Sunday, September 27, 2009

Menu Plan Monday (9/27/09)

Its been over 100 degrees here almost every day this past week, so needless to say I've enjoyed being lazy and eating meals from the freezer and crockpot. Thankfully the heat is supposed to end this week, and it should start cooling off considerably. I'm glad because I've been itching to try a few new recipes which require actually being in the kitchen, and some even turning on the oven!  Here's what's in store:
  • Sunday: Spicy Honey Glazed Pork Chops - this is a new one I'm trying, it's from the e-cookbook "America's Favorite Pork Chop Recipes" - you can download it here (requires signing up for a free newsletter).
  • Monday: Asian Chicken and Noodles - another new one
  • Tuesday: Pasta Bake
  • Wednesday: Leftovers/Fend for Yourself
  • Thursday: Carnitas (from the freezer) - I had a TON of leftovers when I made these last week, so I put some in the freezer to enjoy again this week.
  • Friday: Homemade pizza from freezer (I use this recipe when I make dough - it makes enough for 3 pizzas - I cook one and freeze 2 for future use)
  • Saturday: Chicken (Crock)Pot Pie - I haven't done this before, but I'm going to experiment and try my favorite chicken pot pie recipe in the crockpot. I'll post the recipe if it comes out good :) If it comes out bad, we'll just never speak of it again, deal?
See what everyone else is eating over at Menu Plan Monday


This was my first year growing a vegetable garden. It started out as more of an experiment, but to my utter astonishment, I actually managed to grow quite a few things! Then I was left trying to figure out what the heck I was going to do with all this stuff. Pumpkins, for example:

I was very proud of the 2 whole pumpkins I managed to grow. I put too much effort into them to carve them up for Halloween... these were going to get carved up and EATEN darn it.

So I turned to the trusty Internet and tried to figure out how to cook a pumpkin. I found this University of Illionois Exension site that had all kinds of great information, including how to make pumpkin puree.

So I cut up my beautiful little pumpkins....

And scooped out all the seeds...

Then they looked like this:

I used a little paring knife to scrape out all the fibrous goo...

All the pieces went into my big stockpot, with 1 cup of water...

I steamed them for about 30 minutes, until the flesh was soft (you can see the little holes where I pricked one piece with a fork to test).

After the pieces had cooled off, I used my trusty paring knife to separate the peel from the flesh

When everything was peeled...

I put all the fleshy parts in the food processor and processed away!

It took a little while in the processor, but eventually I had a smooth puree. I measured it out in 1 cup increments and put it in plastic containers for freezing:

Those 2 little pumpkins yielded 5 cups of puree.

Here's a couple of my favorite pumpkin recipes:
Pumpkin Pancakes
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins (I change this one and use 1 cup of pumpkin and omit the water)

I'm going to try this recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds tomorrow, and this Pumpkin Cookie recipe as soon as I get a deal on white chocolate chips!

Happy fall :)

Your link back to Works For Me Wednesday.

Crockpot Peppercorn Steak plus Baked Potatoes

The steak recipe can be found at the Year of Slow Cooking blog. This came out really good - Ninja Hubz was disappointed because I didn't make enough for leftovers.

What I did that isn't in the recipe was to make some crockpot baked potatoes to go along with the steak! After preparing everything and putting it in the crockpot as described in the recipe, I just grabbed two potatoes, washed them off really well, poked them a few times with a fork, wrapped in foil, and carefully laid them on top of the steaks. Seven hours later - voila! Steak and potatoes. So easy!

Visit Dining with Debbie for more Crockpot Wednesday!

Weekly Grocery Shopping (9/23 - 9/29)

This was a pretty light week as far as shopping goes. I just grabbed some of the best deals I saw at each store and enough produce for the week. Aside from a fantastic deal on pork at Ralphs and a lot of Register Rewards at Walgreens, it was kind of a boring shopping week. That's ok though, because it helps me stay well under my $45 weekly target :)

Holy meat, Batman! I got a great deal on pork sirlion this week. Giant packs were on sale for .99/lb, and I had a coupon from one of the Ralphs mailers a while back for $2 off any store brand pork item. The original price on this package was 29.49, and I got it for 5.32!!! Are there actually people who would have paid $30 for this? I can't even fathom it. Anyway, I split it in half and popped it into the freezer, eventually this will probably be mega batches of pulled BBQ pork and carnitas. Yum!

It is also another week of Mega deals, where if you buy 10 "mega items" you get 5.00 off your total. I listed my mega items in yellow - the prices I listed include the .50 mega discount off each item.

2x Velveeta Mac & Cheese Cups = .50
4x Kraft American Cheese 1.49 - 2x $1/2 MFC = 3.96
2x Tollhouse chocolate chips 2.49 - .50/2 MFC (doubled to 1.00) = 3.98
Oreos 2.49 - .60 MFC (doubled to 1.00) = 1.49
Lean pockets 1.49 - .40 MFC (doubled to .80) = .69
7.39 lbs pork sirloin .99/lb - $2 off any store brand pork product = 5.32
Beef liver = .95 (manager's special)
Hormel pepperoni 2.00 - .55 MFC (doubled to 1.00) = 1.00

Total = 18.39


1.41 lbs apples = 1.24
Cantaloupe = .97
2.08 lbs grapes = 1.02
Reusable bag credit = -.05

Total = 3.18


Chapstick Effects = 2.99 (gave $3 RR)
Oral B toothbrush 3.00 - .75 MFC = 2.25
Vaseline lotion 6.99 - 1.50 MFC = 5.49 (gave $7 RR)
Halls refresh drops 1.00 - .75 MFC = .25 (gave $1 RR)
Italian blend cheese = 1.50
- 2.50 RR from last week
- 2.00 RR from last week

Total = 9.20
Received $11 in RR for next trip

I didn't get much at Vons today, just cherry-picking the good deals. Any day where my total is $10 before coupons is a good day :)

Yakisoba noodles 1.00 - .50 MFC (doubled to 1.00) = FREE
Campbells soup at hand 1.34 - .50 MFC (doubled to 1.00) = .34
La Victoria Green chiles 1.25 - .25 MFC (tripled to .75) = .50
Capri sun 1.99 - .55 e-coupon - FREE catalina from last week = -.55
Steamfresh vegetables 1.50 - .50 MFC (doubled to 1.00) = .50
Home pride wheat bread 1.99 - .55 MFC (doubled to 1.00) = .99
1.28 lbs oranges = .60
Lettuce = 1.00

Total = 3.38

Weekly Total  = 34.15

Check out more great shopping trips at
The Grocery Cart Challenge
Super Savings Saturday

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Crockpot Carnitas

This was really good. You need to make this. Seriously. We had carnitas tacos, but the meat can also be used in burritos, enchiladas, on nachos, on top of some mexican rice, however you like it. We have tons of leftovers too - enough for dinner tomorrow and more for the freezer. And I got to use tomatoes and chiles from my garden. I have a bajillion little chiles so I'm happy for any excuse to use them up!

Crockpot Carnitas
  • 4-5 lb pork shoulder roast (boneless or bone-in doesn't matter)
  • 2 packages taco seasoning
  • juice from 1 orange
  • 1 can diced tomatos and chiles (like Ro-Tel), or equivalent amount of fresh diced tomatoes and chiles
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  1. Trim excess fat from roast, place in crockpot
  2. Cover roast with the remaining ingredients
  3. Cook on low all day (8-10 hours)
  4. Remove from crockpot and shred meat - discard bone if present (or save for making soup)
  5. Serve meat on warm corn tortillas* with your favorite toppings - diced avocado, shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream
*I usually fry the corn tortillas in a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil until they are crispy, but still pliable. This isn't the healthiest way to prepare them, but it is sooooo yummy! If I'm in a rush though, I'll just steam the tortillas in the microwave.

Check out more great recipes at
Crockpot Wednesday
The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weekly Grocery Shopping (9/16 - 9/22)

Well, I was on track to make my new $45 weekly budget, but it all got messed up at my last store. Vons is usually the best place I go to when it comes to coupons, but this week I just had a lot of problems. On the plus side, I am amply stocked on snacks :)


Lawry's Fajita Seasoning .79 - .50 MFC (doubled to 1.00) = -.21
2x cream of potato soup  .79 = 1.58
2x Dell Monte pineapple chunks .99 (clearanced) = 1.98
Lettuce = .99
1.33 lbs oranges = 1.02
Chuck Roast = 5.43
Lunchmeat = 2.50
Reeses Cup .60 - .55 MFC (doubled to .60) = FREE
Snickers .89 - FREE MFC coupon = FREE

Total = 13.29


2 lb bag carrots = .99
Wheat french bread mini loaf = .89
.74 lbs apples = .57
Celery = .50
2x Avocado = .67
Cucumber = .79
.89 lbs Bananas = .45
.36 lbs dried cranberries = 1.26

Total = 6.12


2x cream of mushroom soup @ .89 - $1/2 MFC = .78
2x cream of chicken soup @ .89 - $1/2 MFC = .78
2x Skippy peanut butter @ 1.59 - $1/2 MFC = 2.18
Carefree panty liners 1.99 - $1 MFC = .99 (gave $2 RR)
Thermacare heat wrap 2.49 - $1 MFC = 1.49 (gave $2.50 RR)

Total = 6.61
Received 4.50 in RR for next trip

Well this was just one of those trips where nothing went right. Stuff rang up at the wrong price, I didn't get deals I was supposed to get (buy 4 of certain items get $4 off), the cashier missed scanning some of my coupons, none of my shortcuts or cellfire e-coupons were applied... the store was packed, they were short on checkers and baggers... really, it was like a perfect storm of shopping mayhem. Anyway, bottom line is I spent way more than I planned. I should have spoken up and tried to get them to fix some of these issues, but I just wasn't in the mood to deal with it. I'm lousy at confrontation :(

(I'm not going to itemize this trip since everything was goofed up)

Total = 33.49

Weekly Total = 59.51

Check out more great shopping trips at
The Grocery Cart Challenge
Super Savings Saturday

Menu Plan Monday (9/20/09)

Bah, it's super hot here again today, so I'm feeling lazy. I also have a hectic week coming up (yay work), so I'm trying to keep it fairly simple. Thank goodness for stuff in the freezer!
  • Sunday: Leftover Meatloaf, baked potatoes, salad
  • Monday: Orange chicken, rice with veggies
  • Tuesday: Crockpot Carnitas (shredded pork tacos), Mexican Rice from the freezer
  • Wednesday: Leftover carnitas
  • Thursday: Spaghetti (from freezer)
  • Friday: Homemade pizza from freezer (I use this recipe when I make dough - it makes enough for 3 pizzas - I cook one and freeze 2 for future use)
  • Saturday: Crockpot Peppercorn Steak (omitting the mushrooms), baked potatoes, salad
See what everyone else is eating over at Menu Plan Monday

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Crockpot Enchiladas

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 package taco seasoning (plus water as specified on package)
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 2 cups enchilada sauce
  • 6 corn tortillas
  • 2 cups grated pepper jack cheese
  • sour cream, sliced green onions (optional)
  1. Prepare ground beef according to instructions on taco seasoning
  2. Layer tortillas, enchilada sauce, meat, and onion in crockpot
  3. Cook on low for 8-10 hours
  4. Approximately one hour before serving, top with cheese
  5. Garnish with green onions and sour cream if desired
Check out more great recipes over at
Crockpot Wednesday
The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Weekly Grocery Shopping (9/9 - 9/15)

This is week 2 of my transition from $50 a week down to $45, and I did really well! I spent a lot more time planning my shopping - not only to find the good deals, but to add up everything I was planning to buy to make sure I'd stay within budget. Vons was out of a few items I had intended to get so I actually came in well under budget.

Awesome deal on Healthy Choice meals... I ♥ getting paid to buy stuff :) I splurged on some whole wheat french bread from the bakery to go with the soup I was making that night... and OH MY GOSH this bread was good.

4x Healthy Choice dinners @ 1.77 ea (wyb 4) - 4x 2.00 MFC = -.92
3x Coke 2 liter @ .99 ea (wyb 3) = 2.97
Barilla Piccolini pasta 1.50 - .50 MFC (doubled to 1.00) = .50
Barilla whole wheat pasta 1.50 - .50 MFC (doubled to 1.00) = .50
2x Margarine @ .99 ea = 1.98
2x dozen eggs @ .77 ea = 1.54
Apples = .79
Whole wheat french bread = 1.47
Reese's Cup @. 60 ea - .55 MFC (doubled to .60) = FREE
Snickers Bar .89 - Free MFC coupon = FREE

Total = 9.44


Lettuce = .50
Spinach = .88
Strawberries = .88
Avocado = .50
Reusable bag credit = -.05

Total = 2.71

I really only went to Wags this week because I had RR expiring - there weren't any deals I felt compelled to partake in. So, I bought toilet paper! One can never have too much toilet paper :)

3x Geisha tuna @.59 ea = 1.77
Angel Soft TP = 6.00
RR from previous trip = -7.00

Total = 1.30

Fresh & Easy
$1.49/lb is the BEST price I ever see on 80/20 ground beef, so I bought 4 lbs. Last time it was this price, I bought 12 lbs. I still have a lot of the freezer meals I made from that batch, but no plain ground beef. So this time I only bought 4 lbs. I think this is what they call "restraint". Apparently I can learn it! :) The onions were not that great a price, but I was out.

~4lbs ground beef @1.49/lb = 6.14
2lbs onion = 1.48

Total = 7.62


Betty Crocker Warm Delights 1.69
   - .50 cellfire e-coupon
   - .50 MFC (doubled to 1.00)
   = .19
Padrino's Tortilla Chips 2.00 - 1.00 MFC = 1.00
Mission Tortilla Chips = .99
Keebler PB crackers 2.00 - .55 MFC (doubled to 1.00) = 1.00
Mission Tortillas 2.00 - .75 MFC (doubled to 1.00) = 1.00
18 pack eggs = 1.49 (store coupon)
10x Yoplait yogurt @.50 ea (wyb 10)
   - .50/6 cellfire e-coupon
   -. 50/6 shortcuts e-coupon
   - .50/6 MFC (doubled to 1.00)
   = 3.00 (.30 ea)
Yoplait Yo-Plus 2.50
   - 1.00 cellfire e-coupon
   - 1.00 MFC
   = .50
2x Whole grain english muffins @ .99 ea = 1.98
Wheat bread = .99
Hormel lunch meat @ 1.99 (store coupon) - .55 MFC (doubled to 1.00) = .99
5lb Russet potato @.89 - .50 (Vons internet coupon) = .39

Total = 13.53

Weekly Total = 34.60

Yeah baby! $10 under budget!

Check out more great shopping trips at
The Grocery Cart Challenge
Super Savings Saturday

Menu Plan Monday (9/13/09)

Well I had another week of deviating from my menu plan! It's like dinner anarchy over here. OK, not really, I'm just being dramatic :) What happened was (for reasons too stupid to go into) I accidentally defrosted a bag of cooked turkey that was in the freezer. Rather than letting it go to waste, I made some fantastic Turkey and Wild Rice Soup in place of Thursday's spaghetti and Friday's fajitas. So all that stuff is still in the freezer. Maybe this week I'll get to the spaghetti :)

The soup left me with 1/2 a bag of spinach, so I'm making a point of using that up. I'm also trying to use some frozen taco meat and frozen enchilada sauce, as well as diced ham and boxed cheesy potato stuff.
  • Sunday: Bacon and Spinach Alfredo
  • Monday: Crockpot Enchiladas (Inspired by this recipe, but I'll be changing it to use ground beef and other stuff I have on hand... recipe to come), Mexican Rice (from freezer)
  • Tuesday: Leftover enchiladas
  • Wednesday: Fend for Yourself
  • Thursday: Spaghetti (from freezer. for real this time)
  • Friday: Cheesy potatoes and ham casserole
  • Saturday: Meatloaf (from freezer)
See what everyone else is eating this week over at Menu Plan Monday!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hooray for the Stockpile!

There's loads of benefits to having a well-stocked kitchen and freezer: I save money by stocking up when things are on sale, I rarely need to run to the store because I'm out of something, I can skip or postpone shopping when I don't feel like going... the list goes on and on.

On Labor Day I had yet another reason to be thankful for our stockpile.

The backyard fence between our yard and the neighbors has been in a sorry state for awhile now. We've talked with them a few times about replacing it but hadn't yet gotten around to doing anything about it. On Sunday, my neighbor (who is also a contractor) came over and said he was getting a bunch of his friends over, and would it be ok if they took some measurements and replaced the fence the next day? Umm... yes!

In the morning, Ninja Hubz went over to assist with the tear-down of the existing fence and offer what help he could on the project (he's not terribly handy and didn't want to get in the way, but wanted to contribute as much as he was capable). Our neighbor mentioned he was going to thank his friends for their help by feeding them a BBQ lunch and would soon be heading to the store for provisions.

Ninja Hubz immediately offerred to help in the feeding of the workers, and came back home asking what we had in the freezer. We ended up making about 3 lbs of hamburger patties to send over, along with a couple packages of hot dogs, all pulled from the freezer. I can't tell you how nice it was for us to be able to just whip this up without having to worry about the cost.

We were happy to help feed the guys, and they all seemed to enjoy the food. For the cost of half the materials and some stockpiled meat, we now have a beautiful and well-constructed fence!

And I'm not the least bit concerned about having depleted my ground beef stockpile to share with others, because when the grocery ads came in the mail the following day, I noticed ground beef on sale for 1.49/lb! Things have a way of working out like that :)

Having a well-stocked freezer Works for Me!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Menu Plan Monday (9/6/09)

I actually deviated a bit from last week's menu (*gasp*) - I had planned on spaghetti but we skipped that and ate leftover quesadillas. So its back on the menu for this week.

I'm feeling very lazy today (long holiday weekends do that to me), and I think this week's menu relfects that. Lots of crockpot recipes, one dish meals, and food from the freezer. I love that I can take it easy and still have some good and inexpensive meals for my lack of effort.
Check out more great menus at Menu Plan Monday

Crockpot Cornbread Taco Casserole

A few weeks ago I tried this, but decided it still needed a little work. So I re-did it today and decided to attempt crockpot-ifying while I was at it. Here's what I ended up with:

Crockpot Cornbread Taco Casserole
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 package taco seasoning
  • 3/4 cups water (or how ever much is called for by the taco seasoning)
  • 2 cups diced tomato (or 1 can diced tomato)
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 package cornbread mix (enough for 6 muffins)
  • milk, eggs, margarine, and/or whatever the cornbread mix requires
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese
  1. Prepare ground beef according to instructions on taco seasoning
  2. Grease sides of crockpot (I used a 5 quart)
  3. Place taco meat, tomatoes, and bell pepper in crockpot, mix well
  4. Prepare cornbread mix according to package, spoon over top of meat mixture in the crockpot
  5. Cook on low for approximately 6 hours
  6. Top with cheese and serve
This came out very good but I think it could use some onions cooked in with the meat.

Check out more great recipes at
Crockpot Wednesday
The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap

Weekly Grocery Shopping (9/2 - 9/8)

I've decided to try and lower my weekly grocery budget to $45 (originally $50). $5 a week may not seem like a big deal, but its 10% of what I've been spending! I'm doing this mainly because I think I can. I've been successfully adhering to the $50 goal for many months, and have achieved a substantial stockpile. I feel I'm at a point where I should scale back a little and focus more on maintaining the stockpile than building it up. While I expect this will be a bit of a challenge at first, I think that within a few weeks I'll get used to it and not even notice the difference. I like pushing myself to improve.

This week I did pretty good. I would have made the $45 target except I had a few problems with coupons at Albertsons (more on that below). But I have to admit the main reason for my success is there just weren't that many great deals to tempt me :)

Oh, and in case you're wondering why I'm always buying so many darn hot dogs, Ninja Hubz uses a lot them for dog training treats (he eats them a lot for lunch and snacks too).

As I've mentioned before, Ninja Hubz is a soda junkie, so no matter how much I already have, if a good deal comes around I grab it! Labor Day is a good time for soda sales

4x Coke 12-packs @1.99 (in ad coupon) = 7.96
Tortilla chips 2.50 - 1.00 MFC = 1.50
2x Hefty freezer bags 1.00 ea - $.55/2 MFC (doubled to 1.00) = 1.00
Barilla Piccolini pasta 1.50 - .50 MFC (doubled to 1.00) = .50
Barilla whole wheat pasta 1.50 - .50 MFC (doubled to 1.00) = .50
2x Lawry's Taco Seasoning .69 ea - $.50/2 (doubled to 1.00) = .38
2x Dannon Activia Yogurt 1.88 ea - 2x $1/1 MFC = 1.76
Milk = 1.49
Bounty Paper towels 1.00 - .25 MFC (tripled to .75) = .25
2x Ball Park hot dogs .88 ea - $1/2 MFC = .76
Radishes = .50
Lettuce = 1.69
Corn = .50
Cucumber = .79
Snickers Bar .89 - Free MFC coupon = FREE
Total = 23.44

Albertsons is not what I consider to be one of my "regular" stores, but periodically they have some good loss-leaders or other promotions so I always check the ads and will make a trip if the deals are good enough. Its not a bad store, and the employees are always very courteous, but for whatever reason I tend to have a lot of problems getting deals to work right there. Since I have several other stores nearby where I don't seem to ever have problems, life is just easier if I don't go to Albertsons.

But I got suckered in this week by their Labor Day "In-Ad" coupons, so went there instead of Vons (since the Vons ad didn't impress me a great deal). Anyway, turns out that many of the "In-Ad" coupons were actually Manufacturer's coupons (which I didn't realize because they didn't SAY "Manufacturer's Coupon" like they should have), so they wouldn't let me stack them with my regular coupons. This meant several of the things I thought I was getting good deals on really weren't good deals at all. I should have told the cashier to take those items off my order but I just wasn't thinking. D'oh. Oh well, I will write this off as a learning experience and try to get on with my life :)

4x Coke 12-packs @2.25 ea (In-Ad coupon which was NOT a manufacturer's coupon) - $2/3 MFC = 7.00
2x Oscar Meyer hot dogs @.99 ea (In-Ad coupon which WAS a manufacturer's coupon so didn't stack with my $1/2 MFC) = 1.98
2x Ritz crackers @1.99 ea (In-Ad coupon which WAS a manufacturer's coupon) = 3.98
Ritz crackerfuls = 3.89 (Cashier would not let me use coupon for "Buy 1 Ritz get Crackerfuls free" because of the Ritz in-ad coupon I used, which now that I think about it doesn't make sense at all)
2x Jennie-O Turkey franks @1.00 ea - 2x .55/2 MFC = .90
Bananas = 1.81
Snickers .89 - Free MFC (up to .85) = .04
Total = 23.00
Weekly Total = 46.44

So I'm 1.44 over my new weekly goal, and I'm swimming in Coke and hot dogs. I think I'm going to go enjoy some full-priced crackers, which had better be very very good :)

Check out more great shopping trips at
The Grocery Cart Challenge
Super Savngs Saturday

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Mom's Meatloaf (Freezable)

There's a million variations on meatloaf, but I say why mess with perfection? :) This is the recipe my mom always made while I was growing up, and its still one of my favorites today. Its not glamorous but it is quick, easy, and yummy!

Mom's Meatloaf

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup ketcheup
  1. Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly (I usually take off my rings and use my bare hands to make sure everything gets mixed really well).
  2. Form into a loaf.
  3. To cook right away: Place in a shallow baking dish, cook at 350 for 50 minutes. Allow to stand for 10 minutes before slicing.
  4. To freeze: wrap in plastic wrap and freeze. To cook, thaw overnight in refrigerator and follow directions above.
Check out more great recipes at The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bulk Chicken Prep (Crockpot Wednesday)

A couple of weeks ago I picked up a 10 lb bag of chicken leg quarters for $5.80. Of course my freezer's been so full I couldn't possible cram 10 lbs of chicken legs in it! So I went ahead and cooked it up, shredded it, and then just had some much smaller bags of chicken which I could cram in the freezer. And I have cooked chicken meat ready for a variety of dishes. Batch cooking like this makes my life so much easier!

If you've never had 10 full pounds of chicken legs, believe me, its a lot of meat. I don't have a single pot large enough to cook all of it, so I split it in half. One half simmered on the stove in my big stockpot with some salt and pepper, parsley out of the garden, a bunch of vegetable remnants from the freezer I save for just such a purpose, and enough water to cover it all. I let it simmer all day (about 8 hours), then pulled the chicken out and shredded the meat off the bones. I strained the liquid and kept it for chicken broth. The meat got split into 3 bags which should each be enough for one meal and put in the freezer.

The second half of the chicken went into the crockpot, along with 2 packets worth of taco seasoning mix, and about 1 cup of water. I cooked it on low all day, and shredded the meat from the bones and froze it. This yielded about another 3 meals worth of prepared meat which went into the freezer.

We had some of the taco seasoned chicken in quesadillas last night and it was delicious! Having all this meat on hand is great for casseroles and soups, or even throwing on top of a salad.

Check out more ideas for your crockpot over at Crockpot Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Monthly Update - August

Despite a couple of hiccups this month (like someone getting a speeding ticket which cost $20 for traffic school and $342 for the fine), we managed to EXCEED our savings goals for the month. Not only that, but it was enough to (drumroll please)... officially achieve our 2009 savings goals! YAY!! Do the happy dance with me :)

This means that on top of our existing emergency fund, we have enough saved for a new car when we decide we need one, as well as enough to make maximum contributions to our Roth IRAs in 2010. And with 4 months to spare!

OK, enough celebrating, there's still work to be done!

One challenge I've encountered in creating our budget has been irregular expenses, mainly vehicle maintenance and trips to the vet. These expenses don't happen every month, and sometimes its difficult to plan for them ahead of time. What I've been doing is just budgeting a fairly high amount each month for each category, and in the months when we didn't use all or any of that amount the extra went to savings, and in the months we went over it would decrease our savings contribution. This method has been sufficient, but I'd like to come up with a better plan to even out the costs from month to month. I'm considering just setting aside x amount of dollars each month into a fund just for these items. Then when the expenses occur, I'll already have the money set aside. But how much is enough? That's what I still need to figure out.

I also need to sit down with Ninja Hubz and decide what to do with our "extra" money, now that we've achieved our savings goals. I am all for paying off our mortgage as fast as possible. We'll see if I can convince him :)

I've been increasing my efforts in the past month to start generating a little extra income. I've been using Swagbucks pretty regularly, and received another $5 in Amazon gift cards in August. I've also started increasing my online survey activity, using sites such as InboxDollars and Opinion Outpost to hopefully generate some income. Although I haven't reached a payout threshold on any of the survey sites, I'm getting there.

I've sold 2 old books on Amazon Marketplace, for a profit of $8.64. Every bit counts! And I've been having great success using Paperback Swap - I sent out another 5 books in August. Between Paperback Swap and the library, I've been able to keep myself well supplied with reading material and have only had to pay some postage. Plus, its cutting down on clutter in my house to get rid of some of my old books :)

Speaking of decluttering, I haven't gotten much done this past month. Definitely some opportunities for improvement in September.

Total grocery expenses were $260, but I'm expecting $36 in rebates, so its really about $223, which is just under the plan ($225). I'm thinking I should lower my grocery budget a tad, not because I need the money elsewhere, but because I'm getting way more food than we really need. I just hate the thought of missing out on deals. I usually shop on Sundays and Thursdays and try to keep it at $50 per week, so to plan for each month I allocate $25 for each Sunday and Thursday in the month. I think I will challenge myself in September to try to stick to $45 a week, just to see how it goes.

Other household expenses were $66 (budget was $75) - the biggest expense was $24 for Ninja Hubz' haircut. I wonder why that cost so much. Maybe I need to learn how to cut his hair :)

See how others are doing on their goals at Finding Freedom Friday and Money Saving Mom.