Friday, January 24, 2014

Tablet Zipper Pouch

We have 2 tablets that needed something to make them cozy and warm so I whipped up these pouches.  It was a fast and easy project.  I have made quite a few small zippys and I just increased the size to fit the tablets.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Chicken Tortellini Soup and a Menu Plan for the Week

Cooking soup was the plan for today and this is for dinner on Monday.  I am the only one home, so I thought I would get ahead for the week!

Even though it is for tomorrow, I had to cheat and have a little bowl for lunch.  It was delicious if I do say so myself.

 Carol from CT on a Budget gives me a great deal of frugal inspiration.  If you haven't checked out her blog yet, go right now!  Add it to your feed and you won't be sorry.  Just by incorporating SOME of her strategies, you will save a great deal of money!  Most of my ingredients are pictured, but I did add a few other things.
I chopped the whole onion pictured above with 5 carrots and 2 stalks of celery in my small food processor so it was all in little bits.  That is the way my family prefers their soup.  I cooked it in about 2 or 3 Tbsp. of olive oil until soft.  When I went to return the rest of the veggies to the refrigerator a saw a sad little 8 oz. package of mushrooms so I chopped them up and threw them into the pot.  The beauty is that my mushroom hater won't be able to pick them out from the chopped chicken, so I am safe and the mushrooms didn't get wasted!

 I added 6 cans of broth, 2 1/2 cups of water, pepper to taste and a little bouillon and let it gently boil a few minutes to make sure the veggies were tender. 
I chopped about 1/2 of that bag of precooked chicken and onions (qt. sized) 2 pictures up in my food processor and threw it in with the spinach and let it cook 2 or 3 more minutes.

 I then stirred the tortellini into the pot and removed it from the burner.  There was enough residual heat for the tortellini to be fully cooked when I returned in 10 or 15 minutes.  This step actually has nothing to do with frugality (that is just an added bonus) it has to do with not wanting the tortellini to turn to mush!

This is the final result in my Tupperware 17 cup servalier bowl!  It had to be close to 20 cups of soup when you count what I had for lunch in my red soup crock above.

This recipe could be made much cheaper than I made it.  I look to be realistically frugal, but still make things that my family enjoys with ingredients we love.  For example, some people make their own broth and freeze it after roasting a turkey or chicken.  Sometimes I get a great deal on packaged broth with coupons.  That was not the case with the broth I used today.  As I already mentioned, you could use a different pasta, my boys just happen love soup with tortellini.  I will say though that my spinach was free after gas points at my local store and my chicken was bought on sale and I precooked it with onions and froze it for later use.  This whole frugal, domestic path has to be what works for you and your family or you won't stick to it for the long haul.  I often wish I could be more like some of the other bloggers I follow, but I have to do what works for me.  Keep this is mind as you read other peoples blogs.  There is not one clear way for us to do things.  We are all at different places with career, income, lifestyle, age, debt (or debt freedom) and there isn't a one size fits all solution.

Onto the menu plan for the week:
Sunday - nothing- the rest of the family went to see the hobbit and out to eat.
Monday - chicken tortellini soup and grilled cheese sandwiches
Tuesday - ham and cheese omelets with toast
Wednesday - hamburger helper (yuck - I will eat leftover soup, but the rest of my family actually likes this and asks for it) and carrots
Thursday - rigatoni with meat sauce and some type of frozen veggie
Friday - fried fish, parsley potatoes and a mixture of peas and corn
Saturday - roasted turkey (I have a 20 pounder that I want out of my freezer as it is taking up too much room), mashed potatoes, stuffing (just stove top) and a mixture of carrots, broccoli and cauliflower.
Sunday - turkey pot pie

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I hate to Tell You the Lasagna Freezer Cooking Secret!

Ok - the secret is out.  I make lasagna on a large scale, but I do not make the sauce from scratch.  The truth of the matter is my mother always used prepared sauce.  It is what I grew up on, what I am used to and what I like.  Of course, you can definitely make your own, but I don't.
I am going to give you the rough amounts that I use to make 2 pans of lasagna that are 9x13 in size.  I don't go by exact recipe amounts unless I am baking.  That is just the way I learned to cook.
For 2 9x13 pans:

3 - 3.5 lbs. of ground beef - brown in a large skillet with 1 large onion, finely chopped
Add 4 cans of sauce (or your own homemade if you are a saint)!
Add 1 or 2 Tbsp of white sugar and simmer on low.  If it gets 2 thick, add a little water.

Ricotta mixture - in a mixing bowl combine:
16 oz of ricotta
3 eggs
salt, pepper and parmesan to taste
Set aside.

You also need
9 cooked lasagna noodles per dish (18 total) - I always cook a few extra
shredded mozzarella - 1-1.5 lbs per lasagna (2-3lbs total)

Spray the bottom of each pan with pam and layer in the following order:

3 noodles
Ricotta (1/6 of the mixture-just eyeball it)
3 noodles
Ricotta (1/6)
Ricotta (1/6)
Sauce again (you need sauce between the last layer of ricotta and mozzarella)

Each pan will have 3 layers of noodles, 3 layers of ricotta, 3 layers of mozzarella and 4 layers of sauce.  Try and plan accordingly when you are dividing up the ingredients.
I bake a thawed out lasagna, covered in foil, at 325 for about an hour and a half.  The last 10-15 minutes I remove the foil so it browns a little bit.  Let rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting.

My mom went to work 2 days a week when I was in high school and I cooked, or at least started supper on those nights.  I didn't mind at all and liked cooking right from the start.  She was able to call me from her work and talk me through getting dinner started over the phone.  As a result, it was more coaching by her verbally, than actually showing me.  Perhaps that is why I don't really measure and just kind of make it work.  You don't need to be a math teacher (like nerdy little me - lol) to figure out how to divide the ingredients up!  Just run with it.  If you are really concerned about having enough ingredients, buy a little extra mozzarella and a jar of extra sauce in case you need it.  If you don't need it, you will still have it on hand for another meal.
Cooking is individual.  I used ground beef, you might make meatless or add sausage or a combination of meat.  I add a little sugar to my sauce and you could skip that.  I like the ricotta thinned with egg, you might like chunks of ricotta.  Lasagna can be made a million different ways and still taste good.  Tweak it to your taste.

Frugal notes - try to stock up on ingredients when they are on sale or at least buy the cheese and sauce at a warehouse club in bulk.  I bought 9 cans of sauce at 99 cents each, but had I picked it up the last time I was at Sam's club, I could have bought a jumbo container of sauce.

Can you see how OCD I am from this picture of a shelf in my freezer?  I have to have all Pyrex dishes with glass lids so they stack neatly.  Honestly, it bugs me immensely that they are not all the same color.  Buying those dishes actually has saved me a lot of money.  A few years ago I had coupons for $3 off any Pyrex.  Walmart had sets with a 9x9 and a 9x13 for about $15 less the $3 coupon and I invested in a few sets.  I have used those dishes over and over for freezer meals which ends up being way cheaper than throw away pans from the dollar store over time.  I would hate to go to all the trouble, use a flimsy foil pan and have a fiasco!  You could also pick up dishes at a thrift store, but you aren't likely to find them with lids which saves on the need for foil.
Do you know what is to the left of the Pyrex on the same shelf?  Another freezer secret...  Boneless, skinless chicken that was purchased on sale.  I cut it into bite sized pieces sautéed it with onion and then portioned it into small freezer bags.  Ready to go for a quick dinner on the fly.  I do the same thing with ground beef.  I buy it on sale and cook it with onion before I freeze it.  You can make tacos in about 5 minutes with precooked ground beef and that is exactly what we did last night!
This is the first time I ever made 4 lasagnas at once.  I used to do 2, then I upped it to 3 and this time I made 4.  I don't see ever going beyond 4.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Chicken Broccoli Penne Pasta Freezer Meal - Freezer Cooking Groove

 We were off for a snow day yesterday so this is one of the little things I did.  I made chicken broccoli penne pasta for dinner.  We baked the large 10x15 pan on the far right.
The blue and pink 9x13 pans went into the freezer.
I started by cutting 5 lbs of boneless skinless chicken into small pieces and cooking it with 2 chopped medium onions.  I then added 5 jars of Alfredo sauce.  It sounds like a lot, but remember this is for 3 dinners in a house with teenage boys. 
I cooked 2.5 lbs of penne and added 2 1lb packages of broccoli during the last minute of cooking.  I put it all in my 42 cup thatsa bowl, added the chicken sauce and combined it well.

Into 3 baking pans it went...
 Two of which were destined for the freezer.
 You can see that I now have the 4 lasagna I made last week (red lids) and the 2 penne pasta I made today in the freezer.

I don't think I will add broccoli again unless it is fresh.  It wasn't as crisp as I would have liked.  We also had more veggies on the side as it wasn't quite a full lb. of broccoli in each casserole.  Some of you asked about my lasagna recipe from last week.  I with give details in the next few days.  It isn't a recipe as much as a process because I cheat and use sauce from a jar!



Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What can you do on a snow day?

We are having an artic blast here in NW PA that might make Siberia shiver.  It is not the kind of day where kids can go sledding riding to celebrate having the day off school.  It leads to the question, what can we do on a snow day?  Because of where we live, we go to school pretty much no matter what.  It is a cultural thing here, strange but true.  To have the day off is unheard of in my town.
I am a teacher home for the day and my kids are high school boys that want to celebrate by playing video games, so I am going to focus on what people without small children can do to pass the time.  I didn't spend hours thinking about this, I am just writing what pops into my head.
Here we go!

1.  Make homemade soup and/or bread.
2.  Make a batch of freezer meals - I am making chicken penne pasta today and will make some extra for the freezer.
3.  Call your TV provider and ask for the cancellation department.  You might be surprised at what they will do to try and retain you as a customer!
4.  Try and find XX number of items to toss or donate.
5.  If you have credit card debt, call and try to negotiate a lower interest rate.
6.  Make a meal plan based on what you have on hand, write a grocery list filling in what is needed to complete the menu and STICK TO THE LIST next time you go to the store.
7.  Go online and transfer some money from your checking to a savings account.  How much might you have spent if you would have left the house instead of staying home today.  Would you have gone to the movies, eaten out, etc.?  Estimate an amount of money and transfer it!  It would have been gone had you left the house and you would have figured out how to live without it, so transfer it to your savings!
8.  Watch a movie with your family at home.
9.  Play a board game.
10.  Make an appointment with a lawyer to start the process for a will if you don't have a will.
11.  Research term life insurance if you are underinsured.
12.  Find some blogs that will improve your life based on your interests and start following them.  Make reading them a habit.  Blogs have improved my life immensely!  Finance, cooking, homemaking, freezer meals, sewing - anything that you are interested in.  There is a wealth of information out there.  Just be careful with finance!  You want to read to improve your life, not to become a captive audience to someone that is trying to sell you something!
13.  Watch a few old episodes of Suze Orman on
14.  Organize a room - or start small and organize a couple of cupboards or junk drawers.
15.  Watch a youtube video that teaches you how to do something useful.

The list can go on and on, but you get the idea.  I better life starts with a few small changes made one at a time that eventually turn into habits.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Lasagna Freezer Fest - Cooking Groove


 I decided to make a huge batch of lasagna for the freezer before I went back to work on the 2nd, so these photos are from the first.  I made three 9x13 and one 9x9 for the freezer.  The label maker showed that the last time I did this was 8-15-13, so I only need to do this a couple of times per year.

This blue dish was also made and baked that day for dinner.  We don't do sauerkraut on new year's.  I can't stand the stuff and I am not superstitious anyway!

Here it is in all it's glory, baked and ready to eat with a side of garlic bread and a mixture of peas and corn!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Cooking Groove - Ham and Potato Edition

For some reason, I can't seem to upload a picture right now so we are going to have to do without!  Today I cooked a few different things.  I found myself wanting to go to the grocery store and pick up something easy, but instead I just dug in and started cooking from what I had on hand to forget about running to the store. 
I started with ham and scalloped potatoes.  I make it in a 9x13 pan because it is shallow and does not need to bake as long as a deep casserole dish.  Turns out my sons had 2 friends over and they were going to be here when we ate so I made 2 pans.  It was served around 1 o'clock with a side of corn.  It was a good thing I made 2 pans because the boys were hungry.  The leftovers went into the fridge.  Son #2 had more around 7 when he returned from playing basketball and my husband takes leftovers to work for lunch. 
While the potatoes were baking I did a package of bacon in the oven on the other rack.  It takes about 25 minutes to get done to our liking.  I forgot to mention that I had also started dough in the bread machine for hoagie rolls.  When the bacon was done, I put in a tray of 10 hoagie rolls for tomorrow.  I then started on cheesy ham/bacon/corn chowder while the casseroles and bread were in the oven.  This soup is a great deal of work and very heavy on the calories, but it is one of my kid's favorite soups.  We only have it about twice a year because it should really be named heart attack in a bowl.  I made a big batch of this as I wanted to take some to my husband's aunt as it is also her favorite.  By the time the casseroles were done I had also finished the soup and rolls for tomorrow.  We will have the chowder and hot sausage sandwiches. 
Truth is, it would have been much easier to run to the store but this helped put a dent into what we already have on hand.  I will go to the store tomorrow because it is a big Sunday for coupons and I will also get some fresh produce and milk.  We will have grilled chicken salads on Monday after tomorrow's caloric fiasco!