Saturday, August 30, 2008

Peach BBQ Salmon

We thawed 2 salmon fillets late in the week in preparation for making a salmon cesaer salad. We never got around to making that dish but still had the salmon fillets that needed to be cooked. So utilizing the peach BBQ sauce I made a few weeks ago, we made Peach BBQ salmon fillets. The recipe is so easy and clean up is a snap with the use of tin foil.

Peach BBQ Salmon

Salmon fillets
Peach BBQ sauce

Rinse and dry the salmon fillets, this will allow the sauce to adhere to the fish.
Place 2 sheets (one on top of each other) of aluminum foil on counter (this forms the bottom of the pouch)
Spread a small quantity of the BBQ sauce on the foil, covering an area about equal to the 2 fillet

Place the fillets on the sauce
Cover the fillets with more sauce
Place 2 more pieces of foil (one on top of each other) to cover the fillets
Roll up each side to seal packet

Place on medium heat grill
Cook for 15 to 20 minutes
**When opening the packet from the grill, be careful to not get burned my the steam.

Can be served warm or cold.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mr. Gooch Cooks (Steaks with Sweet Mesquite Marinade)

Mr. Gooch was my hero last night.

I had a early evening meeting so I wasn't going to be able to cook dinner. Mr. Gooch took charge. (I love it when he does that!)

We ended up having steak in a marinade he created, left over pesto pasta from Monday night and his caprese-style salad. Can you say yum? I know I did.

The best part, he even took some photos so that I could post.

Sweet Mesquite Marinade Recipe

1/4 cup Olive Oil
1/2 cup water
2 Tablespoons Vinegar (he used 1 T garlic vinegar and 1 T basamic vinegar)
1 Teaspoon Worchestershire Sauce
1 Teaspoon Sweet Mesquite Marinade (Kirkland Brand)
1 Teaspoon Italina Seasoning (Tastefully Simple brand)
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 Teaspoon Rosemary


Combine all ingredients and place in ziploc with steaks.

Marinade for at least 4 hours.

Once meat is done marinating, you can use leftovers to keep steak moist during grilling.

Chicken with Homemade Pesto

Monday night we had chicken with homemade pesto and pasta.

We ended up with this menu choice because we both got sidetracked in figuring out what to have for dinner. When 3 pm rolled around and neither of us had a clue, it was off to the freezer in the basement to see what meat we had "in stock." While we had several options, I went with the boneless skinless chicken breast. They are very versatile. As I was opening the door to the freezer I had remembered that our basil plant had gone a bit crazy and needed to be cut back.

Presto, we would have pesto!

I used a recipe I posted earlier for the pesto. (scroll down for the recipe).

For the chicken I didn't have a real recipe. I received, at some point, a number of spice mixes from "Tastefully Simple" so thought I would use those.

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
3 Cloves Pressed Garlic
1 Tablespoon Italian Blend Seasonings from Tastefully Simple
1/2 Tablespoon Seasoned Salt from Tastefully Simple
1 Tablespoon Dried Tomato and Garlic Pesto Mix from Tastefully Simple
grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

Cube 2 chicken breasts into small pieces.

Heat up skillet and add olive oil and garlic. Saute the garlic for about 30 seconds then added the cubed chicken.

Add spices and cook until done.

When serving, instead of mixing the chicken in with the pesto pasta, it was placed in a separate bowl so portion control was easier.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Good versus Evil (or Low Fat versus Bad for You)

Mr. Gooch and I have been eating well lately. Too well. All the good (but not very dietetic) recipes we have been making have pushed us to the limit. The limit of our pants. So both of us are realizing that we need to get back on track in terms of eating healthy and exercising.

Which brings me back to the question that I am not the first to ask...why do the foods that taste so good end up being so bad for us? Homemade ice creams, cookies, fried foods, sauces, ranch dressing, sweet breads and on and on and on. The evil choices are endless. My personal weaknesses are pita chips, barbacoa burritos from Chipotle and chocolate.

No one in their right mind can say that broccoli or brussel sprouts or even tofu taste anywhere as good as a freshly baked peanut butter chip cookie or a blueberry muffin with strussel on top. And that is the problem isn't it? The good stuff never tastes as good as the bad stuff.

So to combat the pudge and get back on the track to good health I hauled out our Weight Watchers and Cooking Light cookbooks to start planning healthier meals. Planning of healthier meals is always a challenge because of my picky eating habits. But my first go through the WW cookbook resulted in several recipes from each section that I liked (Mr. Gooch is easy, he likes everything.) So the first fight in the battle has been won. I still need to go through the Cooking Light books but I now have hope.

Hope that good will conquer evil. That Mr. Gooch and I will lose the pudge and change our eating habits as well.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tasty Side Dish - Spanish Rice

As I was putting together this week's dinner menu, my goal was to use items that we already had in our cupboard. To stretch things even further, we were going to eat leftovers for lunches each day. I think that this is what people call pantry eating. I was excited to be so successful since the result was a shopping list with less than 15 items (including toiletries and paper products). And I even had coupons for several of the items. The "Savings Nerd" in me did the fist pump in the air!

After laying out the entrees, I realized that I needed a side dish for our Mexican might. Not being a huge fan of the whole/chunky tomato, I needed to find a recipe that didn't use salsa or chuncky tomatoes. Using ingredients from several recipes on, I created the recipe below. It is a bit "hot" due to the chili powder and Tabasco. If you like your dishes milder, just reduce those amounts.

A serving suggestion from Mr. Gooch, add a dab of sour cream.

Spanish Rice

1/2 chopped onion (small pieces)
1/2 chopped red pepper (small pieces)
1/2 chopped green pepper (small pieces) [I used green peppers only since that is all I had]
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 cup rice
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

Pour olive oil into large saute pan.
Saute onions until clear.
Add peppers and saute another 5 minutes.
Add all remaining ingredients.
Bring to boil.
Cover and cook on low for 20 minutes or until rice is done.

Even More Yum Yum - Peach Ice Cream

The farmer's market had gorgeous peaches this past weekend. So I got a several quarts so I could make several peach-based recipes. These include peach ice cream, peach BBQ (posted earlier), and grilled peaches (also poster earlier.)

The ice cream is very creamy. It reminds me a bit of a peach creamsicle. Mr. Gooch proclaimed this to be almost as good as the blueberry ice cream I made earlier this month.

My only criticism is that I wish it was a bit peachier. Maybe a sorbet would be as peachy as I want. So I guess that means that I need to add peach sorbet to my list of recipes to track down. Look for an update in the near future.

Peach Ice Cream


3 eggs, beaten
1 3/4 cups white sugar
5 fresh peaches, pitted and chopped
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half-and-half cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt


In large bowl, mix together eggs and sugar until smooth; puree peaches in blender or food processor and stir puree into egg mixture. Stir in cream, half-and-half, vanilla and salt and mix well.

Pour mixture into freezer canister of ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

This amount filled just a bit more than 2 large cottage cheese containers.

Update: Dessert with Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

When we finished dinner last night we were going to dig into the Peanut Butter Chip cookies. While the cookies looked so yummy by themselves, I just thought that we needed to pump it up a bit for dessert.

Vanilla ice cream, a fresh baked peanut butter chip cookie and warm fudge topping drizzled over the top fit the bill.

So tasty and quite decadent.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

Mr. Gooch loves peanut butter. I love cookies. So to combine both our loves last night I planned to make a batch of Peanut Butter Chip cookies. Mr. Gooch works nights so I thought it would be a nice treat in his lunch box.

I mixed the batter, placed it in the fridge and then tragedy struck. My oven stopped working. It wouldn't heat up. How totally craptastic! So I threw the dough into the freezer since I wasn't sure how long I would be ovenless.*

But as luck would have it, we would not be cookie-less for long. With the help of some of the ladies on The Nest "What's Cooking" board, I found today that baking them in our toaster oven was an option. The only changes I needed to make were to rotate the pan 180 degrees after 9 minutes and to bake the cookies for 18 minutes instead of 15.

These are so freaking good. I almost burned my tongue snarfing down one of the first cookies out of the toaster oven. After tasting the peanuty goodness of that cookies, I made the executive decision that any cookie that got broken when being removed from the baking sheet were fair game for eating. (Thank goodness it was only 1 more cookie!)

*At this time the oven is pulled out into the middle of our tiny kitchen waiting for Mr. Gooch to take a look to see if he can fix it. Thank goodness the previous owners left us the manual for all the appliances in the house.

Peanut Butter Cookies Recipe

Modified from a recipe found on Simply Recipes.

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup peanut butter [I used a little over a cup]
1 egg
1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup peanut butter chips [I added these]


Cream the butter for 2 minutes.

Add the sugars, cream for 2 more minutes.

Mix in the peanut butter and egg.

Mix together the dry ingredients - flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Stir into the sugar butter mixture.

Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Shape dough into 1 1/4 inch balls. Place about 3 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten in crisscross pattern with a fork. Bake until light brown, 9 to 10 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for a minute; transfer to rack to cool completely.

For chewier cookies, bake at 300°F for 15 minutes.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Peach BBQ Sauce

When one of my friends found out that I was spending more time cooking and baking, she sent me this recipe for peach BBQ sauce. Actually, I think that she was so shocked that when I asked her if she had any good recipes, she just blurted out "Peach BBQ Sauce." You see, before I got married and moved to the 'burbs, I was the queen of delivery and take out. I had a stack of 50+ menus that I flipped through to choose my dinner, if I even ate at home. So the thought of me baking and cooking is a stretch for many that know me.

But when she sent me the recipe and I thought about the combination of the sweetness of the peaches and the spiciness of the more traditional BBQ components of the sauce, I knew I had to try it.

This recipe is one of her family's favorites, from their farm days. According to my friend, she and her sisters were the "laborers" of the family - picking all the fruits and veggies. Once they were done, their mom made this recipe and they had BBQ on the grill.

So off to the farmer's market I went to get the peaches. They just have a better taste than the ones I have gotten at the grocery.

We used the sauce on chicken breasts. They were really tasty.

The only change I would make is to add some heat since the sweetness and spiciness are already in the sauce with chili powder and/or cumin. Look for an update once Mr. Gooch and I doctor up the sauce next time.

Peach BBQ Sauce

Keeps in the fridge for weeks. Easy to can for gifts. Great with ribs, chicken, pork chops on the grill. Also used for roasted, pulled pork or beef.

16 oz. Can Drained Sliced Peaches (Can double this recipe and used a quart of home canned peaches)
½ Cup Brown Sugar
¼ Cup Ketchup
¼ Cup Vinegar (wine, white, cider) [I used cider vinegar]
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 Clove Garlic – crushed
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Ground Ginger or Mustard (can use 1 Tbsp table mustard if no ground) [I used a spicy brown table mustard]
Dash of Pepper

Puree all ingredients together in blender [I used my food processor]

I put the sauce in a glass jar for storage and let the flavors mingle overnight.

Lifetime Food Quotas? Is It Possible?

Have you ever thought that for certain foods you can only eat a specific amount during the course of your life? A lifetime quota, so to speak?

I was contemplating this question not too long ago when Mr. Gooch and I were planning the menu for the "Freedom Party" (to celebrate my leaving the law firm). We were thinking burgers and hot dogs with the usual sides when I realized that I don't like burgers and can't eat hot dogs any more.* So we ended up getting brats instead of hot dogs.

Getting back to the "can't eat hot dogs any more," I believe that my lack of love for the hot dog is a direct result of eating my lifetime quota when I was between two and four years old. Some background: My mother loves to tell this story as a reminder of my stubbornness as a child. Usually this is around the same time that Mr. Gooch and I are talking about having a kid with Mom telling me she hopes my child is just like me.

Again, getting back to the story. When I was two I decided that the only thing I would eat for lunch and dinner was hot dogs. If I didn't get hot dogs, I either wouldn't eat or pitch a fit. So like many parents my mom took path of least resistance and just made me hot dogs. After a period of time, she became concerned that only eating hot dogs could be detrimental to my long term health and growth so took me to the pediatrician.

My pediatrician, not yet having grasped the stubbornness lurking in my heart, told my mom that the solution to the "hot dog problem" was to stop feeding me hot dogs. That I would soon become hungry enough to eat whatever she fixed for dinner. My mother, also not yet having grasped the level of stubbornness in my little body, agreed and stopped fixing me hot dogs.

Apparently this well-thought-out plan began to go wrong at the very next meal. Not having a hot dog on the plate in front of me, I didn't eat dinner and went to bed hungry. This cycle repeated itself over the next couple of meals. No hot dog meant no eating. My mother, thinking that the end had to be in sight since not many two-year-olds will miss several meals before just eating, kept strong. Strong until things reached their breaking point.

During the weekly trip to the local grocery store, things came to a head. Mom had placed me in the seat in the cart and began her trip around the store placing various items in the cart. I was quiet and wasn't trying to place all the sugary treats found at kid eye level in the cart, not my usual self. Near the end of the trip, I made a noise and went limp. After not eating for several meals, I had apparently fainted from hunger. Mom freaked out, grabbed me out of the cart leaving all her groceries behind and headed home. Headed home to make me as many hot dogs as I wanted.

My poor mother. I was a trial to her in many ways.

The rest of the story is of me eating nothing but hot dogs for about another year or so. It make me shudder just to think about it. Now I cannot stand hot dogs, refuse to eat them, even the smell of them makes me a little nauseous. So the joke is that I ate my lifetime quota before I turned four. Which begs the question I posed at the beginning of the post, do you have a lifetime quota for certain foods?

In my case, I would say the answer is yes for hot dogs but no for anything with containing chocolate or smoked salmon.

*The only exception to the "no hot dog rule," since all rules seem to have exceptions these days, is Yesterdog. Their cheddar dog is heavenly. I try to make a trip to get one or two whenever I visit my home town.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fabulous Dinner on the Grill: Tri-Tip, Potatoes, Corn and Peaches

Monday is Mr. Gooch's night off during the week. So it is the night we do our most involved dinner. This week it was all about the grill. Mr. Gooch was very happy as he loves cooking on the grill.

The menu included
Ceasar Salad
Marinated Tri-Tip Steak
Grilled New Potatoes with Parmesan and Herbs
Easy Grilled Corn on the Cob
Grilled Peaches

We purchased the tri-tip a couple of weeks ago from a vendor at our local farmer's market. The family has been in farming for over 100 years and cows on their farm are grain-fed, locally raised and have been certified hormone free. It is tastes amazing. The nice thing about purchasing a larger piece of meat is that there is enough left over for lunches.

Marinated Tri-Tip Steak
1 1/2 pound tri-tip steak
McCormick Grill Mates Montreal Steak Marinade

Marinade steak for at least 24 hours in the refrigerator
Heat grill to low heat
Grill meat for approximately 45 minutes over low heat
Flipping every 10-15 minutes or so

Grilled New Potatoes with Parmesan and Herbs (from
1 1/2 pounds small red-skinned potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley (from our garden)
1/1/2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano (from our garden)

Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain potatoes; cool.

Prepare barbecue (medium heat). Cut potatoes in half; transfer to large bowl. Add 1/2 of the oil; toss to coat. Grill potatoes until golden, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes. Transfer to bowl. Drizzle with rest of oil and add remaining ingredients; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Easy Corn on the Grill (from
2 ears of corn for each person
1 tablespoon butter for each ear of corn
3 tablespoons crushed ice for each ear of corn
aluminum foil or foil pockets
salt, to taste

Husk corn and rinse. Heat grill to 350F.

Cut a rectangle of aluminum foil large enough to wrap each corn cob twice. Place each corn in the center of foil with the shiny side in. Add 3 tablespoons crushed ice and 1 tablespoon butter.

It's important to wrap the corn with the aluminum foil so that the edges of the foil are crimped and sealed securely so that as the ice melts, the liquid will be retained in the foil pocket. Make an envelope with the foil and double fold the edges, then place the seams on the top.

Place the corn pockets on the hot grill and cook for 30 minutes or so, turning over half way through cooking time. (Length of cooking time will vary depending on the tenderness, variety and age of the corn - some types of corn may be done in half the time).

When I was buying this week's batch of peaches, I overheard one of the farmers telling a customer that a great (and easy) dessert to be made on the grill is roasted peaches. Based on the basic directions I heard, I headed home and pulled together the recipe below.

Grilled Peaches
Ripe Peaches (this ensures that the peach with some off the pit easier)
Brown Sugar

Cut the peach in half
Remove the pit
Fill the whole with packed brown sugar
Create envelope using tin foil making sure you can access top to check for doneness
Place filled peaches in envelop
Cook over medium to medium high heat until peaches are soft
Serve with vanilla ice cream with the juices from the brown sugar and peaches

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mr. Gooch Cooks (Chicken and Peppers Marinated in Spicy Chipotle Tabasco Marinade)

Mr. Gooch was in charge of dinner this evening. He made one of his specialties - chicken and peppers marinated in Spicy Chipotle Tabasco Marinade. These are one of my favorites, let me tell you.

Marinade Recipe
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup minced garlic
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup TABASCO® brand Chipotle Pepper Sauce
1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon ground cumin

Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat; stir in garlic and cook 15 seconds or until garlic releases its fragrance. Remove from heat to cool slightly, then stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Set aside 1/2 cup marinade to serve at the table. Use remainder to marinate* poultry, meat, or seafood before grilling; discard used marinade.
We usually cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and marinade overnight for best flavor. We then add the cut peppers to the marinade about 2 hours before cooking.

To cook the chicken and peppers, we place in kebob baskets for grilling using medium-high heat and cooking until done.

I will often make a taco/fajita out of them using low-cal/high fiber/great tasting tortilla from Tortilla Factory. For those doing Weight Watchers, the point value on these is 0 points (score!)

Blueberries, Blueberries, Blueberries

I love summertime. I especially love late summer when the various fruits come into season. Blueberries are one of my favorites and I love to make blueberry muffins. I could eat a blueberry muffin each and every day of the week. After gorging myself on muffins made with the first two tubs of blueberries purchased this season, I started looking for other blueberry related recipes that weren't pie and would not be greatly impacted by not including cinnamon (which I really don't like).

I found a great blueberry coffee cake recipe on It was so easy and so tasty!

Blueberry Coffee Cake

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 25 minutes
Ready to Serve in: 60 minutes (includes cooling time)

3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
2 large eggs
2 cups flour, all-purpose
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk
2 cups blueberries*
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour, all-purpose
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (omitted)
1/4 cup butter

Cream first 2 ingredients together.
Add eggs.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt together, and add alternately with milk.
Stir in berries.
Spread into a well-buttered 9x12-inch pan.
Blend the last 4 ingredients, and sprinkle on top.
Bake at 375 degrees 25 to 30 minutes.
*Frozen berries may be used. Be sure to rinse and pat dry before blending them into the batter or the juice will turn the batter blue. (Most of a 12 oz. bag makes 2 cups.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Party on the Beach and Holy Aching Feet

I worked my first event with the new company. A birthday party on the beach. While I knew it would be hard work setting everything up, I had thought that not having to wear heels for hours on end would save my feet. How wrong I was. Spending 12+ hours trudging up and down the sand will strain your calves and cramp your feet. The next morning I was walking like an old lady.

However it was all worth it to see how happy the client was and how beautiful the event turned out. The weather was perfect, with just a slight breeze to keep the bugs off. People were out on the dance floor almost immediately. Guests eating and drinking like mad. It couldn't have gone better.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More Yum Yum - Blueberry Ice Cream

With the success of the strawberry ice cream experiment, I moved right ahead to the blueberry ice cream experiment. Partly because I love the blueberry, partly because I have about 4 cups of those tasty berries in the fridge and partly because I love being able to make my own ice cream at home.

I found an easy to follow recipe on the blog Half Baked. Her recipe for blueberry ice cream is divine. The blueberry taste is amazing and the color is a beautiful purple. It totally reminds me of the color Violet Beauregard turned in the original Willy Wonka movie.

The only changes I made were omitting the vodka (since we may be serving it to kids) and I did not strain the bits out (since I didn't have a fine sieve). I don't think either omission made an impact on the taste.
Mr. Gooch declared this experiment and even greater success than the strawberry one.

With the good peaches at the Farmer's market, I think peach may be the next recipe to try.

Yum Yum - Strawberry Ice Cream

Mr. Gooch and I received the KitchenAid mixer ice cream maker attachment as a wedding present last October. It has been in the basement, unused, until Sunday night. I was finally inspired to make a frozen treat after browsing through many food/recipe blogs, using the strawberries in the fridge.

Having never made ice cream before, I wanted a recipe that was clear and had good photos for me to follow. I found a great recipe at Click here to view the recipe and very clear directions (with photos).

Mr. Gooch was my guinea pig and declared the ice cream delicious. A success!! Next I will be trying a blueberry ice cream recipe.

Update - Attack the Shrubs and Share the Hostas

Last month I posted about removing the shrubs and hostas in the back yard to make room for next year's garden. Click here to see the original post.


Well, the 25+ hosta plants were given away via One of the women even gave me three tomato plants when she came to pick up her plants. She wasn't sure of the variety as they were "volunteers" from last years plants but it looks like they may be cherry tomatoes. The plants have been blooming like mad and fruits are just now forming so Mr. Gooch and I are waiting to see what type we end up with.

The biggest job, the cutting of the shrubs (thanks Dad for letting us borrow your chain saw) and digging out the stumps is now complete. We had no idea that the stumps would be such a pain to remove or that there were so many of them. We had to dig down at least 2 feet on each of the 20 stumps. We ended up breaking up the digging/chopping sessions since trying to get them all at once would have probably given us heart attacks.

But the after picture is fabulous, don't you think? I now have so much room for a garden. I am already starting to lay out what I plan to plant where.

Farmer's Market Score - Blackberries and Peaches

Mr. Gooch and I struck gold at the farmer's market last weekend. The blackberries and peaches were gorgeous, so we purchased both. At that point I didn't have any idea what I was going to make, just that I needed to find something that would include these two ingredients. I loved the idea of the sweetness of the peaches and the tarter flavors of the blackberries combining into something absolutely tasty.

I was browsing through various cooking blogs and recipe sites and I found a great recipe on the Good Things Catered blog. Her recipe for Blackberry Peach Crumble was just what I was looking for. Mr. Gooch thought it was tasty though he did think that vanilla ice cream would have make it just about perfect. The recipe was quick and easy to put together and my only comment was that the next time I make this recipe, I will cut back on the lemon. The lemon I chose must have been extra juicy because the lemon-y flavor seemed quite strong.

I am already looking forward to Saturday to see if there are more good blackberries and peaches.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Coupon Madness and Cutting Costs

Since I have taken the paycut for my new endeavors, I have become very sensitive to cutting costs and keeping spending under control.

To try to keep food costs under control, I am shopping the sales and cutting coupons. Related to our food costs I have found to be the most helpful site. Once you complete the free registration, you can easily access the sales for local stores and it also matches those up with coupons from the Sunday papers. The double whammy of matching coupons with sales has resulted in some pretty significant savings on out weekly grocery trips. I think our best savings on a big trip so far has been a savings of over 40%. Mr. Gooch has also started asking about coupons and sales before heading off to the store. He even likes to brag that on his last trip to the grocery store, which was for a few items needed for dinner, by shopping the sales and with coupons, he saved almost as much as he spent. My dream is that one day he will get as excited as I do to see the "You Saved $XX.XX" amount.

We also have been shopping at Costco. For many of our staples, it is cheaper than our regular grocery store. After comparison shopping with our local grocery store, I have found that lunchmeats, baking supplies, frozen treats (like the yummy Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches), as well as stuff for Mr. Gooch's lunches. We also watch for the coupons we receive from Costco to stock up on things like paper towels, toilet paper, dishwasher tablets. They seem to come out just as we are running out from the last purchase.

I also use sites like to look at sales at Walgreens and CVS. By using the CVS Rewards card and matching sales with coupons, it also has resulted in large savings on toiletries, hair care products and other drug store items.
Another way that I am trying to plan weekly menus for breakfasts, lunches and dinners so that I can see if we can get along with a small trip to the grocery. This week, between the Jewel, Ed's Grocery and Costco, we need a grand total of less than 15 items for a weeks worth of meals.

Friday, August 8, 2008

DIY Project - Wine Corks

Another aspect of my new direction in life is to try to embrace my crafty/artistic side. To that end, I have been collecting corks (with the help of my mom and dad) so I can make a tack board for the main floor hallway and a wreath for the front door. I found the following links that included instructions in how to make a tack board (click here) and a wreath (click here).

The first project I completed is the tack board which will hang in the hallway that runs from the front to the back door allowing me to remove some of the clutter from the fridge. This project took about half of the corks I had gathered.

First I removed the glass from the frame and laid out the corks starting from the bottom left corner, trying to keep each set of two corks the same where possible to make visual impact. I then glued the corks down using hot glue. There was approximately a 1 cork width space left on the right side of the frame so I used kitchen shears to trim the corks to fit the space, gluing them in place. The original hanger on the frame was not strong enough to support the weight of the corks so I attached two new sawtooth hangers to the back of the frame. The plan is to hang from screws secured to the wall.

I think it looks nice and made me realize that we really like Toasted Head wine since the corks with the bears were the ones in the greatest number.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Discovering the Town You Live In

Since I have started down my new path, I have extra time on my hands so I am trying to take advantage of some of the amenities of the area I live in. We have lived in this 'burb for over a year, yet I feel like Mr. Gooch and I still don't really know all it has to offer. So we have been exploring over the last few months.

On the main street of town we have discovered the Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor which has some of the best ice cream ever! I could write an entire post about the fabulousness of their Mountain Berry Crunch (my fav) and Banana Cream Pie (Mr. Gooch's fav). Near our new favorite ice cream place are cute bistros with outdoor dining, Irish pubs where I can get my hard cider fix and antique shops. Some of my new favorites restaurants are Cafe DeLuca and Francesca’s Fiore. Interestingly enough, they are both Italian. We watch the local papers for nights where there are discounts or coupons so we can go out on a regular basis.

On the south side of town, I love the Harrison Street Cafe. Mostly because I am not a fan of the breakfast food and Mr. Gooch is. The HS Cafe allows us to eat brunch together. I usually get the grilled cheese sandwich and Mr. Gooch gets some sort of skillet thing with eggs, sausage, potatoes, cheese and veggies.

I have also gotten a library card and through the library's web site have requested a number of books and DVDs that I have wanted to read and see. The best part is that the library sends an email when the books and DVDs arrive at the local branch.

We also live right near the local Park District with a pool and mini water park, baseball diamonds, tennis courts and skate park. I think that buying tennis racquets for the two of us needs to be added to the "To Do" list. On the 4th of July, the fireworks are set off right across the street from the house.

Now that the farms around here are beginning to hit their peak, we have been visiting the local farmer's market to buy fruits, vegetables, seasonings and marinades, grass raised beef as well as jams and jellies. Things there are a bit more expensive than the grocery store, but supporting local farmers is important so we cut back in other areas to do so.

As the weeks go one, we will continue to explore. Still on the list to explore are the area cemeteries where some famous people are buried, trying more local restaurants and some of the classes offered by local businesses (like cooking, stained glass and pottery).

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Cooking with the Crockpot

Growing up my mother never used a crockpot for cooking. I am not sure she even knew what one was. However, this device that cooks meals while you are at work has intrigued me for years. So last week, I took one of my many 20% off coupons, headed to Bed Bath & Beyond and got myself a crockpot. My selection was the Hamilton Beach 3-in-1 Slow Cooker. I liked that this model had the flexibility of the 3 options of cooking sizes (2, 4 and 6 qt. crocks all able to fit into the single base).

My first experiment was the basic BBQ Chicken. Since this type of cooking was totally new to me, I spent some time checking out several recipe sites when I came to the conclusion that BBQ chicken didn't have to be any more complicated than throwing several chicken breasts into the crock and covering them with BBQ sauce then letting the whole thing cook on low for several hours. Once it was done, I shredded the meat and placed it on toasted buns. If I say so myself, it ended up quite tasty. And there was plenty left over for lunch the next day.

With my first (tasty) success, I decided to take on what appears to be one of the cornerstones of crockpot recipes, Pot Roast. To that end, Mr. Gooch got a shoulder roast at Costco for $2.99/lb. Again I searched the Internet to find a recipe that included ingredients that I already had in the house to help keep costs down.

The one I found on is as follows

Crockpot Pot Roast with Herbs
1 pot roast (chuck, arm, shoulder, bottom round or similar cut)
1/2 C. chopped onion
1/2 C. red wine or apple cider
8 oz. tomato sauce
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 t. crushed rosemary
1/2 t. dried crumbled leaf thyme
1 t. crushed dried oregano
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
7-10 dashes of Chipotle Tabasco Sauce (I added this for a bit of zing)

Trim excess fat from roast and cut to fit into crock pot. Combine all other ingredients and pour over the roast. Cover and cook for 8 to 10 hours.

If you would like to make a gravy, pour juices into a sauce pan, skim fat and bring to a simmer. Reduce by 1/4 then gradually add a smooth mixture of 2 tablespoons of flour and cold water. Stir mixture of juices, flour and water until it reaches desired thickness.

I think my next attempt will be to roast a chicken. Wish me luck!


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