Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Day of Freezer cooking...Adventure #1

So this past Saturday, I ventured to do some freezer cooking for my family. My goal was not to make tons of meals for the month but rather to focus on one area. For my family, that area was breakfast! Since I homeschool my girls, I want to make it easier on me to get up and have something simple. And since my husband has a 45 minute drive one way into work in traffic, I want to ensure he has a good easy "pick up" breakfast without the price tag of fast food or the extra additives and calories of it all. So I went through my recipes and decided to make some favorites as well as try some new things. So here is a summary of my day.

I got up early at about 6 a.m.! This is not my usually, but I knew that in order to get things done, I had to wake up before the family. I overlapped cooking/baking with laundry so I could also get caught up in that area as well. I put a load on and then turned my attention to breakfast. I wanted my family to wake up to something to eat and use the extras as freezer food! So my first recipe was Libby's Pumpkin Muffins with a twist. I followed the recipe but I will suggest, don't use orange juice, use the water instead!! I also added pumpkin seeds to the top and next time, I might add a crumb topping as well. I did cut back on the sugar by subtracting about 1/3 cup of sugar! These still had a sweet taste and I would recommend you do the same IF you are adding the crumb topping. They turned out DELISH and they are easy to freeze. The recipe makes TWO DOZEN muffins, so with my family of four, I can place a few in the freezer for another day.

After turning on the coffee pot and getting some caffine in me, I looked through the recipes I thought of making. My next recipe was to try English muffins from scratch. I had seen a lot of them on Pinterest and I have seen some of the "bread" that is easier to slice and toast. But I wanted to turn these into breakfast sandwiches for my husband, so I used this recipe from Creative Savings blog. I liked the texture and I only spent 45 minutes making these which includes the rising time!

Another idea of mine was to make breakfast cookies for my girls. After looking at several ideas, I went back to my original Better Homes and Gardens Red and White Plaid cook book to pull out the oatmeal cookie recipe. I reduced the sugar and added two types of chips, chocolate and white chocolate. I have also added butterscotch chips to them in the past. My girls like this and it's easier than fixing a bowl of cereal. Plus, since we really don't have "cold" days here in Florida, it's the perfect solution to a bowl of oatmeal!

After finishing the English muffins and letting them cool, I decided on ingredients. My husband loves eggs, so I decided to bake them in muffin tins as shown on several different Pinterest boards. This was easy to make but even after spraying loads of Pam, they didn't quite come out as clean as I had hoped for! However, they did come out nice and round and it was easier than trying to flip and egg while in a round silicon mold! I also fried up some Whole Foods pork sausage rounds. We bought these with the intention of using them for sandwiches. (As a side note, I did pay $6.99 for 8 patties.) While expensive, these do taste REALLY good and are made from really good pork. So when everything was ready, I layered sliced cheese, egg round and sausage into each English muffin. After which, I wrapped in wax paper, labeled and placed in freezer.

I also decided to finally try Money Saving Mom's freezer biscuits. I had previously tried another blogger's version of freezer biscuits and about choked at the flavor - or flavorless I should say. So I took a chance making another recipe to see if this would be better. I was THRILLED at how good they tasted when baked! (Yes, I froze them first and then thawed to bake one morning.) This is worth making and keeping in your freezer!! So much tastier than canned and they are cheaper by far. Thanks Money Saving Mom!!! I do have another yeast biscuit I freeze, but that recipe will be shared later!

The last breakfast recipe I made was homemade "pop tarts". I also previously tried some recipes on pinterest and they all tasted like Pie Crust pockets. But when I came across this one by Little House Living, I was sold by the listing of ingredients. It didn't sound like pie crust and she labels it as "toaster strudels" but I would say it's between both....AND BETTER THAN BOTH! I made a simple cream cheese icing to place inside. I also used a tool from Williams Sonoma's which helped with the shape of each square. They no longer sell it, but if you are looking for another easy method, this is an appliance from Amazon that makes Pop Tarts! You might also be able to use a Pampered Chef cut and seal as mine is the same, but just rectangular. I really enjoyed making these and well, we didn't get around to freezing any!! It made 7 total from one recipe and we ate all of them by Monday morning!! I will probably also try different things inside the pop tart, like fruit preserves, brown sugar or nutella.

After that, I did continue to work in the kitchen on some other things. I made 10 twice baked potatoes which are easy to make with a Kitchen Aid mixer and they freeze really well. I also baked some sweet potatoes and pureed them for my sweet potato casserole later this fall.

Bottom line, This may be easy to write up and provide links, but it took a lot of time and effort to do all this! My back was aching after standing for eight hours in the kitchen! But it was nice to stock the freezer with a few items and try some new recipes that I had been wanting to. I probably will take more breaks next time but I don't know how some of you out there do once a month meals! From scratch, that would do me in!! LOL. So for me, I am going to try to take Saturdays (or some Friday afternoons) and cook/bake/plan for ONE MEAL only. This Saturday, I am thinking of making LUNCHES to freeze. So I'm hunting down some "hot pocket" recipes and will share some other things I have in mind to freeze for that meal!

YAWN! Gotta go, I hope you enjoyed this post and as always, come back SEW HUNGRY FOR MORE!

Photo provided by Death to Stock Photos/edited by me.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The not so SCARY way to meal plan!

Do you ever get on Pinterest, get a nice meal planning worksheet and then sit down for your mind to go blank? Yeah. I'm one of those. I like the idea of planning but having ALL those spaces staring at me! Not my idea of fun. And then I go to day one, try to fill in breakfast by searching the fridge and freezer. Then I move to lunch, doing the same thing. Then on to dinner and I'm on a different train of thought (or train to crazy!) and have to stop and think about dinner requirements. By the time I'm done with the list, I feel exhausted and I can't remember what to write down on my grocery list!!

If you read my blog, you know I go to different places. I like to shop around for the best deals. So I like having a plan of attack before going to most of the stores. So I'm providing you with some free downloads today of my "un-scary" method of meal planning. I'm a avid list maker and this way helps me the most. First I make lists of WHAT I HAVE. In my freezer, my fridge and pantry. Then I start with breakfast and list different ideas of what I can make with (first) what I have and (second) what I need, all while having a grocery list next to me on another pad.

So here is the link for the meal planning lists. This one is a listing of your grocery inventory here.

Here is how I use them. First, I take out the Fridge list with pantry and freezer inventory lists attached. I make a list of all or most things in my pantry. I just put a number beside it if there is more than one item. I don't list spices, salts, cooking sprays or general things I always seem to have. On my grocery list, which is a separate list posted on my refrigerator, I list items if I DON'T have those on hand.

Second, I look back at my list of "grocery inventory", I note in my head now how much meat I have or breakfast items or boxes of crackers. Then my I formulate my plan! Now by keeping my lists handy and all those things in mind, I now can list my meals. Start with breakfast and brainstorm. How many do you meals do you have on hand? Cereal and Milk (check), Eggs, Bacon and homemade hash browns w/potatos on hand (check), left over lunch meat on hand with eggs and frozen bell peppers - viola an omelet (check). That's three down and more to go. If you also cook from scratch, like I try to do, then you might keep enough flour, milk and eggs on hand to make freezer biscuits, pancakes, waffles or muffins. Keep listing with this same process for your other meals. If you have small children at home or homeschool, you may need to add in a few snacks in your day. Think about your week or month, do you have time for making things by scratch or are you better to substitute some things with eggos, frozen biscuits, granola bars or frozen hashbrowns. Make it simple and keep it simple. If you don't have time to make 4 dozen biscuits on the weekend, then plan for something else. (This is a no judgement zone here!) Some days it's hard to get dinner on the table, so be mindful of your schedule as you list meals. Have a few freezer meals or 30 minute meals on hand.

Third, I also pull out my grocery ads and see what's currently on sale. Is chicken $1.99 per pound? Is ground beef on sale? What about bacon or lunch meat? If I have chicken in my freezer, I buy beef or pork or both. I use my sale flyers and my inventory to plan the rest of the meals. It's nice to have a steak dinner and all but if it's $12.99 per pound for Rib Eye cuts, then I'm not going to afford the rest of my groceries!

Do you eat out too much and want to start meal planning? Start by looking at your favorite places to eat out. Build a menu with meals just like they do. This is a great starting point. Another way is to ask each family member to suggest a meal.

I also use Google for recipe searches but I really love searching on Pinterest! It's amazing how many copycat things you can find for places like Panda Express or Olive Garden. In your search box, just try typing a few words. Try, for example, "Ways to use a Rotisserie chicken". You would be surprised how you can plan a whole week on just a few chickens! Just remember to pin or print the recipes you find so you don't forget come dinner time. As a suggestion, you can also stable these to your lists to help you plan for the week or month.

Keep your lists in a handy place for reference all week. After a few weeks, you will have a monthly meal plan!! And well....that brings me to another blog topic for another day! But right now, I hope these lists help you and your family do better at meal planning! Gotta Go and always come back Sew Hungry For More!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What does "salvage" grocery shopping trip look like?

For many of you who have read my blog, you know that I'm not your average frugal shopper. I see Pinterest images of shopping trips to major stores, to discount stores, Dollar Tree and bulk grocery stores. So today, I'm going to change your perception of "salvage" grocery dealers or at least I hope to expand your horizons for another frugal adventure.

Well, first, let's define what "salvage" groceries are and are not. They ARE leftovers from grocery warehouses because demand for these products may not have been what was expected. They ARE stock from a truckload where the truck may have been in an accident and the store refused the products. However, the truckload itself may have not undergone any damage due to packaging! They ARE sometimes out of date items. They ARE sometimes spilled products on perfectly good products - but has residue of the spilled product on the packaging. (This happens in organic drinks that are packaged in glass bottles where one bottle in the case is broken, but the rest just need to be cleaned.)

So here is a picture of my salvage groceries:

In the picture above, you see a sampling of "pantry" goods that I am able to get from my local dealer. He sold me a box of toilet paper (96 rolls) for $24! We bought the case and it has lasted our family of four about six months now!! I was also able to buy boxes of Family sized tea bags for $1.50 each box. In the stores, the Decaf is at least that much on a good buy one get one sale. Below the tea box are a sample of the Dixie white corn meal I bought. I purchased 11 bags for just $6! The potato chips (Kettle brands) run about $1 a bag and they usually get in a variety of flavors. The condiments are $1.50 each and in this trip, I was able to snag some Panda Express Orange Chicken sauce, an organic apple butter, and a bottle of Stubb's BBQ sauce which contains no high fructose corn syrup. Oh, and don't forget the lemon cookies. I pay $1.50 a box for what ever variety I can find. This is just a sampling though of some of the products I am able to afford for my family at a fraction of the real cost of groceries. Below is a refrigerated sample.

In this picture, you see my half gallon of whole organic milk which I buy for $2 each. I usually buy the case, so yes, I have 5 more in the fridge at this moment! At my local grocery stores, these are at least $4 each, if not $5. In the past, I have also found half n half, whipping cream and even goat milk. These products are all organic, making them a really great deal when I can find them. In the picture you can also see organic brown eggs. The store sells them by the dozen (these just happen to break apart) and on last visit I bought a case to split with relatives. We pay $2.00 a dozen. Again, these are organic and the price is always rising at whole foods. There is also a can of dried/powdered buttermilk, which I like to use in mixes and doughs. It was $1.50 along with the cream cheese!

So what do you think? Not as bad as you thought huh? I have friends that pay for all this organic stuff and when I tell them where I go, it's like "What? You go WHERE?" as if they couldn't "lower" themselves to go into a salvage dealer. But you really need to try it sometime! Mine is a cleaner facility and I have shopped there for four years. They know me and my entire family. We pack their empty boxes with the groceries we need and they even bring them to the vehicle! (I have supermarkets saying they will save you money but they won't walk you to the car!!) OK, I know it's not all sunshine and rainbows, so I will tell you a few other things.

I live in Florida - closer to the tropics then I would like! We have two seasons, hot and VERY hot. This is not good for food storage. So I am very careful during the summer as to what I buy and when I buy it. Because Jesus, Germs, and BUGS are everywhere in Florida!!! LOL. I refuse to buy cereals, pasta and grains unless they are off the truck when I get there. Because if it's been sitting in the hot warehouse, it's prone to bugs. And when I do buy certain products, I wrap them up in ziplocs as soon as I get home. I also toss ALL boxes that store the cases. I have found this works for me and (knock on wood) I haven't had a bug for several years.

Going to a salvage dealer also means that their stock varies. I have arrived in hopes of getting milk or eggs and the shipment won't be in for another week. Sometimes they have chips and sometimes they don't. I try to go at least once a month with a budget to see what I can find for a deal. If they have milk, I stock up. If they have toilet paper and I need it, I buy it. I can't wait because they may not have it tomorrow. And then sometimes, I have to come back to see if they have it next week. (Or I call them.)

I hope this gives you a good idea of another way to save your family money. Go on an adventure, find a salvage store near you and visit. Go online and find reviews of the place if you can. If the store is messy, has REALLY out of date food, smells wrong or has signs of pests, then run the other way fast!! But keep looking...because you never know unless you get out there....and it might just be that needle in a haystack that helps you save more money on your grocery bill!! Thanks for reading and come back....Sew Hungry For More! AH