Frugal Foodie Mama: May 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Family's 2012 Sand Pail List

Inspired by an article I read in my recent issue of Better Homes & Gardens and by a few family blog projects I have come across, I decided that my family and I need a Sand Pail List for the summer.  What is a Sand Pail List, you ask?  A Sand Pail List is a little like a Bucket List, but just for the summer.  My son is off from school.  The days are warmer & longer.  A Sand Pail List is a fun way to set some goals over summer break.  So, what is our Sand Pail List so far?

  1. Plant a raised garden bed and grow my own vegetables.
  2. Learn to can this summer. (And hopefully I will be canning some veggies that I grew myself in the aforementioned raised garden bed. ;))
  3. "Rough it" at least one night camping.  Roughing it for me means IN A TENT.  In a well established campground with people and running water nearby.  This does NOT mean the same thing to my husband and my son though.
  4. Go to at least one water park we have never been to before.
  5. Plan a trip to Kennywood complete with a stop at Sarris Chocolates for ice cream sundaes.
  6. Get to at least one Sunday Pirates home game with the husband and the kiddos.
  7. Go on a family outing to a drive-in movie theater.  We still have a few drive-ins open around here, and I want to take my children to one to experience it before they are all gone.  I still have fond memories of going to the drive-in with my parents and little sister, folding down the backseat with our blankets and eating popcorn and pizza.
  8. Plan 2-3 day trips to historical sites within a 2 hour drive.  We have a lot of Civil War history in this state- battlegrounds, Underground Railroad sites, etc.  '
  9. Run one 5K with my son before the end of the summer.  (Note: I have never run a 5K before.  Ever.)
Our Sand Pail List has a theme- fun things to do, but within a budget.  This will not be the summer of an extravagant trip to the beach or a Disney resort.  We are saving that for next summer. ;)  How about you?  Are you on a family fun budget this summer?  What are you planning on putting on your Sand Pail List for 2012?

Be looking for updates throughout these warm summer months as we cross things off our list and perhaps add a few new ones. ;)

*Last updated August 3, 2012

Saturday, May 26, 2012

My $15 Seven Day Grocery Budget Challenge: Wrapping It Up

Overall, I think my $15 Seven Day Grocery Budget Challenge was a success!  It IS possible for a family of 3 to make it on about $15 worth of groceries for an entire week.  Now of course, this is only possible if you already have a decently stocked pantry and freezer.  I think that we could maybe do this once every month to every month and a half.  This is definitely not possible every single week.  So, what did we eat Monday through Friday??  Here is the line-up:

Monday- We had Baked Buffalo Chicken Strips (Click for the recipe here.), celery and ranch dressing, and corn on the cob.  I already had everything on hand to make this except for the celery, ranch, eggs, and corn.
Tuesday- We had breakfast for dinner- pancakes!  I already had everything on hand to make them.  
Wednesday- Well, we had breakfast for dinner yet again. ;)  Breakfast for dinner is a great way to get more bang for your dinner bucks and is fun too!  My son absolutely adores when we have breakfast for dinner, so two nights in a row was a real treat for him.  We had cheddar cheese omelets and homemade home fries.  To make the home fries, just dice 3-4 potatoes and fry them in a combination of olive oil and butter over medium-high heat.  When they start to brown, add about 1/2 of a diced onion and continue to fry.  Season with salt and pepper while still hot and then serve!  I had everything already to make this except for the eggs.
Thursday- I "roasted" to 2 large split chicken breasts in my Crock Pot (Get the recipe here.).  Once roasted, I broke down the chicken breasts and used half of it to make homemade Chicken and Dumplings for dinner (Click here for the recipe.) The other half of the chicken, I put in a quart sized freezer bag & froze to use later.  I had to buy carrots, celery, and milk to make this.  I added chopped celery to the recipe instead of the frozen peas.  
Friday- The Chicken and Dumplings made a large enough pot that we had plenty leftover to eat for dinner this night.  (And I may have also had a bowl of it for lunch that day. ;) )

Now it is confession time.  I didn't exactly make it under the $15 budget.  

As those of you who have been following along with me all week recall, I had $4.01 left after my trip to the grocery store last Sunday.  Andddddd.... I had to stop back at the grocery store the next day for a carton of milk and a loaf of discounted bread from the bakery.  Yep, I went 46 cents over my budget.  So, 3 people ate for $15.46 cents for seven days.  I am not going to exactly call that a failure. ;)

Want to try a grocery budget challenge of your own?  Make sure to take stock of your pantry and freezer first and then start your menu planning from there.  I mostly only had to buy fresh items like vegetables, eggs, and milk.  Utilize your leftovers from each of the meals for lunches the next day instead of eating out.  Be prepared for a few small sacrifices.  My husband went without his cola habit for the week so that we could stay around our $15 grocery budget.  Now, we didn't completely suffer.  I realized a few days into the challenge that I had everything in my kitchen to make these.... ;)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Foodie on a Budget- Easy One Pot Pasta Sauce

My $15 Seven Day Grocery Budget Challenge required me to do a small raid of my pantry.  In doing so, I realized I had just about everything I needed already to make a tasty homemade pasta sauce.  I actually didn't have to buy a thing at the grocery store on Sunday to make this.  Here is what I used:

  • 14.5 oz can of Italian stewed tomatoes
  • 15 oz can of tomato sauce
  • onion
  • garlic
  • 1/2 red bell pepper (leftover from a recipe from a few days before)
  • 1 1lb of ground beef
  • splash of red wine (well, a rather large splash ;) )
  • salt and pepper
  • sugar
  • fresh parsley and basil
Of course, you can always tweak these ingredients to whatever you already have on hand.  No ground beef?  Not really necessary.  Make a nice marinara instead.  Don't have Italian canned tomatoes?  Use regular canned tomatoes and add your own spices.  I just happened to have Italian ones in my pantry.  Have mushrooms in your fridge?  Throw those in when when you are sauteing the onion and garlic.  No wine?  Use balsamic vinegar instead.  The possibilities are endless!

To make the sauce, start by sauteing 1/2 of a large onion, chopped and 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a medium to large saucepan.  Saute for a minute, then add your other veggies.  Here I added 1/2 of a leftover red bell pepper.

Season the veggies with a little salt and pepper, then add and brown your ground beef if you  are going the meat sauce route.  I used a low fat ground sirloin so there was no need to drain the fat off.  Plus, the little bit of beef fat that did remain in the pot helped add flavor to 
the sauce.  Once your beef is browned, dump in your cans of tomatoes and tomato sauce. I had to do a quick puree in the blender of my Italian tomatoes since they were canned whole. You can use just about any tomatoes you may have- diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, with or without seasoning.  It doesn't matter.
Now for the good part.  The red wine.  I just added a splash or two of red wine that I had in my fridge that was a bit past drinkable but still okay for cooking.  No red wine on hand?  No problem.  Just use a tablespoon or 2 of balsamic vinegar or a red wine vinegar instead.  If you are using unseasoned tomatoes, this is the time to add your dried herbs as well.  Try oregano and basil.  
Now, cover the pot, turn down the heat to medium-low and let the sauce simmer for 10-15 minutes.  

A few minutes before serving, add any fresh herbs you may have on hand.  Fortunately, I had bought some herb plants the weekend before at the local farmers market and had fresh basil and parsley to add to my sauce.  Frugal mamas, herb plants are THE way to go.  You can usually pick up a herb plant for cheaper than you will pay for fresh cut herbs at the grocery store.  I bought 3 different herb plants for just $2 each!

This is the time to taste your sauce and add salt or pepper as needed.  If your prefer a little bit of a sweeter sauce (I know I do!), add a tablespoon or 2 of sugar.  Serve over your pasta of choice.  I went with angel hair.

Keeping with my plan of eating on a budget for the week, I found a way to turn the discount French bread I had bought a couple of days before into a tasty accompaniment for our pasta dinner.  You can't go wrong (or much easier!) than garlic toast.  Just slice the bread thick, spread with butter, and sprinkle with garlic powder.  Pop in the over for 6-7 minutes at 375 degrees.  

The best thing about making a homemade pasta dinner other than finally using those canned tomatoes in your pantry?  You know what you are feeding your family.  You know exactly what is in the sauce and what isn't because YOU made it.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

My $15 Seven Day Grocery Budget Challenge: Weekend Update & The Trip to the Grocery Store

After raiding the pantry & freezer, I found I already had everything on hand to make my first two dinners.  Soooooo... I was able to wait until Sunday to do the actual grocery shopping.  
Friday evening we had Crock Pot Chicken Mole- Martha Stewart's Recipe.  As I mentioned in my previous post, this was a dinner that was leftover from my menu for the week before so I already had everything to make this.  Saturday, I made homemade meat pasta sauce, angel hair pasta, and toasted garlic bread.  Again, this was a meal I threw together based on what was already in my pantry and freezer.  I will be posting my recipe for Easy One Pot Pasta Sauce later on this week. ;)  Sunday, we were invited to dinner at my parents' house so I was able to plan for one less meal this week.  

Now for the good part.  Sunday was the day of truth.  The day of my grocery shopping trip.  Did I make it under $15??

Yes!  My grocery bill came in at $10.99!  $4.01 under my budget!  But please note that most of that $4.01 will be spent this afternoon when I return to the grocery store to pick up a carton of milk.  (Note to self- Never trust the 13 year old son when he says that we have plenty of milk still.) ;)

Here is what was on my list:
Mostly all fresh produce- an onion, a head of garlic, fresh corn on the cob, celery, carrots, eggs, Ranch dressing (my husband is an addict & we were almost out), and though not necessary, a carton of ice cream. :)  I did buy 2 bottles of Ranch dressing because they were on sale 3/$5 and I had a coupon for $1 off any 2 bottles- the cost per bottle of dressing came to $1.16! 

So far so good for my challenge.  I still have 5 more days to go.  Be looking for my next update!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

My $15 Seven Day Grocery Budget Challenge: Taking Inventory

So, first things first.  If I am going to successfully complete my challenge this week, I have to take stock of what I already have on hand and utilize as many of those things as I can in the next seven days.  Fortunately, it seems like my pantry is pretty well stocked...

Then I took a peek in the freezer to see what I have stashed in there...

After doing a quick inventory, this is the menu that I planned for the week.  (Please note, we will be eating a lot of chicken next week. ;) )

Friday- Crock Pot Chicken Mole with rice and avocado slices (This was actually a meal I had planned for last week, but maybe wasn't made because we just may have had an impromptu carry out pizza night. ;) )
Saturday- Homemade Meat Sauce & Pasta with toasted garlic bread (A recipe for my easy homemade (and cheap!) pasta sauce will be forthcoming.)
Sunday- Buffalo Chicken Strips & fried potatoes
Monday- Leftover Night (pending that there are enough leftovers from Saturday and Sunday)
Tuesday- Breakfast for Dinner, Pancakes
Wednesday- Honey-Dijon Barbecued Chicken with broccoli & cheese
Thursday- Chicken and Dumplings
Friday- Made To Order Omelets, with any cheese & veggies that we have in the fridge & toast

The above menu is tentative.  I may have to move leftover night to another evening if I don't have an ample amount of leftovers by Monday.  I usually pack leftovers from the previous evening's dinner for my husband to take to work for lunch.  I am also planning on "roasting" two large split chicken breasts I have in the freezer some time midweek to use for the Chicken and Dumplings and for chicken sandwiches for the week for lunch (Click here for My recipe for "roasted" chicken in the Crock Pot).

Every couple of days I will update my blog with links to the recipes I made, what items I already had on hand and which ones I had to buy for each dinner.  
Tomorrow is grocery shopping day.  The day of truth.  Will I come out of the store with a grocery receipt under $15?  Stay tuned. ;)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pinspiration in the Kitchen- Strawberry Shortcake Cookies

It is that time of the year when daydreams about summer inspired desserts begin to invade my thoughts.  On one of these such occasions, I decided to look up strawberry infused recipes and began happily pinning pink hued confections & sweet treats one after another onto my Pinterest boards.  It also just so happened that strawberries were on sale at my local grocery store that same week. ;)  I stumbled upon a recipe for Strawberry Shortcake cookies from Martha Stewart-

Strawberries in cookies?  At first I was little skeptical, but the idea intrigued me.  

These cookies turned out absolutely delicious!  The cookies were soft and sweet and tasted just like strawberry shortcake minus the whipped cream.  I sprinkled them with sparkling sugar before baking, and they turned out looking so pretty that I wrapped up some for my mother and my mother-in-law for Mother's Day.  You do need to eat these quickly- they only stay good for about 2 days tops.  Not that it would be a problem to inhale these all in one day. ;)  Storing them in the fridge would extend their shelf life by a day or two.

And yeah, this may have happened with some of the cookies...

To go directly to this pin for repinning, click here- 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My $15 Seven Day Grocery Budget Challenge

With a move to a new home happening in a few weeks and the extra costs that said move will incur, money will be a little tighter this month.  I have been challenged by my husband.  To keep the grocery budget under $15 for all of next week.  Yes, groceries for three people including a teenage boy.  For seven days- This Friday to next Friday.  Under $15.
Oh, I accept. ;)

This will call for a major pantry and freezer raiding.  I will be taking inventory of what I already have on hand later this afternoon.  Then I will try to plan my menu for next week accordingly.  Obviously, a $15 food budget for a week is not something that can be realistically done every week.  I have a feeling that I will be left with a very decimated pantry by next Friday.  But fortunately, next Friday is payday, and I can then replenish my pantry supplies.  

Please follow along with me for the next seven days to see if I own this food budget challenge.  Anyone have any pointers or recipe ideas that they would like to throw my way? ;)  

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pinspiration in the Kitchen- Better Than Pretty Much Everything Chocolate Cake

Better Than Pretty Much Everything Chocolate Cake?  Yep, the title for this recipe tempted my curiosity and pulled me in.  First of all, chocolate cake is my favorite cake flavor. And then we are going to make it better than pretty much everything??  I had to give it go.

This recipe inspired me to buy me first ever bundt pan. I know... crazy.  I have never owned a bundt pan in all of my baking life until a couple of weeks ago.  And I seriously bought said bundt pan JUST to make this recipe.  And now I am a total bundt pan convert.  Those of you who know me know all about my attempts at layered, frosted cakes.  I am pastry chef challenged.  My cakes always look questionable, but usually taste good. With a bundt pan, they always look pretty and hopefully always taste good. ;)

I found the recipe on the is this REALLY my life? blog.  Click on the link for the recipe- .

This cake turned out to be rich and decadent and pretty much irresistible.  (I *may* have ate 3 pieces of this cake on the first day... maybe.)  I made it for a girlfriend's belated birthday lunch and I think it was a pretty big hit.  Right, ladies?  ;)

The cake was fairly easy to make.  The baby did wake up from her nap right after I had poured the pudding mix into the batter.  I suggest mixing the batter fairly quickly after adding the pudding mix because it thickens pretty fast.  I did get a pretty good arm workout though.  :)  The really great thing about this cake is that you can be creative with the toppings after you have poured the chocolate glaze over the cooled cake.  I decided on toasted coconut and pecans. But you could do pretty much anything- chopped almonds, M&M's, crushed candy bars, mini chocolate chips... go crazy!  I foresee myself experimenting with the toppings on this cake again very soon. 

A quick tip for you- cut yourself a slice of this cake and then zap it in the microwave for about 12 seconds.  The chocolate chips in the cake get all ooey and gooey.  Ah-mazing!

To go directly for this pin for repinning, click here-

Monday, May 7, 2012

Soaking in the Babyness...

I am soaking in the babyness... as much as I can.  Every single day.  Every single minute.  I know that sooner than I think I will look back at her moments as a chubby, smiling baby and wonder how it could possibly have gone by so quickly.  Just like I do everyday when I look at my 13 year old son.  I remember when he was small enough to comfortably snuggle on my chest and would fall asleep on me with an angelic peacefulness.  Sometimes when I walk into his room on the weekend and he is sleeping in, I can still still see that perfect baby boy asleep on my chest.  

There were moments not too long ago that I didn't believe there would ever be a baby of my own in my arms again.  That I would never to get to press my nose to a head of soft baby hair and breathe in that sweet baby smell.  In those moments, I lovingly picked up my son's baby book and turned the pages wishing that somehow I could have back just one of those days with him as my sweet baby boy again.  Just one more day to soak in his babyness.  I vowed that if God saw to it to bless me with just one more healthy baby that I wouldn't take one moment with him or her for granted.  That I would cherish each yawn, each coo, each cuddle. And that I wouldn't worry too much about all the things on my to-do list for that day and would instead soak that baby in.  My to-do lists will be there tomorrow, next week, in 5 years.  That sweet baby would not be.  I already knew all too well that that squishy baby would grow into a wonderful young man or woman before I was ready for it.  

So today I breathe in the way she smells like a sweet creamsicle after her bath.  I carve into my memory her beautiful baby smiles when I talk and sing silly to her.  I soak in the sound of her breathing when she is fast asleep on my lap after nursing herself to a full belly.  I record the way she is so content and observant in her sling as we take a walk around the lakes on a warm spring evening.  I plant as many kisses as I can on her soft baby cheeks. I even cherish the moments when she is so tired and she is fighting sleep, and fussing and crying and all she wants is for daddy to gently pat her on her back and lay on his chest until she closes her eyes to the sound of his heart beating.  

We co-sleep, I babywear, I breastfeed... A few have hinted that maybe we are spoiling her.   But in all honesty I feel that maybe I am the one who is being spoiled.  I am going to soak in her babyness as long as I possibly can.  And I will be sad and proud when the day comes that she can no longer snuggle comfortably into my chest and fall asleep.  But for now, while she is still small, I will let her lay on my chest and fall asleep as often as is possible. <3

Friday, May 4, 2012

Pinspiration in the Kitchen- Southern Fried Healthy?

This week's Pinspiration in the Kitchen is actually a two for the price of one deal. ;)  That's right, folks.  Not one, but two pins inspired this week's blog post.  Occasionally I crave good southern food.  I mean, who doesn't??  But we all know that good 'ole southern food gets a bad rap for being greasy, laden with butter, and just well... bad for you.  Not this week.  This week I made Cat Cora's Crispy Baked "Fried" Chicken- and from the 100 Days of Real Food blog, Super Easy Whole Wheat Biscuits-

The Crispy Baked Fried Chicken recipe calls for a whole chicken cut up.  I don't know about your family, but in mine they ALWAYS fight over the two drumsticks.  I decided to head off this battle by making ALL drumsticks. :)  You can pick up a pack of 6-8 drumsticks for way cheaper than you would buy a whole cut up chicken anyways- budget friendly! The chicken was nice and crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.  If you like a little more spice to your "fried" chicken, I would suggest adding a few dashes of hot sauce to the buttermilk mixture before dunking the chicken into it.

The whole wheat biscuits were SUPER easy to make and delicious.  I decided to use half whole wheat flour and half white flour.  You could do all whole wheat or all white flour, whichever you prefer.  I decided to go all southern and make my biscuits with buttermilk.  It made sense anyways since I already had buttermilk leftover from making the chicken.  (And pssssttt... Buttermilk is low fat! Despite it's name, it is actually a healthy alternative to whole milk.)  I bought a 16oz container of buttermilk and that ended up being more than enough for both the chicken and the biscuits recipes.  
All you need is to add a side and your healthy southern "fried" dinner is ready to go!  I added corn on the cob.  You could also do up a side of greens. Or baked beans. 
Tip: To make fresh corn on the cob quick, leave the corn in their husks and microwave 3 minutes for each cob. Let cool for a few minutes and then remove the husks.  The corn comes out perfect! 

To go directly to these pins for repinning, click here: - Crispy Baked "Fried" Chicken - Whole Wheat Biscuits

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

In Defense of Pinterest

Recently I have come across a few blog posts about how Pinterest is to blame or at least somewhat to blame for making mothers in our society feel inadequate.  Well meaning mamas pin creative sandwich ideas, and elaborate DIY nursery decor, and on the cheap indoor rainy day activities for their little ones... and then, well forget.  Run out of time. Run out of energy.  And then feel bad.  They had every intention on following through with all those ideas they so enthusiastically pinned to their various boards.  But then, well... life happened.  As it always does.  Every. single. day.  

Is Pinterest really to blame though?  Because before Pinterest, there was Martha Stewart.  And Better Homes and Gardens.  And now all these celebrity moms putting out books on their creative party planning ideas that should be a cinch. Yeah right... as if tying together little S'mores bundles with twine is easy! Psssshhh!  
Maybe there is something else to blame.  We could point our fingers at society.  They seem to expect the working mothers to still come home and prepare a wholesome dinner for their families, and plan cutesy birthday parties for the weekend.  And stay-at-home moms should have crazy clean homes, and awesome craft projects for their kids to do almost every day, and home-baked bread every week.  I mean, they should, right?  They are just sitting at home anyways.  (Please note my sarcasm here.)

But WE are society. WE, as mothers, place these expectations on ourselves and others.  WE can choose to not feel inadequate as mothers, wives, and women.  And WE can choose to not make other  mothers, wives, and women feel inadequate.

I have a rule with my Pinterest- I do not pin anything that I do not realistically think I can accomplish.  Have I tried every single recipe, idea, project I have pinned?  No, not yet.  But I did create a board to document the pins that I have tried- my Pinished ;) Board.  Some of the pins I tried were successful, and some were not.  If I tried a recipe that was a winner with my family, I pinned it to my Recipes I MUST Make Again... And Again board.  I find it satisfying to go to these boards and see the pins that I did follow through on, and not obsess about the ones that I have not quite got around to yet.  Pinterest is not intended to be a To-Do list, ladies.  Pinterest is a virtual pin board- to corral and categorize those hundreds of ideas that you come across every week as you surf online, catch up on blog posts,  and browse the recipe emails that are sent to your inbox every week.  It sure beats adding yet another Favorite to your Bookmarks, right?  I don't know about about your Bookmarks, but I have a long list of them from before I started Pinterest. 

Pinterest has been an inspiration to me, especially in the kitchen.  I pull up my Pinterest recipe boards every Friday and plan my menu for the following week.  I always make sure to try 1 or 2 new recipes, throw in a Crock Pot recipe, and a few from my Recipes I MUST Make Again... And Again board.  It keeps me organized and keeps me creative.  
I have successfully attempted homemade gifts (see my Pinished board for the awesome Christmas gifts I made this past year), and that has given me an incredible sense of accomplishment.  For most who know me well, it is no secret that I am not a crafty gal.  I cook, bake, & scrapbook.  But making glass Christmas ornaments filled with sand and shells from the Outer Banks?  Not my usual thing. ;)

So ladies, stop obsessing about the fact that you didn't make your kids snacks out of fruit in the likeness of Bert & Ernie.  Pin things that inspire you.  Pin things that seem within reach.  Pin things that interest you.  And make a board for those crazy, somewhat out of reach ideas and projects.  They are fun to look at, and maybe someday you can pay someone to do them for you. ;)