Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Waffles & Bacon

As long as we had gotten so far off track, why not make something that is not even on the menu plan?  This would have been on next week's plan, but I realized a little too late that Sunday is still part of the prior week.  I forgot to thaw out meat today, so hubby suggested I just buy some meat when I went to the grocery store today.  I had already planned to buy some bacon since it was on a really good sale, so that made it easy to decide to make this meal.
Hubby is not a big fan of waffles, but he agreed to eat them because he loves me.  Or something like that.  I love waffles!  I would probably eat them as often as he would like to eat biscuits and gravy.  Must be something about Bisquick I guess!
I just use the recipe on the Bisquick box, so no sense repeating that here.  This time I served them up simply with butter and syrup, but I briefly considered going with strawberries and whipped cream since I had both on hand. Hubby made himself some eggs to go with his (I suppose to make his meal less waffle-focused) but I just had bacon and OJ.  Breakfast Dinner of champions!


Estimated cost of meal

Bisquick: $.60
Milk: $.35
Eggs (1 for waffles, 2 for scrambling): $.35
Oil: $.10
Cheese (for eggs): $.25
Bacon: $1.10

Total: $2.75 (wow, that's cheap)

Former life total: Breakfast @ Mama's: $22

Leaner Life Savings: $19.25 or 88%!!!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Turkey Chipotle Chili & Cornbread

I felt like having chili this week, but I wanted to change it up a little and make something different from our regular chili.  I thought adding some chipotle sounded nice, so I googled chipotle chili and found this Rachael Ray recipe.  I've made several of her chili recipes before and had decent success, so I decided to give this one a try. 
The result?  Mixed reviews.  I really liked it but hubby thought it was just okay.  For once, it actually only took about 30 minutes to make, even considering I needed extra time to measure out my turkey (some of which hadn't thawed completely so it took a little longer to cook) and also to chop the onions, garlic and tomatoes in the food processor to eliminate any possible chunkiness.  The biggest problem was that it was a little too liquidy and didn't thicken well, not too surprising given that there was no thickening agent in the recipe. 
I veered from the recipe in a few ways: I didn't drain the beans as she instructed, since I think the bean liquid helps thicken the sauce.  Instead of stewed tomatoes, I used the fire-roasted I had on hand.  I also used about half of the rest of the ingredients she called for, since 2 pounds of meat is just obscene for 4 portions.  Also, I left out the chicken stock because with the juice from the tomatoes there was already too much liquid.
I served with regular cornbread with some Mexican-blend cheese thrown in, rather than the corn cake toppers she suggests.  The chili had a nice sweetness and a smoky heat from the chipotles, but it wasn't overpowering.  I might actually add another half a chipotle if I made this again, since we like things fairly spicy.  All in all I thought this was a nice change of pace from just plain old chili, though I suppose the differences were fairly minor.  Hubby would have preferred I just stuck with the regular recipe, but how would we know if we never tried anything new?


Estimated cost of meal

Turkey: $1.50
Onion/garlic: $.20
Chipotles/chili powder: $.20
Beer: $.50
Tomatoes: $.75
Beans: $.80
Cornbread: $.65
Cheese: $.50

Total: $5.10

Former life total: Dinner @ Chili's: $30

Leaner Life Savings: $24.90 or 83%!!!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Winstead's

Tonight I stopped and grabbed Winstead's drive-through for me and my grandma.  It's right on the way from the office to my mom's house, and they have onion rings, one of Nana's favorite things.  Since we discovered Five Guys, we hardly ever eat at Winstead's anymore, but it's still pretty good.  Their onion rings really are the best thing they serve.  The burgers are a bit greasy, but I suppose a good burger usually is to some extent.  Tomorrow night it's back home and back to cooking, though we are still off track for the week so who knows what I will fix!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Cold Cut Sandwiches/Noodles & Co.

My meal planning has kind of gone out the window at this point, as I am scheduled to spend the next two nights at my mom's house with my grandma.  So, tonight hubby fended for himself and made a semblance of the meal that was scheduled for tomorrow night, just some cold cut deli sandwiches.  He even took a picture of his dinner for me - I guess he must be supportive of my blogging habits!
As for me, I got takeout from Noodles & Company, where I've never been before.  I had heard mixed reviews so I was a little apprehensive but I didn't want regular fast food and needed to get something I could easily take home.  I had something called "Pasta Fresca" which was penne in a white wine/balsamic sauce with spinach, red onion and feta cheese.  I added chicken and got a side of Tomato Basil Bisque and a piece of ciabatta bread.  I thought the food was okay - nothing spectacular but certainly edible.  I wished I had added another vegetable like mushrooms or broccoli to make the pasta a little more interesting.  I might be willing to try again sometime when I have a full-time job again.  The price didn't seem too bad, a little under $9 for a pretty filling and quick meal.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Chicken Caesar Salad-Part 2

On the second try, this meal went off without a hitch.  Of course, I already had all of the ingredients ready and just had to assemble them and make a new loaf of garlic bread, but that is beside the point.  No broken plates, no missing ingredients.  Apparently hubby did have a caesar salad for lunch today, apparently not realizing I still planned to make it, but he says that mine was better than Panera's.  I'm not always sure when he's just being nice or telling the truth, but I think he may have been serious this time.  I do make excellent croutons.
See my previous post for cost comparisons, etc. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Chicken Caesar Salad-Part 1

I am beginning to think that my chicken caesar salad making is cursed.  Last time I made this dinner, I broke a plate. This time, I made almost the entire recipe (grilled the chicken, made the croutons, cut up the lettuce) before realizing I didn't have any caesar dressing.  I felt like a complete idiot for not checking before I went shopping, and was very discouraged.  I told hubby he'd just have to stop and grab something on his way to practice (as by this time it was about 20 minutes before he needed to leave).  Then, to my surprise, hubby told me if I could just make some macaroni and cheese really quick, he could eat the grilled chicken and the bread from the caesar salad meal and he'd be good to go.  Apparently this frugal thing is really catching on - I was very proud of him for thinking on his feet like that considering I had just given up on the meal and resigned myself to takeout or scrounging for leftovers.  We had a packet of Easy Mac in the pantry so I made that for him and he added some chicken and bacon bits to it and ate it very fast on his way out the door.  I just had some leftover sausage dip since I wanted to leave the rest of the caesar ingredients for tomorrow night.


Estimated cost of meal:

Easy Mac: $.35
Chicken: $.40
Bacon: $.15
Bread: $.80

Total: $1.70

Former life total:  Dinner @ McDonald's: $10

Leaner Life Savings: $8.30 or 83%!!!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Steak Fajitas

This is one of the few recipes I make from Rachael Ray's original 30 Minute Meals cookbook.  For some reason, when she did it for her TV show (and then posted online), the ingredients changed drastically.  I'm not sure how someone's favorite recipe could be modified so much, but I am sticking with the original, which I was able to find online here.
Generally I call these "steak soft tacos" since hubby doesn't like fajitas and doesn't seem to care that if you leave out the veggies they are pretty much the same thing.  This time I decided to go ahead and make the veggies for myself, and I'm really glad I did. They were very yummy!  For some reason, the recipe tasted a lot spicier than usual.  This could be that I added too much hot sauce, or the fact that I used Pace hot picante sauce on mine.  The sweetness of the peppers helped offset the spiciness a bit.
Sidebar, I got the salsa for free by playing the Pace "Hand-Pick and Win" game here.  Actually, I ended up being paid $1.75 to buy the salsa since the coupon was for $4 off and instead of reducing the value to the price of the salsa ($2.25) my Target checker just pushed the whole coupon through.  Gotta love that.


Estimated cost of meal:

Steak: $2.50
Tortillas: $.75
Peppers: $.80
Onion: $.20
Marinade: $.60
Sour cream: $.10
Salsa: Free!
Rice: $.80
Beans: $.55
Total: $6.30

Former life total: Dinner @ Jalapenos: $33

Leaner Life Savings: $26.70 or 81%!!!

Menu Plan Monday

I've been really bad at posting in a timely manner lately - hopefully next week I can get back on track.  Here is this week's menu:

Monday: Steak fajitas, rice, beans (carried over from last week)
Tuesday: Chicken caesar salad
Wednesday: Hashbrown casserole
Thursday: Baked drumsticks, macaroni and cheese
Friday: Cold cut sandwiches
Saturday: Pot stickers, teriyaki steak, rice
Sunday: Turkey chipotle chili, cornbread

For more menu ideas, check out

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Sausage Dip

I was supposed to make fajitas tonight, but I wasn't feel very well.  We were watching football and I felt like having some snacks, so I quickly threw together some sausage dip, which ended up becoming dinner.  Hubby wasn't thrilled but he humored me since he knew I wasn't up to cooking a full meal, but he was still hungry!  Poor guy. 
This dip is inspired by something his relatives always make for family gatherings. I'm not sure what is in theirs, but I took a guess and my version tastes very similar.  I used a full pound of sausage and it was a little too sausage-y, so next time I would use less or add more cheese/Ro-tel.

Sausage Dip

Jimmy Dean Hot Sausage
Ro-Tel diced tomatoes with green chiles
Cream cheese

Brown sausage, add cheese and Ro-tel, mix until cheese melts in and everything is well-combined. 

Simple but oh so good for snacking!  Serve with tortilla chips or any other dippers that you choose.


Estimated cost of meal:

Sausage: $2
Cream cheese: $.50
Tomatoes: $.80
Chips: $1

Total: $4.30

Former life total: Dinner @ Coach's: $24

Leaner Life Savings: $19.70 or 82%!!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Potato Soup

I have never made potato soup before, but I like to eat it at restaurants so I thought I would give it a try.  I found this recipe and thought it sounded yummy.  The result was just ok, nothing special.  I used real potatoes and fresh onion rather than the frozen it called for, plus I couldn't bring myself to add 2 whole cups of cheese so I'm not sure what difference that might have made.  I felt like there was no flavor in the actual recipe, so I had to add a lot of seasoning at the end to make it have any taste.  I also thought it wasn't creamy enough so I added some sour cream.  The potatoes were still completely chunky, so I mashed them a bit to try to thicken the soup and they ended up almost completely pureed.  I meant to leave it a little bit chunky so I'm not sure how that happened! 
I forgot to check the number of servings that this made - so we ended up with way too much as almost always happens with my crockpot cooking.  Overall I don't think I will make this again - hubby didn't seem to thrilled with it and it wasn't good enough for me to want to try to force it on him again.
Estimated cost of meal
Potatoes: $1
Onion: $.20
Chicken broth: $1
Milk: $.25
Cheese: $1
Sour cream: $.25
Misc. seasonings: $.20
Bacon: $.25
Green onion: $.20
Bread: $1.25
Total: $5.60
Former life total: Dinner @ Panera: $17
Leaner Life Savings: $11.40 or 67%!!!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Turkey Pasta

See this entry for more detail on this recipe. Tonight we had breadsticks instead of regular bread, and I got a better deal on the ground turkey and omitted the wine, so the cost actually went down by about $0.95, so the savings would be $13 or 72%!!!
On a (rare) non-food related note, our favorite TV show Burn Notice came back from hiatus tonight! We're so excited. Hubby is also happy because his other favorite Supernatural came back tonight too. Combine that with Bones and that makes 3 hours of our favorite shows all in one block! Can you tell we're TV-aholics?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Culver's

It seems that we end up cheating and eating out about once a week, which is bad but I suppose better than every night like we used to do. Tonight I spent some time over at my mom's with my grandma, and when I was ready to go home I was tired and didn't feel like cooking. My grandma offered to give me some cash to get dinner, and I decided to take her up on it. So I suppose it's not that much of cheating when someone else is paying!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Biscuits and Gravy

It is by some small miracle that I have been doing this blog for over two months and this is the first time I've blogged about my own biscuits and gravy. This is hubby's all-time favorite meal. If it were up to him we would eat it at least once a week. As it is I gave him a homemade coupon book for Christmas and included 12 coupons for this meal, so that he can have me make it even when I refuse. Normally I agree to make it about once a month, but I haven't had to the past couple of months because my mom and grandma made it a couple of times over the holidays and we were able to get our fix that way.
My family has been making biscuits and gravy for forever, at least as far as I know. My grandma's has always been the best, but my mom and I make a pretty decent version ourselves. This meal has been served at every special family breakfast I can remember my entire life. We still give my cousin a hard time for the one time she took too much gravy and that was probably about 20 years ago!
It must have been fate that when I met my hubby, I found out it was his favorite meal. I consider myself a good cook and can make pretty much anything, but this recipe is in my genes! Hubby likes a lot of different kinds of biscuits and gravy, and will eat them whenever we go out to eat for breakfast, but he claims he likes mine best. Of course he might know that if he told me it wasn't I'd be less inclined to make it for him, so take that with a grain of salt.
I like to serve with just microwaved bacon and orange juice, but my grandma thinks there should be eggs and my mom always makes sausage patties and usually some fried ham too.

Biscuits & Gravy

Vegetable oil
Jimmy Dean Original Sausage
Salt & pepper

For biscuits: Prepare Bisquick according to package directions for biscuits (2 1/4 cups mix, 2/3 cup milk, stir to combine, turn onto floured cutting board and knead 10 times, roll out with rolling pin and cut out with biscuit cutter). I like to use a 2-inch cutter - I have actual biscuit cutters but cookie cutters or even the bottom of a juice glass can be used. Liberally grease glass baking dish with oil, put biscuits in dish and turn to coat both sides with oil. Bake according to package directions (8-10 minutes @ 450 degrees).

For gravy: Brown sausage in 10-inch skillet with high sides. I use half a pound for just the two of us, for four people you'd want to use a full pound. As it browns, note how much grease is in the pan. You will want about 2 Tbsp (again for 2 people, 1 being a really big eater). If it looks like there won't be enough, add a small piece of bacon to the skillet. Once the sausage is browned, add flour to skillet and cook for a few minutes. The secret to flavorful gravy (learned only with the last few years after studying my grandmother's to find out why her's is so much better) is to cook the flour until it is very brown, almost burned. There is a fine line between browned and burned though, so be careful. Once it's ready, slowly whisk in milk. It usually takes around 2 cups for the consistency I like, but that's just an estimate. Let the gravy come to a boil to make sure it has reached its full thickness, then add more milk as necessary. If it's too thin, just wait for a bit and it will thicken up.

Crumble biscuits in a bowl and top with gravy. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


Estimated cost of meal

Bisquick: $.60
Milk: $.75
Oil: $.10
Flour: $.10
Sausage: $1
Bacon: $2

Total: $4.55

Former life total: Breakfast @ Gomer's: $22

Leaner life savings: $17.45 or 79%!!!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dinner Tonight: BLT Salad with Chicken

I have mentioned before that I'm trying to find some new salad recipes to throw in the regular mix of salads that we currently make every week or two (or did before I started this blog and tried to add more variety to our diets so I wasn't constantly repeating).
This salad was my newest attempt, adapted from the recipe here. I added grilled chicken because I just didn't think it would be filling enough with bacon alone.
I made croutons in the oven like I always do, rather than in a skillet as the recipe suggests. I also seasoned them with garlic powder instead of pepper, since some of the comments mentioned that the recipe was way too peppery.
The dressing was interesting. It was pretty sour, so I added quite a bit of extra olive oil and sugar to try to counter balance that. I also substituted sour cream for half of the mayo, based on suggestions in the comments on The bacon drippings didn't really seem to add any flavor, and made the mouth feel of the dressing somewhat unpleasant. I burned some of the bacon since I'm used to cooking it in the microwave, and had to start over just to get enough drippings to make the dressing.
Hubby will eat just about anything with bacon, but he thought it would have been better with caesar dressing. When I pointed out that if I did that the only thing separating this salad from the chicken caesar I make would be the bacon, he didn't see any problem with that.
I think I will make a salad like this again, but just stick to ranch dressing in the future. It will be a lot cheaper to make (basil is so pricey) and probably taste better too. I might also add some shredded cheddar cheese and maybe some cucumbers next time - that sounds pretty good!


Estimated cost of meal:

Bacon: $1
Chicken: $1
Mayo/sour cream: $.50
Vinegar/oil: $.50
Bread: $1.65
Lettuce: $1.50
Basil: $2

Total: $8.15 (so not worth that)

Dinner at McDonald's: $12

Leaner Life Savings: $3.85 or 32%

Menu Plan Monday

I am really behind on posting, so without further adieu, here is this week's menu:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Goulash

Tonight we tried another new recipe, goulash. I was planning to cook the noodles separately and serve the meat over them, but hubby thought it would be good to mix them in and let them cook in with the sauce. Unfortunately they got way overcooked and mushy and pretty much ruined the experience for me. I really didn't enjoy this meal at all. Hubby liked it okay, and I might be willing to try again someday. Because of all the stirring of the noodles, the meat was almost completely broken up instead of staying in stew-like pieces like I had hoped. Next time I might use a different cut of meat that is less likely to shred, and definitely cook the noodles on the side.


Estimated cost of meal:

Beef: $2
Noodles: $.50
Onion/garlic: $.35
Spices: $.25
Tomatoes: $.75
Rolls: $.90

Total: $4.75

Former life total: Dinner @ Houlihan's: $40

Leaner Life Savings: $35.25 or 88%!!!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Chili's

Tonight we used another one of Christmas gift cards for a night out at Chili's. We went a little earlier than normal and it was really crowded! I expected it to be pretty empty but I was wrong. We had the 2 for $20 meal, which is a million times better than Applebee's. They have a lot more choices, plus you get dessert in addition to the appetizer. Hubby had chicken fried steak and I had a buffalo chicken salad, which I love. We shared some jalapeno cheese fries, which are normally really good but our waiter wasn't so great and I think they sat around for a long time before he brought them to our table. Dessert was yummy though - it's called the Chocolate Chip Paradise Pie and it is sooooo good. It's a cookie bar thing with chocolate chips, nuts and coconut, topped with caramel and chocolate sauce and of course ice cream!
With the gift card, after drinks (just soda/iced tea) and tip we only had to pay $5 OOP, so this was just as cheap at eating at home and we got appetizer, drinks and dessert!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Dinner Tonight: New Peking Chinese Restaurant

Tonight I went out to dinner with my old coworker. She got a new job after about 3 months of being laid off, so it was great to hear all about it.
We went to New Peking Chinese Restaurant in Westport. Nothing fantastic to report - I had a mixed appetizer platter and it was pretty good but not that filling. She let me eat some of her dumplings though since that's what I had originally thought I was going to order. I just love the sauce they serve with those - I think I'm going to try to make them sometime soon. I still have wonton wrappers leftover from the crab rangoon experiment. I just need to figure out what all is in the sauce and find a good recipe for the dumplings. Oh, and convince hubby to try them. Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Thai Chicken Wraps & Brown Rice

Since sometime last year hubby finally agreed to eat Indian food and loved it, I thought that we should try venturing into some other "exotic" cuisines. Enter tonight's dinner choice, Thai Chicken Wraps.
Of course, these aren't really authentic Thai since they are from Rachael Ray, but at least they are Thai-inspired. I thought this recipe would be a safe choice since it didn't involve any exotic ingredients, and most were already in our fridge/pantry.
The result was not one of my favorite meals, and hubby hated it. I couldn't get the peanut sauce to any reasonable consistency, despite adding way more oil than it said to in an attempt to thin it out. It was very thick and not spicy at all, again despite attempts to doctor it such as adding excessive amounts of cayenne pepper. This could be because our cayenne pepper is very old and has lost its kick, but it was disappointing no matter the reason.
The vegetables were ok, nothing special. The chicken was fine, and hubby used it to make himself a quesadilla (I didn't mix it with the veggies since I knew he might not like it).
We won't be making this again, but I won't give up on trying to get him to eat Thai food. Someday when I have a permanent job again and life isn't so lean I will take him out to one of the local Thai restaurants and let the pros show him how good it can be!


Estimated cost of meal:

Chicken: $2
Tortillas: $.85
Carrots: $.50
Cucumber: $.50
Basil: $2 (how Rachael Ray thinks this is readily available for reasonable prices throughout the country is beyond me)
Peanut Butter: $.20
Sauces/spices: $.50
Rice: $.70

Total: $7.25

Former life total: Dinner @ Korma Sutra: $45

Leaner Life Savings: $37.75 or 84%!!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Smokestack BBQ

Hubby still wasn't feeling well tonight and couldn't handle the thought of trying something totally new like Thai chicken wraps, so we went to one of our old favorites from our former lives, Smokestack BBQ. I had a smoked sausage sandwich with fries and baked beans. They have the best French fries in the world! I am convinced that if it weren't for fries (and the fact that I love them dipped in Ranch dressing) I might be thin. I just can't resist them! Smokestack's are crispy on the outside but soft and mealy on the inside. Usually they are cut like thick steak fries but for some reason tonight they were a little thinner, which worked really well for me because it allowed more surface area to get crispy. They also have one of my favorite Ranch dressings for dipping - thick and not too tangy. I regret that we had to eat out, but it was very tasty and a nice treat.
One other note - hubby gave me what may have been one of the best compliments on my cooking ever! He actually wished that we had leftover shepherd's pie, because he thought that sounded good after his crummy day. He normally hates leftovers, and for him to truly want to eat them is unheard of! That dinner must have been even better than I thought.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Ham & bean soup

My mom and grandma love bean soup, and my mom taught me to make it. Or so I thought. After being at my mom's house late last night, they offered to give me some of their leftovers since they had made the same soup a few days ago. I agreed until I saw them - they looked nothing like my beans! I know that my mom uses pintos instead of navy, but I had no idea the difference would be so drastic. Her soup was basically water and beans. Mine looks more like thick chili. Very strange.
Last time I made this Crockpot staple, hubby complained there was not enough ham in it. So this time I added quite a lot of ham, and he still hardly ate any of it! He wasn't feeling well but it was a little upsetting because this recipe always makes way too much no matter what, but even more so if he doesn't eat.
I forgot to soak the beans until late last night, so I followed the quick-soak method on the back of the package. Except, where it says to boil for 2 minutes, I accidentally forgot they were on the stove and actually boiled them for about 30. Oh well, they didn't seem to be any worse for the wear. We like our beans pretty mushy so it didn't matter that they were cooked a little longer.

Slow-Cooker Ham & Bean Soup

1/2 cup finely chopped onion, or 1-2 Tbsp dried onion
2 garlic cloves or 1-2 tsp garlic powder
1 bay leaf
1 lb dried navy beans, soaked at least 24 hours or prepared using quick-soak method
1 ham hock
1-2 cups chopped ham

Combine all ingredients in crock-pot, using just enough water to cover, cook on low about 8 hours. Remove ham hock, reserve usable meaty portions and chop, return them to the pan. Discard bone and fat. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste. Serve with cornbread.


Estimated cost of meal

Beans: $1.25
Ham hock: $1
Ham: $2
Onion/garlic/spices: $.25
Cornbread mix: $.45
Egg: $.12
Milk: $.08

Total: $5.15

Former life total: Dinner @ Panera: $17

Leaner Life Savings: $11.85 or 70%!!!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Shepherd's Pie

This is not the first time I've made Shepherd's pie, but it is the first time I've tried Alton Brown's version. I made some minor changes, substituting ground beef for the lamb and green beans for the peas. I also omitted the carrot and used dried rosemary instead of fresh. Other than that I followed the recipe pretty closely.
My grandmother is in town and I was scheduled to spend some time with her this evening, so I decided to make this dinner over at my mom's house. I'm not sure if the change in setting was the cause or not, but for some reason it took a really long time for me to make this recipe. If it hadn't been for that, I would say that this was definitely one of the most successful meals I have made recently. The flavor was really good, but a cost-benefit analysis would suggest it wasn't worth spending over an hour and a half cooking it!
I served to my husband, grandmother and my mother and they all seemed to like it. Of course, they are also all biased towards being nice to me but I think they genuinely enjoyed the dish. If I could figure out how to cut out a lot of the prep time, or even make ahead and freeze, this would be a keeper. It was just the way Shepherd's pie is supposed to be - warm, savory and comforting. I don't feel like it was too heavy, though it was truly a meat and potatoes meal. I liked the corn and green beans being in the dish, it made it easier than having to remember to cook them on the side!
I served with Grands biscuits, which my mother was skeptical of but they were very tasty! I usually buy the reduced-fat wheat variety, but tonight we had the regular buttermilk kind and they were satisfying and made a good compliment to the main dish.


Estimated cost of meal:

Potatoes: $.75
Half & half: $.20
Butter: $.25
Egg: $.12
Onion: $.15
Garlic: $.10
Ground beef: $2
Chicken broth: $.50
Corn: $.35
Green beans: $.35
Remaining small ingredients: $.50 (probably less but just to be safe)

Total: $5.27 (for a satisfying meal for 4 people, plus leftovers!)

Former life total: Dinner @ Cheesecake Factory: $70 (for four)

Leaner Life Savings: $64.73 or 92%!!!

Menu Plan Monday

Due to the ridiculously cold temperatures of late, and after the success of last week's slow cooker meal, I've decided to make even more use of our Crock-pot this week. It is really nice to have dinner pretty much ready as soon as I get home - I've always known this but I just don't seem take advantage of it very often. I just hope we can get it cleaned out in time to make the next recipe. I'm also making another attempt to add a new salad to our repertoire, and would love suggestions of any other entree salads that we might try. Hubby's standby favorites are chicken Caesar and Asian chicken salad.
  • Monday: Shepherd's pie (substitute ground beef for lamb, green beans for peas)
  • Tuesday: Slow cooker ham & bean soup, cornbread
  • Wedesday: Thai chicken wraps, rice
  • Thursday: Biscuits & gravy, bacon
  • Friday: Slow cooker goulash, noodles
  • Saturday: BLT salad (add grilled chicken, hold the tomatoes)
  • Sunday: Slow cooker cheesy potato soup

For hundreds of other menu plans, visit

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Make-your-own Pizza

Usually when I make pizza I buy a crust mix that involves adding warm water and letting it sit for a bit. This time hubby requested that I buy the pre-made Boboli-style crusts. These are a bit more expensive but a lot easier and tastier too. I grilled some chicken with the red chicken I made last night and used that as a pizza topping, along with pepperoni, bacon bits and chopped garlic. I used some leftover spaghetti sauce I bought on sale for $.79 for a giant can, plus some shredded Italian cheese.Normally I would add a lot of veggies to my pizza but I completely forgot to pick them up at the store today, so I went without.
I served with a Pizza Shoppe-inspired salad, complete with their amazing pink dressing. It might look strange but it tastes garlicky and delicious. At the restaurant the salad is topped with mozzarella, BacOs and pepperoni and served with crackers. I used more Italian cheese and crushed pita chips and I decided to forego the pepperoni and ran out of bacon bits when making the pizza (not BacOs, but close enough).


Estimated cost of meal:

Crust: $3
Sauce: $.20
Cheese: $.60
Chicken: $.40
Pepperoni: $1
Bacon bits: $.20
Garlic: $.10
Lettuce: $.15
Dressing: $.80
Pita chips: Free! (got a free sample in the mail)

Total: $6.45

Former life total: Dinner @ SPIN!: $27

Leaner Life Savings: $20.55 or 76%!!!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Red Chicken

This is one of our favorite meals and we make it often, so that is why it happens to be the first thing we've repeated since I started this blog. Here is my original post, complete with picture. The only thing I changed this time is I didn't feel like making my whole cucumber salad, so I just had some bagged lettuce with balsamic dressing and feta cheese. Same flavors, much less effort. It also probably reduced the overall cost of the meal by at least $1.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Applebee's

Tonight I was supposed to have dinner with a former co-worker and hubby was supposed to have basketball practice, but both events were cancelled due to the weather. It's ridiculously cold and of course there's still snow everywhere! Hubby and I decided to use the $25 Applebee's gift card I won at a baby shower a couple of weeks ago, because 1) the meal would be free or nearly free and 2) Applebee's is closer than any of the other restaurants where we have gift certificates .
We had the two for $20 meal. Hubby got a bacon cheeseburger and I had chicken tenders. They were edible but nothing special. We shared some spinach and artichoke dip. We each had a soft drink, so the total with tip and tax after the gift card was only $6.74. Not too shabby!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Pulled Pork Sammies

Please accept my apologies as I completely forgot to take a picture until about halfway through dinner - so here is what it looks like half-eaten!
This is my first foray into pulled pork. I love to eat it at BBQ restaurants (well, mostly at Stilwell Smokehouse but I'm not even sure if they exist anymore) but have never tried to make it myself.
Hy-vee had pork shoulder roasts on sale last week for $.99/lb, which seemed like a really good deal to me. Even if it's not a great cut of meat it's still only $.99/lb! Of course I had to buy about 6 lbs worth, but I figure that should make at least 3 meals. I knew once I saw it that I would try to make pulled pork with it, plus eventually probably some sort of Mexican stewed pork. I found this recipe that sounded good and decided to give it a whirl.
We like our pulled pork to be kind of sweet but not too saucy, and the sauce is more vinegary and much less heavy than regular BBQ sauce. This recipe delivered pretty well. I cut the quantities in half since I didn't think we really needed to make 12 sandwiches! As it is, we did have about enough meat to make 5-6 sandwiches so the recipe is pretty spot on there. I forgot to chop an onion and just added some dried onion flakes instead, but other than that I stuck to the recipe.
After I pulled the meat out of the sauce and shredded it, I noticed quite a bit of grease in the bottom of the bowl. This was probably due to the fact that this really cheap piece of meat was quite fatty. Doesn't Emeril always say something about pork fat being the king or something? I'm not sure I agree in this case. I drained as much as I could and patted some of it off with a paper towl. I opted to not mix in the rest of the sauce from the bottom of the crockpot because it was also quite greasy and I thought the texture was fine without it.
Both hubby and I thought that it was pretty good, not the best thing we've ever eaten but certainly worth making again. I might try another similar recipe next time and see if we can improve the sauce at all - there was something about it that just wasn't quite right but neither of us could put our finger on it. Maybe it was the lack of fresh onion?
I served with chips & a pickle - some people would say there should have been coleslaw but no one in our house eats it!
Estimated cost of meal:
Pork: $2
Sauce: $1.25 (totally ballparked - too hard to price things like 1/6 cup of vinegar!)
Buns: $1.50
Chips: $.70
Pickles: $.50
Total: $5.95
Former life total: Dinner @ Oklahoma Joe's (I had a pork sandwich there and this was the actual cost of our meal): $22.73
Leaner Life Savings: $16.78 or 74%!!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Tacos

Have I mentioned that I hate snow? I really, really do. For some reason this year it just keeps snowing and it's getting really old. This time we are expecting around 4 or 5 inches, on top of the 6 inches or so that still hasn't melted from the last couple of storms. One of these days the temperatures might be above freezing long enough to melt something, but it doesn't look like that will be anytime soon.
Sorry, enough with my off-topic weather ranting. Tonight we had tacos. Normally I would use Lawry's taco seasoning but I couldn't find it at several stores this weekend and decided not to venture out in the blizzard tonight to look at the one store I think might carry it. So, I made some myself. I combined chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, cumin, sugar, salt, pepper & corn starch together. I had the recipe on a sticky note from the last time I made my own seasoning. I have fond memories of the previous experience, but this time it didn't turn out quite as well as I hoped. It was perfectly edible though and surely much cheaper than buying the premade packets.
We almost always eat soft flour tacos in our house as hubby prefers them and they are sold in much more reasonable quantities than the corn ones. The ones I bought this time said they were soft taco sized but felt really huge once I actually made my taco. I ended up rolling it and eating it like a burrito.
We stuff ours with meat, cheese, lettuce & optional sour cream and salsa (omitted this time). I serve with refried beans and Chipotle-style cilantro lime rice. A very simple, quick and satisfying meal.


Estimated cost of meal:

Beef: $1.60
Tortillas: $.70
Beans: $.60
Rice: $.80
Cheese: $.25
Seasonings: $.25
Sour Cream: $.10
Lettuce: $.10

Total: $4.40

Former life total: Dinner @ Taco Bell: $12

Leaner Life Savings: $7.60 or 63%!!!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Steak & Pepper Hash

Tonight we had one of Rachael Ray's recipes that we love, technically titled "Mashed Super Skins with Steak and Pepper Hash" which I find to be a ridiculously long name. This is one of the Rachael Ray meals that is supposed to take 30 minutes but really takes me almost an hour to make. There is a lot of chopping and slicing involved - I just don't see how she can do it all so quickly!
RR seems to emphasize the potatoes as the star of this dish, but we disagree. This is basically just a twist on a steak and potato meal, which is of course one of hubby's favorites. The steak mixture is a little bit like fajita filling, kind of spicy and tangy from the hot sauce and lime juice. It gets nice and brown (especially if it takes you a while to get the potatoes on and it ends up sitting too long like mine did) and crusty on the outside, but is still tender.
I use about half of the ingredients that RR suggests for the potatoes but make a full recipe of the meat & veggies. I omit the cheddar cheese, which just seems superflous with all of the other dairy going into the mashed potatoes. Don't get me wrong - I love cheese but it just doesn't seem to fit in with this dinner.


Estimated cost of meal

Potatoes: $.50
Oil/butter: $.20
Garlic/scallions: $.20
Beef: $2.50
Peppers: $.80
Onion: $.50
Thyme: $.50
Lime: $.34
Seasonings: $.10
Sour cream: $.25
Milk: $.10

Total: $5.99

Former life total: Dinner @ Freddy T's: $23

Leaner Life Savings: $17.01 or 74%!!!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Chicken & tortellini salad

Sometimes I have high hopes for things and then they are pretty much failures - tonight was one of those times. This is a new recipe for us, but it's based on something my mom makes just about every time she has a dinner party. She uses a basic vinaigrette dressing recipe (oil, malt vinegar, sugar, salt & dijon mustard) and puts a salad together from the salad bar. She uses a mix of Romaine and iceberg lettuce, sliced radishes, zucchini, celery, mozzarella cheese, blue cheese & cheese tortellini picked out of one of the pre-made salads. Sometimes she adds bacon, scallions and croutons, all of which I added tonight along with some red onion. My plan was to grill some chicken and add it to the salad, but I forgot to thaw it so I had to buy it from the salad bar too. I inadvertently made way too much but had already put the dressing on so it didn't make good leftovers. Hubby had surgery this morning and hardly ate anything as he was in pain and it hurt to chew. I also burned the bread, so he wouldn't have even been able to enjoy it if he hadn't been in pain!
We made this because I thought it would be good to add more salads to our menu choices and hubby loves it when my mom serves this one, but I think in the future we will just leave it to her and keep it as a side dish. We will keep trying over the next few weeks until we find a salad that will work better for us, other than the two we already make on a regular basis (Asian chicken and chicken caesar).


Estimated cost of meal:

Chicken: $2.50 (from salad bar, would have been around $1.50 had I made at home)
Lettuce: $.75 (Dole bagged salad mix on sale less coupon!)
Toppings: Free! (would have been $4.59 but I earned a free salad with my frequent shopper's card)
Bread: $.80

Total: $4.05

Former life total: Dinner @ Houlihan's (they make a yummy chicken salad): $35

Leaner Life Savings: $30.95 or 88%

Menu Plan Monday

Most of the family that was in town has left, so this week should calm down a bit and feature more meals at home. None of these meals can compare to the prime rib feast we had last week, but at least they should be easier on the wallet and the waistline. It's so cold here you'd think I would have planned some soups, but for some reason I didn't think about that before I went shopping. Maybe if it stays cold next week I will, but let's hope for a warming trend!
For more menu plans, go to

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Leftovers

My original menu plan was pretty open for tonight since I didn't know what would be happening with my family. We went to my mom's house this morning for biscuits and gravy and then just took home leftovers from Thursday & Friday's dinners to eat tonight. I had leftover prime rib & horseradish sauce, hubby had prime rib and brisket. I made a new batch of the potatoes we served on Friday and they were even better since we were able to eat them as soon as they came out of the pan! I decided we needed a vegetable so I threw together some grean beans with my usual combination of bacon bits & dried onion flakes. I also picked up some rolls for $.99 at the store today and they were really crusty and delicious! This was a very economical meal since I only had to buy the rolls and the rest was leftover or already on hand.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Olive Garden

With all the family in town and the big meal we fixed yesterday, today I planned to either eat out with family or use one of the gift cards we got for Christmas. We ended up using a gift card to the Olive Garden. Hubby went there for lunch a few weeks ago and had some chicken speidini that he loved, but unfortunately this time it wasn't on the menu! He settled for chicken marsala, which he did not enjoy. He said the chicken was soggy and the potatoes (which were the same kind that came with the speidini) weren't as good for some reason. I had pork Milanese, which was surprisingly good. The pork cutlets were crispy though not that flavorful, but the lemon wedges served with them improved them. They came with cheese tortellini in a garlic butter & spinach sauce. It wasn't too heavy which was nice. The waiter messed up our order and we should have complained to the manager and perhaps gotten our bill reduced, but as it was he didn't charge us for drinks, we had a $4 off coupon and a $25 gift card and the total paid OOP (for tax & tip) was about $5! Not bad even though hubby wished we'd just used the gift card at Red Lobster!

Lunch Today: Korma Sutra

In keeping with a relatively new family tradition, my brother & sister-in-law met us at Korma Sutra today for their Indian lunch buffet. This is one of my favorite restaurants in Kansas City. We go there every time they are in town - it started out as an excuse to allow me to eat Indian since my mom & hubby both refused to go with me. Hubby finally saw the light last year and realized just how good Indian food is, so now he joins us. Also, my brother & sister-in-law didn't have a good Indian restaurant near where they live, though I guess that's recently changed but we still decided to keep up with the tradition for this visit.
Korma Sutra's buffet costs around $10/person and is all-you-can-eat, though I rarely have enough room to go back for anything beyond my first plate. They always feature a variety of meat and vegetarian dishes. Hubby's favorite is the goat curry (I give him a hard time because if I had told him 2 years ago he would love anything involving goat he would have though I was crazy); I like the chicken tikka masala. It's in a creamy yogurt tomato sauce and usually a bit spicy but not too much. This time they had butter chicken instead, which is very simliar and in a blind taste test I admit I might not know the difference.
My other favorite is saag paneer, which is spinach with cheese and reminds me of spinach dip! It's really great on the bread - in our case garlic naan. They bring loads of it fresh from the oven and even wrap up the leftovers to send home with you. They also have plain and other flavors of bread, but I think garlic makes everything better!
On the side I get the veggie pakora - little bite-sized veggie balls breaded and deep-fried. I don't really know what is in them but they are really tasty! They also always have veggie samosas, which have a fried pastry shell and are stuffed with potatoes and peas. I like these but on the buffet the pastry loses it's texture pretty quickly, so it's better to get them fresh.
Included with the lunch buffet are mango lassi drinks, which are yogurt and mango juice and are kind of like smoothies. There are also some dessert choices on the buffet, I like to have a bite of rice pudding along with my chai tea - which is also included and they bring it to you whenever they see that you look about done with your meal! I think a warm cup of chai is so relaxing and just finishes off the meal perfectly. I wish they'd serve it everywhere... Starbucks version just isn't the same as the real thing!
Today's lunch was so yummy and I'm so glad we got to go, even though now that hubby likes it I do get to eat it more than once or twice a year.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Dinner Tonight: New Year's Feast!

Tonight we ate the year's most anticipated meal, usually served at Christmas but delayed by a week this time around.
  • Appetizers: Rotel dip w/chicken & cilantro - my mom's specialty; puff pastries from Costco; Christmas cookies (I made these this morning & people snacked on them throughout the day - jam thumbprints, Russian teacakes and cranberry almond bark)
  • Salad: I like to call it the "Hen House" salad since it is basically a bunch of ingredients from their salad bar. My mom makes homemade vinaigrette dressing to go with it, but the best part is the cheese tortellini (we're having this for dinner as a main course next week with chicken added for extra protein)
  • Side Dish 1: Vegetable gratin (this link might not work since you have to log in to access it - but trust me it's worth registering to get it) - technically this is supposed to be a summer dish but I think it's the best vegetable dish I've ever had and would eat it any time of year. It's supposed to have a combination of zucchini and yellow squash, but we just used zucchini. It is combined with a garlic-thyme olive oil, topped with caramelized onions and tomatoes, more garlic-thyme oil then baked and later topped with bread crumbs, shallots & Parmesan cheese and baked some more to make the top crusty.
  • Side Dish 2: Sauteed potatoes - I learned how to make these in my one semester of culinary school. The first time I made them they almost didn't make it to the table since they were being eaten right out of the pan as soon as they were ready! We haven't made them in years because they are a bit time-consuming and have to be served very fresh. We had almost forgotten just how good they were - it was the first time hubby had tried them and now he wants to know why we don't have them all the time! We probably will have to now! They are supposed to be cut into a fancy "tournee" but chunks or wedges are easier and taste just the same. Peel 2 small yellow potatoes (i.e. Yukon Gold) per person. Cut into uniform chunks or wedges. Place in pot and cover with water, bring to a boil and cook until tender but not yet falling apart. Heat half-inch of peanut oil in large skillet over high heat. Add potatoes to oil and cook until brown on one side, turn and cook until brown on all remaining sides. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle liberally with salt while still hot.
  • Main Dish: Prime rib, w/Paula Dean's house seasoning. We actually just use a standing rib roast and call it prime rib - technically not "prime" but good enough. Thanks to living in the beef capital of the world (I just proclaimed that - wonder where it officially is?), we get really good beef at our local grocery store for really reasonable prices. Still, this dinner cost about $80 in meat alone, though we fed 8 people and had excessive amounts of leftovers. For comparison, a heat-and-eat prime rib dinner for 2 from our local grocery store costs $35 or $17.50/serving, so I think we came out a lot better than that. For some reason the roast took a really long time to cook, but the wait was worth it. The seasoning combines with the little bit of fat on the outside and makes this garlicky, crackly crust of goodness.
  • Condiment: Horseradish sauce, inspired by Ina Garten's recipe here. I use the same ingredients as she does, but vary the quantities. This time I only used about 1/4 cup of mayonnaise and about 1 cup of sour cream, combined with about a tablespoon each of grainy and Dijon mustard, and about 2 tablespoons of prepared horseradish. The amounts are guesstimates, I just keep adding things until I like how it tastes. This year it was apparently the best it's ever been, since even my brother asked for the recipe and as far as I know he never even cooks.
  • Dessert: Pecan pie and cranberry-apple crumble. My mom made the desserts and they were a hit, but I only tried the pecan pie. I almost didnt' get a chance since apparently people were snacking on it at lunchtime - good thing she made two. The pie was good but I was still so full I think my taste buds were on overload and didn't really enjoy it like they usually would.

All in all this was a really successful and tasty meal - definitely a good way to start off the year and hopefully we'll get to finish it in a similar fashion with the same dinner next Christmas!