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Saving My Sanity Holiday Chex Mix

7 Dec
This Chex Mix recipe literally saved me this year.

This Chex Mix recipe literally saved me this year. I filled an entire laundry basket with gift bags, plus a Tupperware Cake Taker full of the mix itself.

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 20, 2013:

I think we’d all agree that the holidays are much more enjoyable when you’re not totally and completely stressed out.

Agreed?

Agreed.

That being said, this school year, the holidays and the treat-giving season that goes along with them, had the potential to put me right over the edge. And really, as a working mom of three this time of year, that edge is awfully close most of the time anyway, so I really didn’t have far to be pushed.

Normally, I’m a cookie baker at Christmastime. Between my mom and I, we bake over a dozen different types of cookies, creating cookie trays for our family and friends.

As a mom of three, I have always given all of our kids’ teachers a cookie plate at Christmastime. I also have given one to the secretary, bus driver and bus monitor, teacher aides, principal and I make a tray for the faculty room. I also treat the staff at my husband’s school to a tray of cookies in the teachers’ room, and then I make them for our family as well.

It seemed doable when my oldest was first in school, and even when two were in school. It started to get a little tougher when all three were in school, as well as my husband at his own school, but I continued on.

Then last year came middle school.

SEVEN TEACHERS. A whole new set of office staff. A principal AND an assistant. TWO secretaries.

A lot of people will say, “Oh, in middle school that all ends. No gifts for those teachers anymore.”

I’m not sure where that theory came from, but I will say I used to BE a middle school teacher, and I love cookies, but more than that, I liked being thought of at this time of year just as much as when I was an elementary teacher.

My daughter didn’t want to stop our treat-giving tradition, and I couldn’t find a good reason why she had to. And she didn’t want to leave any of her teachers out. So we didn’t.

This year, my husband has a new job at a larger school.

With 90 staff members.

I knew something had to give. I was not going to be able to do it. There wasn’t any way that I could possibly make enough cookies for all of the teachers and staff in all three schools and my family, and keep my job. Or my sanity. I’d be baking all hours of the day and night for weeks to make that happen.

There had to be another answer.

Simple, affordable ingredients, few dishes to wash. A win-win!

Simple, affordable ingredients, few dishes to wash. A win-win!

Enter The Tailgateista and her Homemade Crock Pot Apple Cinnamon Chex Mix.

That’s right. I said CROCK POT.

That was the answer to my problem, thanks to my Crock Pot partner in crime, Gina, who was also searching for another solution to the gift-giving issue. She’s the one who found this recipe and sent it to me.

We both decided to go with Chex Mix gifts this year, although we each chose a different mix to make, and today, as I type this three days before the last day of school before the vacation, I can honestly say that this saved my sanity.

My gifts are done. Cooked, cooled, bagged, tagged and ready to be handed out on Friday, the day you’ll be reading this.

And I still have my job and my sanity, thanks to this recipe from The Tailgateista.

I doubled her original recipe and made a few modifications to it, to serve my purposes. I will put her recipe and my modifications below.

I doubled the recipe SIX TIMES.

That’s right, six times. 72 cups of cereal, and the equivalent of 48 two-cup gift bags of Chex Mix.

And the best part of all? Not only is it a very cost-effective gift, but it cooks while you accomplish other tasks!!

For me, a journalist who works from home a good part of the week, I could type all day and my gifts were cooking themselves over in the crock pot behind me as I worked. Or, if I was working away from the house all day, I could throw in a batch at night to cook itself while we worked on homework and showers and cleaned up from dinner. Some days, I did both: a batch in the daytime if I was here, and a batch again in the evening or after school.

Phenomenal.

And delicious.

I’ll still be making Christmas Cookies this weekend, all our favorites, and I’ll still share them amongst our family and some close friends, but I won’t be cooking over the mixer and oven,rolling and frosting, baking and cooling late at night for a week in between working and parenting obligations, and still not  having enough cookies to go around.

We’ve found a way to thank our teachers and staff members for their time, talent and hard work without pushing me over the proverbial edge the week before Christmas.

I even had enough gifts to give out extras to people I have always wanted to give cookies to, but didn't ever have enough!

I even had enough gifts to give out extras to people I have always wanted to give cookies to, but didn’t ever have enough!

Below is the Tailgateista’s recipe and my modifications follow below it.

Give it a try, it’s delicious! Maybe this Chex Mix will be the key to saving your sanity too!

Ingredients

6 Cups Chex Corn Cereal
1/4 Stick Butter
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Cup Chopped Dried Apples

***You can also add Pecans, M&M’s, any other candy,dried fruit or nuts!!

Instructions

* In a microwave combine all spices, sugar and butter until it is melted.
* Add the Dry ingredients (cereal, apples) into crock-pot
* Add all melted ingredients into the crock-pot and mix
* Cook in crock-pot on low for 3 hours
* Enjoy!

I used I Can't Believe It's Not Butter instead of real butter, which makes this a bit lower in fat.

I used I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter instead of real butter, which makes this a bit lower in fat.

MY MODIFICATIONS

1) I doubled this recipe each time, since my crock pot is large enough to hold a double recipe.  ***2014: Another sanity-saving tip I have added in this year is using the plastic bag liners for the crock pot for every batch. The brand I used is an Aldi’s brand, Boulder, and they’ve been amazing. I would not make this again without using the bags.***

2) I substituted the Dulche le Leche flavored Cheerios for one cup of the Chex, (so two cups of Cheerios for a double recipe and ten cups of Chex.)  ***2014: Substituted Frosted Cheerios instead of Dulche le Leche.***

3) The butter should read 1/4 cup for a single recipe, in my opinion, not stick. I used 1 stick per double recipe.

4) I opted not to use the apples, because the first time I did a trial run, they burned.

5) I did not stir the Chex Mix in my trial run, which may be the reason why the apples burned. In every subsequent time however, I stirred the Chex Mix every 45-60 minutes while it cooked for the 3 hrs.

6) For my mix-ins, I used 1/2 bag of mini marshmallows, 1/2 bag of red and green mini M&Ms, and one full bag of white yogurt covered raisins, per double recipe.

7) Each double recipe with my mix-ins filled eight gift bags. For my husband’s school, I filled  a large Tupperware Cake Taker, normally used to carry layer cakes, with an entire double recipe, just for his faculty room. I sent in small plastic drinking cups for them to eat it out of.

Although cost is not always the deciding factor in gift-giving, it’s certainly taken into account. I think most everyone sticks to a budget when shopping for gifts. With each of the six double recipes yielding 8 two-cup bags of mix, and my ingredients costing a total of $40.68 for all six batches (I used coupons for the M&Ms and the cereals), these 48 gifts cost me $.85 per bag to make. I spent just under $2.00 on two packs of 20 gift baggies to put them in. Even still, that cost me less than $1 per gift.

Over 100 people will be enjoying my Sanity Saving Chex Mix this weekend, and I was able to accomplish it relatively stress-free and budget-consciously.

Have a great Christmas everyone!!

What’s for dinner Wednesday: two weeks of meals and a new recipe

3 Oct

Tis’ the season!

As they say… Happy Fall Y’all!

It’s fall in New England and that means two things: apples and pumpkins. We’ve been doing the apple thing in September, saving the pumpkins for October. Therefore, today’s post will be all apple, all day long.

It’s been a while since I posted a two-week menu, so I thought I’d do that today as well as share a new recipe that we tried and liked, apple-related, of course.

Where I have them, I have included the links to the recipes I have shared before so that hopefully makes it easier for you.

When you come home with so many apples, it’s time to get cooking.

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS

Sunday: Shepherd’s Pie (Although we’ve been having this for years with the recipe I’ve linked here, we now make it a new way, courtesy of a trip last spring to visit my mother in-law, MaryLou. Our meat now contains both creamed corn and cut green beans and has tomato sauce mixed in. We also took the cheese out of the mashed potatoes on top, since we can’t all eat it. This new recipe is a little bit healthier and it combines the recipes of both our mothers. It has been a hit with our whole family.)

Monday: Tacos

If you’ve never made homemade applesauce, it’s so delicious and makes your house smell wonderful.

Tuesday: Pork tenderloin (pre-marinated in the package), homemade applesauce

Wednesday: Marinated steaks

Thursday: BBQ Ribs (prepackaged, pre-bbq’d, just cook and eat)

Friday: Cast iron skillet fajitas- both chicken and steak (homemade fajita seasoning recipe from Allrecipes.com)

This was a delicious new way to have kielbasa and very fall-ish. Thanks to A Spicy Perspective for the recipe!

Saturday: Light apple onion kielbasa skillet from A Spicy Perspective

Sunday: Eggplant Parmesan

Monday: Cranberry Chicken

Tuesday: Hot Dogs/Hamburgers

Wednesday: Chicken Pot Pie (sometimes homemade using this recipe, but this time not and we have one that is a separate gluten free, dairy free pie which we buy pre-made and pre-frozen at our local bakery.)

Thursday: Homemade Pizzas

Friday: Chicken/Broccoli/Pasta

A great new meal to add to our fall menu!

 

 

 

Fun Friday: Old-Fashioned Bread Pudding (dairy and gluten-free)

21 Sep

We’ve been working with some new ingredients most recently, but we’re still turning out some delicious meals and desserts!

Since the spring, we’ve been working with a new set of dietary restrictions, adding in dairy-free to the gluten-free mix. Although it’s been a bit of a challenge (understatement), it’s been an education and it’s been a success overall. We’ve found many good substitutions for the ingredients we used to use, and we’ve been experimenting for many months now and we have found that it’s still very do-able to bake and cook great recipes.

During the summertime, my oldest daughter was having a craving for bread pudding. We had an amazing bread pudding dessert in 2015 at the Grand Canyon that hadn’t been beat in the years since. I have a great cookbook, called “Gluten-Free Bible” which had two different bread pudding recipes in it, and she decided to give one of them a try. We had all of the ingredients for it and when I list the original recipe, I will list our substitutions, but you can see them here in the picture as well.

The funny thing about this particular recipe is that we originally started out thinking it was going to be dessert, but ended up making it for our breakfast because we broke one of the golden rules of recipes and didn’t read it all the way through before starting. Partway through our preparations we got to the “refrigerate for two hours” part and suddenly we were looking at bread pudding for breakfast. I was able to justify this because I felt that the recipe wasn’t much different than an overnight baked french toast recipe. We weren’t eating it every day of the week, so just this once (and the next day with leftovers) it would be just fine for breakfast.

Caroline had been craving a good bread pudding since the Grand Canyon in 2015.

This recipe was quick, easy and delicious, and those are three things we love in a recipe. Other than the prep of the apples and the bread, neither of which took very long, the rest was super-easy, and we definitely would make this recipe again. We used whipped cream on top (both the dairy and the non-dairy kinds) and it was a really fun dessert for breakfast meal.

Here is the recipe as written in my “Gluten-Free Bible” cookbook.

OLD FASHIONED BREAD PUDDING
Makes 6-8 servings

INGREDIENTS

10 slices gluten-free cinnamon raisin bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (We used Rudy’s bread.)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted (We used Earth’s Balance sticks, vegan)
2 cups whole milk (We used unsweetend almond milk)
4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped dried apples
(We almost added dairy-free chocolate chips to this recipe, but we were ultimately glad we didn’t as it would’ve been more of a stretch to call that a breakfast item once we added chocolate into the mix.)

Lesson learned (again and again): always read the recipe all the way through first.

DIRECTIONS

1: Grease 9-inch baking dish.

2: Combine bread cubes and butter in prepared baking dish; toss to coat.

3: Whisk milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla in medium bowl. Stir in raisins and dried apples. Pour over bread cubes. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours.

4: Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Bake 50-55 minutes or until golden brown and center is set. Let stand ten minutes before serving.

The whipped cream that we buy which is dairy-free is the Reddi-Wip almond cream, but they also sell a coconut cream for those who can’t do almond. I’ve found it at our local Stop and Shop and at our PriceRite.

This was a very, very close second to the bread pudding which we had at the Grand Canyon in 2015. I think that part of that dessert experience was the Grand Canyon itself, and part of it was that it was topped in hot caramel topping, whereas ours was not (but could be!) I was also happy that our daughter who doesn’t like raisins, and hence hadn’t eaten this bread up to this point in time, ended up liking them in the bread pudding recipe. I felt like we’d managed to hide an extra serving of fruit in this meal, the way I used to do when they were all little. I don’t know if it matters that I was hiding it in a dessert. She ate raisins. Mission accomplished.

If you’re looking for a great recipe for fall that is easy, gluten and dairy-free, good for breakfast or dessert, and rivals that which is served at the Grand Canyon, I recommend you give this one a try.

This was so delicious, and great for any time of day or night!

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: A grab-and-go meal for any time of day

12 Sep

A new grab-and-go idea from my friend Gina!

I love social media and the ability to find new ideas from people who’ve either thought of them first, or tried them out first, and been successful.

Recently, our friend Gina had shared that she has successfully made ahead and frozen egg sandwiches as a quick grab-and-go breakfast either for school days or camping trips or whenever they’re most needed. She uses Bagel Thins and her family loves them.

I decided that this school year, as soon as I had some time, I’d try out her idea for my family. I always have great intentions, and I can’t always do something like this all the time, but I figure that any time I can be prepared ahead of time, is better than not.

Eight bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches were ready to go.

This past weekend, I was able to get the Bagel Thins and give this a try, and I was so happy when my daughter was able to grab a quick egg sandwich for her breakfast later on in the week, deeming the meal a success.

Gina’s instructions were simple: be sure each part of the sandwich is fully cooled, and wrap in paper towels for reheating. The Bagel Thins bag makes for great storage in and of itself, so I just cooked, cooled, wrapped, labeled and froze.

As I was cooking, my daughter Liz was so excited and before even trying one out, she requested sausage patties for the next time around, so I knew she had high expectations for this trial. I used precooked bacon to cut down on some of the prep time (one slice cut in half per sandwich), and I used my counter-top griddle to cook the eggs all at once. I was able to cook six and then two. I cooled them all on a cookie sheet, which I’d popped in the oven for a couple of minutes first, just to fully melt the cheese.

I hope that I can continue this meal prep idea as it gives us an additional breakfast or on-the-go meal for those times when we want something filling and don’t have a lot of time to make anything.

Storing these right in the bag was super convenient.

I appreciate the sharing of ideas from all of my family and friends, and I love this idea from Gina. I hope that we can continue to make these throughout the school year, along with other grab-and-go ideas for those busy days and nights. I encourage you to give it a try too, if you’re looking for something new for your own family’s busy schedule.

Have a great week!

What’s for dinner Wednesday: A new recipe and a new Cave Tools cooking tool

8 Aug

This was a favorite new meal of ours, thanks to our new Cave Tools BBQ Grill Pan, and I can’t wait to have it again.

Happy August!

This summer seems to just be flying by. We had just finished the whirlwind couple of weeks surrounding graduation when I last wrote a blog post, and that was followed by two weeks of vacation. We came back from that and went right into the final days of planning and then hosting our second daughter’s 16th birthday party here, a sunflower-themed Sweet Sixteen on a beautifully sunny day. Now that we’re back into a regular routine again, albeit a summer routine, we’ve been trying out some new recipes and even a brand new Cave Tools product.

We were asked to try out a newly launched product, the Cave Tools BBQ Grill Pan in July, around the same time that I kept seeing a recipe go by on social media for Sheet Pan Chicken, which consisted of oven-roasted veggies and chicken all tossed together in a homemade marinade and cooked in the oven. When we agreed to try out the BBQ Grill Pan, we opted to use the inspiration from the recipe we’d seen online, but to do it our own way, utilizing our new pan. It seemed to be made for such a meal because it had a slotted side and a flat side, with the slotted side designed to allow the BBQ flavors and smoke to come up through the grill pan while excess grease falls through, keeping our grill grates clean.

One pan cooking is my favorite, especially for clean up.

We tossed our chicken in some bottled Italian dressing for a quick marinade, and sliced up our veggies: asparagus, zucchini, squash, Brussels sprouts and carrots. We weren’t sure if we had more veggies and chicken than space, but it was a perfect fit, with the veggies on the flat side and the chicken on the slotted side.  We also liked that the stainless steel pan had grips on three sides so that it was easy to handle.

The new Cave Tools BBQ Grill Pan is designed to cook more than just chicken and veggies, though. It’s perfect for other types of meals, including breakfast, which we’d like to try out next. Cave Tools suggests using the griddle side for sautéing peppers, onions, eggs, bacon, cheesesteaks and any other food that would typically fall through the grill grates, but the idea of eggs and bacon really appeals to us, having never cooked like that on the grill before.

Cave Tools 3

This stainless steel grill pan features a flat side and a slotted side, with grips on three sides.

I’m sure you’d like to know how you can get this great new product!

To order your own Cave Tools BBQ Grill Pan, you have two options:

  1. You can order from Amazon
  2. You can order directly from Cave Tools and use the code GRILLPAN15 to receive an additional 15% off your purchase.

As I always say, the Cave Tools products have a 100% money back guarantee, but I’d be surprised if you ever needed it. Their products are second to none. We also saw this post in the information on the grill pan’s website that we thought was worth noting, and that also speaks to the value that Cave Tools puts on the quality of their products for their customers:

A Note From The Manufacturer

We specifically designed this grill pan after seeing the popularity of PTFE (Teflon) Grill Mats. At normal grilling temperatures we concluded that the grill mats were in fact extremely toxic and potentially cancerous. Your health is more important us than the money we could make selling grill mats which is why we designed this safe stainless steel grill mat alternative.

As always, I encourage you to try out this great new product and to enjoy the fun of cooking outdoors. The cleanup is easy, especially with the Cave Tools products, and the food is flavorful.

Have a great rest of your week and keep enjoying this beautiful summer!

*I was given a free product in exchange for my review.

However, as always, my thoughts and opinions are honest and my own.*

Just in time for the long weekend: beer can chicken and a new Cave Tools product

26 May

This was such a fun meal to make!

It’s Memorial Day weekend this weekend, a time to remember all those who have given the ultimate sacrifice to their country, and to remember their families as well. Over the years I have had the opportunity to cover many Memorial Day remembrances for our local newspaper, and I am cognizant of the fact that this weekend is not just a long weekend made for cookouts and good times, but rather it is a time to remember and be thankful for our service men and women who lost their lives for our country. To them I am grateful.

While I take some time to reflect today, I thought I’d share a new product with you that we tried from Cave Tools. We are big fans of their products and have never tried one that we didn’t like. Although we are given the products to try for free, our opinions and experiences are our own and are not influenced in any way by the company. This product is a great one and I couldn’t wait to share it this weekend.

Recently we had the opportunity to try out the Beer Can Chicken roasting rack and vegetable spikes. We were very excited to give this new product a try, as the method of cooking a chicken over a can of beer was intriguing to us. When we opened the box, we learned that we could either cook the chicken on the grill or in the oven. We opted to try the oven method this time and to utilize the grill method the next time- and I can tell you, there will definitely be a next time!

It said to choose your favorite beer, so our local Narragansett beer was our first choice.

The directions instructed us to choose our favorite beer which we’d be pouring into the can-shaped container that came in the box. We have a great local beer, Narragansett, so that was our chosen beer.

My husband found a recipe online for a rub which he rubbed all over the chicken after he put it on top of the beer can. That recipe consisted of: 1/4 cup paprika, 2 tablespoons salt, 2 tablespoons white sugar, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 tablespoons ground cumin, 2 tablespoons chili powder, and 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper.

Ready to eat!

We cooked our chicken in the oven until the temperature reached or exceeded 165 degrees, about an hour and a half. We opted to add baked potatoes to the stands which were included with the product and we were thrilled that there was absolutely no mess in our oven. We had placed the whole thing on a baking sheet covered in tin foil, just in case, but the tray included in the box contained any slight dripping that may have occurred.

The end result was amazing: fully cooked, tender, juicy chicken that was delicious and easy to make. This was such a different way for us to cook a chicken, and we would definitely do it again in the future. The entire product is dishwasher safe, so after dinner we loaded it in and cleanup was a breeze.

In my personal opinion, this would make a great Father’s Day gift for the men in your lives who seem to have everything and are looking for something fun to try over the summer months. I hope you’ll give it a try.

The mess was self-contained.

You can order this product two ways: through Amazon by following this link. or through the Cave Tools Website, utilizing the coupon code BEERCAN15 for an extra 15% off.

As with all Cave Tools product, they are high quality products that come with a lifetime guarantee. The product is made from stainless steel and the spikes can be used to hold ears of corn or potatoes, or anything else you can think of. The canister can be used for Beer, Wine, Cider, and any other liquid or herb combination you’d like to try.

Fully cooked!

Tender and juicy.

DONE!

Happy Birthday Don and Alexandra!

23 Mar

So what’s the best birthday gift *you* ever gave someone?

ORIGINALLY POSTED MARCH 23, 2012

Today is a very special day.

Today is Alexandra’s birthday.

Today is also Don’s birthday.

That makes me the best wife ever because seven years ago for Don’s birthday at 1:22 am I gave him our third daughter.

I know, I know, best gift ever, right?! It’s hard to top that one though, so I don’t really try. I’m back to t-shirts, pajama pants and stuff like that for his birthday gifts.

Alexandra’s First Birthday 2006

Since sharing his birthday with his daughter, Don has been blessed with getting to have a Snoopy party, a My Little Pony party, a Dora party, a Purple party and this year…Hello Kitty. Technically they’re not his parties obviously, but you see what I mean.

Birthday crowns all around on Alex’s second birthday.

Thankfully, my parents have this neat tradition that they started with us where we celebrate the adult birthday parties at their house each year and we “kids” get to choose our meal and our cake. I choose….well I won’t tell you what I choose until it’s my birthday this summer. But Don chooses a totally opposite type of meal and cake than I would choose, so I guess it’s good that we each get a chance to choose our own, to choose what we like. Don chooses meatball sandwiches (made with my mom’s homemade meatballs and gravy) with lemon cake for dessert. It’s probably the only time all year we have it and he really enjoys it.

Therefore, today I thought I’d share with you the recipe for Don’s birthday cake of choice each year, the lemon cake. It’s really yummy, I particularly love the corners.

***********************************************************************************

LEMON CAKE

A cake *just* for Daddy!

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup oil

1/2 cup water

2 beaten eggs

Duncan Hines Lemon Cake Mix

1 can lemon pie filling (divided)

DIRECTIONS

In bowl by hand, mix together oil, water, eggs, cake mix.

Add 1/4 can of lemon pie filling into the mix.

Put into greased 9×13 dish.

On top, distribute the rest of the pie filling.

Bake 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees.

When cool, glaze with:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar mixed with 1 Tablespoon lemon juice. Add a little hot water if necessary.

THE BIRTHDAY TWINS CELEBRATING THEIR SPECIAL DAY IN 2016