Saturday, May 29, 2010

Deep Fried...

...YES - I went there last night. For the first time in 7 years I deep fried something in my home. SHAME ON ME! My favorite part of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution was when they buried the deep fryer. TIS TIS TIS. However, here's how it went down:

I haven't been shopping lately so options were limited. I had frozen tilapia in the freezer that I've been staring at for probably 2 months. I looked online for some good tilapia recipes because fish other than salmon isn't really my forte. I saw some yummy looking fish tacos that struck my fancy. I LOVE fish tacos. We usually make them with salmon and just sear it in the pan and mix it all up with avocado and the works. But this was tilapia. And breaded sounded really good. So I went to YouTube and watched a few videos about battering up fish. Here is what I did.

Homemade Fish Sticks

4 fillets fresh or thawed tilapia - patted dry
1.5 cups seasoned bread crumbs
1.5 cups corn meal
2 cups milk
1 egg
2 cups flour
vegetable oil

Pour several cups of oil into a pan 1-2 inches deep, preferrably non-stick or cast iron because stainless steel tends to change color when you use hot oil in it, heat on medium low.

Get three shallow bowls, fill with the following: 1st bowl - the flour. 2nd bowl - the egg and milk (wisked till evenly colored). 3rd bowl - combine the bread crumbs and corn meal. Line them up with bowl 1 furthest from the oil, bowl 2 in the middle and bowl 3 closest to the frying oil.

Cut fish into sticks no more than 1 inch wide, however long you wish but 3-4 inches seems to be good for finger food. Pat with a paper towel if they are wet or juicy - need to be mostly dry.

Do the following with each piece of fish:
1. Roll it in the flour
2. Quickly bathe it in the milk/egg
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2
4. Roll it in the crumbs till evenly covered
5. Gently place it in the oil

Bubbles should form quickly around the fish stick and it should sink to the bottom of the pan. Let fry for a few minutes - the fish stick will rise to the top when it is nearly done. Again, let it fry for a little longer or until the outside starts to turn golden brown. Remove from oil. Cut the first few in half after cooking to be sure the fish is cooked through. I did 4 pieces at a time and rotated them in the oil, so I had about 12 pieces in the pan at most times. Since 4 fillets makes about 40 sticks, it takes some time to fry up the whole batch.

Place on a plate covered in paper towels for several minutes to cool and for the oil to drain off a bit. Serve warm.

Eat as fish sticks with tartar sauce or ketchup OR throw them into corn tortillas with shredded cabbage, tomato, cilantro, hot sauce, and whatever toppings you prefer.

We had about half leftover today, so for lunch I turned the oven to 400 degrees and warmed them up for 15 minutes. We had sliced apples, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and cucumbers on the side. BIG HIT with the kids, and we enjoyed them too! Crunchy, flavorful, and filling.

I can't really estimate the nutrition facts since it's impossible to tell how much oil, breading, milk and egg is in each serving. Fish sticks are low in saturated fat however, so that's a plus.

And this - here are the ingredients in a popular box of frozen fish sticks:

Minced Pollock, Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid)Vegetable Oil (Cottonseed, Canola, Soybean, and/or Rice Bran)Water, Yellow Corn Flour, Modified Corn Starch, Sugar, Salt, Whey, Dextrose, Dried Yeast, Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate)Caramel Color, Hydrolyzed Corn Gluten, Monosodium Glutamate, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Onion Powder, Colored with Paprika, Annatto and Turmeric Extracts, Natural Flavoring, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, TBHQ Added to Protect Flavor, Sodium Triphosphate (to Retain Moisture)Methylcellulose, Rice Flour, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein.

WOW - I've bolded the ingredients that I know are seriously bad for you. Preservatives, sugar, MSG, sodium, Phosphates.

I'm suddenly now kind of proud of my deep fry night! Though I don't think I'll do it too often...and you will NEVER find an electric deep fryer in my home.

I may however consider doing a big batch at times and throwing them in the freezer for quick kid meals.

TIP: MOST bread crumbs that you buy from the store contain many of the bolded ingredients above. So it's best to either make your own or find a brand that does not add MSG and phosphates for flavor or preserving.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Simple Protein Smoothies

I enjoy a good refreshing smoothie first thing in the summer mornings - and these are really easy!

Simple Protein Smoothies
1 scoop vanilla or coconut flavored protein powder
8 ice cubes
1/2 cup water (less if you are using melon)
1 tsp vanilla or coconut extract
1/4 cup oats (makes it creamy and is added fiber!)
1 packet no calorie sweetener like stevia, splenda, or pureVia
2 or 3 types of fruit like...
    1/2 banana chopped up
5 strawberries
1/4 cup frozen blueberries
6 blackberries
1/2 cup melon cubes
1/4 apple skinless and chopped up
1/4 cup mango cubes
etc.


Put ice in your blender first, then add the rest of the ingredients. Blend together till smooth. Sip with a straw so you don't get brain freeze - never good first thing in the morning!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

COUPON SHOPPING!

I said "I DO" to coupon shopping in January 2009. And I will never go back!

I reduced our monthly grocery budget by 65%. We have more varitey because I buy things I normally wouldn't. It makes me get more creative with our eating. And it made me o-so-aware of the prices and how inflated they are if they aren't on a sale.

So, I think that after over a year of successful discount grocery shopping, I can adequately give some advice - or at least detail how I successfully prepare for shopping on the cheap:

Preparing for the grocery trip:
My preparation starts with glancing though my kitchen, pantry, and household items to see if I am running low on anything. Also considering any special occasions that may be coming up I make a MUST BUY list.

One or two Sunday newspapers is enough coupons for a family of 4. If you are paying more than $1.00 for your Sunday paper - you're probably paying too much. Call and threaten to cancel your subscription if they don't give you a better price - it typically works. There are a lot of people that don't use their coupons and offer them for free on Craigslist.org - you may want to go that route, but I have not needed to.

I use www.TheGroceryGame.com as a "cheat" to make my lists - much faster than canvassing all of the ads myself. PLUS - it shows me the percentage of markdown so I don't have to do the calculations - that would take forever. I pay for three stores (Fry's, Safeway, & Albertsons) so it costs me $10 per month - I feel it's totally worth it. You can try it for a month free - so you don't have to take my word for it. It also tells me exactly which coupon to clip or print to get the final price - so there's no guesswork. (I test drove CouponSense for 8 weeks and went back to The Grocery Game. Although I never found an incorrect price with CouponSense, I felt that I did not get as good of deals, and my preparation took longer. A lot of people use CouponSense - but I recommend The Grocery Game.)

When making my lists I look for the items that at their final price (after sale and coupons) are seriously reduced - like 65% or more. I try to only buy those items - and buy as many as I can find coupons for. This is called stockpiling. Of course, you can't do this with items that expire or go bad in a short amount of time...but many items can be bought way ahead of actually needing them.

CHANGE your way of thinking about shopping. Don't buy what you want or think you will need, unless it is for a special occasion or you use it frequently and are completely out. INSTEAD - Buy those items that are a great deal that week. AFTER SHOPPING, plan your meals from what you have on hand. It will take 4-8 weeks for your stockpiling to become more well rounded and full of variety.

How I organize my coupons.
I don't clip until I need them. When I get the inserts from the Sunday paper, I quickly flip through them to find the date of the latest expiring coupon in each one. I staple a blank piece of paper as a cover sheet to the front of each insert. At the top I write the name of the insert, date, and the date of the latest expiring coupon. I stack them in ordered piles - one for SmartSource, one for RedPlum, and one for P&G. With the most recent date on top. (I write the latest expiring coupon date on the cover sheet so that when that date passes I can just throw the insert in the recycle bin - less clutter to keep track of.) As I clip I write the product name and amount of each coupon on the cover sheet so that I know at a glance which coupons are now missing from that insert - this is for future reference organization.

If I did clip or print a coupon and didn't end up using it, I organize them in envelopes by month and year of expiration date. So my June envelope has the date 6/10 on it. Once June is over I can empty it out to de-clutter my coupon drawer. I also take a few seconds to log them into an excel spreadsheet before placing them in the envelopes. This way I can quickly search electronically rather than flipping through the envelopes.

Using printable coupons
I do print coupons from the internet. Many of them are on The GroceryGame site, so I don't have to search for them...but I find many others at www.HotCouponWorld.com. There is a searchable database there so it's pretty easy to click around and find more. I go through each item in my lists and search for extra coupons on HotCouponWorld prior to shopping - I often find more coupons and am able to buy more of each item that way. Crystal at www.moneysavingmom.com features a lot of deals and coupons on her site - I click over there frequently too, just to skim through and see if I like anything.

So here are my steps:
1. WRITE my MUST BUY list.
2. SELECT items and PRINT my 3 lists from www.thegrocerygame.com.
3. SEARCH my excel sheet and www.hotcouponworld.com for other coupons that are not in the inserts
4. CLIP my insert coupons and those printed.
(I have an envelope for each store. As I clip, I mark the coupon off the list and place it in the envelope.)
5. VERIFY that the number of items needed to satisfy the coupons are correct. For example, some coupons require you to buy more than one of the same item to get the discount. I do this as I clip to save time.
6. SCAN through the other circulars in your local area to see if there are any GREAT deals that you may want to make another stop for - if not, great!
7. TOTAL my quantities to buy based on special, deals, coupons. And ADD UP all dollar amounts to get an estimated before tax figure for each store. WHY? Because unfortunately stores often mis-mark items or their computers don't always give you your rebate and you have to correct them. (It's easy to see a mistake if you've kept track of your totals both before and during shopping.)
8. GO SHOPPING! Only get the quantities and the items on your list. You are not the only deal shopper out there, so if a deal is really good it might not be available when you get there. You can ASK for a raincheck and come back (usually with two weeks time) to get the same deal later. Due to some regional special deals the prices in the store do not always match the your list. It is frustrating, but you'll get used to it. Again, this is not all the time, maybe 1 or 2 items in a list of 20. Be sure to stop by the meat and bakery departments to see if anything is seriously marked down to get a great buy!
9. GO EVERY WEEK if you can. I cannot. I get burnt out, plus we travel quite a bit, so it's just not feasible. Shopping every week will help you get the best deals and keep your stock more varied.
10. FOCUS EFFORTS to spend more on produce and protein. I try to balance our spending so that I spend 2/3rds or more on fresh fruits and vegetables and protein rich foods, and 1/3 on everything else. This helps keep us in the well balanced and healthier range.
11. PLAN MEALS ahead of time. I spend a few hours once a week cooking 4-5 meals at once. Then I put some in the fridge and some in the freezer. This keeps me sane - with two little RugRatz who are always hungry, and a husband who travels for work and is rarely home, it keeps me from spending my days in the monotony of the kitchen - though I do enjoy it most of the time.


All in all it takes me about 1 hour per store to prepare, prior to shopping. One hour of preparation makes it so that I only spend 15-20 minutes in the store, keeps my budget in check because I stick to my list and don't shop emotionally.

YES, we buy the kids treats when they are with us - otherwise it would be no fun for anyone! I try to find bags of lollipops or jolly ranchers on sale so that we can have that in my purse for when they need to have their mouths glued shut, but I am not always THAT organized!

A few more things.

I buy most of my breads at the local organic bakery. They have discounted bread out for sale everyday at 8am. It's perfectly good bread - usually 3-4 days prior to it's sale date. It's only 50 cents to 1 dollar per loaf. AND it's healthy. NONE of that bleached or enriched flour. It's freshly ground from whole grains, no oils, natural sweeteners, and I feel totally good about it. So I buy like 20 loaves at a time and put them in the freezer till we need them. This way I only go the bakery once or twice a month.

I buy most of my produce at the local farmer's market. Where I live it's really hot outside in the summer, so the market is indoors and air conditioned - more of a grocery store setting, but almost all produce. The prices are really good most of the time so I fill my cart, sometimes two (dollar store size cart) overflowing and pay between 20-40 bucks. It lasts us about 2 weeks - and we eat a lot of fresh stuff around here!

BEWARE of the amazing deals on processed foods like cookies, crackers, etc. If you are watching your figure - and let's face it, most of us are - you will sabotage your efforts if you take advantage of those deals. NOW with that being said...I do buy baking supplies that are seriously cheap. Like frosting or brownie and cake mix for less than 25 cents. It's worth it having those types of items on hand when you need to bake something and don't have time to mix something up from scratch. They're practically foolproof too, so your recipients will undoubtedly compliment your treat!

BEWARE of warehouse stores. It's fun to shop there because bigger is better right? WRONG. If you do the math, most items are more expensive. I do make 1 trip every other month to Costco for a few items. Items I regularly buy there - cheese, sometimes eggs, dishwasher soap, laundry soap and softener, Flat-Out wraps, almonds, toilet tissue, and juice boxes.

PHARMACY DEALS
CVS, RiteAid and Walgreens offer some fantastic deals on household goods. It's a little tricky at first, but you'll get the hang of it. The concept is the same - sale price + coupon = low price...but they take it one step further. They often offer a cash back or rebate type incentive on many items, making them extremely cheap or often "free".

RiteAid - I've never shopped there so I can't give any advice

CVS - the cash back is called an Extra Care Buck or ECB. It's just like cash. You can use it on your next transaction, same day or later, and as many ECBs at a time as you want.

WALGREENS - the cash back is called a Register Reward and is a manufacturers coupon that you can use on any item in a future transaction (same day too). Walgreens limits your coupons to one per item however (with the exception of their circular coupons which can be paired with a manufacturer coupon). So for example, if your Register Reward is for $5.00 and you are buying a lotion priced $4.99 or less, you can't use the Register Reward because it covers more than the price. If your lotion is for $5.00 or more, you could use the Register Reward and pay the sales tax. If your lotion is for $7.00 and you have the Register Reward and a clipped manufacturers coupon, you must choose which you would like to use, the Register Reward or the coupon, but not both, pay the difference plus the tax.

The trick is to either separate your transactions so that you get "the cash back" on the first transaction and use it on the second. You can either do this the same day (which the cashiers find irritating, for obvious reasons) or on your next shopping trip. If you hold onto "the cash back" and use it in the following trips, you can often "roll" what you spent into new "cash back" on that weeks deals, thus hardly spending anything other than sales tax. This is ideal for stocking up at these stores - but you've got to keep it organized and watch the expiration date on the "cash back" or you'll lose it. I haven't shopped at any pharmacy stores in months because I have so much stockpiled already - but it's definitely a great way to get a lot of stuff for free - like toothpaste, body wash, soaps, shampoos, cereal, razors, first aid, canned goods, etc.

So how much do I spend?
My average for 2010 thus far is $306 per month for our family of two adults and 2 little hungry boys. (includes my newspaper and TheGroceryGame subscription)
That's only $70 per week!

I know others who spend even less...but I'm pretty happy with where we sit on our grocery budget.

Friday, May 14, 2010

OMG...

Have you had the pleasure of tasting these yet?


Costco - less than $10.
Healthy (I think because of the antioxidants and dark chocolate) and Delicious...just tough to stop!

Signs of Summer

It's hot outside. The A/C is on. Using the oven seems excessive. Wanting something light?

Never underestimate the freshness of the season!

Watermelon quenches the thirst of all ages.


And a light tuna salad or sandwich is the perfect light sensation.

What I put in my tuna salad:
Mayo
Ground Pepper
Tomato
Celery
Onion
Shredded Mozzarella
Squeeze of Lime

Monday, May 10, 2010

Nothing to make....

It's one of those days - when there is nothing to make...or maybe I just don't want to make anything.

But we gotta eat.

So I made "Throw it all in Chili". This is not a recipe...just a suggestion for when you have one of these days.

USE WHAT YOU HAVE! Do NOT go to the store. You have more in your kitchen than you think. Empty the leftovers in the fridge and add a few things to it.

Here is what I used:

Steamed cauliflower - chopped into 1/2 size bits (leftovers)
1/4 yellow onion diced (leftovers)
1/2 boiled corn - cut off the cob (leftovers)
1/2 cup prepared chili (leftovers)
3/4 cup cheesy rice/broccoli mixture (leftovers)
1 baked potato chopped into bits (leftovers)
1 can Turkey chili with beans
1 can stewed diced tomatoes
1 can White beans
1 can diced chiles

Dump it all in the pot and add water if needed. Bring to a boil and turn burner to low. Simmer till desired doneness and texture. Add seasonings if needed - mine didn't need it.

I served it with (you guessed it) leftover garlic bread.

IT WAS VERY SATISFYING...and very much the easy "I don't want to cook tonight" meal I was striving for.

This would work great in the crock pot on high for 3 hours or low for 6!