Thursday, December 13, 2018

$13 or under!! Great Deals on Last minute Christmas Toys!

Holy cow!  Amazon has some fantastic prices right now on toys.  If you're still looking for that perfect item or need a great deal, this is your list!  Check it out!

(This post contains affiliate links.  If you make a purchase I will receive a small monetary compensation at no extra cost to you.  Thank you.)
This sewing kit is reduced from $35 to just $9.90 with FREE shipping!  Overall 4-star review ratings!

Your future engineer will love Jenga!  It's 50% off as an add-on item!  Just $7.49!
 Tactile learners will stay busy for hour and it never dries out! This multi-pack is just $11.79!
 This set has hundreds of reviews and the average is 4.5 stars!  54% off right now for just $5.45!

We played this game by the hour when I was a child!  Great family fun for all ages!  Just $7.88!

I love this adorable necklace for little girls!

Over 1500 customer reviews and a nearly perfect 5 star rating!  It is a terrific deal too!  Priced at 51% off!  Just $4.88 and free shipping! 

My boys had these and loved them! They are the perfect size for throwing in a bag to take along with you.  Plus, they are an amazing 61% off!  Just $12.99!  

Happy shopping! 

Cheap Eats: Kuri Squash Marinara Sauce

I got a ridiculously good deal on a huge box of kuri squash at the end of the growing season.

 There were about 30 small squash in a box for $10!  So, I've been cooking and experimenting with kuri squash for the past three weeks.  Tonight I needed something quick for supper. I had some cooked squash in the fridge and a few other odds and ends of herbs.  It was actually the fresh basil which inspired this sauce.  Pasta is just a natural pair with basil! 

Here are the basic ingredients for this pasta sauce:  crushed tomatoes, red pepper, onion, garlic, fresh basil, and fresh parsley.  I also used gluten free spaghetti from Aldi.

I'll post the whole recipe below.  But, it's your basic "dump and heat" recipe.  Easy peasy and SOOO good!  You can keep it chunky, as shown here, or puree it.  Or use it chunky on pasta and then puree it for pizza. 

I have some of it pureed and plan to use it as a sauce on homemade pizza this weekend! 

Kuri Squash Marinara Sauce

Yield:  4 cups



1 small kuri squash roasted and flesh removed - about 2 cups (acorn squash can be substituted)
16 oz. salt free crushed tomatoes 
1/2 red pepper
1/2 cup diced onion 
2 cloves garlic - minced
2 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley ( or 1 tsp. dried)
2 Tbsp. fresh chopped basil  (or 1 tsp. dried)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder 
1 tsp. onion powder 
1 Tbsp. real maple syrup or sugar
1/2 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Wash the outside of the kuri squash, cut in half, and scrape out seeds.  (If saving the seeds to roast later place them in salt water and place in fridge.  Otherwise, just discard the seeds.) 

Place the squash cut side down on parchment paper covered baking sheet.  Roast for 40-50 minutes.  When you can pierce it with a fork easily, it is done.  Cool and remove squash flesh from the outside skin.  The skin of this squash is thin, so do the best you can.  If the squash is organic you might want to keep the skin, cut in into smaller pieces, and throw it in your next batch of homemade vegetable soup.  

To make the marinara sauce, saute the red pepper, onion, and garlic in a pan with a little bit of water.  Use just enough water to keep the vegetables from burning.  The water takes the place of oil, which is really not needed and just adds extra calories.  Add the squash, tomatoes, and the remainder of the ingredients except the black pepper.  

Simmer for 15-20 minutes to let the flavors marry and the vegetables finish cooking.  You can either use it chunky or puree it for a smooth sauce.  

For a free downloadable PDF of this recipe, click here


Do all to the glory of God, 


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

How HyVee Just Made My Holiday Parties Easier, Healthier, and Less Expensive!

HyVee just made my holiday parties easier, healthier, and less expensive!  On Monday, for one day only, they offered to take 20% off of all the produce you could fit in this standard size shopping bag, including sale items.

 This time of the year we all have holiday gettogethers, which require taking food.  There is nothing easier to make and take than a snack or side dish, which is plant-based!  

HyVee made the same offer just a month ago.  Here's a link to a post where I show you what I got last month. I hope this is a trend that we see continuing into the New Year, because I love it when a grocery chain is dedicated to helping make it possible for you to feed your family fresh, nutritious food at a great price!

I had three other commitments on Monday, but I was determined to not miss out on this fantastic deal!  I looked through this week's ad, made a list, and stopped by my local HyVee at 9:20pm.  I was in and out in 20 minutes, toting a boatload of fresh fruits and veggies for which I paid just $11.42!

My HyVee Haul!

What I Got: 

Here are some highlights of what I bought. The prices I list are before the 20% discount!   I'll give you ideas on how to use it for the holiday party scene. Plus, we'll take an in-depth look at the Misfits. 

I bunch of green onions for $.88.  Half of these are destined for my ginger lemon quinoa salad.  This delicious salad is always a hit at church potlucks. Yum!  It was a featured Cheap Eats recipe.  Here's a link.  

The other half of this bunch will be making an appearance in potato salad.  I know it's generally considered a summertime dish.  But, the 14 year old sous chef and I have had a hankering for potato salad all week! 

Red grapes.  On sale for $.77 a pound!  I love that HyVee  allows you to apply the additional 20% discount to items which are already on sale.  This makes it so economical to stock up.  That makes these grapes just $.62 a pound!  I bought about 7.5 pounds.  

About half of these are destined for a high school Christmas party for 30 hungry teens on Friday.   What a great, healthy, easy snack!   Add fruit dip  on the side and be sure to bring along toothpicks so they can skewer their grapes to grab and go.   

HyVee's store brand of bananas are always priced at just $.49 a pound.  I've not seen bananas anywhere in town at a cheaper price on a regular basis.  With my 20% discount, the price per pound was reduced to just  $.39!  It's time to make triple chocolate banana bread for friends and neighbors! 

The camera hardly does these justice.  The sign said, "extra large red peppers" and they weren't kidding!  They are mammoth!  At just $1.67 each (3 for $5) they were an amazing value!  I'll use them for three recipes.  Potato salad, my lemon quinoa salad, and I will be able to slice the bottom portions to serve with healthy hummus! 

Here's another photo, which shows how large these red peppers are.  It is larger than the length and breadth of my hand!

Misfit Sweet Potatoes

I bought another 5 pounds of misfit sweet potatoes for just $3.99. Have you heard of sweet potato hummus?  Meet my new friend!  Here's a link!  Take it to your next party.  Amazing! 
I want to take a short moment to go a little in-depth about why I like Misfit produce so much. Plus, I want to tell you that Hyvee did something super important since I posted last month about Misfits. 

I explained misfit produce to you a few weeks ago.  Here's a link.  In short, this fantastic program allows HyVee to partner with a national distributor to purchase produce which would otherwise never be sold.  There's nothing wrong with it.  It is just considered too large, small, or "ugly" by conventional standards.  

Here's why I like this program: 

It helps combat the problem of food waste, while offering customers a quality product at a reduced price.

I just did a review of the movie:  Wasted: The Story of Food Waste. In it, I highlighted a grocery store on the East coast, which purchases food, otherwise destined for landfills, because it doesn't fit the perfect profile which Americans have come to expect when they visit the grocery store.  This is exactly what HyVee is doing with the Misfit Produce program!   It is not only economical, it is a step in the right direction toward environmental responsibility! I am delighted!  Yay, HyVee!

Here's what else HyVee did!

Last month I had one small complaint about the Misfit Produce display.  It either did not clearly display the prices of products or the prices were missing altogether.  Well, HyVee stepped up to the plate!  When I walked in last night, the signage on the Misfit Produce display was perfect!  Every single item was clearly marked with and easy-to-read, clearly displayed price.  Once again, yay, HyVee!  

What do you think?

 HyVee is consistently getting high marks with my with my grocery store dollars!  I'd love to see your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below. 

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Monday, December 10, 2018

A Step-By-Step Guide to Making Homemade Vanilla

A recent trip to SAMS to replenish my dwindling supply of vanilla, led me down the path of DIY vanilla extract.  I could not believe the astronomical jump in the prices since the last time I bought vanilla.  After being assured by family, friends, and readers on Facebook that making your own vanilla was pretty easy,  I decided to give it a go!  

(This post contains affiliate links.  If you make a purchase, I will be compensated.  Thank you.)  

Choosing Beans:  

It was harder to choose vanilla beans than I thought it would be.  The price and quality vary wildly.  After reading a lot of reviews, I chose to purchase 5 Grade A beans sold by Slofoodgroup.   By far, Slofoodgroup had the highest overall ratings of all the companies I checked. 

Although Slofoodgroup does sell Grade B beans, I was totally freaked out by the reviews of Grade B beans sold by another company.  Words like:  dried up, unusable, and moldy appeared again and again.  Many people said that they preferred the more pliable Grade A beans. 

In the end, I went with Grade A beans, which are plumper and generally larger overall.  I didn't want my first experiment in vanilla-making to be an epic fail.

After making my vanilla, I have read and researched even more and discovered that Grade B seems to be just fine for vanilla-making.  I have included links below for both Grade A and Grade B beans.  I was so impressed with the quality of their Grade A beans, that the next time I plan to buy Grade B beans from Slofoodgroup and get twice as many beans for the same amount which I spent on the Grade A version. 

I was super pleased with the beans when they arrived!   They were moist, plump, and longer than I had anticipated.  I read the manufacturer instructions and cautions.  Although vacuum packed, vanilla beans are rather perishable.  You need to use them within a month of their arrival.


Step 1:  Slice the vanilla beans

Some directions assure you that slicing is not necessary.  Others say to cut the beans into small pieces.  Regardless, of how you get those beans into the alcohol, the flavor will diffuse right through the wall of the bean.  Given the fact that I immediately smelled a distinct vanilla flavor even before I opened the vacuum-sealed package, I have no doubt that this is true. Being a "split the difference" person at heart, I split one bean straight down the entire length and cut the others in half.  

Step 2:  Place the beans in a jar

I chose an 8 ounce dark glass jar.  Nothing I read on-line suggested that dark glass was any better or worse than clear glass.  But, the vanilla does need to cure in a dark place.  So, it made sense to me to put it in a dark glass jar, since I already had one on hand that was the right size.  

Step 3:  Cover with vodka and seal. 

Be sure the vanilla beans are covered completely in alcohol.  Leave enough space at the top so that you can shake the mixture.  

Step 4:  Let it diffuse for at least a month

Leave the jar in a dark place for at least a month and up to six months, shaking vigorously once a week. 

Much like reusing a tea bag to make a second and third cup of tea, after a couple of uses, the beans will  no longer flavor the strong alcohol.  Once the beans have lost their effectiveness, you can remove the beans and place them in a bowl of sugar to make vanilla sugar.  

It makes good sense, given the cost of the beans, to "top off the bottle" with more alcohol once you have taken out half of the vanilla.  If you add more beans periodically, and you can keep the same jar of vanilla going for years.  

If you'd like to give it a try, there is a list of supplies and links below.

Supplies and Instructions:

  • Vanilla Beans (3-5 beans for each 8 oz. of finished vanilla)
  • A sharp knife
  • Cutting board
  • Vodka - at least 80 proof - (Rum will work too, but the flavor will be different)
  • Glass bottle for infusing   
  • Small funnel
  • Decorative bottles to store your vanilla or to give as a gift. 

 Grade B vanilla beans. Available in 10, 25, and 35 count packages.  $27 - $72.
Grade A beans.  These are the ones I ordered. 
 $23.99 with free shipping.

Bottles for infusing.  These could also be used as gift bottles. 
$16.87 with FREE shipping for a Set of 6 bottles

Bottles for infusing or gift giving.  These are identical to the one I used. 
  8 oz Boston Round Glass Amber Bottle With Poly Seal Cap and One Funnel.  Set of 4 bottles.  Just $11.99 with FREE shipping.

These smaller 4 oz. bottles would be perfect for gift-giving! 
$13.99 with FREE shipping for a set of 12! 


Slice the vanilla beans down the center or across the middle into as many pieces as you would like.  Place the pieces into a glass jar.  If slicing beans lengthwise, you will need to be sure that the beans are able to fit fully upright in the jar.  It is fine to cut the beans in half if needed.  Cover with at least 80 proof alcohol - vodka is preferred for its neutral flavor.  But, rum can be substituted.  Place the lid on the jar.  Shake vigorously.  Then place in a dark, cool place, for at least 30 days and up to 6 months, shaking once every week.  The vanilla is done when the vodka taste has been replaced by the vanilla flavor.  
You can "top off the jar" with more alcohol once you have used half the mixture and allow it to re-diffuse for a few weeks before continuing use.  You may add fresh beans as needed, keeping the same batch of vanilla going for many years.  
After the initial beans have lost their essence, you can remove them and place in a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar.

For a FREE downloadable PDF with supplies and instructions, click here.  

If you've made vanilla or you give this recipe a try, I'd love to hear about your experience in the comments section!


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Saturday, December 8, 2018

How My $17 Kroger Markdown Haul Will Feed My Family For An Entire Week!!

This week I prove you don't have to spend a boatload of money to feed your family!   

I just posted about my great Kroger markdown deals.  My weekly menu plan will be based on that $17.40 grocery store purchase!  Let's see how those items translate into feeding a family of five for an entire week!

I had to use a few items that I already had on hand.  But, even factoring in the price which I already paid for those items, the total cost of this week's menu is still well under $50! 

Here's a reminder of what I got.  

1 pound of mustard greens - $1.49
1 "Nourish" bowl for just $.49!
6 assorted organic yellow and green zucchini - $2.00
2 pounds of pea pods - $3.99
1 container of Baharat blend seasoning - $2.49
1 container of chocolate fruit dip - $.99 for our high school Christmas party
2 - 32 oz. organic vanilla Greek Yogurts - $2.89 each

To see photos and descriptions, read this post.

This Week's Menu: 


Yogurt parfaits
Steel cut oats with blueberries
Cream of wheat


Homemade baked beans - easy and delicious!

*All lunches are served with a salad, carrot and celery sticks, and fresh fruit
Split pea soup
Smoky white bean soup
Homemade baked beans (These are the best and easiest baked beans I have ever tried! I make them in the crockpot.  I follow the recipe exactly as it is printed except I add a touch of liquid smoke.)  
Sauteed mustard greens with garlic and lemon
Chili mac
Chili and peanut butter sandwiches (We call this "school lunch" because when I was a kid, the school cafeteria always served a bowl of chili with a peanut butter sandwich on white bread.)  


(I bulk cooked! Be sure to check out the photos and descriptions!) 

Tomato Mexican Cabbage over brown rice
Nourish bowl tortillas 
Garbanzo beans in tomato and cream sauce

 Photos and Descriptions:  


Tomato Mexican Cabbage over brown rice

I got this recipe from a fellow reader on a vegan FB page.  It's simple and delicious.  Here are her instructions:  "water sauté onion and garlic till translucent. Then I add 1/2 head of cabbage thinly sliced into strips, 6 oz tomato sauce,2 T tomato paste, cumin and oregano , frozen corn and cook on medium about 10 minutes. Add beans at the end. Top with scallions, or olives, or avocado or jalapeños! Or all of the above! I serve it with tortillas and rice." 

Nourish bowl  

There was $1.00 manufacturer coupon on the front!  So, I paid just 49¢! 

My boys said this was delicious!   The container was enough to fill a serving bowl and cooked in the microwave in just 4 minutes.  Although the package indicated that it was one serving, it is easily large enough for two.  If you are sensitive to dairy, be aware that the sauce contains milk.  It contained 540 mg. of sodium, which is a little high for me.  But, unless you are severely salt restricted, it's not too bad. The real food ingredients: butternut squash, kale, kohlrabi, and brown rice were amazing!  

The boys ate some of it plain and then opted for it rolled up in a tortilla with either vegan sour cream or regular sour cream.  

 Garbanzo beans in tomato and cream sauce

It tastes as good as it looks!

 This recipe came from my amazing readers.  I sent out a "help a girl" plea for ideas on how to use the baharat spice blend that I got marked down to $2.49.  It turns out that this blend is very similar to one of my favorite spices, garam masala.  

My readers came through with suggestions and instructions.  They ranged from:  

"a great add-in to rice"
"a rub for chicken"
"whole roasted cauliflower"

I chose the vegan version of the recipe from my reader,  Tamara.  Here are her directions:  

"Onions, tomatoes, tomato sauce, garlic, salt, pepper, butter, cream. Simmer together. Add sauteed boneless, skinless chicken thighs-cut in small pieces. I have also added green beans. It has to simmer so if you want to add zucchini I would saute separately and serve with it. If you want vegetarian chick peas are good in it. If vegan substitute olive oil for butter and almond milk for cream. I don't do soy but it would probably be good with tofu. Serve over basmati rice. Baharat seasoning is a middle eastern, Indian seasoning mix, very similar to garam masala blend." 

Creole Zucchini over Brown Rice

I used to beg my mother to make creole green beans.  When I got those six organic yellow and green zucchini for just $2.00, I wanted to make creole zucchini and put it over brown rice.  It's a great main dish meal for just pennies! 

Shepherd's Pie

Warm and tasty comfort food!  The base is comprised of lentils and vegetables in a flavorful tomato sauce.  It's all topped by fresh mashed potatoes!  It fills a huge 11 X 14 inch pan!  In case you missed the recipe link in my listing of dinner meals, here it is again.   

What's for dinner this week at your house?  

Let us know in the comments section. 

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