Friday, May 28, 2010

*New Recipe* Sausage and Pepper Subs!

We are busy. Simply put. So I LOVE quick and simple recipes! Some of them seem so easy that I have a brief moment of "why didn't I think of that before?" This is sort of one of those moments. But, the result was delicious, inexpensive, and quick!

Sausage and Pepper Subs

1 lb smoked sausage, sliced
1 green or red bell pepper, sliced thinly
1/2 onion sliced thinly
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp steak/all purpose seasoning
*optional* 1/4 cup chicken stock or water

Put olive oil in a large nonstick skillet and turn on medium heat. When oil is hot, add sausage. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side or until sausage reaches desired doneness (we like ours on the crispy side). Once sausage is done, remove from pan, but leave any oil or rendered fat in the skillet. Add in pepper, onion and steak seasoning. Sautee the veggies until they reach desired doneness (about 4-5 minutes). When veggies are done, add sausage back in, and ketchup. Stir to combine. *Note: if you like this to be "saucier" then you can add 1/4 cup of chicken stock or water at this point). Once everything is combined, it is ready to serve! We like ours on split, buttered, toasted sub rolls and sprinkled with mozzerella cheese.

**For a quick side dish! Dice 4 Idaho potatoes (skin on, washed). Place on a cookie sheet that has been covered in aluminum foil and sprayed with nonstick cooking spray). Drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of canola or vegetable oil. Sprinkle on 1 tbsp favorite steak/mixed seasoning (Mrs. Dash works great, as does Italian bread dipping seasoning mixes). Mix up potatoes so that all are coated with oil and seasoning. Put in a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes. If you like them crispy, turn on the broiler for five minutes once the potatoes are cooked through. Enjoy!

Monday, May 24, 2010

"Trail-Mix Mom"

My loving husband has officially dubbed me with the title "Trail Mix Mom." He says I'm not hippie enough to be full "granola" but I have enough tendencies to warrant some kind of title. Haha! I guess that makes me a little fruity, a little nutty, and a little granola. Perfect.

I blogged a few days ago about my experiences reading the book "Organic Housekeeping" by Ellen Sandbeck. I haven't quite finished the book yet, but I'm getting close. I will say this. The author is much more extreme in her natural housekeeping than I will ever be, BUT, she has armed me with a lot of general knowledge. She challenges the question "Why do we clean the house?" My first thought impress company. Not really, but then she goes on to explain that we clean as a means of keeping our families happy and healthy. Whether you do the minimum or maximum, that's the goal. So I've been trying to look at things from that perspective for the past week or so.

My first goal has been to make my time useful. With two kids, life is super busy. I ususally have a list of forty things to get done and I get so overwhelmed that none of it gets done. So, I am attempting to make the most of my time. If I have a five or ten minute chunk of time that isn't specifically designated for something, I use it. Empty the dishwasher. Sort the laundry. Fold the towels. Shred junk mail. Make a batch of baby food. Sweep the kitchen floor. I'm really finding that doing these little things (rather than assuming I need to block off a couple hours to clean) REALLY REALLY make a big difference in my week. I feel like I've accomplished something, I haven't wasted time with my kids on a cleaning marathon, and it gets checked off the list (I personally benefit from being able to cross something off a list as DONE!).

My next goal was to find a couple of ways to limit our household waste and use of harsh chemicals that I can't begin to pronounce. I've already blogged about the use of old t-shirts in place of paper towels. It's been a great resource for us (we haven't even used up a roll of paper towels yet.). In the book, she talks a lot about cleaning with everyday products: vinegar, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and the like. So, I thought I would give one of her ideas a try. Our coffee pot was in desperate need of cleaning (I usually buy those $7 cleaning solution packets!) so I used her method. Pour one cup of white vinegar in the coffee pot tank and fill the rest with water. Turn on the coffee pot, let one cup run, turn it off. Let it sit for half an hour, then turn it on and finish brewing. Then run two pots of plain water through afterwards.

But, she's a frugal person and nothing goes to waste. SO her suggestion was to pour one cup of baking soda in each side of the kitchen sink, and then pour the hot vinegar/water mix in over it. Cleans and disinfects the sink all in one process! It's amazing. I've never seen my sink so clean and shiny-not even with regular bleach. Another awesome addition to our cleaning routine!

Another simple, but perfect addition to the the house. Baskets for the bathroom sinks. I'm not sure why it never occurred to me to do this previously, but just putting a basket on the sink to put toothbrushes, medicines, deoderant, and the like in makes wiping down the sink a MUCH easier task! Just remove the basket (instead of all the little individual items) and wipe. Crazy that it's new to me, but I'm very happy about it!

So far, so good. I feel much less daunted by the cleaning tasks. It's really been a struggle since having kids to balance everything, but I'm glad to be finding some sort of happy medium. Hopefully later this week, I'll get the June menu posted to the blog. I'll back-track and post May's too (since it never made it on here!)

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Recycling Challenge

I mentioned in an earlier post that I'm attempting to be a little "greener" and I've been reading the book "Organic Housekeeping." After reading a particular chapter in the book, I made a challenge to myself and my family. A suggestion in the book recommends using clean cotton cloths instead of paper towels. Hmmm...She suggests using other "unusable" items (old t-shirts, socks, towels, burp rags, etc...). Cut them up, wash them in hot water, and voila! So, I cleaned through Walt's undershirts (I'm not sure how he can completely rip the underarm out of an undershirt in just a couple of months, but he does). I grabbed a few of the ripped up ones, cut them into rags, and instantly had a stash of about 50 clean cotton rags to use. I put them in a basket on the kitchen table and made it our challenge to use those for anything we could (wiping counters, high chair, runny noses, swiffer covers, etc...). I also used them to clean the bathroom yesterday. Each time I moved to a new surface, I got a new rag out (one for the counter, toilet, shower ,etc...). Amazing.

I counted up the dirty ones as I put them in the wash last night. 35. That's how many paper towels I would have wasted yesterday cleaning. I couldn't believe it! So we've made it our challenge to use them when we can (obviously, some jobs are better left to disposable towels). I'll let you know how it goes as we continue our challenge!

$1 Dinner!

So we had the cheapest meal of the month last night...*drumroll please*...BREAKFAST! Okay, so we occasionally like to shake things up so we decided to have scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon, biscuits, and fruit. And the grand total per person was just under $1. ($.92 to be exact). Multiply that times 3 and you can't beat it!! That's when it occurred to me. Eggs are super cheap. We don't eat them that much, but I'm thinking we should...At just $.88 a dozen, that makes each egg about $.07 each. When you consider scrambling one, hard-boiling one, frying one, poaching one, deviling one, making an omelet out of one...the possibilites are endless and SO INEXPENSIVE! You certainly can't buy any other proteins that cheap...not even cheese! Eggs are a great way to use up leftovers can throw any sort of veggies and meats you have leftover into scrambled eggs or omelets. It's a great source of protein, and there are lots of cooking options so you never get bored.

Here's how last night's meal breakdown looked:
Eggs ($.88/dozen) $.07 each x2 per person= $.14
Cheese ($.10/slice, added to eggs while cooking)=$.10
Grand's biscuit ($1.00/8 biscuits) $.22 per biscuit=$.22
Tyson Center cut bacon ($2.00/14 slices) $.13 per slice x2 per person= $.26
Store brand mandarin orange ($.80/one can/4 servings) $.20
GRAND TOTAL: $.92 per person!

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Disgusting Discovery

So, I will admit it. My house is dirty. Plain and simple. It's a work in progress and I'm still trying to find a system that works for us. Simply put, I've never made the time to put housekeeping as a priority. And I'm okay with that for the most part. However, lately, I'm trying to find a balance between the dust, the crumbs, and the fingerprints and finding time with my kids, my husband, and for me. Unfortunately, most days, there aren't enough hours. But, this is a whole different post.

I have started reading the book "Organic Housekeeping" by Ellen Sandbeck. I know, it SOUNDS terribly "granola" (exactly what Walt thought when I asked him to pick it up from the library...) but it's really not. It's just good, practical advice for keeping your home safe and healthy. I'll post more about it when I finish the book, but for now, one of the first principles is that you should do small things IMMEDIATELY when you have time. So, I thought I'd put this principle in play. I had a few spare minutes, with nothing needing me right away, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to empty the clean dishes out of the dishwasher, put them away, and re-load with dirty dishes. A simple 10 minute task. And I would feel accomplished at the end of it.

Much to my surprise, I opened the dishwasher (with supposedly CLEAN dishes) and this horrid aroma wafted out at my face. WHAT IS THAT SMELL??? My first reaction was panic mode. "Oh no, our dishwasher isn't working and we're going to have to buy a new one!" Once I calmed my irrational fears, I did a little discovery. I cleared out the "clean" dishes and put them away. Still a gross smell. Hmm...So my next reaction was to check the drain catch. Sometimes food bits get stuck in there and get yucky. Clean as a whistle. Still perturbed...So, I cautiously stuck my head in the dishwasher and attempted to locate the smell. And then I found it. The most disgusting thing I've ever seen in a home I've lived in (and YES, it tops those "surprise" diapers, sour milk sippy cups, overflowed toilets, and puke-o-rama stomach viruses). If you'll look at the photo I've posted, right by the dishwasher door, in the corner, you'll see a little black rubber square-ish "L" shaped thing-a-ma-jig. Well, guess what that little item's job description is-catch all the bits of food, liquid, and otherwise that drip onto the open dishwasher door when you load it full of dirty dishes. I'm guessing in my dishwasher's 10 year lifespan, those have NEVER been cleaned. The gobs of heaping rotting stuff I pulled out of those actually made me sick. No kidding. I have never seen anything like it.

Now, I didn't tell you that JUST to gross you out. I told you that because those neat little rubber things are super easy to pop out, throw in the sink and wash. I just never knew they were there. My cleaning of the dishwasher previously had been wipe down the door when I load it...never thought to look into the bottom corners. Now that I think about it, something that potentially disgusting should have flashing lights around it...Hopefully, this will save someone else from making that horrible discovery some day!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New Recipe! Black Forest Reubens

Tonight, we are testing out another new recipe! Black forest reuben sandwiches. I took this recipe from a Rachael Ray book and modified it a bit. Walt and I both think a reuben sandwich LOOKS delicious. Except neither of us like corned beef...or sauerkraut...or thousand island dressing on a sandwich. So, this is a modified version. We will be enjoying this with homemade sweet potato fries. Here's the recipe (and photos to come later!)

Black Forest Reubens (you can modify the amounts based on how many sandwiches you want...this recipe is for 4)

1 pound thinly sliced black forest ham
4 slices provolone or baby swiss cheese
honey mustard (to taste)
8 slices pumpernickel bread

Butter each piece of bread. On the non-buttered side, layer the ham and cheese on four pieces of bread. Spread a thin layer of honey mustard on the non-buttered side of four remaining pieces of bread. Top the sandwiches, mustard-side down. Place sandwiches on a hot griddle or frying pan (or you can use a panini press) and cook on each side until the bread is crispy.

Sweet Potato fries
Peel four medium sweet potatoes. Cut in half length-wise and then slice down to make "fries". Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, spray with non-stick cooking spray, and place the fries on it in a single layer. Pour 1 tbsp canola oil and 1 tsp salt over the fries and toss to coat (you can also add cinnamon if you prefer a sweeter flavor). Bake at 400 for 30 minutes or until fries are browned and crisp. Enjoy!

A Parenting Revelation

Since Olivia's birth, I've tried hard to make time for Nick, but really didn't realize how poorly I was doing. Nick came to me one day about a week ago and asked me if I would read a book with him while "Olivia is happy eating her snack." I thought it was an odd request at the time, because usually both kids eat their snack together. Nick had just asked me to skip his snack...for anyone that knows him, this is major. I was sure he was coming down with something. Then, it dawned on me.

Nick knows that the only time I can spend one-on-one time with him during the day (when it's just me and the kids) is when Olivia is happy. He saw a golden opportunity to have me to himself for a few minutes and pounced on it. What a smart kid! So, we've been trying a new approach to this. So far, so good. I'll update you on that later.

So now, instead of both kids waking up from nap and sitting down at the table for snack, I put Olivia in the high chair for snack (since she has far less patience than Nick) and Nick and I sit at the table and do things together. I put together a tote of "table activities" consisting of art supplies, play-doh, puzzles, activity books, and board games. He gets to pick whatever he wants to do at the table with me (I do still have to stay close by with Olivia since she's only 10 months old...) while she eats. Then, we reverse the process. When she is done, Nick and I clean up our activity and I fix his snack and play with Olivia. It's a win-win. Everyone is happy and Nick is getting his much needed one-on-one time. As a side bonus, Nick also loves to do the "table activities" while I am cooking dinner so that buys me some time for that also. He gets really excited for that time and I love having it with just him.

Computer crash!!

I apologize for the lack of posts. As many of you know, our computer died. :( At least, out laptop (we still have our decade old desktop that *works*). I'll try to keep up now that I have some functional use of the old desktop. A little applause for Best Buy and our good buddy Jim Smith though.

I went to turn on the computer, in which it promptly lit up, started the ever popular "whirring" noise, and then did nothing. NOTHING. Blank screen. This is where I absolutely panic. It had been only the evening before that I had asked Walt to transfer some more pictures over to the jump drive. Hadn't happened yet (YIKES!). So, I pull up some info on my iPhone, try a couple things, and no luck. So I call our church friend Jim, who is a former Geek Squad member and he offers to come take a look at it. He also had no luck. However, Walt called Best Buy (where it was purchased) and lo and behold, they can pull up our original store receipt by computer and verify that we bought the extended warranty!! WHEW!! Crisis averted. We also learned that our hard drive is totally functional, so all is not lost.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cinco De Mayo!

I'm going to try also to post new recipes when I try them, pictures, and the like. It'll be a way to share them with you, and also for me to keep track of them! In honor of Cinco de Mayo, we are going to have a Mexican Fiesta tonight!

Bean and Cheese Enchiladas with homemade salsa:

Spread refried beans on 8 tortillas (you can use store-bought or homemade...we are using store-bought tonight for time purposes). Sprinkle shredded colby jack cheese, and if you choose roasted red peppers over the beans (we will make some both ways). Roll the tortillas and line them up in a 9x13 baking dish.

To make the homemade salsa: Blend one can of diced tomatoes, 1 tablespoon diced jalapeno peppers (seeds removed), 1/4 cup diced onion OR 1 tbsp onion powder, dash of garlic, one tbsp lime juice, and 1 tsp ground cumin. Allow to sit for 30 minutes before serving.

Pour salsa over enchiladas and sprinkle with cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove foil and bake 5 minutes more. Serve with sour cream and guacamole.

Grocery Budgeting Repeat

I haev had A LOT of people ask me about my grocery budgeting plan and I orignially blogged about it on our family page but I am copying it here for anyone else that might be interested.

Grocery Budgeting Plan
Several people have asked me about my money-saving grocery budgets and the steps I take to make it work. Truthfully, I’ve taken ideas from several people, national blogs, and the like and combined them into a process that works for us. The bottom line is that it takes a great deal of preparation and planning, but the end result is worth it if you are on a budget. We have reduced our grocery bills by 40-50%!!! In my experience, the more trips to the store, the more impulse buys and wasteful throwing away of expired/unused items. So how do I do it?

Step 1
The first step is to take a look at the calendar for the month (we print a blank one off Google calendars online). We immediately cross out any nights that we know we will be gone and not be eating dinner at home (traveling, meetings, etc…). We then figure up approximately how many nights are remaining and compile a “working” list of dinner ideas to cover those nights. When we originally started doing this, we assigned a specific meal to a specific night but we have since learned that it’s best for us if we just create a “master list” to put on the refrigerator and plan day-by-day once we’ve bought groceries. That way, if something comes up (like guests coming over or an unexpected late afternoon doctor’s appointment) we’re not scrambling and we don’t wind up eating out. We do budget to eat out once or twice a month also.
When thinking about what meals we want in the week, we try to create a wide variety of items (different proteins, quick meals, crockpot meals, meatless meals, make ahead meals, etc…) so we can pull items when we need them.
Once your list with dinner items is made, add in items you will need for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and household/hygiene items. For reference, we can get by with a couple of large bags of cereal and a large container of regular oats for breakfast, several loaves of bread, a big jar of peanut butter, and a couple of pounds of lunch meat for lunches, etc… Household wise, we have started trying to use reusable items (dish cloths instead of paper towels, microfiber towels instead of swiffer cloths, etc…) but for most of those non-reusable items (toilet paper, cleaners, etc…) you can usually find sales on them in bulk and also with great coupon savings.
Also, be aware that some items you cannot buy a month in advance (like lettuce) and you may not have space to store others (like the 12-14 gallons of milk we go through in a month. Be prepared to make QUICK stops during the month to pick up ONLY these few items.
Step 2
Once the master food list is made, start browsing sale ads from grocery stores. The 3 I usually check out are Meijer, Kroger, and Walmart. I check them online and only browse over them to see which places seem to have more items I’m going to need on sale. Once I’ve decided where I’m going to shop, I make an itemized grocery list. It will likely be a long list, but we try to pick items with few ingredients to help with this also. *A note about buying meat. We TYPICALLY don’t buy much meat in an average monthly trip. Instead, we buy a meat bundle at the local butcher shop and that lasts us several months. We do pick up some items in our regular trip, but less than those who don’t have this option
Step 3
Compare your itemized list to the sale ad. Mark items (I do this in Microsoft word-I use underline) that you need that are currently on sale. Now, it is possible that they will have a store brand that will be a better deal when you get there, but you know that it is worth looking at the name brand if you know ahead it’s on sale. It’s a good idea to do this because sometimes once you get to the store, items aren’t marked, signs fall down, etc. Also, remember that there are RARELY coupons for store brands, but often for name brands. Coupons+sale often mean bigger savings than a store brand. Also, feel free to exchange items on your list for an item that is on a great sale at the store or consider adding it to your list if it is something you will FOR SURE use (for example, Kroger had Townhouse crackers on sale with a coupon for $.50 a box so I bought a couple even though they were not on my list) Also, don’t be afraid to buy frozen veggies. They are often on GREAT sales, and are much less prep work than fresh.
Step 4
Find the coupons!! Now that you’ve made your list and marked your items, start looking for coupons. I do this at several places.,,, and are a great place to start. Browse through and print off what you know you will use. I also use as she lists ideas for deals on her blog and I also use for great deal ideas. You can also google search for higher priced items. For example, I need Iams cat food, I can go to Google and search for “Iams cat food coupon.” Many times, links will come up where you can print one!
Step 5
Mark your list to reflect your coupon findings. I use the highlight feature on Word to do this. That way, when I’m shopping for an item, I can know there is a coupon to go with it and find it in my stack. I can make certain I buy the right size, amount, etc. that way.
Step 6
Go shopping!! For the bulk trips, I highly recommend going in pairs (Walt and I shop together, and each carry a child and a cart). However, I have done it solo and it is certainly possible. Try when you are shopping to stick to your list as best as possible. There are exceptions-items that are on amazing sale (again-that you KNOW you will use) or items that don’t meet your standards (like really yucky bananas, although you had them on your list).

Step 7
Put away your items. It’s said that you should wash, cut, etc… your produce when you get home. If you’ve already budgeted a day of shopping, DO IT! That way, items don’t get pushed to the back of your fridge or pantry and spoil. Most fresh veggies can easily be chopped and frozen in Ziploc bags if they won’t last until the day/week you need them.

That’s the basics of the grocery plan. I’m attaching a sample grocery menu for you to see (feel free to steal anything off of it you want.  ) Oh, and for those that wonder about other savings, we also make our baby food (which is a separate trip we make ever y few months) and we use cloth diapers!

Sample Menu March 2010-26 meals needed
Catalina chicken/green beans
Lasagna/garlic bread/salad
Chicken Caesar salad/garlic bread
Crock pot pork loin (split in half)/carrots/mashed potatoes
Grilled pork chops (from other half of loin), roasted veggies
Ham/Spinach/Mozzerella pasta/salad (make-ahead)
Hamburgers/hot dogs/ baked beans
Taco soup/cheese quesadillas (crock pot)
Chicken pot pie/homemade rolls (make-ahead)
Meatloaf/mashed potatoes/peas
Homemade pizzas (x2)
French onion soup (crock pot)
BBQ chicken sandwiches (crock pot)/roasted potatoes
Breakfast casserold (make-ahead)
Chicken enchiladas/refried beans
Grilled chicken/baked potatoes
Chicken noodle casserole/mixed veggies
Stir-fry (x2)/brown rice/pineapple
3-cheese stuffed shells/salad
Tomato soup/grilled cheese
Potato soup/ham sandwiches (crock pot)
Beef stroganoff/egg noodles (crock pot)
Steak fajitas/rice
Homemade sloppy joes/roasted sweet potatoes
Chicken/broccoli pasta bake/garlic bread

Find your wings ~ Mark Harris

A New Blog

I decided that it was time to branch off our family blog to include other things I like to share. I'll be posting things like our grocery budgeting plans, monthly menus, recipes, parenting tips, and anything else that I come accross in my day that I think someone else might enjoy or find useful. I know how much I have learned about parenting, and cooking, and being a wife all from others who have shared with me. It is my hope that this blog will do the same for someone else.

A word about the title:
When Nick was born nearly four years ago, I came accross the song "Find Your Wings" by Mark Harris. The words of the song clearly express the desires of my heart for my children. I'll leave you with a link to the song so you can hear it for yourself. :)