Meal Planning Monday ~ Kitchen 911

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

Cooking and Meal Planning is more art than science.  That being said, sometimes a meal is a masterpiece and other times a dish is best hidden at the bottom of the garbage can!  If you’ve been cooking for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced a few culinary disasters.  I know I have!  Whether it’s a forgotten ingredient, a misread recipe, an over – or under – cooked dish, or just a bad recipe, sometimes we all need “emergency assistance” in the kitchen.  Today I’m going to talk about different levels and types of cooking issues and give you a little “Kitchen 911” to help you fix or avoid those issues in the future.

Level One Kitchen Emergencies ~ Level One Kitchen Emergencies aren’t really emergencies, but more like annoyances or inconveniences.  Don’t get me wrong, they can still stress you out!  My most common Level One Emergency is thinking that I have an ingredient on hand for a recipe, and then I discover that something is missing in the midst of my mixing and measuring.  Thank God for Google!  I usually whip open my iPad and Google “substitute for buttermilk (or whatever) in recipe” and some article with the answer pops up.  I found this great chart from that I keep with my cookbooks because it has a comprehensive list of substitute ingredients.  Another common kitchen annoyance is realizing that extra folks are coming for dinner and you may not have enough food to go around.  If you’re making a dish with ground beef or turkey, consider adding a cup or two of rice or beans to stretch your meat.  You could also add shredded veggies like carrots or zucchini to stretch a pasta dish or casserole.  Usually with a bit of creativity and effort, Level One Kitchen Emergencies are pretty easy to resolve.  This past Christmas Eve, I was preparing to bake my much anticipated Rum Cake for Christmas Day dinner.  To my dismay, I realized there was no yellow cake mix among the dozen or so boxes of Betty Crocker in my stockpile.  So I grabbed a dark chocolate cake mix and a bag of chocolate chips and consulted my cookbooks and the internet.  The result?  A Chocolate Rum Cake that my family deemed superior to the previous version.  My “happy accident” of a recipe is below.


Level Two Kitchen Emergencies ~ Level Two Kitchen Emergencies cause panic: burnt cakes, too-salty soup, lumpy gravy, super spicy chili, etc.  Google to the rescue again!  Chances are, someone else has already encountered your problem and posted a blog about it.  This article covers many of the common fixes you might be looking for.  Usually with Level Two Kitchen Emergencies, your dish or recipe is salvageable.  Maybe you saw something awesome on Pinterest but your result doesn’t quite look like the original picture.  Again, you’re in good company: check out some hilarious Pinterest food fails here.  I remember making this four layer cake with a berry crème filling in between the layers… It looked more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa!  So, before it completely fell over, I scooped it into a trifle bowl and called it my Berry Dump Cake.  Problem solved! ;)

Level Three Kitchen Emergencies ~ Most Level Three Kitchen Emergencies can’t be recovered from, unfortunately.  The roast is burnt to a crisp, one of your key ingredients is spoiled, a dish is just plain inedible, or God forbid – you set the kitchen on fire.  Don’t panic!  Just grab the fire extinguisher if you need it, toss the disaster in the trash, and call for pizza delivery.  Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up because kitchen disasters happen to the best of us!  None of us succeed 100% of the time in the kitchen.  And hopefully you won’t have to really call 911!

 Do you have a memorable culinary catastrophe to share?


Here is my Meal Plan for this week:

Monday ~ Homemade vegetable soup with hot turkey, cheddar, and pesto sandwiches.

Tuesday ~ I’m going out to my favorite Chinese restaurant (Oriental Wok) with my friend, Heather.  I’ll probably get my favorite dish: Black Bean Chicken with Asparagus.

Wednesday ~ I’ll be trying a new recipe called “World’s Best Chicken.”  I’ll let you know if it lives up to its name!

Thursday ~ Beef Stew in the Crock Pot.  I’ve been using steak seasoning in my stew instead of the usual pepper, salt, and paprika.  Hubby approved!

Friday ~ Turkey Meatloaf with parmesan potatoes and green beans.

Saturday ~ Polish sausage, potato and cheddar pierogies, and broccoli.

Sunday ~ Ginger Glazed Mahi Mahi with rice and snow peas.


Chocolate Rum Cake   (Based on a recipe from The Cake Mix Doctor Cookbook)


  • Cooking spray
  • 1 package dark chocolate cake mix
  • 1 package (3.9 oz.) chocolate instant pudding mix
  • ¾ cup water
  • ½ cup Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum
  • ½ vegetable (or coconut) oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup semi-sweet (or dark) chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mist a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray.  In a large bowl, place all ingredients except the chocolate chips.  Blend on low with mixer for one minute.  Scrape down the sides and beat with mixer for 2 – 3 minutes until batter is smooth.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Bake 50 – 55 minutes until the cake springs back lightly when touched.  Let cool for at least 20 minutes.  Run a long knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a serving platter.  Top with the Butter Rum glaze, if desired.

Butter Rum Glaze (optional…but highly recommended!)


  • ½ stick of butter
  • 2 Tbs. water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum


Place butter in a small saucepan and melt over low heat, about 2 – 3 minutes.  Add water and sugar, stirring well.  Increase the heat to medium and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer 4 – 5 minutes until thickened, stirring constantly.  Remove pan from the heat and stir in the rum.  Spoon the glaze over the warm cake allowing it to drizzle down the sides and into the center.  Allow cake to completely cool before slicing.

Meal Planning Monday ~ Party Time!

This week’s post is by Leah Kelley.

            Let’s talk party food this week!  I love this time of year, not only is it warm but there’s also a lot of different parties and get-togethers going on – Cinco de Mayo, Derby parties, graduations, and baby showers to name a few.  Personally, I love a good grill out…  Hot dogs, hamburgers, and potato salad – just the thought makes me hungry!  Most of us have our go-to party food we like to make.  For me, it’s Dill Potato Salad and Buffalo Chicken Dip, because both are easy to make and delicious. I thought I’d share some other ideas for party food.  Here’s what I made this past weekend for a girls’ gathering at my house.

Caprese Kabobs ~ These not only are super easy to make, but also delicious.  Fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, cherry tomatoes, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, skewered on a toothpick. 

Chocolate Fondue ~ Scentsy is coming out with a new fondue line and we were lucky enough to preview it.  We tried the dark chocolate with brownie bites, Rice Krispy treats, and angel food cake pieces for dipping. 

Buffalo Chicken Dip ~ Frank’s Red Hot Sauce has a great recipe for this dip.

Beer Bread with Garlic – Garlic dip and Herb dip ~ This was my first time trying anything from Tastefully Simple and it was great!

Veggie Tray with Peppers, Carrots, and Cucumbers ~ Veggie trays are so simple and great especially on a hot summer day. 

Strawberry Basil Sangria ~ I almost didn’t want to share this with my guests it was so good! 


Strawberry Basil Sangria  (From 


  • ½ lb. of fresh strawberries
  • 1 apple
  • 1 ounce of fresh whole basil leaves
  • 1 bottle of Cline Cellar’s Cool Climate Chardonnay
  • ½ cup organic sugar
  • 1 cup of club soda
  • 1 cup of white grape juice


1. Trim and thinly slice the strawberries.

2. Slice and dice the apple into very small bits.

3. Score the basil leaves with a fork.  (I did this instead of cutting the leaves into strips as I did not want my guests choking on basil while trying to enjoy this drink). Simply just rub the basil leaves gently with a fork in order to release their flavor in the sangria.

4. Layer the fruit, sugar and basil in a large pitcher and let sit for about 10 minutes. This is just to let the sugar absorb the juices from the basil and the fruit. You’ll see it turn a bit red.

5. Add the club soda first and then the remaining liquids.  Stir well and serve.

I used 2 cups of dry champagne instead of the club soda and white grape juice.  You could also use sparkling white grape juice to replace the Chardonnay for a great non-alcoholic treat!


Meal Planning Monday ~ Your Meal Planning Toolbox

          If you’ve been following our blog for even a few weeks, you know that one of the keys to successful Meal Planning is being organized.  Now, you don’t have be anal-retentive, get out your label-maker and alphabetize your food, organized.  However, a little bit of organization and planning is required to be successful in your Meal Planning endeavors.  I thought I would share with you some great tools and resources that will make this much easier for you!

            I am a big fan of Freezer Cooking, and I frequently make extra pancakes, muffins, batches of chili, soups, and stews to freeze.  These really help me on mornings or evenings when I don’t have time to make a proper meal.  I can pull something out of the freezer, pop it in the microwave, and have a tasty, home cooked meal in minutes.  However, I was running into the problem of not remembering what exactly was in my deep freezer.  I would either forget something was in there and have to throw it out, or would swear that I had a couple of serving of turkey chili in the freezer only to find out that I’d already used it a few weeks before.  So I decided to start using a Freezer Inventory Sheet to keep track of what is in my freezer.  I hang it on my freezer and every time I add or subtract something, I write it in.  For example, I would write “Turkey Chili” with a 4 for the number of containers I put in the freezer.  As I pull them out, I make an “X” in one of the boxes, so I know how many I have left.  When the item is all gone, I cross it off the list.  I update the whole thing once or twice a month on my computer so it doesn’t get too messy.  This has really helped me make better use of what’s in my freezer.

            I certainly hope that you are using some type of Meal Planning Calendar to keep track of your monthly meals.  I use the Coupon Wizard Software for this because it makes it easy to add meals to a day on the calendar and add any missing ingredients to my shopping list.  If you’re not computer-savvy, you can just as easily use a paper calendar and write your meals on it.  However you decide to do your Meal Planning Calendar, I suggest you hang a copy of it on your refrigerator, so that your family can see what’s for dinner each day.  You might even ask your family members to put stars by the meals they enjoyed so you’ll know which recipes were a hit.

            Another Meal Planning tool I can’t live without is my Recipe Binder.  Once I try a recipe and decide that I like it and will make it again, I add it to my recipe binder.  It’s simply a 3-ring binder with sheet protectors in it.  This makes it easy to pull out the one page recipe that I need and I can easily wipe off any flour, water, etc. that I might happen to drip on it while cooking.

            I also stumbled across this post on the Money Saving Mom website which has a Recipe Cost Calculator that you can download FREE.  It seems to be geared towards baked goods, but I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t add other ingredients for your dinner recipes to see how much your recipe is going to cost you.  This may seem like work, but it may reveal some surprising insights about how much your favorite recipes truly cost to make.  Based on what you discover, you may decide to make certain recipes more or less to help ease the strain on your grocery budget.  I am going to use this tool to figure out how much each of my meals costs per person this month and see if it changes my meal planning strategies.

            Here’s my Meal Plan for this week:

~ Monday – Turkey Stroganoff served over Egg Noodles with Peas

~ Tuesday – FFY (Fend For Yourself).  I am teaching a Coupon Workshop at my church tonight.  I will probably eat one of my freezer meals (like Chicken Soup) before I go.

~ Wednesday – Fiery Fried Chicken with Potatoes and Broccoli

~ Thursday – Turkey Sausage, Perogies fried in a little bit of butter with onion, Green Beans

~ Friday – Meat Loaf with Freezer Mashed Potatoes and Salad

~ Saturday – Foil Packets on the Grill (See Recipe Below)

~ Sunday – Chicken Tacos with Refried Beans


Foil Packets on the Grill

 1 ½ pounds of chicken breast tenders, cut into 1 inch pieces

¼ pound of asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces

4 oz. of sliced fresh mushrooms

1 bell pepper, sliced into 1 inch pieces

2 tablespoons of diced onions

¼ pound of zucchini, thinly sliced


¼ cup of olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 can of petite diced tomatoes, undrained

2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning

¼ cup capers, drained

Salt and pepper to taste

 Mix the sauce ingredients in a large bowl.  Add the diced veggies and chicken.  Stir to coat veggie and meat with the sauce.  Use four 12×12 inch sheet of heavy duty foil.  Divide the meat and veggies among the four foil sheets.  Fold the foil edges toward the center and crimp to seal.  Fold up the outside edges to seal as well.  Place foil packets on a hot grill and cook for 8 to 10 minutes.  Let stand 3 minutes before serving.  (This recipe can also be made on the stove top with a large deep frying pan.  Brown the meat first, and then add the other ingredients.  Cover and cook for 8 minutes.)











Meal Planning Monday ~ Homemade or Store Bought?


          “Are you kidding me?!”  I muttered to myself, in the granola bar aisle at Kroger a few weeks ago.  I had plenty of coupons for a variety of granola bars, but not a one of them were on sale!  There’s no way that I am going to spend upwards of $3.50 on a box of 6 granola bars.  Yes, I do stock up on them when they are on sale.  However, my husband, Nick, LOVES sweets and will go through a box of granola bars in two or three days.  This means that I need to buy at least two boxes a week or he will have to do without.  That’s when I decided to find out if it was cheaper for me to make my own granola bars.

            My husband likes pretty much any kind of granola bars that I buy, but one of his favorites is the Golden Grahams Treat bars.  They come in a box of five or six and are over $3.50 when they aren’t on sale.  Sometimes they will be part of Kroger’s Mega Sale and I’ll be able to get them for $1.50 with coupons.  I enlisted the help of my “Try It Out” recipe group on Facebook and received links for the Golden Grahams Treat bars and traditional granola bars.

            The Golden Grahams treat bars were super easy to make!  I regularly stock up on Golden Grahams cereal when it’s on sale, so I already had it on hand.  I just picked up a bag of Kroger mini marshmallows and mini chocolate chips.  The only other ingredient you need is butter.  The recipe made the equivalent of three boxes of store bought treats.  Once cooled, I cut them (with a pizza cutter) into individual sized bars and put them in snack sized baggies.  Nick loved them and said they were MUCH better than the store bought ones.  The boxed Golden Grahams treats would have to be less than $1.30 a box to be a better deal.

            The other granola bar recipe turned out to be really delicious, too.  I made it exactly as the directions indicated, but you could easily mix up the type of nuts and other add-ins to your family’s liking.  Because there were more ingredients in these bars, they were a little bit more expensive to make than the Golden Grahams treats.  This recipe also made the equivalent of three boxes of store bought granola bars.  The approximate cost of the homemade ones was $1.75 per box.  Keep in mind that some of the ingredients in both bars were not on sale. (Shame on me, I know!)  So I will be stocking up on them when they are and driving the cost of my homemade treats down even more!  I did freeze half of the granola bars and treats I made to make sure they stay fresh.

            Is there something that your family eats a lot of that you hate spending money on at the store?  Maybe it’s frozen waffles, spaghetti sauce, or bread.  It’s possible that you could save yourself some serious money over the course of a year by making it homemade.  You’ll need to do a little research on the price of ingredients to see if it is worth your while.  Also consider your time investment.  You may be able to save money baking your own bread, but if you hate to bake and don’t have the time to, you’ll be better off hunting down coupons for your favorite brand and stocking up and freezing extra loaves when it’s on sale.

            So tell me: Is there something you’re currently making homemade instead of buying at the store to save big money for your family?


Golden Grahams® Treat Bars  (From


  • 1/3  cup margarine or butter
  • 1 package (10 3/4 ounces) miniature marshmallows (6 cups)
  • 1 package (13 ounces) Golden Grahams® cereal (8 cups)
  • 1 bar (1.55 ounces) Hershey®’s milk chocolate candy, cut into small chunks and frozen


Butter a rectangular pan, 13x9x2 inches.  Melt margarine and marshmallows in 3-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly; remove from heat.  Gently stir in cereal until evenly coated; let stand 1 minute.  Stir in frozen candy chunks.  Press in pan with buttered back of spoon.  Cool completely.  Cut into about 2×1 1/2-inch bars.

** Note: I used 1 cup of mini chocolate chips (frozen), in place of the candy chunks.  You could make this recipe will just about any cereal you like, leaving out the chocolate if you’re making them with a fruity cereal.  (Thanks to Toni White for pointing me to this recipe!)


Easy Granola Bars  (From


  • 3 cups quick-cooking oats
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).  Grease a 9×13 inch pan.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, sweetened condensed milk, butter, coconut, almonds, chocolate chips, and cranberries with your hands until well blended.  Press flat into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, depending on how crunchy you want them.  Lightly browned just around the edges will give you moist, chewy bars.  Let cool for 5 minutes, cut into squares then let cool completely before serving.

Nutritional Information: Amount Per Serving,  Calories: 179 | Total Fat: 8.1g | Cholesterol: 8mg

** Note: I baked mine for 18 minutes for chewy bars, which is how we like them around here!  Thanks to Tara Zinser for pointing me to this recipe!  Here are a few variations that I am going to try: Macadamia nuts with white chocolate chips; raisins, walnuts, and cinnamon chips; chopped peanuts with chocolate and peanut butter chips.









Meal Planning Monday ~ Restaurant Recipes at Home


           In America, we LOVE to eat out!  According to the US Department of Labor, in 2010 the average American family spent $2,619 dining out, which is almost $220 per month.  Wow, that’s a lot of money, especially with so many people in debt and without a cushion of savings!  I love to eat out as much as the next person, but I spend about half of that amount.  How?  One of my favorite tricks is to dine out for lunch instead of dinner, which saves me at least 30 – 40%.  Portions are slightly less (which is usually a good thing) and I try to drink water with lemon, so I’m not paying $2.50 or $3.00 for a glass of Diet Coke (much less $6.00 or more for a glass of wine with dinner.)

            Another way I save money on eating out is to find recipes for my favorite restaurant dishes and try them at home!  CopyKat Recipes is a great resource for restaurant recipes, and even has instructional videos!  One of my favorite places to eat out is Cracker Barrel.  Who doesn’t love their home cooking?  I usually get the grilled chicken tenderloin with hash brown casserole and green beans.  I was so excited when I happened upon a recipe for the Cracker Barrel chicken tenderloin on Pinterest this week!  I added it to my meal plan for the upcoming week, along with my friend Patty Welsh Cable’s recipe for Cracker Barrel’s hash brown casserole!  I also make a great Spinach & Artichoke Dip that Nick says is better than any he’s gotten out as a restaurant appetizer.  (That recipe is included in my upcoming e-book about Meal Planning, “The Coupon Sisters Get Cooking,” which will be for sale on March 1st.)

            What’s your family’s favorite restaurant?  Why not check out CopyKat or Google your favorite dish and see if you can make it at home?  You’ll certainly save money, and probably calories too.  I’m not against eating out, but most of us could stand to save some money in our eating out budgets.  Here is my Meal Plan for this week.


Monday ~ Turkey Polish sausage with Perogies and mixed veggies.

Tuesday ~ Lemon Pepper Tilapia with mac & cheese and broccoli.

Wednesday ~ FFY (Fend For Yourself) Night.  I am teaching a Coupon Workshop at my church.

Thursday ~ Fiery Fried Chicken with Yukon Gold potatoes and a salad.

Friday ~ Fish Tacos with refried black beans.

Saturday ~ Date Night!  Nick and I are going on a double date with friends to dinner and a movie.

Sunday ~ Cracker Barrel’s Chicken Tenderloins, Patty’s Hash Brown Casserole, and green beans.


Cracker Barrel Grilled Chicken Tenderloin Recipe


1 pound boneless chicken breast tenders

1/2 cup Zesty Italian dressing

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon honey



  1. Mix dressing, lime juice, and honey in a large resealable bag or container.
  2. Add the chicken.  Marinate for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.
  3. In a large non-stick skillet over med/high heat, add the entire mixture with chicken to the pan.
  4. Braise chicken on all sides until golden but not dry.(I do this until most of the liquid has evaporated out which is why mine have a dark color)



Patty’s Hash Brown Casserole (like Cracker Barrel)

10.25 ounce can of condensed can cream of chicken
8 ounce Colby cheese grated
½ cup melted butter
1 small onion minced
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
2 lb. bag frozen shredded hash browns

Spray 13 X 9 X 2 baking pan with non-stick cooking spray: set aside.  In a bowl, combine soup, cheese, butter, onion, salt, and pepper.  Gently fold potatoes into mixture and spread evenly into pan.  Heat at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until heated through or top is brown.


Meal Planning Monday ~ Tasty Tomatoes



               I am so excited because the tomatoes in our garden are finally ripening!  We had a very wet, cool spring here in the Cincinnati area, which seems to have delayed my personal tomato crop by several weeks.  My husband first decided to start growing tomatoes two years ago declaring store-bought ones to be tasteless and overpriced, and he was right (but don’t tell him I said so.) 

            Some people think growing tomatoes is hard and time-consuming.  However, in my experience, it’s relatively easy to do.  We planted our tomatoes in our existing flower beds in between hydrangeas and butterfly bushes!  (Now if we can just get the deer to quit eating them before we can…)  Make sure to put tomatoes in a sunny spot in your yard and water them generously.  You’ll be rewarded with a bumper crop of delicious tomatoes that your friends and family will be begging you for any extras.  Here are a few of my favorite ways to eat fresh-grown tomatoes this summer.


Monday ~ Taco Night.  If you haven’t tried ground chicken for tacos, you should!  It’s very tasty and has a lot less fat than ground beef.  I’ll chop up plenty of fresh tomatoes to top off our tacos, along with lettuce and shredded cheddar.


Tuesday ~ Oven Fried Chicken with mashed potatoes and garlic roasted zucchini (also from my garden!)


Wednesday ~ FFY (Fend for Yourself) Night.  I have my final golf lesson for the season tonight.  I will bring a turkey sandwich to work so I have something to eat before I hit the links.  Of course, there will be nice slice or two of tomato on that sandwich!


Thursday ~ FFY (Fend for Yourself) Night.  I’m teaching a Coupon Workshop, which means I’ll have to eat something quick this night.  Maybe there will still be some leftover Oven Fried Chicken…


Friday ~ Grilled Chicken Sausages (I like Johnsonville’s new line of them.)  I will make a few skewers of vegetables, brushed with Italian dressing to put on the grill too.  My favorite grilled veggies: mushrooms, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and onion.


Saturday ~ Lemon Pepper Tilapia boiled Yukon Gold potatoes with fresh parsley and butter, and green beans.  This fish is very easy to make!  Just take thawed tilapia fillets, pat dry, and season with a lemon pepper spice blend, like Mrs. Dash’s.  In a frying pan or skillet, spray some butter flavored cooking spray (or a small amount of butter) and cook each on each side for 3 or 4 minutes.  (Thanks to my friend, Ericka, for this easy dinner idea!)


Sunday ~ Chicken Bruschetta and salad.  This is my favorite recipe with fresh tomatoes and basil!  Enjoy!

Chicken Bruschetta

4 chicken breasts

1 large fresh tomato, chopped and seeded

2 – 3 Tbs of Balsamic salad dressing (plus extra for marinade)

¼ cup of chopped fresh basil

Shredded Italian blend cheese


Marinate the chicken breasts in balsamic dressing 30 – 60 minutes.  Combine the tomato and basil with enough balsamic dressing to coat.  Grill the chicken on one side.  When you flip the chicken to the other side, top the chicken with the tomato and basil mixture.  For last two minutes of grilling, top each chicken breast with shredded cheese.