Thursday, July 30, 2009

Stuffed Green Pepper Casserole

Growing up, my mom made stuffed green peppers a lot. I'd always ask her to make extra "stuffing" because that was really the only part I liked. She'd serve me the pepper and I'd scoop out the inside, put extra cheese over it and then eat it. When Todd and I got our own first house, I just followed my moms recipe, yet after the meal, there sat Todd and I's green peppers that neither of us touched. Yes, we both eat like a 5 year old child!

So one day Todd asked why I didn't just make this into a casserole. He said he's probably like the peppers better if they were mixed in. He figured he liked green peppers on a pizza, but it was because it was all mixed in. So I search all over the internet but found nothing that was exactly like my moms, so I came up with my own. It's super simple, yet delicious and semi healthy at least. Luke LOVES it now too!

Stuffed Green Pepper Casserole
1 lb lean ground beef or ground turkey
small package frozen corn kernals
2 cups prepared brown or white rice
3-4 green peppers, cut into thin strips
1 large can tomatoe sauce
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 degree F. Brown ground beef or ground turkey in a skillet until browned. You could add a little onion to this if you'd like.

2. Mix 2 cups prepared rice, ground beef, green pepper strips, corn, 1/4 cup cheese, and tomatoe sauce. Stir to mix up and place in a baking dish.

3. Top with cheese. Place in oven and bake for 45 minutes. Enjoy!

Best meat marinade EVER!

Please excuse the crappy picture, we are still catching up on dishes and laundry from our vacation, so alas, tupperware plates and an old christmas tablecloth it was last night!

I just HAD to share this delicious chicken marinade recipe with you. Todd constantly complains that I'm incapable of eating "plain" food. I always have to "doctor it up," as he says. It's the truth though. I can't just grill chicken and think it tastes good. So I've tried many many marinades over the past couple years, but every time it just gives the meat a slight hint of flavor and yet the meat is still dry and rubbery. UNTIL last night! Yes, this is the first ever chicken marinade I have LOVED. Todd and Luke both loved it to. Todd is known as the condiment king in our house because he needs either ketchup, BBQ sauce, or ranch on everything. He even ate the chicken just as it was. It was that good. So, go check out the recipe at

Oh, and I will wanr you, it makes a lot of extra marinade. I mixed it up in a large mason jar. We grilled 6 chicken breast and used about 1/2 of the marinade. The other half I'm thinking of trying on steak.....hmmmm. I hope your family enjoys it as much as we did!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It's time to shop ahead!

I've always been a fan of going to garage sales and buying gently used clothes. I did this before I even got pregnant with Luke and most of his first year or life. I love garage sales in general, but it just got more and more tough once I couldn't just put Luke in a stroller and he went along happily for the ride. So many garage sales were just junk so I decided to focus my efforts on used kids clothing stores and sales. They worked well up until now. I think toddler boy and used clothing can't be used in the same sentence. Its seems like no one has used toddler boy clothes. I can fully understand this though.....Luke has stained or ruined 95% of his woredrobe. It's all Goodwill bound for I'm sure everyone else is in this boat too.

Ao I've decided I just needed to become smart about shopping and that it would be alright to buy it new. So I've now been buying next years clothes at the end of the season. So far, clearence sales havn't been that great. I did pick up 3 t-shirts from Target for $2 each, but other than that I just havn't been willing to pay $9.99 for a clearence t-shirt from Gap! This weekend, Children's Place had an additional 50% off already reduced clearence items. The picture above is everything I got from the store...4 pairs of shorts, 3 pairs athletic shorts, 6 tshirts, and a ball cap, all for a little over $50! Originally they would have cost around $130!

And if I do take the time to pretreat stains and send Luke out to play in Goodwill t-shirts, I can sell them for about the same as I bought them for. Woohoo!

I also scored $25 in free Gymbucks from an awesome bumpie. So I went through their clearence and finished up what I'd need for Luke for next spring.summer. I also got a bunch for Brooke. I'll have to share once the package arrives...

Happy 2 Months Brooke!

I can't even believe I'm posting this.....but Brooke is 2 months old already. We just had her appointment yesterday and she's weighing in at 10lbs, 3 oz, so almost double her birth weight! Dr. Thome said she is doing great though for starting off her life in the NICU and she sees no delays at all. Great news!

Here are a few pictures of her from the past month. Happy 2 month birthday my sweet girl!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Another Mission Organization Complete!

Another project I finished up this week was my Home Organizer. I constantly had papers and notebooks laying everywhere in our house. I had one in the office, stacks of magazines in the office, another notebook by the junk drawer in the kitchen, several baggies full of coupons, a little recipe box where I keep my recipes I like to make again and again (like I said before though, there is very few that we make more than once). I decided it all needed to be organized once and for all and in a way it would be easy to add to, easy to clean out, and easy to access/take with me. The result, a home organization binder and a seperate coupon binder which I'm working on now.

I first started by going through all the old magazines I had. Maybe of them were saved just because of one or two pages. So I went ahead and cut out the information or pictures I was savings, and recycling the rest. Then I gathered my go to recipes, sorted through my email and notebooks and consolidated all those little "tips" I had wrote down. Then I just started organizing them all. One tab is go to recipes, another tab is laundry/home "tips" such as how to get certain stains out of clothes which was clipped from a RealSimple magazine, simple entertaining ideas like my go to appitizer recipes and the layout of where the fork, spoon, and knife should go during a dinner party, then some house decor "inspiration" pics as well as some how-to articles on home improvement.

Todd input was to add a list of when things around the house needed to be done, such as the furnace filter gets changed the first Saturday every month and windows get cleaned the first weekend in April each year. He also added a few pages of business cards of people we use for things around the house, the heating and air guy, the electrician, etc. Here is a picture of the inside. Nothing speacial, but it works perfeclty for keeping us organized and having everything in one location.

I'm currently working on a coupon binder. Before, I kept seperate ziplock baggies for each coupon category - food coupons, restaurant coupons, baby coupons, and everything else like coupons for oil changes or Bed, Bath and Beyond. This worked alright for keeping everything organized, but it would be easier to have it all in one place and to keep the binder in my car. I'm going to start putting it in my reusable grocery bags while I go grocery shopping since I'm constantly finding sales that weren't in the flyer and think, shoot, I had a coupon for that. Now, when I have the binder on me, I'll hav the coupon. Or, when we're out and about, we often decide to go ahead and eat out, but our coupons are always at home. Lastly, I'v added a little zipper pencil case and some looseleaf paper. The pencil case is for loose coupons or when I don't have time to "file" them. The looseleaf paper is to start tracking priced. When I know what the rock bottom price is, I'll know this is the best time to stock up.

Well, I think that's about it for now. Back to packing.....we're off for Lake Michigan/Holland, MI tomorrow. We tried to forgo a vacation this year, but we just couldn't do it. So a long weekend in Michigan is better than nothing, right?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Meal planning...

So you might ask what I've been up to the past couple weeks since I haven't been blogging much. Well, I have to let you in on a little secret. One, I'm super Type-A and I'm incapable of sitting still. My type-A personality makes me HAVE to be organized in life. I just can't function unless my life is organized and I have a plan in place of what will get done and when. So, as much as I love Brooke and LOVE having a new baby to love, she's kind of threw our world upside down. Our little life and how it operated has been majorly thrown off course. So we've spent the past couple weeks with me back at work part time and the other time spent getting our lives re-organized and figuring out what works best for us now.

That being said, somewhere I needed and desperatly wanted to get more organized was meals. We are also trying to cut our grocery bills at the same time as food costs seem to be rising even more, but I'll hit that a little harder in a few months. Anyway, I have a lov hate relationship with food. I LOVE the way it tastes, but I hate how it consumes our life. Food is one of our biggest budget items every month AND we spend so much of our life thinking about food, making food, shopping for food and eating food. It kind of makes me sick. But, I refuse to surrender to processed an convience foods as the solution. Quite the opposite, I'm trying to make the best, quickest, healthiest food for my family that I can.

So lately I have really been cutting down on the amount of time and money spent on food. We've also bee eating healtheir than ever before (but we ate SUPER bad before having kids, as in the #1 meal at McD's was a regular weekly meal and Subway was our go to when we wanted to eat "healthy"). One of my biggest struggles has always been what to make and even though I meal planned, about 50% of the time, the produce or fruit would go bad, or I'd forget what meals I had planned and then everything I bought just sat in the pantry. So I've REALLY been working on this one. Here are my tips that seem to be working for us:

1. Since we're also trying to keep cost down, I first look at what we have. This week for example we had some frozen shredded chicken meat, ground sausage, and kielbasa to use up. So I found recipes with not too many ingredients I didn't have on hand. I mainly use, ut sometimes I'll look at and search by ingredient or go to a products webite, such as and see what I can make. We made marinated chicken one night with rice I had in the pantry, chirstmas breakfast casserole from the sausage, and kielbasa pasta as I call it, but basically roasted veggies with kielbasa and pasta with Italian dressing. Sometimes I'll look at the ads to see whats on sale (like wild caught fresh salmon for $2.99/lb at Kroger). Other times I'll try to see what I can make from the leftovers of what I'm already getting (so like if I need 1/2 a carton of cherry tomatoes for a dish, then I'll use the other half for pasta salad another night for dinner and lunch the next day). I also look for coupons either what I have on hand or online I'll google for it.

2. Then I'll come up with what we'll have for each day. For breakfast, lunch and snacks I just put a big list so when I'm hungry or packing lunch, I just look at the list. For dinner I plan out every night, trying to plan meals with produce/fruit that will go bad at the beginning of the week and then stuff like pancakes or breakfast casserole for the end since nothing in the recipe goes bad. We are also trying to shop for groceries only once every two weeks. We normally like to shop as a family but it is just getting too challenging with two kids in tow, so I think I'm going to move my shopping night to Monday after the lil ones are sleeping.
I also try to plan that if I make grilled chicken one night, I can grill extra, slice it, put it in the fridge and use it in say fajitas the next night. I post this entire list on the fridge so if anyone has any questions, they just look at the list.

I do plan two meals a week out, usually Saturday and Sunday because we'll be out and about or go eat with one of our parents. BUT, sometimes if we need to eat out during the week (or grab carry out for us), then I'll shift the meals down and force us to stay in and eat it on the weekend instead of going out. If however, you get to the end of the week and you still didn't eat a meal, roll it into next week's meal plan.

3. Last "tip" (and I'm working on this too), but having a go to list of recipes. Todd jokes that I am incapable of eating the same meal twice. Even if it's spaghetti, I have to cook it a different way each time. BUT, I'm getting better at this knowing I have the things on hand already and I can use up the other half of packages (like this week I made meatloaf with stuffing mix....normally I would have just thrown out what I didn't use, instead I used the whole package and made 4 meatloaves)

4. Oh yeah, and look at the list right before you go to bed and see if there is anything you have to do for the next day (take chicken breast out of freezer and put in fridge) or anything you can do to cut down prep time the next day (like chop tomatoes ahead of time).

So hopefully that helped. I'm still trying to get into the freezer meal thing. We did really well with the 10 packages for frozen taco chicken I made before Brooke was born. We just used the last one last night on nachos. I made Mexican lasagna, Mexican lasagna roll ups, taco pizza, nachos, Mexican calzones, and of course a few tacos/burritos. And I think I'm going to make some large batches of ground beef now already cooked and grilled chicken in slices. That's about as far as I'm going to venture for now. I'm just not a huge fan of actual frozen meals because they always taste like leftovers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Line drying your clothes

I had Todd hang me a clothes line this spring in the hopes that we could switch to line drying. Growing up, Todd's mom always dried their clothes on the line, so he'd begged me for years. I just couldn't understand why anyone would want to do that. But alas, here I am giving it a try. But this spring, we made the purchase of 2 packs of clothes pins and a 50' rope. Todd tied it up on the fence posts, and then it sat. See, our laundry is in the basement, and we have front loading machines which you can fit a good 20 lbs of laundry in, I swear! So here I am, extremly pregnant, carrying 20 lbs of wet laundry up from the basement to hang on the clothes line. Yeah, just wasn't going to happen. Until one nice Sunday afternoon when I asked Todd to help. He graciously agreed, carried it up, and we hung it all on the line. The result......a huge load of stiff shirts that I decided needed thrown back in the washer. Todd said his shirts were fine, but there was no way in hell you'd catch me in something as soft as sand paper!

So until now, the clothes line once again sat, waiting to be used. Well, wouldn't you know my cloth diapers saved me. I had read that virtually any diaper stain could be removed with the power of the sun. So I had a few with horrible stains, so I figured, why not, I'd give it one more try. I looked online and found a couple tips. Mainly, stiffness was due to laundry detergent build up. So even though I was using the front loading detergent, I cut that recommended amount down to half of what it called for (so 1/2 Tbsp for you other Crunchy Clean users). Then I set my washer to have an extra rinse cycle so that I can make positively sure the diapers are detergent free and then I added 1 cup white distilled vinegar to the wash load. Then, once everything had been washed, I actually cheated and threw the diaper in the dryer for just a quick 5 minute fluff. I use the ultra delicate cycle. Then up the stairs I went to the clothes line.

So......the result? MUCH better! A few things like my hemp inserts (which are kinda stiff anyway) and some hemp diapers needed fluffed, but I just waited till I had another load at night to put in the dryer. I also threw in a tennis ball just for kicks (hey, it works for down comfoters, right?) and they came out perfect.

Today I tried the rest of our laundry and this system seems to be working for us. PLUS, as an added bonus, I doubt I'll ever use OxiClean again. Some of Todd's work shirts that haven't been near any shade of white in over 5 years......look pretty darn good. Maybe not "brand new" white, but give it another line dry or two and I bet you won't be able to tell. Plus, I noiced it got out a ketchup stain on Luke's shirt I must have missed! Amazing! That sun is something else....

My next experiment??? Washing with only cold water. I just read today that it can save $.25 per load. For us, we're looking at at least $2 in savings per week! Woohoo!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Kielbasa Summer Pasta

This is one of our all time favorite go-to summer recipes. It's quick and easy, tastes delicious and makes delicious leftovers that last me at least three days.

Here is everything you will need.
1 lb rotini pasta
1lb kielbasa or smoked sausage (turkey sausage works great too)
1 zucchini
1 summer squash
1 red onion
approx. 1 cup italian dressing (my favorite is Newman's Own Ceasar dressing)
1/4 cup parmesean cheese
First, slice up the zucchini and place it on a foil lined cookie sheet.
Next, slice up the summer squash. Add this to the foil lined baking sheet as well.
Next, chop the red onion into 1" squares. Add to foil lined baing sheet.
Thn slice up the kielbasa. I personally like smaller bites, so I then cut each slice in half. Add the the baking pan.
Meanwhile, start cooking your pasta according to package directions.
Then drizzle olive oil over all veggies and kielbasa on the baking sheet.
Place under broiler on high until the edges of the meat start to crisp and the veggies start looking cooked. I usually turn the broiler to low as this point so it's nice and hot after the pasta gets drained.
Lastly, toss the pasta into a bowl. Toss in the meat and veggies and add 1 cup of Italian dressing. Toss to coat and sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesean cheese.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Red Skinned Potato Salad

What is the 4th of July without a BBQ, right? It was my in-laws turn to host the holiday picnic, so I volunteered to make potato salad, Todd's all time favorite. I get a lot of comments on this salad too and it's my go to side dish during the summer when I have potatoes to use up. So here it is:

1. Use 2 lbs red skinned potatoes. Boil in lightly salted water for 30 minutes or until soft.

2. Meanwhile, make the hard boiled eggs. To do this, put 4 eggs in a pot and fill with cold water, 1" above the eggs. Put on the stove on high. When the water comes to a boil, remove from heat and let sit for 12 minutes. After 12 minutes, drain the water and rinse eggs with colr water. I then let them sit in the fridge to cool some more.

3. When the potatoes are done, chop each into 1/2" cubed pieces and place in a bowl.

4. While chopping the potatoes, get the bacon cooking. I personally like to cook bacon for salads in the microwave using paper towels. I put 4 on the bottom, lay on the bacon, and then two on top for 4 minutes. It gets done just right and is super easy to crumble.

5. Chop the bacon up and add it to the chopped potatoes.

6. Next, chop up the oinion. Normally I like to finely chop red onion, but I forgot to pick one up from the store. I had some green onions on hand, so they got used instead. Just finely chop and toss in with potatoes and bacon.

7. Next, peel and chop the hard boiled eggs. Toss in the bowl with the potatoes, bacon, and onion.
8. Next, chop two pieces of celery and toss it into the bowl.
9. Then mix in 1 to 1.5 cups mayo. I prefer to use Hellmans but I guess if you liked it a little sweet, Miracle Whip could work fine too. Mix in mayo with a spoon. Then place in refridgerator for at least 2 hours or let the flavors come together. I personally think it tastes best after coming together overnight in the fridge.

Teriyaki Salmon Foil Packets

Freash, wild caught salmon was on sale at Krogers last week for only $2.99/lb. We've been trying to eat healthier, eat on a budget, and fit more fish into our diet so when I saw the salmon, I knew we had to find a good and kid-friendly (both for Lue and Todd) recipe for it. I saw a couple teriyaki recipes and a couple done in foil and put them together to create this dish. It's super simple, cheap, and yet delicious. To make it super simple I used a premixed teriyaki marinade purchased from the store.

1. Marinate salmon in about 1/2 cup teriyaki marinade 1-2 hours in the refridgerator.
2. When salmon is done marinating, place each fillet in the middle of a squae piece of foil. Top with carotts (I used chopped baby carrots since it's all we had in the fridge) and snow peas. Top with another 2 Tbsp teriyaki marinade. Wrap up the foil so that the marinade cannot leak out yet steam can escape through the top.
3. Grill for 15 minutes on medium high. In the winter, I'm sure you could cook it in the oven too, probably around 350 for the same amount of time. Check the fillet for doneness by flaking it with a fork.

I served this with Lipton Teriyaki noodles on the side for an super easy and delicious meal. Luke mainly liked the noodles, but we were able to throw in small flakes of salmon and he never even noticed he was eating it. =)

Lots to catch up on!

I've taken a blogging break the past couple weeks. I went back to work this week, only part time, but I really needed to finish up my "maternity leave to do list." Sick, I know! But we had so many things that had to be done during the day and while someone was at the house or stuff that I've been meaning to get to for some time like having our tubs fixed and cleaning out the toys in the basement. I'm also really big about schedules. I have to keep to somewhat of a set schedule, at least during the week when I'm working, or I'll go mad. There is just no way to get everything done unless you do a little bit each day. Obviously since our family has grown, so has our daily "to do list" like extra laundry and dirty dishes and it's also impossible to go shopping with Luke and Brooke, so that has had to change as well.

I've also been cooking up a storm lately for two reasons. One, we really decided we need to eat more healthy, especially with the farmers market stands in full swing. Todd and I both feel we could stand to loose a little weight and I recently got my last promotion for graduating my trainee program at work. It's been 4 long years but I'm finally at my top "guarenteed" pay which is pretty good for just turning 26, in my opinion at least. But after calculating how much more we'll be bringing home this year, we realized how much we don't want this extra money to just "disappear" like it has seemed to in the past. Every year, after each raise, we'd look back and wonder how we used to live on so little. I've heard it before, but with each raise, you just find more things to spend it on. So we've decided that we really need to get back on our budget. So I'll be posting many of the recipes we've made as well as review how we liked it.

We've also been car shopping the past two weeks. We don't really need a new car, and we're not even getting rid of my Honda Accord for at least a few more years, but for some reason, now seems like a good time to buy. The problem is that we figure if it's going to be something we're going to keep for 10-15 years, we better get something with a third row seat AND a good amount of storage. But by that point we are basically limited to Tahoes, Suburbans, Sequioas, Expeditions (XLT), and Yukons (XL) and possibly the Saturn Outlook/GMC Arcadia. But of course, those are all beaucoup moola! So then we are looking at used ones and really its a toss up. If you go too old (older than 2007) the interest rate to finance it is 3.897%, so it makes sense to leave the money in the bank earning 4.5% (our new credit union checking account rate!), but if it's a 2006 or older, well then we might as well just pay cash. So then we look and they all have super high miles for their year and are really beat up. So we're getting quite frustrated.