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 dulcedough.com 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.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Chickpea veggie soup; grocery savings

October 26 - November 1, 2013

Have you missed me? I haven't been hiding. I've been sick. This virus is really hanging on (today is day 10). I feel bad for the kids. They have been eating so much canned soup, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, and other not so healthy dinners.

I did feel well enough to make dinner one night this past week. I threw together a soup out of whatever random veggies I had on hand. I used onion, 2 carrots, 1 turnip, 1/2 clove garlic, handful of kale, 2 cobs of corn, 1/2 leek, 1/3 pint of home canned tomatoes (leftover in fridge), handful of green beans, homemade veggie broth, and about 1/2 cup barley. I wanted to try using beans in soup. I looked in the freezer and found a cup of chickpeas. Perfect. I tossed them in. Wow. This was delicious. And good thing because I ate it for days!
My pre-challenge grocery weekly average was $175. Once again, I didn't feel up to driving all the way to the commissary so I shopped at a more expensive local store. Worth it to me for today. I spent $8.47 on cleaners/toiletries. I spent $14.48 on impulse items. I saw black rice. It drew me in and as I read the package "in Ancient China, it was reserved exclusively for Chinese royalty". Oooooh, sounds like a rice I need to try! I also found a potato leek soup, vegetable broth (incase I am not feeling well enough to make my own this week), and whole wheat capellini (trying to do better at whole grain items). I spent $6.98 on gossip magazines. I spent $113.23 out of pocket. This is a savings of $61.77. The kids packed lunches and saved $21. My pre-challenge restaurant average was $80. After grocery shopping, I stopped at our favorite gourmet cafe and picked up a trio of soups: cream of potato with leeks, cream of cauliflower with smoked gouda cheese, and cream of mushroom with amontillado sherry. The soups come with her delicious homemade rolls. I also grabbed a piece of apple pie. For $18, the kids will be super excited to have a delicious (and easy) meal tonight. This was a savings of $62. Our savings for the week are $144.77. Our total for our first year at this challenge was $5,036.79 and so far for our second year we are at $307.23 in 15 days.



Friday, October 25, 2013

Grocery savings

October 23, 24, & 25, 2013

We haven't had very exciting dinners the past few nights. I came down with a virus and my hubby hasn't been able to be home for dinner. The kids have been eating a lot of sandwiches and canned soup. Ugh. I still have a slight fever but had to go out today. My son had to get a tooth pulled (infected) so I figured while I was out that I would grab a few groceries. I didn't feel like driving all the way to the commissary and fighting a crowd so I just went to a local store. Prices are a bit higher but it was worth it for me today.

My pre-challenge weekly commissary average was $175. Today I spent $17.72 on cleaners/toiletries. I spent $7.38 on impulse items (gnocchi, macaroni & cheese, and a sauce meant for pot roast but I will use on it's own). I spent $49.81 on groceries. Wow, it's pretty low I guess because I haven't felt like real food and haven't been able to cook for the kids. I spent $10.97 on gossip magazines (I think that is around what I spend for four at the commissary and this was only for three). I ended up spending $87.45 out of pocket which is a savings of $87.55. My pre-challenge restaurant average was $80. After getting groceries, I stopped at our favorite gourmet cafe to pick up dinner. I got the kids a chicken, vegetable, and gnocchi soup. I got a roasted red pepper, wine (can't remember what kind), and caramelized onion soup. I also got a cranberry muffin and a blueberry cheesecake baked good. Our soups came with her sweet rolls and slices of cracked wheat bread. Our pizza earlier in the week along with tonight's dinner was $30.29 which is a savings of $49.71. The kids packed lunches and saved $25.20. Our savings for this week were $162.46 in 8 days. Our total savings for our first year at this challenge was $5,036.79. Looks like we are off to a great start for our second year!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Black bean, butternut squash, and caramelized onion tacos

October 22, 2013

Today calls for a celebration. It is our 15th wedding anniversary. Yay! My hubby was unable to eat dinner with us but that didn't mean that he couldn't be a "part" of it. I thought about what I would want to make for him had he been able to eat it. It didn't take long for me to figure out that it had to be tacos.

I decided to try a new taco tonight. Stay with me this is where it gets long. Caramelized onion, butternut squash, and black bean tacos. Oh yeah. This is happening.

I started out by peeling and chopping a butternut squash. I gave it a light coating in olive oil. I spread it out on a large baking sheet and separated it into two sections. One side got salt, pepper, and garlic & wine seasoning. The other side got salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, and oregano. I baked them at 425 for about 10 minutes. It didn't take too long to bake seeing as I had cut them so small.

I also made a batch of caramelized onions. It is time consuming (probably about 40 plus minutes) but so worth it. Our other toppings included: whole black beans, black beans processed with homemade salsa, sour cream, sautéed green pepper/Portobello mushrooms/garlic, cilantro, avocado, cucumber, and spinach. We had our tacos with local grapes and apple juice in fancy glasses.

I had dinner all set up before the kids came into the kitchen. I was hoping that it would like nice for them. That it would make it feel more like a celebration even though daddy wasn't here. Sure enough. My son walked in and said "oh, it looks so fancy". Ha. Perfect.

Wow. The tacos were amazing. The caramelized onions and butternut squash were really delicious together. However, I think I would not add the black beans processed with salsa next time and stick to just whole black beans. I can't wait for leftovers tomorrow! The kids both liked the butternut squash. My son skipped beans and had leftover pork loin in his taco.

What is a celebration without cake? Not a celebration I want. Ha. We had a giant cupcake of chocolate cake and a strawberry shortcake layer cake. I can't take credit for making them. Oh well, I deserve dessert off. :)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Wild mushroom agnolotti

October 21, 2013

It was fun packing lunches for the kids today. Ok, maybe not fun fun. It was challenge fun. My daughter packed a leftover shepherd's pie, grapes, and a juice. My son packed leftover pizza (the free one that I froze), homemade maple applesauce, and a juice. I was really excited to see if grabbing a piece of frozen leftover pizza and putting it into his lunchbox would end up being a perfectly thawed piece by lunch. The good thing is that he likes cold pizza. Sure enough, it was perfect. Yay! I had leftover pizza as well.

I wanted a quick meal for tonight before the kids' activities. I thawed out a half of pork loin. I popped that in the oven for the kids. I steamed some broccoli while the kids made deviled eggs. I grabbed a package of ravioli type pasta to try. When I was looking in the refrigerated section at the store last week, there was no way that I could pass this package up. "Wild mushroom agnolotti generously filled with fresh Portobello and Crimini mushrooms, imported grana padano and parmesan cheeses, and fresh roasted garlic". I made this meal even easier by also buying the ready made alfredo sauce also made by Buitoni.

I wasn't sure how the kids would like the pasta. They are iffy with mushrooms. They love them raw but cooked is sometimes another story. They both said they were good. My son said he even prefers them over the cheese tortellini I normally buy. WHAT? I loved them. If I were to order them in a restaurant, I would be happy with them. I can't wait to buy more! My son's reaction when he saw the pork loin (not pictured)...."Is that REAL meat"? Ha. Yes.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dressed up pizza & vegetarian shepherd's pie

October 19 & 20, 2013

We had a busy Saturday. We went to my son's best friend's birthday party. Afterwards, we had just enough time to come home and hang out with our puppy for about an hour. Next up it was time to get my daughter to her activity of the day. The Girl Scouts were having a lockin. My son and I decided to do a pizza and movie night together.

I had a coupon for buy one large cheese pizza and get one free. Before we left to bring my daughter to the lockin, I pulled some veggies out of the fridge. My son asked if he could help. He sautéed some onion, garlic, green pepper, broccoli, and mushrooms for me. He seasoned them with salt and garlic & wine seasoning. We set them to the side until we got home.

Once we got back with our cheese pizza, it was time to dress my slices up. I added the veggies to the pizza and topped each piece with a slice of provolone cheese. I put the pizza under the broiler just until the cheese melted. Oh yum! It turned out great. I froze the second pizza. I have never tried that before so I hope it freezes alright.

I wanted to use up some of the leftovers in the fridge. I had veggie meatballs, carrots (that had cooked when I made veggie broth), and corn leftover from when I made soup. I settled on shepherd's pie. I chopped up the meatballs and put them in the bottom of my mini pie pans. I sautéed half of a small onion, 1/2 a large bulb of garlic, 1/2 a leek (sliced), celery, one turnip, and one purple potato. After a few minutes, I added in a splash of homemade veggie broth. After the veggies were cooked, I stirred in the leftover corn, carrots, and a handful of peas. The veggie mix went on top of the meatballs. I made a quick gravy. I didn't feel like cooking up onion/garlic for it tonight so I just melted some butter and stirred in flour. I whisked in homemade veggie broth and then stirred in the broth that I had mixed with corn starch. I seasoned it with salt, pepper, and garlic & wine seasoning. I topped the veggie mix with mashed potatoes. Well, it was half potatoes and half rutabagas. A thin layer of gravy went next. It was all topped off with cheddar cheese. I put it in the oven at 400 until the cheese melted. We also had a side of cottage cheese. For some reason, the three of us have suddenly taken a huge liking to cottage cheese.

My daughter loved it. She had two pies. My son's throat was hurting so he didn't eat too well. He said that he liked the veggie mix but wasn't big on the mashed potatoes. He isn't much of a potato lover though. Instead, he ate a big bowl of my homemade maple applesauce. I was surprised that the leftover veggie meatballs worked. I guess any leftover meat would work fine.

Friday, October 18, 2013

What to do with turnips and rutabagas

October 18, 2013

One year of this challenge is now behind us. Do we stop? No way. I'm addicted to seeing how much money I can save. I started today off right by going to pick up a prize. I won a contest to get some grass fed beef from a local farm. Can't go wrong with free! The kids are super excited to once again have some of their beef sticks (like jerky).

I had some semi wilted carrots and celery. That means it is time to make some vegetable broth. I was getting the veggies ready for it and that made me crave soup. I guess dinner has been decided.

I wanted to try something new. I put a little butter in the pot. I added some onion and a few tablespoons of leeks (I had some leftover from spaghetti night). After a couple of minutes, I added in celery, carrots, potatoes, turnips, and rutabagas. I let it sauté for a few more minutes. I added in about 4 1/2 cups of my homemade veggie broth along with a cup of small white beans. I brought it to a boil and added in some egg noodles. There wasn't a whole lot of them but I figured that the end of the bag would be fine. When the noodles were cooked, I stirred in a pint of my home canned tomatoes and about 3 cobs of corn (frozen from farmer's market). I just added a little salt. It didn't need much seasoning since my broth has so much flavor.

I've never added turnips to soup before. I don't think I've ever even cooked rutabagas period. I asked the kids if they wanted me to add a jar of tomatoes to the soup. They said a little. I told them that I would use a small jar (pint) and wouldn't add it all. Well, I had to sample the soup to see if it was cooked (wink wink, my dad taught me well; sampling is the best part of cooking). The tomatoes tasted so good that I could not stop myself from adding in the whole jar. Oops. How did we like the soup? I had to hold back my smile as my daughter lifted her bowl and drank it all right to the last drop. This coming from the girl who "doesn't like plain tomatoes". My son said it was great. Once again I had to hide my smile because the boy who "doesn't really like beans" ate every last one. Let me just say that great does not begin to cover this soup. I can't believe how delicious turnips and rutabagas are. They add so much flavor. I'm glad we ate early tonight so that in a little while I can go back for more! If you decide to try turnips or rutabagas and don't know what to do with them, do soup!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A year of grocery savings

October 17, 2013

Here we are. The one year mark. I started a 30 day challenge to try to save money on groceries, give in to impulse items less, and use up leftovers. I didn't think I would last a week. Yet here I am, on the 365th day! And guess what.... I'm not stopping.

I asked my daughter how the challenge has been for her. She said she only missed one thing: bagels and cream cheese. This is pretty funny for two reasons. One, prior to the challenge I probably only bought bagels once or twice a year. We just never thought of it. Two, she was eating bagels and cream cheese as she was talking to me. Ha. I had bought them today. The only other thing she said was that some weeks she wished that she had two items. I let the kids pick one item each week that they are allowed to put on the list (along with what items I thought the cupboards needed). My son almost always picked cinnamon toast crunch cereal and my daughter would rotate between goldfish crackers, warm pretzels, frozen Chinese food, etc.

I asked my hubby how the challenge was for him. His reply, "I didn't miss a thing. It was an adjustment in the beginning from what we were used to. You've done amazing"!

I miss going out to eat. We still go out but it's more like once a week and I am careful with what we spend when we go. It isn't any comparison to going whenever and buying whatever we wanted. I also still have a hard time with impulse items. I just LOVE going to the store and browsing. I love to look at new items and buy what I think looks good.

My son said that doing the challenge was fine. He asked how much money we saved for the whole year. I told him and he screamed!

My pre-challenge grocery average at the commissary was $175. Today I spent $0 on toiletries/cleaners. I am still stocked up from when I shopped the day prior to the government closing the commissary. I spent $72.62 on food. There were a few things that I probably could have waited until next week but I decided to just get them today. I spent $9.74 on impulse items. Oops. I found a new wild mushroom stuffed ravioli. Of course I also had to get an alfredo sauce for it. I also got vegetarian egg rolls and the bagels that my daughter was so happy to get. I spent $7.98 on gossip magazines. After adding in their surcharge and taking out my coupons, I spent $92.08 out of pocket. This is a savings of $82.92. My pre-challenge restaurant weekly average was $80. This week the kids and I went out to eat once. We used a buy one get one free pasta dinner coupon (the three of us split the two meals). We spent $14 (with tip). This is a savings of $66. The kids packed lunches and saved $12.50. Our total savings for this week is $161.42. The grand total savings is $5,036.79 in 365 days!!

During the beginning of the challenge, I was a lot more strict. I took leftovers and made weird things. Anyone remember the dessert made with sauerkraut?! We skipped going out to eat many weeks. I knew we wouldn't stick with the challenge if it was that hard. I made this more of a way of life/shopping than something that was depriving us. Sometimes will power comes from just being able to trick that little voice in your head! Another way that I like to look at the challenge is that it is my job. Sure, I could give up being a stay at home mom and go get a part time job. I would then have to pay for gas to get to/from work. Car maintenance costs would probably go up some from driving it more. I may need to find childcare for after school hours. I would probably need to buy new work clothes seeing as I've been a stay at home mom for over a decade. I would be spending money on lunches out (unless I stuck with taking care of my leftovers!). I would have to pay taxes on my income. Also, I would most likely have to miss some of the kids' activities and have time away from my family. Or.....I can put a little more thought and effort into how I spend our families money. Now when I grocery shop, I add up the prices as I go. It is much easier to say no to an impulse buy when I see how much I have already spent. I can save money for us to use on fun things like vacations, buying our puppy, etc. I can feel like I am contributing to our families savings account. I can teach our kids a life lesson that saving money is the way to live, and that you don't have to buy everything your heart desires. Seriously, the kids are not going to die if they don't have five kinds of cereal, waffles, pancakes, pop tarts, toaster strudels, granola bars, oatmeal, and muffins as choices for breakfast each day. It teaches them to prioritize what item they really want. Don't get me wrong. Our cupboards are not bare. In fact, most of them are stuffed. It almost makes me ashamed of how wasteful we used to be. Kudos to my kiddos and my hubby for sticking with me during this past year. Kudos to them for not only sticking with me and allowing me to continue with the challenge, but to do it with so little complaints. I really am proud of them. I can't wait to see the savings this next year brings us....

We wanted an easy dinner tonight because the kids have an activity tonight. I had bought another pack of the veggie meatballs intending to make meatball subs. However, I really felt like spaghetti tonight. We settled on spaghetti (with my home canned sauce) and veggie meatballs. We had a side salad with some of our garden lettuce, carrots, red onion, and cucumber. I also added a little sliced leek to my salad. I sautéed some leek and topped my spaghetti with some of them along with some freshly grated romano cheese.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Breakfast made by all

October 15 & 16, 2013

The kids were out of school yesterday so I put them to work. I raked leaves and they helped me pick up the piles. We worked for 3 1/2 hours. There was no way that I was going to cook dinner afterwards so I looked through my coupons. I found a buy one get one free pasta dinner. Perfect. The kids and I shared the two meals for just over $9. Score! Then I took them to go get free ice cream cones. You can't beat free.

I finished up the leftover stuffed pasta shells for lunch. The fridge is looking bare. Today should have been my shopping day but I am waiting until tomorrow. Tomorrow will mark one year of doing my challenge. I can't wait to see what my year savings are!

I decided to have a cooking day today. First up was to hard boil some eggs. Next, I made cookie dough hummus. My son has been asking for it for weeks. Chocolate Covered Katie's recipe is amazing but I wanted to alter it just a bit today. I used a dash of salt, dash of baking soda, about two cups of garbanzo beans, 2 teaspoons of vanilla, and 1/4 cup of peanut butter. Here is where I did a little altering. Her recipe calls for 2/3 cup of brown sugar. I always just use 1/3 cup. However today I wanted to try making it with even less. I filled my 1/3 cup measurer (is that a word?) and then only put in half of it. Not enough. I ended up using 3/4 of it. I normally make it with 1/4 cup of regular milk (cow). Today I tried it with rice milk. I put all of that in the food processor. I chopped and stirred in some chocolate. Her recipe calls for 1/3 cup but I usually add more.

The next item on my agenda was to make muffins. I looked in the freezer and saw 7 bags of bananas. Really? I guess it's a banana muffin day. My daughter got home from school so I taught her how to make them. I even let her use the mixers for the first time! My son got home from school and my daughter taught him how to make her famous deviled eggs. She even got out her recipe for him to look at. So cute! Meanwhile, I made French toast and served it with my father in law's homemade maple syrup. I also opened a jar of my home canned maple applesauce.

Breakfast for dinner was so fun. It was neat that each of us contributed to the meal. My son ate about half of the hummus after school and guess what.... He didn't even notice that I had reduced the sugar or used rice milk. He finished dinner and then got the hummus back out again! My daughter's muffins were delicious. It was so cool to see them both so proud of their creations!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Five cheese stuffed shells

October 13 & 14, 2013

Yesterday we had a busy day. We grabbed some leftovers for lunch before we headed out for the day. We sold popcorn at the mall for cub scouts for a couple of hours. Then we headed to a friend's house for dinner.

Today was all about using up what I had on hand. A quick look around the kitchen showed me that I had hamburger buns that we haven't been using. I decided to grill up some of the grillers original soy burgers for lunch. I also grilled some mushrooms. I heated up some of the leftover caramelized onions. I also added lettuce, american cheese, tomato, ketchup, and mustard. I served the burgers with some homemade garlic dill pickles. The rest of the buns I tossed into the freezer.

We carved pumpkins this afternoon and my daughter made two trays of pumpkin seeds for us. She made one tray seasoned with salt and garlic & wine seasoning. She made the other tray seasoned with salt and ginger. After sampling, we all decided that they should just be mixed together.

Once again, I looked around the kitchen to see what I needed to use up. I had a partial box of large shell pasta. I looked in the fridge to figure out what to use for the stuffing. I still had a small container of cream cheese that I had mixed with processed black beans. A quick search let me know that it was still ok to use (once open cream cheese needs to be used within 10 days). I grabbed the leftover grilled mushrooms and tomato slices from lunch. I also got out onion, green pepper, garlic, spinach, the end of the cottage cheese container, provolone, mozzarella, and romano cheese.

I sauteed onion, garlic, and green pepper in a little olive oil. I seasoned it with garlic & wine seasoning and salt. I chopped the leftover tomato and added it. I set some aside for the kids and then I finished up the stuffing for myself. I added the grilled mushrooms and a couple handfuls of spinach along with local white wine.

I spread a little cream cheese/black bean mix inside the cooked pasta shells. I added some of the veggie stuffing. Next, I added a spoonful of cottage cheese. I set it in a pan that had a layer of my homemade spaghetti sauce on the bottom. The shells were topped with more sauce, provolone, mozzarella, and romano cheese. I baked them at 400 just long enough to melt the cheeses. I served dinner with a side salad (trying to use up the big container of lettuce from my garden). I had a bunch of club rolls left so I decided to make some quick garlic bread. I spread some butter on the rolls and seasoned them with garlic & wine. A few minutes in a pan and they were golden and ready to eat!

The kids really liked the stuffed shells. My son said no change for next time. My daughter said she would rather no green pepper. Funny because she didn't mention anything about the fresh tomato in there. She is not a tomato kind of girl. I thought they were delicious. Can't go wrong with five cheeses on anything!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

It's a feast!

October 11 & 12, 2013

We have been trying to eat up our leftovers of pizza and lasagna yesterday and this afternoon. Even though there was still some of them left, I needed to step away from them at dinner tonight.

This afternoon I spent 2 1/2 hours raking leaves (7 1/2 hours in the past three days). I was beat. I wanted something delicious but I didn't want to have to put much effort in.

I settled on trying a new item that I bought this week. Morning star veggie meatballs are pretty easy. All you do is bake them. I prefer to make my own meatballs but for those days when I just don't want to cook, store bought will do.

My daughter loves mashed potatoes so that is what I worked on next. I still had some chopped cauliflower leftover from veggies and dip last week. Man was that a huge thing of cauliflower. I had veggies and dip, cauliflower soup, and steamed cauliflower. I decided to make mashed potatoes using about 1/3 cauliflower and 2/3 potatoes. I make my mashed potatoes by adding butter, milk, sour cream, salt, pepper, and garlic & wine seasoning.

I am not the gravy maker of the family. My hubby wasn't able to make it to dinner tonight so I had to give it a whirl. I sauteed onion and fresh garlic in a little butter. I stirred in two tablespoons of flour and let it cook for a few more minutes. I thawed out just over 1 1/2 cups of my homemade vegetable broth. I put about a quarter cup of it into a bowl and stirred in 2 tablespoons of corn starch. I added the rest of the broth and the broth/corn starch mixture to the pan. I seasoned it with salt, pepper, garlic & wine seasoning, and thyme.

Our other simple sides were steamed green beans and Hawaiian dinner rolls. As my daughter was getting the milk out of the fridge, she spotted a container of cottage cheese. Good call daughter. It needs to be eaten up during the next few days so we had some of that too. It's a feast!

How were the veggie meatballs? More importantly, how was my gravy?! I started out our plates with three meatballs. My son kept going back to get more. He ate I think 7! We all said that we should buy them again. My daughter is excited to try making a meatball sub with them. The gravy was delicious. I wouldn't change a thing about it. Score! We worked up an appetite with all that raking today but it sure made up for it by being able to fill our faces tonight!



Thursday, October 10, 2013

New veggie pizza

October 10, 2013

I have one week left until I hit the year mark with this challenge. I am hoping to finish strong so I am trying to use up leftovers and be pretty thrifty this week.

I looked in the fridge to see my options for lunch. I settled on using some of the leftover pesto sauce. I had two boxes of pasta that had a small amount left. Too small to cook on their own. The had different cooking times so I just added them separately so they would finish cooking together. I stirred in some pesto. I also heated up some leftover spinach, onion, and mushrooms (from the lasagna filling).

We finally had a night where we didn't have any activities. Yay! I wanted to make a homemade pizza for us. I decided to try out some new veggies. We have had broccoli on a pizza from a local pizzeria. Why have we never tried it at home? I had some broccoli already chopped in the fridge. I had a bunch of kale too. Hmmmm. I threw some kale and broccoli in some olive oil and seasoned it with salt. I roasted them at 425 for a few minutes (maybe 10 for broccoli). I burned the first batch of kale. Oops. Ha. The second batch probably only cooked for 5 minutes. I topped my side of the pizza with homemade sauce, kale, broccoli, caramelized onions, mushrooms, green & red peppers (already chopped from my get together last week), and black olives (leftover from taco spaghetti). The kids had green peppers, black olives, kale, and broccoli. I used some of the provolone cheese (also leftover from my get together last week) along with some mozzarella.

As we waited for the pizza to cook, I had little snitchers. My daughter came into the kitchen and snitched the rest of the leftover kale. She loves kale. My son snitched the rest of the roasted broccoli. How did the pizza turn out? None of us were thrilled with the kale on the pizza. Strange seeing as my daughter loves it on it's own. However, we all did like the broccoli.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Butternut squash agnolotti & grocery savings

October 9, 2013

Grocery day. Today was so much fun shopping. Last week, with the shutdown looming and the commissary going to close, I stocked up on some items (toiletries/cleaners/cheese/etc). I also still have quite a bit of veggies left from last week. I didn't need very much today. It felt like most of what I bought was fun impulse items. I gave in more than usual today because I knew I didn't need to buy much of the usual items.

My pre-challenge weekly commissary average was $175. Today I spent $4.74 on toiletries/cleaners. I bought two cans of shaving cream because I had a coupon for buy one get one free that would expire in two days. I spent $15.06 on impulse items. I got flavored potato chips, butternut squash ravioli, a small pack of Hawaiian rolls, pesto sauce, vegetarian meatballs, and pumpkin swirl bread. I spent $32.63 on food. It sure is nice having full cupboards and freezers already at home! I spent $0 on gossip magazines. I'm guessing that because of being closed for several days that they didn't get their new shipment. After adding in their surcharge and taking out my coupons, I spent $49.53 out of pocket. WHAT?! This is a savings of $125.47. The kids packed their lunches every day (plus one additional day than usual because I shopped on Tuesday last week versus my usual Wednesday) and saved $25.20. Our pre-challenge restaurant average was $80. This week we went out for Italian and used a buy one get one free meal coupon. We spent only $14. That is a savings of $66. This brings our weekly total of savings to $216.67!! Our grand total savings is $4,875.37 in 357 days! Next week I will hit one year on this challenge. I can't wait to see how much I was able to save in a year.

I went with easy for dinner tonight. I found a new pasta today. Buitoni brand. Just listen to the description: agnolotti generously filled with oven roasted butternut squash, impastata ricotta, aged parmesan & grana padano cheeses accented with amaretti cookie crumbs. Wow. I also bought a pesto sauce to go with it. I had cauliflower cut up from veggies and dip so I just added some of the cauliflower to my steamer pot. I was able to cut lettuce from my garden again today (probably the last time this season) so I opted for a side salad. I added red onion, mushrooms, carrots, and sesame seeds.

I was a little nervous about the kids and the ravioli (agnolotti). My son took a bite and said "wow, this is really good". My daughter loved them. I thought they were delicious. So delicious, that I may need to buy them weekly. Ha! I liked the pesto with it but the kids had theirs plain.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fool them with choices

October 8, 2013

Tomorrow is grocery shopping day. I stocked up quite a bit last week when the commissary was going to be shut down. I don't really need a whole lot this week. Today was the day to use up some items before I go to the store tomorrow.

My son had a sandwich for lunch. Yay for using up some of the bread. My daughter packed the rest of the leftover chicken barley soup. I had some of the leftover cauliflower soup.

Dinner. Hmmm. I had no idea what I was going to make. I looked in the fridge to get inspired. I had about a cup of black beans. I found half a block of cream cheese. I also had a small amount of shredded swiss, mozzarella, and leftover provolone slices from my get together last week. Aha. Lasagna.

I sauteed up some onion, garlic, mushrooms, and spinach in a little olive oil. I added a little local white wine, salt, pepper, and garlic & wine seasoning. The kids aren't too big on cooked spinach so I decided to give something a try tonight. I let them decline the spinach mix inside of their lasagna roll ups. I told them that we had to pick another veggie for dinner then. We went with carrots that I had frozen from my garden. I had two club rolls left. Time to turn them into garlic bread. I just used a little butter and garlic & wine seasoning. I browned them up on the stove. My son isn't too big on whole beans either. He will eat them but when asked how to make a meal better he will reply "less beans". For the lasagna roll ups, I put the cream cheese and black beans into the food processor. I spread it onto the cooked lasagna noodles. I figured that seeing as he got to decline the spinach mix that he would think he was free and clear of any of mom's crazy additives. Ha. For my rolls, I added some of the spinach mix and swiss cheese. For the kids' rolls, I just added mozzarella cheese on top of the cream cheese/bean mix. I put a little of my homemade spaghetti sauce in the bottom of a pan. I added the lasagna rolls. I topped each roll with a slice of provolone cheese and then topped it with spaghetti sauce. The next round was american cheese and mozzarella cheese. I started them out in the oven at 350 for about 10 minutes. My daughter started complaining that she was starving so I bumped it up to 400 for about another 15 minutes. I put it under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the cheese.

How did dinner go? My son loved the garlic bread. He said it was like fireworks in the sky and flowers blooming in spring. Ha. Ok. The kids gave the lasagna two thumbs up and said "mom is awesome". Ha. So maybe that is leftover awesome from yesterday. However, he never even noticed the beans. Yep, maybe mom is awesome.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Mom is awesome

October 7, 2013

I woke up this morning with a plan. I wanted to ensure that my kiddos said the words "mom, you are awesome" tonight. How do you go about that? You do awesome things of course.

I looked through my old blog posts to find something to make for dinner. I found a day when I had made cauliflower soup out of overcooked cauliflower leftovers. I had said that I "raved" about it. Hmmm. Guess it's time to make it again.

I sauteed onion, garlic, carrots, and celery in a little olive oil and butter. Meanwhile, I steamed cauliflower. I had tons of cauliflower (leftover from veggies and dip) to use up. I stirred a three tablespoons of flour into the veggies and let it cook a few more minutes. I added in 3/4 cup of homemade veggie broth, 2 cups of milk, about half a cup of freshly grated romano cheese, and maybe about a cup (I grabbed three small handfuls) of cheddar cheese. I found some leftover corn in the fridge so that went in as well. I added just a little bit of salt and pepper at the end. I topped it with just a little green onion.

Ok, soup is good but it definitely isn't "awesome" enough. I decided to make something that my son has been asking for. There was a box mix for cinnamon toast crunch flavored muffins that has been sitting in our cupboard calling his name. Today was the day. I also found some cookies in the freezer and popped some of those in the oven.

Getting closer, but still not quite there. I figured the kids would appreciate not having to do some chores. I put away all of their laundry and did the dishes for them. Aha. I think I've done it.

Time to see their response. Unbelieveable. The first words out of my son's mouth: mom, you're awesome. Hehe. My daughter gave me a thumbs up. One awesome works for me.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Taco spaghetti

October 6, 2013

We have had a busy few days. I made a small pot of chicken barley soup for the kids (while I ate the leftover cream of potato leek soup). We had leftovers for a couple of days. We also had a party to go to so one night I got out of making dinner.

One of my friends said that she made spaghetti for lunch today. That conversation led to three of her friends to say that they were making spaghetti for dinner tonight. Four people can't be wrong. Spaghetti is the way to go for today. However, I wanted to do something a little different. Taco spaghetti.

I have made different taco variations of pasta before (baked casserole, pasta salad) but tonight was spaghetti's night to shine. I started out by cooking up a little onion. I grabbed the bag of leftover chopped veggies (I had veggies and dip two days ago). I found some yellow and green pepper. I chopped them along with some garlic and added it to the onion. I cooked the veggies in a little bit of olive oil and then added in local white wine. I put a pint jar of my homemade salsa into the food processor to make it more of a sauce consistency. I thawed out some black beans and a bag of corn (from farmer's market). I cooked up angel hair pasta and stirred in the cooked veggies, corn, black beans, and salsa. I put a bed of lettuce on our plates. I piled on some taco spaghetti. Our toppings included black olives, green onion, cilantro, sour cream, and mexican cheese. I found half of an avocado. Oh yes. Come on out little avocado. My daughter was thrilled with the fact that she could have a spaghetti taco and grabbed a hard taco shell to fill. My son quickly followed her lead.

Dinner was delicious. You could totally add in any taco ingredients that you love. Taco seasoned ground beef, diced tomatoes, jalapenos, etc. I was fully prepared to add in extra seasonings like cumin, salt, pepper, and paprika. It didn't need any. I think the key is that you need to start with a salsa you really like. Of course my homemade salsa is awesome so we had a win!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Spinach artichoke wrap; grocery savings

October 1, 2013

I started my day by finding out that the government had shut down. Thankfully they had decided that the military would continue to get paid. However, our commissary would be closing after today. I decided that I would whip up my grocery list and head to the store today. I rather stock up on a few things today and pay cheaper prices at the commissary than wait until I run out of the items next week and have to pay higher prices at a different store.

Evidently, the entire base had the same idea. There was literally NO parking spots left. I had to wait a few minutes until someone left. Yikes. No carts inside. I had to go back to the parking lot and get one from a corral. Wow. This is going to be crazy.

And crazy it was! My pre-challenge weekly commissary totals were $175. Today I bought items that I would normally have waited to get: giant pack of paper towels, toilet paper, and paper plates; some other toiletries/cleaners that I could have waited a week but figured I may run out before the government settles the shutdown. Today I spent $52.48 on toiletries/cleaners. I spent .99 on impulse items: kale. I spent $147.51 on food. Once again, items I bought extra of due to the shutdown: soda, cereal, quinoa, cheese, cheese, and more cheese! I spent $10.89 on gossip magazines. After adding in their surcharge and taking out my coupons, I spent $211.60 out of pocket. Ouch! However, I will be set up for a lot of these items for 2-3 weeks. This was an overage of $36.60. The kids saved $12.50 on lunches. My daughter bought school lunch twice and with me shopping today instead of tomorrow it short changed us a day worth of lunches on this week's totals. Our pre-challenge restaurant average was $80. This week we spent $20 on pizza delivery. This is a savings of $60. Our savings (after taking out our overage) was $35.90 for this week. This brings our grand total to $4,658.70 in 349 days! I'm really looking forward to the next couple weeks totals. I'm hoping that all that I bought today will keep those spendings down. I added up the items that I bought extra today due to the shutdown: $72.63. Also, I am having a get together in a few days and I spent $44.06 on items that I needed for it. That makes me feel a lot better about what I spent today!

I got the groceries put away and needed a quick lunch. The only leftovers I had were green beans. Ok, what else should I have? Oh! I found a container of 4 artichoke hearts pushed to the back of the fridge. Hmmmm. I grabbed a tortilla. I chopped two artichoke hearts and added a pile of spinach/arugula mix. I topped it with green onions and mozzarella cheese and popped it into the microwave. Yay! It totally worked. I know exactly what I'll be doing with the other two artichoke hearts! I think it would be even better with swiss cheese.

One of the menu items my kiddos requested for this week was my cream of potato leek soup. Last time we all loved it. My hubby and I both had thought that we should double the leeks though. Tonight I also added in a few tablespoons of diced onion. I sauteed the onion, 4 chopped leeks, one large garlic clove, and about 3 cups of diced potatoes in a couple tablespoons of butter. I let them cook for about a half hour on low. I seasoned the veggies with salt, pepper, garlic & wine seasoning, and thyme. I added a splash of local white wine and after a few minutes added about half a cup of homemade vegetable broth. Once the veggies were cooked, I put them through the food processor. I added it back to my pan and stirred in 2 cups of heavy cream. I topped our soup with green onion.

The soup had mixed reviews. I thought it would be better with even more leeks in it. The soup I am trying to recreate from our favorite cafe had a really strong leek flavor to it. My soup isn't quite there yet. However, my daughter said she preferred the batch of soup with only 2 leeks in it. To leek or not to leek. Ha.



Monday, September 30, 2013

Menu surprise

September 30, 2013

We've had a busy few days. We had a leftover night but to make it more fun we added in a movie. We worked really hard on yard work and I didn't feel like cooking so we ordered a pizza. I wanted a quick dinner yesterday. I grabbed some leftovers out of the fridge and got to work.

I wanted to make veggie and quinoa quesadillas. I cooked up onion, garlic, leeks, mushrooms, and green peppers. I stirred in some leftover quinoa, corn, garlic & wine seasoning, and salt. I added mexican cheese and cilantro. Then I toasted up our quesadillas. I thought they were pretty good. The kids were iffy about them so I also made them cheese quesadillas.
I was busy making a huge batch of jalapeno poppers this afternoon. I took a break half way through to grab some lunch. Hmmmm. There was a bunch of the quinoa quesadilla filling leftover. If it's good in a tortilla, it should be good on a bun. Right? I haven't been steered wrong with a melty sandwich yet. I warmed up some of the filling and put it on a club roll. I topped it with a few slices of provolone cheese and popped it under the broiler. Sure enough. It was tasty enough that I didn't want to stop long enough to go grab a fork! 


I felt kind of bad that the kids didn't really like a few of my dinners lately. So I had the kids help make a menu list this week. I asked my son what he wanted. He surprised me by saying he wanted the spinach and artichoke pasta I had made before. You know, the pasta sauce that I made out of TOFU. Wow. You got it. I went to the cupboard and checked out my pasta stash. I told him that I could make it with regular spaghetti noodles or spinach noodles. He asked for spinach. WHAT? I'm not really sure what's going on with my kiddo but I like it! 

Last time I made this sauce, I used silken tofu. Today all I had was firm. I decided not to press it. I figured that seeing as I want it to be a sauce, I wouldn't take out any water. I put half of the block of tofu in the food processor with about 1/4 cup milk. Meanwhile, I sauteed onion, garlic, and spinach/arugula mix. I added in a little white wine, garlic & wine seasoning, and salt. I added the spinach mix to the food processor along with half a can of artichoke hearts. I put the sauce into a pan and added some freshly grated parmesan. I didn't measure it (my guess is 3/4 cup) - it was just enough that my son's arm got tired. Ha. I stirred in some basil. It was pretty thick so I added more milk to thin it out (maybe about 1/2 cup). I served it with the spinach pasta and some steamed green beans. 

Both of the kids said it was good. I was surprised that we all liked the spinach pasta. It only had three ingredients: organic whole durham flour, spray dried spinach powder, and water. For a healthy pasta, it wasn't bad at all. The three of us all want to buy it again. Score!


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pie, pie, and more pie

September 26, 2013

Today's food was awesome! The best part is that there were two dishes that I thought I might be crazy for trying but they turned out so delicious.

I wanted to use up leftovers for lunch. I pulled some containers out of the fridge. I found grilled red onion and mushrooms, caramelized onions, and roasted butternut squash. I also grabbed the spinach and arugula mix, cilantro, muenster cheese, and provolone cheese. I warmed the veggies and piled them onto a club roll. I topped them with cheese and popped them under the broiler. Oh my gosh. I wasn't prepared for how delicious butternut squash and caramelized onion would be together on a melty sandwich! It makes me want to go buy another squash just to make sandwiches with. Yum!

I found a recipe today from Martha Stewart for tortilla and black bean pie. Hmmmm. Her recipe calls for 2 cans black beans, 1 pack frozen corn, 2 garlic cloves, 1 jalapeno, 1 onion, 4 scallions, salt, pepper, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 4 flour tortillas, 8 oz cheddar cheese, and 12 oz beer. She cooks the beans in beer. Really? I've never tried to cook with beer before.  I altered the recipe some and this is what I came up with.

I sauteed half an onion, two garlic cloves, half a green pepper, and half a box of mushrooms in some olive oil. After about five minutes, I added in 2 cups of black beans. I thought the recipe sounded like way too much beans (even for vegetarians) so I just added one bag from my freezer. I added salt, pepper, and cumin. I added a few extra shakes of cumin. I also added in paprika and oregano. I let it simmer until the beer had cooked out. I stirred in a bag of corn (frozen from farmer's market: about 4 cobs worth) and a handful of green onion. I let it cook a few minutes until most of the corn's juices were absorbed. I greased the bottom of a springform pan. I put in a tortilla and topped it with about 1/4 of the bean mixture. I topped it with mexican cheese. Tortilla. 1/4 bean mixture. Mexican cheese. Tortilla. 1/4 bean mixture. Cheddar cheese (I wanted mexican on top for a better presentation). Tortilla. Rest of bean mixture. Mexican cheese. It baked at 400 just until the cheese was melted (maybe 15 minutes). Carefully remove the sides of the pan. The recipe called for green onions on top. I decided to use cilantro and sour cream instead. I wanted the entire meal to be "pie" because my daughter has a slight obsession with pie. Ha. I served our taco pie with some of my homemade pumpkin pie applesauce. I couldn't figure out how to make our veggies into pie. Then it hit me. I have these cute little single serve pie plates. I put some veggie dip in the bottom and added veggies around the sides. Pie veggies. Ha. For dessert, I made a pina colada cheesecake pie. It was a mix that we got at a local wine festival. I just had to add the mix to cream cheese and cool whip. Easy as pie!

My daughter renamed the meal taco pie. How did we like it? My hubby said it was delicious. My daughter loved it. I loved it. It is now one of my favorite meals. My son wasn't a big fan. He said he would like it if it didn't have black beans. I told him that next time I could make him a separate one minus the beans. Deal.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pasta with leeks; grocery savings

September 25, 2013

I debated skipping grocery shopping this week. Well, for about two seconds. Then I wondered who was I kidding. I needed ice cream. Ha. There has been talk that the military may not get paid on October 15th. I'm really hoping it is just a scare tactic but I figured that I should plan our budget over the next few weeks a little more carefully just in case. I had gotten out of the habit of really meal planning. I sat down a few days ago and came up with meals. I tried to make most of the meals out of items that I already have at home. Once again, it seems that I have collected a bunch of random items that need to get eaten up soon. I kept all this in mind as I made my grocery list this week.

My pre-challenge weekly commissary average was $175. Today I spent $18.97 on toiletries/cleaners. I spent $5.09 on impulse items. I got a new yogurt. The coconut one comes with toasted almonds and dark chocolate chips. Key lime comes with graham crackers and white chocolate chips. I also got the kids each a pack of ramen noodles. I decided to grab a vegetarian ground sausage again this week. I spent $10.16 on gossip magazines. I spent $53.48 on food. WHAT?! That's awesome. After adding in their surcharge and taking out my coupons, I spent $86.39 out of pocket. This is a savings of $88.61. My pre-challenge weekly restaurant average was $80. This week we went out for Japanese and out to Ruby Tuesday. Japanese is always expensive for us. We spent $106.36 this week. Ouch. This is over by $26.36. The kids did great packing lunches. They saved $18.85. This brings our savings for the week to $81.10. Our grand total savings is $4,622.80 in 343 days!

I tried a new recipe tonight that I got from a friend. I altered it a bit. Heat a little oil and butter and saute some onion. The recipe then calls for ground beef but I used the vegetarian sausage. I let that brown up a bit. I decided to take the "sausage" out of the pan, set it to the side, and add it back later. Add 2 or 3 sliced leeks, a small can of tomato paste, and one cup of vegetable broth. We love garlic so I decided to add in a clove of fresh garlic. I used homemade broth. Let it cook for 15 minutes. Season it with 1 tablespoon of mustard, 1 tablespoon of paprika, salt, and pepper. I had to add extra broth as it cooked down. My guess is that I added almost an extra cup of broth. When done cooking, stir in one cup of sour cream. I stirred the sausage back in and added rotini pasta. I served it with freshly grated parmesan cheese. I needed to use up some of last week's farmer's market finds. I had a zucchini, yellow squash, garlic, red onions, and tomato. I sauteed them up with olive oil and butter. I added local white wine, salt, pepper, garlic & wine seasoning, and basil.

Our family had mixed reviews with dinner. The kids weren't too thrilled with it. I think that the reason my daughter didn't really like it was the mustard. She isn't much of a mustard girl and I always think that I can fool her and "hide" it and she won't taste it. She always does. Ha. I'll learn one day. My hubby said it was good but that we should add mushrooms to it. Mmmmm. Agreed.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Quinoa patties

September 24, 2013

The kids only had half a day of school today. My daughter's school got out before lunch. My son was able to pack his lunch though. I spent the day making a small batch of applesauce. Pumpkin pie flavor was a hit last time so that is what I went with today.

My daughter came home and we worked on her math. Wow. I can't believe how complicated they are making 5th grade math. We must've worked on it for two hours. I think we have it straightened out now though (hopefully!).

I decided to try out some new dishes for dinner. I saw on Fat Free Vegan Kitchen a recipe for homestyle green beans and potatoes. I tried it out. Basically, saute some onion and garlic. Add in chunked potatoes (I used red, purple, and yellow) and green beans. Add broth (homemade vegetable) until it just covers the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. During the last few minutes of cooking, add 1/4 teaspoon of liquid smoke. I added an extra splash.

We really liked the beet burgers that we made for our spooky dinner. I wanted to make a quinoa patty tonight and decided to base it off of that beet burger. We mixed cooked quinoa, red onion, garlic, leftover shredded beet, freshly grated parmesan cheese, egg, panko bread crumbs, and black beans. My hubby seasoned them with garlic & wine seasoning, pepper, and paprika. He cooked them up in a little olive oil. I served it with a side salad. My son had fun learning how to use a sharp knife. He cut the carrots, onion, and green beans tonight. We had carrots, red onion, green pepper, cucumber, and sunflower seeds on our salad. I had my patty with a little of Country Bob's all purpose sauce (like a steak sauce). My hubby decided to add cheese to his and have it like a burger. My kids saw him grab the burger bun and they wanted in on that deal too. Ha. For dessert, I made apple crisp.

How did dinner turn out? The potatoes and green beans were missing something. They didn't really have much flavor. The quinoa patties were really good. I just love the beet flavor. It really stands out. My son said it was ok. My hubby, daughter, and I all really liked it though. Crazy son. He just doesn't get it. :) On to dessert.... I made the apple crisp really thin. Let's face it. The best part of apple crisp is the topping and after all those math problems today, I needed it!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Riblets

September 23, 2013

I feel like a "real" vegetarian today. For lunch my hubby and I grilled up Morningstar Grillers soy burgers. This was the second time I had bought them. On purpose. So that tells you that they are a pretty decent substitute. We also grilled up red onion and mushrooms. I topped our burgers with american (and 3 pepper cheese for my hubby). I added lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and mustard. These burgers are pretty filling too.

Normally I plan a meal by starting at the entree. I felt all over the map tonight. I wanted to try butternut squash. I have never had it before. Our friends gave us one from their garden and tonight was the night to give it a try. I peeled and cubed the squash. I tossed them in olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, and a local maple sugar. I threw them into the oven at 415 degrees for 20 minutes. I then realized I still had no clue what else I was making. Ha. I looked in the freezer and saw vegetarian riblets. I grabbed those for my hubby and me. My daughter had mentioned chicken nuggets (vegetarian ones) so I grabbed those for the kiddos. I stirred the squash and then turned the oven down to 350 and added the "meat". Hmmmm. What else? I am a rice hoarder. I fully admit to it. On any given day, I have at least 5 types of rice.

*Side note: After writing the previous sentence, I had to go check. I have a brown/wild rice mixture. Arborio rice for risotto. Jasmine rice. Two kinds of sushi rice. I don't even make homemade sushi. Ha. Mahatma rice - I love that one for spanish rice. I also had a bag of brown rice. I didn't even bother checking the cupboards for rice a roni. Ha! I figured I would stop counting at 7.

Ok, back to dinner. I settled on trying the brown and wild rice mixture. I seasoned it with salt, pepper, thyme, and garlic & wine seasoning. I had never cooked it before and figured I should give it a try too. It's a little time intensive for my taste (ok, so it's not really that intensive, just more than simply stir and simmer). You bring it to a boil, simmer for 35 minutes and then let it rest for 15 minutes.  I'm too impatient for that which is why I have passed it up until now.

My hubby said the riblets were pretty good. My son took a bite and said they were good. I thought they were surprisingly a good substitute. Even the texture was good. The rice was good too. We were running a little late for cub scouts so it didn't have very long to rest. It would probably be better with more rest time in order to make it a little more fluffy. The butternut squash went over well too. My hubby said it tasted like sweet potato. My daughter cleaned her plate. As I was halfway through dinner, I realized that every item on my plate was new! Overall, a successful vegetarian day.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Spooky dinner

September 22, 2013

It's here. My favorite dinner of the year. Our 6th year of our family tradition: spooky dinner. This year we decided to have it on the night that we decorated for Halloween as a way to bring in the holiday season.

The kids helped to plan some of the items and even helped prepare some of them. It is such a fun time. Let me tell you about the giggles....

We feasted on bugs, eyeballs, flesh dip, a man eater, kitty litter, and dirty worms. We washed it all down with some pond punch that was filled with fish, fish eggs, and a worm. Sound delicious?! It was!

Our bugs were olives with clove heads and rosemary sprig legs. Our eyeballs were babybel cheese with olive and pizza sauce pupils. The flesh dip. Ha. We took a skull decoration and covered it with chive and onion cream cheese. My hubby added yellow and orange food coloring to the cream cheese to make it a fleshy color. He also added on mushroom and olive eyes along with eyebrows and some wounds. Our man eater was a beet burger. This was our first time making these. My hubby put together 1 cup of shredded beet, 1 cup of rice, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, a tablespoon of fennel, 3 tablespoons of onion, 1 tablespoon of garlic, 1 tablespoon of mustard, salt, pepper, and garlic & wine seasoning. He cooked them in a little olive oil. He made faces on the man and the man eating bun. Our kitty litter was a marble cake. We topped it with graham cracker crumbs that we mixed with coconut creme pudding. It was topped with some extra graham cracker crumbs. Tootsie rolls mold into perfect turds after being microwaved for 15 seconds. Everyone loves to shape turds. Ha! What better way to serve it up than with a kitty litter scooper! Dirty worms are smushed up black beans for the dirt. The worms are hotdogs that are sliced thin then cooked in boiling water for about 30 seconds or until they begin to curl. Pond punch was half sprite and half lemonade. We added a swedish fish candy and a gummy worm. We also needed fish eggs for it. I cooked small tapioca pearls for about 20 minutes. I split them into two bowls (along with the water they cooked in) and added food coloring. One bowl got 4 drops of blue. One bowl got 3 drops of yellow and one drop of green. Also, I stirred in 2 tablespoons of sugar into each bowl. They sit for 20 minutes. Next, you need to drain and rinse them in cold water. My new skimmer came in very handy. Voila. Pond punch.

I can't begin to tell you the amount of laughter that filled our house tonight. Or how many times I heard things such as "don't forget to eat your turd", "what species is that feces", and "you're gonna give him pink eye" (as my son used a pepper strip to "pick" the nose of the skull and then smear the flesh dip across the skull's mushroom eye). Ha! The fish eggs were unreal. The texture was perfect! Besides having a ton of fun, we also found a new recipe that we like: the beet burgers. They need something to help them hold together a little better but the flavor was incredible. There is some leftover shredded beet and I can't wait to figure out something else to make with them. Spooky dinner 2013 was spooktacular!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sweet potato pizza

September 19, 20, & 21, 2013

Thursday was a busy day. I decided to pull everything out of my garden and finish it up for the year. I had a ton of green onions and carrots to take care of. I also cut my thyme and lettuce. After working on the garden food for 6 hours, I was in no mood to make dinner. I was beat. I was about to suggest that we could order dinner in when the kids spoke up. They wanted to cook for me. Yay! They put together cold subs for them and hot subs for my hubby and me. I assisted with chopping some veggies and putting our subs under the broiler. Our sandwiches were on our choice of a club or hawaiian sweet roll. Toppings were ham (for the kids), sauteed red onion/leek/green pepper/garlic/mushrooms (for my hubby and me), lettuce, spinach, green onion, cucumber, avocado, thyme, cilantro, and our choice of provolone/muenster/3 pepper cheese. They served it with chips, homemade pickles, and watermelon.

Friday we had a work function for my hubby. We decided to go out to eat Japanese on our way.

Tonight I decided to try my hand at surpassing my hubby's genius lunch from earlier this week. His pizza was so incredible. He had used my leftover cream of potato/leek/fennel soup as the sauce. Tonight I made a white pizza sauce.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Stir in 3 tablespoons of flour. Slowly whisk in 1 cup of milk. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, 1 garlic clove, a few sprigs of thyme (leaves taken off the stems), and 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese. Just stir until the cheese is melted and then take off of the heat.

I topped the pizza with roasted sweet potato, caramelized onions, sauteed garlic/mushrooms/spinach/arugula, corn, and provolone/parmesan/mozzarella cheeses. I asked the kids what they wanted on their pieces. They both said just cheese.....until I had them taste the sweet potato. Then they added sweet potato. They munched on the extra slices while I grabbed the next ingredients. I had them try corn. Yep, add corn and then they finished the leftover corn. I couldn't change their minds about the mushroom saute or the caramelized onions though.

The pizza turned out great. It was well balanced between the salty and savory cheese and the sweetness from the onions, sweet potatoes, and corn. My daughter loved it. I think I still prefer the pizza my hubby made with my soup as the sauce. It just gave it a little bit extra flavor. However, had I not had that pizza earlier this week, I would have really loved tonight's pizza! I'd say our first attempt at sweet potato pizza was a success!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sausage stir fry

September 18, 2013

The kids finished up our week strong. Neither one of them bought school lunch at all this past week! I was really craving Subway this afternoon but I took the kids' lead and ate what we had at home.

My pre-challenge grocery weekly average was $175. Today I spent $16.54 on toiletries/cleaners. I spent $9.61 on impulse items. I picked up a can of artichoke hearts, vegetarian sausage, black bean hummus, and a portobello cream sauce starter. I spent $95.77 on food. However, I needed special ingredients because we have something awesome coming up. We are doing something different this year. We are having our "spooky dinner" as a way to start off the Halloween season. We had to move it up this year due to our schedules and thought it would be a fun weekend to decorate and have our spooky dinner too. I can't wait to share it with you! I spent $10.89 on gossip magazines. After adding in their surcharge and taking out my coupons, I spent $135.68 out of pocket. This is a savings of $39.32. My pre-challenge weekly restaurant average was $80. This week I went out for lunch with friends, a lunch date with my hubby, and out for lunch with my hubby and the kiddos. The cafe (two of the lunches) only takes cash and I didn't write down how much we spent. My best guess puts our weekly spending at $75. No savings. The kids did amazing and saved $21 by packing lunches every day. This brings our savings for this week to $60.32. Our grand total savings is $4,541.70 in 336 days!

Tonight's dinner was an experiment. I wanted to try a vegetarian sausage. The package said to just use it as you would any ground sausage. Hmmmm. That's kind of like ground beef. I decided to make some jasmine rice. I cooked up the sausage in a little bit of olive oil. I cooked up carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, red onion, leek, purple cabbage, and green pepper. I added in stir fry sauce and soy sauce. I seasoned it with garlic & wine seasoning and chopped garlic. I also seasoned the sausage with the garlic & wine seasoning. I served it with teriyaki sauce and sushi ginger.

The sausage was a success. My daughter loved it and had two helpings. The rest of us liked it. I wasn't crazy about it plain (although, I don't really like regular sausage either) but once it was mixed in with everything else I liked it. I even had seconds. I'm excited to try it out in other recipes.



Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Healthier fettuchini

September 17, 2013

Once again, the kids packed their lunch. I checked their school accounts today and I couldn't believe how little money they have spent since school started. They are doing an awesome job of using up leftovers. The best part is they are doing it happily and without me even asking. Score!

My hubby was home for lunch today. He asked if I wanted to go out. Uh oh. Hold strong. We settled on making sandwiches under the broiler. We love melty goodness sandwiches. My hubby sauteed red onion, portobello mushrooms, green and red peppers, and fresh garlic. I had muenster cheese and he had three pepper cheese. Under the broiler our little hawaiian sweet sub roll sandwiches went. I added on spinach and avocado. Oh wow. I was sad to see the end of my sandwich. Ha!

My hubby had to work through dinner. I thought I would have a couple friends over for spaghetti. My friends couldn't make it tonight. I looked through the cupboards and saw a pack of pasta that has been hanging out waiting for us to try. I figured seeing as my friends weren't coming then it was a good night to try something new. How would the kids like mung bean pasta? Better yet....how would I like mung bean pasta?!

I steamed green beans from my garden. I have a bunch of bread that needs to be used up (seeing as my son has been eating leftovers instead of his usual peanut butter and jelly sandwiches). I melted some butter and added chopped garlic and some garlic & wine seasoning. I drizzled it over the bread and toasted them up in a pan. I popped open a jar of my home canned spaghetti sauce. The pasta only takes about 6 minutes to cook. My son walked by as I was cooking and he said, "mmmmm those plain noodles smell good mom". WHAT?! I topped our fettuchini with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Here we go. My son took a few bites and said "this is really delicious". A few bites later he leaned over to my plate. He pointed at the fettuchini and said "this". Then he pointed at the bread and said "this". Next up was the green beans and he said "and this"......are delicious! Yay! My daughter was more quiet but I asked her after we ate and she said she loved it. As for me: it didn't really have a bean taste. It had a different texture than white pasta, which is what we are used to. It didn't really absorb the spaghetti sauce and it got a little watery after being on the fettuchini for awhile. No big deal. It's just a little messier. It definitely tastes different from white pasta but it's pretty good for a healthier option. I think we will be having mung bean pasta again. I see alfredo in our future.