Monday, May 22, 2017

Chicken Moo-dle Soup

May 22, 2017

I started the day by meal planning. I went through the fridge, freezer, and cupboards and made a list of what meals I could make out of what I have left. The movers actually called us today and asked if they could start packing us up a day early. Yikes. So I spent the day in the kitchen using up what I could.

I decided on making a pot of soup. There was leftover hamburger gravy in the freezer. Hmmmmm. I only had two cans of beef broth though. I figured I would try something new and if it didn't turn out then we could figure out something else for dinner. What did I want to try? Soup using half beef broth and half chicken broth.

I started out by sautéing onion, celery, carrots, and turnip. I added in two cans of beef broth and the leftover hamburger gravy. I also grabbed three containers (sour cream size) of homemade chicken broth out of the freezer. I added just a few shakes of salt, pepper, basil, garlic powder, and onion powder. I had two partial bags of egg noodles. They had different cooking times so I just added the one that had to cook the longest, and then after a couple minutes I added the other bag. When the soup was about done, I added in a partial bag of frozen peas. This soup really just had any leftover items that I wanted to use up prior to the move. However, soup is very forgiving. I make so many different soups and they all just use whatever I have on hand. I rarely follow a recipe. My son said the soup was great. Hubby and I both really liked it. My daughter fell in love. She said it is her new favorite soup! I guess combining chicken and beef is the way to go! Hubby was pretty proud of himself when he came up with the name for Chicken Moo-dle Soup. Ha!

Next up, I wanted to use up some of my baking ingredients. I saw that I had almost a full container of bread flour. I decided to keep it easy and just use my bread machine today. I threw together a loaf of white bread. Perfect for soaking up some soup!

I couldn't forget about dessert. My grandma always made me molasses cookies. They were a huge part of my childhood memories. After I got married and moved away, she still made me a batch of cookies each time I visited home. I saw the jar of molasses in the cupboard and knew just what I wanted to bake. Her cookies. They always bring back fond memories, and a feeling of home. We are getting ready to go on a cross-country move with two kids and a dog.... her cookies are just what I need.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Hide the Meatball

May 10, 2017

The countdown is ticking. The clock is counting down. Either way, I have 20 days until the movers come! Operation use up food is in full force.

I hit the freezer and found a few items to use up. I had a container of leftover spaghetti sauce. I also had two meals worth of meatballs. I made beef/sausage meatballs last week. The kids just weren't into them for some reason. I don't understand why because it was all basic Italian flavors that they like. Mama had tricks up her sleeve tonight.

Normally when I make spaghetti, I brown up some ground beef and then add my homemade spaghetti sauce to it. Well, tonight I thawed out one of those packs of meatballs, chopped them up so they would be similar size to ground beef, and threw those into the spaghetti sauce. I steamed up some asparagus and called it good. I am down to one box of angel hair pasta now. If you know me at all, you will realize how shocking that sentence is. I must be doing great at moving prep!!

Did dinner pass the kid test? They ate much better tonight. However, I will admit that when I had to go to the kitchen for something I overheard my son say, "gross, meatballs". Ha. So maybe I didn't trick them. We did, however, use up some freezer food. I'm calling this a win. I actually liked the combo of beef and sausage in the spaghetti. Just don't tell the kids that there is one more operation hide the meatballs coming up soon!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Peppermint Brownies

May 9, 2017

Today was grocery day. It was a much needed distraction. I had one of those days. You know the ones. The day where you want to turn the volume down on everything. The day when you keep saying "shhhhh". So I rolled some peppermint essential oil on my forehead and got to work.

Our move is coming up quick. The movers will be here three weeks from today. It is time to get serious about using up the food in the house. Wait. Didn't I say that last week?! Well, now I need to be serious, serious.

I asked the kids this morning what they all wanted from the grocery store. They had only a few items that they requested: lunchables/salads for lunches, cereal (my boy is a cereal monster!), and lots of "individually packed snacks". My daughter also added in that she wanted me to stock her up on the food that she hasn't been able to eat for the past two years. She gets her braces off before I grocery shop again! Yay for no braces! I knew that as long as I had those items for them that it would be ok to not stock up the cupboards like I normally do.

As for my grocery challenge, I was able to save $26.60 at the grocery store. We didn't go out to eat this week so I saved $80. My savings for this week is $106.60. If you are just tuning in to my blog, I go off of a weekly average. If I spend less at the grocery store or restaurants, then I take that difference and put it into a savings account. Watching that amount grow is so motivating!

Let me get back to using up food. I was trying to figure out what to have for dinner. I looked through the freezer. I looked through the fridge. I looked through the freezer again. Nothing sounded good. As I was about to bypass the pan of lasagna, for what has felt like the tenth time, I decided to just go ahead and use it up tonight. Why keep procrastinating? Chances are the lasagna would then end up in the trash simply because I just didn't feel like it. Lasagna night it is.

It was nice to not need to make dinner. Why was it nice? It freed up time for me to make dessert. I decided to go for a double peppermint whammy today. Peppermint brownies. Homemade brownies are a great excuse to use up some of my baking items before moving day. Homemade brownies are another great way to get some peppermint into my life. Just make your favorite brownie recipe (or box mix) and then add 2 drops of Young Living's Peppermint Vitality essential oil to the mix. You will thank me later. Promise.

It's been fun finding so many new ways to use essential oils to support our families wellness. If you are ready to help your family, I will post my link below. If you can't click the link, you can copy/paste it into your browser.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Tilapia Tacos with Lemon and Corn Salad

May 7, 2017

I have been craving fish tacos. I bought some tilapia fillets but forgot to figure out what else to put into the taco. I didn't feel like running back out to the store tonight so I just made do with what I had...and they turned out great! My daughter had her taco and then asked if she could eat my son's dinner (he was slowly waking up from a nap). Ha! I told her no but went and made her another taco. My son ended up eating two as well.

I seasoned the tilapia with a seafood rub. I grilled the fillets for about 4 minutes per side. They were pretty thin though. The tacos had romaine lettuce, cucumber sticks, julienned carrots, and cilantro. I wanted to try using lemon essential oil in our meal. Young Living has the vitality line which is safe for consumption. Today I've made a Lavender and Purification sugar face scrub, diffused Lavender and Stress Away, rolled some Deep Relief on my daughter's calf (sore from a full day of soccer and over 30,000 steps!) and pulled a giant splinter out of my son's toe with a drop of Thieves. After all that, it was time to try essential oils in the kitchen! After placing the tilapia into the taco, I just topped it with one drop of lemon essential oil and spread it across the fillet with the back of a spoon.

I wanted a light side dish. I decided to keep the same flavors as the taco. I came up with a corn salad. I added about three ears of corn (cut off the cob, or you could use frozen), about a third of a green pepper diced, about a third of a cucumber diced, a small handful of fresh cilantro chopped, a little bit of the julienned carrot, and two green onions sliced. I made a quick dressing. I combined just a few tablespoons of olive oil, about a teaspoon of honey, and two drops of lemon essential oil. I seasoned the salad with just a dash of salt and a shaking of cumin and garlic powder. Sorry- there's really no measurements tonight!

We all really liked both the tilapia tacos and the corn salad. My daughter had her corn salad inside the taco. We agreed it is a make again meal. I think next time I will try it with red pepper instead of green. The sweetness of the red pepper will go great with the corn. I LOVE that I can easily find a way to incorporate essential oils into cooking. It takes 75 lemons to make Young Living's 15 ml bottle of lemon essential oil. That is some concentrated goodness! This is a great way for us to get all the health benefits that oils can offer!

Oh boy. I had to take a quick break from writing this so I could help my son get the diffuser going again. It's safe to say that our family is falling in love with essential oils. If you are interested in trying out the amazing health benefits of essential oils, or any of Young Living's other personal care or cleaning products, I'll put my link below. If you have any questions, I'm always around!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Menu planning

May 2, 2017

As I pull up the page for my blog, I must say.... I've missed this. Life got busy and I had to step away from blogging for awhile. Since my last post, the military moved us across the country. We have been in Louisiana for over 2 1/2 years; however, the military said it's time for us to pack up once again and head back to New York. Time is counting down and I need to get serious about using up cupboard staples, condiments/sauces, and freezer food.

For those of you unfamiliar with my blog, I'll give you a quick rundown. I started a 30 day challenge to save money on food (groceries and restaurants). I was spending an average of $175/week on groceries and $80/week going out to restaurants at the time I started the challenge.

Each week, I would try to get creative to repurpose leftovers, because let's face it, nobody likes leftovers. At least they don't in my house! My hubby takes the award for his genius leftover repurpose. He took my leftover cream of potato/leek/fennel soup and used it as a pizza sauce. The pizza was then topped with caramelized onion, sautéed mushrooms, and a trio of cheese (provolone, mozzarella, and parmesan). I was skeptical until I took a bite. It was awesome!

I tried to cut down on impulse buys at the grocery store. I tried to cut back on how often we went out to eat and to make less expensive choices when we did go out. The challenge was like it was made for me. I made lists. Oh, I LOVE lists. I "hid" food in recipes. Like when I made "double yellow cupcakes" (yellow cake mix with yellow squash hidden in them) and my kids loved them!

Each week, I would total up what we had spent on food. If I spent less than my average, I saved the difference. I would transfer that money to a separate account so I could actually see the balance grow. That was big motivation to stick with the challenge. If I spent more than my average, I just counted that week as a zero. Once I saw how much money we were wasting and how much fun it was to save money, I couldn't stop the challenge. I am now in my 4th YEAR. The first year, I was really working hard at the challenge. I saved $5,036.79. The second year, I loosened up a bit but still saved $4,096.29. The third year took a little nose dive. I saved $1,518. Hey, it's still savings. I am six months into our 4th year and I have saved $1,422.59.

Give the challenge a try for yourself. "Shop" your cupboards, your freezer, and your leftover stash first. Try to plan your menu around the items that you need to use up and also by buying one ingredient for two separate dishes (like shredded coconut for cookies and for coconut shrimp).

I'm down to a month before we move. Prior to our move, I want to use up my home canned items. I have tomatoes, taco sauce, salsa, relish, and beans left. I am also trying to use up our extra condiments/sauces, etc that the movers won't pack up. Here is the menu that I came up with for this week.

Marsala Chicken
Tilapia Tacos
Chicken Gumbo

The enchiladas will use up a jar of taco sauce and of tomatoes (my kids think it is too spicy so they like theirs thinned with tomatoes). Seeing as I had to buy tortillas for the enchiladas, I also planned to make tilapia tacos. I looked in the freezer and saw that there is a pound of sausage that I have been avoiding. I will make meatballs with beef/sausage. There is also a half batch of lasagna in the freezer so I'll thaw that for an easy meal on soccer night. I looked through the condiments and saw that I have a partial bottle of marsala cooking wine. I don't want to have to haul partial bottles during our move but I know I don't want to just dump them out! So, chicken marsala made the menu. I was craving chicken gumbo (which will use up another jar of home canned tomatoes). I LOVE okra in gumbo. However, my kids do not. Hubby isn't around for gumbo so I only planned on using half the package. I also bought a turnip so one night I can make roasted veggies to use up the rest of the okra. I have several bags of chickpeas in the freezer. I cook them and freeze them in two cup portions. My son loves cookie dough hummus so I will use up some chickpeas and make his favorite hummus for a snack. Tonight we had the chicken gumbo.

I didn't plan a meal for each night this week. I left one night for leftovers. This is just my starting point. Throughout the week, I find other things to whip up. If you make it, they will eat it. Ha! I will probably get around to a pasta salad to use up some of my homemade relish. There are a ton of bananas in my freezer.... Anyone have ideas other than banana bread/muffins, or smoothies?

Today was grocery shopping day. I calculated my weekly challenge totals once I got home. I saved $56.04 from restaurants. I was over $8.54 with groceries. Once I deducted that overage, my weekly savings was $47.50. I was a little disappointed. I thought I was going to get away with spending less at the grocery store today but man, my kiddos like to snack. Ha! Even though I didn't need to buy meat other than the rotisserie chicken, I still ended up going over. This is why I like to do both grocery shopping and restaurants for this challenge. Some weeks, I spend less at the store, but we go out more. Some weeks it is the opposite. As long as I keep a balance between the two, my savings pile up. Now, who doesn't like a pile of savings?!

Monday, March 10, 2014

How to plan and save money on groceries

March 10, 2013

I've taken the past several months off from blogging. I needed a break. A friend had some questions about how I plan and save money on groceries and that is all it took to spark my interest in my blog again. I will probably not go back to posting daily (it takes so much time away from my family) but I do enjoy writing a post when I can.

The first step to saving money on groceries is to plan meals. It sounds cliche. I never used to plan meals. I would buy whatever looked or sounded good at the grocery store. My cupboards would be over flowing with random items that once I got them home, they would sit untouched. There were always items that no longer looked appealing once I was out of the grocery store. Then I started this challenge to save money and started meal planning. Wow. It really does make a difference.

Now that you want to meal plan, where do you start? I start in my kitchen. Remember all those items that you bought and haven't gotten around to using? Those are the first meals that you plan. You wouldn't throw away a five dollar bill so why would you throw out a five dollar ingredient (if you let it expire)? I plan a few meals with items I already have at home whether it be items in the cupboard, freezer, or things that need to be used up in the fridge. Next, I turn to Pinterest. I get a lot of meal ideas on there. I may not follow recipes exactly but they at least get my creativity flowing and get us out of dinner ruts. As you are browsing for recipe ideas, keep in mind what meals you have already planned for the week. You don't want to end up with three nights of pasta meals (well, I wouldn't mind that much pasta but the rest of my family might!). Also, I like to tie two meals together. If you need to buy an ingredient for one meal, you may as well plan another meal that will use up the rest of that ingredient. If you use it in a completely different way, you won't feel like the dinners are repetitive. Lastly, don't forget to keep your schedule in mind. I like to have easy meals for nights where the kids have multiple activities.

Here is an example of my meal planning:

I mentioned tying meals together. I need to buy sweetened coconut flakes for the sunflower cookies that I am craving. A bag of coconut is way too much and I don't want the rest to go to waste. So I planned a meal around using up some more of the coconut. I LOVE the coconut sauce (copycat of Red Lobster's) and it needs coconut flakes. Perfect. The sauce also uses some pineapple. This leads me into the pineapple and portobello tacos. Ok, bear with me. These next tied together meals will sound strange but when my hubby tried it months ago..... it was pure genius. I made a batch of cream of potato, leek, and fennel soup and the following day he used some of the leftover soup as a pizza sauce. It was incredible. Pasta night is a quick meal for busy nights. My hubby bought me a pasta roller/cutter set and I have been having so much fun making homemade pasta. We dry some of the pasta to keep for busy week night meals. Shepherd's pie is the perfect follow up meal when you have leftover mashed potatoes. Not all weeks flow so nicely together.

Last week's menu:

  • Buffalo cauliflower & quesadillas
  • Fish tacos
  • Vegetarian sloppy joes
  • Roasted red pepper mozzerella, & arugula pesto sandwiches
  • Pasta
  • Burgers (vegetarian grillers or roasted garlic & quinoa)
  • Enchiladas
  • Salmon

Last week's meals didn't really tie together but I had a lot of the ingredients at home. I had a head of cauliflower from the week prior. I always have tortillas (quesadillas and enchiladas). I had two types of fish in the freezer. I had burger buns that needed to get used up.

After you meal plan, the next step you can take is to use up leftovers. Ugh. I just said the dreaded "L" word. We were horrible about leftovers prior to this challenge. We still have a way to go but for the most part we are well on our way to not being so wasteful. The kids pack lunches with most days leftovers or at least using up our never ending supply of bread on sandwiches. The best way to use up leftovers is to use it in a completely different way. Then it won't feel like a leftover. I have used leftover vegetable and quinoa soup (scooping it out as to not use too much of the broth) as a base for shepherd's pie. It turned out so well that my daughter asked me to make more for lunch the next day. Leftover mashed potatoes, mashed rutabagas, or mashed sweet potatoes are perfect for shepherd's pie. It makes it a quick meal versus a labor intensive one. Shepherd's pie is so versatile. You can use up leftover ham, turkey, ground meat, beans, and I've even used leftover vegetarian meatballs chopped up for shepherd's pie. I always seem to have too much bread. If you plan a meal outside of the box, it will make it more appealing to use up leftover bread. To me, breakfast is boring. I hardly ever eat breakfast. But, serve it to me at dinner and somehow it becomes fun. Ha. Grilled cheese made like from my childhood (simply with american cheese) ....Boring! Now we make them with caramelized onions, tomato, avocado, and a variety of cheeses. This past week we made them with sourdough bread, swiss, dill havarti, horseradish cheddar, sauerkraut, and mustard. It was delicious!

Here are a few ideas to help you create your meal plan:
If you have extra:                                                                           Make:

  • Arugula                                                                            Pesto
  • Bread                                                                               Croutons, Bread crumbs
  • Bread as dinner item                                                        Breakfast for dinner, fancy grilled cheese
  • Chili                                                                                 Pasta sauce (put through food processor)
  • Cooked cauliflower                                                         Cauliflower soup
  • Tortillas                                                                           Tacos, Enchiladas, Homemade chips
  • Hotdog/Hamburger buns                                                 Garlic bread
  • Cream of potato/leek/fennel soup (any cream soup)        White pizza sauce
Examples of tying meals together:
First night's meal:                                                                        Second night's meal:

  • Stir fry with rice                                                                Stuffed peppers with leftover rice
  • Rotisserie chicken                                                             Casserole, soup, or broth
  • Sausage & sauerkraut                                                        Reuben sandwiches
  • Ham (or any meat) & mashed potatoes                              Shepherd's pie
Will all of this save you money? It did for me. I took an average of what I spend at the grocery store ($175) and restaurants ($80) each week. If I spent less than that in each category this week, then I "save" that money. I also count the money that is saved if the kids pack lunch for school versus buying lunch. The big incentive for me to stick with this challenge is to actually save the money. Many times people will spend less and call it saving. You aren't actually saving if you only spend less. Put that money into a special account. I only use that money to pay for special things. I used it for a couple vacations and to buy our sweet little puppy, who turns one today. Happy Birthday Chief! You could use this money to start retirement savings, a down payment on a car, college savings for kiddos, etc. Keep track of how much you save. You will want to get more creative, save more money, and stick with it longer as you see your savings grow. The first year of this challenge we saved $5,036.79. As of 140 days (almost 40%) into the second year, we have saved $1,348.75. I'm saving a little bit less so far this year but I am ok with that. This is something I want to stick with forever and if that means allowing a little more play room a few weeks, then so be it. The biggest thing to remember is that YOU set the rules/boundaries for your own challenge.  If we have a week where we go over the averages and end up in the hole for the week, I do not take money out of our savings. I simply count that week as a zero. The averages that I use are just that: averages. Remember that there were weeks that you spent more prior to this challenge so why would you think it isn't ok to have weeks like that during the challenge? Don't get down on yourself. Take a breath, eat a leftover, and try again next week!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Vegetarian goulash & sunflower seed cookies

November 5, 2013

You know days where you just don't feel like putting forth much effort into dinner? Days when you are tempted to order in? Today is that day. I couldn't figure out what I wanted to eat which didn't help matters. My will power somehow stayed strong (must be from giving in and eating three cookies before dinner, but we'll get to those cookies a little later) and I decided to try to stick to the challenge.

I looked in the fridge and saw that there was still leftover vegetarian chili. Hmmm. I'm sure the kids wouldn't be thrilled if I said we were having leftovers. What to do. Then it hit me. I was going to remake one of my favorite meals that my mom used to make for me. Goulash. My mom's recipe was made with ground beef, corn, egg noodles, and a tomato sauce. I can do this.

I had the kids pick out what pasta they wanted: veggie spirals. They played in the other room while I got to work. Good thing because then they wouldn't see the chili container come out of the fridge! I put the leftover chili (made from carrots, celery, turnips, onion, leek, garlic, lima beans, chickpeas, red quinoa, home canned tomatoes, tomato sauce & paste) into the food processor. It was still a little thick. I went back to the fridge and saw that there was about 1/3 of a quart of home canned tomatoes. Perfect. I tossed that into the food processor to thin out our "sauce". I steamed cauliflower and sliced up some leftover bread from our dinner out last night. I stirred the sauce into the pasta and then added 1/2 a bag of corn (frozen from farmer's market).

Dinner was a hit! Everyone cleaned their plates and had no suggestions for next time. Score! Ok, now onto the cookies...

I wanted to try to make a healthier cookie. Healthier not healthy. I mean, it still has to taste like a cookie. Oh, and by "I", I really mean the kids. I just supervised but they measured, poured, mixed, and shaped. I found a recipe on and decided to try to make sunflower seed cookies. We halved the recipe and with half of it we also added in a big handful of dried cranberries. 1/2 cup butter softened (I used vegan), 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup coconut, 1/2 cup sunflower seeds. Mix butter and sugars until fluffy then add egg and vanilla. Mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in separate bowl. Add it to the butter mixture. Stir in oats, coconut, and sunflower seeds. Bake at 350 for 8-11 minutes. I had to bake mine for 14-16 minutes depending on the size of the cookie.

The kids and I really liked them. You definitely need to like sunflower seeds in order to enjoy this cookie. They have a strong taste. However, I normally do not like shredded coconut and I loved it in this cookie. I preferred the batch that had the dried cranberries in it. This is a keeper recipe. I think that next time I will work on making it healthier by maybe using half wheat flour and possibly cutting down on some sugar.