5 Easy to Make Summer Salads

This week’s Meal Planning Monday is by Amy of Savvy Saving Couple.

Memorial Day kicked off the unofficial start to summer. That means warmer weather, sunshine, lazy beach days and cookouts. I don’t know about you but I love a good BBQ meal! For me, it is all about the delicious and easy to make summer salads.

Since the heat is up, I don’t exactly feel like spending my days stuck indoors cooking. That is why my family eats a lot of easy to make summer salads, and smaller meals. We love potato salad, green salads, pasta salads, and even simple sandwiches.

Here are some of my top 5 easy to make summer salads that are sure to please the crowds. They require minimal effort, and are jam-packed with flavor and zest.

Pesto Caprese Macaroni Salad: This pasta salad is a unique twist on pesto and caprese salad. I guess you can say it combines the best of both dishes into one make-ahead salad that could even double as a main dish. It is perfect for picnics and BBQ’s because it only gets more flavorful the longer it is chilled (up to 24 hours).

Parmesan Pesto Steak Salad: Looking for a salad that doubles as a meal? This protein packed dish is perfect for leftover steak tips, or even a cheaper cut of grilled steak. The pesto, extra Parmesan and steak are a surprisingly tasty combination that my husband loves!

Feta, Basil, Tomato and Bowtie Pasta Salad: I don’t know about you but I love pasta and feta cheese combined. This recipe is super colorful and totally tasty! It is almost like a caprese salad, but the main star is the salty feta which balances well with the fresh basil.

 

Corn and Asparagus Salad: The flavors of summer make this vegetable based salad a winning dish. Freshly shucked sweet corn, and tender asparagus pair well with honey, and balsamic dressing to make a sweet and savory medley.

Cheeseburger Salad: Who doesn’t love a good burger this time of year? Last year I was trying to watch my carbs so I decided to make a cheeseburger salad that contained all the classic of a burger with fresh Thousand Island dressing. The result was an amazingly tasty salad that I could probably eat every single day! I even made hamburger bun croutons that I added sparingly to my plate—way too good!

 

 

 

 

 

Crock Pot Chicken Cacciatore

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

I absolutely adore pasta dishes, but my favorite by far is Chicken Cacciatore.  It’s not something that’s easily found in restaurants in the Greater Cincinnati area.  In fact, there’s only one place in town that I know of that carries this delightful Italian dish.  My family is originally from upstate New York, which is rich in Italian heritage.  You can always find great pizza and usually cacciatore at most of the local family-owned restaurants in that part of the country.

So, I’ve been on a quest most of my adult life to recreate the awesome Chicken Cacciatore I used to eat so often growing up.  And I have finally come up with the perfect recipe, made in the crock pot.  Chicken Cacciatore is usually made with tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers.  My hubby’s not a huge pepper fan, so I subbed in artichokes which we both love!  So, if you’d rather have the peppers, then omit the artichokes and add in one chopped bell pepper instead.

 And I am excited that I’ve discovered a gluten-free pasta that tastes amazing and doesn’t get sticky or clumpy.  I found it at my new favorite store, Aldi!  Their “Live G-Free” brand is very reasonably priced and everything I’ve tried from the line so far has been good.  (My hubby especially likes the Live G-Free chocolate chip cookie mix.)  If you’re keeping an eye on your carb intake, mix half past and half zucchini noodles, which is what I usually do with my pasta dishes.  I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!

Crock Pot Chicken Cacciatore

 

  • 1 – 15 oz. can of tomato sauce
  • 2 – 14 oz. cans of diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 – 14 oz. can of artichokes, drained and roughly chopped
  • 8 oz. fresh baby bella mushrooms, washed and sliced
  • 1 small onion, sliced (optional)
  • 2 Tbs. red wine
  • 1 Chicken bouillon cube
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 3 frozen boneless chicken breasts
  • Pinch of sea salt

 

Place all ingredients in the crock pot and stir to combine.  Cook 4 hours on high or 6 to 8 hours on low.  Serve over pasta or zucchini noodles.  Pairs well with a nice Merlot or Cabernet!

 

 

Easy Prep Easter Menu

Hello. Heather here from Real: The Kitchen and Beyond to share my favorite Easter menu. Easter is one of my favorite holidays. Christmas edges it out just a bit but I love Easter – the time when life is celebrated and all things are made new, when our family celebrates the resurrection of our Savior.

 

I also love memories of waking up and finding a new cereal bowl with Easter candy in it at each place setting. We were often up bright and early for Easter Sunrise services and always hopeful that we would get to eat a piece of candy before we left. However, church clothes and candy don’t go well together so the candy was tucked away for Easter dinner dessert.

 

Easter dinner is another favorite part of my Easter Sunday. I still love gathering around a big table with my family and that exhilarating feeling of newness of life. Cooking a big Easter Dinner can be a lot of work for the cook but I believe it should be kept delicious and simple.

 

With many people coming home from Easter services or morning festivities for a big family meal, I want men and women everywhere to enjoy quality time with their families, rather than hours working in the kitchen.

 

This doesn’t mean no cooking. No, it just means making simple but amazing dishes. It means prepping ahead.

 

Here is my favorite Easter dinner menu and tips to help you get Easter dinner on the table with less hassle.

 

Ham – I love a good baked ham served with horseradish on the side – loads of fresh zesty horseradish. Buy your ham precooked at one of those many grocery sales or cook it ahead of time so it just needs to be reheated.

 

Mashed potatoes – In my humble opinion, mashed potatoes belong on every holiday table. I have a recipe to take that everyday mashed potato to new levels of flavor with my much sought after Amish Mashed Potatoes recipe. Peel and cut your potatoes ahead of time. Stick them in a pot of water and refrigerate overnight, or, if prepping them Sunday morning, set on the back of the stove with the lid on. There you go. One less step of time consuming prep work.

 

Sautéed Lemony Dill Asparagus – Spring and fresh asparagus go hand in hand here on the East Coast. This simple side can be whipped up in no time and is light and refreshing next to salty ham and rich mashed potatoes. Make sure you check out the recipe at the end of this post.

 

Of course we can’t skip dessert. We’re raiding the candy bowl and serving up the homemade peanut butter eggs for dessert. Peanut Butter Eggs are my favorite Easter Candy. Bet you can’t eat just one.

 

Does your family have an Easter Dinner tradition? Share it with us in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.

 

Lemony Dill Asparagus

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh asparagus

  • ¼ cup water

  • ½ teaspoon dried dill

  • ½ lemon

  • Salt (I use ½ teaspoon) and pepper (I use 1/8 teaspoon) to taste

Directions

  • Snap tough ends off asparagus.

  • Put into a sauté pan with water.

  • Top with dill, salt, and pepper.

  • Cover and cook over medium heat, 5-10 minutes, until desired tenderness.

  • Squeeze half of lemon over cooked asparagus and toss.

Serve.

 

 Heather writes at Real: The Kitchen and Beyond where the food is (mostly) real and the making’s easy. She believes any one can cook. Just follow the steps, starting at #1. Read, follow, taste, venture out. Don’t be afraid to fail, then try again. Her other hats are homeschooling, editing fiction, ghostwriting, and culinary marketing. Oh, and she believes life is always better with dessert.

Banana Silver Dollars Pancakes

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

I’m a sucker for pancakes!  There’s nothing better than cutting into a warm stack of hotcakes drizzled in maple syrup – yum!  Unfortunately, many pancake recipes are full of white sugar, white flour, and unhealthy fat.  That’s why I was delighted when I came across this gluten-free, dairy-free, recipe for Banana Silver Dollar pancakes in a recent issue of First for Women magazine.

Honestly, when I first looked at the ingredient list, I wondered how these pancakes were going to turn out, with only a few tablespoons of coconut flour.  Amazingly, they were as light and fluffy as a slice of chocolate cake – and there’s no bowl required to make them!

In fact, you just dump all of the ingredients in the blender!  Blend for less than a minute, and then pour the batter into a muffin top pan.

 

I actually purchased this muffin top pan specifically to make this recipe, so I was invested in its success.  And I’m so glad that I did.

The only downside to this recipe is that it only serves two people, and you know I like to freeze my leftovers!  Maybe I’ll get a second pan for making double batches…

 

Banana Silver Dollars

(Modified from Recipe in First for Women Magazine)

 

  • 2 medium ripe bananas
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 Tbs. coconut flour
  • 1 ½ tsp. cacao powder (or regular cocoa powder)
  • ¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¾ tsp. baking soda
  • Pinch of sea salt

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 6-well muffin top pan.  Combine all ingredients in blender. Puree 30 seconds or until well blended.  Divide batter evenly among wells of the pan.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until middles are set.

 

Serves 2.  Calories – 318; Protein – 12 grams; Carbs – 34 grams; Fiber – 7 grams; Sugar – 15 grams; Sodium – 672 mg; Total Fat – 10 grams

 

 

 

Hello Again, Aldi

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

This past Friday, I made a trip to my local Aldi store for the first time in a LONG time – as in over 15 years.  Why have I avoided Aldi for so long?  Back then, I had to shop at Aldi because I was flat broke.  So when I finally got to a place in my finances when I didn’t have to shop at Aldi, I left it behind.  When I’d drive by the store, I would remember how it felt to be broke, shudder, and keep on going.  (This is the same reason I rarely eat at Taco Bell.  It reminds me of the days of rolling change in college to go buy bean burritos for dinner.)

But it really wasn’t Aldi’s fault that I had that negative association.  So why did I decide to give it another shot?  Several ladies in my Facebook recipe group were raving about the great deals on spices, snacks, organic food, and gourmet cheeses.  Wait… organic food and gourmet cheeses?  That’s not the Aldi that I remember!  Because I’m trying to eat more organic food, I was definitely intrigued.  Especially when my friend Heather Tenney of In God’s Economy told me that Aldi and Trader Joe’s were owned by the same parent company!

So, here is what I discovered on my Aldi’s field trip on Friday.  First, you need a quarter for the cart – not 25 cents, but a quarter.  The quarter releases the cart from the corral and you get it back when you return the cart.  Aldi does NOT take credit cards!  (Another reason for me to like them.)  You can pay with cash, debit card, or EBT.  You need to bring your own reusable bags and you’ll be doing the bagging yourself after paying for your groceries.  Aldi does not accept manufacturer’s coupons.

I didn’t purchase any produce or meat on my shopping trip, since I was already stocked up from the co-op and Sam’s.  However, the meat and produce at the Erlanger, Kentucky store looked good and prices were reasonable.  The only fresh food I bought was hummus for $1.99, which is definitely less than what I would pay at my local Kroger.  Most of my purchases were in the snack and baking aisles.  Here are some of the deals I found:

  • Huge 4 oz. containers of various spices for $0.99 (Onion powder and steak seasoning made it into my cart on this trip.)
  • Canned beans (garbanzo, kidney, cannellini, etc.) for $0.65
  • 12-pack of granola bars for $1.79
  • Organic Animal Crackers 8 oz. for $0.99 – Very tasty!
  • Natural creamy peanut butter for $1.69
  • Organic Salsa $1.89
  • Capers $1.49
  • 16 oz. of Virgin Olive Oil for $2.99
  • 10 oz. whole roasted cashews $4.29
  • 12 oz. whole raw almonds $5.49

I was super excited about the great deals on the nuts because I love to have those on hand for a healthy snack.  I’m going to use the almonds to make Roasted Rosemary Almonds today, since I’m snowed in.  (Recipe below.)  The Aldi store in Erlanger is small, so you may not find everything you’re looking for on your grocery list.  The store is clean, well lit, and the staff was friendly.  There aren’t many name brand products on the shelf, but so far everything that hubby and I have tried has been tasty.  Nick gives Aldi’s yogurt covered raisins two big thumbs up, so I’ll be stocking up next time I’m there.

Hello again, Aldi!  Looks like you’ll be seeing a lot more of me in the future.

Roasted Rosemary Almonds

  • 2 cups whole raw almonds
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. rosemary
  • 1 tsp. sea salt

Toss all ingredients in a bowl and stir to coat almonds thoroughly.  Roast on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  Let cool and enjoy.  Store leftovers in an airtight container.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resolve to Have More Family Time

This week’s post is by Kim Bergeron of Extreme Coupon Professors.
We’re just past the middle of the first month in the new year. Some have made their resolutions and stuck with them and many have failed. Oh, and some, eh hum, the procrastinators, haven’t put theirs on paper yet. No matter what category you may fall into, there’s always a new morning to do the possible!
This year I’m on a mission and it’s to find more time in my day and more time with my family. And that doesn’t mean to stay up until 1 AM to find it either. What a relief, huh! In just a couple weeks, I’m glad to say that I’m making progress. I have been able to tweak some daily routines and have found some extra time. There are nights that I actually feel a little lost and I’ve been doing circles in the kitchen because I’m not used to having free time at the end of the day. What’s the million dollar answer you ask? Well here are some of our changes.
Meal planning.
Please trust me, it’s not as hard as you think it is. I begin by looking at my calender. We have five kids so that’s a lot of juggling at dinner time a lot of nights. I start by focusing on our busy nights and plan quick meals for those nights. Don’t be afraid to plan on pancakes one night or even a couple nights if you need to. Then. I look at the nights we’re home but we may be coming home right about dinner time. I’ll plan some crock pot meals for those nights. Finally, I look to see what nights I can plan on making bigger meals and I’ll put those meals on the calendar. I have found knowing ahead of time what we’re having has allowed me to start preparing some things in the morning when I have 10 minutes to spare before getting the kids off to school.  If you truly find it overwhelming to plan the whole week, then plan a few nights. You’ll appreciate how smoothly your evening goes that you’ll be penciling in meals on the calendar for the rest of the week.
Results:
Dinner time is not frazzled. I’m more relaxed and enjoying chatting with the kids at the same time. Because there are 7 of us getting ready in the mornings, I’ve also put on the calendar what breakfast is. For awhile some kids were making eggs, some were making yogurt fruit smoothies and others were having cereal. Our kitchen looked ransacked and if it was a day I was working, this is what I had to come home to. YUCK!  I tweaked mornings by only allowing simpler breakfasts during the week. I also won’t leave until everyone has cleaned up and put away all breakfast items, including their dishes.
Results:
I have found more time now when I get home.
The Clean Up Game. 

When my children were younger we used to be able to turn clean up time into a game. Turn the timer on and race to get all the toys put away before the timer goes off. Oh, the sweet. good ole’ days! Now it’s, “Kids, no one leaves until our chore list is done.”  I’ll be honest, at first I was getting a lot of, “Are we done yet?” Now, only two weeks into it, we have a great flow of getting things done as a team. We’re all doing this together. It’s been nice having dinner conversation carry over before everyone disappears into their rooms.
Getting It Done After Dinner List:
 
  • Dining room cleared.
  • Kitchen cleaned up and all dishes put away.
  • Sweep dining room and kitchen floors (Don’t say vacuum because that stops conversation flow. I’ll vacuum on my cleaning days.)
  • Make tomorrow’s school lunches.
  • Hang up any coats or backpacks that are laying around, put shoes in hall closet.
  • Start a load of towels or sheets .
  • If we’re having dessert, we’ll have dessert when our list is done and everyone washes their dishes and puts them away when they are done.
Results:
Mom doesn’t have to do it all herself, family worked together, there was together time and mom has found more free time at the end of the day. Just these few tweaks have made an enormous difference in our house. We have found time. Many nights there are a couple of kids sitting with me at the table with some game time. When we are, I’m not sitting there thinking of the mess around me or all I have to get done. Our chores are done and I’m enjoying my family time!   
On The Weekend

I’m always happy when a weekend arrives and I still do a little meal planning too. Some of the kids are in and out, some have friends coming over. Whoever is here, they enjoy eating at leisure so I typically make a hearty soup, stew or chowder that sits in my Ninja Cooking System for the afternoon. Everyone appreciates it, it goes a long way and I’m not forever cooking something for the “gang”. Last week was the first time I made a corn chowder. So easy, made a pot full and everyone loved it!
Here’s my recipe, but the fun thing about it is you can easily make it to your liking-add more bacon, use ham instead or even turkey bacon. Add a a couple diced carrots too. Whatever you may fancy.
Hearty Corn Chowder:
  • 1 lb of cooked bacon, crumbled
  • 2 cans of cream corn
  • 2 cans of corn, undrained
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 fresh cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp of pepper
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 6-8 potatoes, chopped to bit sizes-NOT peeled
  • 6 cups of water or chicken broth
  • Combine all these ingredients in your crock pot or Ninja Cooking System. Cook on High for 4 hours or Low for 6-8 hours.
When ready to serve: 
  • Add 2 cans of evaporated milk
  • 3 Tbls of butter
Mix, allow to heat through and serve. If chowder is too think, just add more broth. I started mine in the morning. Cooked it on High and everyone had some throughout the day.  There were recipes that called for half and half or heavy cream, but I like being able to have the cans of evaporated milk on hand whenever I want to make this.  Some recipes also called for a bag of frozen corn. As you can see, it’s to your liking and to your convenience.
Enjoy your family time!
I’m a wife, mommy and a lover of life enjoying everything from playing board games to cooking to traveling. Finding deals for our family has allowed us to do the fun things in life with enjoyment and less stress. When I find a deal I’ll always share it on my blog, Extreme Coupon Professors. Hop on over to see all the ways to save!

 

Resolve to Start Meal Planning

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

 There are plenty of great reasons why regular meal planning should make it on to your New Year’s Resolution List.  Meal planning helps you save money, eat healthier, stress less, spend less time in the kitchen and more time with your family.  These are all things that we want, so why do we resist doing it?

I think what holds many people back from meal planning is thinking that, in order to do it “right,” they have to plan a month in advance, spend every weekend batch cooking and freezing, AND be super organized.  Sure, you can start that way if you want to, but for most folks it’s easier to begin gradually rather than cannonballing into the deep end.  So, here are some baby steps, tips, and tools to get you started on your meal planning adventures.

  • Plan a week of dinners.  Look at your calendar for the next week and plan your dinners based on what you’ve already got on hand in the fridge, pantry, and freezer.  Save more complicated, labor intensive meals for weekends or other non-busy days.  Plan on slow cooker meals or meals that can be on the table in 30 minutes or less for busy nights.  Next week, try planning out ten days to two weeks in advance.  Before long, you’ll be on a monthly meal planning schedule. (Which is great, because you only have to do it 12 times a year vs. 52 times a year!)

  • Make a double batch of a family favorite meal and freeze half of it.  It doesn’t take twice as long to make a double batch of a recipe!  In fact, it usually only takes a few extra minutes. You’ll be grateful two or three weeks from now when you’re short on time.  You’ll have a great meal you can dump frozen into the crockpot before heading to work and come home to a wonderful smelling house and dinner ready to serve!  I highly recommend a dish like beef stew, spaghetti sauce with meatballs, chili, or vegetable soup for your first freezer meal.
  • Stock up on freezer cooking supplies next time you’re at the store.  If you don’t have plenty of zipper freezer bags (quart and gallon size) and plastic containers in various sizes for freezer cooking, be sure and stock up so you have no excuses.
  • Search Pinterest or Google for good freezer cooking and batch cooking recipes.  It’s more fun to meal plan if you have recipes you’re excited to try!

  • Check out these great Meal Planning tools!  If you’d like a FREE blank meal planning calendar or freezer inventory sheet, just click here to download.  If you’re ready to really get serious about meal planning, invest a few dollars in my e-book, Discover the Magic of Meal Planning. (Kindle Unlimited members get it FREE!)

Whether you’re trying to save money at the grocery store, eat healthier, or spend more time with your family, meal planning can help you with those resolutions.  Here’s to a Happy New Year and Happy Meal Planning in 2015!

 

 

 

 

Christmas Cookie Explosion

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

Every year in December, for as long as I can remember, my mom and I take an entire Saturday and bake our famous sugar cookies with buttercream icing.  It’s one of my absolute favorite things about the holiday season!  Of course the cookies taste delicious, but half the fun is baking, icing, and decorating them together. By the time we have made a tripe batch, it looks like a cookie explosion has gone off in my kitchen.  There’s flour, frosting, sprinkles, and icing everywhere!  The finished product is worth it though. I have friends and family literally begging me for a few cookies, and wanting the recipe.

This year we had a few new additions to the cookie cutters that we’ve been using for ages.  My husband used his GorillaMaker 3-D printer to make “A” and “R” cookie cutters for my niece, Ayla, and my nephew, Reid.  Usually, they join us but my poor niece had the flu.   I’ll probably do a mini cookie baking session in January with them because I know they were disappointed about not being able to come over.  (But no need to bake flu germs into the sugar cookies, right?)

I also bought these awesome “Ninjabread Men” cookie cutters from Amazon.  I’ve always loved martial arts, so I thought they would be a fun addition to the usual stockings, angels, and Christmas tree cookies.  I’m definitely making sure that my nephew gets a few of the frosted ninja cookies!

So for the past four years, I’ve teased you, my dear blog readers, with pictures and descriptions of my fabulous sugar cookies, but have never released the recipe.  So here is your holiday gift from me (with my mom’s blessing) – Carol & Christine’s Christmas Sugar Cookie Recipe! Enjoy!

Carol & Christine’s Christmas Sugar Cookies

(Single Batch)

 Ingredients:

  • ¾ Cup of Butter
  • 1 Cup of Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 tsp. real Vanilla Extract
  • 2 ½ Cups of Flour
  • 1 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp. Salt

Directions:

1.) Cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.

2.) In a separate bowl, add flour, baking powder, and salt.  Blend thoroughly.  Add the mixture from #1 and mix well.  (This usually requires hand kneading at thoroughly combine.)

3.) Chill dough 3 hours or overnight.  Take dough out of the fridge 30 minutes before baking to soften it up.

4.) Preheat oven to 400 F.

5.) Roll dough on a floured surface.  If the dough seems too sticky, work some extra flour into in before rolling out.

6.) Cut with cookie cutters.  Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake 6 to 8 minutes or until the edges begin to turn golden brown.

7.) Cool on sheet before removing.  Let cool completely before frosting.

 

Buttercream Frosting

 

Ingredients:

  •  ¼ Cup of Butter
  • 2 Cups of Powdered Sugar
  • 1 tsp. real Vanilla Extract
  • 2 – 3 TBS. Evaporated Milk
  • Food Coloring

Beat first four ingredients with an electric mixer.  Once thoroughly combined, transfer to a small bowl and add food coloring.  If frosting becomes a little stiff, add a little extra evaporated milk and stir.

Five Fun Christmas Dessert Recipes

This week’s post is by Amy of Savvy Saving Couple

One of my favorite activities to do during the holiday season is bake. Making desserts, cookies, and casseroles is just so fun once the weather gets chilly. Seasonal baking is especially fun because there is no better time of year to indulge in some homemade and festive treats. I thought it would be fun to spread some Christmas cheer and share five of my family’s fun and easy Christmas dessert recipes.

First up is my Pistachio Cherry Christmas Cake. This recipe has been in my family for decades. It is such a unique cake because it has a delicious pistachio flavor, maraschino cherries, nuts, and is super moist. It is easy to make and can be turned into a beautiful Bundt cake, or even cupcakes.

Next we have a recipe for Gingerbread Men Cookies that was passed down from my grandmother. I love these cookies because they are slightly chewy, and the dough is great for actual cut out cookies. Personally, I prefer to always chill my dough before cutting out my little men, because the shapes stay. Decorating them may be even more fun because the decorating choices are endless.

Love easy treats that require hardly any cooking skill? I used to be like that too! That is why Peppermint Bark is one of the easiest Christmas or seasonal treats I have ever made! Seriously, who would have thought that just two ingredients could produce such a tasty treat that goes perfectly with a side of hot cocoa! You can switch this recipe up too if you prefer dark or milk chocolate.

Don’t have time to bake? Another fun and easy Christmas dessert option for parties and hosting are these Christmas Oreo Truffles. These are no bake balls that are made with a few simple ingredients. However, the taste is so rich and seems as if you traveled high and far for only the finest truffles. These no bake Oreo Balls are perfect for this season of cheer!

Since the Christmas season is just such a busy one, I couldn’t leave out a recent short cut or “hack” I discovered for yummy Peppermint Brownies. These delicious treats use boxed brownie mix, and store bought vanilla frosting. The secret ingredient is peppermint extract which takes these brownies from average to rock star is seconds. These would make great treats for parties, or a late night snack!

As you can see, the Christmas season doesn’t have to be spent slaving in the kitchen. There are just so many sweet treats which you can make or bake up this time of year. I hope you and your family enjoy our top 5 Fun and Christmas Desserts and Treats recipes.

 

 

Save Money on Meat

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

I know from personal experience that eating a diet rich in protein helps to keep me strong and slim.  However, you don’t have to be a “meat-atarian” to get the slimming results of protein.  According to Robert Ferguson, creator of Diet Free Life (the healthy eating plan that I’ve followed for over three years), if you’re getting 15 to 30 grams of protein with each meal, you’re on track.

With that being said, I’m going to give you some strategies to save money on your protein purchases.  The price of meat is definitely NOT getting any cheaper and eating grass-fed and organic is downright expensive!  Three things to keep in mind: buy on sale, eat less meat, and occasionally go meatless.

Buy on Sale

I have a tendency to create my monthly meal plans around what I’ve recently scored on sale at the grocery store.  I also check out what’s marked down in the meat department.  If it’s something that looks fine but has an imminent expiration date, I’ll either cook it up right away or freeze it.  The crock pot is definitely a good friend of mine because it makes cheaper cuts of meat taste delicious and fall right off the bone.  I purchase the vast majority of my chicken with the bone in because I get more for my money.  I frequently cook a whole chicken in the crock pot and make several meals out of it.  For example, tonight Nick and I are going to have rosemary chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy with broccoli.  I’ll shred the leftover dark meat and mix it with BBQ sauce and send Nick to work with BBQ sandwiches and sweet potato fries for lunch.  As for the remaining white meat, I’ll use it later in the week for my Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup.  Also, ask if there’s a discount if you buy in bulk.  I recently bought chicken thighs from a local farm and they gave me a discount since I purchased 10 pounds (and froze most of it).

Eat Less Meat

Most Americans eat larger servings of meat than their bodies actually need.  You can painlessly cut the amount of meat in a dish without sacrificing taste or feeling hungry.  For example, when I make spaghetti and meat sauce, I can easily cut back on the amount of ground turkey (or beef) and add a package of fresh mushrooms (washed and sliced) to the meat while it’s cooking.  Mushrooms have a meaty taste and are rich in protein, so it’s not really noticeable that the amount of turkey has been decreased. If you don’t like mushrooms, you can sub in your choice of zucchini, onions, bell peppers, or eggplant.  You can also do this with black beans or leftover brown rice when making tacos or burritos.  This will allow you to stretch a pound of ground meat over two meals instead of just one.  Be creative!  You also add corn, pinto and other beans, quinoa, barley, and other grains or vegetables to stretch your meat.

Occasionally Go Meatless

Yes, you can get enough protein from non-meat sources!  It seems there’s been a surge in the popularity of “Meatless Mondays.”  Don’t believe me?  Just search “Meatless Monday” on Pinterest and see the thousands upon thousands of recipes that pop up!  With delicious sounding recipes like Lentil Chili, Butternut Squash & Black Bean Enchiladas, Mushroom Fajitas, and Spinach & Ricotta Pasta, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything at all!  Some of my personal vegetarian favorites are Black Bean Chili and Easy Cheesy Casserole.  I also can’t wait to try this Sweet Potato Salad recipe!

If you have any other tips for saving money on your meat purchases, I’d love to hear them!