Grocery Savings!

My total bill was $46.50!

Ok, wow!  That is not normal for our household!  I’m in shock!  Last week I spent just over $50.  Before that, I was easily spending over $60, most weeks close to $80!  

Tonight, I stocked up on many pantry staples including numerous canned beans, crackers, bread, milk, cheese, carrots, celery, potatoes, other canned goods, etc…  I even grabbed a few impulse items that weren’t on my list!  I’m so excited to have a restocked pantry and have what I need for several upcoming meals that I have been thinking about.  

Now, you may be thinking that this is still a lot to spend at the grocery store, but keep a few things in mind:  The hubs and I love food.  I cook/prepare everything that we eat.  Usually from scratch or nearly from scratch.  We almost never eat out – maybe once or twice a month.  Not even take-out pizza.  We pack our lunches for work everyday. 

I will be posting my weekly grocery bills on here in the future to encourage myself to keep the total under $60.  I know I can do it!  I resolve to be more frugal in 2009!  Can you shave down your grocery bill?  Imagine squirreling away $20 a week!!  Now that’s incentive! 

*Tip*  I know its easy to get lazy and mindlessly throw the items into the cabinets/pantry after shopping.  But remember the following when restocking your pantry:

Keep similar items next to each other.  All tomato products should be on the same shelf, soup, dried pasta, beans, etc.  This makes it easier to grab what you need in the middle of a recipe and easier to see what you are low on when writing your grocery list.

When bringing in new purchases, shift the older items to the front of the shelves and place new items in back.  That way you use the items with the nearest expiration dates first.  It only takes another second or two.

BBFCCCC

BBFCCCC = Best Big Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Many people I know are constantly looking for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe.  This one just might fit the bill!  I am very happy with how they turned out.  This recipe produces a nice balance between crispy outside and soft/chewy inside. Yummy!

BBFCCCC (source:http://www.sweetlifekitchen.com/2007/08/bbfccccs.html, originally from Allrecipes.com)

2 cups AP flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup butter, melted

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1 egg yolk

2 cups choc. chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift (or whisk together) flour, soda, and salt. Set aside.

With mixer, cream melted butter and sugars.  Beat in vanilla, then egg, then yolk, until light and creamy.  Mix in sifted, dry ingredients. Stir chocolate chips in by hand.

Drop 1/4 cup of dough on sheet 3″ apart. Bake 14-17 minutes. Mine are always done at exactly 15 minutes.

Makes 18-20 big cookies (depending on how much dough you eat. huh? what? I don’t eat raw cookie dough. )

I’m learning how to knit!

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Two of my great friends came over last night to teach me how to knit.  I’m pretty sure that they have both been knitting for a couple of years and I was dying to learn!  It was so much fun!  We definitely gossiped talked way more than we knitted but I still learned the basics.  They were great teachers!   Not surprising of one, because she IS a kindergarten teacher! 🙂

The primary focus of this blog will continue to be cooking and baking, but I do intend to share my other homemaking endeavors periodically.  They will *hopefully* include:  gardening, canning and pickling, cleaning tips/schedules, various product (tools, gadgets, cookware, etc.) reviews, and of course, knitting! 

One topic I’m not sure of including is related to my day job – interior design. Although it may be fun to share design tips and tricks with you, I am leaning towards keeping that segment of my life separate to avoid totally burning out!  😛  But, on the other hand, as a typical newlywed homeowner, we do plan on doing some of our own home renovations down the road and I may want to document them here.  I may also want to share design tidbits that I find particularly useful along the way.  So, we’ll see which way the wind blows me day-to-day.

What would you like to see featured here?

Swedish Meatballs

The other day I was talking about IKEA with some friends and they mentioned the wonderful Swedish Meatballs that they have eaten there.  Well, I’ve only been to IKEA once and didn’t eat anything while I was there, but it sounded like a meal that I would enjoy so I decided to give them a try.  It sounded perfectly comforting on a harsh (-17 degree) winter night.

I adapted this recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens Special Breast Cancer Edition cookbook (page 362) and this blog.

Swedish Meatballs

2 beaten eggs

1/4 cup milk

3/4 cup bread crumbs (I used plain store bought)

1 medium onion (1/2 cup), very finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, or 1/4 tsp allspice and 1/4 tsp nutmeg (I used all nutmeg)

a few pinches of salt

1 pound ground beef

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped. Plus more for garnish. I omitted all together because I didn’t have any, but I think it was missed so I wouldn’t skip it in the future.

4 tablespoons butter, divided

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 cups beef broth

1/2 cup cream (I used milk)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Set aside.

In a medium saute pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter.  Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook until onion is soft.

In a large bowl, mix ground beef, 1/4 cup of milk, 2 eggs, bread crumbs, sauteed onions, nutmeg, black pepper, another pinch of salt and  parsley.  Once mixed, form into small balls and place on baking sheets.  Bake for 12-15 minutes. (I tried to brown them in batches in a skillet first, but they started to fall apart and it didn’t really work out so I just baked them off.)

While the meatballs bake, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the flour and whisk until light brown, about 2 minutes.  Gradually add the beef stock and whisk until it starts to thicken.  Add cream or milk and continue to cook until it reaches the desired consistency.  (Like Ally, I had to add a slurry of cornstarch and cold water to thicken it more.) 

Reduce heat to simmer and add the cooked meatballs to the sauce while you prepare the egg noodles. Once noodles are done, stir in a little butter so they don’t stick together, plate them and serve meatballs and sauce over the top.  Garnish with parsley. Enjoy!

I would say that this turned out pretty well but not fantastic.  I thought the sauce was a little bland and like I said above, the parsley was definitely missed.  Next time, I will add more seasoning (salt, pepper, and allspice), use cream or half and half instead of the milk at the end, and possibly use a combo of beef and pork for more flavor.  I also had a problem with the sauce being lumpy.  I don’t know how to fix that but I don’t think it affected the taste.  Any suggestions would be appreciated!

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Baked Pasta

We love pasta dishes because the leftovers usually reheat really well.  Because of this, I make variations of this recipe once a week.  It is super easy!  After a day at work, I can count on this because its really simple and I always have the ingredients on hand – no planning ahead required.   Because there are only 2 of us, I normally bake 1/2 and freeze half for later.

Baked Pasta yields 8 large servings

1 pound small dried pasta ( I used bow-tie)

1 pound of ground beef

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 red or green bell pepper, chopped (optional)

1 large clove garlic, finely minced

1 jar prepared pasta sauce of your choice or approximately 3 cups homemade sauce

1-1/2 cup ricotta cheese

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a large casserole dish (9×13 or 3 quart) or 2 small casserole dishes (8×8 or 1.5 or 2 quart) with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

Brown ground beef with onion, garlic, and bell pepper .  Drain fat.  Add pasta sauce and crushed red pepper and simmer while pasta cooks. Once, pasta is cooked and drained, add it to the sauce  and stir to coat.

Spread 1/2 of the pasta in the bottom of the casserole dish or dishes.  Dollop tablespoons of ricotta cheese over that and then cover with remaining pasta.  Bake covered with foil for 20-25 minutes, then uncover and sprinkle with mozzarella and bake for 10 more minutes.

Serve with a tossed salad and garlic bread and enjoy.

Thaw the frozen pasta in fridge for 8 hours or overnight before baking.  It may take a little longer to bake.

Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken

This is a really simple recipe that is perfect for a busy weeknight.  Like most slow cooker recipes, it is pretty much ready when you walk in the door!  All you need to do is shred up the chicken and make some rice and you are all set!  My favorite part is that you can put the chicken in frozen. Perfect for me because I’m usually gone 10 hours during the day and that allows the slow cooker to thoroughly cook the chicken but not burn.

Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken

(source)

4 frozen chicken breasts (I used 2 really big chicken breasts)

1 cup salsa

1 can condensed cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup (I used mushroom)

1 packet taco seasoning

1/2 cup sour cream

Directions:

In the morning, place chicken breasts in a 4.5 quart (or 6 quart, or whatever you have) slow cooker.  Sprinkle taco seasoning over chicken.  In a medium bowl mix salsa and soup together and then pour over chicken. Set slow cooker to low and forget about it for at least 6 hours. When ready to serve, stir in sour cream and shred chicken.  Serve over rice or use in a burrito.  Enjoy!

It is fine to use reduced sodium taco seasoning, reduced fat soup, and reduced fat sour cream. You won’t be able to tell a difference in taste!

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Life Experiences

This is another time-waster list floating around in the blog world. 
If it’s red, I have done it…

1. Touched an iceberg
2. Slept under the stars
3. Been a part of a hockey fight
4. Changed a baby’s diaper (not by myself)
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Swam with wild dolphins
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a tarantula
10. Said “I love you” and meant it
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Stayed up all night long and watched the sun rise
15. Seen the Northern Lights
16. Gone to a huge sports game
17. Walked the stairs to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
19. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
20. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Bet on a winning horse
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Taken an ice cold bath
28. Had a meaningful conversation with a beggar
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Ridden a roller coaster
31. hit a home run
32. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking
33. Adopted an accent for fun
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Felt very happy about your life, even for just a moment
36. Loved your job 90% of the time
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Watched wild whales
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Gone on a midnight walk on the beach
41. Gone sky diving
42. Visited Ireland
43. Ever bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited India
45. Bench-pressed your own weight
46. Milked a cow
47. Alphabetized your personal files
48. Ever worn a superhero costume (maybe?)
49. Sung karaoke
50. Lounged around in bed all day
51. Gone scuba diving
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Done something you should regret, but don’t
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Been in a movie
60. Gone without food for 3 days
61. Made cookies from scratch
62. Won first prize in a costume contest
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Been in a combat zone
65. Spoken more than one language fluently
66. Gotten into a fight while attempting to defend someone
67. Bounced a check
68. Read – and understood – your credit report
69. Recently bought and played with a favorite childhood toy
70. Found out something significant that your ancestors did
71. Called or written your Congress person
72. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over
73. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
74. Helped an animal give birth
75. Been fired or laid off from a job
76. Won money
77. Broken a bone
78. Ridden a motorcycle
79. Driven any land vehicle at a speed of greater than 100 mph
80. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
81. Slept through an entire flight: takeoff, flight, and landing
82. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
83. Eaten sushi
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read The Bible cover to cover
86. Changed someone’s mind about something you care deeply about
87. Gotten someone fired for their actions
88. Gone back to school
89. Changed your name
90. Caught a fly in the air with your bare hands
91. Eaten fried green tomatoes
92. Read The Iliad
93. Taught yourself an art from scratch
94. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
95. Apologized to someone years after inflicting the hurt
96. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language
97. Been elected to public office
98. Thought to yourself that you’re living your dream
99. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
100. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn’t know you
101. Had a booth at a street fair
102. Dyed your hair
103 Been a DJ
104. Rocked a baby to sleep
105. Ever dropped a cat from a high place to see if it really lands on all fours
106. Raked your carpet
107. Brought out the best in people
108. Brought out the worst in people
109. Worn a mood ring
110. Ridden a horse
111. Carved an animal from a piece of wood or bar of soap
112. Prepared a dish where four people asked for the recipe
113. Buried a child
114. Gone to a Broadway play
115. Been inside the pyramids
116. Shot a basketball into a basket
117. Danced at a disco
118. Played in a band (grade school)
119. Shot a bird
120. Gone to an arboretum
121. Tutored someone
122. Ridden a train
123. Brought an old fad back into style
124. Eaten caviar
125. Let a salesman talk you into something you didn’t need
126. Ridden a giraffe or elephant
127. Published a book
128. Pieced a quilt
129. Lived in an historic place
130. Acted in a play or performed on a stage
131. Asked for a raise
132. Made a hole-in-one (mini golf)
133. Gone deep sea fishing
134. Gone roller skating
135. Run a marathon
136. Learned to surf
137. Invented something
138. Flown first class
139. Spent the night in a 5-star luxury suite
140. Flown in a helicopter
141. Visited Africa
142. Sang a solo
143. Gone spelunking
144. Learned how to take a compliment (???)
145. Written a love-story
146. Seen Michelangelo’s David
147. Had your portrait painted
148. Written a fan letter
149. Spent the night in something haunted
150. Owned a St. Bernard or Great Dane
151. Ran away
152. Learned to juggle
153. Been a boss
154. Sat on a jury
155. Lied about your weight
156. Gone on a diet
157. Found an arrowhead or a gold nugget
158. Written a poem
159. Carried your lunch in a lunchbox
160. Gotten food poisoning
161. Gone on a service, humanitarian or religious mission
162. Hiked the Grand Canyon
163. Sat on a park bench and fed the ducks
164. Gone to the opera
165. Gotten a letter from someone famous
166. Worn knickers
167. Ridden in a limousine
168. Attended the Olympics
169. Can hula or waltz and polka.
170. Read a half dozen Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys books
171. Been stuck in an elevator
172. Had a revelatory dream
173. Thought you might crash in an airplane
174. Had a song dedicated to you on the radio or at a concert
175. Saved someone’s life
176. Eaten raw whale
177. Know how to tat, smock or do needlepoint
178. Laughed till your side hurt
179. Straddled the equator
180. Taken a photograph of something other than people that is worth framing
181. Gone to a Shakespeare Festival
182. Sent a message in a bottle
183. Spent the night in a hostel
184. Been a cashier
185. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
186. Joined a union
187. Donated blood or plasma
188. Built a campfire
189. Kept a blog
190. Had hives
191. Worn custom made shoes or boots
192. Made a PowerPoint presentation
193. Taken a Hunter’s Safety Course
194. Served at a soup kitchen
195. Conquered the Rubik’s cube
196. Know CPR (I used to)
197. Ridden in or owned a convertible
198. Found a long lost friend
199. Helped solve a crime
200. Responded to a NJP newsletter

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