Friday, September 23, 2016

Festive Friday Week 2

Today's post is a little weird, but still a very fun and inexpensive way to share a little Christmas love. I have given these as hostess gifts, housewarming gifts, teacher's gifts, in fact I have given them to anyone I thought needed a touch of whimsy with a little remembrance.

Yesterday I bought 4 cartons of mushrooms from Aldi, so today as I was processing them I had these mushroom cartons left over and it did become the inspiration for todays post.

Items needed
Mushroom carton or small box or basket
3 egg whites
4 tablespoons sugar
pastry bag or plastic bag with one corner cut off
parchment paper
baking sheet
chocolate bits for melting (I did not measure these because I have a mug I keep in a plastic bag in the freezer.  Whenever I need to dip something I pull it out and melt it. You are smart people and you can guesstimate, maybe 1/4-1/2 cup)
wire cake rack
cocoa powder
Ribbon or raffia (optional)
Plastic wrap (optional)
Fabric for lining the container (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Beat the egg whites until they are foamy.  gradually add the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.  (I forgot to take a picture of the egg whites holding peaks, sorry!) Put the egg white mixture into a pastry bag or plastic bag with one end snipped off. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper.  Pipe stems about 1 to 1 1/2 inches long on the sheet and then make button caps. Just put the tip on the baking sheet, start pressing out the meringue and pull the bag up.  It will automatically form a cap for the mushroom. Remember to make more than you think you will need. You will lose some to breakage.

  Pop them in the oven and just leave them alone for at least an hour.  You really just want all the moisture to dry out, with the meringue remaining as white as possible.  When they are nicely dry remove the pan from the oven and begin the process of carefully peeling the stems and caps from the paper. Like I said before some will break.  It's ok and that is why you made extras to begin with.

At this point I take a sharp knife and make a small hollow in the underside of the caps. (Just a divot really)

Melt some chocolate bits either in the microwave or in a double boiler until smooth.  Using a small knife (I use a little canapĂ©' knife for this) spread a thin coating of chocolate on the underside of the mushroom cap then dip the tip of one end of the stem into the melted chocolate.  Attach the two pieces in the divot, holding them long enough for a bond to form. Put them on a paper towel , a plate or wire rack cap side down to cool.  When the chocolate has hardened, place them in your chosen container dust them with cocoa powder, decorate and give them away.  If you are waiting more than a day  to give them away you need to store the meringues in an airtight container without doing the chocolate step, then put them together shortly before presenting them as a gift. (Sorry but I just can't use the word gift as a verb) .  I live in such a humid place that these have a fairly short shelf life.  If your climate is drier they will last longer.

This is an insanely inexpensive gift and packs a huge visual bang for the actual buck.  It takes about 2 dozen "mushrooms " to fill a standard mushroom container.

Hope you enjoy this.  Now go get your Christmas on!

Next week is something inedible and a gift suitable for just about any female on our gift list. Actually with a slight alteration it would work for any guy too.  I will try it both ways!

p.s. The mushroom carton photo would have looked much better if I had not tried to tie raffia around the carton after I had put the meringues in it.  I dropped it and most of them were toast.  What you see a picture of is lots of bits and pieces with the 6 or 7 intact mushrooms on the top.  These are fragile little suckers, so decorate first then arrange the meringues afterwards. I seem to always take one for the team.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Taste 10! Looks 3!__Taste10! Looks 3!

Several nights ago I was wondering what to have for dinner.  I had just been to the store and had everything from my limited purchases to choose from and had decided on something Asianish, probably a stir fry.  Then TheHub called and what I was originally planning didn't sound that good to him.  I had a beautiful and dense head of cabbage and decided I cold do something with it instead. Sadly on this restricted budget I couldn't run to The Pig and pick up some corned beef and potatoes (which is what I really wanted).  Then I started thinking about egg rolls.  I love to make egg rolls on occasion, but again I did not have the extra money for egg roll wrappers and I surely didn't want to commit the amount of oil for frying them to just one meal.  When I really thought about it what we love best about the egg rolls is the filling so I began making a deconstructed egg roll.

2 tablespoons oil (Use one with a high smoking point.  I use peanut oil)
1 chicken breast, chopped finely
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1/2 head cabbage, grated
1 onion chopped finely
1/2 inch piece of ginger minced (I had no fresh ginger so I used 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 container bean sprouts (I had a jar from Aldi, drained.  Fresh are much better)
1 bamboo shoot, grated (I had none so I left it out)
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1 cup cooked rice (I use brown but white works as well)
1 tablespoon soy sauce (Add more to taste.  I don't like salt so I always err on the underside of soy sauce)
salt and pepper to taste but I recommend using lots of pepper
dash red pepper flakes
Crank up the heat under a large saute' pan or wok and add the oil.  Quickly add the chicken and cook for a couple of minutes until it is done throughout but not browned. Remove the chicken and set it aside. (I typically wipe the pan out here.)  In the same pan, add another 2 tablespoons of oil and the sesame oil.  Toss in all the vegetables including the ginger and garlic and cook it until it is nicely crisp tender.  Add the chicken back in and stir through.  Add the rice and stir it in well then add the soy sauce, salt and pepper and red pepper flakes.
It was fabulous.  We served it with a little cup of hoisin sauce on the side and oh my it was delicious. It made enough for the 2 of us for dinner with leftovers for 2 lunch servings.  I will probably never wrap another egg roll in my life.  This was just too tasty and too easy,. Like I said, Taste 10! Looks 3!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Week 4 of the 50 Buck Challenge

Week 4 was my birthday week, so we did veer off course a little.  Instead of our usual eating out on birthdays we had take out from the city's annual Greek Food Festival.  I also had lunch out on my birthday, so I used no food here.  TheHub had a dinner meeting Monday night and I had enough Greek food left for one.  Mom made me a birthday cake ( I asked her to please not make it but I got it anyway) so there was cake for snacking and breakfast one morning.

The Shopping:
Green peppers 3@.99  1.98
Bread .99
Mandarins 2.69
Tomatoes .99
Salsa 1.49
Big Dipper Chips 1.59 (Yes a luxury item. Another ball game weekend at the lake)
Italian sausage 2.49
Chicken breasts 6.47
Cabbage 1.19
Iceberg lettuce .89
Chocolate milk 1.59
2 % milk 2.69
Garlic Powder .99
Bamboo shoots .50
Bean sprouts .50
Cheese Crackers 1.59
Taco shells* .89
Ground beef* 1.99 lb  3.00
Hamburger buns .85

Dollar Tree
Crapcrapstic coffee 1.00

Piggly Wiggly
Pork tenderloin 1.99@ lb.  3.52
Onions 3lb. 1.49
Coffee 3.99 (Not the greatest but worlds better than the Dollar Tree crap)

Grits  1.27

Spent 43.64 this week but I did not cook Thursday night and only partially cooked Friday night, plus I had Greek Festival leftovers for Monday.

I have about 1/3 bag of mandarins left. 1/2 head cabbage, 1 full gallon of milk, 5 chicken breasts (frozen) Italian sausage (frozen) 4 chicken thighs (frozen last week) onions (about 1 1/4 lb.) bell peppers (3),  bamboo shoots, coffee (glorious coffee) about 1/2 box of cheese crackers, 1/2 jar salsa, and 2 squishy tomatoes that I have to do something with immediately.

This weeks ads are mediocre, but for the first time I actually have a decent amount left from the week before..
The Meals:
Wednesday cereal, coffee
Thursday crap coffee, toast
Friday  birthday cake and crap coffee (birthday cake does take the edge off bad coffee, and no judgement please. This is why I didn't want the damn cake to begin with)
Saturday   eggs, grits and gloriously delicious coffee (at the lake)
Sunday toast, coffee (me) toast coffee, eggs (TheHub)
Monday toast, coffee, 2 Hershey's Nuggets (The were screaming at me so what else could I do?)
Tuesday banana muffin, coffee
Wednesday leftover sausage, veggie, noodle thing
Thursday  Independence Place volunteer day, birthday party for Mark and me. 2 slices of pizza/ diet coke
Friday  nothing (was a frustrating Mom Day. I came home and swam laps instead of having a stroke or bitch slapping someone)
Saturday cheese, tomato and onion broiled sandwiches, kefir dip, cucumber slices, carrot sticks, cauliflower florets
Sunday leftover deconstructed egg rolls (me and Son2) leftover spaghetti and meat sauce (TheHub)
Monday  leftover something (I don't even remember what it was but I was cleaning out the fridge found it and ate it whatever it was) and a banana muffin
Tuesday Volunteered at Independence Place in the afternoon and forgot to eat

Wednesday Deconstructed egg rolls, pineapple slices
Thursday Today is my birthday and the start of the Greek Food Festival.  Instead of going to a restaurant we got take out from the festival. OMG it was so delicious. spanakopita, tiropita, Greek chicken, souvlakia, pastichio, rice pilaf, salad and koulourakia.  Mom, TheHub and I all ate different things so we swapped bits and pieces with each other. Yum! Mom also baked me a birthday cake that I didn't want, but I have anyway, so it will be headed to the lake.  I know all this should not be allowed in accordance with the food budget rules, but it's my birthday and my birthday rules, so there!
Friday The Birthday celebration continued: Son2 went to the lake with us and missed the first celebration so TheHub picked up a slab of ribs on his way home. Ribs, corn on the cob (frozen from the purchase 2 weeks ago , corn is now gone) leftover baked beans (no leftovers are ever safe from my freezing, thawing and reheating) Again not in accordance with the rules I made but as I said about Thursday, my birthday, my rules!
Saturday grilled pork tenderloin, cooked carrots, green salad, apple bars
Sunday grilled hamburgers, with lettuce, pickles, onion, and tomatoes, lemonade ( from a mix purchased on week 1)
Monday leftover Greek Festival food, still delicious!
Tuesday tacos, using the last of the ground chuck, last of the lettuce, last of the cheese

mandarins, popcorn, kefir dip and veggies, the fake Fritos from Aldi with kefir dip, cheese crackers, banana muffins, birthday cake (Forgot to take the birthday cake to the lake so TheHub stopped at a bakery and bought 3 brownies and 3 apple bars.  They were a birthday gift to me that he wanted to eat!.)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Woo Hoo! Look What I Found on the Front Porch!

A huge shout out and gigantic THANK YOU GUYS! to 1st Man and 2nd Man from Two Men and a Little Farm.  A bit ago they had a wonderful giveaway for a Plant Nanny set, something I really needed to win.  It is an idiot proof self waterer using a terra cotta hollow spike (aka The Plant Nanny) and a wine bottle.  We have a glass of wine (or two) nearly every night with dinner, so finding an empty bottle was as easy as clearing the dinner table no problem.  I truly hate showing y'all this picture of this plant that lives by my front door.  I actually do water it regularly sometimes but not the two times a day it screams for, so the picture reflects the absurd heat and a tad  boatload of neglect.

 See how nicely the wine bottle fits into the cylinder.  Pay no attention to the wine drip on the label of the bottle. Btw, in addition to my new favorite watering device, the wine bottle is from my new favorite wine.  Now every time I put fresh water in I will be reminded to buy Black Stallion 2012

They come in a pack of 4, so I used one here and took the rest to the lake place this past weekend.  I have several pots of herbs on the deck that were screaming for a little drink and how nice will it be to have something that will keep them hydrated while we are not there.

Again, huge thanks to you two!  The rest of you head on over there and if you aren't already a daily reader, introduce yourself and tell them I sent you. And while you are there tell them they picked the perfect winner because no one else could have as many plants in need of salvage (and daily water) as I do.

Thanks again!

From My Facebook to You!

Sadly this is my most recent FB post.  Don't all of you wish you were as exciting as I am? Ribbet, ribbet! 

"OK I know this is weird but do any of you have kids who would love a real life science experiment. Our hot tub has been leaking so we turned it off while waiting for the repair guy to see about it and then waited more for the parts. Meanwhile nature is having some fun and we have at least 6 tadpoles that are fairly close to becoming frogs. I am draining the tub right now and finding them as the water lowers. Anyone interested please message me. I don't want to kill them but since I no longer have a house full of boys I am out of the frog rearing business"

Friday, September 16, 2016

Festive Friday

From now until Christmas I am going to have a little fun with this blog each Friday and post easy to do handmade or reformatted gifts either from the kitchen or elsewhere.  Some will be easier and some might require a little more time, but nothing will be difficult or have a ton of cost to them.  Today we are starting with what I consider more of a Christmas party favor, but if you have co-workers or your kids have school mates they want to remember with a little something, this is a perfect little something.  These also make great stocking stuffers and take just a little but of time.  On a 1-10 scale I would rate these a 2 (only because cutting is involved)

Purchase a bag of Hershey's Nuggets and try not to eat any. Ok go ahead and have 1 but no more! Well maybe 2 because you are going to use 5 for each treat and a regular size bag has 32.  Those extra have to go somewhere so it might as well be in your mouth.

Supplies: (enough for at least 10 bags)

  • 6 sheets of Christmas scrapbook paper or wrapping paper.  Make sure they coordinate somewhat.
  • 1 sheet coordinating card stock (plain or print, your choice)
  • Pretzel bags (You can find these wherever candy melts are found. Michael's* and Hobby Lobby both carry them.)
  • glue stick
  • scissors
  • stapler
  • stickers (Optional)
  • 1 1/2 bag Hershey's Nuggets                            

Cut a 1 14/16 x 5 1/2 in strip from your card stock.  Cut one for each bag you plan to make. This will be the backbone of the gift bag.
Cut a  1 1/16 x 3 1/8 inch strip from 5 different papers (or the same, it's a personal choice) for each bag you will be making (You will need 5 wrappers per bag)
Cut a 2 1/8 x 3 inch rectangle from your sixth paper. Cut one for each bag you plan to make. This will be the top/closer of the bag.
Cut 2 inches off the top of each pretzel bag you will be using.

Wrap  the wrapper strip around each nugget as shown below.

 I use a glue stick because it is not messy and doesn't spread. An alternative would be to use glue tape, but this is an expense I had rather not incur, when a basic glue stick works just as well. I generally make a crease when I fold the first side around the front of the nugget, then I bring the other side over to meet in the middle back of the wrapper and just glue the paper to itself. You really don't want to glue the paper to the actual Hershey's wrapper. 


(back  of nugget)                                                                                    (front of nugget)

                                         Once they are wrapped it is time to begin bagging,
I find it easiest to place the nuggets directly on the card stock back leaving about a quarter inch at the bottom of the card stock with no nuggets pieces touching it.  Start putting the bottom in the bag then incline it slightly and pull the bag around it , keeping the nuggets right side up and in a relatively straight line.

                                Fold the open end of the plastic bag over once and staple

Fold the last piece of paper in half and slide it over the folded plastic top so half of the design will face the front and half will face the back.  Staple in the middle and add a decorative sticker if you would like. I like to hide the staple so I use them.

           And then you have something very simple that looks quite a bit fancier for Christmas giving!

Hope you enjoyed this and I will be back next Friday with more of the same. Maybe. If I really get
around to it. Possibly. We'll see.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

50 Buck Challenge, Week 3

               We don't have Kroger as a store option but I have always loved the name.

I want Oreos, or potato chips, or chocolate covered peanuts, or a Starbucks iced light vanilla latte, or Bruster's apple strudel with cinnamon ice cream, or a steak, or a McAnything, or a baked sweet potato, or some oranges, or, or, or. . . .

What I really want is to walk into the store and buy whatever I want, whether it is budget friendly or not, and not buy anything just because it is this week's best buy. I am pound cake indifferent, but I found myself salivating over one at the store the other day.

I am tired of trying to come up with ideas to make what I am able to buy for 50 bucks a week work in a non-repetitive menu plan.  So far everything has been really tasty but it takes a lot of work and thought. (More than I would be willing to give it if I had to do this every single day, I think.)  Oh, and rice, I am tired of rice.  I seriously hope the food ads next Wednesday are much better than this week because there was really nothing I truly wanted to eat that was a very good deal. And I especially want a really good deal on coffee! (Ack!  No good deals on anything!)

I honestly believe this is helping me understand some of the frustrations those living with extremely limited food budgets face. I also think all of this meal planning and work will enable me to share this along with some shortcuts I had not thought of before but could make their meal planning and execution so much easier. (Like cooking enough brown rice for several meals at one time) I keep reminding myself that the end goal is to put me in a position of  understanding and compassion which will help me serve someone who needs a little help.  Fingers crossed!

The Shopping:
Asparagus @ 1.98 lb  1.64    ate it all
Cucumbers 2/1.00  1.00         2 cukes left
Bell peppers 2/1.00  1.00       gone
Radishes 2/100 .50        none eaten
Red grapes .88 lb 2.30        gone
Roasted cashews 4.99 lb 3.74  more than half left
Brown rice .50 lb. .55            still have at least 1 meals worth
Ground chuck 3.99 lb 5.85       gone
Oatmeal .50 lb  .47            still have nearly all of it
Red beans* .99 lb .50         gone
Green beans* 99 lb 99       gone

Cheese crackers 1.59  gone
Queso dip 1.49   still have it
Sharp cheddar 1.69  have about 1/2 of it
Milk 2.69  have about half of it
Red onions 1.00  2 remain
Smoked sausage  1.99
Cauliflower 1.99   have half of it left
Chicken 3.24  (I have never bought any proteins at Aldi.  The jury is still out)** have 4 thighs frozen
Pineapple .99  still have it
Eggs .69 dozen 1.38  have 13 eggs left
chocolate chips 1.69 half the bag remain

Piggly Wiggly
Pasta 4/ 3.00  1.50
Butter* 2.13 have 3 1/2 sticks remaining

Lake Farm Stand
Tomatoes 4.00 have 1 tomato left
Cucumbers 3.00  gone

Flowers Bread Store
Rolls .99  (2 dozen rolls!) gone

Chocolate milk 1.79 gone
Bananas            1.05 2 left
Total spent 52.75

Week 1 spent  48.75
Week 2 spent  50.13
Week 3 spent  52.75

Currently I am 1.63 over budget.  The food ads this week look bleak, so we will see what happens.

TheHub  still eats the same thing everyday so these are my breakfasts only during the week.  The weekend meals are for both of us.
Wednesday  cereal milk bad coffee
Thursday cereal, milk, bad coffee (I am out now) grapes
Friday  Coffee  only (Had to run to the lake to meet the bug man Thursday afternoon.  Brought back a couple of ounces of coffee.  Goodness it is so much better than the Dollar Tree stuff)
Saturday Coffee, grits
Sunday Coffee, cheese toast
Monday Coffee, toast with leftover egg salad
Tuesday needed to be at Independence Place early so I just took a cup of coffee with me

TheHub eats lunch out everyday so these are mine except for the weekend.
Wednesday Between taking Mom to the dr.,  grocery shopping and other errands there was no lunch
Thursday Tossed salad, dinner roll
Friday Leftover tossed salad, leftover grilled portabello
Saturday Ate lunch at Mom's.
Sunday  Egg salad sandwiches with lettuce and tomato
Monday leftover, leftover, leftovers Ate the last of the chicken tetrazzini
Tuesday leftover cauliflower salad, hunk of cheese, glass of milk

Wednesday  Red beans and rice, okra
Thursday  Ground beef with zucchini, onion, tomato, bell pepper, garlic, mushroom, and brown rice seasoned with Southwestern spices, cucumber, tomato, and onion salad, dinner rolls
Friday Grilled chicken thighs (Boned and skinned) rice pilaf ( using the broth made from the thigh bones) steamed asparagus
Saturday Cauliflower salad (cauliflower, green peppers, onions, tomatoes, cornichons, mayonnaise and herbs) (I had about 2 tablespoons of cornichons  in a jar in the fridge, otherwise I would have chopped some dill pickle and put in the salad) Bread pudding with salted caramel sauce
Sunday Spaghetti sauce over spaghetti noodles (Sauce used remaining ground beef, and a boat load of vegetables:onions, mushrooms, and shredded carrots, and the leftover sauce from last weeks ziti, cookies
Monday green beans , corn from last week's purchase  that I froze on the cob, tomatoes, onions and okra (Had about 7 pods from the garden and this was the only way to use them.) cornbread
Tuesday used the remaining sausage sliced in thin (I am talking seriously thin here) coins, bell pepper, onion,

We didn't do much snacking this week.  It was a busy week and no one but me was home Saturday so I didn't need ball game snacks. Cheese crackers, cookies, popcorn, grapes, a couple of bananas,