Thursday, October 18, 2018

Putting Food By for Winter: Herbs

If you are ripping herbs out of the ground before it freezes too hard to get them out, then know that I am right there with you!  I had a HUGE sack of mint in my kitchen courtesy of my friend, Tracey.  So, tonight I processed a whole lot of mint! 

Welcome to the third, and final, installment of my "putting food by for winter" series.  In case you missed the first post on freezing click here.  For the second installment, which was centered on blanching, click here. Now for the third, and final, part of our series:

Putting food by for Winter:


There are two main ways that I preserve herbs for winter.  Freezing and dehydrating.

Both freezing and dehydrating begin the same way!

Step 1:  Wash, stem, and cut the herbs down to size


Step 2:  Wash the herbs thoroughly.

 The easiest way to do this is to place the herbs in the basket of a salad spinner. 



Fluff.  Voila!  Herbs all ready to preserve!

Method #1:  Freezing

Many years ago I decided that freezing herbs in an ice cube was a great way to preserve them.  You don't have to worry about the herbs clumping together in a freezer bag.  Plus, it's super simple to pick an ice cube out of a freezer bag and use it in either a tea or a recipe.

Have your friends save yogurt containers for you!  I keep a couple dozen empty containers on hand at all times and I use them constantly, for homemade marinara sauce, pesto, individual servings of hummus, and more! 

Place herbs in small yogurt cups and add water to fill.

Place in freezer until completely hardened.  Then place in freezer bags.  Be sure to label the bags. 
Depending on the herb, I use one of these "cubes" for a big pot of soup. We drink herbal tea all winter long to aid our immune system. Heat a small pan of water to boiling on the stove.  Add the herbal ice cube. You may need to add a little more heat if the cube cools the water too much.  But, really I haven't had trouble with this.   Steep for 15 - 20 minutes for herbal tea.  

 Method #2:  Dehydrating in the microwave

  Step 1:  Dry the herbs after washing them.

  Get your herbs as dry as possible.  Then put in a single layer on a paper towel.

Step 2:  Place in microwave on the paper towel.  

 Step 3:  Cook for 2 minutes on medium heat level.

You cannot dry herbs on high power.  Do a manual cook time and use a power level of 5 or 6.  Delicate herbs like mint need a cooking power of 5.  Heartier herbs can take a level of 6.  If your microwave only has general power settings, use medium or medium/high.  Experiment a little bit.  You'll know if the level is too high.  The herbs will begin to brown.  You don't want to cook them.  You just want to remove the water content.  Cook for two minutes.  Then rearrange the leaves to expose more of the surface area to the heat of the microwave.  

Step 4:  Cook in 1 minute increments until dry.  

After the initial 2 minutes, re-set the manual timer to 1 minute on power level 5.  Keep checking them after every additional minute of cooking time.  When they are done, they will feel very dry.  They may be a little warm.  

Step 5:  Cool and place in glass jar

Let them cool completely before moving them to long-term storage in a glass jar.  CAUTION:  Be very sure that they are completely dried out before you put them in a jar.  If there is too much moisture remaining in the plants, they will mold and all your hard work will be lost.  I have never, personally had herbs mold that I have dried in the microwave.  But, you must be very careful.  If you are uncertain, you can place them on a clean dry towel in an out-of-the-way place for a day or two, tossing them periodically, to be sure that they are completely free of moisture before you put them in glass jars. 

Enjoy the last few days of warmth.  Winter is around the corner!  

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October $75 Groceries Week #3 - $.88 a Pound Chicken Breasts!!


 It's been a week of getting back on track! 

I'm feeling progressively better every day since my 10 days of viral junk a few days ago.  This week I managed a bulk cooking day (photos coming in another post) and went through the fridge to see what went bad while I was sick.  You know how much I hate wasting food!  So, when I had to throw a few items out, it broke my little budget heart.  But, sickness cannot be helped.

I did my major grocery shopping today after taking my two youngest boys to a dentist appointment.  No cavities!  Yay!  I made a grocery list while they were in with the dentist.  Since their appointments were finished at noon and the dentist's office is in the vicinity of several major grocery stores, I decided to see how quickly I could work through my list.

Store #1:  The Farmer's Market


Not really a "store", but my favorite vendor had delicata squash for just $1.00 each.  I had to get one!  Sauteed with onion and garlic, it will be the perfect side dish later this weekend!  

Store #2:  Aldi


2 loaves of bread - $1.49 each  not the healthiest bread, but great for quick school day lunches
5 yogurts - $.35 each - the kids love picking one container of yogurt each when we visit Aldi

Store #3:  HyVee


Y'all it is hard to find chicken breasts for under $1.00 a pound!  This week HyVee has them for just $.88 a pound.  If you eat meat, this is a "stock up" price, for sure!

Here's what I got: 

Sale Items:

 Unsalted Saltines - $.69 with coupon from flyer
Veggie Rotini - 2 - 16 oz boxes - $.69 each
HyVee Cornflakes - 18 oz. box - $.99
HyVee Drinking water - 24 pack - $1.88
 Moon Drops Grapes - $.88 a pound!

 If you've never had Moon Drop grapes, do give them a try!  These specialty grapes are shaped like long fingers and are super sweet.  They are usually about $2.88 a pound.  So, a sale price of $.88 is tremendous! 



Sabra Dip - $1.49
Balsamic Cheese - $3.49

When you go to HyVee always check the markdown basket in the cheese area.  They have started putting these Sabra dips in that basket when they are close to their expiration date.  I'm not much for pre-made food, but these dips are a fantastic time-saver when they are marked down to just $1.49.  The cheese in this basket is generally marked down to half price.  You don't get really big chunks.  But, it is perfect for "picnic" suppers and my kids have tried some really high quality cheese for under $5.00. 

 Store #4:  GFS


These bananas are the perfect example of:  "Don't be afraid to ask."  

I have gotten half price bananas at GFS many times.  When I saw some perfectly ripe bananas, which were getting a little "spotty", I asked the store stocker if they were planning to mark the bananas down.  Sure enough!  He had noticed it too and told me that the perfectly ripe bunches were mine for half price!

 Here's what I got:  

3 - 3 pound bunches of bananas for just $.75 a bunch!  Yay!

Total Spent:  $19.63!

 Final Notes:  

  Since I have $75 to spend each week, I have over $50 remaining in the grocery budget!  I need a couple of SAMS items and Kroger also has some deals, which I will be getting on Saturday.  Oh!  And I have a $5/$15 coupon that Big Lots sent me this week!  It expires in a few days.  So, I'll be heading over there to spend my $15.  I always try to get as close to $15 as possible, to make the most of the $5 off coupon.  See this post for the benefits of the Big Lots loyalty club card membership.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Dressing Semi-formal for Just Pennies!

My husband and I were recently invited to a semi-formal dinner to celebrate a special occasion for some dear friends.  I dressed "to the nines" and we had a lovely time reveling with the other guests.  It brought to mind that I wanted to give you super hacks for formal dressing for just pennies on the dollar!  Anyone can do it and you won't have to spend a million to look like a million.

(Please note: This post contains affiliate links.  If you make a purchase I will be compensated.)  



I made you a special video.  It's full of lots of quick, easy ideas and tips for saving money on dressing for formal and semi-formal occasions.  I show you every piece, tell you what I paid, and tell you how to recreate the same look.  Here's a link for the video.  Check it out and then head back here for photos, links, and even more tips! This post also gives you additional concepts not covered in the live video. 

  Put your hair up. 

 It lengthens your neck and makes you look thinner.  You can also show off your shiny earrings and necklace to their best advantage!

Wear more dramatic make up.

You will most likely be in candlelight for at least some of the night.  You can darken that eyeshadow and use a brighter shade of lipstick than you generally do. 

  Paint your nails.

With all the tutorials available on YouTube, nail polish is a cheap and easy way to add glam to your ensemble!   

Spend money on one statement piece.

 The piece I wore for our special evening was from Noonday.

 I originally mentioned Noonday in this post, but I'll reiterate that I love this company's mission.  They partner with artisans from third world countries and through fair trade practices makes it possible for them to become self sustainable. An added bonus is that their collection of jewelry, bags, and accessories is stunning! There's a link to their website at the end of this article. 

  Go with a basic black skirt and a black shell 

2 black shells - 1 with glitter and 1 plain
Buy these instead of a dress.  Why?
  • It gives you much more versatility.  
  • It's cheaper.  
  • You can change the look by changing the shell, jacket, and accessory colors.

Calf length plain black skirt

  Borrow some glam!

 That's right!  Use your "phone a friend" option and ask your friends if you can borrow their fancy black jacket or glittery necklace and earrings.  Do be sure to return it promptly along with a note of appreciation. 

Shop right after Christmas and New Year's Eve.


I paid less than $3 for each jacket!
 The end of the year brings with it parties, special occasions, and open houses.  Glittery black and gold clothing is prominently displayed in shop windows and on mannequins.  Those same prices on glitzy jackets, scarves, and accessories drop to bottom dollar right after after Christmas and New Year's Eve.  Stop by during the first two weeks of January and keep an eye on those sale tags.  

Thrift stores follow suit, in a way.  They, too, showcase these items before Christmas and New Year's Eve.  Unlike traditional stores, you need to check the prices both before and after the party season.  I have found racks of formal black clothing marked to half price before New Years Eve.  But, you might also find those same items marked down after the holidays.  So, keep a watchful eye and if you see the perfect item, snatch it up before someone else finds it! 

Add high heels and show those toes!

These classy heels by Nina were brand new and I found them at the Mission Mart for under $5.00!

 The Holidays are seriously around the corner!

Here are some links to give you a head start on this year's parties!

Silky, satiny and it zips up the back.  Priced at $23.99 with free shipping.  

 This is identical to the wrap that I wore in the video!  It is priced at $14.49 with free shipping.

Sofiya wrap bracelet

Here's a link to the Noonday Sofiya wrap bracelet.  Yes, the necklace that I am wearing in the video is actually a wrap bracelet made in India.  The glass beads are accented in gold trim and the cleverly designed clasp is adjustable.  It can wrap around your wrist three times or serve as a very nice necklace as well.  I love items with multiple uses!  You'll find the entire Noonday Collection at this link.  My dear friend, Andrea, is a Noonday ambassador and she will take good care of you. 

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Monday, October 15, 2018

This Week's CSA Box: Greens Season 2.0

Can you identify each green?

  Late fall brings with a resurgence of tasty, nutrient-packed greens!  This week I'll give you some great information along with some recipe ideas.

First, Let's See What We Got in This Week's Box: 

Sweet potatoes - 1 pound
Baking potatoes - 1 pound
Cabbage - 1 medium
Hot peppers - 1 pound
Mixed small Red and Green Peppers - 1 pound
Spaghetti squash - 1 medium
White onions - 2 large
Red Apples - 1 dozen

Radishes - 1 bunch - with greens
Kohlrabi - 2 medium bulbs - with greens
Carrots - 1 nice bunch - with greens
Tatsoi - 1 bag
Kale - 1 bag
Mixed Lettuce - 1 bag
Arugula - 1 bag

 What's so great about greens?!


There's plenty to love about deep green, leafy goodness!  Originating in the Fertile Crescent, kale and collards have been cultivated and eaten for over 2000 years.  The first reference to collards in America occurs in documents circa 1669.  Spinach, likewise, was a farming staple in the South.  Their propensity for quick germination and a short growing period, made greens a staple in Southern cooking.  The commonality of the appearance of greens in African American recipes is irrefutable, even though purists would argue, rightly so, that the terms Southern cooking and Soul Food are not interchangeable.

The nutritional profile of each type of green varies according to its color and variety.  The best rule of thumb is to eat a variety of greens every single week.  Doctors enthusiastically applaud greens with the encouragement that 2 - 3 servings of greens every week will significantly reduce your chances of contracting certain cancers, heart disease, and diabetes.

All greens are high in vitamins A and K, potassium, and folate.  Folate, part of the Vitamin B family, helps prevent birth defects, lowers the risk of heart disease, and protects against colon cancer.  Vitamin K reduces inflammation and strengthens your bones.  Greens are low in calories, low in carbohydrates, and boast a low glycemic index score.

Greens Recipes:

Tatsoi:  I wrote an entire post last week on tatsoi and how to use it in recipes.  See this link for the low-down on this Asian green and how to use it both raw and cooked.  




Arugula Pizza:  Definitely among the "spicier" of the greens, I absolutely hated it the first time I tried it.  But, after being willing to give it another "go", I learned to love it.  I actually crave its natural biting green flavor in the middle of winter.  Seriously!  It's great to add to the top of vegetarian pizza. Try this sun-dried tomato and arugula pizza.   
Arugula Pesto:  I have used arugula to make a terrific, spicy tasting homemade pesto.  Here's the recipe 

FREEZING TIP:  I save yogurt containers!  Make a big batch of pesto. Then fill clean, dry yogurt cups 1/3 of the way with the homemade pesto.  Freeze until firm and then pop out the pesto cube and store in freezer bags.  

Pesto Pasta:  Cook 4 servings of pasta. Drain the water off and place the pasta back into the cooking pan.  Then add the pesto cube.  Replace the lid, wait 5 minutes, then stir.  The pesto will be perfectly thawed and easily coat the pasta.  Dinner is served!  You can also substitute zucchini spirals, quinoa, or brown rice for the pasta.  My kids call the pesto rice version "green rice".  

More Recipes:  


Queso Stuffed Poblanos:  Yum!!  Stuffed with rice and a spicy tomato sauce, these would be great for a light lunch if you add a side salad and some fruit!  This recipe uses the poblano peppers from this week's box. 

Southern Cabbage Recipe:  I was at a dinner meeting the other day and was treated to the best cooked cabbage I had ever tasted!  The local eatery had slowly cooked it, mellowing the cabbage flavor to the perfect mixture of sweet and savory.  This recipe was the closest I could find to what I experienced at that dinner.  

The 14 year sous chef and I agreed that we wanted to use quinoa this week to stuff some peppers.  Although this recipe calls for turkey, we'll just skip it and add some black beans for color and extra protein.  Voila!  Perfect when served with gingery sauteed carrots.  Scroll down for this recipe next.  

Gingery Sauteed Carrots:  The natural sweetness of carrots is intensified when you cook them!  This recipe adds my favorite spice (ginger), lime juice, and a touch of real maple syrup.

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Sunday, October 14, 2018

$75 October Groceries - Week #2 - Best Deals of the Week

It's week #2 of my October $75 a week grocery budget and I was sick for, literally five days!  I was in bed with a fever for most of the week.  It was awful!  So, I emerged to whatever my husband had done with the food and the kitchen.  It wasn't pretty! He had sent one of my sons to the store with instructions to buy "Sandwich supplies."  I found lunch meat and American cheese slices in my fridge.  This is clearly not our regular fare.  When the week-long "brain fog"of fever-induced misery had lifted,  I quickly did damage control, made a list, grabbed my $75 bucks, and headed to the store with my two sous chefs!

Here's what we got!

Store #1:  HyVee

Sale items:

Grapes - 2 bags at $.77 a pound!  Great deal!  They had both red and black grapes on sale!
Corn - NO SALT! - 6 cans - priced at just 3/$1.00!  It was limit 6 or I would have gotten more!
Spring Water - 2 cases - 24 bottles in each case - priced at 2/$5.00

Mark downs:

I found quick, cheap, and flavorful items to spread on tortillas OR top baked potatoes!

 Bellavitano Citrus Ginger cheese - $2.45 - In the marked down basket!
Sabra White Bean Dip - $2.00 - Any time you see these marked down they are worth a look! 

What I spent:  $15.28

Store #2:  Aldi

Weekly Sale Items:

Oranges - 3 pounds - 2 bags - $2.19 each

Regular priced Items: 

Grape Jelly - 2 jars - $1.29 each 
Flour Tortillas - 10 count - 3 bags - $.99 each
Salsa - medium hotness - $1.19
Yogurts - 5 - assorted flavors - $.35 each
Bread and Butter Pickles - $1.39
Tortilla chips - dippers! - 3 bags - $.89 each  

What I spent:  $17.10

Store #3:  Kroger


Sale Items:

Private Selection Ice Cream - 32 oz. - 1 carton - $1.99 -  FRIDAY/SATURDAY ONLY! 
Kroger French Onion Dip - 2 cartons - $1.25 each

$5/5 Deals: 

Honey Nut Cheerios - 2 boxes - $1.29 each! 
       (Price calculated: after $1.00 off PLUS a $1.00/2 coupon downloaded onto my Kroger card) 
Kroger shredded cheese - 32 oz. - 2 packages - $4.99 each
       (For my meat and dairy eaters:  Put it in a bowl, pass it, they can add it and I can ignore it.) 
Colgate Toothpaste - 1 tube FREE!
      (Price calculated:  after $1.00 off PLUS a $2.00 coupon downloaded onto to Kroger card)
Kraft - ranch salad dressing - 2 bottles - $.99 each!
     (Price calclulated:  after $1.00 off of purchase of 5 participating items)
 Juicy Juice - cherry - 1 bottle - $1.00!
      (Price calclulated:  after $1.00 off of purchase of 5 participating items)
Dave's Killer Bread - 2 loaves - $3.79 each
     (Price calclulated:  after $1.00 off of purchase of 5 participating items)
    (Dave's is one of the few brands of bread that I will eat!  Organic, whole food ingredients!) 

If you add up the total number of items I bought in this category, you will see that it is: 10.
This means that at check out, $10 was deducted from my final bill!!  Great savings!


Fresh sugar snap peas - 2 pounds - 1 package - $3.99

Friday Freebie:

Uncle Ben's Meal Ready Rice - 1 package - FREE
Bumble Bee Lemon and Pepper Tuna Pack - 1 package - FREE 

Don't forget to download your weekly freebie every Friday onto your Kroger card! 

What I spent:  $32.08 

TOTAL:  $64.46

Another week of staying nicely within budget.  Granted, I still have my huge weekly box of goodness arriving every Saturday morning from our local CSA membership.  When I try to pull this same $75 per week grocery budget trick in January, you'll see me getting VERY creative in using what I have on hand and eating only what I can find on sale or clearance.

I'll take photos this week to show you what we ate and what I did with my $75 grocery haul!  

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