processor and blend half the soup for chunky, or all of it for smooth. I just didn't feel like washing mine tonight. Add cheese and stir until melted. Serve with bacon and biscuits. I just put the bacon on the table so you can choose how much you want.

Total: 4.74

Variations: You can omit the cheese and save almost a buck and a half on this meal. You can also omit the bacon. The recipe I used called for chopped celery to be added at the beginning with the onions. Ben doesn't like celery so I try to stay away from it, but it is good with it. It also called for 4 Tbs butter, 4 cups of half and half and 1 cup milk - I changed that to the 1 Tbs spread, 3 cups milk, 2 cups water for price reasons and it turned out just fine. But if you're feeling luxurious go ahead! It's deliciously rich with all the cream

This is the first time that I've made biscuits from scratch (gasp!). I just always used Bisquick because it was around. Came to find out, Ben hates biscuits made from the mix. Doesn't like the taste. So I made these and he kept saying how great they were! Total success and I'm thinking I might keep these on hand.

Buttermilk Biscuits
2 C flour - .38
4 tsp baking powder - .12
1/4 tsp baking soda - .00
3/4 tsp salt - .00
2 Tbs spread - .04
2 Tbs shortening - .14
1 C buttermilk, chilled - 1.36

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Cut in spread and shortening until dough resembles small crumbs. Use your fingers, it won't kill you and they do a better job than any tool. If you squish the dough together in your hand and it holds the indentation but crumbles under a small amount of pressure then it's ready. Add the buttermilk and stir until just combined (you can use a spoon for this part to avoid "club hand"). It will be sticky. Knead on a floured surface a few times until it's easy to handle. Pat out to about one inch thick, cut out biscuits with a biscuit cutter* and place on cookie sheet. Combine your scraps, pat out again, and cut as many as you can get. Repeat until you don't have enough dough for any more. Smoosh up the last bit and make a frankenbiscuit - don't throw it away! Bake for about 15-20 minutes.They're ready when they've puffed up and have turned a delicious golden color.

* Don't go buy one. I used an evaporated milk can that I had cut both ends off of. Worked perfectly.They were on the smaller side, but if you want bigger biscuits find a bigger can!
Total: 2.04

Variations: I used "baking" spread instead of butter because it's what I had. Butter will make it taste, well, buttery-er. Yes that's a word, I just made it up. You can also use plain milk instead of buttermilk (I believe you would need to reduce the amount to around 3/4 C though), they just won't be as tangy. The recipe said it makes 12, but I only got 8 and a franken. I think my problem was I didn't pat it out thin enough. But it was plenty for us. We ate 4 with dinner and have 4 left for later.

Total for the whole meal was 6.78. But this actually made two meals since I was able to fill a quart zip bag with the leftover soup and put it in the freezer as well as the extra biscuits which will go with breakfast tomorrow. So all in all, about three and a half bucks for tonight. Not bad!

December 4, 2009

Old Dog, New Tricks - A Story

When I was growing up I lived in a house with a grandmother* who liked to spend money and had a knack for being paranoid about "what ifs". (What if there was an earthquake/flood/fire/locust swarm and we couldn't get to the store?). Food was never an issue. We always had plenty and then some. I learned to buy more than you could possibly need because you never knew what might happen. Since that was the way I was raised, that has been how I've shopped since Ben and I got married. Having a pantry and fridge so full of food that you can't get anything else in always seemed to be a source of comfort for me. Good for being prepared. Bad for the budget.

Now, as things get a little tighter and we're trying to pay things off, the only thing left to really cut down on is groceries. This means retraining myself and being realistic about food. I've always budgeted $300 a month for food since the boys were born. This is supposed to cover 4 people - 5 once the little man starts eating - and should be enough. About a week ago I sat down with our financial software and realized that, on average, we were spending about $600 a month on food. Not acceptable.

How it happened: I thought we were doing great by going to the store once a month and doing a big trip. I'd plan meals for 4 weeks and stock up. The problem was the little trips in between for milk, eggs, that thing we forgot... Oops. It really added up. So now, since we can't just "let it slide" anymore, I'm making an effort to shop once a week (maybe every two if I can stretch it) by watching the sale flyers and planning around those.

"Easy enough." I thought. Shouldn't be a problem. Flyers come in the mail every Wednesday. So yesterday I sat down and figured it all out with what's on sale plus the things we need to get and can't wait on a sale for. Went great! Until I added up the price of everything I thought we needed. No way I was going to spend half our monthly budget in one week. So I grabbed my pencil and started reworking.

My biggest downfall is meat. I looked at what I had put on my list. Did I really, seriously, need 14 pounds of meat?? That was the "be prepared" gene screaming out. I also had to remember that this was for one week, not one month. Wow. This is harder than it looks. So I scratched things out. 2 pounds of chicken breast, rather than six. 2 packages of ground turkey, instead of 4. I don't really need that pork loin from Vons if it's the only thing I'm going to buy there. And Savemart is way too far to drive to get one whole chicken, even if it is .77/lb.

Much better. Still going to be a little more expensive for this trip because we're out of a lot of stuff. But it's a little bit less ridiculous now that I've cut out some extras. Going to take a lot of retraining, but maybe I can do this.

*Before I get in trouble I have to say that I have a very sweet grandmother. She'd give us the moon if she could and I'm very thankful for all she's done for us. I just think she's a little crazy sometimes. :)

December 3, 2009

Don't Buy It: Carpet Spot Cleaner

The first thing I have to share with you is this cleaner. I'm sharing it because I've used it twice in the past week and it's floored me both times. I can't believe how well it works. I found this in the book Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy:

1 cup warm water
1/4 cup Borax
1 Tbs. liquid dish soap

Mix together and apply to the spot in a gentle circular motion with a clean rag. Repeat until the spot disappears.

I first used this Tuesday when my son Jack decided to spit cheese on the carpet in our bedroom. I found it by stepping on it, which of course ground it into the carpet. I didn't think anything was going to work, but then I remembered this recipe and tried it. It worked so well! I then put a few paper towels on the spot and stepped on them to sop up the water and you can't even tell what happened. I used it again last night when Ben got a cut on his foot and bled on the carpet in the office. Took it right out! I've cleaned up blood and cheese from carpet before and nothing I used took it out like this mix. Who needs fancy carpet cleaners?

I haven't used it on dried stains yet, so I can't vouch for it's effectiveness there. If anyone tries it, let me know!

How It Begins

Welcome! This is a blog about my little corner of life. I have plans to fill it with cooking, cleaning, tips and tricks, grocery deals I find, and how we're making life work for us. For those that don't know me, I'm a stay at home mom with 3 crazy but adorable kids: two year old twin boys, and a baby boy that doesn't stop smiling. I have a wonderful, kind and patient husband who works hard so I can stay home with our babies. At the beginning of the year we bought a house that we are enjoying fixing up and making our own.

I am blessed in every way possible.

November 29, 2009

FO: Grandpa's Blanket

I did actually finish Grandpa's blanket, with 2 days to spare! It was getting a little iffy there because I was so, soooo tired of seaming. But I made it and delivered it to him at the family meet-up. He seemed to like it, but it's hard to tell because he's getting older and starting to lose it. Which makes me sad. It's hard to watch my grandparents go down hill so quickly.

Pattern: Garter Stitch Blanket by Elizabeth Zimmerman

Yarn: Lion Brand Homespun (100% acrylic) in "Pearls" and "Fawn" (I think, threw away the wrappers prematurely.)

Needles: US 10.5/ 6.5mm straight

Variations: The only variation that I did was using two different colors. Although I'm not sure it can be considered a variation because it was suggested in the book. I also did a 30 st pattern rather than 24. But again, it was suggested in the book to just change the number of stitches to obtain a different size blanket. EZ makes things so easy and I love how shes leaves the details up to you.

All in all it wasn't a bad project. I loved working the corners with short rows. But as you've all heard before, I HATE seaming. And there's a lot in this one. So I probably won't be making another unless I really want to, or I figure out how to join as I go. In the end though, I was happy with it and I'm glad I was able to give Grandpa something to keep him warm.

November 10, 2009

FO: Project Pink

I finished the hat for the niece of Rachel's boyfriend. I made it (I hope) a little large so it will last her a little while. She's just two months, and it just about fit duder -don't tell him - and all my kids have big heads. So it should be just fine.

Pattern: Basic Ribbed Beanie

Yarn: Ella Rae Baby Cotton in "Peony" and "White" - I have no idea how much of each. Not much pink and a smidge of white.

Needles: US 4/3.5 mm straight

I crocheted the flower from a pattern I found on the Lion Brand website, adding a button for the middle.

October 26, 2009

FO: Pumpkin!

This is the pumpkin I gave to Mom. I love it and think it's adorable, and if we had a mantle at the moment then I would make a whole family and put them on it. But we don't. However, our fireplace is now in (finally) so we will hopefully be getting one soon. 

Pattern: Viney Punkin by Meg

Needles: US 6/4mm 20" circulars and same size dpns

Yarn: Red Heart Super Saver (100% Acrylic) in "Pumpkin" - small amount
Caron One Pound (100% Acrylic) in "Leaf Green" - smaller amount

I will (eventually) make a PDF pattern for this, for anyone who wants it. Stay tuned for the FO post on the squid...

September 4, 2009

FO: Ty's Bag

Pattern: Stuff Bag by Meg, personalized for Ty

Yarn: Lion Brand Lion Cotton (100% Cotton) in "Natural" and "Evergreen" - About 1/3 ball of white, and a small bit of green.

Needles: US 7/4.5mm straight

I worked this bag flat, with one purl row separating the front and back. Then I folded it in half at said purl row. The "T" is created using duplicate stitch. I would have worked it as intarsia, but I didn't like how it was looking. So duplicate stitch it was!

I seamed the sides by picking up along the edge and then used a three needle bind off once I folded the halves together. I wanted to seam it using the i-cord I used for the handle, but I couldn't figure out how to incorporate it without just sewing it on.

All in all it turned out pretty good. I was going to make one for Jack, but I will need to revise the pattern a little bit before I do. Maybe practice multi-strand in order to get a J without duplicate stitch. However, I had a conversation with Ben that might prevent me making another one. It went something like this:

Me: See? *Shows bag* For Ty Ty to wear and put things in.
Ben: .... You made him a purse?
Me: No, it goes around his neck.
Ben: You made him a purse.
Me: It's a bag.
Ben: You made him a purse.
Me: No! It's a bag.
Ben: When people come over and see him wearing that they're going to wonder why my kid is wearing a purse.
Me:... Fine. *Chucks bag in a corner*

So, I might have to rethink this whole thing...

And now, a sneak peak at Christmas!

I'm obviously not going to give you any details. But I finished one present and had post at least something.

August 15, 2009

FO: Josh's Blanket

Woohoo! I finally finished it last night, and now I have pictures to show you! Hopefully this will make up for being so picture-less the last few posts.

Pattern: Josh's Blanket by Meg

Yarn: Lion Brand Homespun in "Colonial" and "Waterfall" (98% Acrylic, 2% Polyester) - 3 and 4 balls, respectively

Needles: US 10.5/6.5mm Circular

Variations: Can you have variations in garter stitch? Well, I did add one of the dark blue stripes onto the cast on edge by picking up the stitches and continuing in the opposite direction.

Easy garter stitch using one ball of dark blue and two balls of light blue for each stripe. I decided not to put an edging on it since I felt that the stripes created enough interest. It turned out so comfy and warm that I'm not sure I want to give it up. But alas, I shall. It wound up being a lot longer than I had planned, but that's actually good because my brother is turning out to be really tall. So this way it will last him awhile.

July 21, 2009

FO: Blue Jeans Beanie

Apparently, making a list is actually working to get me to finish stuff. I present to you the Blue Jeans Beanie (navy baby beanie from yesterday's List O' Unfinished Things) modeled by Brett.
Pattern: Blue Jeans Beanie by Me!

Yarn: Knit Pick's Essential Sock* in "Dusk" and "Buckskin" - small amounts of each

Needles: US 3/3.25mm DPNs and Circulars

I finished knitting and cast off that small bit of only blue you see in the second picture last night and tried it on Brett's little head only to find that... His head wasn't that little. It would have made a wonderful Yarmulke. But since we're not Jewish and I made it in order to keep his whole head warm, it wasn't going to work. I didn't want to frog the whole thing and start over so I got a little trixty. I picked up stitches from the cast on edge, and continued the ribbing in the opposite direction using the brown color for about an inch, then kept going with the navy color. Cast off after a bit and now it fits perfectly. I named it the "Blue Jeans Beanie" because the colors together reminded me of blue jeans.

*Essential Sock yarn has been renamed to "Stroll", for anyone who wants to get themselves some.

July 20, 2009

FO: Springtime Swirl Shawl

Two posts in one day! Tada! I didn't get pictures done at the beach because... well I forgot. But! I got home and have this handy-dandy fence to thank for allowing me to use it as a prop.

Pattern: Springtime Swirl Shawl by Kristel Nyberg

Yarn: Knit Pick's Bare Merino Laceweight in "Natural" (undyed) - 1 1/2ish balls

Needles: US 3/ 3.25 mm

Variations: None!

It turned out pretty small, since I like a tight gauge and I only repeated the "sizing" clue once, instead of a few times like I probably should have. But, it makes a nice little shoulder shawl which was just enough to keep me warm while running around the house at the beach. I'm still not sure if I'll keep it, give it to someone small, or mayhaps use it as an antique looking table cloth.

June 15, 2009

FO: Secrets of the Shawl

I just realized I haven't had a knitting FO in a long time. That's really sad. :( But here's one!

Pattern: Secrets of the Shawl a.ka. Crystal Garden Shawl
by Vicki Mikulak

Yarn: Knit Picks Essential in "Granny Smith" - 6 balls (and I used every bit but 12 yards)

Needles: US 6/4mm

Since this was a mystery knit-along there weren't any variations. I did just do 2 rows of garter stitch for the cast off edge though, instead of the picot edge that was a choice. I like the way it turned out and I'm really happy I decided to do it in the Essential yarn. It's so soft and has been really nice to throw on for the last few days that have been chilly (what the crap June?!). I think it might actually make a nice nursing shawl. The little man could still breath without me flashing everyone around! You know, if he ever decides to show up.

May 20, 2009

FO: Jasmine Lace Edge Cardigan - White

Ta-Da! I just finished sewing on buttons and it is all ready to go. Hopefully it will still fit the little one it was intended for.

Pattern: Jasmine Lace Edge Cardigan
from Natural Knits for Babies and Moms

Yarn: Ella Rae Baby Cotton (88% Cotton, 12% Nylon) in "White" - 1 and a half(ish) balls

Needles: Body - US 6/4mm
Sleeves and edging - US 5/3.75mm

Variations: Again, I knit this in one piece with picked up sleeves, rather than in pieces. I really hate seaming and doing it in one piece keeps my sanity. In addition to that, I did the lace edging on the sleeves a little differently too. Instead of knitting them up and then sewing them on, I attached them as I went by knitting the first stitch of every other row together with the edge of the jacket.

May 15, 2009

FO: Baby Outfit

This is going to be a picture heavy post. I finished knitting this up about two months ago, but finally put the buttons on the jacket and got pictures done yesterday. I had it packed away in my bag, awaiting the coming of the little one when I realized it had no closure device! So out it came and here it is!

Pattern: Beanie Hat
from Natural Knits for Babies and Moms

Yarn: Ella Rae Baby Cotton(88% Cotton, 12% Nylon) in "Aloha" - Not even a whole ball

Needles: US 6/4mm

Pattern: Harvey Kimono
from Natural Knits for Babies and Moms

Yarn: Ella Rae Baby Cotton(88% Cotton, 12% Nylon) in "Aloha" - Again, less than a ball

Needles: US 7/4.5mm

Pattern: Boy's Booties
from Natural Knits for Babies and Moms

Yarn: Ella Rae Baby Cotton(88% Cotton, 12% Nylon) in "Aloha" - Maybe a 1/4 of a ball

Needles: US 6/4mm

Variations: The only big variations I made where on the hat - solid color instead of stripes - and the jacket is a short sleeve instead of long sleeve the pattern called for. If I do the jacket again I will be converting it so I don't have to do as much seaming since I apparently suck at it!

I have spent the last few days thinking about how I want the little man to show up so bad just so I can put him in his outfit! Hopefully soon, and then I will have pictures of a baby in knitwear!

April 11, 2009

FO: Jasmine Lace Edge Cardigan - Pink

Technically I finished this like a month ago, but I couldn't post pics until it was given to the intended recipient. Plus I hadn't sew on the buttons until this morning. Please excuse the horrible pictures. Not great lighting and my camera sucks.

Pattern: Jasmine Lace Edge Cardigan
from Natural Knits for Babies and Moms

Yarn: Ella Rae Baby Cotton (88% Cotton, 12% Nylon) in "Peony" - 1 and a half(ish) balls

Needles: Body - US 6/4mm
Sleeves and edging - US 5/3.75mm

Variations: I knit the whole thing from one side to the other, rather than back/left front/right front and seaming together. I hate seaming. I picked up for the sleeves and worked the instructions backwards for those, in the round. I also made the sleeves about an inch shorter than the pattern called for since the intended baby is due in May and it gets hot here pretty fast.

Very, very cute and really easy to put together. Took me about a day total to knit the whole thing up.

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