Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Weekly check-in

Well, I'm a bit late with my weekly check-in, but mainly it's because I can't remember what happened last week with regards to eating out! I know we ate out some - I distinctly remember a trip to Izzy's and maybe a burger or three...

In my defense, I coordinated the food (and cooked some of it) for my grandpa's memorial service on Saturday, so things were a bit crazy.

Because of that, we also took the week off of cleaning. Hubby was sick half the week, I was up to my eyeballs in meatballs and potato salad, and we were facing our last two really gruesome rooms. So we gave ourselves an extra week. We're back on track this week!

So there you have it...

And I don't think I'll be participating in Kitchen Tip Tuesday this week, either - my mind is blank. Check back in next week - maybe I'll have another exciting tip by then!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

Tammy over at Tammy's Recipes has a cool feature every Tuesday - it's Kitchen Tip Tuesdays! She posts a kitchen tip and invites her readers to do the same on their blogs, then post a link from hers. I participated for the first time last week with my stove cleaning tip. Thought I'd join in again this week with my secret to smooth deviled egg filling.

For the longest time I had trouble getting my deviled egg filling smooth. No matter how much I mashed it with a fork, I always had chunks of egg yolk floating around in there, and I much prefer my filling to be totally smooth and creamy. Then, one day, I grabbed my pastry blender out of the drawer and used that. It worked perfectly!

The secret is to cut up the egg yolks with the pastry blender BEFORE you add any other ingredients. Mash away - you can't hurt it! Soon you will have little tiny grains of egg yolk, all uniformly sized, that will blend beautifully with the mayonnaise and other ingredients. Voila! Perfectly smooth deviled egg filling.

Another week bites the dust

One more week down on our limited eating out/weekly cleaning routine. We rock. Tomorrow we reach the halfway point in our budget month (paydays are on the 8th and the 23rd), and we are well under the halfway point on our eating out budget. We did get fast food three times last week, but one of those times we talked ourselves out of Red Robin, spending $13 instead of $28, and another we used a buy a value meal, get a sandwich free coupon at Burger King and split the fries and pop, feeding both of us for $6 and change. I'm feeling like this month is a big success.

I've also almost completely stuck to my no-meat-buying strategy. I will admit that I broke down yesterday and bought a bag of chicken tenderloin, because there are a few things that I really want to make that require raw chicken, as opposed to the pre-cooked, shredded stuff I have in my freezer. It's going to be a bit of a stretch to stay in the grocery budget this month, as always, but I think I might make it if I'm careful and hubby doesn't decide he wants a bunch of special stuff.

Here's what we ate last week for dinners:

BBQ chicken pizza
roast pork tenderloin
pecan-crusted chicken tenders
creamed tuna on buttermilk biscuits (2 nights)

On the cleaning schedule, last week we cleaned the living room and hall bathroom. They were already in decent shape, because those are the areas that get spruced up when people come to visit. Still, it took a good part of a day to give them the deep cleaning they needed.

This week will be the last hellish week of cleaning, and with everything else going on we may need two weeks. This week we clean the bedroom and master bath. Now, in theory these should be neat, tidy rooms, respites from the craziness of the world and a warm and cozy place for us to relax. In reality, these are now the messiest. dirtiest rooms in the house and are desperately in need of a good scrubbing. Once they're done, we move on to the computer room and spare room, both of which have been recently cleaned and organized, so it won't be so bad. And then the cycle starts all over again, and if we've managed to stay on top of things as the weeks progress, the cleaning shouldn't take more than an hour or two.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Today's cleaning tip

Is your stove top a mess? Can you instantly recall every meal you've cooked in the last few weeks because bits of them all are stuck in the greasy mess? Want to clean it up in an instant with little elbow grease and no harsh chemicals?

Well, look no further than your pantry and that blessed little orange box of baking soda.

Seriously, here's all you have to do (I did it on Sunday, and if I'd known it was going to work so well, I would have taken a picture to prove it). First, take out your burner elements and pans (assuming you have an electric stove. If you have gas, take off whatever parts come off). Set the elements aside, and put the burner pans in a sink full of hot water with a squirt of dish soap and a couple of tablespoons of baking soda. Let them soak while you clean the rest.

Next, wipe the stove top down with a damp sponge to get all the loose stuff off. Then, sprinkle it heavily with baking soda. Get your sponge fairly wet - you don't want a sloppy mess but you want it to be wet enough to create a paste as you scrub. Working from the inside out, rub in a circular motion to scrub the gunk right off, rinsing out your sponge as needed. This should be very quick - you should be able to get the whole top clean in a matter of minutes. Finally, give your sponge a good rinse and wipe it down well to get all the residual soda off.

Next, go back to your burner pans soaking in the sink. If you're like me, stuff boils over all the time and these are a big mess. By now, they've been soaking long enough that everything has started to lift off. They should clean up fairly easily, but you may need to use a steel wool pad to get some of the really tough stuff off.

Once those are clean, put it all back together and, voila! A bright, shining stove top just waiting for the next meal.

Happy Cleaning!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Another week down...

Well, we survived another week on the "limited eating out" plan. We didn't do as well as we'd hoped, but better than we used to! We did eat some good stuff this week:

- Sunday, we had white bean soup with linguica sausage.
- Monday, we had tacos.
- Tuesday, we had glazed pork chops (by the way Heather, these were good, but I wanted more glaze. Think I'll play around with it a bit in the future and I'll let you know what I come up with, if you want!) and orzo and rice pilaf.
- Wednesday, spaghetti with meat sauce.
- Thursday, potstickers and steamed broccoli.
- Friday, I convinced hubby that we'd been really really good and should splurge a little. So we went out for burgers and shakes, which cost almost $28 after tip and neither one of us finished our meal. Absolutely ridiculous! I could probably make the same meal at home for $7 (ok, maybe I wouldn't get onion rings on my burger like I did on Friday but really, I probably wouldn't miss them!).
- Saturday we were planning to have BBQ chicken pizza, but we ended up buying a take and bake pizza and taking it over to my mom and dad's because dad was out of town for the weekend and I didn't want mom to be by herself, the situation being what it was. $16 well spent, if you ask me.

So, last night we had the BBQ chicken pizza. Tonight we'll have roast pork tenderloin and mashed potatoes. Last time they were on sale, I bought a pre-marinated pork tenderloin. Never had one before, I hope it's good!

On the cleaning front, week one is done and we almost finished our two rooms. We have to put the finishing touches (i.e. clean the floor) on the kitchen tonight. Saturday was a day lost so we did the whole thing yesterday, and it took most of the day. I had the kitchen, Hubby had the dining room (which isn't really a room, more like an extension of the kitchen, but you know what I mean). Since it was the first time in a while, we shared bits of both rooms - I helped him sort out the stuff on the table, he helped me clean out the fridge. It worked out nicely.

Four weeks from now, when we get back around to these rooms, it will go much more smoothly. This week, we're on to the living room, hallway, and hall bath. They're both in fairly decent shape, so it shouldn't take TOO long... I have realized that I need to get in the habit of doing a little bit each day, though, so I don't have to do it all in one day on the weekend. That's no fun at all!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Goodbye, Grandpa

Grandpa died this morning.

I'm not ready to blog about him yet, like I did Grandma, but I will. Anyone who met him will know exactly what I mean when I say there will be so much to say.

I feel so bad for my mom - first the tornado, now this.

For now, I'll just say goodbye, Grandpa. I know you're dancing with grandma as I type this. You two have fun.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Cleaning up

Ok, now that we have the meal planning back in order, it's time to shift our attention to the state of the house. Now, I've never been any kind of housekeeper - anyone whose seen my living room or my office can attest to that! But, hubby was a neat-nick before he met me. He's since given up because it's too hard to keep up with my slovenly ways, but once in a while I feel the need to respect his sense of order and tidiness.

And so, I present, the cleaning schedule! I've probably presented it before - it's not a new concept. It's quite simple, really.

The house is divided into eight zones:
dining room
living room
hall bath
master bath
computer room
spare room.

Each of us is assigned to one zone each week. This means that, every month, the whole house gets a good cleaning. The task list includes:

clear out clutter
take out garbage/recycling
vacuum (if applicable - we only have two rooms with carpet now!)
sweep/mop (quite a job with all the dog mud around here!)
dust (including cobwebs and windowsills
wipe down walls (Ringo rubs on the walls so there's a nice layer of dirt about two and a half feet up, everywhere you got)
scrub countertops (in those rooms that have them)

Now, for those of you who are into a regular weekly cleaning routine, this probably is quite obvious and you're probably cringing at the thought of only having rooms clean once a month. But for those of you like me who only clean when company's coming (which, for us, isn't often) and then only clean the rooms that company will see, this is a really necessary thing!

We've started this before, several times, but when we got to the two really challenging rooms, the computer room and spare room, things have ground to a halt because the tasks really just seemed too daunting. But, in the last month, we've completely cleaned out both rooms, so we're really just into maintenance now, which should make things a lot easier.

I'll let you know how it goes!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Menu January 6 - 19

Well, our first week of planned meals went really well. We went out to dinner one night, using a gift card that hubby got for Christmas, and went out to lunch twice. All in all, much better than before on the eating out front! We stuck fairly well to the menu, too. We didn't eat everything on it, and one night I made Swedish meatballs and spaetzle instead of tuna casserole. But, I made enough meatballs for two more meals, so that will make for some quick dinners (especially since I just ordered a potato ricer, which will make the spaetzle making go much faster, too!

We just went to the grocery store and did our big shopping trip. I spent about $100, but other than milk, produce, and maybe eggs, it should last us for two weeks and then some with no problems.

I've come up with a list of 16 dinners that we can choose from over the next couple of weeks. There's a good mix of quick dinners for after work, and things that take a little longer for the weekends. We don't have to eat everything here, of course, and we can have leftovers one or two nights. We can have:

glazed pork chops
impossible chicken pie
"leftover roast beef" casserole
chicken sausage alfredo
teriyaki pork
Ham and pasta
BBQ chicken pizza
Pork roast
bean soup with linguica
fish sticks and oven fries
pecan crusted chicken tenders
roast pork tenderloin
tequila lime chicken

Tonight I'm going to make the bean soup with linguica. I've never had linguica before (it's a Portugese sausage), but I got it ultra cheap in the discount meat bin one day so I thought I'd give it a shot. Hubby isn't a big fan of soup, other than canned chunky chicken noodle, but he said he'd try it. I'll make some of his favorite buttermilk cornbread to go with it. I figure this will leave me plenty of extras to freeze for lunches, too.

Tomorrow night we'll have tacos, before hubby has a chance to eat all the Doritos! I took some pork roast out of the freezer, too. It should be thawed by Tuesday, and I'll cut it into chops and glaze it. We'll wing it off the list from there - we have plenty of choices!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Getting back on track

New Year's is upon us, and, for me, the new year always brings thoughts of a fresh start. I think it hit hubby this year, too - he seems to have this sudden urge to get our things tidy and organized. Of course, this just means more work for me, as it always seems to be MY stuff that he wants to organize, LOL! Over the weekend, we took the Christmas money we got from my aunt and uncle and bought some shelving and storage boxes for the spare room. For the first time since we moved in four years ago, you can actually see the carpet in there! My sewing and craft stuff is all neat, tidy, and put away. With the exception of one small box that doesn't fit, the books are all on shelves. There's still a stack of magazines I need to sort through, but I'll get to that...eventually.

But really, the new year (and every new month, really) brings me the opportunity to get back on track with our budget, and tracking our finances. Hubby got a new truck the weekend before Christmas, and we are now officially back in debt. That was an interesting experience for me. I knew it was coming, but I still had a pretty strong emotional reaction. I'm probably the only person in the world that gets physically ill after taking out a loan!

Don't get me wrong, we can well afford this loan, it's just cutting significantly into the amount of money we have been putting into savings each month. And, naturally, I have the urge to throw lots of money at it and pay it off as quickly as possible. It'll still take a few years, but I know we'll be paying it off early. But, we're still putting money into all our different savings pots each month so, barring any emergencies, our savings will continue to grow.

One area of the budget that I forever have problems is food. We have a HUGE food budget each month. For two people, it's practically obscene. We eat out a lot, and I tend to be a stock up shopper - we have a very well stocked pantry and freezer! In fact, the only meat I bought in December was a bag of chicken tenderloin and a couple of packages of ground beef. In January I shouldn't even need to do that. So I'm getting back on track with menu planning and cooking, and eating out a lot less.

I started by taking a freezer inventory. I have a spreadsheet on the front of the freezer, and I'll mark things off as I take them out. Then, I did a menu plan. Here's what this week looks like, starting from last Friday:

Friday: cube steak and spaetzle
Saturday: dinner out (we got a gift card for Christmas)
Sunday: Pork, cabbage, and rye casserole (this was great - I'll post the recipe later)
Monday: leftover casserole, then munchies at my sister-in-law's house)
Tuesday: scalloped potatoes and ham
Wednesday: chicken and black beans
Thursday: leftovers
Friday: green chile stew with pork
Saturday: tuna casserole

We have an over abundance of pork, so we'll be eating that twice a week for a while. Otherwise, I try to hit different kinds of meat once each week. Hubby's not a big fan of meatless meals, so I have to sneak them in when I can, which isn't very often.

On the eating out less front, I have one friend that I meet for lunch once a week. She's on a budget too, so we've made plans to bring our lunch and meet at her place. It means I have to take a slightly longer lunch hour on those days, but I'm fortunate to have a job that is flexible and allows me to do that. I do meet another friend from time to time, and those lunches will probably come out of my allowance, which is no problem.

There's my plan for getting back on track for now. Happy New Year, everyone!

Dog Biscuits

We were cleaning out the spare room this past weekend, and I ran across this recipe. I made them the summer I was a nanny, it was one of the projects I did with the kids. Dogs love them! I remember showing my mom the recipe, and she said "sheesh - the dogs will eat better than we do!"

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups rye flour
2 cups cracked wheat
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk
2 t. salt
1 pkg. dry yeast
1 pint chicken stock
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk, for brushing

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water and add to the liquid. Pour into dry ingredients and mix well. Knead for about three minutes - the dough will be very stiff. Turn dough out onto a floured board. Roll to 1/4 inch thickness, and cut into desired shapes (we just used cookie cutters, but if you have a bone-shaped cutter that would be fun). Bake on a greased cookie sheet for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave in the oven overnight to harden.