Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Jack Stack To-Go

Tonight we had a family NYE dinner @ my mom's featuring Jack Stack to go. It was tasty but would have been much better fresh. Good thing hubby's grandparents gave us a gift card for Christmas so we can go enjoy it sometime soon!
We had brisket, ribs, sausage, baked beans & hubby requested an order of fries which he graciously shared with me. I have always said that fries are my biggest weakness and without them I might actually be able to be skinny!
My mom also finally made the ham and rice pilaf we were supposed to have for Christmas dinner. All of my family made it safely to town despite the weather doing it's best to stop them. We are so tired of snow and cold!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Boneless Buffalo Wings

One of our favorite places to eat out is Buffalo Wild Wings. They make really good wings, both boneless and regular. Contrary to my mom's belief, bonelss wings are not actually wings with the bones removed. They are more like chicken nuggets tossed in wing sauce, little bites of white meat chicken breaded and deep-fried.
I have an aversion to using my deep fryer since it makes the house smell like grease for days, so I have never attempted to make my own buffalo wings. Since we aren't eating out much, we basically just have to live without them or eat alternatives like Buffalo Chicken Pizza.
When I went to Hen House's Holiday Open House, they had their deli's boneless wings available as part of their samples. They were pretty tasty, and I thought they'd be a good thing to grab for dinner but they were around $7/lb which seemed pretty high. So, when I saw they were on sale this week for $4/lb I decided to put them on the menu.
I bought a little over a pound (the amount that fit in the quart-sized container). The instructions said to microwave for 1-2 minutes until hot, but I thought they'd be too soggy if I did that. Instead, I put them in the oven while it was preheating to make the fries. The fries had to cook at 450 degrees so I didn't want them to be in that high of an oven for fear that they would burn or dry out, so I removed them once it was preheated and stuck them back in for the last couple of minutes to make sure they were nice and hot.
The sauce that they use is a bit sweet but fairly good. My favorite sauce at Buffalo Wild Wings is the Spicy Garlic and it is much better, but for the price I think these were worth it. It was also worth it to not have to attempt to fry them myself.
I just served with fries, celery & blue cheese for dipping.


Estimated cost of meal

Chicken: $4.55
Fries: $1.25
Celery: $.50
Blue Cheese: $.20

Total: $6.50

Former life total: Dinner @ Buffalo Wild Wings: $30

Leaner Life Savings: $23.50 or 78%!!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Baked French Toast

I had really high hopes for this dinner, but unfortunatly it did not live up to them. In the past, I have always burned French toast and it never turns out that well. When I stumbled across a recipe that suggested baking it instead of pan-frying or using a griddle, I thought that could be the solution to all of my problems! I started by making a custard with milk, eggs, sugar, syrup, vanilla, salt and cinnamon. Then, I drenched the slices of French bread in the custard and let sit in a buttered casserole dish "overnight" or in my case all day while I was at work.
The recipe said to bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, flip the pieces over and cook another 4 minutes. After I took them out to flip them, I could see the bread was still very soggy and the first side was not golden brown and crusty like I had hoped. I cooked for 10 minutes instead of 4 but it was still quite soggy. I needed to leave the house to get to a baby shower and didn't have time to wait for it to cook longer, so I ended up transferring it to a pan on the stovetop to try to crisp up the edges. This helped a bit but it was still way too soggy.
It was a valiant effort to try something new, but I think in the future we'll just have to stick to regular French toast. The flavor of the custard was actually really tasty, so I will be using similar ingredients, though probably leaving out the syrup as hubby said it was a bit too sweet for his taste.
I served with bacon and orange juice, our breakfast staples.


Estimated cost of meal

Bread: $.75
Milk: $.20
Eggs: $.25
Seasonings: $.50
Bacon: $1.25
OJ: $.25

Total: $3.20

Former life total: Breakfast @ Gomer's: $18

Leaner Life Savings: $14.80 or 82%!!!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Tuna Casserole

After three not-so-anticipated weeks on the menu, tuna casserole finally made it to our table. Hubby was not very excited about this meal because apparently the last time I made tuna casserole (probably about 2 or 3 years ago) it was a Rachael Ray Italian-style recipe and he hated it, so now he associates all tuna casseroles with that experience.
This time I didn't try to get fancy and just made a regular tuna casserole, after consulting my mother for her recipe and then tweaking it a bit for our tastes. I thought it turned out pretty good, but it was still just tuna casserole which isn't all that exciting I suppose. I'll list the recipe but to be honest I kind of made up the seasonings as I went along and the amounts are just estimates. Hubby likes it with cheese on top - I never would have tried this but it actually is kind of good. Cheese makes almost anything better.
My mom adds pimentos to hers - I knew hubby wouldn't go for that so I roasted some red pepper to eat with mine to get the same flavor (hence the strange red glob in the picture).

Tuna Casserole

2/3 lb egg noodles, cooked
Canned/pouched tuna (I used the family-size pouch since I had a coupon, about the equivalent of 1 large or 2 small cans)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 soup can milk
2 tsp dried chopped onion
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp hot sauce
2 tsp worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp celery salt
Salt & pepper
1 cup potato chips, crushed
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)

Combine all ingredients except chips and cheese. Pour in casserole dish, top with chips. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, add cheese and bake until cheese melts, about 5 minutes more.


Estimated cost of meal

Noodles: $1
Tuna: $2
Soup: $.50
Milk: $.15
Spices: $.50 (??? really hard to gauge)
Chips: $.40
Cheese: $.30
Biscuits: $1

Total: $5.85

Former life total: Dinner @ Waid's (can't really think of a good comparison, so just choosing one of our old standbys): $23

Leaner Life Savings: $17.15 or 75%!!!

Menu Plan Monday - Happy New Year!

After a crazy week where nothing seemed to go as planned, here's hoping for a little less chaos this week. Oh, wait, my whole family is coming to town - that won't be happening!
Friday will mark our 3rd Christmas celebration, barring any more blizzard warnings. My whole family will be together for the first time I can remember, including the extended part such as it is (we have a very small family). In addition to my brother and sister-in-law and their kids being here as planned, we are getting an unexpected visit from my only cousin and uncle and one of my two remaining grandparents! It should be a fun and probably crazy time.
  • Monday: Tuna casserole - I vow to finally make this after 2 weeks of putting it off
  • Tuesday: Baked French toast (never tried this before, but I usually burn it when I try to do it in a frying pan, so hopefully this will be more successful)
  • Wednesday: Boneless buffalo wings (from the deli), french fries, celery, blue cheese
  • Thursday: Jack Stack BBQ w/the family @ my mom's (we were going to retry the ham/baked beans, etc from last week but my uncle requested Jack Stack)
  • Friday: Christmas #3 starring prime rib, horseradish sauce, sauteed potatoes, vegetable gratin, salad & crusty bread (I look forward to this meal all year and this time don't get it until next year!)
  • Saturday: Dinner out w/family or using one of our Christmas gift cards
  • Sunday: Maybe another dinner out, or make-your-own pizzas

For many more menu plans, visit!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Turkey Burgers

Yay! The snow has finally stopped for the most part and I was able to get out of the driveway and go grocery shopping. Some sense of normalcy has returned following the biggest snowstorm in seemingly forever (the first blizzard in KC since 1989!).
Tonight I made turkey burgers, using my new burger press I got for Christmas. I just season them with garlic powder, seasoning salt and pepper. As a new twist, I found some chipotle cheddar sliced cheese to put on top instead of the usual regular cheddar. It was really flavorful and added a nice heat to an otherwise fairly mundane turkey patty.
I just served with potato chips since I didn't feel like making fries, plus we're having some later in the week. I also had some baby pickles, which probably look a little odd in the picture. I got some nice pretty photogenic half pickles on sale today, but decided to use up the rest of my other jar before opening the new one. Wasn't that oh-so-frugal of me?


Estimated cost of meal

Turkey: $2
Buns: $1
Cheese: $.80
Toppings: $.75
Chips: $.70

Total: $5.25

Former life total: Dinner @ Five Guys: $19

Leaner Life Savings: $13.75 or 72%!!!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Still Snowing (Pantry raid)

I realized a bit too late that the milk I needed for the tuna casserole I was supposed to make tonight was expired. It might have still been okay but we try to stick to expiration dates pretty closely in my house. My mom's house is another story - beware anyone eating the horseradish sauce at Christmas dinner next week as she has googled the expiration of horseradish and determined that the date means very little. How would we ever know anything without Google?
Anyway, we didn't have milk and I wasn't about to try to venture out through 7+ inches of snow to buy some more. So, for dinner tonight hubby got to have a can of clam chowder with last night's leftover dinner rolls. I had some leftover Mexican from lunch the other day (before the snow started). Pretty exciting, eh? Hubby has promised to shovel the driveway tomorrow so I can go grocery shopping for next week's meals, so hopefully they will be a little better than tonight's.


Estimated cost of meal

Clam chowder: $1.25
Rolls: $.50
Leftovers: Free (thanks Mom!)

Total: $1.75

Former life total: Pizza delivery: $18

Leaner Life Savings: $16.25 or 90%!!!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Merry Christmas or Bah Humbug? (and some steak Diane)

Well, our Christmas plans were foiled by the snow. Hubby and I made it to my mom's and got to enjoy our biscuits and gravy after he spent about 30 minutes trying to shovel a spot in the driveway. Her street hadn't been swept yet and we were stuck with about half of his car still in the street. His sisters decided not to try to make it out, so our first annual Christmas dinner w/hubby's family was cancelled. Maybe next year!
We decided that making a 10 pound ham for 3 people seemed a bit excessive. Instead, my mom scrounged through her freezer and found some steaks and decided she wanted steak Diane. I've never had this or cooked it, but she found a recipe online here and we tried it. We had to take some liberties since we didn't have shallots or fresh mushrooms, but it turned out okay. It definitely made the quick-thawed old piece of sirloin a little more palatable. We threw together some boxed au gratin potatoes for mom and hubby, and I had some hash browns, plus we made the green beans, baked beans & rolls that were on the original menu (though in greatly reduced quantities).
All in all it was a decent meal and I think we made the best out of an unfortunate situation. We still haven't figured out what to do with the ham since we don't know if we'll be able to reschedule, but I'm sure we'll figure something out.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Christmas Eve @ the In-Laws

No cooking tonight - yay! There was a big spread at hubby's aunt's house but I only had to bring some l'il smokies. I think I may have overcooked them, or the turkey variety I bought isn't very good, but the texture was awful. Hardly anyone even ate them but we started dinner pretty early and not many of the appetizers were eaten, so I'm not sure if it was because word got out that they were bad!
We have a horrible snow storm going on here! It's the first white Christmas in Kansas City (where it snowed at least 1 inch on Christmas Day) since 1962. That's my factoid of the day. I think that whoever kept singing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" never had to drive anywhere during a blizzard warning. It started out as mostly sleet and the roads were pretty bad going to the party, but it got even worse as it accumulated and turned to snow as we were on our way home. Thankfully we made it back safe and sound! Now we just have to try and make it to my mom's tomorrow for our biscuits and gravy breakfast.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Bacon-Wrapped Beef & Baked Potatoes

Tonight I finally decided to cook the bacon-wrapped beef filets I got a few weeks ago with a great coupon - they were only $.98 for a 2-pack. I served them with baked potatoes (giant ones because the filets were only 5 oz including "solution" so I wanted to make sure we'd have enough to eat), bread & asparagus for me - picky hubby won't touch any vegetables other than corns or green beans.
The beef filets were okay - nothing spectacular. I don't think I'd ever pay full price for them ($3.98) as I'd rather just pay $4.99 for strip steaks on sale, but for $.98 they were definitely worth it. They were a little tricky to cook as the bacon tried to slip off of one of them, and I don't like soggy bacon so I tried to cook them on all sides which is difficult since they are round! They were also plenty filling even without eating about half of the giant potato.
I tried steaming my asparagus - a bit tricky since I don't have a steamer. I tried to rig my colander into a pot but it wasn't too successful. I ended up microwaving it to get it to the tenderness I like. I season with butter, lemon juice, garlic powder, salt & pepper. It was yummy but made way too much and then forgot to put the extra in the fridge and didn't discover it until the next day :(


Estimated cost of meal

Steaks: $.98
Potatoes: $1.50
Bread: $.80
Asparagus: $2

Total: $5.28

Former life total: Dinner @ Outback: $30

Leaner Life Savings: $24.72 or 82%!!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Frito Pie

Since we had some Fritos laying around, we decided to change up our usual chili & cornbread routine and have Frito pie. I googled this and found out that sometimes this refers to a casserole dish, but in my mind it's just a bowl with a layer of Fritos, chili and chili toppings. I had cheese, sour cream & green onions on mine. It was really tasty! The Fritos were a nice change of pace.
I make my chili with Lawry's chili seasoning, and mostly follow the recipe on the back except I use fire-roasted tomatoes and I don't add any extra water since hubby likes his chili really thick. I also usually use turkey instead of ground beef.
When I first started cooking, I used Williams chili seasoning because I'm from Kansas City, it's local and I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I didn't care for this seasoning, but didn't really know any better. After a few tries, I switched to Lawry's and I like it much better. I've made homemade seasoning before too and it was yummy but have recently been too lazy to try to find the recipe again. It's probably a lot cheaper so I should really get around to that before I make chili again!


Estimated cost of meal:

Turkey: $2
Seasoning: $1
Tomatoes: $.60
Fritos: $1.50
Toppings: $.75

Total: $5.85

Former life total: Dinner @ Sonic: $12

Leaner Life Savings: $6.15 or 51%!!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Asian Chicken Salad

I managed to make a salad and not drop the plate this time - that's progress! This is another one of our favorites, though it doesn't photograph all that well. One of the best parts is that the leftover crunchy bits make a good snack. My mom thinks this tastes better the next day after the noodles get soggy but I disagree. The dressing does seem to last forever though, one batch makes at least 3 salads in our household.

Dressing (trying to type this from memory - hope it's close)
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients together - it may take some elbow grease to get the sugar to dissolve and incorporate fully.

1 head Napa cabbage, chopped into bite-size pieces
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 packages Ramen noodles, crushed
1 small package slivered almonds (2 oz)
1 Tbsp Butter
1-2 Tbsp Olive oil
3/4 lb Grilled chicken, sliced thinly or chopped into bite-size pieces

Saute Ramen noodles (uncooked) in butter/olive oil over medium heat until golden brown. Be careful as they will burn if left unattended! Add almonds and cook until lightly toasted. Combine all ingredients with dressing (I reserve about 1/4 of the noodle mixture for leftovers/snacking). Serve with garlic bread.


Estimated cost of meal

Chicken: $1.50
Cabbage: $1.50
Ramen: $.50
Almonds: $1
Scallions: $.20
Dressing: $.75
Bread: $1

Total: $6.45

Former life total: Dinner @ Sweet Tomatoes: $15

Leaner Life Savings: $8.55 or 53%!!!

Grocery Shopping: Meat Prices

Per Kristi's request, below is a list of guidelines that I typically use for buying meat. The bottom line is to just watch the sales closely and stock up when you see a good deal - it really helps having a deep freezer so there's space to stock up. I don't know how much prices vary by area, but these are the prices I find at our stores. Hopefully your stores will have similar sales.

Also, try this post from Erin @ $5 Dinners that has a good list plus comments from her readers that mention different areas of the country. I am only listing meats that I buy regularly and therefore am confident about the prices, otherwise Erin's list seems reasonable to me for things like pork & split chicken breasts. I think I'll do another post about how I menu plan that might make a tiny bit more sense of the cuts of meat I use.

Beef (keep in mind that KC is called a cowtown for a reason - we get really good fresh beef and it is probably cheaper here since it doesn't have to travel very far)
  • Ground: $2/lb - I find that it's very rare to get the 93% lean kind that I like for this cheap so sometimes I have to settle for a higher fat content. If I were really willing to settle, the 80% lean goes on sale sometimes for $1.49/lb.
  • Sirloin steaks: $2.99/lb - I use this in a lot of Rachael Ray recipes that often call for supposedly "cheap" cuts of meat like flank steak that actually costs about $8/lb. Love her though I do, Rachael Ray is sometimes very wrong. This sale price usually comes around every few months, most recently I even got it for $2.49/lb.
  • Strip steaks: $4.99/lb - Definitely a splurge, but still better than buying @ a steakhouse.
Boneless/skinless chicken breasts: $2/lb - there are often sales at this price, and sometimes even better (recently one of our stores had it for $1.19/lb!)

Bacon: $2/lb - you could probably do even better if you find a coupon in the Sunday paper

Jimmy Dean sausage: $2/lb (on a side note, this is the current sale price at my local store, plus I got a coupon for $2 off 2 packages, so my price will only be $1/package!)

Ground Turkey: $2/lb at the most - this used to go on sale all the time for a lot less (around $1/lb) but I've had trouble finding it lately. I was able to get some at Walmart for $1.50/lb but it was in a roll and I prefer it packaged flat. Last time I asked my butcher at my regular market they were out of it - could be that they are using all the turkeys for other reasons around the holidays...maybe the situation will get better next month.

Shrimp: $3.99/lb

Deli meats: $3/7-8oz package of Hilshire Farms deli meat - it's so good and you get a Glad container with it, which costs at least $.50 on its own. I also buy hard salami at the Walmart deli counter - only $4.28ish/lb. They probably have decent prices for the other deli meats too - if you have a Super Walmart I'd recommend giving the deli a try, it might surprise you.

Menu Plan Monday

Merry Christmas week! At hubby's suggestion, we just yesterday decided to plan a rather last-minute Christmas dinner for his immediate family. Since we usually go to his extended family celebration on Christmas Eve and have Christmas with my family whenever my brother & sister-in-law can make it into town (this year on New Year's), we don't generally do a traditional Christmas dinner. Maybe this will be the start of a new tradition. My mother has graciously agreed to host since our house is not fit for visitors. Pictures and recipes to follow, hopefully daily but if I'm shopping for/wrapping presents I might not keep up very well...
  • Monday: Asian chicken salad, garlic bread
  • Tuesday: Frito pie
  • Wednesday: Bacon-wrapped beef filets (bought @ Walmart for $.98!), baked potatoes, asparagus, some sort of bread
  • Thursday: Christmas Eve @ the in-laws (I'm bringing l'il smokies, cooked a la these meatballs that were a big hit at Thanksgiving)
  • Friday: Ham, rice pilaf, baked beans, green beans, rolls
  • Saturday: Tuna casserole (carry-over from last week), French bread
  • Sunday: Turkey burgers, fries

For more menu planning ideas, go to

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Beef Fried Rice & Crab Rangoon

Well, I finally made this meal and unfortunately it was pretty disappointing. The crab rangoon were just not what I had hoped - the wontons were crispy on top but the bottoms weren't done enough. Granted, I didn't cook them as long as I was supposed to but I was afraid the tops were going to burn. I also felt that they were too rich and had too much crab, but that's because I'm used to Midwestern crab rangoon which is about 99% cream cheese and 1% crab meat. I really should have only made half a recipe - even if we'd liked them we wouldn't have needed 12 of them!
The rice was okay - I used a Hamburger Helper mix and it was easy to make and the texture was fine, but it didn't really have much Asian flavor. Hubby commented that it tasted a lot like the dirty rice mix I use. Overall I don't think either of these will be keepers. After the resounding success of the chimichangas, I guess they can't all be winners.


Estimated cost of meal

Beef: $2
Hamburger Helper: $1.50
Eggs: $.25
Wontons: $.50
Cream Cheese: $.60
Crab: $2
Scallions: $.25
Mayo: $.25

Total: $7.35

Former life total: Dinner @ Panda Express: $18

Leaner Life Savings: $10.65 or 59%!!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Weekend Cheating

Tuna casserole just didn't appeal this weekend so we ended up going out Friday and Saturday. At least on Friday we got a pretty good deal - we went to Sweet Tomatoes and used a B1G1 free coupon, making the total around $15. We didn't do as well on Saturday - my mom stopped by and had some Culver's fish and chips and it smelled so good we wanted to go get some as soon as she left! I never thought about how expensive that place is for fast food - total was over $22 but the fish was yummy and very filling with 2 sides and bread. Hopefully we will get back on track next week!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Chimichangas

This is my first attempt at making chimichangas and I'm proud to say they were quite a success! I cooked the rest of the roast I made last week in the crock pot with some water, beef boullion and salsa. It cooked during the day and was ready to shred when I got home. As I shredded it I tasted it and thought it could use more flavor/moisture, so I added salt, pepper, garlic powder, chipotle chili powder and some of the cooking liquid. There's really not a recipe since I was just making it up as I went along.
Once I liked the taste and consistency, I spooned the meat onto burrito-size flour tortillas and added shredded cheddar cheese. I would have added some onion to mine also (hubby would have protested) but decided to go without so I wouldn't have to remember which one was which. I wrapped them up and put them in a baking dish that had a few tablespoons of vegetable oil coating the bottom. I also brushed the outside of the tortillas with the oil. I wanted to bake them so I wouldn't have to deep-fry, but also wanted to ensure a crispy coating. It worked really well! They baked at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes, flipping over after about 10 minutes.
Once they were done I added some more cheese and some green chili enchilada sauce. I didn't even know they sold this until I saw it at Target while shopping for this recipe - hubby loves the verde sauce they put on his chimichanga at Jose Peppers so this was a great substitute. I served with refried beans and cilantro-lime rice.
We will definitely be having this meal again since Mexican food is what hubby misses most about eating out all the time and this is the closest I have ever made to a restaurant-quality Mexican meal. The roast was a bit expensive compared to the ground meat or chicken we have most nights, but still a big savings over eating out.


Estimated cost of meal:

Beef: $3
Tortillas: $1.20
Cheese: $1.40
Beans: $.50
Rice: $.80
Sauce: $.60

Total: $7.50

Former Life Total: Dinner @ Jalapeno's (my favorite chimichanga): about $30

Leaner Life Savings: $22.50 or 75%!!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Sloppy Joes

OK, so it's a bit of a cop-out, but I use Manwich sloppy joe sauce to make sloppy joes. One time I made them from scratch using a Rachael Ray recipe - they were okay but nowhere near worth the extra effort. This might be one of my favorite meals for one reason only - I think it's the fastest thing I make. It takes less than 10 minutes to brown a pound of meat and add the sauce, then you just stick it on a bun. Sooooo easy! Pretty tasty too, and kid-friendly, or in my case, husband-that-eats-like-a-kid friendly. I serve with chips (we happened to have a bag of sour cream & cheddar flavor on hand this time), celery sticks and ranch or blue cheese dip.
Estimated cost of meal:
Bread: $1
Ground turkey: $1.50
Manwich: $1
Celery: $.40
Dip: $.20
Chips: $.70
Total: $4.80
Former life total: Dinner @ McDonald's (they serve meat on a bun too): $10
Leaner Life Savings: $5.20 or 52%!!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Chicken Caesar Salad

As you can see from the first photo, I had some issues with dinner this evening. I was on my way to set my plate down for its photo op and somehow I managed to drop it, break the plate and send food and shards of ceramic flying everywhere. It was very frustrating - I was hungry and had it all arranged nicely for the picture. Hubby offered up his plate so I could at least get a finished product up - note the large quantity of bread!
Anyway, this is another meal that doesn't really require a recipe. I use Cardini's brand dressing, which is really good and much better than any homemade version I ever attempted (and believe me, there were several). Though I use store-bought dressing and just toss it with diced grilled chicken, cut-up romaine and parmesan, I do at least have one thing homemade: the croutons.
I read a blog recently where someone was cooking Rachael Ray recipes and made homemade croutons for the first time and couldn't believe how easy and good they were. She wondered why everyone doesn't always make their own - I agree. They are very easy to make and so much better than the packaged kind.
I take a loaf of French or Italian bread, cut it into small cubes, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with garlic powder and kosher salt, toss well to combine, then bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and crunchy. They absorb the dressing a little but still stay pretty crunchy and are an excellent addition to any salad. They also make a tasty snack, which is why I always make way more than I really need!
Estimated cost of meal:
Chicken: $1.50
Lettuce: $1
Dressing: $.60
Cheese: $.50
Bread/croutons: $1
Total: $4.60
Former Life Total: Dinner @ Houlihan's: $30
Leaner Life Savings: $25.40 or 85%!!!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Kielbasa

This may be a bit of a boring week as far as recipes go. I am trying to use as many on-hand ingredients as possible to cut down on the grocery bill. In light of this, tonight we had kielbasa, roasted potatoes, corn and french bread. The bread is the only thing I had to buy at the store - the rest was already in my kitchen.
I used Eckrich turkey smoked sausage. I slice it thin on an angle and then cook it in a really hot pan with no added oil until it is pretty charred. For some reason sausage is pretty much the only thing in the world I prefer to be almost burned.
For the potatoes, I dice red potatoes in small pieces, leaving the skins on. Then, I toss them in olive oil, garlic powder, seasoned salt and pepper and bake at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes until crispy. I add a little kosher salt when I take them out of the oven.
I like to serve the sausage with spicy brown mustard for dipping but hubby prefers ketchup.


Estimated cost of meal:

Sausage: $2
Potatoes: $.75
Corn: $.75
Bread: $.90
Mustard: $.10

Total: $4.50

Former life total: Dinner @ Smokestack: $26

Leaner Life Savings: $21.50 or 83%!!!

Menu Plan Monday

I inadvertently spent quite a bit of money on groceries last week, so this week I made a concerted effort to plan cheap meals that I had most of the ingredients for already - it worked! I only spent around $30, which is pretty good for me.
As usual, recipes/pictures will be posted daily, or as often as I get around to posting them.
  • Monday: Kielbasa, roasted potatoes, corn & bread
  • Tuesday: Chicken caesar salad, garlic-cheese bread
  • Wednesday: Sloppy joes, chips, celery sticks, ranch dip
  • Thursday: Shredded beef chimichangas, beans, Chipotle-style rice
  • Friday: Tuna casserole, bread
  • Saturday: Beef fried rice, crab rangoon (carry-over from last week)
  • Sunday: Chicken fingers, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls

I realize this may be a good time to mention that my husband LOVES bread. He pretty much can't have a meal without it. So if my menus look a little carb-heavy, they probably are!

For more menu-planning ideas, go to

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Freebies (Mailbox Monday)

I am still new at this free sample game, but here is a picture of all of the free stuff I got in the mail this week. Not pictured is the free scarf I got from Victoria's Secret for buying a sweater (I got 3 for $30 and had a 20% off coupon, plus a $32 gift card so after shipping I only paid $1.18 OOP!)
  • Mueller pasta recipe book, calendar & coupons
  • Kashi granola bar
  • 2 Ola Loa vitamin drink mixes
  • Millstone Hazlenut Cream coffee (if anyone related to me that reads this would like to inherit this in their Christmas stocking please let me know)
Go to A Frugal Friend to see more fun Mailbox Monday posts!

Dinner Tonight: Breakfast Burritos

This is the first time I've ever made breakfast burritos. Ok, so it's really just scrambled eggs wrapped in a tortilla, but it was a nice slight change from eggs and toast. We still had hashbrowns and bacon on the side like we would with regular scrambled eggs. I sauteed some peppers and onions and added them to my eggs, but hubby just had bacon bits and cheese in his. The hashbrowns were homemade - I somehow managed to cook them in a perfect pancake and flipped the entire thing at once. It was impressive.


Estimated cost of meal:

Eggs: $.70
Cheese: $.20
Bacon: $1
Tortillas: $.75
Veggies: $.40
Hasbrowns: $.40

Total: $3.45

Former life total: Dinner @ Perkins: $26

Leaner Life Savings: $22.55 or 87%!!!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Turkey Pasta

First, a confesssion. The picture above is from the last time I made turkey pasta, since I didn't make a pretty plate out of it this time and also didn't have any salad. Second, my mom thinks I'm a little weird for naming this recipe turkey pasta. It is, basically, spaghetti and meat sauce. The difference is that I don't use spaghetti noodles, since I don't like them. I usually use angel hair, but sometimes it's linguine.
I serve with some sort of crusty bread, usually with either garlic or cheese added. Sometimes I make a salad, sometimes I don't have the energy or fresh lettuce to do so.

Turkey Pasta

1/2 lb angel hair pasta
1 lb ground turkey or lean ground beef
1-2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1 jar Prego pasta sauce (I prefer the Garlic & Herb flavor since they stopped making the Garlic Supreme which was even better)
1/4 cup red wine, optional (recommended: Riunite Lambrusco - it's cheap, tastes kind of like Kool-aid, is easy to drink and adds a nice sweetness to the sauce)
Salt & Pepper
Parmesan or Italian-cheese blend

Boil pasta until tender. While water is boiling, brown turkey in a sauce pan. Season with red pepper flakes & Italian seasoning. Once meat is brown, drain grease or wipe from pan with paper towels. Add red wine, cook until wine is reduced or fully absorbed into meat. Add pasta sauce. Simmer about 10 minutes to allow flavors to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings, I usually add about 1-2 tsps of salt and sometimes more red pepper since we like it fairly spicy. Spoon on top of noodles, top with shredded cheese and enjoy!


Estimated cost of meal:

Pasta: $.75
Turkey $2
Prego: $1.60
Spices/wine: $.40
Cheese: $.20
Bread: $1

Total: $5.95

Former Life Total: Dinner @ Pizza Hut $18

Leaner Life Savings: $12.05 or 67%!!!

Walmart Deals

To round out my week of good deal finding, I made a quick stop at Walmart last night. I had several coupons I wanted to use and had read about some deals on NWA Deals. I wasn't sure about their time sensitivity so I wanted to be sure to go before the new ad goes into effect tomorrow. It turns out most of the prices were probably not that time-sensitive, but I still feel like I got some good deals (and some laundry detergent, which I just needed anyway).

Items Purchased:

  • Bacon-wrapped beef filets, $3.98 less $3/1 coupon
  • Nestle cookies, $2 less $1.50/1 coupon
  • Snuggle fabric sheets, $1.87 less $2/1 coupon
  • All fabric softener, $4.97 less $2/1 coupon

Total Paid: $5.22 including tax

Speaking of tax, I've come to a somewhat startling realization. On most of my Walgreens purchases, I was charged sales tax on the entire sale amount before coupons. I noticed on my Walmart transaction that I was only charged on the net total. Then, I realized that most of my Walgreens purchases had been made on the Kansas side of the state line, while the Walmart I go to is on the Missouri side. I thought back to the one item I bought at a Missouri Walgreens and the sales tax was charged after coupons. I'm assuming there must be different rules in each state for how to apply the sales tax charge. Since Missouri charges after coupons, I need to make an effort do my shopping on the Missouri side and save an extra 8% on all of my coupon savings!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Club Sandwiches

Tonight was supposed to be a basketball practice night so I planned one of hubby's favorite easy meals, club sandwiches. I don't think these really justify a recipe, but I will discuss the ingredients since here in the Midwest there seems to be some confusion as to what constitutes a club sandwich. The way I was raised, club sandwiches were made with three layers of white or sourdough bread, roast turkey, lettuce, bacon, mayo and tomato. That's it. On 99% of menus around here, they include some variation of those ingredients, plus ham and cheese. I think the thought of ham and cheese on my club sandwich is quite unpleasant, but I suppose I shouldn't judge people that like it that way.
My favorite restaurant club sandwhich is Cheesecake Factory's, as they use all the correct ingredients and have yummy sourdough bread. Unfortunately we don't have access to reasonably-priced sourdough, so I use wheat (somewhere along the line I read we're suppose to be eating more whole grains so I try to substitute wheat products where I can and hubby doesn't seem to mind most of the time). I also use Miracle Whip Light instead of mayo, I like the tanginess and it's not as rich. I used to use turkey bacon instead of regular, but unfortunately one time I found a good deal on regular bacon and hubby remembered how much better it was than turkey so he strongly suggested I stop using the turkey. I imagine my arteries are quite displeased with this development.


Estimated cost of meal:

Bread: $.60
Turkey: $1.50
Bacon: $.60
Miracle Whip: $.20
Lettuce: $.40
Chips: $.50

Total: $3.80

Former Life Total: Dinner @ Cheesecake Factory: $30

Leaner Life Savings: $26.20 or 87%!!!

Target Deals

Thanks to various sites detailing Target deals (especially Money Saving Mom) I was able to take advantage of quite a few opportunities this week. This is a photo of everything I bought - my total (including tax) was $1.67!

Here's how I did it:

  • Mr. Potato Head, $6.99 less $5 coupon
  • Renu travel-size contact lens solution, $1.67 less $2 coupon (should have been reduced to the price of the item but my cashier didn't do this)
  • Johnson's travel-size shampoo, $.97 less $1 coupon
  • Swiss Miss cocoa (2 boxes), $.97 less $1 coupon (this was a Target coupon and automatically adjusted to the purchase price)

Walgreens - Week 2 (I think I'm improving)

I am getting better at this Walgreens game, though I am still working out some of the kinks. Most notably, it took me no fewer than 7 trips this week to get everything I wanted! Part of the problem is I was indecisive, but there is also the problem that many Walgreens sell out of the sale items. Luckily, I have found a stealth Walgreens location that seems to have plenty of everything available. Hopefully their lack of traffic won't result in their going out of business just as I start to get really good at this!

Here is a summary of my transactions for this week:

#1 - Stayfree maxi pads, sale price $1.99, used $1/1 coupon, paid $.99 OOP and received $2 RR

#2 - Conair brushes, sale price $2, Stimudent dental picks, sale price $2, Christmas bows, $.39 w/in-ad coupon (filler item, might not have been necessary had I planned a little better), used $4 RR from previous purchases, paid $.39 OOP and received $4 RR

#3 - Renu contact solution twin-pack, sale price $9.99, used $2/1 coupon, candy canes, $.39 B1G1 free w/in-ad coupon (filler item), used $4 RR from #2, paid $4.38 OOP and received $10 RR

#4 - Dove soap, (2) 6-packs, sale price $5.99, used $1/1 coupon, used $10 RR from #3, paid $.98 OOP and received $3 RR

#5 - Kellogg's cereal, 4 boxes, sale price $1.99, used $5/4 coupon, another package Stayfree maxis, used $1/1 coupon, used $3 RR, paid $.95 OOP and received $2 RR for next week!

Total spent OOP: $7.69 (not including tax, which is charged on the total before coupons, so really I spent about $10.75)

RR remaining for next week: $2 (not great but better than nothing)

Average price/item: $.55!!!

For comparison's sake, I normally buy Dove soap at Walmart or Target, the 6-pack on Walmart's website is currently $7. So, for $.69 more, I got an extra 6-pack of soap, 2 packages of maxi pads, 2 bottles of contact solution, 2 hair brushes, a package of dental picks, 4 boxes of cereal, 25 Christmas bows and 2 candy canes. Plus, I still have $2 to spend next week. Wow!!!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Buffalo Chicken Pizza

Tonight was one of my favorite Rachael Ray recipes, buffalo chicken pizza. If you are like me and love the taste of buffalo wings but don't want to deep-fry them at home, this is a great way to get the same flavors in a much easier and (hopefully) healthier way!
I deviate from the recipe in only a couple of small ways. First, I chop my chicken into bite-size pieces and then saute it instead of grilling it. I just find it easier to eat in small pieces and easier to cut before cooking. Second, this time I forgot to buy jack cheese so I used Italian blend - I didn't really notice a difference even though I usually do use jack for this recipe. Third, for hubby's portion there is no blue cheese, no scallions, very little sauce and very little cheese (not that he's picky or anything). Fourth, I use Boboli-style pre-made crusts - the brand I buy comes in a 3-pack which makes the perfect amount for dinner and my lunch the next day.
I serve with some celery sticks and ranch or blue cheese dressing - this time it was Wishbone light blue cheese since I got a bottle on sale for a very good price!


Estimated cost of meal:

Chicken: $1.50
Sauces/seasonings: $.75
Crusts: $2.50
Cheese: $1
Celery: $.30
Dip: $.20

Total: $6.25

Former life total: Dinner @ Buffalo Wild Wings: $30

Leaner Life Savings: $23.75 or 79%!!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Chili's

Our originally scheduled meal for this evening has been pushed to tomorrow and tomorrow night's will be pushed to next week. I had to go pick my mom up from the airport tonight and hubby was invited to go see the KU basketball game so neither of us was home.
My mom took me to eat at Chili's - not much to report about that. I will say though that we had excellent service - they were very nice and even gave us the lunch price for the soup/salad combo we ordered even though they are supposed to add $2 at dinner time! Maybe they saw me with my coupons and took pity... So if you are ever in the northern part of KC and want some Chili's, I recommend the Barry Road location!
Speaking of coupons - I got some great deals tonight at Target & Walgreens - will post more on those later. I want to get all of my Walgreens stuff together so I can take a picture to illustrate what a great shopper I am becoming!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Pot Roast

In my almost 30 years of life, 5+ years of marriage and maybe 12 years of cooking on my own, this is probably the third time I've made pot roast. The first two times were not very successful - it always tasted pretty bland. So, when trying to find a better recipe I found a link to McCormick's site and decided to give their seasoning packet a try - recipe here.

The website said to use red wine or water but the packet only mentioned water. I decided to give the wine a try. Now, since I've never tried it with water I don't know for sure, but I think the wine may have contributed to the fact that the resulting sauce looked a lot like sludge. It was very dark and made all of the meat and veggies the same color. Granted, I only used potatoes and onions since that's all I had on hand but I think it might have had the same affect on anything else that was in the crockpot.

The taste was okay, but I felt it was fairly salty (as can be expected from packaged mixes and one of the main reasons I usually don't use them). Hubby thought it wasn't salty enough - but later pressed said it was a "different kind of salty" - I think he means the difference between pulverized packaged salt mix and the lovely kosher salt we usually use but I can't be sure.

If I were to make this again I would try without wine (or with significantly less) and add more veggies. However, I think that I will keep searching for pot roast recipes. On the plus side, it was very easy to put together and really nice to have it ready to eat when we got home. Now I remember why I love crock pot meals! I really need to find more of them that hubby will eat.


Estimated cost of meal:

Beef: $3
Sauce packet: $1.50
Wine: $1.25
Veggies: $.75
Rolls: $1.50 (we splurged and got Farm to Market sourdough rolls - $.50 each!)

Total: $8

Former life total: Dinner @ Freddy T's: $22

Leaner Life Savings: $14 or 64%

Monday, December 7, 2009

Dinner Tonight: White Chicken Chili

Finally! This meal has been on the menu plan every week for about a month but keeps getting pushed back. It's a shame too because it turned out pretty well. I didn't have enough green chilis (used them last week for the chicken quesadillas and didn't bother buying another can) but it was still good. The chipotle chili powder is so spicy - I only used a teaspoon but that stuff packs a major punch!
I love regular red chili but this chili is a nice change on occasion. I serve with Jiffy corn muffin mix made as cornbread. Sometimes I add cheese/green chilis to the cornbread but decided to go without this time.

White Chicken Chili

3/4 lb chicken, cut into bite-size cubes
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt, pepper & garlic powder
1 small onion, minced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 small can diced green chilis
1/2-1 tsp chipotle chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 can Great Northern beans, undrained
1 cup chicken stock (or more, depending on how soupy you like your chili)
Grated cheese (optional)

Season chicken with salt, pepper & garlic powder (Paul Dean calls this "house seasoning" - little did I know that my house had so much in common with hers since this is what I've always used on everything). Saute in 1 Tbsp olive oil until brown. Remove from pan and add remaining 1 Tbsp of oil, onions and garlic. (Sidebar: I chop my veggies in the food processor so they will be tiny and almost indiscernable in the chili - hubby likes the flavor of onions but would rather not know they are there) Saute 2-3 minutes until softened. Add spices and green chilis and cook for another couple of minutes. Add beans and stock and simmer for 10-15 minutes to thicken and allow flavors to combine.
Top with grated cheese or your favorite chili toppings (green onion would be great here, or some sour cream to offset some of the heat).


Estimated Cost of Meal

Chicken: $1.50
Veggies/seasonings: $.75
Beans: $.75
Stock: $.50
Green chilis: $.60
Cornbread: $.65

Total: $4.75

Former Life Total: Dinner @ Wendy's (they serve chili!): $12

Leaner Life Savings: $7.25 or 60%!

Menu Plan Monday

Hopefully this week we will finally make the chicken chili, since it's been on the menu for 3-4 weeks and keeps getting pre-empted!
Recipes/pictures will be posted daily (assuming I keep up this week).

  • Monday: Chicken chili & cornbread
  • Tuesday: Pot roast (getting a little help from a package, mine never turns out that well so I thought I'd give it a try)
  • Wednesday: Buffalo chicken pizza; celery sticks w/blue cheese dressing
  • Thursday: Beef fried rice & crab rangoon
  • Friday: Club sandwiches
  • Saturday: Turkey pasta (some people would call this spaghetti w/meat sauce)
  • Sunday: Breakfast burritos

For more menu plans visit

A Note on Freebies

My name is Laura and I am addicted to freebies. There, I said it. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Ever since I lost my job and discovered this new world of couponing and deal hunting, I have become obsessed with the idea of getting as much stuff as possible for free. I'm trying not to let it rule my life, and I am trying even harder to resist getting something for free if I do not need it. Sometimes, I fail.
To this end, on Saturday I knew that there would be free lip gloss at Estee Lauder counters around the country. Did I need free lip gloss? No. But did I want some? Yes. Plus I was in the area of a store that was participating in the freebie, so I decided to stop in.
The store I went to is called Von Maur. I've never shopped there before and most likely won't again. I was expecting them to be upscale and snooty about it, and they lived up to my expectations!
When I arrived there was no one manning the Estee Lauder counter, so someone from another counter offered to help. When I told her I was there for the free lip gloss, the look of disdain was clear on her face. She had to ask another person about the offer, who first confirmed that they were near the register. Then, to her horror, when she asked what I'd be buying to get the lip gloss, I told her it was just supposed to be free. She looked incredulously at the other woman, who nodded her head with pursed lips. Begrudgingly she went behind the counter and got me my lip gloss, which I took and left with a smile.
It helps that I have no desire to ever shop at this store, otherwise I might have been embarrassed to be such a freebie junkie. Also, if an Estee Lauder representative had been at the counter, I would have been more apt to at least pretend to be interested in their product, but as that wasn't the case I didn't feel the need. I have a feeling I would have never done this in my old life (just about 2 months ago), but apparently living leaner can drive me to do formerly unspeakable things - like getting free samples without a purchase!

Weekend Shopping - Walgreens

I am still getting used to shopping at Walgreen's, so I didn't do as well as I could have this weekend.

Goody hair elastics, paid $2, got $2 in RR
Christmas pencil - paid $.39 (apparently there was a coupon I could have used for this but I missed it)

Total OOP: $.57 (used $2 RR from previous purchase)

So, to round up my first week of Walgreen's shopping, I got:

1 Gillette Fusion Razor
2 Dove deodorants
1 nail clipper
1 Goody hair elastics
1 pencil

Total Spent (including tax) - $9.35

Total RR Remaining - $2.00

I think this is pretty decent for my first try! We'll see how next week goes...

Weekend Shopping - Hen House

I got some incredible deals at Hen House on Saturday! It was their holiday open house so I got to try quite a few samples and they were having a one-day sale.

  • Rotel Tomatoes: 3 cans on sale for $.79, saved $1.53
  • Wonder Bread: On sale for $1.28, saved $1.61 (this was even cheaper @ Hy-Vee but we needed it for lunch that day and I didn't want to make an extra stop)
  • Fritos: On sale for $1.48, saved $1.51
  • Grande tortilla chips: On sale for $1.88, saved $1.61
  • Kraft singles: On sale for 2/$3, saved $2.30
  • Florida's Natural orange juice: On sale for $1.98, less $1 coupon, saved $2.37
  • Blue Bunny ice cream: On sale for $1.49, used 2 $1 coupons, saved $6.72
  • Onions: 3lb bag on sale for $.99, saved $2.01
  • Russet potatoes: On sale for 3lbs/$.99, savings unknown as they didn't ring up on my receipt!
  • Got $.20 off for using reusable bags!

Total Spent: $12.73

Total Saved: $19.86!!!

Weekend Shopping - Target Deals

Here are the deals I got at Target this weekend:

  • Cottonelle toilet paper, 24 double rolls: $11.99 less $1 off coupon - Target didn't have their regular price posted but Wal-Mart's price was $14.42, so I saved $3.43!
  • Purina dog treats: $2.84, used B1G1 free coupon, saved $2.84
  • 2 12-packs of Dr. Pepper: On sale for $2.50 each less 2 $1 coupons, saved $5.98
  • Barilla pasta: Not on sale (didn't plan that very well) but used $.75/2 coupon, saved $.75
  • Iams Dog Food: Was not on sale but we had to have it...Went on sale the next day so I took my receipt back and got a refund, saved $2.80
  • Also got $.05 for bringing a reusable bag!

Total Spent: $36.20
Total Saved: $15.85

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Shrimp Fettucine Alfredo

We tried something new tonight! I've made fettucine alfredo before but usually try to stay away from it because it is so loaded with butter, cream and cheese - all things good for the taste buds but not the arteries! However, I bought some shrimp on sale last week and when trying to decide what to do with it, this was hubby's suggestion. I found this recipe online and followed it somewhat, though since I made two separate batches it needed quite a bit more milk and corn starch to get to our desired thickness.
The meal was a surprising success. When asked if it reminded him of Olive Garden, hubby said it was even better! Pretty decent praise even considering Olive Garden isn't our favorite Italian restaurant.
I added some ingredients to mine to make it more like Shrimp Czarina, my favorite dish at Jazz. It definitely wasn't as good as Jazz but it was tasty!


Estimated Cost of Meal

Shrimp: $3.75
Pasta: $1
Milk: $.50
Cheese: $1.25
Butter: $.05
Veggies: $.75
Lemon: $.30

Total: $7.60

Former Life Total: Cost of dinner @ Olive Garden: $41.00 (this is the actual amount spent on our last visit there in our former life)
Leaner Life Savings: $33.40 or 81%