Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Homemade Breadcrumbs

Whenever I clean out my freezer, I inevitably find a few bags of bread ends that no one has bothered to finish using. Most likely that person was me, since I have this aversion to eating the end of a loaf of bread in a sandwich while it doesn't even phase my husband.

But those ends don't go to waste. I thaw them and lay them on a cookie sheet. I bake them at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes until toasted. Allow to cool.

It's important that the bread dries out to become bread crumbs, or you'll have a big clumpy mess. Trust me, I didn't toast the bread the first time that I made crumbs and I had a big mess. You can make crumbs out of any bread really, just as long as it is dried out and/or toasted.

Once cool, I break up into small pieces and run through my food processor and pulse until the toasted bread becomes bread crumbs.

Put the crumbs in a freezer container and then store the crumbs in the freezer. I try to use the crumbs up within 6 months so that they don't become freezer burned.

One of our favorite recipes that calls for breadcrumbs is Zucchini Cakes or AKA, Zucchini 'Crab' Cakes.

To make seasoned breadcrumbs, I use 1-2 teaspoons of seasoning or dried herbs per cup of bread crumbs and mix together.

Do you make homemade breadcrumbs?

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Calling All Gardeners: What's Eating Our Tomatoes?

I spent a lot of time this past spring shoveling out the old clay dirt that was in my garden and replacing it with the mix that is recommended in the book, Square Foot Gardening.

It was hard work and there was an initial expense, but I knew I wouldn't have to deal with the weeds any more and I knew my plants would love it.

I picked my first red tomato recently and I could immediately see the fruits of my labor.

Until I turned that beautiful tomato around and saw this...

I almost cried. It was as if a human took a big fat bite out of the tomato, as if it were an apple. But that was no was some sort of critter, but I have a 2 foot tall fence around my box, for crying out loud.

You might not know this, but I live in bunnyville. My yard and garden is their 24 hour buffet. But this isn't the back woods and these bunnies aren't Thumper. No, I live in the burbs and these bunnies are practically domesticated animals. They flurry around the neighborhood in their little bunny community as if they own the place!

Upon showing my tomato to my fellow gardening neighbor, she told me that she was having the same problem. She found 5 tomatoes eaten the same way. She has not seen tomatoes eaten this way before. Her husband spent the day putting a fence around their tomatoes. I have a fence though. I am treating this as an act of war.

But my neighbors weren't so sure this was the work of a bunny. Could it be a chipmunk, a ground hog or dare I say it, a skunk? It must be an awfully nimble ground hog or skunk to slink through the slight opening were the wires come together around my box. I re-secured the fence immediately.

So, I'm calling all gardeners for advice. What's Eating Our Tomatoes? Is this the work of a bunny, chipmunk, ground hog or skunk? Any ideas? Please, for the sake of my sanity and the many tomatoes just waiting to turn red, please give me your advice! Thank You!

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Grilled Banana Splits

I'm taking a summer classic up a notch.

When I was grilling pineapple last week, my head was buzzing with all sorts of ideas for the grilled fruit. Why not grill bananas too and make homemade, grilled banana splits?

My husband and I LOVE banana splits, but they are usually the most expensive item on the menu at our local ice cream shop. So we made them at home, but I grilled the bananas and the pineapple. Grilling the fruit intensifies the flavor.

I also pureed some thawed strawberries from our U-Pick excursion back in May and of course I made my favorite, homemade whipped cream. I used some chocolate sauce that was in our refrigerator, but that could be homemade as well.

Read my post about grilled pineapple for the prep information. Grilling bananas is just as simple:

1. Heat your grill to medium-high, at least 400 degrees.

2. Leave the skin on the banana and quarter the banana by cutting in half crosswise and lengthwise.

3. Rub butter on the cut side of the banana and place cut side down on a hot grill. Grill 2 - 3 minutes or until golden brown...and enjoy the wonderful smell.

4. Turn the bananas over to the skin side and grill for an additional minute.
I grilled the bananas and pineapple together and the timing worked out fine. I just removed the bananas from the grill before the pineapple Be careful, the skins will come off very easily after grilling.

I don't have the fancy banana split boats, but I can assure you that I will be keeping my eye open for them at yard sales from now on. This is one dessert that I will be making again and again. Assemble the grilled bananas, your favorite ice cream, grilled pineapple, strawberries, chocolate sauce and whipped cream and ENJOY!

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Do You Have A Plan for Replacing Your Appliances?

This September we will be celebrating 10 years in our home. The house came with very few appliances. Upon moving in, we needed a washer, dryer and refrigerator. Within two years after moving in, we purchased a new oven, microwave, dishwasher and freezer. The home came with central air conditioning and when we had it serviced last summer, the technician estimated that the unit was probably 15 - 20 years old.

Why am I listing all of this for you? When our refrigerator started rattling recently, it occurred to me that many of our appliances are heading towards old age. While I have no desire to replace any of them right now, I also don't want our finances to be thrown for a loop when something does decide to take a trip to appliance heaven. I don't want to drain the emergency fund, which could easily happen when the AC needs replaced. We certainly don't want to go into debt either.

My main concern is that AC unit. Every year, I try to go as long as possible before we turn the AC on, and I cross my fingers that it will work properly. Every year, I pray that this isn't the year that it decides to go kaput. And yes, I do realize that it is probably not the most energy efficient unit at 15+ years of age, but a new unit could cost $5000+.

So in the meantime, I'll hope for the best and do a little planning.

1 - Take inventory of every appliance in your home. When and where did you purchase the appliances? Do you have the owners manuals and receipts? Are they under warranty? A warranty saved us a lot of money when our fairly new hot water heater unexpectedly broke last fall. Keep your inventory and your owners manuals all in one place.

2 - Take proper care of appliances. Read through the owners manuals to find out how to clean the appliances. Do they have filters that need replaced regularly? Did you know that you need to clean the outside of your refrigerator as well as the inside? I didn't and I found this article helpful, How to Avoid Refrigerator Repairs.

3 - Have appliances serviced regularly. Not all appliances need to be serviced, but we do have our AC unit and our two gas fire places serviced yearly. The units are cleaned and checked for any problems or issues.

4 - Start a replacement fund. I know. I know. Just one more thing to save money for, but this will help you (and me) avoid going into debt when our appliances need replaced.

What kind of shape are you appliances in? Have you thought about it lately? Are you prepared if something breaks down and needs replaced? Let us know in the comments.

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This post is linked to Frugal Friday at Life as MOM.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Vertical Gardening Update: I've Got Cantaloupes

Cantaloupe is one of my most favorite things to grow in the garden. The taste is unbelievable, so sweet and juicy.

In years past, the plants took over my garden and spilled into the yard, so I changed my planting strategy for the melons this year and planted upward, not at ground level.

I followed the method taught in my Square Foot Gardening book and I built a vertical trellis back in May.

It is now the middle of July and I am seeing the benefits of vertical gardening for vine plants. The plants looks healthy and there are at least 5 melons growing.

Two of the melons are actually growing on the ground at the base of the trellis.

My main concern is that the plants won't hold the weight of the melons as they grow to maturity. I referred to my book for guidance and Mel states that the stem supporting the melon grows thicker as the fruit grows larger and if I have the right support to hold the plant, the plant will hold the melons.

So far, the Square Foot Gardening Method has not disappointed me one bit, so I'll wait patiently and nervously and let you know how it works out.

Do you plant melons vertically? Does your trellis properly support the weight of the fruit? Let us know in the comments.

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This post is linked to Tuesday Garden Party at An Oregon Cottage.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Grilled Pineapple

The grill isn't just for chicken and burgers. It takes summer desserts to a whole new level. Last summer, I grilled peaches and added homemade whipped cream. I thought I had gone through the pearly gates; it was that delicious.

As I wait patiently for peach season in PA, I have been grilling pineapple. The grilling brings out the fresh flavor as it caramelizes the fruit. Your summer dessert becomes more decadent and kinda fancy, but it is so easy to prepare.

I have a pineapple corer, but you don't need one to make the rings. Here is a tutorial on How To Cut a Pineapple. You could also cut the pineapple into spears.

Heat your grill to medium-high, at least 400 degrees.

Cut the pineapple into 1/2 inch slices.

Brush both sides with canola or olive oil.

Place pineapple on grill about 3 minutes. Flip and grill the other side for another 3 minutes. Remove from grill.

When serving, top with homemade whipped cream or your favorite vanilla ice cream.

I added some toasted coconut. I had some sweetened coconut in the pantry, so I placed in a small pan over medium heat until the coconut turned golden brown. Stir often and keep an eye on it; it will burn fast. It browns in just a few minutes.

Sit back, kick your feet up and enjoy a very yummy summer dessert.

Do you grill fruit?

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Petty Cash

We have an envelope, in an undisclosed location, where we keep cash. It is not an emergency fund or our monthly cash allowance and there isn't a lot of cash in the envelope. Yet it is a place where we can go to if we need a quick $10-$20 for a last minute pizza dinner or the neighbor kids, who are knocking with Girl Scout cookies, or the pick your own strawberry patch or a yard sale outing, the list goes on and on...

The money comes in handy for those sudden occasions and the money usually comes from our yard sales, rebates, or gift money.

My envelope was pretty much empty a few weeks ago, but a recent yard sale helped me replenish it. I feel less stressed now knowing that we have a little bit of cash tucked away.

How do you manage last minute or sudden cash expenses? Do you have a petty cash fund?

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Freezing Green Beans

If you aren't growing green beans, you might want to consider it. They are the gift that keeps on giving.

I planted 4 squares worth in my square foot garden and we have had them twice for dinner so far. I just put 5 cups in my freezer and many young beans are still on the plants.

I wasn't always a huge fan of green beans. Just ask my mom about the arguments we used to have about them when I was ten. But as I got older, I discovered that I actually like them when they aren't over-cooked and still have a crispy texture to them.

I have also discovered that I prefer slender green beans compared to the fatter ones. Last year, I grew purple green beans because I thought my kids would think they were cool. They turned from purple to green when they were cooked. They were fun, but I didn't care for the texture and taste.

Because we have more than we care to eat at the moment, I am freezing green beans this year. There are a few steps that need to be taken when freezing green beans:
  • Wash

  • Trim the ends and cut beans into small pieces. I just snap in half.

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

  • Have a bowl of ice water ready.

  • Carefully put the beans in to the water and boil for 3 minutes.

  • Strain and transfer beans to ice water for several minutes to cool down

  • Lay beans out on cookie sheet and stick the pan in the freezer for an hour or so. This is optional, but it makes it easier to pull out smaller portions of the beans.

  • Place beans in freezer bag, remove air from bag and keep in freezer.

How do you preserve green beans?

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

You Don't Have To Be A Student To Take Advantage of the Back-to-School Deals

My back-to-school bargains from last year:

As depressing as it might be, the back-to-school season will soon be upon us. As much as I want summer to linger on as long as possible, I also don't want to miss out on all of the loss leaders that stores will be throwing at us over the next four to six weeks.

This is the time of year to get some amazing deals on back-to-school supplies, but you don't have to be a student to take advantage of the deals. Depending on the item and store, the deals range from FREE to pennies of the original price. The stores lure you in with their loss-leader items, like Staples 1 cent and 25 cent deals in Sunday's paper. Stores hope that you come in to buy their other products, but if you stick to your list you hopefully won't get sucked in.

The stores are also fighting for your dollars, so check all of the flyers to determine what stores have the best price for your needs. Look for great deals in CVS, Rite-Aid, Staples, Office Max, Target, Kmart, Toys-R-Us, to name a few.

My other piece of advice to you is to get to the stores early, because the loss-leader items sell out very quickly and there are usually limits on the amount you can buy.

Other uses for back-to-school supplies:

1. Stock up on supplies for the home office. In Sunday's paper there were great deals on office supplies such as pens, staplers, notebooks, post-its, computer paper among other items.

2. Stock up for birthday or Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers. My girls love to draw and craft. At this time of year, I can find crayons, glue, construction paper and other craft items at very cheap prices and great for their Christmas stockings.

3. Consider donating school supplies to womens' shelters, local schools, children's hospitals, libraries, churches. I am sure they would appreciate your generosity.

4. Battle the boredom blues. I have a box of new supplies that I bring out when I hear, "I'm bored". Nothing cures the boredom blues like a new bottle of Elmer's glue and construction paper. My daughter is content for at least 2 hours.

5. Party favors for birthday, Halloween or other holiday parties. I bought some inexpensive pencil boxes a few years ago and stuffed with crayons, glue stick, scissors for birthday party favors.

One thing to remember is if you aren't going to use the 25 cent box of paper clips, then it just becomes clutter and it's probably best that you just stay home.

Are you going to take advantage of the back to school bargains?

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Freezing Hot Peppers

My hot peppers are growing faster than I can use them, so I popped them in the freezer.

I washed them, cut the tops off and because they are long peppers, I cut them in half and put them in a freezer bag. Make sure to squeeze the air out of the bag.

In the fall, I'll pull what I need from the freezer and chop them up to add them to soups and chilies. I cut the peppers in half, because my family doesn't like foods that are too spicy, so I'll use a little at one time.

You could also chop up the hot peppers and freeze in ice cube trays. I don't have gloves and I've chopped a lot of hot peppers all at once before and my fingers burned for hours. Not fun.

So I froze whole and I'll chop as I need them. I will chop up the sweet peppers for the freezer when they are ready for harvesting. I'll post on that later in the summer.

How do you freeze hot peppers?

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This post is linked to Tuesday Garden Party @ An Oregon Cottage.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Chicken Stuffed with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Spinach & Feta

I received a product sample of Knorr Homestyle Stock in the mail recently and I was invited to test the stock and submit a recipe for a contest. Eight bloggers will be chosen and will win a trip to BlogHer 2011 to compete in a finalist cook-off at the conference.

The new product, Knorr Homestyle Stock, is a chicken stock in a concentrated form. It can be diluted in water, wine or juices and used a variety of ways. The little 4.66 oz box that I was sent contains 4 small containers that you see in the picture. Each of those tubs makes 3 1/2 cups of broth.

As soon as I received the samples I started digging through my own archives and found one of my favorite recipes. It was delicious.

Chicken Stuffed with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Spinach & Feta
  • ¼ cup packed sun-dried tomatoes, soften in warm water for about 30 seconds, drain
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 10 oz box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
  • ½ cup feta
  • 4 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1 container Knorr Homestyle concentrated Stock
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 2 Tbsp water
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Serves 6

In a food processor, combine the tomatoes, garlic, and spinach. Transfer to a small bowl and mix in the feta.

Place chicken breast in a large plastic bag and flatten with a meat pounder or rolling pin to about ½ inch thickness.

Spread about ¼ cup of spinach mixture on each chicken breast. Fold up and hold together with a tooth pick or bamboo skewer.

In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add chicken breast and brown about 3-4 minutes on each side. This will need to be done in batches. Add additional olive oil as needed. Place browned chicken in a baking dish prepared with non-stick cooking spray. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Mix the flour and water together in a small bowl. Set aside.

On low heat in the same large skillet, add the concentrated stock and water. Stir and scrape all of the bits from the bottom of the pan to mix up all of the flavor. Slowly add the flour mixture, stirring the entire time. Continue stirring while bringing to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Before serving, remove toothpicks from chicken. Serve the gravy on top of the stuffed chicken.

I must confess, our bellies were full when I realized that I totally forgot to take a picture of our finished dish. The above picture is from my archives.

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This post is linked to Tasty Tuesday @ Balancing Beauty & Bedlam.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

In Today's Episode of "Adventures in Trash Diving"

Surveying the neighbor's trash is becoming a sport for me.

I'm training for my first half marathon. Which means two things: I'm crazy and I'm out the door early in the morning running as fast as I can to pass the smelly garbage trucks.

Wednesdays are trash day in our neighborhood. I actually felt good on my run this morning, but as I was plodding along, I stopped dead in my tracks in front of a neighbor's trash heap.

I have been wanting one of these hobby greenhouses. I have dreams, aspirations and delusions that I'm going to grow annual flowers and some vegetables from seed. I have yet to discuss my madness with my husband and they can get pretty expensive to buy new, so I haven't pursued getting one yet.

This is definitely not a deluxe greenhouse. It is most likely a beginner model. I inspected it while curbside and noticed that the zipper was broken, but I ran home, grabbed the van keys and raced back to pick it up before the trash guy took it away. It is also missing the bottom shelf, but I can come up with an alternative.

I'm now googling greenhouses to find out if I can replace the plastic and how much that will set me back. Hopefully it will work out, otherwise I will put it back out on the curb and maybe it will make another poor runner's dreams come true.

Do you have a hobby greenhouse? Can you give us some advice on how you use it?

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Freezing Herbs

My herbs needed a haircut.

So I cut back the parsley, oregano, thyme and dill and cleaned them. I removed the leaves and discarded the stems. I then threw the leaves in freezer bags and flattened the air out of the bags. I'll store in the freezer until I'm ready to use.

I decided against drying them, because I read that freezing will hold their flavor better. When I'm ready to use, I will chop up and use as if they are fresh, following fresh measurements. 1 Tablespoon of fresh herbs = 1 tsp dried herbs.

I also froze whole parsley sprigs. I'll use those for my homemade chicken stock that I make through out the year. Now I won't have to buy parsley in the middle of winter.

Now I won't have to buy any herbs in the middle of the winter, I'll have fresh herbs right in my freezer.

How do you preserve herbs? Let us know in the comments.

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This post is linked to Garden Party Tuesday at An Oregon Cottage and Frugal Friday at Life as MOM.

Friday, July 1, 2011

July 1st ~ Time for A Mid-Year Review

Does it feel like this year is flying by? I don't know about you, but I want summer to slow down a bit so I can savor it. The days might be longer, but they are whizzing by a rapid pass.

Did you make personal, financial or professional goals or plans back in January for 2011? When was the last time you reviewed those lists?

The half way mark of the year is a great time to reflect back on yearly goals and plans to check your progress and make any adjustments, changes or additions.

What goals or projects can you cross off? What goals need to be adjusted or changed? Maybe a goal wasn't clear enough and it really needs to be modified. Did you blow away a particular goal? Push yourself harder and plan your next step.

What new ideas, projects or goals have sprung up over the last 6 months that need to added to your list?

Have you created and updated your Family Balance Sheet? My offer of a FREE spreadsheet is still valid. Get yourself a copy and update it regularly. This will help you track your financial goals.

One of my goals this year is to run a half-marathon. I signed up to run one in October.

This is one goal that I am having the most success with so far. Why? It was a clear, specific goal. It was also a reasonable goal for me. I used to run a lot of 5ks quite a bit before I had kids, but this distance is a new challenge. I found a race and created a training plan for the year. The plan and a blank calendar are posted on my refrigerator to track my workouts. It is in my face every day.

So far, I have been faithful with running 3-4 days a week and have a plan to increase the mileage slowly over the upcoming weeks. I'm sure I'll be a bundle of nerves right before the race, but I feel strongly that I'll be conditioned enough to complete it.

I have some other goals that I haven't been as diligent with and I need to use the following race analogy to finish the year strong in other areas of my life.

Develop a clear, specific, and reasonable plan. Run a half-marathon.

Designate a dead line. Date is set for October 16.

Work backwards to develop a time line and your steps to achieve your goal. I took a blank calendar and counted the weeks backwards from the race date. On Sunday, July 3, I'll have 15 weeks until my race. I am planning my workouts accordingly.

Break it down into steps. Each week, I am looking at my schedule and planning the mileage that I need to achieve.

Keep your plan/goal visible. My race plan is on our refrigerator. I see it every day.

Find an accountability partner. Whether it is a spouse, friend or family member, talk to them about your goal and ask for their encouragement.

Give yourself a reward. I'm thinking after running 13.1 miles, a big banana split will have my name on it.

How are you doing with the plans/goals that you made for yourself or your family back in January? Have you reviewed them lately? Let us know in the comments.

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