Sunday, February 2, 2014

30 Day No Dining-Out Challenge--Wrap Up and a Birthday

Whew! We made it.

Well, almost.

I did go out to get lunch at Taco Bell on January 31. I had brought a lunch, but forgot a fork. Our company doesn't have plastic forks available. And I brought noodles and sauce. Not finger friendly at all. So I did have to go out for lunch.

As I'm writing this, it occurs to me I should have called it a 31 day challenge, or a month long challenge. Oops.

But we made it. Almost.

So now that it's February, we need a new challenge. Of course, I'm a day or two late.

The hubs and I were thinking about an exercise challenge, which is a good (and much needed) idea. But we apparently live in the Arctic tundra now, so getting outside to play is difficult. I'm thinking maybe a housekeeping/home organization challenge.

On an unrelated note, today is Anthony's birthday. We are celebrating by going to Incredible Pizza, which should be lots of fun.

There are a million reasons to love the Anthony boy, but here are a couple.

He's got a tender heart for animals.
He's protective of his family.
He's smart.
He's goofy.
He loves to laugh.
He's not afraid to show emotions.

Happy Birthday, my guy!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

30 Day No Dining-Out Challenge-- Anniversary Dinner at Home

Tonight we are celebrating twelve years of marriage. Twelve years of living this life, step by step, day by day, month by month.

I am so grateful for the wonderful husband I have. He started out great, and he just gets better with age. My husband is really my hero. He gets up and goes to work, everyday. Doesn't matter if he likes his job, his coworkers, his circumstances. He gets up, he goes to work, and he takes care of his family. He's always there for me, through every ridiculous idea I've had (I'll sell homemade dog clothes!), through my crippling depression (I have to hide. I can't be outside), through whiny kids, barking dogs, 15 moves, and hours of Nickelodeon.

Now, he's not perfect. But neither am I. And we are perfect together.

Tonight, dinner is all about him. His favorite dinner is salmon patties, macaroni and cheese, and fried potatoes. I know there's no veggie. But it's his favorite. And his favorite dessert is yellow cake with chocolate frosting. So that's what's on the menu tonight.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

30 Day No-Dining Out Challenge--Battling the Blahs

We are still persevering through our 30 day challenge. There are a lot of great things about this. For one, I've lost a little bit of weight. Nothing major, but enough that I didn't have to fight my jeans on Friday. For two, we have a lot more time at home together as a family, and I feel a lot less stressed. Another great thing is that my kids are eating some new foods, and we are rediscovering some old family favorites.

But it ain't all sunshine, people.

Do you know how many dishes you have to do when you cook all day? We don't use paper plates or or disposable bakeware, so it's a lot. Also, this takes a lot of planning. I spend about two hours a week figuring out what we are going to eat, when, and when I'm going to cook it.

Also, I keep getting the question. "Mom, when are we going to go out to eat again?"  The question is then followed by, "But why do we have to wait until the end of January?"

I'm kind of surprised that we aren't saving money. I'm still working out the best way to grocery shop. I've spent a lot more for groceries than I thought I would. But I have a very well stocked pantry now, so I expect that I'll save more money next month. Even though we are lifting the ban on dining out next month, we know that we can't go back to the craziness.

Baby steps.

Last night, we had a completely cooked that day dinner of Tequila Lime Chicken with homemade Pico de Gallo. So yummy.

Tonight, we're having pork chops, mashed potatoes, corn, and homemade dinner rolls. I'm giving this recipe a try. 

I also bought some pears to can. The kids love canned pears, but only home-canned ones.  

On the menu for the next week:

Spaghetti and Garlic Bread (using Big Batch Spaghetti Sauce)

Frozen Breaded Chicken Breast
Noodley-stuff (Knorr noodle side)
Green Beans

Quesadillas (made from leftover tequila lime chicken)

Oven baked fries


 Time to get cooking! Getting ready to start the rolls and start getting the pears ready to can. Oh, and kill the laundry beast. Again.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

30 Day No Dining-Out Challenge---Batch of Burritos

We're still going strong!!  After Snowpocalypse, I finally went back to work on Thursday. It was kind of nice to get back to a routine, but I sure did miss my guys. They missed an entire week of school. Don't tell anyone, but I think they might even be ready to go back to school.

We had a great service at church today. Our pastor talked about James, Jesus' little brother. The Gospels are full of references to how even Jesus' own siblings didn't believe in Him, initially. They did come to believe though, and it's such an encouragement to think of when I pray for those I love who aren't believers.

Yesterday, we ran to Aldi's to pick up the items they were out of before the snow came in. I bought seven packages of tortillas. Yes, I said seven. Don't judge. I used four of them yesterday, and I will never run out of tortillas again. (Cue the Gone With the Wind moment)

I made two batches of burritos yesterday. One batch, sad to say, will only be enjoyed by the Mister and me. Sigh. Your kids probably eat all kinds of interesting things, but my kids do not. We're working on it. The other batch will be gratefully eaten by the whole household.

Beef and Bean Burritos

1.5-2 pounds ground beef (I used 90% lean)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1 can black beans, rinsed
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
18-20 burrito-size flour tortillas

1. Brown ground beef and onion until beef is cooked thoroughly.
2. Add all spices and cook until beef and onions are coated.
3. Mix in beans.
4, Mix in cheese.
5. Put approximately 1/4 cup filling into each tortilla. Fold sides in and roll.
6. Place completed burritos onto a baking sheet, seam side down, in a single layer. Place in freezer and freeze for about 2 hours, or until completely frozen.
7 Reheat in the oven or in the microwave. I cover the burrito with a paper towel and reheat for one minute. Then I continue heating in 30 second intervals until heated through.

There are about a million ways to use these burritos. My favorite is to make enchiladas with them. It's so fast when the burrito is already made. Just put in the oven in a baking dish. Once fully heated, add a can of enchilada sauce and some cheese and back until bubbly. So good.

These also make great lunches to bring to work or for a fast lunch on the weekend.

Breakfast Burritos

18 eggs (I use one carton of egg beaters and 11 eggs), beaten
1 pound breakfast sausage
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese
20-24 tortillas

1. Brown sausage until fully cooked and drain. Set aside.
2. In the same pan, cook eggs until fully done. You're making scrambled eggs. :)
3. Mix in sausage and cheese.
4. Place about 1/3 cup of egg and sausage mixture in each tortilla. Roll, burrito-style.
5. Place completed burritos onto a baking sheet, seam side down, in a single layer. Place in freezer and freeze for about 2 hours, or until completely frozen.
7. Reheat in the microwave. I cover the burrito with a paper towel and reheat for one minute. Then I continue heating in 30 second intervals until heated through.

There really isn't anyway to take a pretty picture of scrambled eggs.

My kids love these. They will choose these over breakfast at school almost any time!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Snowed In

I'm about over this Snowpocalypse.

I've done the laundry. I've cooked the meals. I've vacuumed. I've written, and I've studied the Word. I've listened to the stupid Gummi Bears song my youngest is obsessed with approximately seven bazillion times. Or twice. It feels the same.

I haven't gone to work. I am blessed to be able to stay home with no attendance occurrences at my job. Honestly, with me being such a new driver, I'm really not comfortable taking my boys out on the icy streets. I am really grateful I haven't had to risk it.

So we're cooped up. The kids got tablets for Christmas, so they've enjoyed that. But I'm about to put a limit on the screen time. Guess it's time to break out the homeschooling supplies. :)

Monday, January 6, 2014

30 Day No-Dining Out Challenge--Freezer Pizza Kits

This was my view this morning. Yes, that's frost and ice on the inside of my window. 

 Fortunately for me, that means a day off work. So I took advantage of the extra time to make some freezer pizza kits.

I used my trusty bread machine (a gift from Mom and Dad) to make the dough. I use this recipe from I also made use of some extra sauce from my Big Batch Spaghetti Sauce. 

I separated the dough into three crusts, because we prefer thin crust pizza. I just wrapped it in plastic wrap. Then I put the sauce into a sandwich bag. I added in a baggie of mozzarella cheese, a sandwich bag of pepperoni, and some leftover cooked sausage. Each item went into the freezer bag and into the freezer. Now, the night before pizza night, I just put everything in the fridge to thaw. :Pizza night has never been easier. :)

Please excuse the poor pictures. I tried to use my tablet to take the pictures. Clearly, (or not so clearly, as the case might be) I need some practice! 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

30 Day No Dining-Out Challenge--Repackaging Warehouse Deals

It's here. Snowpocalypse has arrived, and honestly, it really is pretty bad. The husband is at work until 3 pm. To keep from stewing and fretting, I'm getting my Susie Homemaker on.

Yesterday we went to Sam's, and I got a great deal on shredded cheese for an absurdly low price. I bought five pounds of cheese for about $10. Typically, on a sale, I buy cheese for about $2 a bag. Each bag is typically 8 oz, which comes to $4 a pound.

However, a five pound bag of cheese is HUGE! And it's really not practical for day-to-day use. I typically use about two cups at a time, if I'm making a big family meal, so I measured out two cups and put them into date-labeled sandwich bags. Then I just put the bags into a gallon freezer bag that I also labeled, and now I'm all set!

I got 8 bags of mozzarella and about 14 bags of cheddar, The cheddar is much more finely shredded. I have a couple bags of each in the cheese drawer in the fridge, and the rest is in the freezer.

I guess now I should tackle the laundry. It's pretty much the bane of my existence.

Happy Snowpocalypse!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

30 Day No Dining-Out Challenge--Big Batch Spaghetti Sauce

Snowpocalypse is coming.

It's true. Here in Indiana, we are about to get hit with the worst storm since the Blizzard of '77. I wasn't alive then, so this may be the worst storm of my life. Or it might just snow a lot and then be really cold. Either's been dubbed the Snowpocalypse. And it arrives tomorrow.

I had to go to the grocery store. Today. The day before Snowpocalypse. You can imagine. For the most part, people were pretty cheerful. Only the line at Meijer was ridiculous, and that was because everyone in Indiana went to my store. They ran out of carts. I've never seen that happen.

But we are now fully stocked for the next two weeks, and maybe even into weeks three and four. We are going strong in our No-Dining Out Challenge.The kids hit me hard today after standing in line for over an hour at Meijer because they were STARVING. TO. DEATH.

But we made it.

Tonight we're having yummy shredded pork sandwiches. It's a family favorite. This week, I'm using the picnic pork roast that was on sale, but I've used pork tenderloin too. The pork tenderloin is lower in fat, but since I refrigerate the leftovers before freezing them, I'm able to skim off most of the fat anyway.

I'm also making up a big batch of spaghetti sauce. I'd planned to freeze it, but apparently, my freezer doesn't work like Mary Poppins carpetbag. There is a limit to what it will hold.

After some Internet research and consultation with Jen at From Mess Hall to Bistro, I decided to can the sauce. If you've never canned before, there are some excellent sites with instructions and guidelines on keeping food safe. PLEASE read them before you start canning! Canning is fun, but it needs to be done safely.

BIG Batch Spaghetti Sauce

4 tablespoons butter
4 onions, chopped
1/2 cup minced garlic
2 (105 oz) cans tomato sauce
4 tbsp dried basil
2 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp kosher salt
black pepper to taste- I used about 1 tsp
4 tbsp sugar
2 (6 oz cans) tomato paste

1. Saute onions and garlic in butter over medium heat. (I used two pans) Let them cook down until they start to brown, about 5-10 minutes.

2. Add your giant cans of sauce. I bought mine at Sam's Club for $2.32 each.

3. Bring to a low boil. Add in all the spices and the sugar. Then add the tomato paste.

4. Simmer at least 20 minutes. This is kind of a terrible picture. Steam is hard to photograph on a cell phone.

Then, you can choose to store however works best for you. If you are canning the sauce, add 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to the quart jar before adding the sauce.All the tomato products I used had citric acid in them already, but I prefer to err on the side of caution when it comes to acidity and canning. Then process in a boiling water bath canner for 50 minutes.

I got 7 quart jars of sauce, with enough left over to make calzones--about a cup or so. Because I had jars, rings, and lids already, all that sauce cost about $5.64. For me, it's not really about it being cheaper, it's about it tasting better. :)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year!

We all make New Year's resolutions. It's true. We resolve to lose weight, to save more money, to get a new job....lots of resolutions...lots of letting them go by.

This year, I'm doing a one-month resolution. This was inspired partially by searching through our bank records to find all of our medical expenses. (There were a lot this year.) As I was looking, I noticed lots of charges like $6.04, $21.17, $10.15...This money was just flying out of our account, and what did we have to show for it?


It was all going to dining out. And while I might have totaled our payments for medical expenses, I didn't have the heart to total up how much we've wasted on going out to eat.

Let me add, my husband is a restaurant manager. I fully, 1000% support the food industry. It pays our bills. I love going out to eat. But when it reaches the levels we achieved, it's a bit out of control.

So we've resolved to not go out to eat for one whole month.

One. Whole. Month.

The first step to making this resolution successful is realizing when we are weakest. For me, it's lunch. I work full time. I really like to get out of the office. Taco Bell is about a block away. I think you can guess where this story is going.

My husband's weakness is after work, before I'm home. Those nights, he's responsible for dinner. Let's just say Papa John's gave us a free pizza the other night. Yep, we're that frequent of customers.

So now that we know when we're at our weakest, we can make a plan to be successful.

Our first strategy is to make a meal plan. Making a meal plan is easy. It's following the meal plan that is hard. Our meal plan strategy is to plan out meals and to follow that up with precooking as much as possible.

This week's meal plan:


Sausage gravy and biscuits

Wednesday (New Year's)
Mac and cheese
Green beans

Oven baked Fries

Homemade Pizza

To set us up to be successful, Sunday night I precooked the ground turkey for the spaghetti sauce, the sausage for the gravy, and got the ham out to thaw. Since I'm off work today, I'll thaw the hamburger for the hamburgers and make patties to put in the fridge. I'll also make the pizza dough in the bread machine for Friday night.

To avoid going out to eat for lunch, I have to set a meal plan for lunches too. The trick is to create meals that I'll enjoy eating cold. I really prefer not to eat in the breakroom, but that is because I like to go to my car to read and pray. So I have a set meal plan for lunches too. Right now it's heavy on pasta salad, sandwiches, and salad. There are worse things.

I've also begun using some make ahead cooking, especially for breakfast. The boys have been eating breakfast at school a lot, which is not a very healthy option. Have you seen the stuff they serve for breakfast? To try to encourage fruit consumption, I made several packs of individual smoothies. According to myfitnesspal, these smoothies have about 151 calories each with 8 grams of protein. I serve with a breakfast burrito (homemade, of course!)

Grocery list:
Makes about 20 smoothie packs

2 bunches of bananas
2 bags (about 1 lb each) of frozen strawberries (or blueberries or mixed berries)
1.5 cups or so of fat free vanilla greek yogurt
Sandwich sized ziploc type bags

To assemble:

1. Cut bananas into slices.
2. Open frozen fruit.
3. Open bags.
4. In each bag, put 1/2 of a banana, about 1/2 cup of frozen fruit, 1 tblspn of yogurt.
5. Squish the yogurt around the fruit. Squeeze the air out of the ziploc bag and seal.
6. Repeat about 19 times. :)

To make the smoothie, put the contents of the smoothie pack into your blender. Add 1/2-3/4 cup of milk to the blender and blend, baby!