Monday, September 24, 2018

Menu Plan September 23-29

We are entering one of the two busiest weeks of the year for me at work.  I'm thankful for my meal plan because that's one less thing I need to think about!  Since I had it done well in advance, I was able to grocery shop on my lunch hour last Thursday, the day I work at home, which was fantastic because I was gone most of the weekend on a Girl Scout campout with my daughter.  Like last weekend when I was out of town, I got to come home and actually stay here instead of having to run back out to the grocery store!  Planning for the win!

Later in the week there are two meals out.  I'm noticing from the budget that we're starting to eat out less and less.  This is great because we're definitely saving money and eating healthier food.  But, I'll still rely on it when we need to!  I'm in fundraising and we have an auction Thursday night.  I'll see if my daughter wants to cook (she's working on a Girl Scout cooking badge), but it's just as likely that they'll want to go to Panda Express because I don't like it as much as they do, so they're happy to go when I'm not around.   Friday is Grandparents' Day at school, and my parents always have dinner with us afterward so they don't have to sit in rush hour traffic for two hours to get home.  But...I have to be at a conference downtown, so I'll be home late. parents will bring my daughter home, my husband will stop and pick up take-and-bake pizza on his way home, they'll cook it when they're ready, and I'll eat some whenever I get there!

Here's the plan for this week:

Remember to visit for many more ideas!

Sunday:  Chili and Cornbread
Monday:  Sausages and Tater Tots
Tuesday:  Chicken Taquitos
Wednesday:  Skillet meal
Thursday:  Take-out, most likely
Friday: Papa Murphy's

What's on your plan for the week?  

Monday, September 17, 2018

Menu Plan September 16 - 22

I may have mentioned that I'm now keeping a running list of menu plans on my computer.  It goes out a couple of weeks, and I note recipes that I have most of the ingredients for, that sound good to me, or that my family requests.  Because I'm working into the future, I can easily rearrange and adjust as requests are made or as I encounter ingredients that need to be used up.  Well, that menu list totally saved me this week!

My daughter and I left after school on Friday and spent the weekend with my side of the family at a lake cabin that my grandfather built.  The cabin is no longer in the family, but my parents made arrangements with the owners for us all to go spend some time there to celebrate my nephew's birthday. 

Corner of the cabin with the lake behind

Having a menu plan already made up for the week meant that I could do my grocery shopping for this week on Thursday when I bought the food I'd be contributing to the weekend.  It was such a great feeling to get home at 5:00 last night and not have to unload the car, turn around, and go back out to the grocery store! 

I was also able to throw together a quick and simple dinner with some of the leftover ingredients from the weekend.  One of my contributions was flat bread pizzas for lunch on Saturday (I also made a fruit salad for Sunday), and I had a mixture of green onions, peppers, and mushrooms already all chopped up and ready to go.  I got a small package of chicken sausage out of the freezer, cooked and sliced it, cooked some rotini, and sauteed the leftover veggies with some more onions and mushrooms added.  Then I mixed it all together with a little pasta water and added a few red pepper flakes for kick, topped with shredded parmesan cheese, and called it dinner!  It's something I call "pizza noodles" because it has all the flavors we like on pizza.  I used to put tomatoes in, too, but my daughter doesn't care for cooked tomatoes.  I also left out the pizza seasoning this time because those flavors were in the chicken sausage.  It was delicious! has so many great menu ideas!

Here's the menu for this week:

Sunday:  pizza noodles (see above)
Monday:  pot pies (frozen - hubby will cook these while we're at my daughter's piano lesson so we can quickly eat before her swimming lesson)
Tuesday:  pork and cabbage stir fry
Wednesday: chicken paprikash over baked potatoes
Thursday:  sour cream pork chops with noodles
Friday:  beef and broccoli lo mein (this recipe is new to us but sounds great!
Saturday:  My daughter and I will be at a Girl Scout campout so my husband is on his own.  He'll probably go out. 

What's on your menu this week?  Have a great one!

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Menu Plan September 9 - 15

I know it's only the 9th but it already feels like September is flying by.  Now, if only the fall weather would hurry up and get here! 

I have to say I am quite impressed with how good we've been at sticking to the menu plan lately.  This week all the after school activities start, plus my daughter and I are leaving town next Friday for the weekend, so I've lined up some quick and easy favorites for the week ahead.

Visit for Menu Plan Monday and tons of ideas!

Today:  Cube Steak, baked potatoes, tomato salad.
Monday:  Chicken strips and cold salads
Tuesday:  Chicken stir fry
Wednesday: Baked Penne
Thursday: Instant pot "roast" chicken
Friday:  Out
Saturday: Family dinner

What's your go-to when time is tight and you need to feed your family a healthy dinner?

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Homemade Yogurt in the Cooler

My current grocery shopping goal is to plan two weeks ahead and shop once.  I did a big shop over the weekend but got home and realized I forgot the yogurt for our smoothies.  Then I remembered that I used to make the yogurt all the time!  It's so easy - it takes 10-11 hours but just a few minutes of hands-on time here and there.  So, I made a half gallon for about half the cost of buying it in the store (I've been buying milk from a local dairy - if I'd used milk from the grocery store it would have been even cheaper).

To make half a gallon of yogurt:

You need a half gallon of milk and 2 T. of plain yogurt. Your starter yogurt should just be made with milk (or milk and cream) and live cultures - don't use anything sweetened, flavored, or with gelatin.  It won't work right.  

1.  Put milk in a lidded bowl (I use the Pampered Chef Batter Bowl). 

2.  With the lid off, heat in the microwave to 180 degrees (Fahrenheit). This takes about 12 minutes in my microwave, but I do in three minute bursts so I can stir it regularly and check.  You can also do this on the stovetop in a large pot but I don't want to babysit it that much.

3.  Let cool to between 110 and 115 degrees.  Stir regularly (every 10 minutes or so) to prevent a skin from forming at the top of the yogurt (no need to remove it, just stir it back in).  This takes about an hour. While it cools, get your starter yogurt out of the fridge to come to room temperature.

4.  Stir a few tablespoons of the warm milk into your starter yogurt to thin it out, then stir that into the bowl of milk, mixing thoroughly.

5.  Put the lid on the bowl and put it in a cooler.  Pour enough hot water in to go 1/2 - 2/3 of the way up the side of the bowl.  Your hottest tap water should be fine for this. 

6.  Put the lid on the cooler and cover it with blankets (I put it on a twin size blanket so that it can wrap all the way around, then put another small blanket on top).  Let stand for 8 - 10 hours, until thick. Keep refrigerated.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Easy Creamy Mushroom Soup

We accidentally bought four pounds of mushrooms this week.  Accidentally, because when I told my daughter to go pick out "a bag of mushrooms," I was thinking of the mushroom bags at Fred Meyer, but we were shopping at Winco, which offers actual small shopping bags for mushrooms, and they're about twice as big as the Fred Meyer bags.  She dutifully filled the bag (no wonder she took so long!) and I didn't have the heart to make her put them back since she did exactly what I asked.

So...we're using mushrooms this week.  I already had two recipes that called for them, and I'll saute some in butter and freeze them for future meals, but she also asked me to make mushroom soup.  I found a recipe online that sounded good, but, as you know if you've read this blog for any length of time, I'm not capable of leaving well enough alone.  And so I tweaked it.  Significantly.  Beyond recognition.  And it's delicious. 

Easy Creamy Mushroom Soup

4T butter
3/4 pound cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced (if the mushrooms are very large cut them in thirds and then slice)
1/2 c. onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh thyme (I actually used three that were each about 3" long)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3 c. chicken broth, divided
6 T. cornstarch
1 1/2 c. half and half

In a 3 quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add mushrooms, onions, and garlic and saute until the onion is soft and mushrooms are tender.  Add thyme, salt, pepper, and 2 1/2 cups chicken stock.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until bubbling.

Combine the cornstarch and remaining 1/2 cup of chicken broth, stirring until smooth.  Stir into soup mixture.  Continue stirring until thickened.  Reduce heat to low; stir in half and half and simmer, stirring occasionally, until heated through.

Makes three servings.

And now I have to go make another batch because there are no leftovers for a certain 9-year-old's lunchbox thermos this week.  😀

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Game Night Menu

Every few months, we get together with my sister-in-law's family for game/movie night.  We almost always have "snacky dinner," which is basically just appetizer-type stuff and desserts.  I try a lot of things off of Pinterest and Allrecipes for these get-togethers, and I can rarely remember later exactly which recipes I tried.  So, I'm going to do better about writing down the menu with links.

For tonight, my sister-in-law said she was probably going to make nachos, so I came up with some things that fit the theme.  We've never made any of these before, except the fresh salsa.

We're taking:

  • Beef and cheese empanadas, using this recipe for the filling and this recipe for the dough, plus I added some shredded cheddar cheese because I wasn't totally thrilled about the filling when I tasted it before we stuffed them.  We have enough filling leftover to freeze for another time. UPDATE:  These tasted great but were a little dry.  Next time I'll serve a sauce with them.

  • 7-layer dip, using this recipe, except the guacamole is just avocado mashed with lime, cilantro and a pinch of salt.    UPDATE:  This recipe was DELICIOUS!  I will definitely make it again.

  • Fresh salsa, made my my hubby, with homegrown tomatoes and peppers!

  • And Caitlyn made Chocolate Chocolate Chip cookies, without changing the recipe (unlike me she's perfectly capable of following a recipe as written!).  Can't wait to taste them.  She set aside a few extras to make ice cream sandwiches for a Girl Scout patch she's working on.  UPDATE:  This is an excellent recipe and is on our keeper list for sure!

Early on in the process I burned the *#(#@)! out of my hand, forgetting for a moment that the cookie sheet I was picking up had just come out of the oven.  So, while I whined and cried and rocked back and forth for a while, Caitlyn took over and made the dip, most of the empanada filling, and rolled the dough for me while I filled and sealed them.  She's so great in the kitchen and I'm so happy that I got her started cooking at an early age (she was stirring things on the stove at age two and just went from there).  She saved my tail today!  

Is it dinner time yet?  My house smells GREAT!!!

Menu Plan September 2 - 8

I think maybe, just maybe, fall has arrived!  I'm certainly ready for big sweaters and pumpkin spice.  Now, if we could just get some rain...

Last week's menu was a resounding success.  I discovered a fantastic new pork steak recipe (I need to post my version because, as usual, it was changed up a bit from the original and it was so good!).  Always looking for ways to use up the pig we buy every year! 

I've actually planned two weeks' worth of menus at this point.  I'm keeping a running list in a Word document on my computer.  As I realize we need to use something up, or if someone requests something or it strikes my fancy, I add it to the menu.  My goal is to try grocery shopping every two weeks and see how it goes.  I think it may save us money in the long run.  Definitely will save me time!  We'll see how it goes.

Here's the menu for this week:

Posted to Menu Plan Monday with tons of other menu ideas!

Tonight:  "snacky dinner" at my sister-in-law's (it's game night)
Monday:  hamburger casserole
Tuesday:  buttermilk chicken
Wednesday: turkey tetrazzini 
Thursday:  ham hock and cabbage soup
Friday:  taco salad
Saturday:  out

What's on the menu at your house?  Have a wonderful week!

Friday, August 31, 2018

A New Budget Month is Upon Us

Note:  this blog post contains no affiliate links.  I just really, really like these sites.

It's the last day of August (how did we get here already???), which means that another budget month is coming to a close, and a new month is upon us!  I'm a bit of a geek about our budget, and when I actually follow it, it works really well and we are able to save some money!  I've switched things up in the last month to make it even easier for me. 

This is the way I used to budget.  It was long and complicated and involved way to much moving of money during the month (it was all automated, but still, lots of money moving around).  Also, because I worked off of my pay dates, my month didn't follow a calendar month, which tended to confuse things just a bit. 

One of my favorite blogs is Six Figures Under.  I love how transparent she is about finances, and they have used their budget to do amazing things to pay off their debt!  She often talks about how they live on last month's income.  This intrigued me, but I never thought I needed it because we don't have the irregular income that her family does.  We get regular paychecks that are usually the same amount, unless my husband works overtime.  That and his occasional third paycheck (he gets paid every two weeks) were the only variances. 

Then, I started listening to the YNAB podcast (available here).  He also talks about living on last month's income.  Then, suddenly, one day I realized that it would make sense for us to live on last month's income.  And we had enough in savings to be able to do that and still have a nice cushion. 

So, last month I switched.  And it was glorious (hey, I'm a budget geek.  I can say glorious!). 

Here's the new system.  A few days before the end of the month, I transfer a budget month's worth of expenses from our general savings account to our online checking account (we have a local checking account and two savings accounts, and an online checking account and 11 savings accounts - more on that in another post!).  From there, the amount we need for spending is forwarded on to our local checking account, and the rest is divided up among our "sinking fund" accounts.  By the first of the month, when our mortgage is automatically withdrawn from our local checking account, all the money is there. 

As we get paychecks or any other extra income throughout the month, I transfer them directly to our general savings account, to be used the following month.  I record that income in an Excel spreadsheet so I can see exactly how much we have to work with the following month.  

Tracking expenses is, of course, key to the success of a budget.  I find that if I stay on top of it, it literally takes me less than five minutes a day to accomplish this.  When I get up in the morning, I get my coffee, sit down at my computer, open my bank accounts online and pull up my budget spreadsheet.  I record any expenses or income we had the day before.  Voila.  Tracking done.  With few exceptions, all of the actual moving of money between accounts is done automatically, so I also make sure this happens on schedule and then track it accordingly.  If it's a payday, I set up those transfers to savings.  Easy peasy. 

This month, the expense tracking will be made even easier.  I have switched our budget from Excel to the free version of EveryDollar.  It's essentially the same as my spreadsheet, but it has an app so I can track spending on the fly with my phone.  I like to have redundancy when I'm trying out new systems, so I'll still keep my budget in Excel, but I won't track daily expenses - I'll just go back at the end of the month and put down the total spending in each category.

There you have it - our (very long) budget update.  What's your favorite budgeting tip? 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Apples Apples Everywhere!

Fall is nearly upon us, and at our house, that means one thing - the apples are falling off the tree! We have a decent size tree with the weirdest apples I have ever encountered.  First, they are normally HUGE, but this year's are about half the usual size.  Here are a couple next to a pint-size Mason jar for comparison.  

Second, they are the mushiest apples I have ever encountered.  They have a strangely astringent flavor, and (in my opinion) are terrible to eat raw, though my daughter claims to love them (though she won't eat more than a few bites at a time).   If you try to put them in a pie, they basically dissolve.  I can fill an 8x8 pan to make a crisp, and by the time it's done cooking it's totally flat (though delicious once cooked!). 

We're actually going to cut this tree down after the season, because we're going to plant several different varieties of dwarf fruit trees that will be easier to prune and give us more fruit varieties than just the one apple tree.  So this year, we're going all out on the apple usage and preservation.

So far, I've made about nine quarts of applesauce, with about six and a half currently in the freezer, and another pot is on the stove as I write this.

I bought some Clear Jel to make apple pie filling.  Yes, the apples will cook down to mush, but this is my husband's favorite waffle topping, and I haven't made it since I found out you're not supposed to can with cornstarch (yes, I canned with cornstarch, and no, we didn't die, but no, I'm not going to do it anymore now that I know it's not safe).  This will probably happen next weekend.

I'm trying my hand at apple cider vinegar from scratch.  I took some of the apple cores and peelings and will follow these instructions.

Cores and peels, just waiting for the water.

I'll cook some of the applesauce down to make apple butter.  I love it on toast in the winter time - so warm and cozy!

We also love apples in baked oatmeal (this is a great recipe), and these apple walnut butterhorns (minus the walnuts, as I'm not a fan). 

And, of course, we eat lots of apple crisp.  It's one of my husband's favorite desserts - with or without ice cream! 

Are you a fan of apple season?  What's your favorite recipe?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Menu Plan August 26 - September 1

It's finally here!!!  The first week of school!!!  Our summer of chaos is officially over!  It's been a fun summer but I'm ready for my schedule to return to normal.  Bonus - I still have two weeks before evening activities begin so not only do we get back to a normal daily schedule starting on Wednesday (Tuesday's the first day but it's only three hours), we don't have to rush to be anywhere after dinner for a bit.  So nice!

Visit Menu Plan Monday for more great menu ideas!

I have exactly $5.90 left in the grocery budget for the month, and I'm trying really hard to stay within it (that would be the first time ever, I'm pretty sure!).  So I've planned the menu around what I have in the house.  We're a little shy on fresh fruit for general eating but the apple tree is full and ready to pick, so I'm planning to make applesauce, and we have some canned fruit that we didn't eat on our camping trip.  Only thing I might run out of is onions.  I have one left in the pantry and about six little ones in the garden.  So...I may be taking a lunch hour walk down to the store one day to buy a couple.  We'll see.  Can't cook without onions! 

Here's the plan for this week:

Sunday:  Back to School Picnic (school is providing the meal)
Monday:  Irish Sundaes
Tuesday:  Pork chops and potatoes (I have some Trader Joe's frozen potatoes I'll probably use)
Wednesday:  Tuna Casserole
Thursday:  Pork and Cabbage Stir Fry (this is my base recipe but I add a few things to it)
Friday:  Fried Rice
Saturday:  I don't know where we'll be (we have a few plans for the weekend but no schedule set yet), so I can't plan.  If we're home I'll probably roast a chicken but I'm guessing we won't be.

Have a great week, everyone!