While You’re Traveling Food Doesn’t Have To Break The Bank

Through a series of circumstances, my daughter is joining me in California this week. I will be there for work – while she (at age 17) will be at Disneyland with her friend. It is sort of a cheaper version of Spring Break for them. But a trip that they get to sort of do on their own. I already had a room because I’m there for work. We cashed in some airline points. She has had a few dog-sitting gigs that gave her enough money to get the discounted Disney tickets on her own. She also got $60 from a grandparent who found out she was going so that will act as her “souvenier” money.

Since I’ve been writing about cheap meal menus for the past couple weeks, I thought this would be a good time to talk about how we don’t let eating out every day eat our entire month’s food budget.

When I arrive on Monday afternoon, I will swing by Trader Joes’ and get some yogurts and some bagels/cream cheese and apples, bananas or grapes (things that don’t need big fridge space) for us all to eat for breakfasts all week. We did check that the hotel rooms do have a small fridge. Also, when we are at the store, we will plan at least a couple nights of sandwiches. So we will buy some lunchmeat, bread and chips.  We will plan to drink water – my daughter doesn’t drink carbonated anything – so that saves on soda money plus all that sugar. We have been told that the girls can bring water bottles into the park and refill them. This will save them a lot of money. When we are at Trader Joe’s we will also get them some snacks just to have in their backpack (and back in the room) to tide them over. I have told her since it is a “vacation” she can get one snack each afternoon. But hey she’s a teen and will be in the park with just her friend so what she does with her money is really her own.

We have done our research of things that the girls can eat with a smaller budget at Disneyland. These include apparently to-die-for corn dogs ($9.95 includes chips), we have also heard a hot spot is Bengal BBQ outside of Indiana Jones ride has some great deals (Someone told just just around $5 for a couple meat skewers), and Jolly Holiday soup around $6. They also researched some lobster nachos at California Adventure that the girls think they can share. There is a fruit bar where you can get healthy snacks for under $5. However, depending on what we find at Trader Joe’s I may tell the girls to bring a piece of fruit with them in their backpack. I also tell them that they should eat late lunch/early dinner to try to get dinner (something more filling but also at the lunch prices).

The great news is that, since I’m there for work, I will have a daily stipend so while food is more expensive than what I’ve been cooking at home the last couple weeks – this will at least be off-set by that stipend.

We will let you know how we do on this budget trip to Disneyland when we return. Until then, have a super week.

It was Payday week

Before I go getting all excited for payday week – I realize that I’m still in the midst of paying off debt. Which means that we don’t celebrate the payday by going out to dinner and the movies this Friday night. Nope, we stay at home and invite people over…for frozen pizza (but even frozen pizza tastes better when shared with friends right?).

We are looking once again at our menu for the next week and trying to keep it as cheap week 2. So here we go with our menu for the week. I also don’t talk about lunch much – because I usually take leftovers and she takes a simple sandwich, chips, fruit lunch.

Sunday – It is Colorado and we are in winter which means that you never know when it will be cold out and a soup will be perfect. Tonight we will have chicken and dumplings. I got a giant box of bisquick at Costco for around $3 and we almost always have chicken in the freezer. This week (since it was payday week – we got another bag of chicken tenders). We also put in carrots and celery to make it a little healthier. We also used bullion for the chicken stock (rather than buy chicken stock – because we already had it at home).

Monday – My friend had so graciously given us a couple really big filets of Halibut a couple weeks back. I still have one in the freezer. This is the perfect week to add the Halibut to the menu again. We like to coat it with some crunched up chips (since we usually have those on hand because of lunches). We will have fried fish filets, french fries (got these on sale for just 99 cents for the bag of sweet potatoes), and garlic/olive oil roasted tomanotes (we had some small tomatoes left from last week). While this meal was REALLY cheap for us because we already had the fish. Fish is not all that expensive – so still a cheap meal.

Tuesday – I know that Dave Ramsey says don’t go to restaurants. But Taco Tuesday is a cheap way for us to have dinner. Tacos at Del Taco are just $1.29 for three of them. We order six and have water (soda costs more). So we have a meal for my daughter and myself for just $2.60. (Less than it would cost us just to buy the taco shells). And tonight is also a night that we have some stuff after school and work – making the quick grab dinner ideal. I order two of the tacos soft shell so I can warm them up for lunch the next day.

Wednesday – Tater tot Casserole. Tater tots are having their moment. (At least so all the cool kids are telling me). This was probably the most expensive meal of the week. We browned 1 lb ground beef ($3); added a can of cream of mushroom soup (79c – cause we use the store brand); added a can of green beans (60c); salt and pepper. Put that in the bottom of a pan. Put a bag of tater tots ($2) on top of that and sprinkled with cheese (we already had cheese – but maybe $2 for the block – we like cheese and used a lot). We put that in over at 350 for 35 minutes. Total meal was $8.39 (but lots of leftovers)

Thursday – Chicken and waffle sandwiches. We used frozen waffles and chicken nuggets. We toasted the waffles and then loaded the chicken nuggets on top (already cooked) then drizzled maple syrup over the whole thing. Delicious and easy. Plus CHEAP. The waffles were made using part of the bisquick box (the same one I used for the dumplings on Sunday) – I happen to have a waffle maker. We also opted for the chicken nuggets but if we wanted to be a bit (ever so slightly) healthier – we could have used the chicken tenders that I said we already have in our freezer.  Because we already had this stuff in our freezer it won’t cost us anything. BUT if you are buying waffles they will be around $2 for a box of 8 and $4 for a bag of chicken nuggets (that you can use again for lunches at another time).

Friday – In the round and round that is the weather in Colorado. I hear we are supposed to have more snow on Friday. That is why Friday will be soup day. Safeway has progresso soups on sale for just 77c a can. If my daughter and I can agree on one soup we will have that and share it tonight. If we can’t agree. Well we may just go crazy and open two cans and each choose our own. For under $2 for a full meal.

Sometimes I feel like I really just want to go out to dinner – but I am really finding the cheap meal challenge sort of fun too. Making sure that we are using things that we already have/stock in our freezer as well as staying well under our budget number for food. When we stay under that number – it just means I can spend more paying down my debt.

This is Cheap Week

I am mananging my finances fairly tight right now. I am a follwer of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace. I find myself in baby step two  – that is getting out of all sorts of debt except the house. Baby step 1 is to save $1000 (and that is tucked away).

This week we had our house payment due (which is more than Mr. Ramsey suggests but I’m in a house I love, in an area I love, in the school district where my daughter will graduate in just a few months – so I’m staying here at least for the short term). Which puts us on what I’ll call Cheap Week.

This is the week of the month that we stay inside and play board games and devise dance party nights – as a solution to any kind of entertainment. We also live in Colorado – so there are a ton of beautiful hikes nearby that will cost NOTHING.

The most difficult part of this week is my teenage daugher who is having a hard time understanding my “no” to her asking if we can take a walk to the store for chocolate. Which apparently she’s got a craving for. The most difficult thing so far is her no’s. I guess easy to tell myself no – harder to say it out loud to someone else. I really see why if I was in a position to do this with a partner, we would really need to be on the same page and say no to each other.

Here’s what our cheap week dinner menu looks like this week:

Chicken Bowls – I got a giant bag of potatoes at the store (5 lbs) for just $1. We will make some mashed potatoes, put some chicken nuggets on top, canned corn, and a bit of gravy or cheese (or maybe both).

Dressed up Ramen – Thank goodness that ramen is making a come-back! (Was it ever really here)? But we picked out a spicy chicken ramen, we will add a bag of mixed vegetables (we got a bag on sale for just 50 c), I have some chicken still in my freezer so we will take a sizeable breast – cut it into smaller pieces and add to the ramen. My daughter also likes to add a cut up medium boiled egg. Voila! Fancy Ramen. All those restaurants can eat their hearts out.

Frozen Pizza – Wednesday is lacrosse night anyway – so a quick and easy meal is perfect that night. I got a frozen pizza from Safeway using one of their coupons for just $2! (and not the Totinos kind!). I sort of miss the mark of vegetables with this meal but we COULD add veggies on the side like carrots or add something to the pizza!

Sausage and potatoes – Yes, using more of that bag of potatoes, we will roast them and put them with sausage that I got on sale at the store a while back. Does potatoes count as a vegetable?

Spaghetti – Yes, this does make it to our meal plan quite a bit. We can usually get spaghetti for around $1 (and when we’re really feeling it we make fresh spaghetti – which is really just flour, egg and water) and a can of spaghetti sauce for about $1 add some of our own spices (we like more garlic please). Full Meal is about $2. Sometimes I serve with a salad.

Orange Chicken – One of our favorite meals is Orange Chicken from Trader Joe’s for just $5 a bag plus some rice. I usually serve with some broccoli, it is a complete meal for us for about $6!

I do look for sales. I usually don’t have the money to “stock up” and keep things for a long time or have a hoarders kind of kitchen cabinet. I do however, grab things if I think it is a great deal and we will use them in the next couple weeks. Then I make a plan to do so. Especially knowing that the weeks early in the month are hard because of the house payment.

Do you have some great cheap dinner ideas that you’d like to share? We’re happy to try them.

Is It Tea Time?

Combining a couple of my favorite things – getting goodies in the mail and tea – Simple Loose Leaf has it in the bag (er…not really since it is loose leaf)!

I’ve gone to tea shops and not certain of what type to purchase. Do I feel like Black Tea, Green Tea, Herbal, or Oolong? Do I purchase based on the way one smells today – when tomorrow I may be in a different mood? Each month you are sent at least four (4) loose leaf teas.

In this month’s box. There were five teas! The Cranberry Cider Herbal Tea, Lavender Sencha Green, Ceylon Supreme, Pumpkin Spice Rooibos (which I absolutely LOVED) and Bird Nest Pu’er.

I did have my own pot with a strainer built in. This worked perfectly to brew a couple cups at once.

Here’s a little about each of the teas we got this time:

  • Cranberry Cider Herbal: it was sort of sweet with cinnamonny (is that a word?) kick kind of reminded us of mulled wine that I don’t let them have. And way less expensive than Glogg.
  • Pumpkin Spice Rooibos: I used it as an after dinner treat on a cold Colorado night. Made me think of all the yummy pumpkin spice stuff that Starbucks is so famous for. We did serve this one with creamer and sugar. Tasted like dessert.
  • Ceylon Supreme: the card said it was from Sri Lanka (cool global exploration). I liked the nutty kick. Was even better with a splash of Vanilla Almond Milk.
  • Lavender Sencha Green: While the card said that this would provide clarity…I didn’t feel all that much more clear than normal. 😉 But the scent was delightful.
  • Bird Nest Pu’er: This is the only one we have not used. It looks like a tea pellet. But the card included said that it does have slimming effects – so I may be totally into that part when we get around to trying it.

We (my daughter drank it with me too) can’t wait to get our next box! She liked the Cranberry Cider Herbal (and I liked that it doesn’t have caffeine) and I liked the Pumpkin Spice Rooibos. What kind of tea do you like? Would you try others?

*For clarification, I did receive a three month membership to Simple Loose Leaf tea as part of a promotion for bloggers. I do however, love tea. I do love mail and may continue (paid on my own) after the promotional period).

Dinner with Sacramento at Coohills in Denver

Sacramento Convention and Visitor’s Bureau along with help from the Hyatt Regency and the Sheraton representatives made it to Denver for a tradeshow (MIC – Meetings Industry Council). We were invited to dine with them at Coohill’s restaurant. Even though the restaurant is located miles away – we were treated to a dinner ripe with yummy food and fresh produce that was brought in by Sacramento!

For those who either can’t remember or never studied geography, Sacramento is the state capital of California. Sacramento boasts over 8,000 acres of farms (and farmers markets are available any day of the week – in summer).  It [Sacramento] was named the farm to fork capital. Thus they wanted to share some of that great “farm” with our “fork.”

Our Menu for the five-course tasting and pairing. Each course was presented (and explained) to us by Chef Tom Coohill. The artistry of each plate could never fully be explained or photographed. But simply tasted. Tasted from the great conversation, to the great atmosphere, to literally the great taste.

Course 1 – Blue Crab Cake with mustard and chives with an Eric Montintin Sancerre 2013

Course 2 – Lemon Sole with Olive Oil poached new potatoes and champagne sauce with Joseph Drouhin Rully 2011

Course 3 – Duck Confit with braised green cabbbage, garlic, sherry & honey with Wild Horse Pinot Noir

Course 4 – Steak Sirloin, Rosemary roasted new potatoes, celery root puree and crispy brussel sprouts with Simi Landslide Cabernet Sauvignon

Course 5 – Apple tart, profiteroles, chocolate mousse tort and Peter Lehmann Australia.

The only problem with a five-course meal is that I am so full that the last few courses get little more than a taste (and I felt like the pants that fit me when I came in didn’t fit any longer).

Thank you to Betsy from the CVB, Jennifer from the Hyatt and Lynda from the Sheraton. We really did get a taste of Sacramento that night.

Frieda’s Awesome Foods

I honestly love trying new and different foods. I am also insistent that my kids to the same. I have a rule that they have to try something three times to decide if they like it or not. I got on a email list (mostly because of my contributions at MileHighMamas.com) for Frieda’s Produce.  I am super excited each time I receive one of their boxes. They usually contain some of the most unique foods available in the United States. Some of our more recent favorites that we have hunted down in stores (we found out that King Soopers pretty consistently carries the stuff as does Sunflower Market).

1. Sunchokes – These little morsels look a bit like a ginger root. We have prepared them by boiling them and then gently sauteeing them in a bit of butter (for my mom who believes that I can only cook things that are boxed, bagged or frozen should be impressed that I actually used the word sautee right there in the correct context). They taste just like the heart of an artichoke without all the falderall of the leaves and the other stuff you usually have to work to get to the yummy middle.

2. Purple Brussel Sprouts – Yes, they look like and taste just like a regular brussel sprout (only maybe a tiny bit smaller). The color has created fun on our plates and my daughter devours them like they are going out of style! (Sprouts are so stylish you know).

3. Eggroll Wrappers and WonTon Skins – We created some of the best stuff with these! We made our own Chili Rellanos by wrapping a chunk of velveeta cheese and a jalepeno in an Eggroll Wrapper and then deep fried them. Easy and was one of the biggest hits of our Superbowl Party! And yes, we made our own potstickers with the WonTon skins. The recipe was easy enough to have my kids help and then we enjoyed. Potsticker recipes are abundant and easy to find on the web. It is essentially ground pork, red bell pepper, onion, ginger, water chesnuts and cabbage.

4. Passion Fruit – I’ve had this stuff in a smoothies before but, never knew what it really was. And it’s always a little daunting to have to watch a YouTube video to figure out how to eat something. (For the record you just cut it in half and then scoop out the insides. You eat the whole inside with the small seeds and all). It was a bit more tart than I expected – but it was delish!

One of the things I (we) love most is that Frieda’s really just has some fun with their foods. They are aware of great foodie dates – like this month they will focus on Not So Fat Monday. Great produce (like the Mardi Gras colored cauliflower). I find that I usually gravitate towards the fruits first. Don’t be intimidated to try something new – and don’t let your mom’s “don’t play with your food” adage play too loudly in your head. #FoodIsFun

Soda Stream Blows Bubbles In Your Drink

source soda streamMy mom used to act like a can of pop (yes, I say pop – go ahead an psycho analyze where I’m from because I don’t call it “soda” or “coke”) like it was a super treat. We only got one every once in a while or on special occasions. And most definitely, we were not allowed to act silly with it – like blow bubbles into the cup. (I know EVERYONE else was allowed to do that!). I have carried much of that mindset into my life – albeit a bit more relaxed because well…we do live in 2014 when we swing by the fast food joints much more often than I would personally desire,

I received the new Soda Stream source. This slick little unit is pretty cute (and doesn’t take a lot of counter space) – it looks pretty slick. Plus it means that we no longer have to take bottles back and forth from the car and to the recycling bins. It’s all in one simple easy re-usable unit.

It is so simple and easy to use that my 12 year old daughter was showing me how to do it it. You just snap lock the bottle in and then push the “carbonating block” (which is pretty much the front of the machine) down until it lights up to indicate how much fizz it’s adding to the water. There are three settings for fizz (light, medium, and high). For carbonated water you do not need to anything to it. For soda, you add flavoring then gently roll the bottle until the flavor is mixed in. (Don’t shake it – opening it after shaking will just cause a giant mess – we “accidentally” tried it which the 12 year old got to clean up).

There are over 60 flavors to choose from – cola, diet, gingerale, lemon-lime, caffeine free, cherry cola, cosmopolitan (Ladies Night!), energy drinks, and Dr. Pete among others! We are still having fun experimenting. We are trying to come up with the perfect treat to serve at our Superbowl Party. But our FAVES are Country Time Pink Lemonade and Ocean Spray Cranberry.

Not only are we having far more pop than mom would be proud of  but, we are also being mad scientists with flavoring it and most definitely blowing bubbles into it! Anything you think we should add in? What should be in our own version of “Orange Crush” (Go Broncos!)? What flavor is “Superbowl Soda”?