Sunday, January 24, 2016

Our Menu, and Why it's Frugal

Hello, Dearies!

Before I get to the menu stuff, I want to catch you up a tiny bit.

I am not a consistent blogger these days.  I realize that.  When I started working part-time, it was an adjustment.  It was expected that I'd been working 15 or so hours a week, but it has been more like 20-25.  I am not complaining - the income is a blessing and I like the work a lot - but it's an adjustment.  I don't think I ever said 'what' I'm doing.  I work as an administrative and personal assistant for a psychotherapist.  I work 100% from home, calling clients, doing billing, filing, record keeping, taking dictation, etc.  It's really rewarding and I like it A LOT.  Some of you will remember that I had applied and gotten into grad school for psychotherapy...and then I didn't go.  We learned that the plant where Husband was working was going to be closing down, so the timing was not good.  This job that I have now is very interesting and I am learning a lot that would benefit me later, should I decide to pursue that again.

Husband started a new job within a day of me starting training for my job.  He is working afternoon shift, and that is another adjustment.  He gets a lot of overtime too, so schedules around our home have changed quite a lot.

Apparently, that wasn't enough for our silly selves, because about the time things started to settle, we added a new furball to the family.  When we got Taffy, she was this little tiny thing, and her mama was small.  Husband had been hoping for a lap dog, and while Taffy is happy to sit in someone's lap, she's more of a couch-size.  So...when this little fella came up needing a home, we had already discussed the possibility of getting a smaller dog...if one came along, needing a home.  Friends, this is Reggie.

According to his paperwork, he's a full-on 'party color' Yorkie.  He is larger than a Yorkie - about 13 pounds or so - and while he had the ears, his coat is a bit wiry, and his nose is pinkish brown.  He's definitely not showing signs of the 'standard', but we don't care.  He's a nice little doggie - affectionate, playful, and cuddly.  Taffy really likes having someone to romp and play with, and they get alone quite well - better than I expected, really.

So...that's what has been keeping me away from y'all. up after two dogs (ohmygoodness), and keeping us all fed and happy.

I thought I'd post our menu for the week, along with some links to the recipes I use (or at least use as a guide), as well as some of the reasons a particular menu is frugal for us.  I should also say that lately, I've been making our dinner menu at lunchtime.  Husband can eat before he heads off for work, and then I warm some up at suppertime for Daughter and I.  This means I'm not in the kitchen cooking when Daughter needs homework help (or just wants my company).  Mostly I can work around my work, doing prep and then working some, popping something into the oven and then working some more, etc.  I've been doing it this way for a couple weeks, and it seems to be working out OK.  Now...on to the menu!

Sunday (that's today!)  calzones, garden salad w/balsamic dressing, fresh pineapple, brownies
I'll be making this meal for supper rather than lunch, since it's the weekend and we're all home.  The calzones are going to allow me to use up some leftovers from last week - some cottage cheese, some pepperoni, some cooked Italian sausage crumbles, black olives left from a previous meal, and some leftover jarred spaghetti sauce.  I had gotten the cottage cheese for .99, the sausage for 1.49 (couple months ago, so it was from the freezer) and the spaghetti sauce for .99 (it came from our panty, since that sale was back in Sept.).  Leaf lettuces are .99 a head here nearly all the time, so the salad will be lettuce with a shredded carrot (.45/lb), radishes (.33/bunch), red cabbage (.49/lb).  Fresh pineapples are .98 each right now, so I bought one - it is a lot of fruit for the money.  The brownies are a mix I got for .99, and if I can figure it right, I want to do a cheesecake swirl through them, using some cream cheese I stocked up on when it was $1/brick.  I will make extra calzones for school and work lunches.

Monday - taco salad, cutie oranges
I stocked up on ground beef at 2.99/lb and wrapped it in 1/2 lb. packages.  I will brown that, add taco seasoning and stretch it a little bit with leftover rice.  I buy dehydrated refried beans in a 25 pound bag from the LDS cannery - they are just over $1 a pound and make a LOT.  Lettuce pricing is above - tomatoes have been .88/lb for romas and I have those.  I will use some of the olives from the fridge, green onions I got for .33/bunch, cilantro I got for .33/bunch, sour cream that is .99/pint, and salsa I make from a bit of fresh onion, some cumin, garlic, a can of tomatoes, spices from the spice rack and some sliced jalapenos from a jar.  (It's really yummy!)  I bought shredded cheddar when it was $5 for 2lb, so I'll get a package of that from the freezer.  We have been getting tortilla chips at our Kroger affiliate - store brand, for $1 a bag.  We'll use the little broken ones for the salad. The cuties were $4 for 5 pounds, and we are enjoying them a lot!

Tuesday - soup mix soup, crackers (maybe cornbread), pineapple
My friend got some soup mixes for Christmas that she didn't think her family would eat, and she passed them on to me.  This one is a sun dried tomato/pasta/bean soup.  She even gave me the cans of tomatoes and beans that have to be added to the dry mix, so all I need is 8 cups of stock.  I have lots of home-canned stock in my pantry, so this soup is essentially free to us.  We have a variety of crackers in our pantry, all bought on sale, and the pineapple was mentioned above.  I might make cornbread, if I get ambitious - it's a mix I make at home and then use.  I mill my own corn meal, and it is SO yummy!  Back to the soup - it sounds like it's going to make a large pot - I may measure out half of everything, freeze the extra tomatoes/beans, and make half of the batch in a couple weeks, since pasta in soups doesn't ever freeze well.

Wednesday - pork chops, rice, spinach, sliced apples
Pork chops are .99/lb right now.  I bought a big pack and wrapped them in meal size packages.  (I might buy another.)  I will dry rub them with something and then either grill them or pan fry, depending on the weather.  For rice, we got a free package of Uncle Ben's from a store promotion, but I think I'll probably just make plain white rice...or maybe...some Indian rice that I really love.  I don't have a link for that recipe - it's in a cookbook here at home.  The spinach was .88/bunch and the bunches are huge - I'll cook it in the pan with a little soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds - we really love it that way.  Apples have been right around .98/lb, so I buy whichever varieties are on sale.

Thursday - spaghetti w/sauce, salad with dressing, some vegetable, sliced oranges
Thursday is a very busy work day for me, so this is a very basic meal.  I'll make the salad the night before (much like the garden salad mentioned above).  The vegetable will be zucchini if it goes on sale, otherwise, it might be frozen mixed vegetables or frozen peas.  I have a good stock of spaghetti sauces I got for .99/jar, and I'm not going to add any meat for this meal.  We have a triangle of parmesan cheese, so I'll shred some to sprinkle on top of the pasta/sauce.  Pasta...I am able to get spaghetti free sometimes, other times I pay .49 a pound for it, depending on whether or not I can find coupons.  I have multiple packages in my spaghetti storage bucket in the pantry.  I have some navel oranges I picked up for .49/lb a while back, so I'll slice a couple of those to round out the meal.

Friday - herb-roasted chicken, potatoes/onions/carrots, green beans, peach cobbler
On Fridays, Daugther has a half-day of school, so we all have lunch together.  I can put most of this meal into the oven and just heat the green beans on the stove, so it is an easy one for me to make while I'm doing other things (like working!)  I have, occasionally, found a couple chickens on markdown for .69/lb, 1-2 days from the sell date.  They have been around $4 each.  I buy them and put them directly in my freezer.  I'll thaw one of those and cut it up for this meal, and I'll roast the back/neck/etc. too, remove the meat and use the bones and such for broth.  (I always cut the wings, wrap and freeze, and when I get enough, I make hot wings for Husband and I - yum!)  For the oven vegetables, I use some of the same herbs I use on the chicken and a little oil.  I got potatoes a while back for 10 cents a pound, onions for .48/lb, and the carrots were .45/lb, so it's an economical side, for sure.  The green beans and peaches (for the cobbler) are home-canned, and the topping for the cobbler will just be me throwing together some flour, butter, oats, cinnamon and brown sugar.  If I drain the peaches, I get peach crisp, but I'll leave the syrup and it will make the topping more like a cobbler.

Saturday - leftovers or dinner out
I put this at the end of the week, but sometimes something happens and we do leftovers mid-week, and all the recipes scoot down a notch.  Either way, it all seems to work out.  Daughter has a birthday party this Saturday so I'm not sure about our schedule or plans, but I know there will be plenty of chicken left from the previous day - we could make bbq chicken pizza or something like that, or we might just re-heat something else from a previous day, as-is.

So...that's the menu.  What's cooking at your house?

Monday, January 4, 2016

Frugal Accomplishments as we finish 2015

Happy New Year, one and all!  I hope your 2015 was good, and that 2016 is even better for you and the people that matter to you.  

I didn't think we were "doing anything" for New Year's Eve.  Husband had to work, and I assumed we would just go to bed and wake up 'next year', har har.  Daughter had other ideas, and so for a treat, we made these adorable cream-cheese and olive penguins:

We used 'colossal' and 'jumbo' size olives, because I thought that would somehow be better...mostly, it just made them enormous.  It was still fun, and it was just stuff from the pantry - cream cheese, olives and carrots, all gotten over time and on sale.  They are easy to make - there are tutorials all over the web. 

About the time we had finished making those, Husband called, and it turned out that he would be home in time to celebrate the new year at home.  He has been mentioning eclairs for a while, so I whipped up some choux paste and some chocolate pudding (which I lightened with cool whip).  They are not exactly eclairs, but I used what I had on hand, and I think they were still a nice treat.  That is a small plate - each eclair is about 1 1/4 inches wide and 4 1/2 inches long.  Not mini, but not full size.  Cute, and fun!  And let me just say, if you've never made choux paste, it is not hard - I promise.  You can also make it savory - add herbs and cheeses and all, and make little snack puffs that are really quite affordable if you get your ingredients on sale.  All choux paste is, is butter, water, flour and eggs...a pinch of salt, and any seasonings or flavoring you might add.  You can also make them and fill them with savories like chicken or tuna salad. are my 'eclairs': 

Daughter used some of her Christmas gift money to purchase some Skylanders characters.  She really enjoys this game (for Wii), and has gotten all the components second-hand, for far less than original cost.  She has played the game for well over a year and still enjoys it.  These figures are fitted with some sort of chip or relay, so you can change the figures to change the character you are playing in the game.  The figures are about $12-$20 each when new.  Her top price so far is $3 per character.  

Daughter was on winter break again this week.  She spent some of her free time working on a book that she decided to write.  It is from the perspective of a wolf that lives in Yellowstone National Park.  It really impresses me that she has chosen such a unique topic and worked hard to add details that help her readers learn more about wolves and how they live.  I'm really proud of her and all the hard work she has put into her story.  

For some 'fun' (?) in the new year, I cut my hair and used a home-kit to dye it 'burgundy'.  Instead of leaving it on 25 minutes as instructed, I went almost 15, and decided that was a pretty deep color....eep!  Most of the time, I am a redhead (without anything from a box), so this is a darker, deeper, slightly purpleier version of what I usually have on top of my head.  It actually looks fine, just different.  It reminds me of cherry-wood furniture.  I almost never do anything like this, and it always surprises people, I think.  The hair kit was about $4, and I did the haircut myself, with some input from a friend.

I am learning about some of the features of Word and Excel, to better do my job.  Our library has some tutorials that have been very helpful.  I have also found some good information on the internet, and now I can do a few things I could not do a week ago!

We went to the thrift store the week after Christmas.  I think a lot of people must have donated recently, because the store was really well stocked.  We purchased three pairs of shoes for $9.99 (Skechers), $5.99 (Keens) and $5.99 (Propets), all in like-new condition.  The two on the left are for me, the pair on the right are for Daughter.  Prices at the thrift stores have gone up, but for very comfortable, like-new shoes, I am not complaining.

We also picked up some puzzles to send to my in-laws, and a wee fish plate to use for condiments, tea bags, etc.

Husband changed a radiator hose on our truck.  We're pretty sure it was the original hose.  The truck is a '94.

We used firewood for heat, hung laundry to dry (OK, I confess, there was that one load that I just dried in the dryer - it was one of those days!), used up leftovers and planned a menu for the new week.

We borrowed books and movies from the library.  There is an ongoing magazine swap as well - we returned some magazines that we had read, and took others home to read.

How was your week?  What did you do to spend less, save more and make do?