biscotti: n. Italian word meaning twice baked.

Isn't it just when you've filled your pantry with all sorts of healthy, fiber-filled, low fat, whole grain goodies....and you crave biscotti. Yep, that crisp, sweet, nutty, crunchy dream of a cookie. And I don't usually like crunchy cookies!

Thankfully, I'm stocked on cake mixes (at least for a year or so....assuming I use 2-3 a month). I've got a great recipe to make biscotti great, low fat (yup, a little healthy never hurt anyone too seriously), and frugally! Nothing better than making 40 cookies for less than what Starbucks charges you for one of them!

Here is one of my favorite biscotti recipes:

Lemon Almond Biscotti

1 pkg. lemon cake mix
1 C. flour
1/2 C. unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. lemon extract
1/2 tsp. butter extract
2 eggs, minus 1 yolk
1 C. sliced almonds

1/2 C. powdered sugar
3-4 T. milk (enough to make it thin)
1/8 tsp. almond extract
Mix together in small bowl.

Mix well all ingredients except chips. Stir in nuts.
Divide the dough in half and form each half into a 9x3" log - slightly flattened on top.
Place 4" apart on greased cookie sheet.

Bake 20-25 minutes or til tops are golden. Cool 10 minutes, then remove from cookie sheet. Slice each log into 3/4 " thick slices.

Bake 10-15 minutes or til cookies are golden and crisp.
While warm, top with drizzle.

Yield: 36-40 cookies.
I think my birthday came early this about 7 months! I haven't seen deals this good since July of last year, ah - the memories. But, I digress. If you live in the Chicagoland area, Thrusday through Saturday, Butera is offering 50% more for your coupons!
It's as close as I've ever seen to double coupons, though naturally there are some restrictions. They will give you 50% more off the face value of any coupon up to $1.00. While that doesn't sound like much, Butera usually has some good tearpads, blinkies, etc. not to mention the coupons form Sunday's paper. The Butera here does not accept IP coupons, but I'm determined to find a few good deals hidden in there.

But, the deals certainly do not end there, my friends. Next, pop over to Jewel and relieve them of some ConAgra products. It's the $25 in ConAgra get $10 OYNO deal, and who can't use more Act II popcorn, Hunts tomato stuff, Manwich, Peter Pan peanut butter, or Parkay stuff. Plus - you can use expired coupons there - it just keeps getting better. If you need filler, Yoplait Yogurt (including light - yummy!) is on sale 3/$1. Also pork bone-in roasts for $.99 lb. And if you have any remaining Wild Harvest coupons, grab some free canned beans and tortilla chips. Are you thinking snack time? I sure am.
Have you ever walked into a bakery, closed your eyes, and let your sense of smell take over?

I love breathing in the heady aromas of yeast, the tartness of lemon, the sweet, syrupy goodness of maple, and the strong wafting of vanilla. Finding a bakery, not a doughtnut shop, has gone by the wayside, but I still remember the scents of it all.

To me, there is nothing more enticing, more entoxicating than baking. I have a collection of more than 17 different extracts to choose from, because vanilla simply isn't enough. In a cheesecake, almond pairs so well, but in brownies - vanilla nut makes me mouth sing. For French toast, add a single drop of coconut extract - coconut seems to be the most potent of the extracts, it takes very little to go an amazingly long way.

Even in a brownie mix, cake mix, or cookie mix: use a little extract. The little things do make the biggest difference. In a simple basic cookie recipe (think chocolate chip cookies without the chocolate chips), try a different extract and pick a stir-in to match (stir-in is any dried fruit, nut, chip, chunk, berry, sprinkle, etc.) and voila! You have created a new masterpiece.

My latest idea is to put maple extract into an oatmeal cookie recipe and stir in a couple handfuls of walnuts. That to me sounds like down-home goodness. Definitely something kids would enjoy, but basic enough to please a variety of tastes.

One Christmas, my sister gave me all the extracts I had been too cheap to buy for myself. I was in heaven with maple, brandy, raspberry, banana, orange, coconut, black walnut (a tried and true favorite), butter (makes low-fat fare taste full-flavored), chocolate, and several bottles each of rum, lemon, and almond extracts. Since then, I've added mango, strawberry-banana, mint, vanilla nut, and coffee.

I can honestly say that was one of the best gifts.....ever! Anytime I reach for my extract collection, I think of my sister, too many miles away, and how she and I still found a way to connect. With each new creation, I mentally make a note to thank her, for her gift has allowed me to do something I love: create.

Though in one of those quiet afternoon moments when I decided to turn on the TV insterad of doing "something productive", I discovered there is one extract I'm missing. Sandra Lee had the audacity to use champagne extract. Whoa, what was that? Yes, indeed - champagne extract. I can hear my sister laughing now, asking me - what would you do with champagne extract? My answer, anything I wanted to. Now, if they only made an apple extract..... Hey, a girl can dream!
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After hearing some of the tales of amazing shopping trips aided by the use of some winetag coucpons, I have gone on the hound for some. My efforts have been amply rewarded (just like my thighs will be....).
My first "score" were 6 $2 off cheese purchase. Then came 1 winetag for $3 rebate for chicken or seafood. Now, $10 off any party platter purchase.....and I found 3 of them! I have already cashed in one of them, but that's okay, I'm going to wait til the end of the week (they expire on the last day of the month) and scarf up some goodies!
I'll be checking each and every store I go into, the less shopped, the better and see how many more I can get my hands on. Nothing beats this kind of shopping. It's like finding a great Catalina coupon....without spending anything first.
Now, if I could just get my hands on the motherload of them.......
With the abundance of cheese I've got my hands on, I'll be using that as an ingredient in most of my meals this week.

This is what we're eating:

Monday: Ground turkey tacos with red rice and beans
Tuesday: FREE Quiznos Sub
Wednesday: Spaghetti with creamy mushroom marinara
Thursday: Cheese, mushroom, and ham omelets, with wheat toast and fruit
Friday: Pizza blanco with Alfredo sauce, mushrooms, and garlic
Saturday - TGIFridays - love that BOGO Q!!

I'll bake Cranberry Walnut Oatmeal Cookies and some sweet muffins (apple spice style) tonight. If I score some potatoes on sale, we'll get hashbrowns with our omelets, and this allows time to get to Meijer to grab some cheap sliced mushrooms ($1 for an 8 oz pkg. for organic!)
I am walking my sister through the vast world of couponing and hounding, and it didn't dawn on me until I started teaching her the ropes, just what goes into it. I guess its become second nature to me, I really don't think about it much any more. I didn't realize the many in and outs of couponing until I tried explaining them.

I still consider myself somewhat of a novice when it comes to this field - there are so many others out there who have a much better grasp of this topic than I ever will, but I can't help but think of how far I've come. In the beginning, my first true "hounding experience" netted me no less than 120 packets of taco mix for less than $5. I used every computer I could find to print off the internet coupons, used them in batches of 6-12 at a time, hitting every SuperTarget is a 10 mile radius. Sometimes I even stopped by twice a day! I was so proud of that - and after 4 months, I was so sick of tacos.... Ah, the memories.

I feel like I get to relive all that newfound joy of the chase, and pride of the deal through my sister. When she was proud of spending only $.50 on some organic baby carrots for my nephew's class Valentine's party - her excitement has spurred me into hounding and hard-core couponing with a vengeance. Not that it's a competition, it isn't. The only one you compete with is yourself. But it is inspiring to see someone else, especially someone close to you, make a difference to themselves.

Seeing my sister enter this lovely journey of couponing has inspired me to search harder for the deals, spend less on each trip, expand what stores I shop at, and hopefully learn to get lower-than-Aldi's prices on everything. I admit I still shop there, but for only half a dozen items in my pantry. With each blog that I read, every deal I put together (or "borrow" from someone else), each step puts money back into my pocket, and puts a little more pride in my step.

With most hobbies, you spend money and don't we all have at least one of those? This is the first hobby that has left me with more money than I started with - and I have tons of useful stuff! What could be better than that?
Alright, here are some of the deals I've found around the area, feel free to leave me a comment if I've missed any good ones:

Ultra Foods:
The 12/$10 sale is back, here are the highlights:
Dutch Farms cheese, 8-12 oz. pkgs.
Rice-A-Roni with $1/4 coupon.

Over at Shop 'n'Save:
$1.99 lb. walnuts (now why didn't they have that around December, when I could've put it to good use?)
$.99 a dozen for Jumbo eggs (limit is usually 3)
$.88 Tuna Helper
$.99 Wacky Mac or No Yolks (there are printable coupons for these)
$.98 Pillsbury Brownie Mix
$.99 Duncan Hines Cake Mix
$1.49 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast (this is not a rock bottom price, but if you are in need of chicken, this is a reasonable price, but Butera often has it for $.99 lb.)
$.39 lb. baking potatoes

$1.69 a gallon milk with $10 purchase (coupon in flyer at front of store)
$.89 12 oz. Fresh Express Garden Salad Mix
$.99 a jar Francesco Rinaldi Pasta Sauce (I love this stuff)
$.49 a can Food Club veggies (same price as Aldi's)
$.99 8 oz. Philadelphia cream cheese - original only! limit 3
$.99 Progresso soup, use coupon on this
2/$1 Kraft orginial Mac 'n' Cheese

Wild Harvest canned beans: 5/$5 - use $1 any wild harvest printable coupon and you pay only tax! Coupon print limit of 2 per computer.

For Meijer Deals, please check out http:\\ - she definitely know best!

I'm sure I've missed a few, but hope these deals inspire you to get out there, and get saving!
After reading a post on Precious' blog about chicken, this got me to thinking. Okay, maybe not thinkin' like a chicken, but thinking nonetheless. My meat centerpiece this week is chicken, and I am still amazed at the mileage I can get off a chicken. I cooked 2 large (about 1.5 lbs.) boneless, skinless chicken breasts this week and so far I've made dinner for 3, lunch for 2, and still have over half the meat left.

When it comes to a whole chicken, nothing this girl loves more than one filled with chicken flavored rice, rubbed with some season salt and garlic, and roasted to perfection. Much better, cheaper, and satisfying than a rotisserie chicken. If I had more time, we'd have it for dinner more often!

DH calls it "prison rations." I use the meat sparingly, usually in a rice, potato, pasta, or salad dish that relies heavily on other ingredients, rather than making chicken the centerpiece of our meal. Once a week, I am committed to making the meat a centerpiece, though. Otherwise, the natives grow restless and demand a simple dinner.

For next week, our primary ingredient will be cheese. I've bought 11 packages of cheese in the last 3 days, speing only $6.57. I scored some amazing winetags that gave me half the cheese free, and the other half came from a sale at Shop 'n' Save for $.99 per 8 oz. package of cheese. No complaining here, except not needing the Kraft cheese coupons that have been appearing in blinkies all over my area. No problem, I've sent them to some well-deserving hounds.

To make matters even worse, now they're putting cheese on sale (8-12 oz. Dutch Farms brand) 12/$10! What the (*&(*&! What am I gonna do with all this stinkin' cheese? I'd love some fresh ideas, I'd hate to lapse into another grilled-cheese-sammie rut again.

I'm brainstorming some new recipes to use all that cheese. So far, I'm working on a recipe for Cheddar-Jack Mac and a chicken and cheese pasta. I've got a recipe for Pizza Blanco that I'm eager to make again, too - so it'll be an adventure of asaigo, a calamity of colby, a slew of swiss, a chasm of cheddar, okay - stop me before I go any further.

Any cheesy ideas?
Last night DMom & I went hounding at Ultra, and for me it's amazing all the deals I manage to find when DM is with as opposed to me hounding alone. In the cereal aisle, we spent 15 minutes scouring for coupons to match with the oatmeal deals we were find. People looked at us like we were crazy. We even called my sister to see if she and her boys would like some oatmeal!

We found holiday themed Quaker oatmeal for $2 a box, coupons for Fisher peanut butter that was already on sale, GM cereal marked to $1.88 a box, and I was brave enough to use some expired winetag coupons to score some very free cheese.

At the register, after dividing our purchase up (trying to work around those limits they put on the really good deals) and I scan through everything. Wouldn't you know it, the coupons for Fisher product and the winetags had to be pushed through by a disgruntled cashier.

First she had to examine the Fisher coupon, before deciding that she would "let me use it." I simply smiled and said nothing. I scanned the rest of my coupons (I had a pile of them), and saved the winetags for last. Naturally, they wouldn't go through so I had the same cashier come over and tell me that Ultra no longer accepted expired coupons. I said that was strange, I had an email from their corporate office about a week or two ago that said they would accept any expired coupons up to 30 days expired, or any expired to "ensure customer satisfaction".
The cashier spent 10 minutes reading the email (while muttering to herself that she didn't see where it said that they would accept expired coupons - even though I pointed out the section to her, twice), before deciding that she would "allow it this one time."

Our transactions:
4 jars Fisher peanut butter - $.88 each
3 dozen eggs - $.88 each
6 boxes Quaker Holiday Oatmeal - $2.00 each
2 boxes Quaker Breakfast Bars - $2.00 each
1 box Quaker Simply Harvest granola bars - $2.00
1 8 oz. Centralia Pepper Jack Cheese - $1.79
1 Sargento Havarti cheese - $4.09
2 Sargento Swiss cheese - 2/$4
1 Sargento reduced fat Provolone $2
5 bottles (24 oz.) Hunts ketchup 5/$5
1 box Captain Crunch $2.50
6 boxes GM cereal - $1.88 each

$1 Fisher product any x3
$.70 Quaker oatmeal x3
$.55 Quaker breakfast bars x2
$.50 Quaker Simply Harvest granola bar x1
$.50 Captain Crunch x1
$1 off any 3 GM cereal x1
$.75 off Cheerios x1
$.50 off any Cheerios x3
$.55 off Sargento cheese
$2 off any cheese purchase (winetag) x5
OOP: $37.67
Savings: $56.84
Item count: 33

I did notice that the cashier pushed through an extra Cheerios coupon, but after all that hassle, I wasn't about to point that out. I was afraid she'd make me start all over again!
I've been trying to get organized enough to do a meal plan, which will (theoretically) streamline my cooking for the week. What I've discovered helps is planning for 4 days, not five. My logic being, at least one day something is not going to go according to plan and by leaving a dinner slot free, I've allowing for that.
I've been batch cooking each Sunday, this week I cooked chicken breast two ways: we have Italian-style diced chicken and we have 2 large cooked chicken breasts that are begging for some mexican seasonings, lettuce, salsa, tortillas, and a side of rice and beans. For variety, I'll make omelets one night, and homemade pizza blanco for another.

My meals for this week are:

Grilled chicken & cheese sammies with cream of mushroom soup, salad
Pizza blanco - topped with Italian style chicken, mushrooms, and garlic, salad
Ham & cheddar omelets with English muffins and homemade applesauce, fresh fruit
Chicken tacos/fajitas with lettuce, salsa, rice, and beans

This will work out great because Friday, DH & I have tickets (Free) to the Chicago Auto Show! I'm sure not cooking that night!
1 egg
1/2 C. milk
1/4 C. vegetable oil
1 1/2 C. flour
1/2 C. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Heat oven to 400. Line muffin tin with muffin cups.

Beat egg, stir in milk and oil. Combine remaining ingredients in separate bowl, then stir into milk mixture, stirring until dry ingredients are just moistened. Batter should be lumpy. Fill cups 2/3 full with mixture.
Bake 20-25 minutes or til golden brown on top.

Yield = 10-12 muffins.

Variations: (stir in extract with milk mixture, stir in spices, nuts, and chips with flour mixture)

Apple Cinnamon Muffins
1 tsp. cinnamon & 2 medium apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped.

Orange Walnut Muffins
2 tsp. orange zest and 1 C. walnuts, chopped, & 1/2 tsp. almond extract

Blueberry Muffins
1 C. blueberries & 1 tsp. vanilla extract

White Chocolate Raspberry Muffins
1 C. raspberries, 1/2 C. white chocolate chips, & 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Chocolate Chip Muffins
1 C. mini chocolate chips & 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Cranberry Rum Muffins
1/2 C. dried cranberries, 1 tsp. rum extract, 1/2 tsp. orange zest

Almond Muffins
1 C. sliced almonds & 1 1/2 tsp. almond extract
I'm trying to come up with more ideas for breakfast. I typically eat at my desk in the morning, or sometimes on the way to work. I have only enough time in the morning to shower, dress, and grab my lunch before I leave for work and that doesn't leave me any time for breakfast, so I usually eat once I'm at work. I will admit to a huge weakness for breakfast foods - with the exception of pancakes. Fast-food being too tempting in the morning.
For the last 2 years, my standard breakfast has been yogurt and a granola bar. The only variation being the flavors I choose. I'm slowly starting to branch out, I'm brave enough to have an English muffin in place of the granola bar, but without resorting to frozen breakfasts (which are insanely unhealthy, as well as bland), I'm trying to get some new ideas together for breakfast.
I've come up with the following ideas:
1. Homemade breakfast sammie, using an English muffin and an egg. Cheese is optional.
2. Oatmeal with honey, and banana
3. Fresh strawberries (when in season) tossed with some coconut flake and half a bagel
4. Slice of banana nut bread or a muffin with some tea

I'm trying to come up with another option, but am not able to think of anything nutritious enough to be a good start to my day. Anyone have some ideas they wouldn't mind sharing with me? I don't mind cooking up something the night before, but in the morning, it's all I can do to make it out the door on time!
1 pouch (17.5 oz.) sugar cookie mix
1/4 C. margarine, softened
1/4 C. applesauce, unsweetened
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/4 tsp. coconut extract
1 C., (plus 1/4 C. reserved) sweetened, flaked coconut (untoasted)
1/2 C. sliced almonds

Heat oven to 375.

In large bowl combine cookie mix, margarine, applesauce, egg, and extracts. Stir in 1 C. coconut and almonds.

Shape dough into balls, approximate yield is 30-36 cookies.

Using remaining coconut, dip top half of cookie in coconut, place 2" apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 8-10 minutes. Coll 2-3 minutes, remove from cookie sheet to cooling racks, cool completely. Store in airtight container.
After browsing through the ads this week, I never thought I'd be relieved to see so few deals. I've been shopping every other day (bundling my trips to and from work with my shopping to save fuel), and it's getting a little tiring. My typical commute has been about 50 minutes (each way) and stopping at various stores on my home from work makes the commute feel 10 times longer. It's only 14 minles from home to job, but the traffic is moderate to heavy.
I was stunned on my way home last night to see that fuel prices jumped from $1.81 a gallon to $1.98 a gallon!!! Holy *$^&@(U()! Where did that come from? Or, more importantly, why didn't I get fuel that morning instead of waiting to fuel up on my way home? I had enough fuel to make another round trip to work, so I hoped priced might've dropped by morning, alas - no such luck. If it hasn't dropped by my return trip home tonight, I'll be somewhat less than amused.
The only good side to this downward spiralling economy has been the fuel prices. The coupon values are dwindling, the prices in the stores steadily rise, no bonuses this year (for DH & I), and now skyrocketing fuel costs. Time to do some preemptive belt tightening, hoping to ward off the worst of this latest problem.

Goals to reduce costs for consumable items:

1. Bundle all errands. If we don't have something, we learn to live without.
2. Plan to move. Lease is up in June. Rent is too $$$$, smaller = cheaper.
3. Weed out: ebay for clothes, yard sale when weather is nice for everything else
4. More eating in: try new recipes, get more excited to eat in than to eat out.
5. Drop premium channels from cable. Use our DVD colelction more.
6. Hound more vigarously, especially toiletries and gifts. I can do better on those.
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Ultra-Foods is another of those amazing local chains (IN & IL), and this morning, they moved up a notch in my esteem. I had emailed them after hearing that they would accept expired coupons. Never willing to trust that a store would actually have a policy of that, I finally got a response.
I'm still speechless. They do accept coupons up to 30 days past their expiration date! How lucky am I? I'm hoping they'll accept a couple (six, actually) coupons that expired back in December. I finally found some winetags, those tricky, elusive coupons I've longed to find. On the tags I found at my somewhat local Dominicks/Safeway, $2 off any cheese purchase of $2.05 or more. And I hunted up 6 of them. That means a whole lotta cheap cheese, and since there is no restriction on flavor, I'm hoping to get the good stuff, too. My neighbor over at the Martha Initiative gave me the idea of Turkey & Havarti Paninis, which have been sounding mighty tasty to me! Also, with the Lent season coming, cheese is a must-have this time of year.
I'll give it a try this week and let you know how it works.
It's back! That wonderful, lovable, delicious $1 any Wild Harvest printable coupon is back!! What that means to me is cheap, organic items like baby carrots and herbs, tortilla chips and white cheddar mac 'n' cheese, and cookies and whole wheat pastas.
Wild Harvest is a brand carried by Jewel (Supervalue grocers like Cub Foods, Shop 'n' Save, etc.) and from what I've tasted, is pretty tasty too. They carry dry and canned beans (and a dollar off makes this really stretch), baby food (free after Q), and some small snack items.
I preferred the unlimited prints Wild Harvest was allowing in December and January, but even at a limit of 2 - I've got my work, home, in-laws, and DH work computers to print off a few. Every little bit helps, and with my small handful of coupons, I'll go in and see what I can get on the free, or at least, on the cheap.
What still amazes me is how affordable, after coupon, of course, some organic products really are. I'm making an effort to purchase a better quality of food, though that deal on Fritos/Cheetos for $1 a bag at Safeway/Dominicks was amazing, I'm trying, I'm really trying. Besides, a girl cannot live on Cheetos alone.
Loving this break from the cold weather snap, I had to get out of the house and do some hounding. With temperatures nearing 50 degrees, spring fever was definitely upon me. I figured I would just grab the deal on Fritos/Cheetos at Dominicks then pop oven to Caputos for some produce. Thinking, quite foolishly, that Dominicks would be crowded, I decided to make my first stop at Caputos and the parking lot was full to bursting.
I made a relatively quick trip of it, grabbing some apples and potatoes, some strawberries and some sugar. Toss in a few red peppers and a frozen pizza (me bad), and I was ready to go. My total was $9.79 for 8 apples, 8 huge baking potatoes, a frozen pizza, a bag of sugar, 2 red bell peppers, and a pound of fresh strawberries.
On my way to Dominicks, an ominous feeling started to spread. They've given me a lot of hassels with coupons, so I rarely go there anymore. I kept thinking about the ways it could go bad, which for Dominicks, there are more scenarios than a field has blades of grass.
I pulled into the parking lot, and not for the first time, I wondered if they had gone out of business. Walking in, the store was a still as a tomb, the only sound being that crappy, canned Muzak that every store seems to think is all-the-rage.
The shelves and displays were packed full of Fritos and Cheetos, so I generously helped myself. Realizing that I still had some coupons I found in Meijer from SuperBowl Sunday, I fished out one for $2 off any Fritos dip with purchase of 2 chips, and the dip was 2 for $4. I like free, I like it very much, thanks. I figured with as quiet as that store was, I should check out the clearanced meat before I left and I can't tell you how glad I am of that.
I spied in the bunker (low lying open freezer) some Johnsonville brats. I noticed a 10/$10 sign, but at first thought it belonged to the condiment on the top edge, but a closer glance told me I was not mistaken. The Johnsonville brats were on extreme mark down.
I quickly scanned my purse for a coupon I printed out earlier that week for $5 any 3 Johnsonville sausages packages. It was still valid and here was a great opportunity. Rather than be questioned about overage, I decided to take 5 packages. Reminding myself if I don't try for them, the answer was already no, so I grabbed some brownie mix, cheese, and Rice-A-Roni and made my way to the checkout. To my amazement, the cashier had absolutely no problems with my coupons.
I nearly danced right in the store, loaded my car, and then spent 10 minutes hunting for the receipt. Naturally I thought I lost it, but I actually put it in my purse (silly me!).
My total for that trip $8.13, after saving $47.74 for an 86% savings!! I spent more in coupons than I did in cash.
I've gone a bit over my usual budget, but I'm fairly pleased with January:
OOP: $188.44
Savings: $177.68
Q Savings: $41.75
Item Count: 161
# Free: 8

CVS Totals:
OOP: $58.17
Savings: $321.01
Q Savings: $206
Item Count: 155
# Free: 98

So my monthly totals are-
OOP = 246.61
Savings: $498.69
Q Savings: $247.75
Item Count: 316
# Free: 106

Woohoo - I went $21.61 over budget this month (ouch) - and that's my first time sine July that I came in overbudget, but I saved nearly $500! I think I can live with that.
I simply adore Caputos for their amazing produce, it's fresh, plentiful, and (insert gasp here) affordable. I just cannot imagine buying my beloved bell peppers anywhere else. With that said, my menu will be revolving heavily around bread (grabbed some from the bread outlet for 2/$1 for the 24 oz. loaf) and this week's produce selection at Caputos:

$.39 lb. Rome apples
$.69 lb. extra large red bell peppers
$.33 lb. baking potatoes
$.99 lb. fresh strawberries
$.89 lb. Large Anjou Pears
$1.29 a dozen for eggs (it's not a great price, but it sure beats $1.50)
$3.99 lb. Baby Swiss - my splurge of the week

With this somewhat unusual list of sale items, I called my sister to ask what to do with them (she's a chef), so I'll be attempting a pear & apple crisp, strawberries 'n' coconut (yum!), chicken and swiss with julienned red bell pepper paninis served with hashbrowns. Any apples that get soft will be turned into apple pie filling (which you can freeze), and any pears that get soft will get turned into my ginger-spiced pear bars, or I'll come up with a cookie idea for them. Strawberries can also be frozen for use in smoothies and cooked desserts.
I have a love-hate relationship with frozen food.... I will walk up and down the frozen food aisle, marveling at all the choices, all the options, all the convenience. And then I look at the prices: mentally I start muttering, "Who can afford this? More than $4 for a frozen sandwich? Are people crazy?" Just when I get to the end of my litany, someone comes along, nudges me aside (probably thinking I'm the one that's crazy), and grabs the offendingly overpriced item I was just ranting about. While I often buy frozen meatballs (they are cheaper than making them myself) and the occasional frozen pizza, I typically steer clear of that section. Why? Because I see it as a mean black hole taking all my money and leaving me with fatter thighs.

While I adore anything to do with convenience foods, I am finally getting disciplined enough to avoid them, even rotisserie chicken (another major downfall of mine). To that end, I've been batch cooking meats (ground turkey, chicken, roasts, etc.), batch prepping veggies (if I'm going to stand there are cut 1 pkg. of mushrooms or 1 bell pepper, I might as well do all of them), and now I'm finally getting organized enough to make up my own frozen meals (mainly pastas now, but am slowly branching out) which are leaner, healthier, less sodium than their grocery-store counterparts.
With that, I offer a variation on frozen mostaccioli and lasagne:

1 lb. penne rigate pasta
28 oz. (or larger) jar tomato based pasta sauce
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can tomato sauce
1 tsp. garlic, minced
1 tsp. basil
*1/2 tsp. oregano
2 T. milk
*1/4 lb. ground turkey (or ground beef)
1/2 C. finely sliced mushrooms, onion, or bell pepper
1/8 C. parmesan
1 C. shredded cheese, mozarella or provolone work great

Preheat oven to 375.
Boil pasta as directed on package. While pasta is boiling, combine all remaining ingredients except shredded cheese in a 13x9" baking dish, stirring til well blended. Add pasta and stir until pasta is coated with sauce. Top with cheese and bake 10-15 minutes or til cheese is melted. Serve with salad and garlic bread.
Serves 6.
* optional ingredients
I was never quite sure what went into chicken salad, one of those things, like pasta salad or meatloaf - no two people make it quite the same. Not being a traditional kind of girl, I love fusion food - especially when I'm experimenting.

2 large chicken breast, boneless, skinless, cut into strips
1 tsp. toasted onion powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 T. oregano
1/2 tsp. basil
1 C. Fat-Free Miracle Whip
1 palmful sundried tomatoes, chopped fine
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped fine
1 tsp. parsley

In medium skillet, coat generously with cooking spray and combine chicken breast, garlic, onion, oregano, and basil. Cook on medium high for 8-10 minutes or til juices run clear and chicken begins to lightly brown. Remove from skillet onto cutting board and cool. Once cool, chop into bite sized pieces. Mix with miracle whip, red bell pepper, sun-dried tomato, and parsley. Serve in a sandwich (with shredded lettuce or baby spinach), preferably a panini.
Serves 6-8 sandwiches
I swear I'm not trying to fall back into my grilled cheese sandwich rut. Honestly. Though these are sort of like a grilled cheese, they are distinctly not a grilled cheese.
I got the idea from DH, sort of. The last time he and & I were grocery shopping together, he was eyeing some Healthy Choice lunch entrees, particularily the chicken something panini. I was trying not to pay attention to him, just going about my usual hounding when he motions me over and says, "$2.19 isn't that bad for a lunch, a healthy one." I look at him like he's gone mad. Then I look more closely at the display.
"No, dear. It's the Lean Pockets that are $2.19, the Healthy Choice stuff is $2.79."
I gently correct him. He looks crestfallen. I'm wondering where he got the idea that spending nearly $3 on a single lunch is a great deal, and why he thinks I should be enthusiastic about spending that much on something so processed and overpriced. What I have learned is not to give my opinion about the price until he specifically asks for it. But, I digress.
After extricating myself from that situation, with no overpriced junk in my cart, I make a mental note to include paninis in the meal plan, soon. Never mind that I've never made one, have no panini press, and often think paninis are dry, bland, and pretentious. I can do this. Heck, I can do this with flavor.

So last night, I went shopping for the bread for the paninis, having already hounded ham for $.98 lb., turkey for $.99 lb., cheese blocks for $.99 per 8 oz., and some fat-free Itlaian dressing I grabbed for free last summer - not to mention all that great produce from Caputos for next to nothing. I can definitely do this.
After stopping for some sourdough bread to make the paninis on, I learned something valuable: bread is made from gold. Or at those prices, it could be. $3.79 for a loaf of sourdough bread! Are you kidding me? Who's brilliant idea was this? Okay, so maybe it was my b rilliant idea, but I'm not feeling so smart now. I can not bring myself to pay that much for a loaf of bread. Who would?!?
Muttering to myself, I stumble over to the bakery section in a daze. The reduced rack, aha - this will be my saving grace, I think, seeing a ray of hope. The reduced rack is picked clean, only a bag of bagels (or bagel pieces) remain. Yeah, that's not going to do the trick. So, on to my next plan. I always like Italian bread, but usually it gets expensive. But, what is that: a loaf of Italian bread, pre-sliced for only $.99. (In my head I hear a chorus of a full church choir singing Hallelujah.)
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