Monday, December 31, 2012

"Sea" you next year

December 31, 2012

Let me start off by back tracking. Yesterday was not challenge worthy. At all. We were out of town for both lunch and dinner. We stuffed our faces with Quaker Steak & Lube and Outback Steak House.

Ok, back to today. We needed a special dinner for New Year's Eve. Ahhhh crab. Snow crab (mine and my son's fav) and king crab (my hubby's fav). But why stop there? How about a little lobster tail (my daughter's fav)?

My hubby steamed and baked us up a seafood extravaganza! I took a look in the fridge to try to figure out our side dishes. Last night at Outback, I had a vegetable medley of carrots, broccoli, summer squash, and pea pods. It was awesome. I figured I could make a mini version with broccoli and pea pods tonight. I sauteed them (along with onion) and added a little white wine, kosher salt, and lemon juice. I asked my daughter to find another side. She wound up at the pasta cupboard. She picked some rotelle noodles. Hmmm ok what do I put on them? I had a little bit of half and half left. There was also half a block of cream cheese. Alfredo sauce it is. I added a little butter, freshly grated romano cheese, splash of milk, and pepper. My hubby heated up the leftover loaf of bread that we took home from Outback.

And what special New Year's meal would be complete without sparkling white grape juice served to the kids in wine glasses? They couldn't stop giggling the entire meal. Have a safe New Year's and I'll "sea" you next year!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Taco twos-day

December 29, 2012

A day with errands in the plans usually spells trouble for our challenge. Would we spend a lot at a restaurant? We knew we would be eating lunch a little later than normal so we grabbed a little bite before we left home. I had more of the ham chowder. Man, that stuff is so delicious. I'm almost not tired of it. Almost. I popped the rest of the ham into the freezer. My hubby had a hotdog.

After running some errands, we started to think about lunch. Then I remembered about the coupon book that we bought from the kids' school fund raiser this fall. There must be a coupon in there for us to use for lunch. Sure enough. There were two coupons for Moe's. Perfect. The kids both ate for free. My daughter's order surprised me though. She wanted to try a tofu taco (both the kids started liking tofu last year at Japanese restaurants). As the lady is asking what toppings to put in, I said no to the beans. My daughter corrected me and said, "yes can I have black beans"? WHAT?! Worldly tastes for a 9 year old. Can't complain for all of us to go out for lunch and only spend $15. Wohoo!

Next up was to use another coupon out of that book. I wanted to try a local bakery that I hadn't been to. I had two coupons for it. One coupon was buy a loaf of bread and get one free. The other coupon was buy a giant cookie and get one free. So be it. Who am I to resist a giant free cookie?!

After playing outside in yet more snow, I came inside to get dinner started. I heated up a slice of the new bread and put a little butter on it. I cut it into four and had everyone try a piece. I couldn't believe it. Both kids liked it. It was whole wheat. Normally they will eat wheat if I buy it, but they prefer anything but wheat. Ok, back to dinner. Hmmm what to make. Even though it isn't Tuesday, it's gonna be taco 2sday. I had tortillas that are close to being thrown out. There was one head of romaine lettuce from last week that needed to get used up. As we were eating, my daughter said "tacos for two meals in one must be swirling around in heaven". Ha. We had local ground beef, romaine lettuce, onion, homemade salsa, taco sauce, sour cream, guacamole, and a queso cheese. I made a side of mexican rice. There was 1/2 cup of rice left in the bottom of the bag. The recipe calls for one cup but I figured that half a batch would just mean that we won't have a ton of leftovers so I didn't bother to open the new bag. It turned out a little drier than normal, not sure if it is because I had to halve the ingredients so maybe some of it wasn't measured accurately (half can of tomato sauce). Anyway, strange outcome to the rice is that my daughter said "hey mom, this is good" and ate all of her portion. Strange because she has never liked that type of rice before.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Say goodbye to the ham

December 28, 2012

Today was a full day, but not of cooking. We fueled up with some leftovers before we headed out for a day of skiing and snow boarding. I had some ham chowder and my hubby had a leftover hamburger. The kids also had some homemade zucchini muffins that were in the freezer. I had been bugging them to eat up some of the freezer food for the past couple days (they still have muffins, french toast, and waffles). I'm surprised at how much easier it has gotten to convince ourselves to eat leftovers!

After skiing, we came home just long enough to clean up and put a tray of our leftover Christmas baking together. Then we went over to a friends house for dinner. They made pork roast, roasted potatoes, broccoli, pasta salad, sausage/pepperoni/cheese/crackers, veggies and dip, homemade applesauce, homemade peanut brittle, and turtle brownies. We also munched on our tray of goodies. Yep, we all got stuffed. It was delicious. She even packed us up some applesauce and peanut brittle to take home. Yum!

I'm not really sure what is in the plans for tomorrow. But I do know that I'm getting tired of ham. I think that it may be time to freeze what is left of the ham. We have eaten off of it for four days in one way or another. Maybe it was just lunch, maybe it was just a small bowl of ham chowder, but four days is four days.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Use it or lose it.

December 27, 2012

Snow blowing 14 inches of snow makes you work up quite the appetite! For lunch, my hubby broiled us some leftover ham and provolone cheese sandwiches. I also had a small bowl of leftover ham chowder. I think the chowder got better over night. Bursting with so much flavor!

We decided on cheeseburgers for dinner made with local beef. I looked around to see what I could make to go with them. I had one big sweet potato. Mmmmm homemade sweet potato fries. I just peeled, and then sliced the potato into fry size pieces. I tossed them in olive oil, salt, and pepper and baked them at 450 for about 15 minutes, flipped, then another 15 minutes. I wasn't sure if the kids would eat them (just means more for hubby, me, and our friend. wohoo!). My hubby dug around in the bottom of the freezer and found about a cup of regular fries for the kids. Perfect, we'll use those up too. What else? I had celery, tomato, and mini cucumbers from last week that needed to be used up. I also had a small amount of black olives leftover from our Christmas dinner. I chopped everything up along with some onion. I picked a box of pasta out of my never-ending stash. I had a bottle of balsamic vinaigrette dressing that needed to get used up soon. So far so good. Ah, how about some feta cheese? Dinner was delicious.

A good day of using up leftovers and items that needed to be used soon or would otherwise be thrown out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

From stocking up (groceries) to stock pot (ham chowder)

December 26, 2012

We started off our day by having ham and cheese omelets with some of our leftover ham. I looked at the weather forecast and saw that we have a big winter storm heading our way. We decided to get groceries today so that we won't be out in the storm tomorrow. Before we headed to the store, we ate leftovers for lunch: ham, au gratin potatoes, corn, green bean casserole, and bacon wrapped asparagus.

My pre-challenge weekly average at the commissary was $175. I spent $29.11 on toiletries/cleaners today (a little over $10 of that was batteries). I spent $88.01 on food. I made a major score today. I have been looking for pumpkin spice pudding for probably about six weeks. I finally found it today. Wohoo! Now if I could just remember what the recipes were that I needed it for. Ha. I spent $8.71 on magazines. I still have one that I have not read that I bought last week, so I made myself only buy 3 today (instead of my usual 4). Now, on to the best category. Impulse items. I spent $0 on impulse items today!! And that was with my family with me. After adding in their surcharge and taking out my coupons, I spent $124.36 out of pocket today. I saved $50.64 at the commissary this week.

My hubby and I went out to lunch at our friend's restaurant and spent $33.69. Our pre-challenge average was $80 at restaurants per week, so that makes our savings $46.31 this week. Wow, and that is with my hubby on vacation. We rock! My kids packed lunch (sandwich and leftover clam chowder) on Friday so that saved $4. This brings our total savings for the week to $100.95! During Christmas week! This brings our grand total savings to $1,213.30 in 70 days!!

After getting groceries, we needed a snack. My hubby made some queso dip. He shredded some monterrey jack cheese, added half and half, onion, and some jalapenos from my garden (frozen) and thickened it up with some corn starch. Yum!!

On to dinner. I really didn't feel like having straight leftovers again. What could I make? Ham chowder. I simmered the ham bone in some water for hmmm maybe an hour. Meanwhile, I sauteed some onions and celery then set them to the side. I made a little roux of butter and flour and stirred in some milk. Do I really need to peel more potatoes to add? Nope. I chopped up my leftover au gratin potatoes. My hubby then took the rest of the meat off of the bone. He removed most of the ham flavored water (which will be frozen to make another pot of soup with later on). To the little bit of water left in the pot, I added the ham, au gratin potatoes, leftover corn, milk and roux, salt, and pepper. I took another look in the fridge. Hmmm is that all that I can put in the chowder? Nope. There was a container of leftover steamed broccoli from a few days ago. In the pot it went. I used up the end of a bag of cheddar cheese. The result?? My hubby liked the chowder. This says a lot because he really isn't a big fan of soup. Yay!! What else can I put together? Ah, there were blackberries and raspberries that needed to be used up. I topped them with a little strawberry fruit dip. The kids got a package in the mail today with some very special sprinkles. What better way to eat fruit than to top it off with some sprinkles! Today was definitely a win kind of day.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Recipe redemption

December 25, 2012

Mornings are not meant for cooking. They are supposed to be filled with coffee, half open eyeballs, and snuggles on the couch. Hence why I decided to try something new for Christmas morning. I wanted to put together a baked french toast recipe (topped with flour, brown sugar, and butter) using the leftover candy cane bread last night, stick it in the fridge, and then it would be ready to bake in the morning. Ugh. Failure. I cooked it for almost double the suggested time and it still was completely raw. But, look at how pretty and festive it would have been! My hubby cut a slice out and tried to fry it in a pan. Still awful. We had to throw it out. Hubby to the rescue and he made regular french toast out of some more of that candy cane bread. How have we not finished that thing yet?!

I love holiday lunches. We usually don't want a big lunch so that we will be able to stuff up at dinner. I like snacky foods to just pick at. We had shrimp cocktail and cheese/sausage/crackers.

We tried to make a beer cheese dip for pretzels. The recipe called for cheddar cheese but I needed it for a dish for dinner so I used mexican cheese instead along with cream cheese, miller lite, garlic powder, hmmmm that may have been it. I don't think we will make it again. It was missing something and just not what we were expecting. Ugh. Two failure recipes today.

On to dinner. My hubby made a beautiful ham with cloves and fresh pineapple. We had homemade pickles and black olives. He made another batch of bacon wrapped asparagus and put a little brown sugar on them. We made au gratin potatoes from scratch for the first time. Ahhh another new recipe. I can't believe I am trying out new recipes when I have company over. Potatoes, cheddar cheese, onion, milk, flour, and butter. They turned out great! Wohoo! Recipe redemption. I also made green bean casserole out of home canned green beans. I used up the last of my french fried onions. I also heated up some corn from the farmers market (that I froze). Dinner rolls finished us off....until dessert. I put out the tray of homemade candies and truffles from my sister. I also put out a platter of the leftover goodies that we made: ritz cookies (stuffed with peanut butter and dipped in chocolate), almond roca, and chocolate covered pretzels. I think we are all set for some really great creative meals with our leftovers. Can't wait!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Crescents for Christmas (eve)

December 24, 2012

It's Christmas Eve so that means food has to be fun today. Well, fun and yummy. I surprised the kids by actually making breakfast for them today. Ooey gooey cinnamon rolls. Yay! I told my daughter that I had tricks up my sleeve for breakfast for the next couple of days and her reply was "leftovers?" Ha. Poor kid. No, not leftovers. Kind of. Shhhhh.

After playing in the snow, I realized that I had no plans for lunch today. Uh oh. I needed something good but I also wanted it to be fun for the kids. I looked in the fridge and saw a can of crescent rolls. I remembered seeing a recipe to make pizza crescent rolls. I used homemade pizza sauce. Everyone got to choose their toppings: bacon, onion, jalapenos from my garden (frozen), green peppers from my garden (frozen), black olives, mushrooms, and mozzarella cheese. Top your "crust", roll it up, and bake at 375 for about 18 minutes. I put a little extra homemade sauce on my plate to dip. Yum.

My hubby worked on dinner all day. He used some local cherry wood (from our back yard!) to smoke some local beef and local pork ribs. Our daughter does not like ribs (I know, she is crazy) so he made her a lobster tail for her special Christmas Eve dinner. He tried out a new side dish tonight: bacon wrapped asparagus. Wow. If you have never tried them, you are missing out on something ridiculously good.

We didn't really use up any leftovers today. However, I can't wait until we make our big dinner tomorrow. I already have plans with a few of the leftover items.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Making leftovers fun

December 23, 2012

We worked up an appetite by skiing and snow boarding today. We got home and needed a snack. My hubby (with daughter assisting) made chili dip. Cream cheese, onion, chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, homemade onion powder, cayenne pepper, chili, and cheddar cheese.

The kids went outside to play in the snow and I started looking in the cupboard. I found a dessert to make. I had a box mix for blueberry coffee cake. Wow. I think I bought that when my parents, sisters, and nephews visited last year. A quick look at the expiration date and we are good to go. Time to use that thing up! Now on to dinner.

After skiing all day, I really didn't feel like cooking. Leftovers it is. I didn't want to hear complaints about leftovers so what do I do? Remember it is all about presentation and how fun you make it for the kids. I hung a note on the door knob telling them to place their order. When they came inside, they were giggling and said "how fancy". Ha. I had all of the leftovers lined up on the counter and let them choose what they wanted. I talked to them like they were my customers. My hubby and I had leftover clam chowder and some of the candy cane bread (man that thing is huge). My son had some of the pasta/bacon/pea dish and a pancake. My daughter had chicken wings (from when my hubby and I went to our friend's restaurant) and some of the pasta/bacon/pea dish. My hubby kept trying to sweet talk my daughter into giving him one of her chicken wings. It was funny. They were actually "fighting" over leftovers.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Snowed in with some salmon

December 22, 2012

We had a change of plans today. A winter storm kept us home. What does that mean for lunch? Give some leftovers a lift. My hubby made us some broiler sandwiches out of the leftover chicken that he made yesterday. Melted some provolone and we were good to go.

We decided to have a movie afternoon with the kids. You can't have a movie without snacks. My daughter made some popcorn while my hubby made some smoked salmon dip. He added chopped onion and celery, sour cream, chive cream cheese, homemade onion powder, garlic powder, and smoked salmon. I was about to grab a box of crackers when I remembered that we probably had a package (or two or three) already open. Sure enough, I found several bags in the cupboard of partial packs of crackers. Perfect. We used up a couple of those.

For dinner, my hubby baked some salmon. He kept it simple with just some kosher salt, pepper, and old bay. I found a recipe for a side dish. It had orzo pasta, peas, bacon, mint, and pecorino. I didn't have orzo or pecorino so I looked for some substitutes. I have 6 partial boxes of different shaped pasta and 5 new boxes of even more different shapes. Seriously? How have I gotten over two months into this challenge and I still have so much pasta? I had a box of ditalini. I figured that would be a good substitute seeing as it is a pretty small pasta too. I cooked the ditalini and added in some frozen peas during the last few minutes of cooking. After draining, I added some cooked bacon, salt, pepper, and I substituted romano cheese. It didn't seem quite right so I added a small amount of butter and threw in a little bit of feta cheese too. It was good but I think it was still missing something. Maybe next time we will add chopped tomatoes. Oh, and we forgot to put the mint in. Oops.

Today was the day to make my brother in law's cookies. You put peanut butter in between two ritz crackers and then dip them in melted chocolate. Yum! My daughter ate one and said "ooooh, it's like a reese's peanut butter cup". It is like a reese's but with the crunch of a kit kat. And that equals a win-win.  It is such an easy recipe and I like that it is out of ingredients that I usually have on hand. My daughter is a peanut butter addict so I always have that. I usually have a few different types of crackers opened. I wonder how it would be if I substituted ritz and used club crackers? Ahhh, maybe next time.

Friday, December 21, 2012

They ASKED for leftovers

December 21, 2012

We started a tradition a few years ago. We let the kids open one present from family each day for a week prior to Christmas. They appreciate each gift more. They remember who each gift is from. Also, less toys get broken because it isn't a room full of presents being opened and left on the floor at once. Yesterday, the kids opened new lunch boxes. Well, they are cute little tin ones that I thought they would like to keep "stuff" in. They begged to pack their lunches today. Ha. They used their new lunch boxes and my son packed a sandwich and my daughter packed leftover homemade clam chowder soup.

My hubby and I went out for lunch. Although we did go to a restaurant that my friend is half owner of, so I don't feel so bad about spending money and supporting her. :)

We didn't know what we were going to make for dinner until it was time to hurry up and cook. We have Christmas caroling tonight for boy scouts so it had to be quick. My hubby flattened out some chicken breasts. He seasoned them with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and my homemade onion powder (from dehydrated green onion from my garden). He sauteed them in a pan and then set them to the side. He sauteed onions, crushed garlic, and mushrooms in some butter. Then he added milk & cornstarch, sour cream, and a small container of leftover chicken broth that I had in the fridge. I steamed some broccoli. I asked if he wanted some pasta or rice and he said "let's just have some of the leftover candy cane bread". Done. A nice easy night. We knew we had to do a little cooking today because of what's in store for tomorrow....but you'll have to wait until then to find out.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

2 impulse shoppers + grocery store = success?!

December 20, 2012

Today started with a declaration: Anyone who packs their lunch can put a big treat in it! Both kids jumped on that band wagon. My son packed some of the leftover teriyaki pork tenderloin and fruit salad along with his santa shaped marshmellow from my parents. My daughter packed a sandwich using up more of the lunch meat and finished the fruit salad along with a couple treats from trick or treating.

After watching our daughter's school play, we came back home to eat lunch before we went grocery shopping. Wow, a day off together and we were already out and about, and we STILL came home for lunch. We are really getting into this challenge! I had leftover pasta/zucchini/yellow squash and my hubby had (of course) leftover tacos.

Now for grocery shopping. My pre-challenge weekly average at the commissary is $175. Today I spent $15.63 on toiletries and cleaners. I spent $108.49 on food however that is including $16.16 for our Christmas ham. I spent $10.53 on gossip magazines. I tried to only get 2 instead of 4 of them but I couldn't help myself today. Ha. Ok, on to the impulse items. I was in the cookie aisle and saw they had a new package of ritz crackers covered in chocolate fudge. Ohhhhhhh. That made me remember a cookie that my brother in law made. I think it was ritz crackers, filled with peanut butter, then dipped in chocolate. I decided to buy a pack of ritz and some melting chocolate to make my own versus buying them already dipped. We spent about $1.50 more to buy all the ingredients however it will give us extra ritz to have with my other impulse item. I saw summer sausage and thought that sounded good. I already have a block of colby jack cheese at home. So my impulses were $5.62; not bad at all considering my hubby and I shopped together. After adding in the surcharge and taking out my coupons, I spent $138.66 out of pocket today. I saved $36.34 today.

Our pre-challenge weekly average spent at restaurants was $80. This week we spent $36.78. I saved $43.22. Our kids packed sandwiches one day and then a sandwich and leftovers another day. At $2 a lunch, that saved $8. Yay kiddos! This brings our total for the week to saving $87.56 and our grand total of saving $1,112.35 in 64 days!! I'm very happy with how well we have done so far. Especially considering that we also have had a big Thanksgiving meal, Christmas baking, and shopped for our Christmas meal.

My tip for shopping is do not be brand loyal. I thought that I was already doing a good job of it. I had switched from Lysol to store brand for wipes for in the kitchen along with other items. However, during this challenge I also switched dryer sheets, dishwashing detergent, and vegetable oil. I never noticed a difference in quality. When you shop, look at the shelves. Look high and low where they keep the cheaper items. Today I was looking at feta cheese and was complaining that it was over $3 for the container. My hubby looked over to the side and found a different brand for $1.88. I never would have noticed it simply because I had always bought that certain container of feta. Not because I was brand loyal but simply because I knew what the container looked like and would grab it anytime I needed feta. Thanks hubs! Oh yeah, and as we were walking to the checkout, I asked him "do we have everything? It seems like we don't have enough snacks and stuff." His reply, "well, we will just have to get creative with what we have." I think I may have stared at him for a minute with my mouth open. This challenge is getting easier as the weeks go on.

My hubby made homemade clam chowder for dinner. He used potatoes, bacon, onion, clams, heavy cream, water, salt, pepper, thyme from my garden, bay leaf, and garlic. He topped it off with parsley. We decided to surprise the kids with a fun side for tonight. We bought a giant candy cane shaped bread. You should have heard the oooooh's and aaaaaaah's when we cut into it. The inside was "like a rainbow" (according to my son).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ingredient improv

December 19, 2012

Each meal was a success today. My son asked if I could make him a snowman sandwich to take for lunch today. Perfect day for that seeing as tomorrow is grocery shopping day and these sandwiches use up 5 slices of bread. My daughter made a regular sandwich and used up some of the last of the lemon pepper chicken lunch meat. They both packed some fruit and fruit snacks.

Yesterday I realized that I had not made my hubby tacos this week. What's wrong with me?! I corrected myself by making tacos today. However, when I started working on the toppings he decided to just have taco salad with me because as he said "we need to use up the lettuce, right?". Oh man, he is doing so good at this. Haha. I had half of a tomato (we used the other half on nachos last night) but I asked if it was ok to save that for my plan for dinner and to just put homemade salsa on the taco salad instead. Yep. Uh oh, out of mexican cheese. Cheddar came to the party instead.

I baked teriyaki pork tenderloin and served it with some of the leftover sauce that I made for the lamb earlier this week. I looked through the fridge to see what veggies we needed to use up tonight. Yellow squash and zucchini were it. We normally make a mixture of onions, mushrooms, yellow squash, zucchini, and tomatoes. I looked online to see if I could find a different recipe. I saw one that had the squash and zucchini as a topping for pasta. Uhmagaud. Considering the incredible love that I have for angel hair pasta, why had I not thought of this? I sauteed onion (no mushrooms though because I'm out) and crushed garlic. I added in the yellow squash and zucchini and cooked them with a little white wine.  Next I added the chopped half of tomato. I put in a ton of spices. Salt, pepper, adobo, garlic powder, basil, oregano, italian, and thyme from my garden. Basil is the real star though. I'm not sure why but basil is the best seasoning to put on zucchini and squash. I tossed the cooked angel hair pasta into the sautee mixture. It didn't look quite right. It needed something to make it more saucy. I looked in the fridge and just happened to have half a jar of homemade canned tomatoes. Yay! Into the pan it went. I topped it off with a little freshly grated romano cheese.

I noticed that there was a tiny bit of grapes left. I figured that if I asked the kids to finish them up, it wouldn't be appealing. I mean, who wants to eat the very end of the bag when some of them are getting soft spots. I plucked the good ones off of the stems and cut them in half. I put them in the container with the rest of the leftover cantelope. Voila, call it fruit salad and it's like a "new" fruit. Of course it was served with more of the strawberry cream cheese dip. For dessert, I made apple crisp. The apples were the end of what we bought from the local apple cider mill before they closed for the season. They were getting pretty wrinkly and soft. They should still be fine to put into apple crisp right? I had one last container of the apple crisp topping. Wohoo! It was so good. I think we ate all but one corner of the pan!

Today's lesson: recipes are guides. Use what you have. Don't get stuck in a rut where you think ingredients aren't interchangeable. Do you need tomatoes to make taco salad? Nope. Do you need a specific cheese? Nope. When apples are overripe should you throw them out? Nope, bake them! Tomorrow will be interesting. I'm going grocery shopping and taking my hubby with me! We are horrible splurgers when we shop together. Let's hope we can have a good shopping week.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

No leftover left behind.

December 18, 2012

Today was a day to clean out the fridge. However, I did it a much different way than I used to before I started this challenge. We used to go through the fridge right before grocery shopping and throw out any old leftovers and any fruit/veggies that looked like it was past its prime. I go grocery shopping in two days so today I was on a mission: use up what I can that will otherwise be thrown out on Thursday.

I had a friend over for lunch today. I made us broiled sandwiches. I used club rolls, ham, (my friend had lemon pepper chicken), a homemade pickle, and provolone cheese. Stick it under the broiler until the cheese is melty and gooey. I had a small container leftover of my homemade cauliflower soup. I split it up between us. She knows I love her if I shared that soup! Ha.

When dinner time rolled around, I asked my hubby if teriyaki pork tenderloin sounded ok seeing as it was the only meat still in the fridge that we needed to cook up. Can you believe his reply was "how about we just have leftovers?" WHAT?!! So we had leftover leg of lamb with my delicious sauce. There is still sauce left so I think I will smother my pork tenderloin tomorrow. My hubby also had one of the leftover crab cakes. I cut up a cantelope and served it with strawberry cream cheese dip. Mmmmm I could eat that whole container. I saw we had a bag of spinach that should be used. What to do with it? There was one more acorn squash from my garden. I baked it for about 45 minutes until it was cooked enough to easily come out of its skin. I sauteed some onion and mushrooms and then added spinach and acorn squash. I seasoned it with salt, pepper, adobo, garlic powder, crushed garlic, cayenne pepper, thyme from my garden, white wine, and a splash of chicken broth that I had leftover in the fridge. I asked my daughter to get the romano cheese out of the fridge and she held up a bag and asked "this?". It was a tiny little piece of parmesan that had gotten lost in the cheese drawer. So I used that up instead.

Monday, December 17, 2012

For the best food, keep it local.

December 17, 2012

Kiddos had school today so hubby and I decided to do a lunch date. We went to a local Hawaiian place. The food takes me back to when we lived in Hawaii. Delicious! Ya know, one of those meals where you eat until it hurts. I had kalua pork and cabbage with sides of white rice and macaroni salad. Hubby had chicken katsu with the same sides. So far we aren't doing too bad with restaurants this week. We had one lunch date where I had mine for free, he took the kids to McDonald's (we ate at home though), and then today's lunch date all for around $35.

Finally. Time for dinner. On the menu, local leg of lamb. Yay! I seasoned it with salt, pepper, adobo (have you went out and bought that yet?), garlic powder, crushed garlic, and thyme from my garden. I put sliced onion, beef broth, and more thyme in the bottom of the roaster pan. 450 degree oven for 30 minutes then turn the oven down to 350 for 30 minutes. Ours was a larger leg this time so it took longer than that. I think we cooked it for an additional 40 minutes. Just keep an eye on it. When the lamb was resting, I added local red wine to the pan and then thickened it up with some flour. Yum, yum, yum! By the way, when you have a partial bottle of wine that goes flat or you are about to dump out....don't. Keep it in the fridge and you will have excellent tasting sauces. It doesn't matter if the wine doesn't taste great for drinking anymore, it will still create the perfect sauce. We weren't too hungry so hubby and I just had some of the leftover broccoli/romaine/ramen noodle salad from yesterday. I used my apple slicer and served it to the kids with blueberry yogurt to dip it in. Simply because the yogurt was going to expire soon. Just don't tell the kids that and they will think they get to have a fun dip.

And now, time to use up more leftovers: dessert. Almond roca? Rolo bars? Chocolate covered pretzels?   Um, yes please!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

From smushy to smashing!

December 16, 2012

My hubby and kids went Christmas shopping for me which left me on my own for lunch. I looked around in the fridge and saw a container of leftover steamed cauliflower. When I steamed it, I forgot to take the lid off of the pot as soon as I turned off the burner so it got a little overcooked. Who wants to eat slightly smushy cauliflower leftovers? I figured they would get thrown out. But then, I was hit with inspiration. Cauliflower soup. I had never made it before so I looked up some recipes. I looked at two but they were completely different so I decided to just wing it and make it up as I went.

I sauteed some onion, carrot, celery, and garlic in a little olive oil and butter. I added in some flour and cooked that for a minute. Next I added in about half a can of chicken broth and some milk (maybe a cup and a half). I looked back in the fridge and saw a container of leftover corn. Sure, that'll work. I scooped the corn out of the container so that I wouldn't get too much of its juices. I added the cauliflower. I simmered it for a bit but it wasn't getting thick enough. I looked over and saw the corn juices. Aha. Add some flour to that and stir it in. I tried a sample and put a little romano cheese in it. Yum. I tried a sample and put a little cheddar cheese in it. Yum. How do you choose? You don't. I added a little of both to the pot. I have realized lately that I really don't need to use as much cheese as I think I do. I could still get the delicious flavor of it, but probably saved myself some fat (yay for my cholesterol) by adding less. I topped my bowl of soup with some of my homemade onion powder (green onions from my garden that I dehydrated and then put in the food processor). This soup turned out so good. Had it been served to me at a restaurant, I would have raved about it.....I'm raving about it now! I can't wait to overcook cauliflower again. Ha. What a smashing hit!

I was a little disappointed that the meat I had planned for dinner wasn't completely thawed yet. It is one of my favorites but will have to wait until tomorrow. Back up plan: crab. Yay! My hubby decided to make crab cakes. He used some of my homemade bread crumbs. He added in egg, jalapeno (from my garden), green onion, seasoned salt, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, old bay, and worcestershire sauce. He wanted dijon mustard for it but I didn't have any. He found a jar of champagne dill mustard. That'll work. Served with your choice of sauce: sweet chili, cocktail, or tartar.

Meanwhile, I prepared a salad. A friend brought it to my house last year and I just had to get the recipe from her. Mix romaine lettuce, green onion, and broccoli. Set aside. In a pan, melt butter and toast up a crushed pack of ramen noodles (you won't use the seasoning packet). Keep the noodles separate so they won't get soggy in the salad. The dressing is made of oil, red wine vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, salt, and pepper.

Now for the trickery. I figured that we should have one more dish. I looked in the fridge and saw leftover macaroni and cheese. My daughter hates leftover mac & cheese. There has got to be a way to make her eat it. I put it in a pan and added some milk and a little bit of mexican cheese. I figured if I could make it warm, gooey, and cheesey that she would like it. She took a few bites and asked "why does this taste different?" Ha. Well, the one thing I had going for me was that she loved the salad and wanted seconds. Our rule is that you have to finish whats on your plate first, then you can have seconds of whatever you want. So she finished her mac & cheese in order to get more salad. Then I spilled the beans about what the macaroni was. Both kids just stared at me. I asked if she would eat it again and she said she would but didn't really seem thrilled with that possibility. Oh well, it worked for tonight.

Then it was time for my favorite part of dinner. Dessert! I made one of my favorite baked goodies. Rolo bars. If you have never tried these, you have missed out. Make some ASAP. Stir together a yellow cake mix (just straight out of the box), 3/4 cup melted margarine, and 5 ounces of sweetened condensed milk. Spread half of it in a cake pan. Bake at 350 for 6 minutes. Then add a layer of rolo candy which has been cut in half. Spread the rest of the batter on top and then bake for another 18 minutes. It. Is. Heaven. Your welcome.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Double restaurant temptation

December 15, 2012

Here we are. Saturday. Our plans were to do a little Christmas shopping and ice skating. Normally, we would get ready and then leave the house immediately. We would get to town and go out for lunch before we shopped. Unbelievably, and possibly for the first time in 14 years, we ate at home prior to going shopping! The impulse buy of $1.80 kaiser rolls paid off. My hubby grilled up some local beef cheeseburgers and topped them off with sauteed onions and mushrooms, lettuce, ketchup, and mustard. Yum!

After shopping and ice skating, we were all hungry. Once again, normally if we were out and about and got hungry we would go out. Nope. Not today. We came home and decided to make a snack. Well, the snack was so delicious it turned into dinner for hubby and me. We made jalapeno popper dip. Just imagine cream cheese, cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, miracle whip (ugh, that part grossed me out. I almost didn't put it in...but I did), green onions, jalapenos (frozen from my garden), and bacon. The topping called for crushed crackers. The recipe was used with ritz. However, I had some club crackers that were open. We used them instead. Mix the crushed crackers with some melted butter and parmesan cheese. Well, I didn't have parmesan. Instead I used freshly grated romano cheese. Yep, hubby and I stuffed up so much that we didn't want any dinner.

I told the kids to pick whatever they wanted. My daughter had a can of soup. My son wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He asked if he could have it in a fun shape. Sure. We cut out a Christmas tree. Who can have a Christmas tree without ornaments? Not our little guy. So he added sprinkles. Even the crust scraps were so cute that he scarfed it down.

Now for my favorite part of the day: almond roca time! My hubby made a 9x13 pan of it. Not sure how long that will last. I never thought I liked almond roca until he made it last year for Christmas. I couldn't get enough of it. Butter, sugar, almonds, and corn syrup make the crazy good bottom. The topping is milk chocolate and more almonds. I guess today is not the day to worry about my cholesterol. Oh wait. Maybe tomorrow I can convince my hubby to make my other favorite Christmas goody. Cholesterol will have to wait a few days. :)

Friday, December 14, 2012

When you leave dinner choices up to the kids...

December 14, 2012

My hubby was off of work today and the kiddos had school. Uh oh. That usually means a lunch date. We actually did good today though. We bought a coupon book from our kids' school fund raiser during the fall. One of the coupons was for a free burrito at Moe's when you buy a burrito. I guess burritos are it for today. It was delicious (and huge) and free (well, mine was). Wohoo!

After lunch, we heard about the tragic school shooting in Connecticut where 28 people were killed, most of them being young children. It really made us want to make tonight special with our kids. You never know what could happen to them. We played their favorite board game. We let them choose everything for dinner. My daughter asked for fried fish. My hubby made tilapia. My son asked for an orange. Um, ok buddy. He couldn't come up with anything else so we just chose some of their favorites: macaroni and cheese and "papa beans". Papa beans are home canned green beans from my parent's garden. Some how I guess they taste better than mine. Ha. I asked the kids how they wanted them and they said sauteed in butter with some chopped cashews on top for crunch. You got it. I let them choose their drinks (which they always have to drink milk at dinner). My son asked for chocolate milk and my daughter asked for orange juice. Wow. Nice choices guys!

Dessert was awesome two-fold. One, it was something that the kids got to make by themselves. They had a great time. Two, it was all ingredients that I had laying around. We used to make chocolate covered strawberries quite often. We haven't in a long time but I did still have a container of melting chocolate in the cupboard. I also had a ton of single serve bags of pretzels. I had bought a bag of 30 single serve packs during Halloween time. They went on sale because the outside package had a jack-o-lantern on it. Regular price was $3.63 but I can't remember what the sale price was. Anyway, I got a good deal on them. Ok, last ingredient was sprinkles. My friend who owns an ice cream shop sent our kids sprinkles earlier this year. I was able to scrounge some up still in the cupboard. My hubby melted the chocolate and then the kiddos got to work.

Not too bad of a start to my hubby's vacation. However, I'm a little nervous about how much money we will end up spending on going out to eat. Stay strong! Cook at home, cook at home, cook at home.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A rough week to save money on groceries...

December 13, 2012

My son wanted to pack a lunch today. Sad buddy couldn't have a snowman sandwich again because we were out of bread. Instead he picked some cocktail hotdogs, string cheese, and yogurt. His teacher asked him to bring in the snowman sandwich again so she could see it. Instead I emailed it to her. Turns out, my son got to do a little presentation on it today. She even projected the picture up onto the board. Pretty cool.

I went to the commissary today. I knew it was going to be a big trip. I needed a pretty good amount of cupboard stuff. My pre-challenge average was $175 per week at the commissary for toiletries/cleaners and groceries. Today I spent $20.67 on toiletries/cleaners ($6 of that was the kids' vitamins). I spent $3.75 on impulse items. Wohoo! I'm doing pretty good with impulses lately. The two items that I gave in to were a bag of flour and rolls. They had a coupon for 50 cents off if you bought two Pillsbury products. Well, I was already buying a cake mix for our Christmas baking so I figured I would go ahead and buy the flour today too. I spotted a bag of deli kaiser rolls for $1.80. I figured that I could probably tempt my hubby to stay home for lunch and make hamburgers one day. An impulse of $1.80 will probably save me a lunch out ($30ish). I still had not read all of the gossip magazines from last week so I only allowed myself to buy one today for $2.90. I spent $122.85 on food. However, that includes the $10.60 for soda (go figure both hubby and I both ran out of our favorite kinds). It also includes $14.31 for Christmas baking ingredients. It also includes a big splurge. I have been craving crab legs for weeks. I found a coupon for them (wow, never ever see coupons for crab) so I put them on the list this week $16.99.  After adding in their surcharge and taking out my coupons, I spent $145.02 out of pocket. Ugh. I was so disappointed after shopping. However, this week just happened to have a lot of expensive items all at once. So, I saved $29.98 this week at the commissary. We went out to eat this week. We spent $101.64 between our two times out. This is over our weekly restaurant average of $80 per week. My daughter packed a sandwich one day and my son packed a sandwich one day and leftovers another day. That saved $6. So taking my savings of $35.98 and subtracting our $21.64 overage, equals a savings this week of $14.34. Wow. That stinks. Oh, one other thing. My hubby starts vacation today. That may be why I spent a little more too. I knew he would be around and we would be needing more lunches. My grand total of savings for the challenge is now $1,024.79 in 57 days.

I wanted to try to make something for dinner that I have never made before. Meatballs. Sure I have made spaghetti with "meatballs" as in meat that I chop up tiny. I have made mini meatloaves. But never once have I attempted an actual meatball. Here goes. I found a recipe for creamy marsala meatballs with mushrooms in the sauce. The sauce has Italian cheese and herb cooking creme, marsala wine, milk, and mushrooms. The meatballs were topped off with some freshly shaved parmesan cheese and parsley. I also made my own bread crumbs prior to making the meatballs. I used the scraps leftover from when I made my kids snowman sandwiches the other day. I served the meatballs (made with local grass fed beef) and sauce over a bed of angel hair pasta (my fav) and with a side of local corn that I froze.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Super Supper: Salmon, Squash, & Salad

December 12, 2012

Today was a great challenge day. My son asked me if I could make snowman sandwiches for the kids to take to school for lunch. This actually worked out perfect because it is the day prior to grocery shopping so this used up the rest of the bread. However, when I was getting out the accessories for the snowman I noticed that I didn't have any more black olives for the eyes/buttons because I had used them up in tacos earlier in the week. My hubby spotted some mini cinnamon baking chips. Perfect. A little snip of carrot for nose and little pretzel arms. Snowmen to go. :) The kids were the hit of the lunch room today. I packed my hubby a lunch of leftovers. He wasn't home for dinner last night so he got to try the maple/mustard pork chops today. He said it was delicious! I was invited to have lunch out today. Wohoo for free lunch!

My son asked me if I could make acorn squash tonight. I wasn't too thrilled about using maple syrup two nights in a row (ugh, sugar overload), but when a kiddo asks for a "weird" vegetable, how do you say no? You don't. I baked our home grown acorn squash (man that thing was huge! So huge I broke my knife) with some butter, brown sugar, and a little of my father in law's homemade maple syrup. My hubby grilled some salmon. Yum. The boys ended up using the leftover maple/mustard sauce on their salmon tonight. Next up, salad. Tomorrow is grocery day so I wanted to use up random veggies. I used romaine lettuce, the last of the carrots from the farmers market, the end of the pack of mushrooms, red onion, mini cucumber, and homemade croutons (I forgot to put them on my plate in time for the picture). I saw an avocado that should be used up. Hmmm. How about a salad dressing? I made homemade creamy avocado salad dressing. Ok Ok. So I put an avocado in the food processor along with some ranch dressing. Ha. Everyone really liked it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

These pork chops are a MUST(ard)

December 11, 2012

I spent the day catching up on laundry, wrapping presents, mailing presents, and running my daughter to Girl Scouts. I didn't have time to think about dinner until about a half hour before I cooked. Hmmmmm. I saw pork chops in the fridge. Pork chops it is. Now what do I do with them?

I remembered a friend telling me a few weeks ago about a pork chop recipe that she made and it was "lick the plate" good. I asked for the recipe and the sauce was made out of maple syrup, dijon mustard, and rice wine vinegar. Uh oh. I do not have dijon  mustard or rice wine vinegar. Run to the store? Nope. Make a different recipe? Nope, I'm craving this one. I decided to wing it and try to come up with a similar sauce.

I started off by cooking some onions and mushrooms in butter and olive oil and then adding in some white wine. I set them to the side and then added pork chops to the pan. I used our usual seasonings of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and adobo (if you don't know what that is, go buy it!! It is amazing on every type of meat.). For the sauce, I mixed 1/4 cup of regular mustard and 1/2 cup of my father in law's homemade maple syrup. I looked around to try to find something that would work as a substitute for the rice wine vinegar. Red wine vinegar? Nope, I used that up the other day as another substitute. Hmmmm. I needed something to cut the tang of the mustard. How about some white wine? I poured the sauce over the pork chops. It seemed to need a little something added to it to calm it down (it was bubbling like crazy). I had chicken broth in the fridge leftover from when my daughter made soup. I just put a little splash in the pan. Simmered until pork chops were done. As the pork chops rested, I boiled the sauce a little bit to thicken it. Side dishes. I had cauliflower cut up from when we had veggies and dip a few days ago. Into the steamer pot it went. I grabbed a box of wild rice. Geez, my rice a roni stash is getting low. Funny that 7 boxes seems low.

Ok, time for some trickery. My kids are iffy with mustard. Sometimes my son will have it on a hotdog but my daughter isn't very fond of it. I dug out some really adorable shot glasses that look like wine glasses (thanks mom!). Who can resist sauce if it is served in such an adorable glass, right?! Evidently my daughter can. Ha. However, she asked if the rest of the pork chops were in the pan along with the sauce. I said no that the rest of the pork chops are on a platter and the sauce is in the pan still. Why? She wanted to bring the "plain" pork chop to school tomorrow for lunch but she didn't like the sauce. Uh, daughter dear... your "plain" pork chop was smothered and cooked in that sauce. Ha. I guess maybe I shouldn't have told her ahead of time what the sauce was going to be made out of. I don't think she gave it a fair shake. My son loved the sauce. He stole my daughter's sauce glass. He must have had third's of the meat and then he also was putting the sauce on his cauliflower. Think it was a winner recipe.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A SUBstitute for fast food

December 10, 2012

Today was an easy food day for me. I was invited to a "brunch" so I didn't need to worry about making lunch. My son wanted to take a turn making dinner tonight seeing as my daughter cooked yesterday.

My hubby cut up some red onion and baby cucumber. He got out the rest of the ingredients for my son. Subs were made using up the four feet of sub rolls I got that was marked down to 98 cents! There was turkey, ham, swiss cheese, muenster cheese, guacamole, and miracle whip. For lettuce we used the leftover salad from the other night. There was still a little bit of mushrooms, carrots, and cucumber mixed in with it. My son had fun spearing some homemade pickles out of the jar. I looked around for another side dish. I always seem to have random bags of chips that I just have to buy but then never feel like eating once I get it home. There was a bag of loaded baked potato flavored chips. That'll work.

If you need an easy dinner meal, don't forget that you can recreate your favorite sub sandwiches. Had I told my kids that we were eating sandwiches for dinner, they probably would have complained that they didn't feel like it. However, because I presented it as a "subway" night and let my son "cook", then they were both so excited for it.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Holy guacamole!

December 9, 2012

We had some errands to run late this afternoon. We drove by one of our favorite local restaurants. Ugh. All of us were getting hungry. The pre-challenge us would have just stopped in for an early dinner. Stay strong! Drive home! Wohoo, we did it!

I had a ton of leftover chicken in the fridge. There was chicken thighs from last night (both spicy mango and teriyaki marinated). There was also a rotisserie chicken that I bought for lunches but we hadn't gotten to yet.

My daughter decided to write up a menu and to play chef tonight (tomorrow is my son's turn). I found a recipe for chicken tortilla soup. With a few alterations, this recipe became our own. I chopped up the chicken thighs. In a soup pot, my daughter sauteed up some onions and garlic in some olive oil. Next she added in the chopped chicken. She put in a bag of our local corn, a jar of our home canned tomatoes, and 2 1/2 cans of chicken broth. The recipe called for chili powder, salt, and pepper. She also added some cumin. And by some, I mean a lot. When you think you may have put in too much cumin, give it another couple shakes. The cumin is what really makes this soup. Top off your bowl with mexican cheese (recipe called for monterey jack cheese but I didn't have any), crushed tortilla chips, avocado, and sour cream. Surprisingly, the flavors of the marinades didn't even come through. I bet we could make this with any leftover chicken. This is heaven in a bowl. It is the deliciousness of a taco, but in comfort soup form. Score!

Next, I chopped up the rotisserie chicken. She put it in a pan with some taco seasoning and water and just simmered it. For taco toppings, she used the leftover salad from last night. Yes this means there was romaine lettuce as well as carrots, cucumbers, and mushrooms that made their way into some of our tacos. I found a part of a tomato in the fridge and cut a little of it up. Of course there was also sour cream, mexican cheese, homemade salsa, taco sauce, avocado, and guacamole. Mhmm I put guacamole on my avocado. I mean really, can you ever have too much avocado?! I found a container of black olives in the fridge. There was only a handful left from when we made homemade pizza. In they went.

The kiddos had leftover cookies. I need to pace myself but don't worry. I'll make my way to the leftover strawberry brownies at some point. Ha!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

When food is so good, you lose your memory...

December 8, 2012

We had to run errands early this morning so we ended up going out to breakfast. After we ate, the kids were each given a free chocolate chip cookie (which I'm holding hostage). The waitress also gave us a coupon for a free kids breakfast for a future visit. Not so bad a breakfast! We stuffed up so much that we didn't even end up eating lunch.

We had some friends over for dinner. Hmmm what to make. My hubby grilled some chicken thighs. He used up two bottles of marinade that we had: teriyaki and spicy mango. Yum. I made oven parmesan potato chips (basically potatoes sliced thin brushed with butter, salt, pepper, onion powder, and paprika then topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese). I decided to make a salad. In went romaine lettuce, red onion, mushrooms, tomato, carrots, and baby cucumber. I made a batch of homemade croutons. Man those things are so easy to make and sooo delicious. Served with a side of cauliflower and veggie dip and bacon wrapped lil' smokies (cocktail hotdogs). For dessert, I made a repeat recipe. Remember when I wanted to use up a can of pie filling? Well, I made those homemade brownies again but this time I put strawberry pie filling in the batter. I had to put it in our food processor to make it smooth. Topped the brownies with a spoonful of extra pie filling and some cool whip. I've really started to like making dessert from scratch. Most recipes use the same basic ingredients. Many times I have had the ingredients on hand and didn't need to wait until shopping day to get what I needed. Our friends brought over a fruit platter and a variety platter of cheesecake. We are stuffed. The food was so good that I forgot to take a picture of our dinner plates! Ha. You would think that by 52ish days in that I wouldn't forget. So tonight, I leave you with just a picture of dessert. But hey, that's what matters most right?!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Go ahead...Play with your food!

December 7, 2012

I started out the day by going to our change of command ceremony to say thank you to our commander who is leaving us and welcome in our new commander. Afterwards they had sub sandwiches, chips, and drinks. Yay for free lunch! I convinced our kids to pack leftover stuffed pasta shells for lunch. There may have been a little bribery with their halloween candy involved. :)

They got home from school and needed a snack. Do you need a way to get your kids to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? All you need to do is cut it into fun shapes. They will beg you to make them again! Today I made them snowmen.

Finally, a non-school night where my hubby is not working late and none of us were sick....Wohoo! Time to go out to eat. Talk about withdrawls. It had been two days shy of four weeks since we have gone out together. I was kind of like a kid in a candy store trying to decide what to order. It makes you certainly appreciate going out to eat when you cut back so much. Oh yeah, and the kids got so excited when I told them that we were going out that they ran to their rooms to change. My daughter put on a fancy dress. My son put on his dress pants, dress shirt, reindeer tie, and coat from his tuxedo!