Friday, February 28, 2014

February Budget Review

I try my hardest to put together meals from things in the freezer and the pantry with a few fillers and fresh produce from the stores with the best bargains that I find.  With a little meal planning and lots of coupons and sales, I get groceries at the lowest price possible so that I can stock up on things to use for months to come at super low prices.  It changes the way that I shop for things at the store but it keeps my budget very low to feed our family of three for under $160 per month.

What do I get? Here are the trips to the store that I made this month so that you can see all I get and try to stay under budget:  I posted my middle of the month update with the details here and lots of my Harris Teeter trips this month so this is just a list of my totals with pictures.  Hopefully pictures are worth 1,000 words but I got lots and saved lots this month.  My totals are the bottom.

Aldi $20.06

Harris Teeter $8.28 

Harris Teeter $1.82

Harris Teeter $3.74

Walmart $6.15

Giant $9.41

Harris Teeter $0.47

Harris Teeter $6.33

Walmart $12.30

Harris Teeter $9.97

Harris Teeter $14.12

Harris Teeter $1.81

Aldi $12.85

Harris Teeter $5.52

CVS $0.29

Harris Teeter $17.72

Harris Teeter $0.78

Giant $4.51

Total Retail $676.98
Total Savings $540.85
Total OOP $136.13

I was pretty proud of my totals this month and I think that I got a lot of things on our list which we were running low on including toilet paper, cranberry juice and oatmeal.  There are still a few things that need to be on the list for next month which we will only get if they are a good price including:

Cheddar Cheese
Paper towels

Hope that your month went well too!!  Were you under budget?
Windex or Glass Plus

The Redemption of Sarah Cain Book Review

The Redemption of Sarah Cain by Beverly Lewis was on my list of books that I wanted to read and I found it in the library.  When I picked it up, I didn't realize that it was missing the first few pages and didn't start until page 13 but I figured that I already had it so I might as well start and hope that I didn't miss too much.  I don't think that it was a big loss because I had already read another book that had the same characters and I think took place after this book so it all worked out because I already knew what was going on.  Either way, I guess those first 12 pages weren't that informative because I did fine without them.

The book was about Sarah Cain who was the sister of a recently passed away mother of 5 kids who are Amish, while Sarah leads a very luxurious lifestyle afforded by her real estate career.  Sarah and her sister, Ivy, grew up together and never were friends so they grew farther and farther apart.  Sarah moved around and decided on a different life then Ivy.  Ivy got married and had some children and decided that they wanted a simpler life so they moved to Pennsylvania and joined the Amish church.  This widened the differences between the sisters who never saw each other and only wrote letters.  After Ivy's passing, Sarah is told that she has to go to Amish country to settle her sister's will but she is very hesitant to do so since she hasn't met the children and had seen her sister in 12 years.  Sarah feels like she is in a different world and has to learn the customs and understand the life that her sister led in order to move forward with her own life.  I hope that you pick this up to see how she did that and what decisions Sarah made in the story.

I thought it was another great book although sad that I read it after the one that comes after this one because that meant that I knew the whole time how the book was going to turn out.  I hate when that happens but I swear that I was following the order of the books but I must have messed it up a little.  anyway, it was a great story that had you feeling all of the emotion of the family dealing with the loss of both of their parents and the upheaval in their lives while trying to maintain their lives and move forward.  I hope that you check this out at your local library or bookstore (hopefully with the first few pages just in case they are important).

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Thifty Thursday: Things to Make to Freeze

Do you want to save time and money?  Do you want to cook more from scratch but don't think you have the time?  I have a few things that you can start with to save a lot of time and money easily.

I cheat by making ahead and keeping tasty food in the freezer so that we have things ready.  There are a few things that I like to make double batches or cook specifically to freeze.  There are a lot of time saving foods that I can't live without in the freezer.  I hope that these give you some ideas of things that you can do to save some time by making a little extra when you are already cooking so that you don't have to make the pots and pans dirty twice.  Save time and money!!

1.  Pancakes and Waffles-  My son loves pancakes and waffles and we used to buy the prepared ones which you can throw in the toaster or microwave for a quick breakfast.  Now I make a ton of them when we are eating them and put all of the extras in the freezer.  I lay them flat in a big plastic bag until frozen and then shake them down and add a few more if I have more to fit in.  These means that I use my homemade recipe and my son can have these healthy treats for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Added benefit is that when you get a deal on eggs and milk or if they are near expiration, you can make a big batch of pancakes to freeze.  Here is my recipe for fluffy pancake mix and pancakes (I use the same for waffles) and here is my recipe for cinnamon roll pancakes.

2.  Rice-  I make mostly white rice because it takes only 20 minutes.  I would like to eat more brown rice but since it takes so much longer to cook, I often don't have the time to wait before getting dinner on the table.  I prefer this brown rice which is tasty and freezes really well but you can use lots of different brands.

 I make slider bags and stack them on top of each other until they are frozen and then I put them upright like books on a shelf.  I use the scale to help make them even but you can also just eye ball it to get mostly even bags.  We eat one serving and freeze the rest which are super easy to microwave whenever you want rice.  They are easy to use just like the Ready Rice in the pouches.

3. Enchilada Sauce-  I make my enchilada sauce from scratch now instead of buying the canned sauce.  It is really easy and uses items that are commonly already in the your pantry (recipe found here).  It can be done on a weekend or night when you have a little extra time.

I make a big batch which I use to make dinner and freeze the extras.  I make them flat in plastic bags and when they are fully frozen, I get to put them upright in the freezer so they are easy to grab when you need them.  I like to divide in the amount that I use them in so it took a few times to have the right amount.  If there is extra seasoned chicken, it is also great to freeze because you can make a full meal with these two bags straight from the freezer.

4. Shredded and Sliced Chicken-  I make the seasoning chicken up above and I also like to boil bone in chicken until it is cooked and remove it from the bone to do different styles like shredded, cubed and sliced chicken. 

I make individual bags to use for different recipes.  I make Buffalo Chicken sliders, Sloppy Chicken Joes, Rosemary Garlic Chicken Pizza, Chicken Tortilla Soup and Chicken Enchiladas.  They are also used for paninis and other recipes that cooked chicken is helpful in.  It is easy to take off the bone and shred with forks or cube or slice chicken.  Save the bones and put them back in to the water with veggies and seasonings to make broth too!

5.  Cooked Sausage-  I get the ground sausage and cook it up in one big batch.  I put it all in a plastic bag so that I have it to put on top of pizza or use in stuffing, Cheesy Garlic Pizza Bites (recipe found here).  It is great to have it available and already cooked (and degreased) so that it is ready to use.

6. Cooked Ground Beef- I cook meat to make for dinner that night and cook a little extra and set it aside.  I make sure to get all of the grease out so that it doesn't leave a lot of grease in the bag that I freeze it in.  It is great to use for Hamburger Helper, Tacos, Salsa Sloppy Joes or French Dip Sloppy Joes, and more.

7.  Buns- I love making fresh bread because it tastes so much better then store bought but these buns are my favorite.  I made whole wheat ones which are good (recipe found here).

Then, I tried another recipe and I won't ever need to try another because we love them and they freeze wonderfully.  I put them in a bag and when they get more solid, you can smoosh them together more to fit in the freezer.  I normally get around 16 buns from the recipe because I don't make them super big (recipe found here).

8.  Diced Ham- I get the ham steaks when I can get them free with coupon and I dice the ham and put one of two into a plastic bag and freeze.  I can pull out a few pieces to use in fried rice and other meals right out of the freezer.

I used to make the dice big so that they wouldn't stick together but I don't think that it makes a big difference so now I cut them smaller.  I can fit more into the bag and I am able to use them a little bit more for flavor.

The first step is to make these easy foods and get them into your freezer and the second step is to start using them to save you time and money.  Stock up when things are on sale cheap and freeze them to use when you need them.  Do you have anything that you like to make to freeze? Do you think that you might start now?  I hope that some of these recipes help you figure out some great things that your family would like to try.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Kid Reading: The Mystery of Meerkat Hill Book Review

I saw this book in the kids section when I walked into the library but I had to grab it because I love the adult books that the author wrote so much that I thought that this would be no different.  Mystery of Meerkat Hill: A Precious Ramotswe Mystery for Young Readers by Alexander McCall Smith is a great chapter book to start reading to younger kids or for school age kids to read themselves (and of course for parents to read as an excuse because they love the author).  The nice thing is that there are pictures in the book so that lots of ages can see what the author is talking about as well as read about it.

Precious meets two new students at the school and talks to them at recess.  The sister and brother were glad to have someone to talk to because they were new and were a little shy.  Teb and Pontsho become friends with Precious and she walks home with them.  She gets a big surprise when she meets their pet, a meerkat named Kosi.  One day her friend's cow goes missing and Precious decides to investigate.  They follow the tracks out of the pen to a herd of cows.  They convince the men that one of those cows is theirs and if Kosi can find the cow in the herd, then they will be able to take the cow home.  The mystery of Meerkat Hill is a great story for all kids (and kids at heart).

There are 8 chapters which cover 90 pages (some which have pictures and less words).  After the book, there is an information guide with information about all of the geography and people of Botswana.  After that, there is a readers guide which gives information about the book, book talk, pre-reading activities, and discussion questions.  There is a page about curriculum connections and how the book works with geography, science and biology, language arts, and social studies.  At the end is a recipe for making your own fat cakes (homemade doughnuts they ate in the book).  It helps parents work with kids to learn even more beyond this book and it is a great guide for learning about Africa and meerkats. 

I hope that you pick up this book at your local library or bookstore and check it out for yourself or your kids.  I know that I enjoyed the easy to read story and was ready to check out Alexander McCall Smith's other children's books.  It is suggested for kids grade 2-5 so I am sure that many aged children (and adults) will like this new mystery by Alexander McCall Smith.  Let me know if you or your kids have already read and what you think!!  I read it quickly and enjoyed the fun "mystery."

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Best Blueberry Strudel Muffins (and chocolate chip if you have a non-fruit eater)

I found this recipe recently and thought since I had all of the ingredients, I should quickly make it because it was cold and snowy outside.  Plus her raspberry muffins looked amazing!!!  I wanted to have something nice and warm for breakfast and this seemed like the perfect answer since I don't normally have sour cream on hand and I had lots to spare.  Isn't that the best reason to have a warm, yummy muffin?  Okay, any reason is a good one!!

I mixed the topping in a small bowl with all of the dry ingredients. I used some lemon zest that I had in the freezer.  I am going to tell you that this recipe was so successful that I made it a second time to try out some other ingredients and since I didn't have any lemon zest left, I used orange zest.  Although not a tangy, it was still tasty.  Great lesson to freeze zest when you have fruit because you never know when you might need it and use what you have!

 Then, I melted the butter in the microwave and mixed up all the dry ingredients.

I added the melted butter to the ingredients and mixed.

The topping was done and I set it aside.  Looks like batter right?  I wasn't feeling really good about the topping but I was hoping that the recipe wasn't going to steer me wrong.  I promise you that it didn't since I already gave away the answer that we made them again.

On to the actual muffin preparation, I started with the dry ingredients for the muffins in the bowl. 

 I mixed the wet ingredients in another bowl and mixed them together.  I decided to use only two eggs so I added a little extra sour cream to cover the added moisture.  The second time that I made the recipe, I used all blueberry greek yogurt instead of sour cream and it also worked...although I liked the sour cream one better.  I didn't think that the muffins would need 3 extra large eggs and I was trying to stretch my eggs to make it to the next sale and get a few more recipes out of them.  Mission accomplished and they turned out fine.

I added the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  The second time that I made the recipe, I didn't add the batter exactly the same way and they turned out a little tougher because the batter needed to be mixed a little more to incorporate so make sure you mix the wet ingredients together before putting them in the dry ingredients.

I mixed it together and got a thick batter.

I measured out 2 cups of blueberries in the measuring cup that I melted the butter in to save on dishes.  I use mine right from the freezer and don't worry about defrosting them.  It helps because they don't smush up and you end up with whole berries.

I spooned some of the batter into greased muffin cups (you can use paper muffin liners but I don't like to use them because I feel like I loose some of the muffin on the paper).

Then, I put the blueberries on top of the batter.  This is brilliant!  I always mix the blueberries in to the batter and then they fall to the bottom when cooking.  These didn't do that and they were super tasty.

Add the topping to the muffins.  I spread it around a little but I don't think that it really mattered much because it spreads while cooking.

I also decided to make three chocolate chip muffins because my son doesn't like fruit (unless disguised) and while I was making the muffins, he came up and asked for one of the chocolate chips in the measuring cup which were blueberries.  I offered and he said .... "Ahh, no thanks" as he backed away.

Here are the finished blueberry muffins which were worthy of Starbucks or a nice bakery.  They were much more moist then the ones that you normally get at a bakery and way cheaper.

Check out this muffin which was the first one that I got to eat.  I loved the big blueberries mixed with the strudel on the top.  It had that little bit of lemon flavor from the zest which was great.  It added to the fancy flavor of the whole muffin.

My husband said..."Umm, ahhh, ummm." and I said would you like to say, "From now on, that is how you make muffins?"  to which he responded "YES!"  He didn't know how to say that he loved them without being ungrateful for our normal muffins.  We both loved the muffins and ate them way too quickly.  I did make a few chocolate chip ones for my son but he wasn't the biggest fan of them.  I think that is great because it left more for us.  They were amazing and when they were hot, I cut and put on butter.

Here is a picture of my son's chocolate chip version which was exactly the same without the blueberries and using chocolate chips instead.

 When they were cold, they were just as good and moist.  Sometimes muffins are only good hot out of the oven but think that these were good any way you ate them.  I couldn't wait to make them I did!  I hope that you like them as much as we did!!  Try the recipe here and see how your family likes it.  Check out the original recipe here at Three Little Blackbirds.  She made some wonderful looking raspberry muffins which I can't wait to try when they are in season again.

The Best Blueberry Strudel Muffins


1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 granulated sugar
Grated lemon zest (zest of 1/2 to 3/4 lemon or any other citrus fruit)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, melted

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 1/4 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (can also use raspberries or black berries)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Put paper liners into standard muffin tins
  2. Make the crumb topping: In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and lemon zest.  Add the melted butter and stir with a fork until crumbly. Set aside.
  3. Make the muffin batter: Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla until well blended. Make a well in the center of the dry mix and add the wet ingredients.  Mix until smooth.
  4. Add 2 heaping tablespoons of batter into each muffin cup
  5. Cover the batter evenly with berries
  6. Sprinkle the strudel crumb topping over the batter and berries until completely covered
  7. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until tops are golden brown and toothpick comes out clean
  8. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan then remove muffins and cool on a wire rack