Merlot Mudpies

Can a blog be about gardening, cancer, family, food and life all at the same time? Oh good.

Days 5 through 7 — Feasting with Friends September 10, 2009


I was pleased on Day 5 because I fought my baser “run to the store” instincts in the face of impending company and after a day at the beach that went about two hours longer than I’d intended. In addition, I suddenly realized I’d be feeding more than I’d planned on when shopping and going through my stores of supplies earlier in the week. My menu for 3 adults and 1 child was now being faced with 7 adults and 1 child in a growth spurt.

“I’ll just have to run to the store and get more pork butt…!” I told myself frantically. This is what I love about this challenge, though: The thought of spending more money before even a week was up just killed me. I took a deep breath and took stock. On the menu was carnitas and salad. But that wasn’t going to feed 8. What to do?

(You know, I’m suddenly feeling a bit better about my $300.00 spending choice. While we’re only 3, my husband sweetly allows me to have guests over quite often. I’d say at least once a week we feed at least one extra adult, usually one of our many single friends, and send them home with some leftovers. More often it’s more people and more frequent than that. I am so very, very thankful that Ryan enjoys this, too, and let’s me give little gifts to our friends this way! And this is perhaps one of the bigger side effects of having started to work on my food budget — as we steward our gifts better we are able to be so much more generous with our resources and it is a source of real fun and glee in our home.)

So, our Day 5 menu was:
Carnitas (from FF$75, truly delicious recipe and stunningly easy)
Grilled chicken tacos
Spanish rice (ill-fated, it didn’t cook through that night)
Tomatillo salsa
Chips
Fresh guacamole
Sweet corn casserole (brought by a friend)
My one accrued cost for today was $4.50 for a pitcher with a lid that will hold a gallon of liquid. We have one for tea. This one is for lemonade. We can make a gallon of each and it lasts us for days at only about $1.25 (based on price of mix and tea bags purchased in bulk) as opposed to the cost of soda, which my husband loves. He’s finding homemade iced coffee and iced sweet tea (sometimes mixed with the lemonade) to be his preferred alternatives, though! Hooray!

Sent a hungry seminarian friend home with leftovers, to boot. I love that.

Day 6:
My failed spanish rice was re-cooked as a crock-pot casserole with corn and beans added. This was taken to church for community meal and every last bit was gone when I picked it up after the meal!
That night we made one exception to our eating at home and had tacos with friend who were leaving town the next day. After 6 hours at the beach and and having worked our way through all the snacks (fruit, my spiced nuts, boiled eggs for protein after surfing, etc). we succumbed to the siren call of cheap mexican food with friends, who all had decided to go as well.

$18 for the family with leftovers that my son ate the next day. He literally fell asleep chewing a bite of quesadilla, poor guy! “Furfin'” four days in a row will do that to you! We had 5 tacos, beans and rice, a UFO-sized quesadilla, and a California burrito the size of my husband’s head.

I’m not sure what to do with my $18 expense. We normally have an eating out budget. This is the ONLY eating out we’ve done and we’re way under. So I guess I’ll keep those pots separate and figure out how much lower my eating out budget will be this month. I guess I’ll just list that expense in a separate category for accountability purposes for now.

Day 7:
For lunch we had chicken quesadillas while my E finished off his food from the night before. We shared the leftover rice and beans that came with his meal. I sliced up a cantaloupe to go with them. We added leftover salsa and guac to the quesadillas and all of us were loving lunch!

Dinner was my new recipe for “California Tacos”. If you’ve never had a California Burrito this name might not make much sense to you. But it’s a carne asada burrito with added fried potatoes (sometimes french fries). My husband LOVES California burritos possibly more than any food save sushi. So I was curious to know how he’d take to the tacos. If we weren’t already married, I think he would’ve proposed after eating those. So here’s my easy-peasy recipe for California tacos. They took about 20 minutes.

California Tacos:

Pre-heat oven to 450 F

4 or 5 potatoes (any kind, honest!)

  • Dice and boil until just cooked through in salted water
  • Drain and toss with vegetable or olive oil, pepper and seasoning salt
  • Bake in oven until outsides crisp and brown slightly while you make the other filling.

While potatoes cook, in a small pot combine and heat:
1 14 oz. can black beans, with juice
2 C cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
2 Tbsp. bacon crumbles (optional, for flavoring. this time i used the very last of our carnitas meat.)
1 tsp cumin, coriander and oregano each
1 Tbsp chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

Combine chicken and potatoes in corn tortillas with salsa, sour cream and fresh cilantro.

We ended up eating this two nights in a row because it was so good and very filling, so they lasted well!

There you have Days 5-7.

We’re at 149.08.

I’ve run out of a lot of my more expensive things all of a sudden.  The end of this month is going to be interesting to say the least.  Especially because my in-laws are coming for 10 days.

I’ll up date with Days 8-10 tonight, Lord willing. What a busy week this has been!

 

Aw, Nuts! (and Honey Whole Wheat) September 4, 2009

Filed under: cooking,frugal cooking,Homemaking,recipes,snacks — Mary @ 9:50 am

Some pictures and recipes (approximate — that’s just the way i roll)

Chili, Garlic and Lime Peanuts:
Garlic, Chili, Lime Peanuts

These peanuts (3.5 C) got mixed with:

2 T melted butter
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp garlic, minced finely
zest of 1 lime
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp chili powder
garlic salt
sea salt

then they got roasted in a 300 degree oven for 20 minutes (could have gone another 10 minutes, I think). they tasted better the more they rested and dried out. i’d like to figure out how to up the lime taste as it’s not very strong. maybe some granulated citric acid? i don’t know, i’m going to have to research this.

Hot Spiced Cashews:
Hot Spiced Cashews

these cashews (3 C) got mixed with:

2 T melted butter
1 Tbsp Worcester sauce
garlic salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp chili powder
a couple of really good shots of Tapatio sauce

then they got roasted in a 300 degree oven for 30 minutes. any longer and they would’ve burned. we hit that perfect balance right before over-roasting where they go tender and melt in your mouth, though. sooo good!

Thanks, Mary, for the snack idea!

And now for the new bread recipe I tried, Honey Whole Wheat:
loaf

The crust is crunchy but not hard, so it’s very edible:
crust

The crumb is so, so tender and tasty. For breakfast this morning it was heaven as toast with butter and apricot preserves.
crumb

I’ll definitely be making this in double batches from now on.

 

Grocery Spending Challenge — Day 3


Here I am at the end of day 3 of the challenge and it’s only my first post on progress.  But what a busy few days I’ve had.  And spendy!  However, I’m thrilled about some of the deals I’ve gotten this month so far.  I’m hoping that some of the spending I’ve done up front will pay off at the end of the month.

The numbers:

Budget for the month: $300.00

Money spent so far:  $127.43

Remainder:  $172.57

I mentioned in a previous post that I was heading out for an opening of a new farmer’s market store in my neighborhood (I’m really excited because previously the closest one was a whole town over).  They were giving out a bag of free groceries to the first 200 families to shop at the store.  This is a post for another day but, needless to say, I don’t think I’ll ever try the first morning of a store opening again!  However, I did score some great deals there and a few other places.  Here are my best bargains:

— Boneless Skinless Chix Breasts, frozen, $1.66 lb.  I got 8 lbs.

— Scented soy-based candle in lavender, Free! (sometimes cupons are great, just not always)

— Bananas, 4 lbs. for $1.00.  I got about just over 2 lbs.

— Dozen eggs, $.99. I got 4 dozen.

— 5 lbs. bag of russet potatoes for $.97

— 4 lbs of tomatillos for $.99 (this is just…like..unheard of!)

There are other good deals on my list but those are my shining finds.  We’re in chicken (with another purchase of fresh breasts for $1.88/lb.) for the rest of the month, easily.  I have some frozen in pollo asada marinade, some grilled after being marinated in teriyaki sauce and then frozen for later, some frozen in family-sized portions, and will shred more for freezing this week.

Day 1 Dinner:  Leftover zupa toscana and salad with viniagrette

Day 2 Dinner:  Teriyaki chicken, gingered teriyaki rice wtih pineapple, green salad

Day 3

Breakfast: Cheese and bananas and Kix cereal — too hot already in the morning to cook.

Lunch: Teriyaki leftovers for the hub, PB&J with grapes and a cookie for the E.

Dinner:  $.35 for all three of us!  I love it when stuff like that happens.  I had a gift card for a smoothie place that just started selling sandwiches and wraps.  For $.35  beyond my card, E and I got three smoothies (took one to my dad who was in 100+ degree weather with no A/C), a chicken chipotle and lime wrap, and a bag of the oh-so-beloved-and-rare-for-us Pirate’s Bootie.  We topped it off with a watermelon snack before bed.  The hubby had dinner on his work, which kindly treated all the employees to an after-hours happy hour with food.

I’m not counting the money on the card as part of my budget.  My reasoning?  It was just for the smoothie place so I couldn’t have used it any other way if I’d tried.  Ah, sweet friends.  Sometimes they lead you to the lap of luxury!

In addition, I’m smelling a loaf of Honey Whole Wheat bread bake as I type this.  It’s a new recipe and if it tastes as good as it smells, I’ll be making a lot more of it soon.  I also made two batches of spiced nuts for my husband.  I’ll post the recipes for them once I get some of the kinks worked out but they are already pretty tasty.  We have a pound each of Chili, Lime and Garlic peanuts and Spicy Chili Cashews on the counter that cost us a grand total of $6.72.  I’m not sure how this compares to store-bought nuts but I think I came out ahead and I’ll do some research to find that out and post with the recipes.

Lastly, I’m really looking forward to making pizza this week with cheese I made with my friend Wilma.  We took a crack at making home-made mozarella and documented with pictures.  I’ll be posting a step-by-step for that this week as well.

Oh dear…and to think I have to let this bread cool before I eat it…when my mouth is watering NOW!

 

Grocery Spending Challenge — $75.00 a Week! September 3, 2009


All right!  Here we go with my first big update for the Grocery Spending Challenge from Mary at Owlhaven.  If you haven’t come here because you’re a part of the challenge, too, then click on the image and join in!  Each participant is stating her goal and then we’re getting down to business.  I’m ashamed that my goal is almost the same as Mary’s given that she’s feeding ten kids and I’m only feeding one and a ravenous husband, but I’ve come to terms with it.  Honest.  Mostly.  Sort of…

Here are the terms of my challenge this month:

— Spend no more than $300.00 on all household items

— This includes personal care and cleaning supplies

— Rather than breaking up my costs over weeks, I’m just totalling for the whole 30-day period of September

–Not cut my husband’s snacking, but find ways to accommodate what he likes to eat within the means of the challenge

To put this into the terms of my usual budgeting, we’re cutting back by about $140 for the month and throwing in a few days and a few items I’d normally not total in my food bill.

Some considerations for me are:

— we do not have a garden that’s producing yet, so no produce from there until further notice (Lord willing, my new plot will start producing soon!)

— we have an apartment with almost no storage.  I have two small pantry cupboards of two shelves each and a standard sized fridge and freezer.  So I’m working on creative storage of things we use a lot and could buy more cheaply in bulk.

— did I mention my husband?  🙂  (sorry ladies — in spite of his eating habits I’ve detrmined to keep him.  but MAN can he put away food!)

SO there you have me and my goals!  I’m so excited to see how everyone in the challenge does this month!

 

Snacks — The Budget Buster August 31, 2009


I once wept to my husband, “Could you PLEASE keep your cravings to something that DOESN’T cost us $11.00 a lb.??” when thwarted in the process of making pesto one night. I reached for my bag of pine nuts only to find 8 or 10 measly little kernels remaining in the bottom of what had been a huge, full Costco-sized bag the week before.

This is one of the biggest problems for me with frugal cooking and household budgeting: My husband is a rabid snacker. He willingly and appreciatively takes leftovers to work for his lunches (I only occassionally get them back uneaten and that’s usually when a hankering for rolled tacos just cannot be avoided…totally understandable!) But he is a big man, an extremely active surfer, and has a big appetite. When Ry comes home from work or surfing and when he’s up late doing freelance or 3-D modeling, he wants handy snacks that are easily accessible and he wants them in huge proportions. If I don’t have them around then things like this happen:

An entire box of granola bars disappears in one night
An entire 1.2 lbs bag of pine nuts goes missing
A large box of cereal disappears in one night
Half a bag of string cheese vaporizes when I’ve left the house for an hour

To put this in perspective, he’s about 6ft 3 or 4, wears a 3X wet suit to accommodate the breadth of his shoulders and chest, and will surf for 6 or 7 hours in the course of a day quite easily when the swell is good. He burns through calories like other people burn through….uh…well, I can’t come up with a good comparison — but something that burns quickly and people use a lot of! Anything else I can think of falls short when it comes to his appetite when it hits.

So, here are some things I already do:
Buy whatever fruit he likes that’s on sale and keep it handy as consistently as I can
To cut cost on cereal I use coupons and combine them with sales to keep cereal costs low
I also make homemade granola (TY to Mary at Owlhaven’s Granola Recipe in Family Feasts for $75 a Week) to lighten the cereal costs
Buy block cheese on sale and slice it myself so it’s easily accessible for snacks
Keep cookie dough on hand so I can easily bake up a batch of cookies on a whim

Two things that Ryan LOVES and I haven’t figured out are:
Spiced nuts
Popcorn

Microwave popcorn is expensive and not all that healthy. I make popcorn in a pot but sometimes I’m asleep when the craving hits or I’m just exhausted. Does anyone know of a way to keep popcorn fresh? Does anyone make seasoned popcorn? How does it keep?

Spiced nuts I’m going to look in to today at the store. I’d like to see about finding recipes for spiced nuts so that, when raw nuts are on sale in bulk I can buy them, season them and roast them myself, and then keep them handy to fulfill some of his needs for protein.

So what do you do for easy snacks? Do any of you have men/sons like mine with big appetites and for whom meals or leftovers won’t always do? I’d love to hear suggestions!

 

Dinner August 19, 2009

Filed under: cooking,frugal cooking,tips — Mary @ 11:14 pm

Is there honestly much tastier than a BLT?

Tonight Ryan and I feasted on BLTA’s (avocado being the addition to the mix) and they were just ridiculously good.  I felt bad about a slackerly dinner but after 3 hours in the garden with languishing tomato plants and soil needing to be turned and another 4 at the grocery store, it was all I had in me.  Ryan was gracious about it and so was the Lord because those things were delicious!  Have you ever added lemon pepper to a BLT with some avo?  I highly recommend it on a night when you’re fit for bed and not much else.

More to report on our exploints tomorrow.

 

Zucchini (Again) and a Camping Idea August 12, 2009


Just a thought for those of you drowning in zucchini again this year:  it shreds beautifully and freezes well, too.  I just got through the last of my frozen zucchini in May.  I shredded all of it up in a food processor and bagged two-cup portions and froze them flat so that they’d stack well later.  You can use them for any cooked zucchini dish you’d normally made with fresh and only have a negligible difference in taste.

On another note, I did something today that I’m pretty tickled about with regard to preparing for a church/family camping trip:

I pre-packaged coffee beans, oatmeal and etc in small packets so that we’d have them handy while we’re camping at the beach the next three days.  I was concerned, though, that I wouldn’t remember the right measurements for all of the things we’ve brought with us.  To fix this and not have to do any extra packing of papers or things we’d lose, I wrote the measurements for our most common camping recipes on the inside of the lid of our camping box with a Sharpie so I never run the risk of leaving them behind.

Do you have a camping box?  Ours is a large rubber-maid bin and we have camping pots and pans that nest, metal plates and bowls, a set of metal mugs, and silverware that rolls up in a mat to keep it all together.  I also keep a sponge, old rags, a bottle of dish detergent, a metal coffee percolator, and a roll of paper towels in there.  When we camp, the bin serves as a wash bin which ensures that it stays clean, too.

We’ll be camping at the beach at a popular surf and camp spot with our church and I’m really quite excited about it.  So is my son.  And so is my husband!

 

 
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