Trying to stay ahead of holiday madness and planning a family dinner for Christmas Day - here's my menu, hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy New Year, or a belated Eid Mubarek. Season Greetings just seems so bland - I was thrilled Saturday when someone wished me a Merry Christmas - that's the first time I'd been wished that all season! I know everyone has to be politically correct, but is it so damning to wish someone a Merry Christmas? Sorry....I digress. Back to my somewhat scheduled meal-planning:

Monday - Pot roast, potatoes, and carrots at DaMama's
Tuesday - Meal-in-One (shephard's pie)
Wednesday - Omelets, hashbrowns, juice, toast
Thrusday - dinner at Gramma's - I'm bringing the desserts!
Friday - Merry Christmas!! Lasagne, spaghetti with Italian sausage, salad, garlic bread
Saturday - After Christmas bargain hunting....DH is in charge of dinner!
Sunday - Tacos al pastore, arroz, frijoles - (seasoned pork tacos with cilantro and onion, rice, refried beans)
I;ve been puzzling over the menu for two weeks, writing and rewriting what will be served, but I think - after too much consideration, I've finally got it all nailed down. Whenever I mention the party to someone, they remind me of a favorite dish that has to be on the menu. If you ask my friend, Bridgett - it would be the biscotti, my mom insists no party is complete without the eggnog crunch cookies, my mother-in-law, she tells me to make a double batch of the dark chocolate cranberry bars. With so many favorites and so my ideas to choose from, it's made it hard to narrow it down to the favorites of the season.

Before it changes again, here's what the menu looks like:

EggNog Crunch Cookies
Almond Cookies
Lemon Cookies
Citrus Macadamian Nut Cookies
Lemon Snowbars
Decadent Chocolate Snowballs
Cranberry Walnut Oatmeal Cookies
French Cappuccino Bars
Chocolate and Almond Dipped pretzels (twists and rods)
Mini-Kiss Cookies
Thumbprint Cookies
Ginger Almond Biscotti
Southern-style brownies

For appetizers:

BLT dip
roasted garlic and pepper dip
French onion dip
sweet and savory meatballs
cheese cubes and smoked sausage slices served with pretzel sticks
wheat thins, pretzels, chips
baby carrots and cucumber slices
Monday - Mini-frittatas with swiss and sharp cheddar, toast, fresh fruit
Tuesday - Meal in One, brown and serve rolls
Wednesday - Spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, salad
Thursday - Chicken rice, beans, tortillas
Friday - Omelets, hashbrowns, toast, juice
Saturday - Chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes, salad
Sunday - Annual Cookie Party! Will post full menu by end of the week
1 pkg. vanilla cake mix
2 eggs, minus 1 yolk
1/4 C. strong coffee, cold
1/3 C. brown sugar
1/4 C. unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. almond extract (if you have coffee extract, use 1/2 tsp. with the 1 tsp. almond)
1 C. cappuccino chips (can't find these? use white chocolate instead or double the almond)
1/2 C. sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375. Grease 13x9” pan.
Mix well all, but final 2 ingredients. Stir in chips and 1/2 of almonds. Spread evenly in pan.
Top with remaining almonds.
Bake 24-27 minutes, cool and cut.
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I love entertaining, and now that hubby and I have hounded a new living room set (only $700 - beautiful micro-suede couch and loveseat), it's time to gear up for my annual Christmas Cookie Party. I'm planning a menu of seasonal favorites and an array of appetizers, sure to please any palate! With all the hounded cake mixes, flour, and cheap extract that I've been able to load up on - this is the ideal way to entertain on a budget! Can you believe that 7 of the cookies and bars start with a cake mix? How easy is that?!

Cookie and Bars selections:

Egg Nog Crunch cookies with walnuts
French Cappuccino Bars
Lemon Snow Bars
Diane's Almond Cookies
Southern-style brownies - new recipe!
Tuxedo Cookies
Ginger Pear Bars
Oatmeal Cookies (with craisins and walnuts & with golden raisins and almonds)
Classic Chocolate-Almond Biscotti
Shortbread Cubes - new recipe!
Cranberry Dark Chocolate Bars
Sugar Cookies
Buttery Lemon Cookies
Strawberry-Almond Thumbprint Cookies - new recipe!

Other sweet nibbles:

Chocolate dipped pretzels (with sprinkles, crushed peppermint, or toffee bits)
Almond dipped pretzels (plain, sprinkles, or shredded coconut topped)
Divinity - this is a new addition....let's see how it turns out!
EggNog Truffles - still working on creating this recipe


Blanco Pizza bites
Roasted garlic chicken spread with crackers
Veggie Dip (thank you Lipton!) with baby carrots and celery
BLT dip with toast triangles (gotta love this simple, affordable alternative)
After a busy Thanksgiving weekend - there are plenty of leftovers to go around, which will make meal planning a snap for me this week. There was plenty of leftover turkey (yum!) which I have frozen a quart sized bag of, leaving us with only enough thawed turkey for 2-3 meals - which is perfect.

Monday - Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry pear compote
Tuesday - Grilled pork tenderloin, angel hair in a parmesan cream sauce, salad
Wednesday - Grilled cheese, tomato soup, fresh fruit
Thursday - Turkey hash, cinnamon apples (check out this recipe by 4 Hats and Frugal - love her cooking!) -
Friday - Build your own sammie night - turkey, bacon, swiss or tenderloin cutlets with a basil mayo and munster - it's all good!
Saturday - date night at home: Chicken Scampi with roasted garlic, bell pepper, carmelized onions, and imported parmesan over a bed of angel hair pasta(it's cheaper than Kraft!!), garlic bread, autumn salad
Sunday - free pizza (got 3 gift cards for free pizza that I have to use by the end of the year)
I know, I know, this probably sounds a bit weird, but I was looking at all the Lipton soup mix I have (don't ask - I am definitely stocked up....until late next year - at least!) I was thinking of a different take on stuffing, as I'm not the biggest fan of the traditional sage and rosemary stuffing, so this year, I'm going to have to experiment. And Lipton is going to help!

I went to my market to see what I had on hand to work with and kept coming back to the abundance Lipton dry soup mixes, so here's what I came up with - a 6 ingredient, 15 minutes prep time stuffing that is sure to zing your taste buds! Let me know what you think:

6 C. cubed bread, any variety
32 oz. chicken broth or stock
2 envelopes Lipton Savory Garlic soup mix
2 lbs. ground turkey
2 large sweet peppers, chopped
1 large apple, any variety, peeled and chopped

Bake in an oven safe casserole covered for 1 hour at 350, uncovering during last 15 minutes of cooking, or use to stuff a turkey. This batch will stuff a 12-16 lb. turkey. This can also be used to stuff a chicken, but for average sized chicken, please use half the amount called for in the recipe.

In a large, deep skillet, brown ground turkey with bell pepper and apple. Once meat is browned, toss in bread and seasonings. While stirring, add in broth until stuffing reaches desired consistency.

I am so excited about this recipe because of the last Jewel cat sale - I grabbed the soup mix for $.06 a box, the chicken broth for $.36 a 32 oz. carton, and apples are on sale at my local Caputos for $.39 lb. and peppers at $.59 lb.
Total cost for this Thanksgiving side dish: $2.73!!

Yields: 12-14 servings or $.23 per serving

What's your favorite take on stuffing on a budget?
This will be one crazy week! DH & I will be splitting Thanksgiving between our two families, so though we're not hosting the big turkey-day dinner, I'm still making dishes to be included in each feast. My sister will be in from MN, so meals will be sketchy at best, but the best plan for a crazy 4-day, family from out-of-town, Christmas-shopping, bargain-hunting kind of week: be prepared! I'll have a few options of heat and eat kind of meals, to take the guess work out of dinner this week!

Monday - Chicken and cheese sammies on dinner rolls, fresh fruit, chips (and shopping for Thanksgiving dinner - eat before shopping....and spend far less!)

Tuesday - Leftover spaghetti, garlic bread (If I find ravioli in freezer, will top that with marinara instead....need to whittle down the freezer!)

Wednesday - Chicken in a crockpot (whatever chicken and seasoning I find are going in the crockpot - not exactly sure what I'll create!) rice, tortillas/bread, salad

Thursday - Double the family, double the turkey, double the fun!

Friday - Turkey sammies with dried cranberries (my fav!), leftovers

Saturday - DH night to cook (probably pizza...)

Sunday - Dinner out with family (got coupons for Steak & Shake and Arby's, will see if I can score coupons for Sweet Tomatoes.)
I was on the phone with DaMama yesterday, telling her how I planned to cut back on donations coming from Annie's Market, as my stockpile has taken a few good hits in recent months. As I see my basic supplies dwindle down to 3-6 months worth for my family (and DaMama, of course), I was planning on cutting back what I share with others. While that was my (somewhat selfish) sentiment, that's when the phone call came through - and changed everything. It was my sister (I only have one) and her request wasn't an easy one - she needed some help. And not for herself and her family, this call for help came through her mother-in-law from her husband's sister.

I know times have been hard for so many people and my family has been blessed in this recession (no jobs lost yet, only bonuses have been cut), but to hear of a family of 9 where only 1 adult has a fulltime job, there's a new baby, and they were planning to skip the Thanksgiving festivities this year - and hearing their very humbling request - any food we could spare. Their pantry is bare and has been for sometime, and word got around that my sister had a surplus and everyone wanted to know how she did it.

Could she help them out? Could she tell them her secret? How can she be doing so well during these times? Her husband is laid-off and back in school - how can she have such a full pantry? She laughed and said, you'd have to ask Annie, she's the one who supplies me. (Like it's some black-market operation, something secretive and covert. Next thing you know, we'll be smuggling Lipton soup mix across state lines...but I digress.) My sister offered to put some stuff together, but she also said that she'd be putting this family in need in touch with me. I am still smiling - knowing that my sister thought enough of me and our relationship that she could call upon me for help like that without thinking twice. Every now and then, when a moment like this hits you, you feel grateful, useful, and on top of the world.

To me - this is the spirit of Thanksgiving: family helping family, friends helping friends, communities pulling together. I hear touching stories on the radio about people pulling together, pooling resources, making the holidays a little better for someone else. Never did I think that the day I decide to focus in on only my family would be the day that call for help would come.

Quickly, my sister and I decided who had what to spare, and this afternoon, I'll start putting together some boxes of basics - and now, I can reflect on what I have to be thankful for this holiday season.
I'm running a little late with meal-planning this week - but, it's time to get back on track.

Tuesday - Spaghetti with mushroom provolone chicken sausage, spinach salad
Wednesday - Meal-in-One
Thursday - Hamburger Helper (DH actually asked for it for dinner), corn, salad, garlic toast
Friday - DH birthday - dinner at restaurant of his choice
Saturday - co-hosting holiday party with a girlfriend - will eat at party
Sunday - Pizza dinner with DH's family at local pizza place
I've rolled $270 in cats, with $25 remaining in cats to use for (hopefully) the next big cat madness sale!

80 boxes Lipton soup mix
10 cartons Progresso Broth (chicken and beef)
25 pkgs. Lipton sides
16 boxes of Klondike bars
5 1.5 qt. Breyers Ice Creawm
84 cans Green Giant veggies
9 boxes Lipton Tea
2 cans Green Giant asparagus
3 boxes Betty Crocker Cake mix
12 bags Chex Mix & Gardettos

For a grand total OOP of $52.17 (includes tax)
Or an average of $.21 per item!

Too bad this sale doesn't continue for another week or two....
With the latest Jewel deal on Lipton Soup Mixes (only $2.00 plus tax for 16!!), I've come up with a list of uses for them.

10. Dip mix - got to love an old stand-by like that
9. Toss with potato wedges for a fabulous, easy side dish. Roast and serve with sour cream.
8. Add 1/3 C. flour to 1 seasoning envelope and coat chicken. Easy breaded chicken pieces - roast to give them a crunchy skin.
7. Rub onto a roast. Tons of flavor for less tender cuts of meat.
6. Add to ground meat for some super-flavorful burgers. 1 envelope to 1.5-2 lbs. meat.
5. Add to ground meat and make into meatballs. 1.5 lbs. per envelope of seasoning.
4. Use as a flavor-base for gravy
3. Add to your next meatloaf
2. Add to pasta sauce (tomato based only) Lots of flavor in an instant!
1. Toss with bread cubes, drizzle with EVOO, and bake. Homemade croutons with lots of flavor.

What are your favorite ways of using dry soup mix?
I'd love some new ideas!
Looking for an alternative to your basic chicken? With a little time, and very little effort, you can have a Mexican feast on your table.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes

8-10 chicken drumsticks or chicken thighs (bone in)
1 packet taco or burrito seasoning mix
1 tsp. cumin
1/3 C. flour
1/2 medium onion (any variety), thin sliced

In a wide, shallow bowl, combine flour, seasoning packet, and cumin. Coat chicken with flour mixture and place on a greased baking sheet or pan. Top with onion slices.

Bake for 1 hour at 350, turning chicken over once during baking time.

Serve with cheese, tortillas, black olives, lettuce, salsa, sour cream, and your favorite taco toppings. Serve with refried beans and rice, if desired.

Yields = 4-6 servings
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Jewel is the place to be this weekend - and I should know, I spent over 2 hours there yesterday alone, between my mom, my friend Sandy, and I we filled 2 shopping carts with more than 15 transactions worth of goodies. To say we've got a jump on all things for the holiday season and parties would be about right! Here are some items and approximate breakdowns on deals we found:

All prices listed are factored AFTER the $15 in catalina coupons that print at the register and before taxes. Your store(s) may vary, but usually not by too much. All of these prices are factored without manufacturer coupons, which, if you have, will reduce your OOP for each order.

11 Progresso Broth (carton 32 oz.) $1.39

16 boxes Lipton soup mix $2.00

20 pkgs. Knorr Pasta Side Dishes $5.00, coupon will print for $2 off 8 - making 2nd round only $3!!! Look for coupons left behind by other customers at self-check- we found 2 of them to get us started.

5 1.5 qt. Breyer's Ice Cream, 1 Lipton Side Dish $.99

8 Klondike bars (what would you do.....for a Klondike bar) $8.83

24 cans 11-15 oz. Green Giant corn, peas, green beans $3.96

12 bags Gardettos, Chex Mix, Bugles $5.xx each flavor is priced slighly different, so you OOP maay vary.

So for my holiday parties, I've got loads of stuff to make cheap dip, tons of party mix (thank you Chex!), lots of veggies. For me, I don't have to do much for a Klondike bar!!

But, if you need something to do with all those cheap pasta sides - grab Target printable Q's, head over there wih the $1 off Archer Farms bakery and grab a loaf of garlic bread...for $.50. If you've got a Caputos near by, head there for Bston Leaf lettuce $2/1 (by the lb. I believe). There's a cheap and tasty meal!.
Check out here for a list of products and prices for this great cat roll!

Go to:




People will be posting the deals as they work out there - less work and calculating, but remember, each store has slightly different pricing.
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I've been so tired, overtired, and restless - the idea of making a meal plan this week is funny. I will however, give a list of things I hope to accomplish in the realm of meal-planning:

1. Make at least 2 meals that revolve around bread - I've still got plenty left to work (like 3 loaves for 2 people). Paninis, anyone?

2. Go meatless for dinner at least 1-2 times this week. Not because I want to go vegetarian, simply to use some of the eggs I have (I don't consider eggs to be meat).

3. Dessert of the week: biscotti - I made a pan of them this past week. If I have the time, will make some apple crisp for additional desserting. Don't expect biscotti to last more than 2 more days - the batch yields 35-42 cookies.

4. Stay out of Boston Market. Their chicken is addicting and the coupon for $1 meal has expired. I went there 4 days in a row with that coupon! Better than McD's and with coupon, cheaper, too!

5. For a hearty snack, I'm going to try to keep all the ingredients to make a tasty wrap on hand. Chicken, salad dressing, cheese, and lettuce. Anything else I can include is a bonus. For a mini-meal on the go, will add chips and guac. Hearty and filling! Mental note - must get lettuce...

6. If craving breakfast sammie, will use free game piece from McD's (found on supermarket floor - so free!). This should fill in the gap since I only have 3 yogurts this week, and 4 days left of breakfast to cover before the weekend.
Items are with $20 minimum purchase - which I normally don't go in for, but here's Dominicks policy regarding that:

What does "minimum $10 (or $20) purchase required" mean?
To use store coupons that include a minimum purchase requirement, you must spend a minimum dollar amount on that shopping trip. You will reach the minimum purchase amount based upon total purchases before your Club Card discount is applied. This total will include the coupon item's regular price, not the discounted price. For example, the regular retail price of a box of Cheerios (before coupon and before Club Card discounts) will count toward the minimum purchase required in order to use the Cheerios coupon.

Found at:

Please check individual store for pre-sale price of items listed below.

$.88 Fritos/Cheetos (limit 4)
$.79 Doninicks apple juice 64 oz. (limit 3)
$2.33 12 pack Coca-Cola product (limt 3 - must buy 3!)
$1.99 Honey Bunches of Oats 14.5 oz. - must by 3 (limit 20)

2/$1 lbs. Bartlett Pears

Also: over at SuperTarget

Printable Targert coupons on the following items:
Duncan Hines Baking product $.50 off any one (cake mixes come to $.47 each)

General Mills cereal - $1/2, also there are $1/2 printable/newspaper insert coupons, pair this with Monster cereals for $.99 a box. Hey, that's cheaper than generic!

$1 off Skippy Peanut Butter - prices average around $2.04 a jar, some take home some cheap pb after coupon!

All Target printables are unlimited, but beware at the store, some cashiers may limit you to one per transaction. That's when you split your order up, or bring friends/famiyl with you to shop - more couponers, more fun!
Maybe it's all the talk of colds and flu going around, but I've been a little off my game lately - so I plan on keeping the menu simple, light, and satisfying.

Monday - Cream of Mushroom soup, crackers, salad
Tuesday - Pork chops, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, biscuits
Wednesday - Mushroom and cheese omelet, hashbrowns, toast, juice, fruit
Thursday - Chicken salad sammies, garden/spinach salad (we'll see which is cheaper), apple slices
Friday - Pizza Blanco with chicken, roasted garlic, mushrooms, and black olives, salad
Saturday - Helping a friend move - not planning a meal
Sunday - DH night to cook

Dessert of the week: Brownies - thanks to the abundance I stocked up on at Jewel!

Lunch of the week - Leftover shredded chicken, canned soup, sandwiches (chicken salad, tuna, roast beef, or ham).

Breakfast: yogurt, granola/Nutragrain bars, cereal, toast, french toast, poptarts, juice, fruit
This is soup and crackers/bread kind of weather and thanks to the deals I've been getting - I'm plenty stocked up on all the goodies to make soup night a quick, easy, and flavorful dinner!

Nabisco snack crackers $.99 a box, limit 4
The great thing about this is - you can use your expired coupons on it - like those $1/2 Nabisco snack cracker coupons from the booklet Nabisco put out around August (back to school booklet with yellow cover).

I've grabbed my first set of 4 boxes, but by no means will this be my last!

Nabiscoland - here I come...
Monday - Eggs over easy, wheat toast, bananas, juice
Tuesday - $2 angus burgers at Colonial Cafe
Wednesday - Grilled cheese and tomato soup
Thursday - Mushroom and swiss frittata, hash browns, apple slices, wheat toast
Friday - Ravioli with hearty tomato-basil marinara
Saturday - Italian-style chicken salad sammies, chips, smoothies
Sunday - Ground turkey enchiladas

Dessert of the week: Nutty Spice Bars, Apple Crisp
Lunch of the week: Oven roasted chicken (leftover from the weekend), soup (Campbell's sale last month), or chicken caesar salad with rolls.
I've always loved autumn, especially here in the Midwest. The leaves turning their vibrant colors, that crisp tang of the first frost in the air, and that seasonal favorite - apple cider. Nothing wrong with appel juice, but the rich, deep flavor of smooth, sweet cider for me simply cannot be beat. Ang, to make my favorite drink even more irrisistable - apple cider donuts.

Having had them for the first time this year, I have to be grateful that there are no donut shops directly on my way home, and I strongly rely on that unwillingness to travel out of my way to get the sugary treat. Though, I don't think my laziness will prove as effective as I'd like it to be. Even now, I'm imagining the smell of the crisp, juice apples combined perfectly with the decadence of doughnuts. Whoever came up with that combination was both brilliant and evil, tohugh my thighs are screaming that it's pure devilry and my taste buds are dancing with brilliance.

Now, this year, I'm going to get even more brave than I have been in the past, and this weekend I'll make my first attempt at homemade doughnuts, with - what else - apple cider doughnuts. Though, the pumpkin spice doughnuts I tried from Country Doughnuts were quite heavenly, too. But, one cooking (or frying) experiment at a time. In a year when I've expanded my cooking repertoire so much, that I've more than doubled the recipes I've created, and had food from across the globe, I'm still nervous about experiment with breads, pastries, and anything deep-fried.

If anyone out there has an easy recipe for homemade doughnuts, could you please share it with me - your resident fraidy-cat? I'm determined to dunk the doughnut, perfect the pastry, and bedazzle with breads this year and there is no time like this weekend to get started! Who's with me?!
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I just returned home from my 4th wedding anniversary trip. This year, DH and I have done so well with our saving, that we treated ourselves to a trip to Savannah, Georgia. I've grown up hearing the stories of this magnificent, old, southern wonder and finally, I got my chance to walk her historic streets, see the shrimp boats slowly trolling the waters, and watch wild dolphins playing in the surf. Being a northern girl, with the Windy City and Minnesota being my hometown(s), this trip was nothing short of a treat.

We woke up to 80 degree weather, walked under the bright, southern sun, and walked on the beach. With that unmistakable tang of salt water in the air, it was impossible not to fall in love with Savannah. As the waves washed over the sand, there were little air holes that popped up, and just like my mama taught me, I turned to DH and told him, "There are clams under there." He looked kind of dubious, so I went on to explain that the clams needed the airholes to breathe, and that the pants called "clam-diggers" were made so you didn't have to roll up your pants while going out clam-digging. That seemed to make more sense to him.

We saw a single sanddollar on the shore, still wiggling. For a moment or two, we stopped to look at the little guy, before carefully walking around it and continuing on down the beach. Naturally, I was scouting for shells, but forgot to bring a bag to load them in, so DH graciously offered to put them in his pockets. In no time at all, his pockets were filled with shells, our feet coated in sand, and I was in heaven.

For dinner, we stopped at a kitchy, riverfront restaurant called The Shrimp Factory for some shrimp - after all, you don't go to the coast and not have some kind of seafood. The shrimp were advertised as fresh off the coast and the flavors certainly didn't disappoint. The shrimp were tender, sweet, and succulent - the remoulade sauce added a bit of tang, and the atmosphere was amazing.

All along River Street are shops, restaurants, bars/pubs, even 2 candy shops were - what else - salt water taffy are made in more than a dozen different flavors right before your eyes! The sugary sweetness of pralines filled the shops, and samples were offered everytime we walked through. If you love people-watching, bird-watching, and seafood-eating - this is an absolute haven.

After 4 wonderful days of fun in the sun, we reluctantly returned to Chicago and 40 degree temperatures. Though, a few days later, the scent of saltwater lingers on, even though the taffy is long gone. What I did take away from that trip - besides memories of hanging out with my cousins (yes, I only have 2 of those, so I get excited to see them!) and a longing for the beach is a new dish to try! Here's my version of that decadent Remoulade Sauce. Goes great on chicken...
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There's nothing like going on vacation to make meal planning easier! I had a great time in Savannah, GA and came back with loads of new meal ideas that I just can't wait to try! I'm going to be looking for an adaptable recipe for Remoulade (the Shrimp Remoulade were heavenly!).

Monday - dinner at DaMama's
Tuesday - Spaghetti and meatballs, salad, french bread
Wednesday - Roast Beef and Swiss cheese paninis, salad, tomato basil bisque
Thursday - Chicken Parmesan (using leftover noodles and sauce from Tuesday)
Friday - Chicken, Bacon, Cheddar Wraps, cheesy quesadillas, taco salad
Saturday - Ground Turkey Tacos, refried beans, Mexican rice
Sunday - Grilled chicken, sour cream and chive mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, salad, tortillas
I'm doing a sketchy meal-plan this week - with my birthday, a wedding, and a party all planned for this week - I just figured we'd have a few meals at home, but not many. I also didn't want to buy much produce as we'll be taking a trip next week for our annie-versary. Here's my (overly ambitious) plan to empty the fridge, feed us quick and cheap, and hopefully not waste anything.

Tuesday - Pizza for the birthday girl (yeah!)
Wednesday - Tacos with peppers and onion
Thursday - Grilled chicken paninis, soup (ala Campbell's), chips
Friday - DH's cousin's wedding
Saturday - leftovers, if those are gone (still being optimistic, we'll rely on Knorr's pasta dishes topped with grilled chicken)
Sunday - birthday dinner at Olive Garden - all hail never-ending pasta bowl!
There have been so many deals lately, that I'm actually looking forward to a slowdown on sales, so I can get Annie's Market organized - right now there are bags and bags of canned soup ($.25-$.50 each) and canned veggies ($.39 each) that still need to be put away. I'm usually somewhat better at keeping up with the flow, lately though - everything else is sounding like more fun. Surprise....who knew I wasn't naturally inclined towards organization? Mom, this is a good time to keep quiet!

In a huge effort to clean out the freezer, each Sunday, DH & I pick a large, random item and spend the week trying to keep re-inventing leftovers out of it. The week of 32 pieces of grilled chicken went very well - none was left to make into chicken salad, and not a single piece went to waste. This week, it's a whole pork tenderloin, and I'm happy to report - it's about half eaten already. Two more dinners and it should be gone, or with just a small chunk left to get tossed into pork fried rice. Oh, that does sound tasty. I just gave myself another idea. But, naturally, I digress.

Even though this was my idea, I have to admit, it certainly challenges the creativity of the cook to keep making over the main meat of the week. I'm happy to note that my experiment is working well, and that for next week - I'm planning a rare treat - London Broil. I'm also planning some chicken drummies with that because I can't handle too much red meat, and because DH can plow through a cow (beef) like nobody's business. In his defense, London Broil on the grill is heavenly, so I can't really blame him too much. I hope there's enough left to make some Steak Sammies. A girl can dream...

If we can clear some room, we'll be able to grab some $.99 lb. ground beef from Butera this week - I've been craving po'boys, and some nice meatballs. I also am eyeing a deal on roasting chickens over at Caputo's for $.79 lb. Not the greatest deal, but I'd like to roast 3-4 chickens and freeze them - much better than having a chicken moment (where I breakdown and buy a rotisserie chicken and pay far more than it's worth) and having to settle for overcooked, dry, slightly cold rotisserie chicken or worse, buy a bucket of fried chicken (too greasy, though still very tasty), if I ever get chicken at all. I love having a fully stocked freezer of all my favorites, now I just need to clear some room to bring in a little bit of variety.

Any tricks up your sleeve to paring down the freezer and remaking leftovers? I'd love some fresh new ideas!
DH & I have been making a conerted effort to eat out of our freezer and have been on a very tasty journey. Sunday we grilled an 8 lb. pork tenderloin and will be having variations on that throughout the week. Thought we needed a break from chicken, since that's what we ate most of last week.

Monday - Mediterranean Pork Tenderloin sammies, salad, grapes
Tuesday - Aranchera (thin cut beef steak from the Mexican market), beans, tortillas, rice, lettuce, tomato
Wednesday - Pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes, gravy, and salad
Thursday - 3-Cheese & Veggie Frittata, hashbrowns, apples, toast
Friday - Pork tacos topped with cilantro and onion, beans, and rice, side salad
Saturday - Date night
Sunday - DH is grillin' again - meat of the week! LOL

Dessert - brownies, biscotti

Breakfast - yogurt, cereal, breakfast wraps, cereal, apples 'n' peanut butter, cereal - did I mention we have tons of cereal?!
Buy $15 get a $5 coupon OYNO for select Campbell's products. Here are some of the great deals I've grabbed from this sale:

Buy 20 cans tomato or chicken noodle soup (10.xx oz. each) at $.50/can. Spend $10, receive a $5 coupon that keeps on rolling. So far, I've done this transaction 4 times. I love tomato soup and grilled cheese (so does my sister, who will be the happy receipient of half of my spoils from this sale).

Buy 4 V-8 Splash (on sale 2/$5), 5 Pepperidge Farm cookies (on sale 2/$4), 8 Campbells Select Harvest/Chunky (on sale for $1.25/can), or 8 Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers (small bags $1.25 each) and spend only $5 OOP after $5 cat coupon (cat coupons are the ones that print out at the register).

On Campbell's Select Harvest, an additional coupon for $1/3 prints before you pay (typically) when buying Select Harvest, so be sure to use that, too!) Only one of those prints per order, but every little dollar really adds up!

Now, if only Kraft would put their cheese on sale with overlapping cats again, we'd have fall and winter quick meals in the bag - or in our case, on the table.
Head over to Freebies 4 Mom for get your printable coupons for $3 off Sara Lee pre-sliced delimeats!! Great deal, easy meal. Best part of it - 4 prints per computer!!
Hey, everyone! I'm finally back to my regular posting. Getting back from my trip up north took a little while to fall back into the groove of things.

Monday - dinner at mom's - I'm bringing the chicken
Tuesday - Grilled chicken with rice and beans, salad
Wednesday - Pork Roast, potatoes, carrots
Thursday - Italian-style chicken salad sammies, salad, fruit
Friday - Pork tacos with cilantro and onion, rice and beans
Saturday - Paninis with leftover chicken, swiss, and bacon, apples/grapes
Sunday - DH's night to cook!

Lunch ideas:
chicken tacos, salad topped with chicken, pork and swiss sammies, and beans 'n' rice in a tortilla.
Dessert: Apple cinnamon coffee cake, cookies (thanks, Keebler!)
Breakfast - Nutragrain bars, yogurt, cereal cups, and toast

We grilled 32 pieces of chicken yesterday (which I hounded up the day before for $6.13 for all of it!), so this week, chicken is our meat of choice, until we eaten every morsel. We marinated/seasoned it 3 different ways, to maximize our leftover possibilities. The garlic and herb will pair into Italian-style chicken salad, the teriyaki will lend itself well to chicken tacos for lunch, and the spice-rubbed chicken will easily convert to BBQ chicken and pair with rice and beans. Must thank DH for thinking of all the varieties of ways to have chicken.
Everytime I turn around, I hear yet another fastfood chain annoucing their new "Chicken (fill in the blank here) Wrap". And what a bargain they are at $1.39-$1.99 each. Wow, do they think we're really that crazy? After a trip to a local grocery store or two - here's what I discovered:

A "wrap" is nothing more than a fancy word for flour tortilla. Which are fairly cheap, or dirt cheap if you have a Mexican grocer nearby - which we do. Lots of them, in fact. Chicken, my meat of choice anyway, happened to be on sale at Dominicks - and it was 50% off on top of that - $.39 lb. for bone-in, skin on chicken thighs. Taking off the skin is easy enough and so is lightly seasoning it and have DH grill it.

As for cheese, I'm still stocked like crazy from the Kraft catalina deal, so I pulled a bag of Mexican blend shredded cheese out of the freezer, and Target obliged with $.75/2 Wishbone salad dressing - and the small bottles were $1 each. Still not breaking the bank, which makes them taste oh-so-sweet. And, so much healthier than fastfood, my dressing is light or fat free and the cheese is made with 2% milk.

The final cost for a single wrap, though my "secret recipe" yields a dozen of them, is a whopping $.21 each. The best part is - I can have a wrap anytime, any flavor, and add anything I want to them....all from the comfort of my own home. But, shhhhh - don't let McD's, KFC, etc. know that I'm on to them.

Click on my "secret recipe" to see how easy it is!
Yesterday, I stopped at Ultra Foods tog et in on the great deal on Quaker oat products - and was told that Ultra no longer allows stacking of coupons - meaning, you can NO LONGER use a store and a manufacturer coupon on the same item. I asked when this policy began and was told it has always been their policy, but that cashiers would "allow" customers to stack if they were questioned on why the coupons didn't work.

Needless to say, I left my order and will do my best not to shop there in the future. Even when I pulled out a copy of their coupon policy (that was faxed to me back in March), I was told that's the "old" policy, but when I asked at the customer service counter, I was told they didn't have a copy of the policy on hand and that they didn't give copies of that to customers - it was for store use only.

So, if there are any bargain hunters on their way to Ultra - beware! Aside from their deals on Fisher Peanut Butter, I think I'll be shopping anywhere else.
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It's been a crazy-busy week here - all geared towards going up north for a little visit. I've still been keeping an eye on the budget, going anywhere can cost a lot ofm oney, but there are always ways to offset the expense. Here are some of the things I've done this week:

1. Wash/dry clothes as much as possible during non-peak hours.

2. Charge my cellphone at the office. Every little bit helps. I'll be doing this with my laptop, too. There's a reason DH & I have saved more than 50% off our electric bill of last year, true we moved to a smaller place, but all the other little things add up.

3. I'll swing by Target for some more free ciabatta rolls (after coupon, of course). I'll make some sammies for the trip, and raid the stockpile for some salty snacks to nibble on during the drive - it's an 8 hour trip - so I'll make sure to bring some variety.

4. Conserve fuel cost!! Pack smart - the heavier the car is, the more fuel we'll use. I'll also use any fuel rewards I've got to get us started on our trip. Last time I filled up my car, it was $2.38 a gallon - because I had $.33 per gallon in fuel rewards to use.

5. Always have a plan. I find that when DH & I don't have a plan, it's easier to spend more $$. So, we've thought about the trip, edcided on what we'd like to do with my sister and her family, so when don't end up trying to do too many things and waste money because we didnt' have time to enjoy them. I've decided on a nice dinner with my sister (and family, of course), and everything else is just gravy from that point on.

Since I won't be posting again til Tuesday, have a fun and safe Labor Day Weekend!
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My Auntie Pat was born in October. I will remember that until my dying day. Her husband, Uncle Bill, was normally a gruff man, but he celebrated the entire month of her birthday, in October, with a gift each day for her. The gifts may have been something small, but the sentiment behind it was huge - and for me, a new way to celebrate life's little steps.

Now that I'm married, my husband and I celebrate each other's birth month, mine being September, his in November. For our month, we get to pick which restaurants to go to, what entertainment venues to check out, and get small gifts throughout the month from each other. The gifts are simple, he replaced my windshield wipers, brought me home flowers, and even gave me a footrub. For him, it's a back rub, I'll bake him the Cinnamon Roll Brownies, and often, a new package of socks.

As we wind our way through the fall, we go to many of the sights that are too crowded, too hot, or too expensive in the summer. Last year we toured the Morton Arboretum, 2 trips to the Chicago Botanical Gardens, apple picking, raspberry picking, went to lots of movies (we saved up our stack of punch cards for that!), ate homemade pizza, and drove through the countryside (as much of that as you can find around here, anyway) to enjoy the changing colors of fall. For us, the birth month is something to look forward to year round.

This year, as we start into my birth month, I'm looking forward to some little perks and some pampering. I'll kick it off tomorrow with a pedicure (at the local beauty school, for less than $10!), dinner with my sister (I get to do that about 3 times a year), and tons of berry picking - which will be free (as it's in Amy's Organic Garden - Amy is the sister I'm looking forward to have dinner with). Hubby is already outlining which restaurant(s) he wants to go to during his birth month - with this economy, it's never been cheaper to eat out! I love all the deals discounts, and delectable bargains we've been able to try.

Any ideas of how I should celebrate my birth month? I'd love some new ideas!
This week is more like a half week, since we're visiting family in Minnesota for the holiday weekend and leaving on Friday. here's what going on for my week:

Monday: Leftover chili and brats, corn on the cob
Tuesday: Mini-date
Wednesday - Ham and swiss on a ciabatta roll (free at Target), apple slices, kettle chips, chili (it's like Panera without spending $25 dollars!)
Thursday - Homemade pizza, topped with Italian sausage and cremini mushrooms
Friday - On the road to Minnesota
Won't be home until Tuesday!
I’ve been having this crazy urge for snacks, junk food, munchies – you name it, for the past week, so the other night I finally got off my butt and did something about it. I wandered into the kitchen and noticed that DH & I have 4 different meats thawed, seasoned, and cooked in the fridge along with 2 kinds of cheese and a nearly full package of tortillas. It was looking like I had all the basic ingredients for something tasty. Very tasty indeed.

Taquitos. It was perfect! I had all the basic ingredients ready, it wasn’t too hot to turn on the oven, and I’d get some variety in my snacking and they could even double as lunches. By the time hubby got home, I had already made the first dozen of them – using some ground turkey that had some chopped red bell pepper, diced celery, garlic, and onion mixed in. Instead of frying them, I always bake mine – so they come out crisp, tasty, and healthy!

Well, I still had over a dozen tortillas left, so DH encouraged me to keep going. I grabbed some chicken drummies (seasoned with oregano, basil, garlic, onion, and red bell pepper), scooped some of the seasoning into a bowl and lightly shredded it, warmed it enough to make it pliable, and got to work. After polishing off that container of leftovers, I still had some tortillas left, so I took the leftover refried beans, mixed in a few scoops of salsa, some shredded cheddar, and a palmful of ground turkey and proceeded to fill the rest of the tortillas. The result – three different kinds of taquitos, and four containers out of my fridge. The first batch of taquitos is already gone – they do make a tasty lunch!

Taquitos freeze well, too – so if I don’t eat them up this weekend, I’ll freeze what’s left for another day, another snack. It’s such a great feeling to toss together something simple like this and know that you’re eating healthy – and besides, it’s a much healthier alternative to the frozen, store bought taquitos. Reinventing leftovers, creating a nice light lunch or funky snack, and having something to use for another day – now that’s a fabulous, flavorful combination!

Want to know what I did? Click here for 3 variations on taquitos!
I don’t think I’m alone in noticing the prices of staples, such as flour, eggs, sugar, rice, and produce climbing at an obscene pace. Okay, maybe obscene is a strong word for it, but the steep, steady increase has me concerned. And, confused, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

While I hear many people extol that convenience foods are more costly to buy, that the staples – pound per pound are cheaper, I honestly don’t think that’s the case – at least for myself and my fellow diehard couponers. I can grab cake mix for less than $.50, premade premium brand cookies for a quarter a box, and crackers for less than $.40 cents per pound. After I’m done grabbing the cheapies and freebies, the staples are what I splurge on. Isn’t that crazy?

Granted, I do get the luxury of versatility when I buy the basics, but as expensive as they are, I couldn’t afford to live that way indefinitely. I have come to rely heavily on all the steals, deals, bargains, and freebies that have filled my stockpile, fed my family, and helped my husband and I build our savings. But every now and then, I long to be someone that buys what they want not what they can afford.

Having fed my little family on so little for so long, I don’t think I ever would go back to the old ways of shopping. I don’t make a list of what I need and shop for that. I make a list of the current deals, and try to grab as many of those as I can. Once every 3 months, I do go out shopping for the basics: and I spend no less than $35 on 12-15 items. And I complain about it for the next 3 days to anyone that will stand still long enough and pretend to listen about the exorbitant prices in today’s economy.

The only category of the basics I’m still doing well with would be meat and dairy. I usually have a pile of high-value coupons that keep me stocked, but it’s frustrating when the bulk of your meal cost is the bread/buns that you have the sausage/burger/sammie on. I feel posh and lavish when I cook with simple long grain white rice. That has become somewhat of a treat, since it’s easier to grab a pasta side dish that you can make in the microwave, if you’re in a rush. The side dishes cost only $.19 each – a much better value than the staples. For me, long-grain white rice is $1.50 for 2 pounds (on sale), the cost per meal is nearly double that of those cheap pasta sides. Guess we’d better like pasta, huh?
I shouldn’t complain that grocers are catering to the 30 minute meal crowd, but it’s a shame that many of the simple things should cost so much. It’s no wonder many families don’t know how to make a proper, made from scratch meal, anymore. No one can afford what goes into it! Though I’m hardly one to talk, I only do that once or twice a week.

So maybe I’ll see you in the grocery store one of these days – I’ll be the woman with 20 bags of trail mix, 14 pasta/rice side dishes, a bunch of bananas, a head of lettuce, and an overflowing coupon binder – looking with envy at the families that are buying fruit off-season, brown rice, and whole wheat flour.
Ovenly Warmth

I thought that my timer was off, when many meals can out a little more cooked than was necessary. Okay, so they were burnt to a crisp on more than a dozen occasions. After buying an oven thermometer, I was enlightened. My timer was fine, my cooking abilities weren’t to be doubted – at least for this reason, anyway, and the oven was crap. No really – it was.

The temperature would routinely (though not always) run 100 degrees over what you set it for. The Idiot King told me that most ovens don’t heat to the exact temperature. It’s not an exact science, I was patronizingly told. I laughed at that and replied something like, “Well, baking is an exact science. I cannot imagine that your main implement to bake with would be unable to accomplish the task at hand." Or, more likely, I just laughed in his face and asked him to fix it. Yeah, that sounds more like me.

I was told by the ever-tardy Idiot that he’d be back “middle of next week, I’m pretty sure” with the part to fix it. On Friday of that week, my husband gets a call. The part is out of stock and they’ll have to order it. Um, wasn’t that what we were waiting on. Nope, the Idiot (sometimes called the Idiot King) just ordered the part. He’ll call when he has the part. Ha! Best line I’ve ever heard from a man was, “I’ll call ya!” It rings as true with dating as with anything else.

Nine days later, we finally stop leaving voicemails and get to talk to the Idiot King. They don’t make the part anymore. Seriously. This is what we were told. You mean the repair place let you order a part, then they wait more than a week to tell you that the part is no longer being produced. Yes, we were expected to believe this load of manure. Obviously, I didn’t. I asked for a specific date that I would have a working oven, or that I’d be coming to the Idiot King’s house to do my baking. He asked if he’d get to do a taste test. I said sure, while imagining lacing the brownies with a liberal amount of laxatives.

This finally got some attention. He gave me a date on the calendar that my oven would be replaced since he was unable to fix it. That date was six days away. Yes, I was still waiting for a working oven. The day after he was supposed to be bringing the replacement, we received a call. Silly me for thinking we could get the oven repair completed. And there was an irate me for taking the day off work to be home to let him in so he could bring in the replacement oven. Silly, furious, vexed, livid, snarling me.

The night before the new-to-us oven (Idiot King was too cheap to buy a new oven) was to be delivered, we saw a snippet on the news about an appliance factory burning to the ground somewhere on the other side of Chicago. Little could we have imagined how that would impact us until the Idiot King finally called. The place that he was going to pick-up the replacement from had burned to the ground 2 days earlier. I still contend that he saw the same news report we did and used that as another excuse. Why not?

Another week passes before the Idiot King brings our replacement. When he finally shows up nearly two hours late, he acts triumphant, like he is an Olympian runner that has lassoed the Godforsaken oven to his own torso, and climbed Mount Olympus with it, sweating dripping from his brow each and every step of the way. Not that he had some guys load it into his borrowed mini-van, drove across half a dozen suburbs in clear weather, and had my husband help him unload it. Which, of course, is exactly what happened.

Stay tuned next week for another juicy installment of 3 Chimps and an Idiot.
Last Friday, I took a good run at some of the Target deals on offer – and I’m so glad I did! Look at these deals:

4 bags of Combo’s at $1.79 - $1 ST Q each = $.79

3 Archer Farms Snack Crackers $2.19 - $1 ST Q each = $1.19

4 Kellogg’s Pop Tarts at $1.46 - $.75 ST Q each = $.71 -$.55 (2) manu Q = $1.74 for 4

1 20 oz. pkg. Johnsonville Turkey and Cheddar brats - $2.99 -$3 winetag Q - $.01 overage

5 Archer Farms mini baguettes at $.99 -$1 ST Q each = FREE (no overage was given)

1 Archer Farms ciabatta at $.99 -$1 ST Q each = FREE (no overage given)

10 General Mills cereal cups at $1.00 each -$1 ST Q each = FREE -$.55 Honey Nut Cheerios manufacturer Q’s = $.55 overage

8 boxes GM cereal at $2.54-$2.79 - $1 ST Q each, - $1/2 (2), $.55 (3), $.75 (1) manufacturer Q’s = $6.74/8 = $.84 a box on average

6.3 lbs. bananas -$/50/lb. ST Q = $1.22

Apples (assorted varieties $1.19-$1.49 lb. - $1 ST Q each lb. = $6.25 for 16.41 lbs. of apples

Gold ‘n’ plump ground chicken $2.99 for 1.25 lbs. -$3 winetag Q = $.01 overage

18 Archer Farms yogurt cups at $.47 each = $8.46

2 Market Pantry juice blends 64 oz. $2.29 each

All of these goodies for only: $36.29
Total Savings = $63.43

Going to take another run at the Target savings - fellow blogger posted about FREE gerber baby bottles, and oodles of other freebies! Now, that's my kind of shopping. I may not have a baby yet, but I know plenty of girls that do and bottles are a thoughtful gift (I hope). Also will make a great donation item to the church's womens shelter.
Yesterday, I managed to get some cooking ahead done for the week - enough to make some simple meals for half the week. I love to do batch cooking - and reinventing leftovers. With some mini-baguettes free from SuperTarget, lots of cheap pork chops (courtesy of Gather Round the Grill coupon), and a batch of browned up ground turkey - I'm in great shape. With a couple of versatile basics like these, I'm ready for anything this week!

Monday - Pork Chop sammies on baguettes, corn
Tuesday - Ground turkey tacos with all the fixin's, refried beans, tortilla chips
Wednesday - Mini french bread pizzas (using the baguettes) with assorted toppings
Thursday - Italian-style chicken salad sammies on ciabatta, carrot sticks, and chips
Friday - Scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, Apple and Mozzarella Breakfast sausage
Saturday - Enchiladas (using leftover meats), beans, and tortilla chips with salsa
Sunday - Grillin'!

Breakfast of the week - we have cereal cups for free from SuperTarget (using the SuperTarget printable Q's for $1 off GM cereal), and breakfast sammies using my homemade breakfast sausage

Dessert of the week: I was a bit lazy, so it'll be ice cream and store bought cookies, but we have free ice cream and too many cookies to count!
Ever been out shopping and get tempted by those delicious looking frozen breakfast sandwiches or get tempted by fast-food breakfast? I do. I’m a total sucker for it, I’m ashamed to admit. I used to justify my every-other-week fix by saying – well, I don’t have the time to make a decent breakfast (though I could get up earlier – perish the thought), I couldn’t make a biscuit that tastes that good (probably because I try to make them healthy – and they taste like crap), or – my all-time favorite – I deserve it (but my thighs keep screaming that I don’t, I really don’t deserve what I’m doing to them).

I have finally found a way to end the internal argument. It does not involve getting up earlier. It doesn’t involve making more crappy biscuits, and yes, if you try to make a basic biscuit healthy, it tastes funny. It’s just not a biscuit at that point. Seriously. My thighs will thank me for discovering this simply, flavorful alternative – and so will my wallet.

What could inspire such a turn around for me? Could you believe a simple bagel did the trick? Not the frozen ones, not the pre-packaged ones – the huge, plump, fresh, 5” wide bagels with the fresh herbs, cheese, and spices used. And the bargain price I paid for those: 6/$1.99. It was cheaper than buying the pre-packaged ones. And the best part is – they’re big enough to last for 2 meals. Nope, I’m not kidding.

At Dominick’s the other day, I grabbed an assortment of 6 large bagels and decided to see how well that idea panned out. After taking one deep breath of the aromatic scents before me, I grabbed 2 sweet onion bagels, 2 egg bagels, and 2 everything bagels. I’ve only had one of the sweet onion bagels topped with scrambled eggs (with mozzarella cheese mixed in) and I was in heaven. The bagel is so big and plump, half of it topped with scrambled eggs was more than enough for a flavor-filled breakfast – and so much more affordable than its fast-food counterpart.

At $.33 per bagel, $.99 per dozen eggs, and $.28 cheese left from that Kraft cheese Catalina sale last winter/spring – I can have breakfast for only $.55 for 1 whole bagel, or only 27.5 cents per serving. A simple sausage biscuits typically will cost a $1 or more across this area, so I have found a much more affordable alternative, and the amount of fat in a serving of my new breakfast sammie: 6 grams. I know fast-food or frozen can’t beat those numbers – not on price and certainly not on fat grams. The best part of this, no more internal arguments – priceless!
DH and I recently moved into a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom townhouse after renting a 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom, 3 level house with patio, backyard, fireplace, vaulted ceilings, and an open floor plan. Sounds divine, doesn’t it? Well, not exactly. That simply what you tell people you went to school with, relatives that never visit, and friends that you would like to envy you – as long as they don’t visit too often.

If they did visit more often, they would see the truth. The vaulted ceiling is a huge waste of energy. No one actually uses the fireplace – even the owner wasn’t sure how it worked, so it’s decorative, but not functional. The hardwood floors were actually that pergo, snap-together garbage that started separating after about the first year. Something else no one bothers to mention – ants. Unfortunately, we’d been in the house less than a month when that problem became apparent. Ewww.

Now that I’ve set the scenic backdrop, I must get to the title: 3 Chimps and an Idiot. The idiot would be the landlord, the chimps – a series of rude, obnoxious, lazy “helpers” that couldn’t tell their knuckles from a door knob. Actually, I think I’m being rather kind. One of them was courteous enough to swear at me in Spanish, thinking that I wouldn’t understand him. I did and I know how to dish it right back at him – in Spanish no less. So in a moment of pure fury I called him something I would rather not put into print, but let’s just imagine that it involved a chicken and his mother sprinkled with a very explicit action. Let’s just say it had him speechless.

Like any good lemon, the problem became apparent once we got used to the place. The white carpets had bright orange KoolAid stains, which we made by the owner’s bratty child. I know, I watched her squirt her juice box all over the carpeting in the upstairs hall and master bedroom during the initial walk-though of the place. The landlord promised to send someone out the next week to clean the carpets. 6 weeks later, fed up and livid – I did the cleaning. It took 6 hours to scrub that crap out.

Like any good lemon, this one had its continual problems, and the stove, garage door, dryer, and railings were just the start. Every major appliance had maintenance called on it at least 2-3 times. I can write a book just on the stove!! It didn’t work more often than it did. Good thing I had a crockpot and the ability of pick up cheap convenience time foods – love boxed pasta side dishes by the way – they totally saved my butt, on more than one occasion.

I remember the pride the Idiot King (landlord) took in how the place looked when we did the walk through. He told how he did the work himself, how it took a year to make the house inhabitable again – and it was only a nine year old house, with one previous owner. The Idiot King even went as far as saying that he’s fired his “assistant” aka the Chimps for being incompetent. Once, in a fit of rage (again, over that evil stove), I asked him when he planned to fire the current chimp because he was astonishingly incompetent. Naturally, it was nearly a month before the repairs were done.

Have you had problems like this? Whether you buy or rent, there’s nothing worse than dealing with – 3 Chimps and an Idiot.
I'm getting all geared up for my next big shopping excursion! I just had a look at the list Kraft put out for their rebate (offered through Supervalu affiliated stores) - and a couple of the items I'm eying have fabulous coupons for them. Well, that and I grabbed a dozen of the Nabisco coupon booklets. Which have a separate set of rebates in them. This is when shopping madness occurs...

Shopping madness is defined (by me) as having more deals, more cheapies/freebies than one person thinks they can grab in any given time frame (an afternoon, a week, a decade). Between BOGOF on Planters trail mix, to 10/$10 a box Mac 'n' Cheese crackers - I'm really not sure which direction to turn in first. Not that that's a problem. At least, not a problem for me! I'm armed with loads of good coupons!

Step #1: Drive to nearest Jewel.

Step #2: Check to make sure all catalina machines are working properly at self checkout.

Step #3: Grab shopping cart.

Step #4: Ladies, start your shopping (as I picture someone waving the green flag, like they do at car races - and I'm in the lead - we can all dream, can't we?)!

Step #5: Leave with $20 rebate, $5 cat, and a whole load of goodies!

So, looks like Wednesday afternoon, I'm back out on the hound. But, out of curiosity, has anyone out there tried the Kraft Mac 'n' Cheese crackers and are they any good? Please let me know what you think! That's the basis for my deal.
After a crazy week last week - I just want to take it easy for a bit and have some simple, easy to make dinners. So far, this is what I've got planned:

Monday - dinner at DaMama's - DH having hotdogs or cereal
Tuesday - Brats, baked potatoes, salad
Wednesday - Spaghetti with a mushroom meat sauce
Thursday - Scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, bacon, raisin toast, and juice
Friday - ground turkey tacos, rice, and beans
Saturday - Date night!
Sunday - Enchiladas con carne and con queso

Snack of the week: apples - I got loads of the at Target for next to nothing - got to love coupons!!

Dessert of the week: Buttery Walnut Ginger cookies. When those are go0ne, we'll work on the free ice creawm collection from Jewel - and pair it with loads of cheap Keebler cookies.

Breakfast of the week: I'm going to make banana bread tonight, along with an experiment = homemade breakfast sausage - check out the recipe I'm using here!
Last night, I was doing some baking for the office - I have spoiled our board of directors with homemade cookies and bars, and now it's become somewhat of a tradition and a challenge. Every meeting (and there are 4 of them a year) I debut a new pair of recipes - bars and cookies - for their tasting pleasure. This year it's Ginger Walnut Cookies. I bet you're wondering this: what do I get out of it?

The organization pays for my ingredients - which is a huge bonus because baking supplies are certainly not cheap nowadays. And those that bake can see how well I benefit from that. But, just as important, I receive feedback, loads of feedback, from a demographic and background far, far different than my own. It's interesting to see how different people react to different things.

My nephews, those rascally rugrats, loved the Banana Split Bars, while my mother loves the Raisin' The Bars!, the board went crazy for the Orange Dark Chocolate bars, and my hubby adores the White Chocolate Cinnamon Roll Bars. Having a large assmebly of industry leaders, financial management types, and nearly a dozen doctors - I get a heavy dose of the adult perspective. Not that I'm complaining, I get to eat the fruits of my labors, so I can't complain too much there.

I planned to do a simpler cookie, but I've been loving the flavor of ginger so much lately, I couldn't resist adding it to my latest recipe. I wasn't sure how a heartier nut like the walnut would pair against the tang of ginger, but boy am I glad I tried it. Each flavor hits a different place on your palate, leaving nothing but a hunger for more. Maybe I exaggerate my baking skills, but I do believe the flavors will speak for themselves. That is, unless you've eaten them first!

Tell me - what are you favorite flavor combinations? There is so much to taste in life!
As the temperatures hit the 90's and the humidity has done things to my naturally frizzy, oops - I mean curly hair, I can't help but think these are the days meant for napping. Or lying in a shady spot with a good book, the scent of summer fruit and the tang of an open BBQ drifting on the breeze. These are the days for enjoying.

I am not a summer person - nowhere near, in fact. For the months of July and August, all I can do is dream of having a bungalow in NewFoundland, some great books, my bead collection, and a pile of great movies. For entertaining, all I need is some good basic meat to grill with, a pile of spices, some summer fruits (peach and mango, here I come!), and mountains of corn on the cob. With a cool breeze from the ocean (or so I imagine it) and a slower pace of life, it sounds like heaven on earth to me. Or to the me that's spent 30 minutes sitting at a standstill in traffic this morning, feeling my hair beginning to frizz (again!), and only is out in fresh air from the walk to and from the car, into work, home, store, etc. I'm not cut out for these humid, stuffy, days.

Back to reality, my pantry is fully stocked and my freezer is full to bursting, now I can finally take a bit of a break from shopping, which is easy to say until the next big deal hits. With the exception of produce, milk, and eggs - I'm pretty well set-up on all the basics I need, the little luxuries I want, and everything in between. Typically, when the deals dry up in Septmeber and October, I just live off what I've already amassed - which at this point, is somewhat substantial.

As I sit here, seeing the leaves on the trees drooping in the sun and dry, brown grass that crunches underfoot, I can't help but be grateful that I don't have to spend a lot of time in the heat, instead, I'll keep reading my latest book, East of the Sun. Nothing is more entrancing than losing yourself in the lives on someone else, especially when you are so drained by the heat.

How have you been keeping yourself busy during the dog days of summer?
Ever gone into a store, sans coupons, and been amazed at the prices, freshness, and overall friendliness of the place? That happens to me each and every time I go to Caputo's. I love the simple layout of the store, the great prices on fresh produce, and how amazingly fresh everything is. Never a bad experience there, except with internet coupons - but I digress.

Last night, I couldn't hold myself back - everything looked fabulous! So I greedily grabbed 3 bulbs of bulk garlic. I still can't get over how affordable it is to shop there - which is a first coming from me! Next I meandered passed the baby carrots, then stopped dead in my tracks. A 2 lb. bag for $.79. Yep, and smaller 12 oz. bags for 3/$1. I would have been totally remiss if I didn't grab some - for the office and for home. So, naturally - I did. I just about tripped over my jaw when I saw the organic celery for $.79 and the most beautiful cucumbers for 3/$1. My cart was filling up quicker than you could say cheese - but we'll get to that in a minute.

Over at fruit, the golden delicious apples were shiny and fresh and $.69 lb. 3/$1 lbs. of bananas, and my personal favorite - $.79 lb. extra large red bell peppers. I grabbed 3 of those - I simply could not resist. Over at salad mix, I grabbed a bag of Tender Lettuce mix for $.50. With all the cheap/free salad dressing I have, this will pair nicely. Very nicely.

For some reason, my hungry feet guided me over to the cheese where there was 6 oz. blocks of Natural Jack Mediterranean cheese. Somehow, 3 of those jumped in the cart, but at least I remembered the milk that I was supposed to get. Thank goodness for small miracles! Good cheese is always a miracle - especially when I think back to the days of Velveeta - and we (as children) were excited to get that. How times have changed! Before couponing and hounding, cheese was a luxury item - now, it's a basic staple and I keep at least 6 varieties on hand at all times. Right now, I probably have more like 8-10 kinds. Not that I'm complaining...not even a bit! or in my case, a bite.

So, what am I having for lunch/snacking on this week:

Apples and peanut butter
Banana split (using free ice cream and some leftover coconut, pecans, walnuts in my pantry)
Salad - topped with real bacon and croutons, with parmesan cheese and ham, or just straight out of the bag
Baby carrots and celery sticks with roasted red pepper ranch dip - thanks to Lisa B for the recipe! (I add half of a large
red bell pepper, finely diced, roasted preferrably, to this dip. It tastes like heaven!)
Cheese and crackers - with a salad and an apple - this is my lunch today!

Before I go off in search of one or more of these tasty snacks to devour, I better grab my breakfast - or lunch will be gone in minutes!

What are you snacking on this week? I'd love some good ideas!!
I love experimenting, trying new flavors, seeing new places, and rarely am I disappointed. The only exception - when you try new recipes, the long list of what ingredients you don't have on hand is daunting, pricey, and occasionally - unsatisfying. This might explain my love/hate relationship with cookbooks.

The feeling of cracking open a cookbook, the tantalyzing flavors that lay hidden in the many pages is a recipe for financial disaster. The luscious, shiny photos make me whimper and cringe. I know there are 3, 4, and 5 ingredient cookbooks - but the recipes you find there are for BBQ ribs (got it), grilled cheese (yep, covered that one in 4th grade), and using almost all pre-made stuff (which isn't a bad thing - but I do like to feel in control of my own meal). Still, any trip to a bookstore finds me wandering back into the cookbook area - flipping through, alternately drooling and chuckling - who do these people think they are, Iron Chef? Oops, sorry Bobby Flay. I guess you are.

What about the rest of us? (Naturally, I hope I'm not alone in this!) When we want something a little different, but not a budget-busting experiment, where are we supposed to turn? It took me a while, but I finally came up with an idea. If you don't like what's on offer - it's time to do something about it. So, last February, I began cataloging all my recipes - the ones I've created, anyway - and so I wouldn't have to worry about misplacing them, I've started a cookbook blog, Chicagos Cookbook.

At first, it was just a new way to organize - which I so desparately need. Then, as time went on, I noticed a few people had come to take a look - and I was amazed. As I started adding followers, I was stunned again. I considered myself a decent cook and a good baker, but never imagined it would amount to much. So, to keep things interesting - I have set a goal for myself.

365 original recipes by the end of the year. If I used someone else's recipe, and made my variation of it - I always give them credit for it, but no recipe in my collection has been copied and pasted from somewhere else. As we near the midpoint of the year, I can see I am well on track to meet my goal, though I do need to beef up my side dishes chapter, no pun intended, of course.

At the end of this year, I'd like to look back at all the new flavors I've tried, decide on my favorites, and maybe even try to get a cookbook actually published. I know that last part is a long shot, but if nothing else - I have finally created a way of keeping track of all the recipes I've made, all the fantastic fresh food I've sampled along the way, and I come out of this journey a well-seasoned (hahaha) traveller.
This is going to be a crazy week at work, my organization is having their summer board of director's meeting - all weekend long, so I expect some longer days/nights leading up to the meeting. I tried to tailor the menu to easy to make meals, since I won't have time to do any real cooking!

Monday - dinner at DaMama's
Tuesday - Chicken alfredo (using leftover grilled chicken and jarred Alfredo sauce)
Wednesday - ground turkey tacos with red bell pepper, beans, chips, and salsa
Thursday - Swiss & Mushroom Omelets, hashbrowns, raisin toast, and juice
Friday - Italian style chicken salad sammies, cheese cubes, and juice
Saturday - Date night! Or I just collapse on the floor when I finally get home...whichever comes first.
Sunday - Sausage on the grill, corn on the cob, fresh strawberries, rice, tortillas
Sunday sure isn't a day of rest for us couponers! DaMama and I hit 2 stores, did 4 transactions, and spent less than $8 between us. How did we do? Keep reading!

36 jars Fisher Peanut Butter reg. $1.90 - sale $.99
1 36 count box Hefty One-Zip bags reg. $4.05 - sale $1.00
36 -$1 off any Fisher product 4.0 oz. or larger
1 - $.20 peelie coupon from the Hefty bags

Total OOP - $1.19 Saved $68.75

From there, we scampered to Jewel - in search of some free ice cream. In and out of that store in less than 40 minutes, here's what we found:

Transaction #1:
16 boxes Lipton Onion Soup Mix - Regular $2 - sale $1.00
After $15 in catalina coupons - $1.96 was our total, and $15 in cats printed out - love it!
Saved: $31.25

Transaction #2:
5 - 1.5 quart Breyer Ice Cream - assorted flavors reg. $6.50 - sale $3
1 64 oz. Dole Juice blend regular $3.49 - sale $2.50
1 8 oz. Jewel brand Swiss cheese regular $3.00 - sale $2.00
- $.50 Q's off each (5)
-$15 in cats
OOP = $2.34 Saved $38.75
got back $15 in cats

Transaction #3:
4 bags Chex Mix reg. $3.17 - sale $1.66
6 bags Gardetto's reg. $3.16 - sale $1.66
2 bags Bugles reg. $2.99 - sale $1.67
- $.50 Q's printable (4)
-$15 in cats
OOP = $1.66
Saved: $29.85
got back $15 in cats.

Got to love rolling a cat, the deals are great, Annie's Market is bursting with tasty goodies!

Total OOP = $7.15
Total Saved = $168.60
With all the great deals I'm finding, I've been shopping before work, on my lunch break with a shopping buddy, and on my way home (quick trips) or just after work shopping (2-4 hours of fun). Maybe I'm just experiencing shopper's burnout, but I am getting a little tired running all over Chicagoland (or my corner of it, anyway) snapping up the deals.

As my grandpappy would, "You'd b*tch if you were hung with a new, waxed rope." Never quite understood that saying growing up, but now I have a rough idea and it always makes me laugh.

I don't remember this plethora of deals last summer, but stores weren't really trying to stay competitive then either. Now that retailers are worried in this economy, they are rolling out the savings wagons, cautiously, but continuously. I keep thinking there's a brief respite to the deals, and another big one barrels down on me - like large SUVs in the parking lot. You know your measly cart isn't going to save you, but you stand there transfixed anyway, until the moron swerves around you, giving you a less-than-friendly gesture or yelling some endearing obscenity through an open window, while looking at you like you're the crazy one. Yes, it's moments like these that I feel at one with the universe. I know, I know - enough of the sarcasm.

Between Jewel, Butera, and Meijer - they are conspiring to empty me of coupons (a good thing), wear my sorry, bargain huntin' butt out (not the greatest scenario), and leave me stunned at the amount of goodies I've socked away for the lean times (I know I can't complain about that!). I'm so glad today is the last day of the deals, so I can stumble home - probably 1-2 hours after I planned on coming home, wore out, spent of time, coupons, money, and common sense, and looking forward to a slow, lazy, bargain-free week. Think that'll happen? Probably not, but DaMama will have the ads today, so I'll find out tonight!
I have been getting bored with the same old thing, so this week - we're switchin' it up!

Monday: dinner at DaMama's
Tuesday: Teriyaki Pork skewers, potatoes julienne, and corn
Wednesday: cheese slices, crackers, ham, and grapes
Thursday: Chicken, black olive, and mushroom pizza (homemade, of course!)
Friday: French dip on a hoagie roll with swiss cheese and au jus, side salad
Saturday - going into the city to see Maria Bamford - I can't wait!!!
Sunday - grillin' time!
Saturday was a hop & shop kind of day. Jewel had their generic cereals on sale for $.99 a box, Arm & Hammer laundry detergent onsale for 2/$5, and StarKist Tuna for 2/$1. After numerous transactions - mostly on Saturday - and filling the back of my car, DaMama & I ended up with:

64 boxes of cereal (limit 4 per person)
16 bottles of Arm & Hammer (Limit 2 per person)
32 cans of tuna (Limit 2 per person)

And rainchecks for 16 additional boxes of cereal as well as 12 more bottles of Arm & Hammer.

After all that shopping, I was ready for a nap! But dinner and a movie with DH was even better. We went to see The Proposal, used our free movie passes - tickets cost us $0! Dinner was late, so we grabbed some tacos fresco from Taco Bell for $8.84. And we snuck in an caramel apple empanada. Dinner, dessert, and a movie for under $10! Now, there's some date night savings.

Now, I'm gearing up for the Jewel deal: spend $30, get $15 in cats on select Knorr/B.C./etc. products. Let's see what kind of cheapies & freebies I can load up on!
I have a love/hate relationship with the storesin the summer - so many good deals, but so little time to grab them all! Here's what's on sale, Chicagoland:


$1.69 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
$1.69 lb. pork cutlets, boneless
$1.69 gallon Country Delight milk
$1.49 4 lb. bag Parade sugar
$1.99 lb. beef boneless rump roast (makes great french dip)
$.69 lb. chicken leg quarters
$1.98 lb. Sorrento Mozzarella
$.99 dozen Large eggs
2/$3 10 oz. Cello spinach


$1.69 14.5 oz. box Post Honey Bunches of Oats
$1.79 lb. ground sirloin
$1.29 16 oz. bottle Kens Salad Dressing (use your expired Q's on this!)


$1.69 lb. boneless pork half loin (if you need charcoal - use the gather round the grill Q and get this free or darn close to it!)
$.99 lb. green and red grapes
$1.79 lb. pork spare ribs
$1.99 selected General Mills cereals

***10 for $10, Get the 11th Item FREE***
Meijer brand cake mix and frosting
Meijer brand 22 oz. loaf Texas Toast or wheat bread
Meijer Organic mushrooms and baby bellas - 8 oz.
Meijer brand soft cookies
Kraft BBQ sauce
Meijer brand natural salsa 16 oz.
Betty Crocker Cookie and cake mixes
Betty Crocker Warm Delights
Meijer brand frozen veggies - 16 oz.
2 L. Pepsi and 7-Up products
Betty Crocker Helpers (chicken, tuna, and hamburger)
Land O Lakes butter/spread - assorted varieties
Breyers ice cream (pints)
Grands Biscuits

3-day sale - Thursday - Saturday
$.99 Jewel cereals, limit 4
2/$5 Arm & Hammer Laundry detergent (58-69 oz.)
$.50 Starkist tuna, limit 2
$.77 Gatorade 32 oz. - limit 12 (7-day sale)


$1.99 lb. domestic Provolone cheese
$1.99 lb. Feta cheese
$.99 La Bella Romana canned tomatoes - 28 oz.
2/$1 cantaloupe
$.39 lb. zucchini
$.25 lb. cabbage
$.69 lb. fresh ginger root

Tons of fresh and tasty deals, great for stocking up the pantry, making cool snacks, grilling, and so much more!!

Here are some of my meal ideas/snack:
Homemade ice cream sammies
French Dip and French onion soup
Teriyaki Pork Skewers
Smoky BBQ Burgers with provolone
Spinach Salad
Ginger-Glazed beef
I love cookies - I love cheap/free cookies even more. Here's how the cookie hunt went:

First 8 transactions:
4 boxes of Keebler Chips Deluxe Cookies - assorted flavors
1 2L. Dr. Pepper - assorted varieties (I love the Cherry Vanilla)
Total before discounts = $21.25
Total after preferred card = $11.47
Total after $10 cat (for each order) = $1.47.
Or about $.29 per it em - I can live with that.

1 transaction:
5 boxes Keebler Fudge cookies (assorted)
Total before discounts $21.25
Total after preferred card = $12.72
Total OOP (after $10 cat) = $2.72

A survey printed at the bottom of one of our receipts, filled it out for $2 off my next transaction. Yeah, I can find a use for that.

At the first store I did 4 transactions, then Sandy met up with DaMama and I at the 2nd Jewel, where I rang up 13 transactions back-to-back. We were there for over an hour, andm ost of that time was at checkout. The clerks didn't give us any problems, which was a surprise and a relief - as I've been limited to the number to transactions I could do there in the past. The great thing - between Sandy & I - we covered 4-6 different Jewel stores without having to go out of our way. At prices like that, it's no wonder I haven't been baking as much as I used to. It's cheaper not to bake but to buy Keebler instead.

I made a $10 bill, a $10 cat, and my change purse last all night. For the last two transactions, we paid for them with loose change. And that lightens some of the weight in my purse, though the cookies will add some weight to my *ss, I mean hips....

I've long been a fan of diners, cafes, bistros - any small, non-pretentious, low cost restaurant with a good variety of delicious fare has always won my vote over chain restaurants, upscale, you're-paying-for-the-ambience (dim lighting, $15-$35 a palte, and semi-rude staff) establishment, and fast food. Since I love value for my dollar, its no wonder I fell for this deal:

$.50 Ice Cream Cones for the month of July! Limit one per person per day.
At the Colonial Cafe

The cruelest part ever (especially to my thighs)? There's one right on my way home, less than 2 miles from my house. Guess what I had on my way home? A Cinnamon ice creawm scop in a sugar cone. Total cost = $.54 - yep, that's it. The best part of this deal - the ice cream is made on the premises, just like it has been for over 100 years.

Since this deal will end Friday - I decided to be bad. Very bad. I grabbed an ice cream cone on my way to hound up some deals at Meijer. But, being bad has its perks - usually in the form of an accomplice. Mine was DaMama - eating dessert before dinner definitely sounds like something she would do. And she did. We both did.

Nothing says summer quite like an ice cream cone before dinner. My thighs - well, they need to quit their complaining, at least, that's what my taste buds say!
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My purse was bulging, heavy as a boulder, slung over my shoulder. I got tired of heaving the massive weight around and took a look to see what was weighing it down. Low and behold - it was all the coupons we've been scooping up at area stores. Yes, coupons. Hundreds of them, and then some. Apparently when I wasn't paying attention - the coupons simply wandered over into my purse and have been multiplying like bunnies.

Luckily enough, I had my two coupon organizers with me: one for current coupons, one for the expired ones - Dominicks and sometimes Ultra will let us use them. Anyway - they're more than worth hanging onto. It was a simple project, cut/tear/gnaw/hack off extraneous paper, organize coupons, remove all expired and soon to expire coupons from the current coupon holder, and refile all the expired coupons in their separate coupon box. Pull all coupons to be used for tomorrow's hounding, so I'm ready and rearing to go.

Now I'm ready to barrel into August, armed with a smattering of wits, a fist full of ocupons, and some serious attitude. Oh, wait, I'm always armed with attitude! It's not often I get to this level of organization, but when I do - I like to stand at the top of my metaphorical mountain, look around, and generally feel good about myself. Well, until this time next month....that's another story entirely. Here's how I look at it: time spent: 2 hours, 15 minutes. All that money to be saved = priceless.
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Here's what's cooking!

Monday - Mini date - DH is completing another semester of classes and we celebrate each step along the way!

Tuesday - Pulled pork sammies, rice, and beans

Wednesday - Steak hash, salad, toasted English muffins

Thursday - Tacos (al pastor or ground turkey), beans and chips and salsa

Friday - Homemade pizza topped with chicken, black olives, and mushrooms (maybe some Italian sausage).

Saturday - Ham & turkey subs/paninis with all the fixin's

Sunday - Grillin' time! Hotdogs, cheeseburgers, and brats with chips and beans

Breakfast options: English muffins (Sourdough, Cinnamon Raisin, and regular), Blueberry buckle (a blueberry filled coffee cake), and egg sammies with bacon/cheese.

Dessert of the week: Keebler cookies - at $.25 a box, it's the cheapest option in town! We have Soft & Chewy Chips and Peanut Butter Cup to choose from.

Snack Attack: Bananas, chips and salsa, and fresh strawberries
How many people out there associate chicken noodle soup with being sick? I do. Glad I'm not alone in that, truth be told. I was never a big fan of the thin, watery soup, the typically overcooked noodles, and the rare pieces of chicken you might find, if you're really, really lucky.

With my current distaste for standard chicken noodle soup noted, I've decided to try my hand at a new recipe: chicken stew. I have rummaged through the pantry/fridge and have some up with enough veggies to make a basic chicken stew - not to mention I have some $.59 lb. chicken leg quarters that need to be cooked, and I've already done my favorite recipe, Easy Garlic Chicken, once this week.

I love a good soup or stew, but many restaurants don't cook them long enough to really develop the flavors, so with my latest creation, I'm trying to allow more than enough time for the flavors to really come together. And, if I get brave enough, I'll head over to the Elgin Fresh Market and grab some pork stew meat that's on sale this weekend and try a pork stew next week. Or a new twist on pork stirfry, or maybe even pork al pastor. Well, I shouldn't get ahead of myself just yet. Finish one project at a time...

I know stew is more of a wintery dish, but when you have someone at home with a summer cold - desparate times call for desparate measures. Two someone's, actually. DH and myself. Not that I can blame him, it was me that brought the cold home. The two great things about making stew in the summer: veggies are in season, which makes them much cheaper and you can make it in the crockpot, versus slaving over a hot stove. The only bad thing: being sick in the summer. Yech!

I tried to keep in mind the flavors I love in a good stew, while reminiscing over the lovely, hearty, rich chicken stew at Sweet Tomatoes. That place is a huge weakness of mine. Soup, salad, and homemade bread all in one spot. It's dangerous, very, very dangerous. On Mondays, when they have cream of mushroom soup - I'm a total goner. Seriously! My only consolation is going through the salad bar before loading up on bread and soup.

Chicken Stew

2 lbs. chicken leg quarters, skin removed
6 C. chicken broth (made with bouillion)
2-3 T. corn starch
2-3 T. margarine or butter
4 cloves of garlic, crushed/minced
1 medium onion (any variety)
1/2 medium red bell pepper
2-3 C. cooked carrots
1 rib of celery
2 large cooked potatoes, peeled
* 1 C. canned/frozen peas
* 1 small zucchini
* 8 oz. mushrooms, fresh any variety
2 T. basil
2 tsp. black pepper
3 bay leaves
* 1 tsp. rosemary or thyme

In a crockpot, add chicken and broth and cook over low for 6-10 hours, or until chicken falls off the bone.

In a large skillet, melt margarine and whisk in cornstarch. Over a medium-low heat, drain broth into skillet, whisking as its added. Mixture will thicken slightly. Return liquid to crockpot, de-bone chicken, and return meat to crockpot.

For a thicker broth, finely dice all veggies, for a hearty (chunkier) stew, rough chop all veggies. Add to crockpot. Add in seasonings, stir and cook over low for 4-8 hours.

Remove bay leaves before serving.

Yield = 12 servings.
* = optional ingredients
I just grabbed another SwagBuck by searching for ultra. Let me know if this grabs you another buck! Happy swagging!
The backyard grill was screaming for some deals on meat this week - and the stores are only happy to oblige! Check out the deals at some of Chicagoland's tastiest stores:


$.99 lb. pork ribs and steaks
10/$5 Yoplait yogurt - don't forgot all your coupons (printable and insert)

Dominick's: (remember your expired coupons - they're ALL good here!)

$.99 pint blueberries (I'ven ever seen them this cheap)
2/$3 select General Mills cereals
$1.99 lb. London Broil (steak biscuits, anyone?)
Tostitos chips $1.49 WYB5 - grab those free dip coupons, get 2 free


$.99 16 oz. Food Club sour cream
$.99 lb. ribs - limit 2
$.89 lb. split chicken breast
$.99 15 oz. Food Club mandarin oranges
$1.98 lb. deli sliced oven roasted turkey breast
$.99 loaf French bread - limit 2

$1.49 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast
$1.49 gallon milk
$.99 28 oz. crushed Dei Fratelli tomatoes

Check out the spend $20 get a $10 cat section.
Buy 4 Keebler cookies and 1 2L. Dr. Pepper, after preferred card, spend only $11.25 - get a $10 cat! Roll this until they kick you out of the store. I haven't tried this $10 cat yet, but by this time tomorrow, I will have!

Need some menu ideas to go along with these deals? Click here for London Broil, here for the pork steaks, and over here for the bone-in chicken.
Sandy, DaMama, & I are all geared up for a money-saving girls night in. We've been snapping up 4 lb. boneless hams for $3.99 each, and tonight is slicing night. In honor of the occasion, I've grabbed about a quarter pound of fontina cheese (so smooth and creamy, it's makes you want to melt!), some strawberries, and some garlic.

I'll rub down some slices of bread with the cloves of garlic, drizzle on some evoo (extra virgin olive oil), and pile them high with fresh sliced ham and some creamy, dreamy cheese. Some large, fresh, plump strawberries (the last batch from Amy's Organic Garden) on the side - and it will feel far more decadent than running to Subway for a footlong. The entire cost of this meal? An unbelievable $3.94. Can't even buy a footlong for that!

Once we wrap up the slicing, we'll watch a redbox rental - I love only paying $1 for a movie - unless I luck out with a code, then I don't pay anything. Yeah, I'm awfully fond of that, too. Nothing quite beats a girls night in - even if we have a wee bit of work ahead of us first. That will make the relaxing time so well worth it!

Have you ever turned boring, ordinary chores into a mini-party? I'd love to hear about you ideas for a frugally fabulous girls night in!
I have been making a point to visit at least 2-3 times per week - trying to find codes to snag another buck - and today, it worked! Try "mega swag buck" in the search bar and let me know what success you have!
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This summer is all about piggy love! Why would anyone declare such a thing? Because, in part, of the Gather Round the Grill coupon, giving us $6 off pork with each bag of Kingsford charcoal we buy. The other part - it tastes soo good with all the in-season fruits that are abundantly affordable this time of year. Take it from my pal, Amiyrah, over at 4 Hats & Frugal - her Peachy Chicken/Pork recipe has become an all-time favorite. Or top some lovely grilled pork kebabs, chops, steaks, or tenderloin with a mango pico de gallo, chutney, or salsa - and that is heaven.

As my taste buds mature (finally!), I have been getting bolder and saucier with my flavors. No longer am I cowering before Kung Pao, terrified of teryaki, or weak before a Whiskey sauce - I want to taste my way through life - and pork is such a great conduit for my many experiments. When looking for a lean cut of meat, I tend to turn to pork first.

With each week or so that passes, I'm attempting another piggy experiment. Last weekend, it was a tag team effort. I marinated a pair of half pork tenderloins in some soy, and gave it a simple rub. DH took over from there - as he's officially Licensed to Grill (his T-shirt said so).

Between DaMama, DH, & I - there was a 1/4 of one of the tenderloin's left - which becamse excellent sammies, with the help of some English muffins. The rest - a sinfully yummy sandwich, and less deli meat I needed to buy. Not that I was low - I just resent paying $3-$7 lb. for some small scraps of meat. But, I digress...

Now that we need more charcoal - I just have to ask myself: What kind of pork do I want this time? Let's see who's on sale! Tell me, have you stocked up on pork because of the Gather Round the Grill coupon?

I'm such a ham for ham - it's not even funny! What's crazy-funny? Caputo's putting 4 lb. boneless Corn King hams (perfect for the meat slicer) on sale for.....$3.99 each. Yes, my lovely and briliiant readers, that comes out to $1 lb. - for soon-to-be sliced deli meat. When my friend, Sandy, heard I had a meat slicer - we were goners - I grabbed 7 of those plump and tasty looking hams, and tried to act calm until we got them loaded in the car.

Well, that was a swell idea until DaMama heard how cheap they were. So I did the only responsible, respectable thing I could think of: I went back and grabbed 3 more. Right now I have 40 lbs. of slice-able ham. (I've been too busy buying the hams to slice already - besides, my co-horts get to help me with it - I'm not eating 40 lbs. of ham alone. Trust me.)

Wow, it's a good thing I was able to refill DaMama's freezer - otherwise, I would never have had the space for all 10 of those pretty hams. Is it bad of me to want to go grab a few more? I love nothing better than a good deal, and this one was better than most. Time to start working on my chicken cordon bleu recipe. Either that, or it's an variety of ham sandwiches, omelets, paninis, melts, and subs that will be speeding their way to my meal-plan.

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