Sunday, July 31, 2011

What's for Eats This Week

Breakfast
Choice of:
Oatmeal chocolate chip pancakes
Cereal
Oatmeal
Bagels
Toast and eggs

Lunch
Choice of:
Tuna fish sandwiches with chips and carrots
Burritos
Soup and rolls
PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick

Dinner
Hot dogs, chips, veggies
Pita Pizzas, veggies
Chicken and Sage Mushroom Gravy with Noodles and veggies
Southwestern Pinto Bean Soup
Soup and grilled cheese samiches
Pizza and veggies
Cheesy Chicken, Rice and Broc Bowl

Snacks
Cheese sticks
Apples
Peaches
Cucumbers
Carrots

Recipes coming soon:
Chicken and Sage Mushroom Gravy
Southwestern Pinto Bean Soup

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saving the Moola: Practicalities of Couponing and Giving, Part 3

Coupons are continuing to be a hot trend, but sometimes they can spell trouble if the couponer isn't in the know about when to use coupons, how to use coupons, etc.

Coupon policies are important to know and even more important - it's important to have copies of the store's policy if you're planning on using a bunch of coupons to either get free items or stack coupons. For instance, Target.com has a clear coupon policy - you can use a manufacturer coupon along with a Target coupon. Some store employees may have troubles getting the register to register both of these coupons and as a result, may tell you you aren't allowed to stack coupons. But if you just whip out your coupon policy from Target.com that clearly spells out that you can use both coupons, the cashier can call for back up to figure out the register. This may be a hassle, but if you don't speak up, you may be costing yourself more money and this post is all about saving the moola! Each store has a different coupon policy so I would recommend printing these coupon policies once a year or so and keeping them in your coupon binder or envelope.

I receive a lot of great items in the mail for free and most usually come with a coupon. I'll hang onto the coupon for awhile to see if, with sales and coupons, the item will be free. But when it's clear this just isn't going to happen and I've checked that the item, even with a coupon, is not worth it, I will leave the coupons in the store on the item the coupon is for - that way, if a shopper is buying that item (for some dumb reason!), they can at least use a coupon. I recommend doing this or asking friends and family if they are looking for coupons for particular items to be sure that these coupons are going to be used if this item is ever going to be purchased.

Which brings me to my next point - let friends and family know you are looking for any and all coupons. Even if you get coupons you won't end up using, you can pass those onto others who may use them and you may end up getting other valuable coupons you want or need! I find that if you never turn down a free item from friends and family, they will be more apt to keep coming to you with free items and you can either find a great home for them or use them in your own home.

Another way to get coupons besides through the mail or newspaper is to sign up for your favorite manufacturer's newsletters or email offers. Then, you can just set up a separate email account for this, like crazycouponmama@hotmail.com or something similar, and use that just for coupon offers. It'll be easier to read personal email by keeping your coupon offers separate.


My last tip, which is the most important thing to keep in mind out of all the Couponing posts, is that it's not just what you save, it's what you spend. If you save $50 and you spent $50, you still spent $50. It's not for me to judge whether you have that $50 to spend, but $50 is $50. Most of the coupons in existence are for items you can make yourselves (like macaroni and cheese, soup, etc.) or for items that, let's face it, you really don't need (soda, ice cream, candy, etc.). If you spent the majority of your $50 or whatever on items like this, you're still spending too much. At this point, it doesn't matter what you saved. Instead of buying a can of refried beans for $0.50, you could have made your own for $0.28. At the end of the day, it's really all about what you spent, not what you saved.

You can read Part 1 of this series here and Part 2 of this series here.

This Book Room

Alice Bullock is a young newlywed whose husband, Charlie, has just joined the Union Army, leaving her on his Iowa farm with only his formidable mother for company. Alice writes lively letters to her sister filled with accounts of local quilting bees, the rigors of farm life, and the customs of small-town America. But no town is too small for intrigue and treachery, and when Alice finds herself accused of murder, she discovers her own hidden strengths. Rich in details of quilting, Civil War-era America, and the realities of a woman's life in the nineteenth century, Alice's Tulips is Sandra Dallas at her best.

My thoughts: It's hard to describe Sandra's writing - but no matter what, her writing is entertaining and compassionate. I truly enjoy reading one of her books. Her books are, literally, treasures. If you haven't yet discovered this author, start with this book or Prayers for Sale.

New York Times bestselling author Marie Bostwick crafts a timeless tale of friendship, love, and the choices we must make in their name.

While New Bern, Connecticut, lies under a blanket of snow, the Cobbled Court Quilt Shop remains a cozy haven for its owner, Evelyn Dixon, and her friends. Evelyn relishes winter's slower pace--besides, internet sales are hopping, thanks to her son Garrett's efforts. In addition to helping out at the shop, Garrett has also been patiently waiting for his girlfriend, Liza, to finish art school in New York City. But as much as Evelyn loves Liza, she wonders if it's a good idea for her son to be so serious, so soon, with a young woman who's just getting ready to spread her wings. 

Liza's wondering the same thing--especially after Garrett rolls out the red carpet for a super-romantic New Year's Eve--complete with marriage proposal. Garrett's the closest thing to perfect she's ever known, but what about her own imperfections? The only happy marriage Liza's ever seen is her Aunt Abigail's, and it took her decades to tie the knot. Soon, Liza is not only struggling with her own fears, but with the mixed reactions of her friends and family. And when she finds herself torn between a rare career opportunity and her love for Garrett, Liza must grasp at the thinnest of threads--and pray it holds.

Additional notes: This is the third book in the Cobbled Court Quilts series. You can read my review of the second book in the series here. The fourth book has already been released, and this series is ongoing.

My thoughts: This wasn't my favorite book in the series, but sometimes, you need a book to set up your next book and it seems that was Marie's plan. I expect the fourth to be full of surprises from a new character that was introduced in this book.

It is a few days before Christmas. For forty-six years Sterling has been awaiting his summons into Heaven. Will he be deemed fit for entrance into heaven this year? At last the day comes and the Heavenly Council settles on a test for Sterling - he will be sent back to earth and given an opportunity to prove his worthiness by helping someone else. Sterling Brooks finds himself in Manhattan, at the skating rink in Rockefeller Center. Among the skaters is a heartbroken seven-year-old named Marissa. Her sadness comes from her separation from the father she adores, a talented singer, and her sparkling grandmother, owner of a popular restaurant. Both have been forced into the Witness Protection Program because two mobsters, the Badgett brothers, have put a price on their heads to prevent their testifying against them in an arson case. As Sterling soon realizes, it is Marissa he has been sent to help. Sterling, who is able to move back and forth in time and place, masterminds a plan to eliminate the threat from the Badgett brothers and reunite Marissa with her loved ones. Filled with suspense and humour, HE SEES YOU WHEN YOU'RE SLEEPING is a delightful and warmhearted tale of perseverance, redemption, and love.

My thoughts: This was my Christmas in July pick this year (but who am I kidding, I read Christmas books all year long!). If you love a good suspense/mystery or know and love Mary and Carol Higgins Clark, this book will entertain and humor you.

Set in the high-pressure world of a Chicago television newsroom, author Denise Hunter brings to life a story of intrigue and integrity, of secrets divulged and promises kept. Paula Landin-Cohen's new job as an investigative reporter quickly puts her in the spotlight as she pursues a story that becomes nationally followed as the Switched at Birth Mystery. Finding what really happened to the young couple's baby will assure her a coveted role as news anchorwoman but she also faces the challenges of a shaky marriage, a colleague who fiercely asserts his desire for the job, and a past decision that haunts her.

Additional notes: This is the third and final book in the New Heights series. You can read my review of the first book here and my review of the second book here.

My thoughts: The New Heights series would be great for a young woman who is coming into her own. This series expanded my view on abortion, sex, and love.

What's an American girl with a big mouth, but an equally big heart, to do?

Lizzie Nichols has a problem, and it isn't that she doesn't have the slightest idea what she's going to do with her life, or that she's blowing what should be her down payment on a cute little Manhattan apartment on a trip to London to visit her long-distance boyfriend, Andrew. What's the point of planning for the future when she's done it again? See, Lizzie can't keep her mouth shut. And it's not just that she can't keep her own secrets, she can't keep anything to herself.

This time when she opens her big mouth, her good intentions get Andrew in major hot water. Now Lizzie's stuck in London with no boyfriend and no place to stay until the departure date written on her non-changeable airline ticket.

Fortunately, Lizzie's best friend and college roommate is spending her summer in the south of France, catering weddings in a chateau. One call and Lizzie's on a train to Paris. Who cares if she speaks only rudimentary French? One glimpse of gorgeous Chateau Mirac -- not to mention gorgeous Luke, Chateau Mirac's owner -- and she's smitten.

But while most caterers can be trusted to keep a secret, Lizzie's the exception. And no sooner has the first cork been popped than Luke hates her, the bride is in tears, and it looks like Chateau Mirac is in danger of becoming a lipo-recovery spa. As if things aren't bad enough, ex-boyfriend Andy shows up looking for "closure" (or at least a loan), threatening to ruin everything, especially Lizzie's chance at ever finding real love -- unless she can figure out a way to use that big mouth of hers to save the day.

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Queen of Babble series. The other two books in the series have already been released, and the series has finished.

My thoughts: I love Meg Cabot, and she doesn't disappoint in this book. Perhaps more importantly to note is that Lizzie reminds me a lot of Becky Brandon (nee Bloomwood) of the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella, which makes Meg's series all the better in my opinion.

*all summaries courtesy of goodreads.com

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Friday Finds: free items at Target!

A date night with my husband just isn't complete without a stop to our local Target store right here in Fenton. Here's what we got for free with coupons today:



Our total before coupons was $10.13. Our total after coupons = FREE!!!

We used Reach floss coupons from coupons.com. These are still available here - in fact, I printed them today. I also printed them from our Swagbucks account so we'll get 20 Swagbucks in the next 8 - 12 weeks. I printed $1/1 Scotch Magic Tape coupons here and had been saving these for awhile - the tape was always sold out, but the bin was full of tape today so I was pretty excited about that. And tune in this Tuesday for In My Mailbox to learn how I was able to get the bottles of shampoo for free.

This Target shopping trip was definitely a success!!!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Ravioli Lasagna

Another recipe from our Recipe.com magazine, which it got from the Family Circle magazine. The awesomeness of this recipe is that it is quick. You only need to chop 2 types of veggies (and they both chop quickly), and the rest of the ingredients come prepackaged. I know - normally, I try to avoid a lot of prepackaged foods, but some days you just want quick and easy and if you haven't got anything, pre-prepared this is the way to go.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 3/4 lb zucchini (about 1 large or 2 small) cut into 1/2 moons
  • 1 10 oz package of mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 jar (26 oz) pasta sauce
  • 1 12 oz package fully cooked turkey meatballs, quartered
  • 2 9 oz packages of  cheese ravioli
  • 8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Heat a large saute pan over medium heat
  • Add oil to the pan and let warm for about 10 seconds
  • Add zucchini, mushrooms, and Italian seasoning to the warmed oil and cook and stir for 5 minutes
  • In a 9 x 13 x 2 baking dish, put about 1/2 cup pasta sauce (this should be enough to spread across the bottom, if you need a little more than 1/2 cup add it in)
  • Add into the 9 x 13 pan the following ingredients in the following order
    • 1/3 meatball pieces
    • 1/2 ravioli
    • 1/2 vegetables
    • 1/3 cheese
    • 1/3 meatball pieces
    • remaining ravioli
    • remaining veggies
    • remaining meatballs
    • remaining sauce
    • remaining cheese
  • Cover the baking dish with foil
  • Bake for 30 minutes, uncover and bake for 10 more
  • Makes about 8 servings.
Trust me - start with a clean kitchen, a cold oven, and unchopped vegetables and you will still be eating this in less than an hour.

-Chef Jason

Homemade: Italian Seasoning

This Italian seasoning is a great addition to nearly every tomato based sauce ever invented. It works good as a chicken rub right before you grill a chicken, and even just mixed with EVOO, it makes a simple but good salad dressing.



Ingredients

  • 1 part basil
  • 1 part oregano
  • 1 part rosemary
  • 1 part thyme



    Directions
    • Mix all ingredients together

      You can make as little or as much as you want. We used 2 tablespoons of all the spices to make our seasoning.

      Now, no one will ever be able to say that I didn't give you an easy one this week. Please share with us the different uses that you have for your Italian seasoning, as I'm positive that I have left out a use or two or fifty here.

      -Chef Jason

      Tuesday, July 26, 2011

      In My Mailbox


      Through RewardsGold, I signed up to receive a free one-year subscription to Martha Stewart Living magazine. I was saving up my points at RecycleBank in order to earn this subscription, but there was a special deal I was alerted to at RewardsGold. New members could earn enough points by signing up to redeem them for this subscription. I had never used RewardsGold before and likely won't again (unless a crazy good deal like this comes up again). I received my first two issues of the magazine last week. Don't those fireworks frosted cookies look ah-mazing? I can't wait to try that technique.

      Through RecycleBank, I redeemed some of my points for a Coca-Cola coupon - $1 off any Coca-Cola product. I'm planning to use this when Coca-Cola 2-liter bottles are on sale for $1 or less so I will get a bottle for free.

      Through a freebie offer, I signed up to receive a SoyJoy bar. I believe I was also allowed to pick my own flavor (I sign up for so many freebies, it's hard to remember the details of all of them now!), and I received the strawberry flavor. Anything that is free thrills me, but I know if it's food (something everyone consumes every day), it means less out-of-pocket expense for me at the grocery store.

      Share with us: What awesome FREE items have you received in the mail recently?

      Monday, July 25, 2011

      In the Kitchen With Jason: Meatball Samiches

      We got this recipe from a magazine called Recipes which got it from the magazine Midwest Living. Regardless of how we found it, I am sure glad we did. We made these delish sandwiches last night for dinner and ate the leftovers today for lunch.


      Ingredients

      • 16 oz spaghetti sauce
      • 1 16 oz package of frozen cooked meatballs
      • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
      • 6 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
      • 4 hoagie buns


      Directions
      • Preheat oven to 350 F.
      • Combine all non-cheese, non-bun ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir well
      • Put the meatball mixture into a 9x9x2 baking dish and cover with the cheese.
      • Bake until meatballs are heated through and the cheese is bubbly. (About 30 to 40 minutes)
      • Serve in buns and shred a little extra mozzarella cheese over them.

      Outside of heating, this recipe took me 3 minutes to prepare, with half of that going toward shredding the cheese. Any recipe this good with that little prep will be made again and again in our household.

      This is what the meatballs look like fresh out of the oven.
      It took great willpower not to eat straight from the baking dish.


      -Chef Jason

      Sunday, July 24, 2011

      What's for Eats This Week

      Breakfast
      Choice of:
      Oatmeal chocolate chip pancakes
      Cereal
      Oatmeal
      Breakfast burritos
      Bagels
      Toast and eggs
      Oatmeal raisin muffins

      Lunch
      Choice of:
      Tuna fish sandwiches with chips and carrots
      Burritos
      Soup and rolls
      PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick

      Dinner
      Meatball Samiches and veggies
      Ravioli Lasagna
      Chicken Burritos, corn
      Hot dogs, Homemade French Fries, veggies
      Hamburgers, Homemade French Fries, corn
      Pita Pizzas, veggies
      Dinner at extended family's house

      Snacks
      Cheese sticks
      Whole wheat chocolate chip cookies
      Apples
      Peaches
      Veggies and dip
      Mexican Layered Dip and chips
      Energy bites

      Recipes coming soon:
      Meatball Samiches
      Ravioli Lasagna
      Pita Pizzas

      Saturday, July 23, 2011

      Saving the Moola: Practicalities of Couponing and Giving, Part 2


      Couponing and giving are part of our every day lives, and as such, I just couldn't fit everything into one post! And it appears it won't all fit here in Part 2 here, either. If you'd like, check out Part 1 here.

      My wonderful sister, Christine, expressed interest that I share some of the websites I utilize for coupons. We're all busy, right? We have kids, pets, family, careers, hobbies - who the heck has time to really even search for coupons?

      I don't really. The coupons, more or less, come to me. Let me explain:

      Whatever coupon sites I have found, either by way of searching online or by a recommendation, I "like" on Facebook. Since I spend so much time on Facebook, and most of us (me excluded!), have phones that access the web easily (smartphones, iPhones, etc.), Facebook is ubiquitous. We can access it in a flash. So I "like" my coupon websites on Facebook, and whenever a great coupon is out, they post the link to the coupon. Genius!

      Here's the coupon websites I "like" on Facebook and use for almost all of my coupons:

      moneysavingmom.com - Crystal posts coupons, store deals, and useful posts on how to save money, DIY projects, etc. She also always alerts us to freebies, which are even better than coupons - items you can sign up to receive FREE in the mail. You can check out what great freebies I've received in the mail here and here. (And check out this Tuesday's In My Mailbox - I have a lot of great stuff to share!!) You can "like" moneysavingmom.com here.

      couponmom.com - Stephanie mostly posts about store deals with the occasional coupon. This is where I usually find out about Kroger deals, drugstore deals, and Target deals. You can "like" couponmom.com here.

      CouponPro - Lots and lots and lots of coupons. This is mainly the goal for this website. Also, CouponPro always alerts us Swaggers to when there is a code. These codes technically are coupons - get enough points from codes, Daily Polls, etc. and in no time, you can choose to receive a $5 amazon gift card. Get 5 or 6 and you can make a purchase from amazon.com FREE! Check out what I've ordered from amazon.com for free here. And you can "like" CouponPro here.  

      Spend Less, Shop More - I love this blog. The author posts deals in an easy-to-read fashion and posts ads that others might not ahead of time (such as office supply store ads for back to school). You can "like" this blog on Facebook here (also called "San Antonio Budget Grocery Examiner").

      These sites will usually alert me to when new Target.com coupons have been released, but I usually check these out myself anyway once or twice a week.

      Here are some other great ways to get deals:

      MPerks - This is available at meijer.com. I've heard there are great coupons you can get from this, but unfortunately, MetroPCS doesn't support this service as of yet so I don't know what coupons you'll get. Still, worth a try and free to sign up. 

      Kroger coupons online - You can load the coupons right onto your card, so when you check out and scan your card, the coupons are automatically used if you bought the items the coupons were for. I've done this before - works great!

      SavingStar.com - This site is new as of this year, and I've used it once so far since discovering it this week. You enter your store loyalty card numbers, like your Kroger card number, and "coupons" are loaded onto the card. Once you purchase the item at the store and scan your card, you "earn" whatever the coupon value was (your price at checkout does not decrease - it will stay the same). When you've "earned" $5, you can choose to receive a $5 amazon.com gift card. Within the past week, I have earned $1.

      By utilizing all of these websites through Facebook, you'll save time and money. Until the next Practicalities post, happy couponing!

      This Book Room: a week of books in a series

      When Marcy Singer opens an embroidery specialty shop in quaint Tallulah Falls, Oregon, she throws a soiree and a Stitch-In. Soon, Marcy's sign- up sheet for embroidery classes fills up and everyone in town seems willing to raise a glass-or a needle-to support the newly-opened Seven Year Stitch.

      Then Marcy finds the shop's previous tenant dead in the store-room, a message scratched with a tapestry needle on the wall beside him. Now Marcy's shop has become a crime scene, and she's the prime suspect. She'll have to find the killer before someone puts a final stitch in her.

      Additional notes: This is the first book in the series. The second book has already been released, and a third book will be released later this year. This series is ongoing.

      My thoughts: Oh, how I love a good mystery. This book was cute, funny, and somewhat surprising. Marcy has an old soul which suits me just fine. The characters were odd and unique.

      The fate of humankind hangs in the balance, as the beleaguered Tribulation Force prepares to defend itself against the Antichrist in Jerry Jenkins and Tim Lahaye's thrilling tenth installment of their bestselling Left Behind series.

      Additional notes: This is the tenth book in the Left Behind series. The series consists of 13 books, with prequels not included. There is a series for kids as well. This is the no. 1 most popular Christian series.

      My thoughts: This book picked up a little in terms of storyline, and I was glad to see that. Books 1 - 5 are the best so far and had the most impact. All the books are worth a read, especially if you do not proclaim God to be your Savior.

      EMT Anne Lundstrom is running from her past. But it's about to catch up. She thought she'd escaped it when she moved out of the city and into the quiet town of Deep Haven. She certainly never expected to get roped into helping Noah Standing Bear run his summer camp for inner-city kids. Yet Noah has a charisma she can't ignore, and romance is in the air. But when the very danger she was trying to escape threatens her peaceful haven, and her life, Anne must find the courage to face her fears and embrace the one man who can help her understand her past.

      Additional notes: This is the second book in the Deep Haven series. You can read my review of the first book in the series here. There were two more books in the series, currently. This series is ongoing.

      My thoughts: The storyline was a bit more predictable than the storyline in the first book. I still liked it, overall, and will keep reading the series, but this book could be skipped. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. The characters were too angsty for me.

      Nothing comes between Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) and her bargains. Neither act of God nor budget crunch can shatter her dreams of wall-to-wall Prada. Every milestone in her well-shopped life (travel, long-lost sister, marriage, pregnancy) inspires new vistas to explore in the name of retail therapy. But now she faces her greatest little challenge yet: Becky’s two-year-old daughter, Minnie.

      While motherhood has been everything Becky dreamed it would be—Baby Dior, Little Marc Jacobs, and Dolce & Gabbana for toddlers—adorable Minnie is wreaking havoc everywhere she goes, from Harrods to her own christening. Her favorite word is “MINE!” and her penchant for Balenciaga bags, Chanel sunglasses, and online purchases has no rival under age five.

      Becky is at her wits end. On top of this, she and her husband Luke are still living with her parents. Thankfully it appears house buying attempt number four is a go! Until a huge financial crisis causes panic everywhere, and nobody wants to shop—not Becky’s personal shopping clientele, not her friends, nobody. And with Luke in the doldrums, it’s time for Becky to step in—with a party: A surprise birthday party for Luke (on a budget) is the perfect antidote to everyone’s woes. At first.

      Will Becky manage to keep the party of the year a surprise? Can she hire jugglers, fire-eaters, and acrobats at a discount? Will enlisting the help of Luke’s unflappable assistant to convince him to have another baby realize her dream of matching pom-poms? Will Minnie find a new outlet for her energetic and spirited nature (perhaps one with sixty percent markdowns)? She is, after all, a chip off the old shopping block. And everyone knows a committed shopper always finds a way.

      Additional notes: This is the sixth book, and the newest book, in the Shopaholic series. This series is ongoing.

      My thoughts:  It's nice to escape into Becky's delusional and crazy world for a day or two. She's so lovable, but insane! This book would be perfect for a day at the beach, during a crazy work week or when the kids are driving you up the wall.

      Qwilleran and Koko, the beautiful Siamese cat, are back on the mystery beat. When a mysterious fall ends the life of one of Junktown's leading citizens, Qwilleran is convinced it was no accident. And Koko is about to prove him right.

      Additional notes: This is the third book in the Cat Who... series. Sadly, the author, Lilian Jackson Braun, died just over a month ago at the age of 97. There are 29 books in this series, and the series is finished.

      My thoughts: I love reading any books that involve cats or dogs, but cats are my favorite (obviously). It's rather refreshing that a male is the main character in a series like this. This series is gender friendly - man or woman would enjoy reading about Qwilleran and his crazy feline friends.

      *all summaries courtesy of goodreads.com

      Thursday, July 21, 2011

      In the Kitchen With Jason: Cheesy Chicken, Rice and Broc

      This is a simple fun meal that just makes you feel good to eat. This is probably because of the melted cheese, but who knows?


      Ingredients

      • 2 1/2 cups water
      • 1 cup brown rice
      • 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breast
      • 1 head of broccoli
      • 4 ounces shredded Cheddar

      Directions
      • Heat a grill or grill pan to medium high heat.
      • Put water and rice into a saucepan.
      • Bring to a boil.
      • Cover and reduce heat to low.
      • Simmer for 40 minutes.
      • Cook the chicken on the grill  for 7 minutes on a side.
      • Remove the chicken from the grill and let stand for 5 minutes.
      • Chop the chicken into small chunks, about 1/4 in. cubes.
      • Chop the broccoli into pieces similar in size to the chicken and put into a second saucepan.
      • Cover the broccoli with water.
      • When the rice has about 15 minutes remaining, put the broccoli on high heat.
      • Remove the broccoli from heat and drain once it has boiled for 5 minutes.
      • Once rice has cooked for 40 minutes, remove it from heat and fluff it with a fork.
        • I fluff the rice more to see if all the water has cooked into the rice. If, when fluffing, you see water on the bottom of the pan, recover the rice, return it to the heat and cook it for 3 to 5 more minutes.
      • Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, and serve warm. (Makes 4 servings)
      Enjoy lotses!

      -Chef Jason

      Wednesday, July 20, 2011

      Homemade: Maple Syrup

      Who wants to spend $5 at the store for maple syrup? Not me, and that is what the local Meijer charges to get a bottle of it. This simple (though you do need to watch out for the small chance of burning down your kitchen, more on this later) recipe will eliminate this charge from your budget entirely.

      Ingredients

      • 1 Cup water
      • 1 3/4 Cup sugar
      • 1/3 Cup packed brown sugar
      • 1/2 tsp vanilla
      • 1/2 tsp maple flavoring

      Directions
      • Mix together water and sugars in a sauce pan.
      • Bring to a boil.
      • Cover and boil for 3 minutes.
        • It is important that you watch this, if it looks like it is going to boil over, do not let it! Lower the heat or remove the lid or anything else you can think of. If you let it boil over, the boiled over syrup will gather in the pan under your burner coil (if you have them like I do) and catch on fire. I learned this making the very batch pictured here. I also learned that it takes my fire alarm about the same amount of time to notice a fire as it does for me to put one out.
      • Turn off heat, but leave the mixture on the hot burner.
      • Stir in vanilla and maple flavoring and recover. Continue to leave on burner.
      • Leave it sitting there for 15 to 30 minutes.
      • Pour in a mason jar, or other reusable storage device, and place it into your refrigerator to finish cooling.
      This recipe was the most exciting I have made in a long time, and it goes good on these pancakes - we made about 50 of these pancakes and froze them in packs of 4 in the freezer. Also if you would like to take a picture of this syrup, don't try to do it in the middle of a heat wave and it has finished cooling it in your fridge. Because if you do, you will end up with a picture of a very sweaty bottle, like I did.

      -Fireman (this week only) Jason

      Tuesday, July 19, 2011

      The Great Lasagna Search: Recipe 1.0

      We've made many veggie lasagnas over the course of our lives, but we've never found one we loved and would make again and again. This has got me to thinking that I should just make my own recipe. I will share with you all the recipes that are palatable and give updates about the ones that should not be attempted as well. Hopefully, you will all enjoy my search for a great lasagna as much as I do. Here is the recipe that I recently made.
       
      Rainbow Lasagna

      Ingredients
      • 12 Lasagna Noodles
      • 1/2 lb Carrots, Sliced
      • 2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
      • 1 Medium Onion, Diced
      • 3 Cloves Garlic, Diced
      • 1 Red Bell Pepper, Chopped
      • 1 Green Bell Pepper, Chopped
      • 1 Zucchini, Chopped
      • 1 Yellow Squash, Chopped
      • 8 oz White Mushrooms, Sliced
      • 8 oz Frozen Spinach, Thawed and Drained
      • 1/2 Cup Water (or white wine)
      • 1 Can (28 oz) Diced Tomatoes
      • 1/4 cup Fresh Parsley, Chopped (or 1 Tbsp Dried Parsley)
      • 1 tsp Kosher Salt
      • 1 tsp Black Pepper
      • 1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
      • 15 oz Ricotta Cheese
      • 1 Egg
      • 1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
      • 3/4 Mozzarella Cheese, Shredded
      • 1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
      Directions
      • Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions.
      • Drain and lay noodles flat on aluminum foil. (If space is tight, you can layer the foil and noodles)
      • Put carrots in a sauce pan and cover with water.
      • Boil for 8 to 10 minutes
      • Drain and set aside
      • Heat a large saute pan over medium heat.
      • Add Extra Virgin Olive Oil and warm for 5 to 10 seconds
      • Add onions and garlic and cook for 1 minute.
      • Add green and red peppers and cook for 2 more minutes.
      • Add zucchini and yellow squash and cook for another 2 minutes.
      • Add mushrooms, spinach and carrots and cook for 2 additional minutes yet again.
      • Add water, tomatoes, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes and stir well.
      • Bring to a boil.
      • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
      • Cover, lower the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 20 minutes.
      • In a large bowl mix remaining ingredients other than the 1/4 cup Parmesan.
      • Mix veggie mixture with the cheese mixture to make a cheesy veggie sauce.
      • Put about 1/5 of the cheesy veggie sauce in the bottom of a 9" by 13" pan.
      • Place 3 lasagna noodles over this.
      • Continue alternating until you put the last 1/5 of the cheesy veggie sauce on the top.
      • Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese over the top and cover with foil.
      • Bake for 20 minutes, remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes more.
      • Let stand for 10 minutes, cut into 12 slices, and serve.
       
      Notes on this version:
      • Not cheesy enough. I will probably use a full pound of mozzarella next time.
      • A little runny. I will be replacing the water with tomato paste which is much thicker than water.
      • A bit too much stuff as it overflowed about 1/8 cup onto the oven floor while baking. I am considering taking out one or two of the green veggies as I currently have three.
       
      Feel free to share any suggestions you may have. And if you try this recipe or any of those that follow, I beg you to let us know how they turn out and your thoughts on them.
       
      -Chef Jason

      Monday, July 18, 2011

      In the Kitchen With Jason: Chili-Rubbed Steak

      We had this meal for dinner on Sunday (and the leftovers for lunch today). Though it does use chili powder, there is only a hint of spiciness.

      Ingredients

      • 1 Tbsp chili powder
      • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
      • 1/2 tsp pepper
      • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
      • 1 1/4 lbs potatoes
      • 3/4 cup ketchup
      • 1 lbs sirloin steak
      • 1 onion, sliced

      Directions
      • Preheat oven to 450.
      • Mix spices in a small bowl.
      • Clean potatoes, and slice into wedges.
      • Put potatoes in a bowl and toss with 1 tsp of spice mixture.
      • Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
      • Put the potatoes on the cooking spray and spray the tops of the potatoes as well.
      • Put in the oven for 45 minutes, flipping once.
      • Stir 1 1/2 tsp spice mixture into ketchup.
      • Rub steak with remaining spice mixture.
      • After potatoes have cooked 15 minutes, heat a 10 inch skillet over medium-high heat.
      • Spray skillet with cooking spray and add the steak.
      • Cook first side for 3 minutes and flip.
      • Cook the second side for 2 minutes.
      • Put the steak in a baking dish and into the oven for 15 minutes to get a medium-well steak (10 minutes will get a medium-rare steak).
      • While steak is baking, add 1/2 cup water and onions to skillet
      • Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 6 minutes.
      • Drain the onions and store them somewhere they will remain warm until serving.

      Serving Instructions
      • Makes 4 servings.
      • Serve onions over steak, with ketchup in a small dish for dipping.
      • Each serving has 434 calories, 7 g fat, and 864 mg sodium.
      *Originally found in Recipes magazine. This recipe may have been altered to fit our dietary preferences.

        Sunday, July 17, 2011

        The Gaming Corner: Uno

        Who doesn't know Uno? Since most of you do, you know the best fun of Uno is in the different house rules that are developed.

        Here are a few of them that I have seen:

        • Draw 2 chain: If a draw 2 card is played against you and you have a draw 2 card in your hand, you can play it and say to the next person "draw 4." Again, if the next player also has a draw 2 in his hand, that player can play his draw 2 instead of drawing and pass a draw 6 onto the next player. This continues until a player cannot chain another draw 2 and is forced to draw all the cards for the draw 2s played.
        • Keep the game going hint: After a player calls Uno, on the turn before his, the player about to play his card shows it to the player that called Uno. The person who called Uno must then tell that player if he can play on the card shown. 
        • Jess Wins: This is an extension of the above house rule. If Jess has shown all of her playable cards and Jason has told her that he can play on all of them, Jess is allowed to play her entire hand and call out "I win", ending the game in her favor. This may sound unfair, but it keeps the mood light as Jason would usually win 75%+ of games without this rule in place. If ever Jason attempts to use this rule, he is called a cheater. (Go figure!)
        • Drop In Play: In this house rule, if you have a card of matching value of the card up, you can play it if you say "Drop In" when you do, even if it is not your turn. Wild cards cannot be 'dropped in'.
        • Pirate Uno: This variant I found online and looks fun for large groups, but since Jess and I usually play with just the 2 of us, we have not even tried it. It uses a few house rules including Drop In Play and Draw 2 chains. Additional House rules included are as follows:
          • Whenever a player plays an 8, he may trade hands with a player of his choice
          • Whenever a 0 is played, all players pass their hands in the direction of play.
          • Players are encouraged to say 'arrr' and other pirate phrases as often as possible
          • Cheating is encouraged, but if you are caught, you must draw 2 cards. Examples of cheating are as follows, but not limited to:
            • Looking at other players' hands
            • Playing cards when it isn't your turn
            • Playing more than one card on your turn 
            • Playing the wrong color card
            • Drawing the wrong number of cards after a Draw 2 chain
            • Not passing your entire hand (holding onto that wild card)
            • Hiding cards you don't want (like under the table or up your sleeve)
            • Not saying Uno when you are supposed to and saying Uno when you don't need to
        For the three of you out there who don't know what Uno is, Uno is a card game for 2 to 8 people. Your goal during the game is to play all of your cards before anyone else plays all of theirs. When it is your turn, you can play any card in your hand that matches either the value or the color of the last card played. If you cannot play, you draw 1 card and play passes on. There are some power cards that 'break' the rules. For example, the wild card can be played on any color and you can chose a new color that the next player must play, or the draw 2 card causes the next player to draw 2 cards instead of playing a card on their turn. Also, when you play your second to last card, you have to say "Uno," letting everyone know that you could win on your next turn. Forgetting to say Uno, and breaking any other rule, causes you to draw 2 cards. There is a scoring system, but it is silly and we don't use it, preferring to just remember who won the most hands.

        Regardless of how you play Uno, it is a great game for the whole family and all will enjoy it.
        -Gamer Jason

        What's for Eats This Week

        Breakfast
        Choice of:
        Peanut Energy Bars
        Oatmeal chocolate chip pancakes
        Cereal
        Oatmeal
        Breakfast burritos
        Bagels
        Toast and eggs
        Banana cookies

        Lunch
        Choice of:
        Tuna fish sandwiches with chips and carrots
        Burritos
        Soup and rolls
        PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick
        Pizza

        Dinner
        Chili-Rubbed Steak
        Easy Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli and Rice
        Soup and rolls
        Hamburgers, Homemade French Fries, corn on the cob
        Veg. Spaghetti with Homemade Garlic Bread
        Hot dogs, Homemade French Fries, corn on the cob
        Burritos, corn

        Snacks
        Cheese sticks
        Whole wheat chocolate chip cookies
        Apples
        Carrots
        Peanut Energy Bars

        Recipes coming soon:
        Chili-Rubbed Steak
        Easy Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli and Rice
        Homemade Syrup

        Saturday, July 16, 2011

        Saving the Moola: Tips and Tricks You Haven't Heard Before


        We all know borrowing books, CDs and DVDs from the library is a cheaper way to go than buying, and buying coffee at Starbucks every day is a crime of money sense - just buy a great coffee maker and make your own!

        When you've already implemented the basic ways of saving money into your life, how do you find new ways to save even more money? The research for this post has been years in the making, and while I'm still researching and still learning, it seems every article I read has the basics. Well, here's my list of creative ways to save money, and I promise you haven't heard them all before or chosen to implement them into your life... yet.

        • Use microfiber towels or rags for virtually everything you use paper towels for now. You may need to use paper towel for oddball things (like wrapping up freezer burritos so they are moist when microwaved later), but for almost everything, you can stop buying paper towel and spend $20 or so for several microfiber towels that will last for years and years and years. Using microfiber versus paper is also great for the environment. Potential cost savings: $16 per year
        • In the hot months, who wants to cook in an oven? Use a slow cooker instead, and not only will your house stay cooler, but you'll save money on your electricity bill as well. Also, slow cookers make meal planning simple. Pop the food in the cooker in the morning, and have dinner ready 8 - 10 hours later. You can buy cheaper cuts of meat as the meat will be more tender in a slow cooker than oven cooking. Potential cost savings (based on switching to slow cooker cooking 2 times a week and cheaper cuts of meat): $60 per year
        • Fifty percent of Americans now regularly take prescription pills. I agree with that statistic - out of the 2 humans in my family, one of us takes prescription pills (Jason for his narcolepsy). His pills are not available in a generic form, so the copay is $50 per month. But, by purchasing his drugs through a mail-order company, he pays just $100 for a three-month supply. This is incredibly easy to do - just take the mail-order form to your doctor (you do not need an appointment do this, although a call ahead to let them know you're going to stop in might be a nice thing to do). Your doctor fills out the form, mails it in, and you'll get your drugs about 2 weeks later. Just mail in your payment or pay online, and you're good to go. Potential cost savings: $200 per year
        • I technically cheat on my husband. His name is Boyfriend (his name has been changed for this post to protect the guilty!), and he sells the most wonderful strawberries at the Flint farmers' market. The thrill I get when I see his berries is... well, let's just say, I get tingles. The Flint market is incredibly busy, so we tend to be the first customers there on Saturday mornings at 8 AM. However, if you enjoy going later in the day or a later time is just more convenient for you, that actually can work to your advantage. Boyfriend, and other farmers, don't want to haul their produce back where it came from, so if you arrive near the end of the day, offer to purchase the produce at a lesser cost. Most farmers will likely take you up on that offer, and the worst they can say is no. Potential cost savings: $55 per year
        • Clothes can get worn out if you tend to purchase clothing in classic styles - v-neck t-shirts, polos, Oxford shirts, etc. But if you like to buy a few pieces of trendy clothing, they may become out of style before they're actually worn out. You can choose to donate or garage sale these items, but I think an even better idea is to repurpose the fabric for another item. A tank top, a quilt, a backpack, or a purse may be fashioned out of your out-of-style clothing item. Potential cost savings: $20 per year
        • I find it quite rude when people ask Jason when he's going to stop shaving his head. A. We both prefer his head shaved (I think it's an incredibly sexy look) and B. it's cost effective. For the cheapest barber around, including tip, you'll pay anywhere from $12 to $17 for a haircut. About five years ago, we purchased a hair cutting kit from Meijer for $20. That one lasted for two years, and the one we currently have (which is identical) has lasted for three years. For the first two haircuts, I probably didn't do the greatest job as I was still learning, but I'm a great head shaver now, and I do an even better and more thorough job than the barbers he used to go to! And if you want a look other than a shaved head for the men in your life, you can probably figure that out, too, in a couple of haircuts. If you trust the men in your life, you can also have them cut your hair (although I prefer to see a stylist for my hair!). Potential cost savings (and this is what Jason and I save in one year's time): $136 per year
        • When Jason and I first moved in together, I had no clue what I was doing. I was attending school full-time for my BS and working anywhere from part-time to full-time and anywhere from one to three jobs. But over time, I became more knowledgeable with how to run a household (although Jason runs the household these days!). One thing Jason introduced me to was using cloth napkins. I grew up only using paper, and my parents, as far as I know, do not even own any cloth napkins. Cloth napkins can be made for probably $0.25 per napkin, or they can be purchased for about $1 per napkin (or more if you want fancier napkins). We have 12 cloth napkins and use cloth for all mealtimes. Paper napkins, on the other than, typically cost one cent. Using cloth will not only save you money, but it's great for the environment as well. Potential cost savings (assuming cloth napkins are used twice a day for 2 people): $15 per year
        • This last tip is somewhat baffling and I still don't quite understand it all (I'll leave the chemistry smarts to my sister, Cathy!), but if you fill up your car's tank with gas when it's cold outside (late at night or early in the morning), you will get more bang for your buck. Potential cost savings: $25 per year
        If you implement all of the ideas listed here, you could save, at the least, $527 over the course of a year. That's a nice chunk of change!

        Share with us: What ideas will you implement into your life? And most importantly, what could you do with an extra $537?

        This Book Room

        The ultimate action/adventure trilogy begins, with #1 bestselling author Gordon Korman plunging readers into the heart of the Titanic. The Titanic is meant to be unsinkable, but as it begins its maiden voyage, there's plenty of danger waiting for four of its young passengers. Paddy is a stowaway, escaping a deadly past. Sophie's mother is delivered to the ship by police - after she and Sophie have been arrested. Juliana's father is an eccentric whose riches can barely hide his madness. And Alfie is hiding a secret that could get him kicked off the ship immediately. The lives of these four passengers will be forever linked with the fate of Titanic. And the farther they get from shore, the more the danger looms...

        Additional notes: This is the first book in a trilogy. The first book was published in May 2011 so the series is current. The other two books are expected later this year and early next year.

        My thoughts: I love learning about the Titanic, and while this is a fiction series, it is a marvelous book. This series would be perfect for a middle schooler or anyone who likes learning about the Titanic. This book is well written and quickly drew me in.

        As if the jolt of becoming a single mom to her two sons wasn't enough, Natalie Coombs is facing new stresses as the director of the crisis pregnancy center. A teenager who comes in for testing brings back memories of another pregnant girl whose life tragically ended in suicide. Desperate to reach out to this client, Natalie crosses professional boundaries and incurs the wrath of a mysterious assailant. Even within her family, all is not well as her relationship with her sister becomes increasingly tense. Natalie is compelled to carefully count the cost of following her heart and her convictions amid betrayal, physical danger, and strained family relationships. Filled with human drama, readers will be easily drawn in as national issues become highly personal in this gripping tale of conflict and commitment.

        Additional notes: This is the second book in the New Heights trilogy. This series was published in the mid 2000s. Please read my review of the first book in this series here.

        My thoughts: Denise Hunter is just a really good author. Her books are easy to read, quick to draw the reader in and always has a twist or turn the reader wouldn't necessarily expect. Her books explore topics that most other authors wouldn't in this way.

        The first three works by Elie Wiesel are here brought together in one volume, where the terrifying truth of their vision, the stunning simplicity of their art, and the power of their unity achieve epic dimensions. Night, first published in 1960, is Wiesel's true account of spiritual and national exile and one of the masterpieces of Holocaust literature. The adolescent Elie and his family, among hundreds of thousands of Jews from all parts of Eastern Europe, are cruelly deported from their hometown to the horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Wiesel writes of their battle for survival, and of his battle with God for a way to understand the wanton cruelty he witnesses each day. In the short novel Dawn (1961), Elisha - the sole survivor of his family, whose immolation he witnessed at Auschwitz - has survived the Second World War and settled in Palestine. Apprenticed to a Jewish terrorist gang, he is commanded to execute a British officer who has been taken hostage. During the lonely hours before dawn, he meditates on the act of murder he is waiting to commit. In The Accident, (1962), Wiesel's second novel, Elisha, now a journalist living in New York, is the victim of a nearly fatal automobile accident. This fiction questions the limits of the spirit and the self: Can Holocaust survivors forge a new life without the memories of the old? As the author writes in his introduction, "In Night it is the 'I' who speaks; in the other two [narratives], it is the 'I' who listens and questions." Wiesel's trilogy offers meditations on mankind's attraction to violence and on the temptation of self-destruction.

        My thoughts: This book has been on my to-read list for years, and Night certainly lived up to my expectations. Elie's writing style is impeccable - in all three stories. I particularly enjoyed Dawn. I agree with the general consensus that this book is a must-read.

        Come home to Marie Bostwick's poignant novel of new beginnings, old friends, and the rich, varied tapestry of lives fully lived... At twenty-seven, having fled an abusive marriage with little more than her kids and the clothes on her back, Ivy Peterman figures she has nowhere to go but up. Quaint, historic New Bern, Connecticut, seems as good a place as any to start fresh. With a part-time job at the Cobbled Court Quilt Shop and budding friendships, Ivy feels hopeful for the first time in ages.
        But when a popular quilting TV show is taped at the quilt shop, Ivy's unwitting appearance in an on-air promo alerts her ex-husband to her whereabouts. Suddenly, Ivy is facing the fight of her life—one that forces her to face her deepest fears as a woman and a mother. This time, however, she's got a sisterhood behind her: companions as complex, strong, and lasting as the quilts they stitch...

        Additional notes: This is the second book in the Cobbled Court Quilt series. So far, there are four books in this series, with the fourth book being released this year. The series is ongoing.

        My thoughts: Marie Bostwick does not disappoint in the second book of this series. Her writing style reminds me of Kate Jacobs, which is wonderful. I'm looking forward to reading books 3 and 4 and am interested in what Marie is going to bring her readers next!

        Verlan LeBaron. When the government raided their community-the Mormon village of Short Creek, Arizona-seeking to enforce the penalties for practicing polygamy, Irene and her family fled to Verlan's family ranch in Mexico. Here they lived in squalor and desolate conditions with Verlan's six brothers, one sister, and numerous wives and children. This appalling and astonishing tale has captured the attention of readers around the world. Irene's inspirational story reveals how far religion can be stretched and abused and how one woman and her children found their way out, into truth and redemption.

        My thoughts: I would skip this book. The author, bless her heart, was quite whiny about her situation. You married a man who had another wife and who wanted 7 wives - did you really think he'd have a lot of time for you? And that is basically what the story was.

        All summaries courtesy of goodreads.com.

        Friday, July 15, 2011

        My Friday Finds: Office Supplies Edition

        I haven't had a real need for back-to-school sales for almost three FOUR! years, but there is something about office supply stores that I just love. July and August are perfect times to stock up on all things office supplies. Out of the three major stores (Office Max, Staples, Office Depot), I have, in the past, only visited Office Max. I don't know why, but I just liked that store best.

        Staples, in addition to being a client of mine at work (which makes me more inclined to shop there!), had awesome deals this week! We visited Target and Staples on Sunday, and this is what we bought combined:


        Our total was... (drum roll please!).... $5.38.

        Here's the price breakdown:
        2 packs of Papermate pens - $0.02
        1 pack of Sharpies - FREE
        2 packs of stickies labels - $0.50
        2 packs of mechanical pencils - $0.50
        2 packs of Bic pens - $0.02
        2 packs of cap erasers - $0.02
        2 packages of glue - $0.02
        2 memo books - $2
        1 memo cube - $2

        We've added the Papermate pens, one package of Bic pens, the Sharpies, both packages of cap erasers, and one glue to our charity stockpile.

        I'm not sure if we'll go out again shopping for office supplies - we have just about everything we'll need for one year. Although, as for as tape goes, we will keep searching for it. We have a ton of $1 off one roll of Scotch Magic tape and they have been on sale for $1 at Target (will be on sale for 50 cents next week, and this will also be on sale for $1 at Office Max next week). We checked Target in Fenton twice and both Targets in the Ypsi/AA area, and none of them had any tape. The bins for it were empty. So we'll keep checking whenever we find ourselves in or near a Target store.

        Share with us: What awesome deals have you found this week?

        Thursday, July 14, 2011

        In the Kitchen With Jason: Yummers Quesodillas

        This will be the first recipe that is entirely, well almost, our own. It is loosely inspired by a food item sold at Grand Traverse Pie Company, but it no longer resembles the original at all, so we call it original. The recipe is for one quesodilla, but it is easy to make more as you can make them one after another on the grill.


        Ingredients

        • 2 six inch corn tortilla, divided
        • 1 Tbsp salsa
        • 4 Tbsp shredded Cheddar, divided
        • 1 Tbsp onion

        Directions
        • Put the quesodilla plates on your George Foreman grill. If you do not have a George Foreman grill, go out and buy one that has quesodilla plates so that you can make this recipe.
        • Warm the Georgie up to medium-high, this takes about 5 minutes.
        • Once heated, open it up and  place 1 tortilla in the center of the grill.
        • On top of this, spread the salsa.
        • Sprinkle 2 Tbsp of the cheddar cheese on top of the salsa.
        • Cover this with the onion and then apply the remaining cheese.
        • Top all of this with the second tortilla and close the grill.
        • Come back in about 70 seconds, 60 isn't enough and 90 is way too many, and pull your quesoyummy off the grill.
        • Cut along divider lines and serve with sour cream on the side.
        Be warned though, you will find that you eat way too many of these delish snacks when you make them. Also, be warned that these do not retain their heat well and by the time you finish cooking a third one, the first will no longer be warm.

        -Chef Jason

        Wednesday, July 13, 2011

        Homemade: Refried Beans (Incorrectly Named!), the Extra Pictures Edition

        This week, I am dispelling the name of refried beans as there is no frying involved.

        Ingredients

        • 1 pound pinto beans
        • 3 quarts water
        • 2 Tbsp EVOO
        • 1/4 Cup water
        Directions
        First go through the pinto beans to make sure that none of them are bad.

        Put the beans in a pot and cover them with 3 quarts of water.










        Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for 2 hours and 30 minutes.










        Drain the water from the beans.










        Return the pot to the burner and lower the temp to low. Add the water and oil to the beans and smash the beans with a potato masher or similar device.





        The beans are done when they are all smashed.

        This recipe makes about 2.5 lbs of re-(not)fried beans. We purchase one pound of beans for about 75 cents. A 15-ounce can of refried beans from the store costs at least $1 (expect to pay more for organic, natural or just less preservative-type beans). Fifteen ounces of homemade refried beans, then, cost just 28 cents. And there's no preservatives, no extra crap - just yummy beans and EVOO. The beans can be frozen, or you can always half the batch.


        -Chef Jason


        Monday, July 11, 2011

        In the Kitchen With Jason: Olive Dip

        This is the first recipe that Jess has picked out in a long time that has not received two thumbs up from the New Leaf Creations team. It did get 1 thumb up, so I will still be sharing it with you.

        Ingredients
        • 1 cup mozzarella, shredded
        • 1 cup cheddar, shredded
        • 1 cup mayonnaise
        • 3/4 cup green onions, chopped
        • 10 oz. black and green olives
        Directions
        • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Do this before even gathering the ingredients.
        • Mix together all ingredients.
        • Put in a 2 quart baking dish and bake for 20 minutes.
        • Garnish with extra chopped green onions, if you want to.
        Be warned this dip is exactly what it claims to be. The olive taste is fantastically strong, which gets it a thumbs up from me, but a thumbs down from Jess. If you don't love olives, do not make this. Also, it is a little salty, so if you are watching your sodium intake, you might want to avoid this recipe as well, but then again if you are watching your sodium, you are not eating olives anyway so I guess I'm being silly telling you that. I have this problem that whenever I share with you something that is in my fridge, I have this overwhelming desire to go get a serving of whatever it is I'm sharing. So, I'll leave you now and go get my snack.

        -Chef Jason

        Sunday, July 10, 2011

        What's for Eats This Week

        Breakfast
        Choice of:
        Peanut Energy Bars
        Oatmeal chocolate chip pancakes
        Cereal
        Oatmeal
        Breakfast burritos
        Bagels
        Toast and eggs

        Lunch
        Choice of:
        Tuna fish sandwiches with chips and carrots
        Burritos
        Soup and rolls
        PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick

        Dinner
        Quesadillas
        Turkey Meatloaf with cheesy broccoli potatoes
        Subway
        Soup and rolls
        Hamburgers, Homemade French Fries, corn on the cob
        Veg. Spaghetti with Homemade Garlic Bread
        Hot dogs, Homemade French Fries, corn on the cob

        Snacks
        Cheese sticks
        Whole wheat chocolate chip cookies
        Apples
        Carrots
        Peanut Energy Bars
        Olive Dip and chips

        Recipes coming soon:
        Olive Dip
        Quesadillas
        Turkey Meatloaf

        Saturday, July 9, 2011

        This Book Room: A Week of Non-Fiction Reads

        Courtesy of goodreads.com: Loose Girl is Kerry Cohen's captivating memoir about her descent into promiscuity and how she gradually found her way toward real intimacy. The story of addiction not just to sex, but to male attention, Loose Girl is also the story of a young girl who came to believe that boys and men could give her life meaning. Never less than riveting, Loose Girl re-creates what it feels like to be in that desperate moment when a girl tries to control a boy by handing over her body, when the touch of that boy seems to offer proof of something but ultimately delivers little more than emptiness. The unforgettable story of one young woman who desperately wanted to matter, Loose Girl will speak to countless others with its compassion, understanding, and love.

        My thoughts (in 50 words or less): I didn't feel the book was insightful or meaningful. The ending was flat, and the character didn't share how she overcame "promiscuity." For someone who perhaps is living a promiscuous life and looking for a way to a better life, this book would not be helpful.

        Courtesy of goodreads.com: Radio broadcaster Paul Harvey praised this book as one of the three best how-to-do-it books it ever written; the other two are the Bible and Voltaire's Candide. Even without such superlatives, it's difficult to overestimate the frugality of this tightwad's guide. Suffice it to note that the economy-minded Economides feed their family of seven on $350 a month! America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money covers every aspect of true cheapskate living: from shopping and menu planning to saving, taxes, reducing debt, and cutting back on utilities. Thrift-aholic heaven.

        My thoughts: The writing style is insulting, however, there were a couple of nuggets of information I hadn't heard/thought of before, such as saving a year's worth of out-of-pocket medical expenses as part of emergency savings. This book is worth a peek but not the only book one should read about money.

        Courtesy of goodreads.com: In 2003, Carolyn Jessop, 35, a lifelong member of the extremist Mormon sect the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), gathered up her eight children, including her profoundly disabled four-year-old son, and escaped in the middle of the night to freedom. Jessop detailed the story of her harrowing flight and the shocking conditions that sparked it in her 2007 memoir, Escape. Reveling in her newfound identity as a bestselling author, a devoted mom, and a loving companion to the wonderful man in her life, Jessophotline alleging abuse, staged a surprise raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a sprawling, 1700-acre compound near Eldorado, Texas, to which the jailed FLDS “prophet” Warren Jeffs had relocated his sect’s most “worthy” members three years earlier. The ranch was being run by Merril Jessop, Carolyn’s ex-husband and one of the cult’s most powerful leaders. As a mesmerized nation watched the crisis unfold, Jessop once more was drawn into the fray, this time as an expert called upon to help authorities understand the customs and beliefs of the extremist religious sect with which they were dealing. In Triumph, Jessop tells the real, and even more harrowing, story behind the raid and sets the public straight on much of the damaging misinformation that flooded the media in its aftermath. She recounts the setbacks (the tragic decision of the Supreme Court of Texas to allow the children in state custody to return to their parents) as well as the successes (the fact that evidence seized in the raid is the basis for the string of criminal trials of FLDS leaders that began in October 2009 and will continue throughout 2010), all while weaving in details of her own life since the publication of her first book. These include her budding role as a social critic and her struggle to make peace with her eldest daughter’s heartbreaking decision to return to the cult. In the book’s second half, Jessop shares with readers the sources of the strength that allowed her not only to survive and eventually break free of FLDS mind control, but also to flourish in her new life. The tools of her transformation range from powerful female role models (grandmothers on both sides) to Curves fitness clubs (a secret indulgence that put her in touch with her body) to her college education (rare among FLDS women). With her characteristic honesty and steadfast sense of justice, Jessop, a trained educator who taught elementary school for seven years, shares her strong opinions on such controversial topics as homeschooling and the need for the court system to hold “deadbeat dads” accountable. (Among Jessop’s recent victories is a court decision that ordered her ex-husband to pay years of back child support.) An extraordinary woman who has overcome countless challenges and tragedies in her life, Jessop shows us in this book how, in spite of everything, she has triumphed—and how you can, too, no matter what adversity you face.

        My thoughts: Carolyn's first book, Escape, was insightful and enlightening - this book was not, however, I'm really interested in this sort of lifestyle (not for myself!). If this topic interests you, the book is worth reading. I would also recommend Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall.

        Courtesy of goodreads.com: Candace Cameron Bure first became known to millions as a co-star on the hit ABC television series Full House. Today, like her brother Kirk Cameron (Growing Pains, Fireproof), she is the rare Hollywood actor who is outspoken about her Christian faith and how it helps overcome certain obstacles. Bure’s healthy lifestyle has been featured in US Weekly and People magazines as well as national talk shows including The View and NBC’s Today. In Reshaping It All, she continues the story, inspiring women to embrace a healthier lifestyle by moving faith to the forefront, making wise choices, and finding their worth in the eyes of God. Candace shares a candid account of her struggle with food and ultimately her healthy outlook on weight despite the toothpick-thin expectations of Hollywood. More than a testimony, here is a motivational tool that will put readers on the right track and keep them there. In addition to practical advice, Candace offers a biblical perspective on appetite and self control that provides encouragement to women, guiding them toward freedom.

        My thoughts: I love, love, love Candace, and this book was even better than I hoped for! Included are recipes, Scripture, motivational quotes, and inspiration to live a better physical and spiritual life.

        Courtesy of goodreads.com: Kristen Anderson thought she had the picture-perfect life until strokes of gray dimmed her outlook: three friends and her grandmother died within two years. Still reeling from these losses, she was raped by a friend she thought she could trust. She soon spiraled into a seemingly bottomless depression. One January night, the seventeen-year-old decided she no longer wanted to deal with the emotional pain that smothered her. She lay down on a set of cold railroad tracks and waited for a freight train to send her to heaven…and peace. But Kristen's story doesn’t end there. In Life, In Spite of Me this remarkably joyful young woman shares the miracle of her survival, the agonizing aftermath of her failed suicide attempt, and the hope that has completely transformed her life, giving her a powerful purpose for living. Her gripping story of finding joy against all odds provides a vivid and unforgettable reminder that life is a gift to be treasured. 

        My thoughts: This book was okay. It's hard to judge or even discuss a personal story like this in any sort of negative terms, but I personally felt the writing style lacked something. Regardless, Kristen's story is powerful and amazing. I wish I would've read this book in my teen years!

        Saving the Moola: Suze Orman answers all my questions in The Money Class

        Our favorite way to spend a Saturday night is watching The Suze Orman Show on CNBC. Suze's quick wit and no-nonsense attitude is the perfect duo for a show about all things money. Suze has written many books over the last 15 years, but her latest book, The Money Class, serves as a guide, truly, for my most oddball questions - like, can I collect social security when I'm 67 even if I'm still working (somewhere part-time I would assume at this point!)? What is going to happen to social security in 30 to 40 years? And the most important question of all: My credit union ROTH isn't making any money! Where do I start a ROTH now to earn any interest?

        The greatest news I have for all of you is that most libraries have this book (I borrowed mine from the Ypsi library), and Ms. Suze is going to have a new show, aptly titled Money Class, on OWN.

        Here's the questions to my answers, as can be found in The Money Class:
        • In a short answer, yes, I can still collect social security even if I'm still making money. The cut-off is somewhere in the $30,000 range, and at that point, my social security would decrease. But, if you can't imagine not working at all (which seems a really strange idea - what would I do with all my time??!?!?!), then working part-time doing something you love - maybe working retail Borders or Joann's, or editing - would be a great way to earn some additional money in my golden years while collecting on social security.
        • Everyone my age is terrified about what's going to happen to social security in 30 to 40 years. While Suze is not the end all, be all of all things money, I trust her judgment and she says what is realistic to happen is that instead of receiving 100 percent of what we "should" receive at our 100 percent qualified age (this is age 67 right now), we would receive 75 percent. So, when you get your social security notice in the mail every year or so that lets you know if you were to go on social security disability at this time, you could get this much money, it would roughly be 75 percent of that instead of 100 percent, as an example. However, laws are being proposed that the age would be 69 for today's toddlers to receive "100 percent" social security - this would mean that people my age (20s and 30s) would probably collect on "100 percent" sometime between the ages of 67 and 68. Also, just as a side but important note, if you wait until age 70 to collect social security, you can get 124 percent of your benefits - a great deal!
        • I have a ROTH IRA with admittedly not a whole lot of money in my credit union, but Suze talks all the time on air about ROTHs earning 4 percent interest as an average rate of return. Well, I have bad news - my ROTH is earning less than one percent! Apparently, I have a ROTH in the wrong place - Suze strongly advises against ever having a ROTH with any sort of bank or credit union. Instead, she advises to open a ROTH at a discount brokerage firm, such as Fidelity or Ameritrade. I will definitely be looking into this as I'd like my retirement money to be earning money!
        Each chapter of the book is a different "class" and there are classes for retirement in your 20s and 30s, 40s and 50s, and 60s and beyond. Suze advises to read all the classes no matter your age, and even though I kind of grumbled about it at the time, I'm really glad I read them all. There's a lot of nuggets of information in there, and reading about it myself may help my parents make good choices as they will soon, in the next 10 years or so, be heading into retirement.

        This book is a must-read if you want to have a secure, free future. Golden years are called golden years for a good reason - they're supposed to be wonderful! But they won't be if you're worrying about money and worrying that your retirement accounts won't last for your lifetime. I feel like I have a better plan for my future and knowledge to help others.

        And don't forget - Suze is on every Saturday night at 8 PM EST on CNBC! I'll leave you now the way Suze leaves all of us each Saturday: "There's only one thing I want you to remember about your money, and it is this: People first, then money, then things. Now you stay safe!"