Enter your e-mail address below to have new blog posts sent directly to your inbox!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dinners by Design ~ Week #2 (Erin C.)

Each week, one lucky blog reader will be selected to receive a customized meal plan using the current contents of their pantry, fridge and freezer. After "working my magic", I will supply between 6-8 dinner meal ideas using no more than $10 in additional ingredients. My goal in doing this series is to teach people how to be resourceful, creative and frugal while still planning delicious and healthy meals for their families. If you would like to be featured in the "Dinners by Design" blog series, please check out the details at the bottom of this post.

Meet Erin C.

In addition to being a wife and stay-at-home mom of one, Erin is also my little sister. (Don't worry, the winner was selected completely at random...no favoritism was shown just because she's family!) Erin describes herself as "the kind of person who spends an hour and a half to two hours at the grocery store and comes home without anything to eat." Haha! I'm pretty sure what she means is that she goes shopping and buys groceries, but still can't figure out what to make for dinner with the items she bought. Maybe you can relate? Erin is comfortable cooking from a recipe, but likes the convenience that packaged foods offer. Judging from the list she gave me, I'd say that "quick and easy" recipes are a MUST for this trying-to-eat-healthier family.

With that being said, I went ahead and crossed out the items from Erin's list that I would not be using in her dinner design. I know she wants to cook more "real food" and get away from the processed stuff, so my goal was to show her how that can be accomplished without relying on heat-and-eat freezer foods. While those items are fine to use in a pinch, and probably healthier than take out, I didn't feel they were optimal choices for me to use in her dinner design. Here is the list that Erin provided for me to use in creating her meals...

  • tuna
  • dry beans (black, pinto, great northern)
  • lots of variety of pastas
  • brown rice
  • vegetable oil
  • canned pumpkin
  • all baking supplies
  • spices/herbs/ etc.
  • Alfredo sauce
  • spaghetti sauce
  • tomato juice
  • diced tomatoes
  • stewed tomatoes
  • tomato paste
  • tomato sauce
  • canned veggies (green beans, peas, corn, cream style corn)
  • cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soup
  • broth (chicken, beef and vegetable)
  • pancake mix
  • pizza crust mix
  • bread
  • peanut butter
  • marshmallows
  • honey


  • veggies (peas, corn, carrots, green beans, peppers from the garden, mixed veggies)
  • boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • ground chuck
  • hamburger patties
  • bacon
  • french fries
  • chicken nuggets
  • chicken fries
  • fish sticks
  • dinner rolls
  • garlic bread
  • Cool Whip


  • milk
  • eggs
  • butter
  • apples
  • bananas
  • lettuce
  • tomatoes
  • carrots
  • potatoes
  • onion
  • cheeses (Colby, Parmesan, mozzarella, Mexican, cheddar)
  • Velveeta
  • all the standard condiments
  • minced garlic
  • sour cream
Erin was looking forward to seeing "what I could do with the wide variety of tomatoes" she had in her kitchen.

Working My Magic and Creating the Meals

When looking at Erin's list, one of the first things I noticed was quite a few frozen, heat-and-eat foods like I mentioned earlier. On the other hand, she had a wide variety of tomato products in the pantry and loads of veggies in the freezer. Those two things are great building blocks for healthy meals! Add in the beans, lean beef/chicken, and some pasta or rice and PRESTO--tasty, healthy meals! It was time to dig out some quick and easy recipes and do some menu magic.

You can click on any linked meal to see that particular recipe. Listed underneath each meal, you will see what we are using from her current stash of foods and what she will need to purchase separately. All recipes make enough for at least 4 adults, leaving Erin and her family with some leftovers for another meal. Cooking once and eating twice means my brother-in-law gets a break from his nightly dish washing duties. You're welcome, Chad!

# 1  "Unstuffed" Peppers

What she's using up:  ground chuck (1/2 lb.), black beans, green bell peppers, tomatoes, brown rice, cheese, spices.

What she needs to buy: nothing

# 2  Cobb Dinner Salads

Photo credit: All Recipes

What she's using up: boneless skinless chicken breasts (2 grilled), lettuce, tomato, corn (optional), cheese, Ranch dressing, eggs (2 boiled), bacon (4 slices)

What she needs to buy: avocado (optional)

# 3  Chicken Supreme with Gravy, Green Beans and Crustless Pumpkin Pie (GF)

Chicken Supreme with Gravy Recipe
Photo credit: Taste of Home

What she's using up: boneless chicken breasts (3-4), bread, onions, apples, butter, spices, canned soup, milk, chicken broth, green beans, canned pumpkin, eggs, sugar or honey, vanilla

What she needs to buy: celery, evaporated milk or half-n-half

# 4  Pasta Carbonara

Quick Pasta Carbonara
Photo credit: Kraft Foods

What she's using up: bacon, pasta, milk, misc. frozen veggies, garlic

What she needs to buy: cream cheese

# 5  Taco Soup (Crockpot)

What she's using up: ground chuck (1/2 lb.), beans, tomatoes, spices, onion, cheese, sour cream

What she needs to buy: tortilla chips (optional)

# 6  Pepperoni Pizza Monkey Bread w/ Marinara Sauce, Raw Veggies & Ranch Dip

Pinned Image
Photo credit: Confections of a
Foodie Bride

What she's using up: pizza crust mix (or make homemade crust w/flour, olive oil, yeast, water & salt), pepperoni, tomato sauce, garlic, spices, mozzarella cheese, *carrots, sour cream, ranch seasoning mix (make with pantry spices)

What she needs to buy: *1-2 raw veggies for dipping (ex. cucumber, green bell pepper or broccoli), *celery (also used in recipe #3)

*Use 3-4 veggies for dipping (carrots, celery and 1-2 others). Leftover raw veggies can be used for lunches or use for making side salads to serve with "Unstuffed" Peppers, Taco Soup or Pasta Carbonara (if desired).

Erin's Shopping List
  • celery
  • avocado (optional)
  • 1-2 fresh veggies of choice
  • 8 oz. can evaporated milk or pint of half-n-half
  • 8 oz. package of cream cheese
  • Tortilla chips (optional)  *We like Garden of Eatin' brand blue corn chips.

Total cost approximately $6 without optional ingredients and $10 with them.

Prepare Ahead For Quicker Meals This Week

Here are some ideas of prep-ahead tasks Erin could do this week, to reduce the amount of time it takes to get dinner on the table. These could all be done in a few hours over the weekend or she could do a couple prep tasks each day while her daughter is napping or at night before she goes to bed.
  • Cook 1 lb. of ground chuck, divide into 2 equal portions & refrigerate.
  • Soak one pound bag of black beans overnight in crockpot full of water. Drain water in the morning, add new water and cook on low for 4-6 hours or until tender. You'll need 4 cups this week and the rest can be frozen in meal size portions.
  • Cook rice and refrigerate until needed. You'll need about 1 to 1.5 cups and the rest can be frozen in small quantities for other meals.
  • Chop onions and celery and place in containers in the fridge. You'll need about 1 c. of chopped onion (2 recipes) and 3/4 c. chopped celery.
  • Cook 8 slices of chopped bacon (reserving bacon drippings in a small container for Pasta Carbonara recipe). Split bacon up for 2 separate recipes. What's left of the pkg. of bacon could be saved for a breakfast.
  • Cook and refrigerate 8 oz. of pasta (reheat for Pasta Carbonara by placing in colander under hot running water or microwaving).
  • Grill 2 chicken breasts for Cobb Dinner Salads (or add 2 extra to the crockpot, when doing the task listed below).
  • Dice 3-4 chicken breasts and place in crockpot with a little water and cook 4-6 hours or until no longer pink in the middle. You'll need 3 c. for Chicken Supreme with Gravy recipe. Any leftover could be frozen for another meal or added to a tortilla for an easy lunchtime wrap.
  • Lay out 10 slices of bread to "stale up" for a few hours, then cut into one inch cubes and place in pantry or fridge until needed.
  • Mix up taco seasoning and Ranch seasoning mixes & store in pantry.
  • Chop lettuce and tomato for Cobb Dinner Salads, store in fridge.
  • Hard boil eggs for Cobb Dinner Salads (or boil extra for grab-and-go snacks or to make egg salad for lunches).
  • Cut up raw veggies (like cucumbers, carrots or broccoli) for dipping or salads. Store in sealed containers or storage bags with a bit of water, so they don't dry out.

If you would like to have dinners designed for your family, please comment on this blog post (include your real name so I can contact you!) or send an e-mail with subject line "Dinners by Design" to these_precious_days@yahoo.com by Monday at midnight and tell me why your family should be selected as next week's winner. If you are chosen to be featured in the next "Dinners by Design", you will have until Wednesday at noon to submit a list of the fridge, freezer and pantry items you wish for me to use in creating your meal plan. (That gives you a chance to run to the store and stock the fridge so I have more to work with than mayo, a can of beer and some moldy berries! LOL!)

Taco Seasoning Mix

This recipe makes a TON, so feel free to cut it in half (or even a quarter). I store this in a pint-size canning jar in my pantry. Two tablespoons of seasoning are the equivalent to one package of taco seasoning mix.

1/2 c. Dried minced onion
1/4 c. Chili powder
1/4 c. Cornstarch
2 T. Sea Salt (I like the brand "Redmond's Real Salt".)
2 T. Dried minced garlic (or garlic powder)
1 T. Red pepper flakes
1 T. Oregano
1 T. + 1 t. Paprika
2 t. Cumin
1/2 t. Ground black pepper

Combine spices thoroughly and store in an airtight container. Stir well before each use to prevent the settling of heavier spices.

Use 2 Tablespoons of seasoning mix (the equivalent of one packet) per pound of cooked ground beef or chicken. Add 1/4 c. of water and simmer for 5 min.

Ranch Seasoning Mix for Dressing or Dip

I make this mix up in large quantities and store it in a half-pint (one cup) glass canning jar. You could easily cut this down by a half or a quarter if you don't want to make so much. I use it in any recipe that calls for a pkg. of "Ranch seasoning mix" or to make Ranch dressing or vegetable dip.

8 T. Dried parsley
4 T. Sea Salt (I like the brand "Redmond's Real Salt".)
3 T. Ground black pepper
4 T. Garlic powder
2 T. Dried dill
4 T. Dried minced onion

Combine all spices thoroughly and store in airtight container.

One tablespoon of seasoning mix is equivalent to one pkg. of Hidden Valley Ranch dip or dressing mix.

For Ranch dressing:
Start with 1/2 Tablespoon seasoning mix added to 1/2 c. mayo and 1/2 c. buttermilk (or make your buttermilk with milk and vinegar). If the "Ranch flavor" is not strong enough for you, add more seasoning 1/8 teaspoon at a time until desired flavor is achieved. For best results, allow dressing to sit 2 hours in the refrigerator for flavors to blend.

For sour cream Ranch dip:

Start with 1/2 Tablespoon of seasoning mix, combined with 1 c. of sour cream. Add more seasoning, 1/8 teaspoon at a time, until desired flavor is achieved. For best results, allow dip to sit 2 hours in the refrigerator for flavors to blend.

Crustless Pumpkin Pie (GF)

Crustless Pumpkin Pie Recipe
Photo credit: All Recipes

Serves 6

3/4 c. sugar or sucanat (or 1/2 c. honey or pure maple syrup)
2 c. canned pumpkin (15 oz. can)
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
3/4 c. evaporated milk or half-n-half
2 t. pumpkin pie spice (or 1 t. cinnamon, 1/2 t. nutmeg, 1/4 t. allspice, 1/4 t. cloves)

1. Beat sugar, egg and pumpkin until well combined.

2. Stir in vanilla, milk and spices until thoroughly blended.

3. Pour into a greased 9-in. pie plate. Place pie plate in a 15-in. x 10-in. x 2-in. baking pan; carefully add 1/2 in. of hot water to baking pan (around the pie plate) to create a hot water bath. 

4. Bake at 350 degrees F for 50-55 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Serve with homemade real whipped cream, if desired.

Taco Soup (GF)

This is one of my husband's favorite soups! It's great leftover and freezes very well. If you need a meal to take to someone who's had a baby, is recovering from surgery, etc.--taco soup is an excellent choice. Just throw in a small carton of sour cream, a bag of tortilla chips (we like Garden of Eatin' brand, because they use no genetically modified corn or soy) and some shredded cheese when you make your soup delivery.

Don't get too hung up on the directions. The ingredients are rough estimates. If you like it chunky--use diced tomatoes. If you aren't into the chunks--use petite diced or tomato puree. Add more beans, less beans, different beans, dried and cooked beans, canned beans...whatever! Throw in a can of green chilies to spice it up, if you like. Stretch your meat by only using half a pound and adding some rice. This soup is VERY forgiving. I make it slightly different every time (that's what happens when you don't measure stuff--hahaha!) and it's always a hit. Enjoy!

Taco Soup

Serves 5 (2 c. servings)

1 lb. ground beef (or 1/2 lb. beef + 1/2 c. cooked brown rice)
28 oz. diced tomatoes with juice (2 sm. cans or one large can)
1 c. frozen corn (or one can of corn)
1 1/2 c. dried black beans, soaked & cooked (or one can, drained)
1 1/2 c. dried red beans, soaked & cooked (or one can, drained)
2 T. taco seasoning mix (equals one packet of mix)
1 T. Ranch seasoning mix (equals one packet of mix)
3--3 1/2 c. water (I don't measure...I just fill up the tomato cans!)

For topping the soup...use whatever you like!
crushed tortilla chips
shredded cheese
sour cream
black olives
green onion

To make on stovetop:
Brown ground beef and onion in a medium saucepan (at least 3 qt.) and drain grease. Return beef mixture to same saucepan and add remaining soup ingredients (tomatoes, beans, corn, water, rice--if using, and seasoning mixes). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer on low for 15-20 min. Serve warm with choice of toppings.

To make in crockpot:
Brown ground beef and onion in a skillet on the stovetop and drain grease. Place beef mixture and all remaining soup ingredients into the crockpot and cook on low for 4-6 hours. Serve warm with choice of toppings.

Chicken Supreme with Gravy

Chicken Supreme with Gravy Recipe
Photo credit: Taste of Home
Serves 4-6 (recipe can be doubled & baked in 9 x 13 in. dish)

2 c. cooked chicken, shredded or diced
1/2 c. onion, diced
3/4 c. celery, diced
1/2--3/4 c. apple, diced (optional)
1/4 c. butter
10 slices *slightly stale bread, cut into one inch cubes (or 7-8 if slices are overly big)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 c. milk
1 t. + 1/8 t. salt
1 t. + 1/8 t. rubbed sage
1/4 t. ground black pepper
1/4 t. baking powder
6 oz. chicken broth

1 c. cooked chicken, shredded or diced
1 can cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup (from-scratch recipe HERE)
1 c. water, or a bit more if gravy is too thick

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Saute onion, celery and apple (if using) in a skillet with 1/4 c. butter just until tender.

2. In a large bowl, add cubed bread, salt, sage, pepper & baking powder. Spoon in onion, celery and apple (if using); toss to combine.

3. Beat eggs in a small bowl and add milk. Pour over bread mixture and coat evenly.

4. Layer half of the bread mixture into a greased 8" or 9" square casserole dish. Add one cup of chicken, the rest of the bread mixture and top another cup of chicken. Reserve the last cup of chicken for the gravy.

6. Pour chicken broth over the top of casserole. Cover with foil and bake at 325 degrees F for 70 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Uncover and bake 10-15 min. longer.

7. In a small saucepan, combine the last cup of chicken with one can of soup and one cup of water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 10 min. Spoon chicken gravy over portions of cooked casserole*. 

*Tip: Serve the gravy on the side instead of pouring over the top. That way if you have leftovers to refrigerate, they won't be soggy from the gravy.)

**To "stale up" your bread, place slices on a towel and leave on the countertop for a few hours, uncovered.

Recipe adapted from Taste of Home.

Pasta Carbonara

Quick Pasta Carbonara
Photo credit: Kraft Foods
Serves 4

1/2 lb. fettuccine, spaghetti or other pasta
4 slices nitrate-free bacon, chopped
4 oz. (1/2 of 8 oz. pkg.) cream cheese, cubed
1 c. frozen peas
1 c. other frozen veggies (ie. broccoli, carrots, peppers, etc.--optional)
3/4 c. milk
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/2--1 t. garlic, minced (to taste)

1.  Cook pasta as directed on package. Meanwhile, cook bacon in large skillet until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet with slotted spoon, reserving 2 Tbsp. drippings in skillet. Drain bacon on paper towels.

2.  Add veggies and garlic to bacon drippings and saute lightly. Turn off heat (or turn to lowest setting) and cover skillet to keep veggies warm.

3.  In a small saucepan, add milk, parmesan cheese and cream cheese; cook on low heat until cream cheese is melted and mixture is well blended and heated through.

3.  Drain pasta; place in large bowl. Add cream cheese sauce, sauteed veggies and bacon; mix lightly. Serve warm.

Recipe adapted from this Kraft recipe.

Friday, April 27, 2012

White Chicken Chili (GF)

Serves 4-6

1 T. olive oil (or oil of choice)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (4 oz.) can chopped green chile peppers
2 t. ground cumin
1 t. dried oregano
1/4--1 t. ground cayenne pepper (Some like it hot! We prefer 1/4 t. in ours!)
1 (32 oz.) quart chicken broth
3 cups chopped cooked chicken breast (or chopped cooked turkey breast)
3 (15 oz.) cans white beans, drained and rinsed**  
1 c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 c. sour cream (optional)

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Slowly cook and stir the onion until tender.

2. Mix in the garlic, green chile peppers, cumin, oregano and cayenne. Continue to cook and stir the mixture until tender, about 3 minutes.

3. Add in the chicken broth, chicken (or turkey) and beans. Simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Serve warm. Top with cheese and sour cream (if desired).

**I like to soak and cook dry beans ahead of time for this soup. Dry beans are MUCH cheaper and have less yucky "fillers" than the canned variety. After soaking overnight and cooking in the crockpot on low until tender, I freeze 3 c. of beans in Ziploc freezer bags for future meals. I typically use about 1 1/2 c. of Great Northern beans and about 1 1/2 c. kidney beans for this recipe.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Frozen Yogurt Dots (GF)

I first saw these little cuties on Pinterest and was intrigued enough to make them myself. My kids flipped out! This might be the simplest "recipe" that ever gets posted on my blog. For real. These little frozen yogurt dots are just that--yogurt. That's it! (Well, I added some sprinkles to "up the fun factor" a little for the kids, but it wouldn't be necessary.) Think Dippin' Dots--only healthier and with bigger "dots," of course.

Line the inside of a small glass (a polka dot glass is just a "bonus"--haha!) with a plastic bag, folding down the edge to minimize any mess while filling the bag. Add about 1/2 to 1 c. of your family's favorite yogurt. We like Stonyfield or Trader Joe's Organic French Vanilla; however, my son has been begging me to make these with chocolate pudding, instead. Not a bad idea! I like the way he thinks. :)

Seal the bag and snip the corner off with scissors (not too much!). Carefully place little drops of yogurt onto some parchment or waxed paper. You'll get the hang of it by about the 10th dot! A silicone baking mat would also work great. I have tried both parchment and a baking mat and I think I prefer the silicone mat.

This is the part where you could throw on a few sprinkles or other add-ins (wild blueberries, mini chocolate chips, etc.) if you want to jazz them up. You can use any flavor of yogurt to make these. Try a new flavor each time you make them or place multiple flavors of dots on one baking sheet and mix them up.

The frozen yogurt dots will freeze solid in about 30 min. to one hour, depending on their size. Use a thin metal spatula to remove them from the sheet or just pick them off with your fingers. FYI...your frozen yogurt dots will melt about as quickly as ice cream. My kids like to eat them out of a bowl with their fingers, but they are pretty messy by the time they get to the bottom of the bowl. I would recommend using a spoon, but I'm only the mom...what do I know?


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Chocolate Banana Bon Bons (GF)

Chocolate plus banana equals frozen deliciousness! These little bite-sized treats feature a crisp, dark chocolate shell and a cold, creamy banana center that almost (but not quite!) tricks your taste buds into thinking it's ice cream. I bet you can't eat just one! Don't feel too guilty...at least they are healthier than a Klondike bar. I've been thinking the only way to make them "yummier" might be a smidge of peanut butter between the banana and the chocolate. What do you think?

Are you ready to get started? Here's what you need to make these little gems....

You're going to need about 3 ripe bananas (spots are fine), some good quality dark chocolate--60% cacao or more--and an oil that melts to a liquid but is solid at room temperature. I prefer refined coconut oil, which has no coconut flavor (Honestly! I hate coconut but use refined coconut oil in SO many things.). Palm oil would be another great choice. Palm and coconut oils are both full of the same healthy fats that avocados boast. Crisco would work in a pinch, but personally I don't like using anything with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil--ie. trans fats.

Measure out about 1 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips and add 2 teaspoons of coconut oil (or shortening, if you must). Slice 3 bananas into healthy sized chunks...about 3/4 an inch or so.

Place a glass bowl into a shallow skillet of water on the stove at a low temp to melt (double boiler method) or place in the microwave for one minute. Stir chocolate frequently to avoid scorching and keep water away from the melted chocolate to avoid weird clumping. Microwave at 30 second intervals until chocolate is smooth and liquidy. Mine took 1 min. 45 sec. but your microwave may vary in size and cooking time.

Add 2 or 3 banana slices at a time and use a fork to "fish" them out, tapping the excess chocolate off and dragging banana across the edge of the bowl. If you don't do this...you'll have puddles of chocolate under your bon bons. Which will only affect the look--not the taste. :) Work quickly or the chocolate will begin to get thick again. If that happens --reheat until liquidy again.

Tip the fork up slightly to slide the banana slices onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper.

This is easy enough a 5 year old can do it! LOL!

Continue until all of the bananas have been dipped or you run out of chocolate, then place cookie sheet in the freezer for a minimum of 6 hours. Trust me...it's worth the wait! 

I did 3 medium bananas and had a small amount of chocolate left, which I poured onto parchment and allowed to harden up again. I hate the thought of wasting good chocolate! (PS...I ate that "blob" later because I needed a little something to help me stay sane until my hubby arrived  home to save me. Yep...the whole thing! It's thinner than it looks. Haha!)

These will store beautifully in a container or plastic bag in your freezer. I have absolutely no idea how long they will keep because ours are gone within 48 hours. True story! Now that I think about it, I would NOT recommend putting them in something see-through, because these bad boys will scream at you every time you open the freezer door. Enjoy!


Seriously AWESOME Deal on Natural Foods, Health/Beauty and Much More! 4/24 ONLY!

Don't miss this AWESOME deal over at Vitacost! TODAY ONLY get free shipping on an order over $24, plus new customers get a free $10 to spend on their first order. Head over HERE and click on the button that says "Click Here Now" (yes, this is my referral link). You will receive an e-mail code you can apply to your first order. Within a few minutes, you should get an exclusive $10 coupon code sent to your Inbox that you'll need to copy and paste  into the promo code box at checkout.

You would be crazy not to get in on this offer!! You can get your $10 worth of quality stuff for FREE and pay $2.24 to have it shipped  to your door! Check out some of these FABULOUS deals on natural/organic foods, products for the kiddos and more.

Gluten-free goodies:

Bob's Red Mill Gluten and Wheat Free Pizza Crust Mix  Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free, Wheat-Free Pizza Crust Mix  $2.90
Pamela's Products Gluten-Free Bread Mix

Pamela's Gluten-Free Bread Mix  $4.96

Larabar Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip

Larabar Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip 16 ct.  $19.48

For the Kiddos:

Nature's Plus Animal Parade® Multi-Vitamin Assorted Flavors
Nature's Plus Animal Parade Multi-Vitamins  180 ct.  $13.03
(These are my kids' very favorite and this is a CRAZY price!)

New Wave Enviro Stainless Steel 20 oz Insulated Bottle Floral 
New Wave Enviro Stainless Steel 20 oz. Floral Water Bottle  $8.79

Alba Un-Petroleum Lip Balm With SPF 18--Cherry  $1.57
(Great filler item if you are a little short for the free shipping!!)

Plus LOTS more!!

Don't forget to add 2 free samples (free with every order) to your cart before checkout!

Here's What I Bought!

Animal Parade Vitamins $ 13.03
Floral Water Bottle          $  8.79
2 Lip Balm                       $  3.14 
2 Samples                       +  Free
                                        $ 24.96
New Customer Credit    -   10.00
                                        $ 14.96

Not bad, considering the vitamins alone retail for over $20! Looks like I got a free water bottle and a couple lip balms!

Check Out THIS Deal!

4 Gluten-Free Pizza Crust Mixes  ($2.90 ea)   $11.60
2 Samples                                                            Free
Shipping   (for orders under $24)                     +  2.24
New Customer Credit                                     - $10.00
That's $.96 per mix--shipped to your door! Sweet!

Have fun shopping and be sure to let me know what great deals you found by posting in the comments below! Don't forget to create your own referral link to share with family and friends. They'll earn $10 toward Vitacost products and you'll earn $$ to spend, too! It's a win-win!

(Thanks Hip2Save!)

Monday, April 23, 2012

FREE Shipping and 15% off at The Children's Place--TODAY ONLY!

The Children's Place is offering free shipping on any purchase--TODAY ONLY! Go snag some awesome deals and get an extra 15% off with online promo code RETAILMENOT42. Don't forget to check out the clearance section! I'm sure the best deals will go FAST!

What good deals did you find?? Share in the comments section below!

(Thanks for the heads-up Hip2Save!)

Meal Plan Monday ~ Apr 23-29

Here is what's on the menu at our house this week:

Monday: Chicken Gumbo w/Rice, Cottage Cheese & Pineapple

Tuesday: Hearty Minestrone Soup, Homemade Bread, Mixed Berries w/Real Whipped Cream

Wednesday: Homemade Chicken Nuggets, Broccoli, Pumpkin Applesauce (For the kiddos--Bill works late and I'm having a grown-up dinner @ my sister's house)

Thursday: Beef and Noodles, Green Beans, Fruit & Yogurt Parfaits

Friday: Chicken Pesto Pizza, Salad, Chocolate Banana Bon Bons (Recipe coming TODAY!)

Saturday: (Lunch) Grilled cheese, Minestrone Soup (leftover), Pears

Sunday: Grilled BBQ Chicken, Baked Sweet Potatoes, Asparagus, Chocolate Chip Cookies

What's for dinner at your house this week? Share your meal plan in the comments section below!
Posted by Picasa

Chicken Gumbo

Serves 4-5
8 skinless chicken thighs (I use a pkg. of 6 and it serves about 3-4 adults)
1/4 c. flour
2 t. Cajun or Creole seasoning blend**
2-3 T. olive oil (or oil of choice)
1 lg. onion, chopped
1/2 c. thinly sliced celery
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (14 oz.) petite diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (14 oz.) chicken broth
1 lg. green bell pepper, cut into 1/2 in. pieces
1/2 to 1 t. hot pepper sauce (optional--I don't use this, personally)

1. Put flour and Cajun seasoning in reclosable bag, add 2 pieces of chicken (slightly wet) at a time and shake to coat lightly. Save remaining flour/seasoning as you will need to add it later.

2. Place chicken in oil over medium heat, brown on both sides (about 2-3 min. per side), remove and set aside.

3. Saute onion, celery, garlic until tender (about 5 min.).

4. Add tomatoes, chicken broth, remaining flour/seasoning mixture and hot sauce (if using)--bring to boil.
5. Return chicken to pan, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally.  After 15 min. add green pepper and simmer another 15 min. or until chicken cooked completely.

6. Serve hot over rice or noodles. Best served in a large, shallow bowl.

**Cajun Seasoning Mix

1 T. + 3/4 t. sea salt
1 1/2 t. oregano
1 1/2 t. paprika
3/4 t. cayenne pepper
1 1/2 t. black pepper
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. onion powder

Combine all ingredients in a plastic bag and shake to mix.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle! My Favorite Frugal Ideas for Earth Day (and Everyday!)

Jackson takes out the recycling
I have a confession to make.  I keep empty plastic bags in my freezer. Crazy? Maybe. I prefer to think of it as helping the environment. As good stewards of the Earth, we owe it to God and future generations to waste less and reuse more. Here are some of my favorite (and frugal!) ways to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Reduce ~ v. To use less

Reduce air and noise pollution
by using a push mower
A couple years ago, our lawnmower broke and we went to Lowe's in search of a new one. My husband saw an old-fashioned push mower that he thought would be "perfect" for our smallish yard. I, on the other hand, thought he had completely lost his marbles! A sucker for saving money (the push mower was only $70--much cheaper than a gas mower), I agreed. Besides, as long as he was using it...I couldn't care less what it looked like. Haha! Fast forward to 2012 and let me tell you what I think of the mower now. Genius! Yes, Bill--you heard me right. I was wrong. If you've ever been startled awake by an eager neighbor mowing the lawn (on a Saturday morning at 7 AM!), you would appreciate that our push mower is almost silent. The kids can play in the yard while he mows and not have long-term hearing loss. It doesn't flip rocks or sticks several feet away. You could probably mow barefoot if you wanted. Oh, how could I forget the best part of all? It takes no gas--and therefore no pollution or extra money wasted. Sometimes is really does pay to be wrong. ;)

Reuse Ziploc bags over
and over again
Like I told you earlier, I keep Ziploc storage bags in my freezer. I'm sure if someone opened my freezer and saw the stack of empty bags in there, they would surely question my sanity or wonder if I was one of those "hoarder" people they feature on TLC. Actually, I'm just cheap and freezer bags aren't free (no matter how good the sale and coupons!). If I am going to refill the bag with something similar (pancakes, muffins, granola bars, cooked beans, chopped veggies, etc.) I simply throw the empty bag back in there until I need it the next time. I do have some rules about this, though. I won't reuse bags that I have thawed meat in. If I took a few frozen burgers out and put them in a different container to thaw, I might leave the bag in the freezer. However, if I take frozen meat out and leave it in the fridge or on the counter to thaw...that bag gets rinsed and put in the recycling bin. I'm cheap, but I won't risk illness from contamination. Know what I mean?

Reuse ~ v. To use again

Reuse glass jars for pantry
storage and leftovers
I have a love for glass canning jars (ok--any glass jars) that words cannot adaquately express. Haha! I keep a basket on the top of my fridge to hold all of my empty jar friends. "What do I do with them?" you ask. All sorts of things! I store leftover soup, homemade sauces and chicken stock in them in my freezer. I keep dry goods like oatmeal, baking soda, and nuts in them in my pantry. I even use them as drinking glasses from time-to-time (the pint size--not the quart!). I suppose you could actually use them for canning, too. That's a skill I still need to learn. What's not to love about beautiful glass jars? It's such a shame that so many things are packaged in plastic these days....sigh...

Reuse newspaper for shiny windows

This is a trick I learned from my grandma! Reuse your old newspapers to clean your windows. It can't be the glossy ads. It needs to be the actual "news" part of the paper, and preferably the b&w stuff. I should have chosen a better example piece for this pic. Well...do as I say...not as I did. LOL! Instead of paper towels, spray on your preferred window cleaner and rub it with the newsprint until it is shiny and streak-free. Thanks Grandma!

Recycle ~ v. To make something old into something brand new

Recycle bread heels into bread crumbs
One of my favorite frugal tips is to save my leftover bread heels in a bag in the freezer until it's full. Then I put them on a couple baking sheets in the oven at a low temp until they are totally dried out. I let them cool, throw them in the blender and...presto! Free whole wheat bread crumbs! I add some parmesan cheese, parsley, salt, onion and garlic powders to make yummy breading for chicken, pork, etc. (No measuring--just add and taste until it's right!) You can use the bread crumbs to make meatloaf, meatballs or even stuffed mushrooms. Sometimes I mix panko bread crumbs half and half with my homemade ones, if I want the extra "crunch".

Recycle less-than-perfect fruit
by turning it into yummy juice
I grocery shop on Mondays, so nearly every Sunday the kids and I clean out the produce bins in the fridge, bust out the juicer, and take it for a little spin! Since I don't buy juice (more on that in a future post), homemade juice is a real treat for them. We throw in our about-to-be-tossed-out fruits and veggies and recycle them into a delicious (and healthy!) treat. I always check the markdown produce rack at Meijer, too. Last week I found a 3 lb. bag of organic gala apples for $1 (in great "juicing shape"!) and a giant watermelon quarter for just under $1. The kids love putting in the fruits and veggies and watching them turn into juice. I love that we aren't wasting our expensive produce. Some weeks we don't have enough produce left for making juice. Definitely not a bad problem to have (although my kids would disagree)! ;)
Recycle leftover coffee
into a delicious frozen drink
I have been known to brew coffee and never get around to actually drinking it. Am I the only one who does this? I have friends reading this right now and laughing hysterically because the thought of "leftover coffee" is so foreign to them. I'm not the type who licks out the coffee pot (you know who you are)! Haha! Sometimes I just brew more than I drink and I hate wasting stuff! I got this excellent idea one day (while pouring out a whole pot of cold coffee I forgot about...sniff...sniff!) to pour the leftover coffee into ice cube trays and freeze it. Frozen coffee cubes + chocolate milk + blender = iced mocha! Need I say more?

Happy Earth Day!

Thanks for stopping by today! I hope you picked up a tip or two on reducing, reusing or recycling. I would love to have you join my family and me as we save money and do our part to help keep the Earth happy and clean. If you have tips to share...please post them below! I love hearing from my readers!


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dinners by Design ~ Week #1 (Kendra S.)

Each week, one lucky blog reader will be selected to receive a customized meal plan working off the current contents of their pantry, fridge and freezer. After "working my magic", I will supply between 6-8 dinner meal ideas using no more than $10 in additional ingredients. My goal in doing this series is to teach people how to be resourceful, creative and frugal while still planning delicious and healthy meals for their families. If you would like to be featured in the "Dinners by Design" blog series, please check out the details at the bottom of this post.

Meet Kendra S.

My friend, Kendra, had gone over her grocery budget for the month of April--due to lots of entertaining and out-of-town guests around the Easter holiday. She was looking to save her family money by using up some of what she already had on hand. Kendra is married and has one toddler and a baby on the way.  She is a fairly proficient cook and had lots of staples for me to use in designing her dinners. Here is the list Kendra sent me of what she had in her freezer, refrigerator and pantry.


  • tuna
  • canned black, garbanzo and great white northern beans
  • dry beans of the same variety (Kendra says, "I never know how to use beans besides bean soup.")
  • lots of variety of pastas
  • lentils
  • barley
  • rice of different varieties
  • couscous
  • jar of pesto
  • bread crumbs
  • canned crabmeat 
  • lots of different oils and vinegars
  • all baking supplies
  • spices/herbs/ etc.
  • diced tomatoes (2 cans)
  • bread (assumed)


  • veggies (peas, corn, broccoli/cauliflower)
  • homemade chicken stock
  • 2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
  • pork chops
  • a whole turkey
  • corn tortillas


  • milk (assumed)
  • eggs (assumed)
  • butter (assumed)
  • apples
  • potatoes (a couple)
  • celery
  • onion
  • hummus
  • cheeses
  • all the standard condiments
   The fridge is "a sorry sight!" according to Kendra.

Working My Magic and Creating the Meals

Several things stuck out to me when checking out Kendra's list. First of all, her family is adventurous in their eating (I mean, who has barley in their pantry and hummus in the fridge?) and secondly, they have no red meat on hand. The lack of packaged, convenience foods also tells me that Kendra is used to cooking from scratch (the homemade chicken stock was another clue!). It was time for me to wave my magic wand and design some creative and inexpensive meals.

You can click on any linked meal to see the recipe. Listed underneath each meal, you will see what we are using from her current stash of foods and what she will need to purchase separately. All recipes make enough for at least 4 adults, leaving Kendra and her husband with some leftovers for another meal. Gotta love a "leftovers night"--no cooking and very few dishes!


# 1  Chicken (Turkey) Pot Pie

What she's using up:  turkey, peas, corn, celery, onion, potato, chicken stock, flour, shortening/butter (for the crust), milk, salt, pepper, thyme

What she needs to buy: carrots, frozen green beans (optional)

# 2  Chicken Pesto Pizza

Photo credit: An Easy Recipe

What she's using up: split chicken breasts (one), jar of pesto, mozzarella cheese, flour & oil (for the crust) 

What she needs to buy: fresh mushrooms (cheaper) or artichoke hearts (more expensive)

# 3  Crunchy Baked Pork Chops with Twice Baked Potatoes and Fried Apples

What she's using up: pork chops, bread crumbs, flour, egg, potatoes, cheese, milk, butter, apples, cinnamon & sugar

What she needs to buy: green onions for topping potatoes (also used in recipes #4 and #7), sour cream (also used in recipe #5)

# 4  Burritos (or Enchiladas)

What she's using up: split chicken breast (1), corn tortillas, beans, rice, cheese

What she needs to buy: (optional) green onions for topping enchiladas, enchilada sauce (or can of tomato sauce, if making from scratch)

# 5  White Chicken (Turkey) Chili

What she's using up: cooked turkey, beans, chicken broth, garlic, onion, cheese, corn tortillas (could be made into tortilla chips and used as soup topping)

What she needs to buy: small can of green chilies, sour cream (also used in recipe #3)

# 6  Tuna Noodle Casserole

What she's using up: tuna, frozen peas, pasta, milk/flour/butter (for making sauce)

What she needs to buy: fresh mushrooms (will also use for recipe #2)

# 7  Crab Cakes and Veggie Couscous

Photo credit: All Recipes

What she's using up: canned crabmeat, mayo, egg, bread crumbs, oil (for frying crab cakes), couscous, chicken broth (if any remains), any random veggies still available

What she needs to buy: green onions, a lemon

Kendra's Shopping List
  • small bag of carrots
  • frozen green beans (optional)
  • green onions
  • fresh mushrooms or artichoke hearts*
  • small can of green chilies
  • sour cream
  • enchilada or tomato sauce (optional)
  • a lemon

Total cost approximately $8 with optional ingredients (*artichoke hearts would bring it closer to $10)

If you would like to have dinners designed for your family, please comment on this blog post (include your real name so I can contact you!) or send an e-mail with subject line "Dinners by Design" to these_precious_days@yahoo.com by Saturday at midnight and tell me why your family should be selected as next week's winner. If you are chosen to be featured in the next "Dinners by Design", you will have until Monday at noon to submit a list of the fridge, freezer and pantry items you wish for me to use in creating your meal plan. (That gives you a chance to run to the store over the weekend and stock the fridge so I have more to work with than mayo, a can of beer and some moldy berries! LOL!)