Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gearing up for my September No-Spend Month

Wow, it’s August 30th already. It’s almost time for me to start my “No-Spend” month, so I did some inventory & planning. I went through the freezer to see what sort of meat I had on hand, and made up a list of possible meals. I should be able to go without purchasing any additional meat in September, since there’s enough meat for 30 meals, and plenty of variety. I’ll put my list out here… maybe it will help somebody plan their meals, too!

Chicken Breast:
  • Grilled Chicken salads
  • Chicken Teriyaki subs
  • Chicken & Veggie Stir-Fry
  • Sweet & Sour Chicken
  • Chicken & Kale Soup

Chicken Pieces:
  • Grilled Chicken
  • Baked Chicken
  • Chicken Teriyaki
  • Sticky Crockpot Chicken
  • BBQ Chicken
  • Chicken & Kluski

Pork Chops
  • Herbed Pork Chops
  • Fruity Chili Pork Chops
  • Pork Chops with Sauerkraut

Pork Ribs
  • BBQ Pork Ribs

Sirloin Strips / Boneless Round Steak
  • Fajitas
  • Spiedies
  • Beef Stroganoff
  • Beef & Broccoli
  • BBQ Beef Sandwiches

Lamb Chops
  • Herbed Lamb Chops
  • Grilled Lamb Chops

Italian Sausage
  • Pizza
  • Lasagna
  • Italian Sausage Subs

Lamb Stew Meat
  • Lamb Stew
  • Souvlaki
  • Grilled Lamb

Beef Stew meat
  • Beef Stew
  • Spiedies

Ground Beef
  • Tacos
  • Meatloaf
  • Hamburg Gravy
  • Tomato Pie

  • Shrimp Scampi
  • Peel & Eat Shrimp

Chuck Roast
  • 3-envelope pot roast

  • Spaghetti & meatballs
  • Meatball bombers

Canadian Bacon:
  • Hawaiian Pizza

  • Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup

I think I’m ready to give this a go. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ah, Success... Gluten-Free Bread Recipe

I did some more experimenting with gluten-free baking over the weekend. I had a recipe that only called for one type of flour (brown rice flour) With my experience with gluten-free baking so far, I think that putting too much brown rice flour into a recipe makes for a finished product with a gritty texture. So, I pulled out all my gluten-free flours from my "stash" and scribbled down quantities as I put the recipe together.

Gluten-Free Bread
½ c brown rice flour

½ c white rice flour
½ c sorghum flour
1 c tapioca flour
2/3 c cornstarch
2/3 c dry milk powder
1 Tbsp xanthan gum
1 tsp salt
1 pkg yeast (2 ¼ tsp)
2 Tbsp oil
2 eggs
1 ¾ c warm water
Mix all dry ingredients (flours, cornstarch, dry milk, xanthan gum, salt, yeast) and mix until well blended. Add oil, eggs, and water, and mix on medium speed for 5 minutes. Spread in large loaf pan, smoothing top as much as possible (dipping your spatula into water helps to keep it from sticking as you smooth the dough). Let rise in a warm place for 50-60 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes. For cinnamon-raisin bread, add 1 Tbsp cinnamon and a handful or two of raisins to the recipe, cinnamon with the dry ingredients, and the raisins mid-way through the 5-minutes of mixing.

The original recipe called for a 9x5 loaf pan. The first time I made this, I divided the dough in half, making two small loaves in my 8x4 loaf pans (one plain, one cinnamon-raisin). The next time, I think I’ll make it in my long, narrow loaf pan (12 x 4). If in doubt about cooking time for different pan sizes, you can always use a thermometer to check the temperature of the loaf. If the temperature in the center of the loaf is 190 degrees, it’s done.

I think it turned out to be the best gluten-free bread I've made so far. I'm thinking of trying it again later this week in my sub-roll pan... to make a long, thin loaf with an extra-crispy crust! 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Return of the "No-Spend Month"

A few years ago, I tried a "No Spend Month". I know it was in February, not sure what year. LOL, if I was going to pick a month to keep my spending to bare bones, I was going to pick the shortest month of the year! I think it was right after helping both girls with college tuition. Money was tight, and I wanted to see if I could go one month with no unnecessary spending... now I think it's time to do it again.

Back in my first no-spend month, I made a goal to keep my grocery spending to under $200 for the whole month. That way, I could get the basics, like milk, eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables each week, but live off the stockpiles in the house for canned goods, cereal, snacks and meat. I made a rule that we could only eat out if I had a gift card to cover it. Bills like utilities and gas for the car weren't included in the $200 spending limit. Good thing - with today's gasoline prices, that can add up to $200 a month all by itself!

So, here we go again. I am going to work on keeping my grocery spending during September under $200. I'm starting to plan and set some ground rules for myself:

I need to look into what I have on hand, and make plans on how to use it. So often, I'll buy meat with the "use today or freeze" sticker, and toss it in the freezer. I lose track of what's in there. I need to make up a list of what meats I have available, and plan meals to use up what I have on hand. I have several packages of sirloin strips. I can make beef and broccoli, or marinate the meat to make spiedies. I could sauté some peppers and onions and make fajitas. There's a package of Italian Sausage - I could make pizza, Italian Sausage subs, or lasagna. Before the end of August, I'll make a list of all the packages of meat in the freezer, and make up a list of possible meals. It will take a while, but it will make meal-planning much easier for the month.
The cereal / tea section of the pantry
I think we have enough cereal to make it through a month... about 15 boxes. And my auto-ship orders of tea from Amazon have just arrived, so we're all stocked up on our favorite flavors of tea. Ron's favorite is pumpkin spice:

Stash Premium Tea, Decaf Pumpkin Spice, Tea Bags, 18-Count Boxes (Pack of 6)

I actually have three favorites: Decaf chocolate hazelnut, cocoa chai and vanilla chai:
Stash Premium Decaf Chocolate Hazelnut Tea, Tea Bags, 18-Count Boxes (Pack of 6)Good Earth Cocoa Chai, Black Tea, Cocoa And Spice, 18 Count Tea Bags, 1.43-Ounce Boxes (Pack of 6)Good Earth Chai Vanilla, Tea Bags, 18-Count, Boxes (Pack of 6)I get 6 boxes of each variety every six months from Amazon via an auto-ship order. It works out perfectly for the amount of tea we go through, and if I'm running low, I can speed up the shipping date. If you click on any of the tea boxes, it will take you to the Amazon website, where you can get any of these delicious teas for a great price!

I need to make a distinction between "necessity" and "extra." I need to be out of an item, with no substitutes, for it to be a necessity. The last time we did a no-spend month, we ran out of ice cream. We had a substitute--making it ourselves--so that wasn't a necessity. Bethany and I had a great time making homemade ice cream. This time, I might try making my own yogurt, too. I have a dehydrator with an adjustable temperature setting, so I've always wanted to try that. I'm sure I can find instructions online. There are items where it's hard to decide where it's a necessity... every weekday, Ron takes a Nature Valley Almond Crunch granola bar to work. If we ran out of those bars (a bit unlikely, since there are at least 6 boxes with 6 bars each in the pantry), I suppose he could have some other granola bar in his lunch... By the end of the month, there probably won't be much of a selection of cereal left. The temptation will be to say that it's "necessary" to buy a box of Raisin Bran so Ron isn't stuck eating Apple Jacks. I suppose I have the option of making some homemade granola... if I'm not out of oatmeal!
We can fill up a basket like this once a week or so.

Butternut squash, lettuce & kale
One good thing is that the garden is in full swing right now. We're getting plenty of green beans, lettuce and kale. Soon, the butternut squash will be ready to pick. The freezer is well stocked, and my years of canning have us well stocked with canned fruits and vegetables, soup ingredients, jams and syrups.
Ron getting beans for dinner

Another item on my to-do list in preparing for the no­­-spend month was to check out "hidden assets". I went through my online programs like mypoints, ncponline, and bing to see if I could come up with some gift cards to give us a chance to eat out during the no-spend month. I ended up getting a nice surprise: I had enough points at mypoints to get a $50 walmart gift card. I had enough of a bonus saved up at discover card to get a restaurant gift card, and pay my next statement. I found a new site for racking up some points for rewards: www.dailyfeats.com. Every day,I check in to say that I have completed tasks like flossing my teeth, going for a walk, hugging somebody, reading a book, eating leafy greens or taking a nap! It takes a few minutes a day, and I figure every couple of months, I'll have enough points for a $10 gift card. Maybe more once I get past canning season and have more time for healthy habits like exercising consistently again.

I think that focusing on a no-spend month will be good for me. I've been struggling with self-discipline lately. I have gained back some of the weight that I lost last year, and my choice of clothes that fit is very limited. I have two options: get back to healthy eating and exercise, so that I lose some weight and fit back into my wardrobe again, or waste a lot of time and money getting a new, larger wardrobe. The former option is the only one that fits into the no-spend month philosophy, and I think with less junk food coming into the house, it will be easier to stay on track. I think that having a successful month of sticking to my no-spend goals will also help me to feel better about my self-discipline, and keep me moving in the right direction even when the no-spend month is over.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Family Favorite Recipe: Greek Lamb Burgers

Frito-Lay has a new line of chips representing different parts of the country.
These chips were inspired by popular American regional cuisine and include:
1.       Northeastern U.S.  -  Lay’s Honey Mustard
2.       Midwestern U.S - Lay’s Creamy Garden Ranch
3.       Northwestern U.S - Lay’s Balsamic Sweet Onion
4.       Southwestern U.S - Lay’s Chipotle Ranch
5.       Southeastern U.S - Lay’s Cajun Herb & Spice
·All of the Lay's Regional Flavored potato chips are made with all natural ingredients and cooked in healthier oils, like corn and sunflower oils, which contain 80% or more of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat - the "good fats." They also contain 0 grams of trans fats per serving!
·There’s also less sodium in them than you might think  -  a 1-oz serving of our Lay’s Regional Flavored potato chips contains less salt than a plain bagel!
I guess I must be a Northern Girl through and through… the two flavors that sound the best to me are the Honey Mustard version (Northeastern) and the Balsamic Sweet Onion (Northwest). I can’t wait to try them.

To help spread the word about their new line of chips, Frito-Lay contracted some bloggers and asked them to share a recipe that offers a “Taste of Home” – some food that is popular in my part of the country. That got me leafing through my collection of recipes, trying to come up with something that says “ Western New York .”

When you think of food from the Buffalo, NY area, the first thing that probably comes to mind is chicken wings. Sorry, no recipe for that in my files. I do very little deep-frying, and my family isn’t into hot & spicy foods.
The next thing I thought of was “Beef on Weck” – Roast Beef on a salt-topped bun with Weber’s horseradish. Hmm… not much of a recipe: warm up some deli roast beef in au jus, toss it on a store-bought bun with some store-bought sauce.
When I was planning meals for this week, I thought of the perfect recipe: my Greek Lamb Burgers. There are some really good Greek restaurants in the Buffalo area, so I developed a liking for souvlaki, Gyros, and marinated lamb. Eating out can get expensive, so I started looking around for a good souvlaki recipe. It took a while, but eventually a friend gave a recipe that a friend had given her.
Several years ago, I started buying a lamb from the 4H auction at the county fair. I found myself with lots of ground lamb, and no recipes to use it up, so I tried making lamb burgers. My first few tries didn’t go over very well… it needed something. Eventually, I used my souvlaki recipe as a framework and developed this recipe for Greek Burgers. They have really become a family favorite!
Lamb Burgers
1 lb ground lamb
¼ c finely chopped onion
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 c feta cheese, grated or crumbled fine
Greek salad dressing
Combine lamb, onion, oregano, salt, and garlic powder. Fry or grill until no longer pink, about 5 minutes on each side. Melt feta cheese over top of burger. Serve on bun with lettuce, tomato, and Greek salad dressing. Makes 4 burgers.

Greek Dressing
1/2 c olive oil
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp garlic flakes
1/2 tsp onion flakes
Combine all ingredients. Let stand 5-10 minutes for flavors to blend before serving.

Frito-Lay is sending me a surprise package with some of their new Regional Flavor Chips, and they’re giving me the chance to host a fun giveaway. To enter, leave a comment below, letting me know which of the new Regional Flavors you’d most like to try. I will pick one lucky winner to get a variety pack of the new Frito-Lay Regional Flavors. Giveaway ends Friday, September 2nd at 11:59 PM. Winner will be drawn at random.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gluten-Free "Rye" Bread

Once in a while, when I'm planning meals for the week, I ask my family for suggestions. The last time I did, somebody mentioned Reubens. Reubens sound great... but the trouble is that I can't have rye bread on my gluten-free diet. I decided to take a tried and true gluten-free bread recipe and tweak it a little bit to see if I could make a loaf of bread that tasted enough like rye bread to make myself a reuben.

My collection of gluten-free flours
I think it turned out pretty well... here's the recipe:

Gluten-Free "Rye" Bread
1 c tapioca flour
1 c garbanzo flour
1/2 c cornstarch
1/2 c brown rice flour
2/3 c sorghum flour
2 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp minced dried onion
1 Tbsp yeast
1 tsp caraway seed
1 egg
1 c milk

1/4 c oil
1 Tbsp pickle juice ( I drained extra juice out of a jar of dill relish)
1/2 - 1 c water 

Combine all dry ingredients and mix together until well blended. Beat egg, milk, oil and pickle juice together.  Add to dry ingredients and mix 1 minute on low, then three minutes on high speed, adding enough water to make a soft, slightly sticky dough. Place in loaf pan(s) which have been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. (I have a long loaf pan -- 4-1/2" x 13" -- that I used for this recipe, but you could also divide the dough into two regular size loaves.) Smooth the top of the loaf with a spoon, spatula, or your fingers. Dipping the spoon/spatula/fingers into water helps to keep the dough from sticking.

Let the loaves rise for 80-90 minutes, then bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

It also tasted very good with eggs & turkey sausage for breakfast the next day!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stop Signs and Red Lights

This morning I woke up when the alarm went off at 6:25, but I drifted back to sleep again. I had a very vivid dream, where I was driving down an empty street and saw a police car coming up behind me with his lights on. I knew I was staying within the speed limit, so I figured he wasn’t after me… but when another police car pulled out from a side street in front of me and blocked my path, I knew I was in trouble. The police officer said that I had been “blasting through stop signs and red lights for miles.” I woke up just as I was about to tell the police officers that they must have the wrong person.

I got out of bed shaking my head. “What a weird dream. I would never do something like that. I always stop for stop signs and red lights.” I made my way to the kitchen to start getting Ron’s lunch ready. As I started down the basement stairs to get a can of tuna, I noticed that I was doing the “granny stair routine”: right foot down, left foot down, leaning rather heavily on the railing. Going down the stairs was making my feet and ankles hurt. I said to myself, “I need to stop snacking so much and get back to healthy eating… I didn’t have this problem when I was lighter!”

That was one of those “light bulb” moments. There was something that reminded me that I needed to stop… would I obey? That made me think of some other “stop signs” that I’ve ignored in the past few months:

  • When I tried putting on a favorite pair of jeans and they wouldn’t zip up: “I need to stop acting like I’m still on vacation, eating dessert every night!”
  • When I found myself short of breath after hurrying up the stairs: “I need to stop pushing exercise to the bottom of my to-do list.”
  • When I stepped on the scale this morning and saw that I had slipped into a “decade” of numbers I said I’d never see again: “I need to stop procrastinating and get back to diet and exercise.”

So, I had a decision to make this morning… whether to continue ignoring the “stop signs” and “red lights,” or to get back to doing what is right, what is good for me.

The excuses started right in:
  • “You just made a loaf of gluten-free bread last night. You can start up again as soon as that is finished.” (Even though it’s gluten-free, my husband and daughter will still eat it. Excuse overruled)
  • “There are still all those gluten-free granola bars you made… they’re so yummy. Why not wait until they’re gone?” (I’ve had enough of them… they’re a little too yummy. Bethany loves them too, so she can have them! Excuse overruled.)
  • “There aren’t enough fresh veggies in the fridge to make a salad for lunch today. Ewww… this cucumber is melting!” (It’s summertime, and the garden is doing quite well. Time for a trip out to the back yard to pick some fresh lettuce and snow peas. Excuse overruled!)
  • “There aren’t any strawberries left for my smoothie.” (I’ll buy more when I’m out shopping tomorrow… in the meantime, I made a rather interesting smoothie with raspberries, pineapple and blueberries. Excuse overruled!)

So, today was a success… or at least it will be when I get off the computer and take a book down to the exercise bike to get in a workout.

Hopefully today was a turning point for me. Maybe I should put a picture of a stop sign on my mirror to remind me of this morning’s light bulb moment!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Family Movie Night!

Last week, I got to see an online screening for an upcoming family movie, sponsored by Walmart and Proctor & Gamble. When I read the following synopsis, I thought it was right up my alley, since I always love a good mystery: 

When unassuming geologist Simon Miller mysteriously disappears one night, the Miller family is thrown into a desperate search to find him. Simon's wife Meredith and their two kids, Sarah, 18 and Kevin, 15 frantically search Simon's office for information. When they find a stash of passports, all with Simon's picture but each with a different alias, they realize that their father has been keeping more than a few secrets. Who is Simon Miller? And what has he gotten himself - and his family - into? Not sure they can even trust the dad they thought they knew, the Millers embark on an international mission to get him back. It's a heart-pounding adventure that tests the limits to which families will fight for each other.
Searching for clues regarding Simon's disappearance

I don't want to give anything away about the plot... but I will say that it was a great family movie, with nothing objectionable (except for the fact that Simon Miller's secrets meant he had told his family some lies... a lot of lies in fact). The story line kept you guessing on who the bad guy was, and kept you cheering for Simon's family as they worked together to find him.
Running from the bad guys

I can't wait to sit down with my kids and watch this movie again. It will be interesting to see when they figure out who the bad guy is... and I'm sure we'll have fun counting the number of Wal-Mart and Proctor & Gamble products that get displayed through the movie. I was amused by some of the "product placement" in the screening. It isn't really in your face, but if you know to look for it, it's there. When the family makes dinner (which they do several times during the movie), they use Wal-Mart vegetables. 

The movie is showing tomorrow night, Saturday, August 6th, at 8 PM on NBC. Check it out! 

“Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services 
mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I 
only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. 
I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: 
“Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”