Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pizza Pasta Salad

This is a wonderful veggie packed pasta with some really great flavors and best yet...it is GOOD for you food! YAY!  A pasta dish everyone loves that is veggie packed is always worth celebrating!  It is rather simple to make and as always can be tweaked to your tastes.  I would throw in some olives, but no one likes them except for me.  I am sure my hubby would want some fresh mushrooms.  Maybe next time I set out some toppers out so everyone can add what they want on top of their own dish.  If you don't want to add pepperoni I am sure italian sausage would be good too.

Pizza Pasta
1 lb Bow Tie Pasta
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/3 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Cup Grape Tomatoes, Halved (I quartered the really big ones)
1/2 Cup Green Pepper, Diced
3/4 Cup Marinated Artichoke Hearts, roughly chopped
8 oz Fresh Mozzarella, Diced
6 oz Pepperoni, Diced
1/2 Cup Fresh Basil, Chopped

  • Prepare noodles as directed on package and set aside to cool while you chop all the veggies.
  • Add noodles into a large bowl along with olive oil and toss well to coat.  
  • Add all the rest of the ingredients and mix well.  Refrigerate for at least an hour to blend flavors
  • Give it a quick mix before serving
Not to hard to make and it was enjoyed by everyone.  I really love veggie packed pasta salads they are so light, but still filling.  To me they are perfect anytime of the year and they make great leftovers for lunch.   This is very similar to my spaghetti salad which is heaven!  I will have to share that one very soon too :)   

This recipe was inspired by the recipe found HERE.  Check them out for other great heart healthy recipes!

Frugal Tips

Here are some frugal tips that I have tried and like.  They really work and definitely cut costs!  They are also better for the environment, you, and your family!  Most of these tips take little to no effort.  
  1. Use vinegar as a rinse aid in the dishwasher - Just pour vinegar where you would put the expensive dishwasher rinse aid and save tons of money.  Rinse aids tend to cost between $4-5 and the amount of vinegar you would use just costs pennies!  Great savings and vinegar is amazing stuff!
  2. Use scented vinegar as a fabric softener - You can use just plain vinegar, but I like to scent mine.  Right now we have lemon/lavender mixture.  You can use any essential oil and combination that you like.
  3. 1 part peroxide to 2 parts water for bath and shower cleaner - Just mix in a spray bottle, shake real good, spray and let sit for 30 minutes.  Then just wipe clean.  I do this every 2 weeks to deep clean the entire shower.
  4. Freeze fresh herbs in ice cube trays - Put chopped fresh herbs in ice cube trays and then fill the rest of the way with water.  Pop the herb cubes into soups, stews, or other dishes that you need some flavor.  You can use a combination or just one single herb per cube.  However you want to do it is dine.  Super simple, but adds great fresh flavor to your dishes.
  5. Heat a small bowl of vinegar in the microwave to clean it and deodorize - put about 1/2 cup of vinegar in a bowl and heat for 5 minutes.  The vinegar loosens the grime and also helps deodorize the microwave.  Especially after burnt popcorn....YUCK!
  6. Make your own seasonings - Taco Seasoning, Italian Seasoning, Ranch Mix, etc.  They help cut preservatives, sodium, and in my opinion making your own just tastes better ;)  Check out my recipe section HERE for some of my seasonings.
  7. Make your own cleaners (good for you, your family, the environment, and your pocket book!) - I have a few recipes I have tried that can be found HERE, but you can find endless amounts of information on the internet about making your cleaners.  Tips, tricks, benefits, recipes, etc.  Seriously it only takes a few minutes to make, they clean really good, and you are cutting toxins from the environment.  Something worth looking into ;)
  8. Plan your meals and shopping trips - You will cut your grocery bill just by planning your meals and writing out a grocery list.  Take it one step further and set a budget for yourself.  It gives you a goal and helps to keep you on track.
  9. Regrow green onions - This one is easy and you will see pay-off almost instantly.  Just put the white ends in a glass of water (maybe 1/2 inch) and then set in a bright window sill.  They will begin to regrow very quickly and will be ready to eat in about 1 week.  I do this 2-3 times and then discard after that.  
  10. Canning - Veggies, Jams, Sauces, Salsas, Fruits, Pie Fillings, etc are all great things to can.  I must admit I did not can this year because we were moving during the peak of canning season :(  But this year I plan to can lots of stuff again.  It will definitely be a busy year this year!  Canning is easy and there is nothing better in my opinion.  Everything just tastes better :)  
  11. Use 2 parts borax and 1 part lemon juice to clean the toilet or 1/4 cup baking soda and 1 cup vinegar.  They both work and both are cheaper than the toxic store stuff and they work really well!
These are some of the tips I really like so far.  I am sure there will be more to come and I am still learning how to live more frugal.  Do you have any great tips to share?  I would LOVE to hear them.  I am always looking for a "better" way to live.  

Make sure you find My Road to Savings on facebooktwitter, and now Google+ so you don't miss any great tips and updates!

Cleaning Supplies ****Update****

It has been a month since I have started making our own cleaning supplies so I thought I would give an update on how I feel they are working.  I haven't made a dent in the laundry soap and I have only used half of the dishwasher detergent.

  • I am on my second batch of the surface cleaner and we are still loving it!  I love the smell of the tea tree oil it just smells so crisp and clean.  It works wonderfully!  I use it on my dining room table, stove, and counter tops without any worry.  It is super simple to use and there are no concerns for toxic chemicals anymore.  I have not had any problems with it so far except my daughter forgot to shake it once when she cleaned the table so it was a bit streaky.  Now she knows and there have not been any other issues.  I highly recommend this surface cleaner and it has easily become one of my favorite cleaners!  Click on the picture to go directly to the recipe.

  • As I said earlier I am only about half way through with the dishwasher detergent, but I am really confident in how it works.  I run the dishwasher at least once per day and sometimes twice.  My dishes come out clean, spot free, and streak free.  Even my glasses come out shiny and sparkly!  I do use vinegar as a rinse aid.  Just top off the rinse aid with vinegar instead of that super expensive stuff you buy at the store.  I am so happy with both and forward to saving lots of money just by spending a few minutes to mix a batch.  Click the picture to get the recipe for the dishwasher detergent I use.  Just a tip if you have hard water double the lemishine.

  • My number one favorite cleaning product so far is the laundry soap.  Seriously 30 minutes at most to make and we are talking HUGE savings!  Not to mention you know exactly what is going into your products.  This soap works so well that I no longer have to pretreat all those little toddler messes.  That means this is a great time saver too!  There is no scent so I use scented vinegar in a downy ball.  I use a medium jug of vinegar and start putting in essential oil until it smells like I want it too.  I used about 50 drops of lavender and maybe 25 of lemon essential oil.  You could use whatever you like which is a great bonus too!  Click on the picture for my laundry soap recipe.

  • I have used up all my air freshener too.  I like it, but I find I would rather put a couple drops of essential oil in my tea light burner or on a light bulb to "smell" up my house.  It makes more sense for me to do it this way because I want different smells depending on my mood.  But if you like the sprays or room mists go HERE to get the recipe.
  • The bathroom cleaner has held up very well too!  I like it and use it for almost everything in the bathroom except the toilet or "deep cleaning" the tub which I do once every two weeks.  It is important to make sure you rinse everything well or else you will have a white film on your counters and what not, but you should be rinsing every time you clean.  It smells good and cleans well.  My daughter is able to clean her bathroom every morning with it and I am not concerned about any harmful chemicals.  Click on the picture for my bathroom cleaner recipe.

  • Another one of my favorite cleaners!  I love the glass cleaner.  No more worries about getting that nasty ammonia spray back in your face.  This stuff works incredibly and it smells great!  My daughter and husband have been able to use it with ease.  My husband did complain that it took a little scrubbing to get the chapstick of the window that my son drew on, but even the mighty Windex would require scrubbing for that mess.  This stuff works just as good if not better than commercial glass cleaners.  Click on the picture for my recipe *NOTE* the picture does not show the rubbing alcohol that is listed in the recipe.  For some reason I forgot to put it in the picture and now I am all out so I can't take another picture.  It does require rubbing alcohol.  That is what keeps it streak free.

  • The carpet freshener works very well.  I like that I get to control the scents.  I only made a small batch so I could switch it up more.  My next batch will be lavender with maybe some tea tree oil.  I also like that you can make it as strong as you like so it doesn't need to be overpowering like the store bought stuff.   Click on the picture for my recipe.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Rant and Rave Blog Hop

Here is a great way to find out what others think of your blog.  Sure we have our stats, fan pages, followers, etc; but do we really know what people think of our blog?  Enter this great linky party to get an honest critique from fellow bloggers and the ability to critique two fellow bloggers.  What a great way to see what others like and dislike about your blog!  Head on over bloggy friends and enter this party to get some great constructive criticism so you can improve your blogging technique!

Follow the link bellow to get all the details and find out how exactly this party works!

Lemon Chicken Spaghetti

Tonight was one of those nights where I did not want to be slaving in the kitchen.  Lemon Chicken Spaghetti is a perfect standby for days like today.  Even though I LOVE to cook I do have those days when I don't want to.  Maybe it was the weather.  It was gorgeous outside, 65 degrees and sunny.  We spent much of the afternoon at the park and drove by a couple of houses, but none of them touch the one I have my heart set on.  I really hope that house stays available for a couple more months when we are actually ready to buy.

I hope I will still want to cook if we buy the house otherwise we may be having more dinners like tonight ;)  Something about having almost 3.5 acres with a pond and rolling hills leads me to believe I may not.  Only time will tell, but rest assured my family will still eat :)

Lemon Chicken Spaghetti
1/2 Rotisserie Chicken (leftover from last week)
Juice of 2 Lemons
1/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese
6 oz Spaghetti Noodles
3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
4 Basil Leaves, Chiffonaded
Salt and Pepper to Taste
2-3 TBS Olive Oil

  1. Prepare noodles as directed on the package and then drain
  2. In the pot used to prepare noodles heat oil over medium-high heat and cook garlic for about 1 minute
  3. Add noodles, chicken, basil, parmesan cheese, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.  Mix well and serve!
Can't get much easier than that!  Everyone loves this and it is super simple to make.  You could add more veggies like broccoli, tomatoes, zucchini, olives, etc or leave it as is and serve with a nice side salad.  It is light, refreshing, and oh did I mention easy???  This is definitely in it's simplest form, but sometimes good simple food really hits the spot.  ENJOY!

Top Five for the Week

Did you miss any of these top five posts last week?  Click on the picture or the link below to check them out!

1. Shopping for the Month My shopping for the month along with the meal plan and list of other fresh produce that I need to pick up for the rest of the month.

2.  Homemade Surface Cleaner - This has been really popular since I posted it.  I am getting ready to make my second batch.  Works wonderfully!  Have you tried it yet?

3.  Super Easy Pasta Sauce - I promise once you start making your own pasta sauce you will never want to use the store bought stuff again!  It's so easy and you can tweak it to your liking, make huge batches or small batches, and it is just plain YUMMY!

4.  Ranch Dressing Mix - A super easy way to control your sodium and other additives is by creating your ranch mix.  You can make this in small batches or large batches.  Super easy to use as a dressing, dip, or to add flavor to your recipes!

5.  Beef Barley Soup - Incredibly easy slow cooker soup that will fill your belly and warm you up.  A great weeknight meal on a chilly night!

Make sure you find My Road to Savings on facebooktwitter, and now Google+ so you don't miss any great recipes or tips!

Sunday, January 29, 2012


You may not remember, but I mentioned that we were going hiking again this weekend and this is one of the beautiful sites we were able to see.  We had such a great time!  Everyone got lots of fresh air and we have found a new hobby that keeps everyone entertained.

This is a picture my husband took and you can now see more photos either on his facebook page or at http://erikclarkphotography.blogspot.com.  Show him some new blogger love!  This is all new to him so I am instructing him along the way which we all know I am no pro...lol.  But we'll get it up and running and iron out the kinks along the way.  So stop by enjoy some beautiful pictures and tell him what a wonderful job he is doing :)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Dum Dum Tree

Well I am sure everyone has seen the cute little lollipop tree on pinterest by now.  I knew as soon as I saw it that I would be making one.  Last week I picked up a super cheap flower pot at the thrift store.  I painted it, wrapped a pretty ribbon with a simple bow, stuck half of styrofoam ball in, and then filled it with dum dums.  My daughter is going to bring this to school on Valentine's Day along with her Valentine's S'Mores.  Once I get one made up I will post that too :)

All you need is a flower pot, dum dums or other types of lollipops. styrofoam ball (I used a half one that was slightly bigger so it would rest just inside and not fall all the way down), and any other embellishments you desire (spray paint, ribbons, stickers, or whatever else you can dream up!).  To get the full tutorial on how to make this incredibly cute, easy, and affordable lollipop tree head on over to Meet the Dubiens.  You can also find tons of other great crafts there too!

Find My Road to Savings on facebooktwitter, and now Google+ so you don't miss any tips or posts!

Creamy Caprese Pasta

This is another form of Pasta Al Forno, but with much simpler and fresher ingredients.  The combination of fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and fresh tomatoes is heaven to me.  One reason I really love this recipe is there is NO added salt or seasoning so you get to taste all the great flavors that blend so well together.  To me this is just a great comforting meal.  Serve it with some crusty bread or a nice side salad and you are good to go!

My inspiration came from the recipe found HERE.

Creamy Caprese Pasta
1 box of penne noodles
1 cup of pasta sauce or any other that you prefer
1/3 cup half and half
1/3 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
8 oz package of mozzarella pearls
1 pint of grape tomatoes (I halved the very large ones)
5-6 fresh basil chiffonade, check out this video HERE on how to do the chiffonade technique

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare pasta as directed on package
  • While pasta is cooking heat the pasta sauce over medium-low heat
  • When it is warm add the half and half and parmesan cheese.  Stir well and continue to cook.
  • When pasta is done, drain, and add to sauce.  Mix and coat well and remove from heat
  • Fold in half the mozzarella, all the tomatoes, and about 3/4 of the basil
  • Transfer to a prepared baking dish (either non-stick or spray with non-stick cooking spray)
  • Top with the remaining mozzarella

  • Bake for 20-25 minutes or when the mozzarella is melted and beginning to brown
Top with additional parmesan cheese and the rest of the fresh basil chiffonade.  YUM!  So simple, fresh and delicious.  Everyone loved it and I think the next time I will add some fresh garlic to mimic my all time favorite pizza :)  

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Shopping For the Month

I decided to do things a little different this month.  Instead of shopping bi-weekly I am going to do the bulk of my shopping once per month and go to the store weekly to pick up fresh produce, cheese, herbs, etc.  Since I am doing it that way my savings spending is now tracking though the end of February because that is what my grocery budget is slated for.  With everything I bought today I still have over $110 for the rest of the month.  I think we should be good since I mainly have produce to buy for the rest of the month.  Once I go through what all I bought today I will also show you what I have left to buy through the rest of the month.

I went to three stores today and I still have to go to Aldi to pick up milk, butter, celery, and oranges.  I am really happy with all the great food I have for the next month and am really happy that I have so much left to buy fresh produce for the next couple of weeks.

Price Chopper
7 - AE Yogurt
$2.73 or 39 cents each

7.89 lbs Frozen Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts @ $1.29/lb

1.52 lbs Rump Roast
5.2 lbs Fresh Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
3.96 lbs Chicken Thighs
$25 (5/$25 mix and match deal comes out to $2.28/lb for everything)

1.41lbs Italian Sausage

2 - Tortellini
$7.58 or $3.79

1 - Gnocchi

1 - All Purpose Flour

2 - Barilla Pasta
$2.66 or $1.33 each

1 - Best Choice Beef Broth

1 - Best Choice Chicken Broth

1 - Best Choice Chopped Green Chiles
95 cents

1 - Farmland Bacon

1 - Wonderful Pistachios

3 - La Moderna Elbow Pasta
99 cents or 33 cents each

Total Spent:  $69.20


1 - Hy-Vee Large Dozen Eggs

2 - 16 oz Hy-Vee Sour Cream (the 32 oz was $3.69)
$3.10 or $1.55 each

0.69 lbs Belgioiso Parmesan

1/2 lb Dilusso Sliced Mozzarella
Free with purchase of Dilusso Lunch Meat

1 lb Dilusso Honey Turkey

1 - Fresh Mozzarella Pearls

1 - Fresh Mozzarella, pre-sliced

1 - Hy-Vee Coffee Creamer

4 - Hy-Vee Chunk Light Tuna in Water
$1.96 or 49 cents each

3 - Hy-Vee Fruit Snacks (I didn't realize the count is now down from 10 to 6 per box!)
$5 or $1.67 each

1 - Hy-Vee Tortillas

1 - Hy-Vee Dill Weed

1 - Hy-Vee Vegetable Juice

1 - MCF Onion Powder

1 - MCF Parsley Flakes

1 - Orowheat 12 grain Bread

1 - Pompeian Olive Oil
1 - $1/1 Pompeian Olive Oil

1 - Sara Lee Honey Wheat Bread

1 - Chobani 32 oz Greek Yogurt

1 - Hormel Pepperoni

1 - Hy-Vee Half and Half

1 - Buitoni Pesto

1 - Hy-Vee Provolone Sliced

1 - Kraft Shredded Cheese

0.36 lbs Bulk Garlic

1 - Dole Lettuce
69 cents

2 - Grape Tomatoes
$2 or $1 each

2 - Green Bell Pepper
$1.34 or 67 cents each

1 - Red Onion
63 cents

1.91 lbs Red Seedless Grapes

1 - Value Pack Basil (2.75 oz)

Total Spent:  $90.06

Hen House
2 - Busch's Chili Beans
$1.78 or 89 cents each

1 - La Choy Soy Sauce
99 cents

1 - Kame Hoison Sauce

2 - Capri Sun

1 - Reese Marinated Artichoke Hearts

3 - Pepsi 12-packs
$11 or $3.67 each

5 lbs Russet Potatoes

3 lbs Yellow Onion
99 cents

Total Spent:  $27.20

Not bad for a months worth of food.  The total for all stores together is $186.46.  Below you can see what I else I need to buy for the month and my monthly meal plan for February.  I may move things around especially if certain produce goes on sale.  For the rest of January I am making Lemon Chicken Spaghetti, Caprese Pasta, Macaroni and Cheese, and Chili.  We are going hiking on Sunday with some friends so we will probably go out to eat afterwards.

Let's take a look at what I still need to buy for the month:

And the tentative February meal plan:

What do you think?  Looks like I will make my budget this month and I think we have some really great meals planned for the month.  Lots of yummy dishes full of fresh veggies and fresh dairy!  For the sides I have tons of canned veggies, salad, and rice or noodles to add to the mix.  I will plan those by the day because they are so simple to whip up :)

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Corn and Potato Chowder

This recipe was inspired by Mimi's Cafe recipe found HERE.  I was introduced to this recipe from one of the ladies on Spendwise Moms who had this on their meal plan and knew I had to try it.  I did make a few changes to suit our tastes and to use what I had on hand.  I can tell you this is FABULOUS!  This was easy to make and done within an hour including prep and cooking.  That's always a plus because sometimes soups take forever.  Which doesn't bother me because I am such a soup fanatic.

Just don't do what I did and drop your phone in it.  Phones don't like soup and now I can't talk on my phone.  Everything works except now the little headphone/microphone jack is stuck on.  Guess I will be taking it in to see what we can do with it.  Not good :(

Corn and Potato Chowder
1/4 cup butter
3 TBS flour
1 large onion, diced
3 cups chicken stock
9 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 can cream corn
1 package frozen corn
2 TBS sugar
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 can evaporated milk
1 cup milk

  1. Melt butter over medium heat and whisk in flour.  Make into a rough and cook for about 1 minute
  2. Add onions and cook for about 5 minutes until onion is tender (do not brown)
  3. Add stock, potatoes, corn, cream corn, sugar, salt, and pepper
  4. Using a wire whisk, whisk until smooth
  5. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until potatoes are almost tender
  6. Add evaporated milk and milk and then simmer until creamy and thickened (about 15 minutes)
Such a sweet, creamy, and hearty chowder.  My husband bought a rotisserie chicken and we had sandwiches on the side.  So yummy and easy.  Not to mention most of these ingredients can be found in many homes.  We like thick and chunky chowder so I used the rest of the potatoes in the cupboard.  I think the flavor of the stock added so much more than water would have.  This is definitely a keeper!

Thrifty Texas Penny

Carpet Freshener

I like to freshen up my carpet at least once a week and even though carpet freshener isn't expensive I find them to be overly strong or I can't find a particular scent I want.  Since I have so much Borax I decided to use that scented with some essential oil today.  I had a spice shaker that I saved and cleaned up real well to use.  I just poured Borax in until it was about 3/4 of the way full and put 7-10 drops of both orange and lemon essential oil.  Then just shake it up really well because you don't want clumps of oil scented Borax.

Just sprinkle on the carpet and let sit for at least 20 minutes before you vacuum it up.  I cleaned the table, wiped down the kitchen, did the dishes, and everything else that needed to be done before I vacuumed.  The citrus combo is such a mood booster and it is so rejuvenating which makes it perfect for me when I am cleaning.  Some days (kinda like today) I want to just be lazy and watch TV.    But now everything is done and I can enjoy the fresh clean citrus smell in my home :)

One of the biggest perks to making your own carpet freshener is you can scent it to your mood or preference.  For example, during the holidays just stick a couple cinnamon sticks in the container (no need to grind it) and it will  give you a nice warm holiday scent.  Or place some dried lilac petals in the container.  You could also use baking soda instead, but I decided to use Borax mainly because I have much more of it than baking soda.

Make sure you find My Road to Savings on facebooktwitter, and now Google+ so you don't miss any great posts!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Beef Barley Soup

This soup is super easy and really flavorful!  You probably know by now that I love soup, but this is definitely one of my favorites.  I rarely have any leftovers and when I do it is minimal.  I feel really good about everything that went into this soup and to see everyone enjoy it is an even bigger plus!  This is full of lots of veggies and pure goodness.  You can always throw in whatever you have on hand...potatoes, lima beans (I snuck these in with the mixed veggies...shhhhhh), turnips, or whatever else your little heart desires :)

Beef Barley Soup
2 lbs Chuck Roast cubed or Stew Meat
salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste
oil for browning
1/2 lb baby carrots roughly chopped
3 stalks of celery roughly chopped
1 large onion roughly chopped
1 tsp garlic
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups beef stock
2 TBS worchestire sauce
1/2 cup fresh parsley chopped
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 TBS white sugar
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
1 16oz bag of frozen veggies
1/2 - 1 cup barley (depends on how barley you want it...I am using 3/4 cup)

  1. Season meat with salt, pepper, and garlic powder meanwhile heat oil over medium-high heat and add meat once pan is hot.  Brown all sides (about 5 minutes or so) and place in crock pot
  2. Add carrots, celery, onion, garlic to skillet and season with salt and pepper.  Saute for about 5 minutes or until veggies are crisp tender.  Pour everything in crock pot (juice and all)
  3. Add beef stock, parsley, stewed tomatoes, worchestire sauce, sugar, and spices to crock pot.  Stir to combine and cook on low for 8-10 hours
  4. Add barley and frozen veggies about 1 hour before serving.  Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed
You can skip step 1 and 2 if you prefer and go from there, but I like to brown my meat and saute my veggies.  It just makes me happy :) Or you can cook it on the stove top and skip the crock pot.  I would simmer for about 2-3 hours and add the barley in the last 30 minutes to hour.  I used quick cooking barley so if you are using the regular kind then you will want to add the barley about 2-3 before you plan on serving it.  Another good note to take into consideration when using a slow cooker "8 hours meat is tender and 10 hours meat shreds".  I wish I could remember where I read that now, but it seems to hold true from everything I remember.

My Husband's New Hobby

My husband has taken up a new hobby.  I am not complaining one bit because now we get to go out and explore all these beautiful places.  Remember we went hiking this past weekend???  No complaints because the kids got to be outside and my hubby got to snap some pics.  Here is one of his photos from this weekend.

This is just one of many beautiful pictures he has taken.  Check out his brand new facebook page or his new blog for more awesome pics!

While your there don't forget to find My Road to Savings on facebooktwitter, and now Google+!

Ranch Dressing Mix

After I made the Taco Seasoning I decided to make some Ranch Dressing Mix.  This is something that I have made for one dish at a time, but never in large batches.   I figured now that have all the large jars from HERE  I should make a larger batch.  You can mix it with sour cream to make dip or mayonnaise and buttermilk to make dressing.  Or you can use it in place of the ranch packets for any of your recipes.

Ranch Mix
4 TBS Minced Onion
7 tsp Parsley
4 TBS Dried Dill
4 tsp Garlic Powder
2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Paprika

Put everything in the jar and give it a good shake to mix everything together.

To make dressing add 3 TBS of ranch mix to 1 cup mayonnaise and 1 cup milk (buttermilk would be best!)

To make dip add 3 TBS to 2 cups sour cream.

Make sure you refrigerate for at least an hour if you make either one to help blend the flavors and stir well before serving.

3 TBS would equal 1 packet of ranch mix.

Now how easy was that?  Less than 5 minutes and I have 2 mixes without all the added junk you find in the packets.  I know everything that is going in to them and can control if I want more or less of something in particular.  Not to mention this is a HUGE money saver!

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Taco Seasoning

Remember this past weekend I melted down my large jar candles from Yankee Candle Co to make room and I saved the jars???  If you aren't sure what I am talking about and want to read about it HERE is the link.  Anyway, I was sitting here watching Snoopy with my son before his nap and it dawned on me what to do with those large jars.  I cleaned them out really good and for good measure to make sure there wasn't any left over wax anywhere I boiled the jars and lids.  Then I set out to make some more taco seasoning.  This time in a larger batch that would last longer.

Taco Seasoning
1/2 cup chili powder
1/4 cup onion powder
1/8 cup cumin
1 TBS garlic powder
1 TBS paprika
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 heaping TBS cornstarch or 2 TBS Flour (this can be left out, but you will need to simmer your meat longer until the liquid is absorbed.)

Just put everything in the jar and give it a good shake to blend well.

To use add 2-3 TBS per pound of meat and 2/3 cup of water.  Simmer until all the liquid is absorbed.  If you don't add the cornstarch or flour then decrease the liquid to 1/3 cup or so.

 I still need to make a pretty label, but I need more sticky laminating sheets before I do that.  I will include the recipe for quick reference the next time I need to make it too.  Since these jars are so pretty and the labels will look nice they will look great on the bar area or I can store them in the upper cupboard.  So simple and so easy.  I will post updated pictures as soon as I make the labels :)

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Top Posts of the Week

I am going to try something new for those who may have missed the top posts of the week.  I am going to share the top 5 posts of each week every Monday.  So if you missed it here are the top five posts of last week.  To view the post you can either click on the picture or the link below the picture.

1.  DIY Laundry Soap

2.  Creamy Chicken Pasta

3.  Homemade Surface Cleaner

4.  Slow Cooker Beef Stew

5.  Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

So what do you think?  Should something else be the top post for last week?  I hope these are useful tips and recipes for you and make sure you find My Road to Savings on facebooktwitter, and now Google+ so you don't miss any great posts!

Super Easy Pasta Sauce

One thing I have been doing for a while is making my own pasta sauce.  I can even bet that after you see how easy it is to make your own sauce you will no longer buy that nasty jar stuff any more.  I have been playing around with my recipe for over a year and have found the perfect sauce for our taste.  If you like it spicier add more red pepper flakes or sweeter add a tad more sugar.  You can add different spices or herbs that suit your tastes too.

This really is the perfect base recipe which is nice thick and flavorful.  You can make it in the crock pot if you prefer.  Just cook on low for about 8 hours, but make sure you keep an eye on it.  If too much liquid leaves then it will burn so you will need to add water to make sure that doesn't happen.  Just add about 1/4-1/2 cup of water at a time if seems to be drying out.

I prefer to simmer it on the stove for a few hours.  In fact that's what I am doing tonight :)  This batch should last me through the month and it costs next to nothing!  Once my sauce is done simmering I will put it in the fridge to cool overnight and then freeze in batches.  My hubby and daughter can't wait until my next dish with pasta sauce so I will boil up some sea shell pasta left over from Italian Wedding Soup for their lunches tomorrow.

Super Easy Pasta Sauce
2 28oz cans crushed tomatoes (I used Tuttorosso with basil)
1 6oz can of tomato paste
1 medium onion diced
1 tbs garlic or 4 cloves (more or less to suit your taste...we LOVE garlic!)
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (you can use red wine vinegar + 1 tsp honey)
1 TBS brown sugar
1 TBS oregano
1 TBS basil (I didn't add this time because my tomatoes had basil in them)
1/2 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  1. Heat about 1 TBS of olive oil over medium-high heat and then add onions 
  2. Saute about 3-5 minutes or until translucent and then add garlic and cook for 1 minute just until it becomes fragrant you DON'T want it to brown
  3. Then add the rest of the ingredients and turn heat down to medium-low cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes, but I simmer mine for about 2-4 hours

I like to simmer it longer because it seems the flavors are more deep and robust when I do.  By all means it is ready to eat by this time and is still really good.  After it has been simmering for a few hours I will let it cool a bit and then place it in the fridge overnight.  Tomorrow I will put it in separate containers and freeze for use over the next month or so.  You can bet my lasagna will be super yummy with this sauce!

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Thrifty Texas Penny

Last Minute Chicken Salad

Tonight we were suppose to have General Tso's Chicken.  Looks fantastic doesn't it???  Well my chicken wasn't completely thawed so I decided to boil it and make a quick chicken salad.  This is a very basic recipe and I am sure most of you will have all the ingredients right on hand.

Last Minute Chicken Salad
1 lb chicken cooked and chopped small (I just cool it and shred it with my hands)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 TBS lemon juice
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1/4 cup finely diced celery (I didn't add this because mine is being used for beef barley soup)

  • Just mix everything together and chill for at least an hour so the flavors blend
  • Add on top of salad greens, serve as a sandwich, or even boil some pasta and mix it in with the noodles if you do this you may need to add more dressing so it isn't too dry
  • Provided additional toppings or mix ins such as walnuts, pecans, diced apples, halved grapes, pickle relish, or mandarin oranges (I don't mix these in because everyone has different preferences I find it easier to let each person add their own personal touches)
That's it!  Super easy and simple and yet so yummy!  I am sure the General Tso's Chicken would have been delicious as well, but that will have to wait for a later date.  It's always good to have a simple go to recipe in case things don't pan out the way you intend them too.  This is one of mine.  My hubby doesn't like chicken salad so he either eats leftovers or I whip him up some tuna salad.  No worries either because the leftovers are perfect for lunches :)

Meal Plan and Grocery List

I have my meal plan and grocery list planned until the end of February, but now I have separated my list to cover the next 2 weeks starting Friday.  I shop bi-weekly for the majority of my groceries.  The only other groceries I will get in between are the ones that need to stay fresh (like cucumbers and tomatoes).  Those won't last two weeks.

My budget is still the same, but I am hoping to come in under for the next couple of weeks.  I am currently over budget for the month due to all the products to make cleaning supplies.  My spending should begin to even out because the total spent so far was around $85 for items that should last the entire year.  I fully expect to spend another $15 to make more laundry soap before the end of the year, but that should be it for cleaning supplies.  That is really good considering last year I well surpassed $100 in laundry detergent alone.

Lets look at the meal plan for the next two weeks and the list.  I would show a screen shot of the calendar, but I actually have two different ones because of January and February.  So I will list it this time along with the groceries I plan to buy.

Meal Plan 1/28 - 2/10
1/28 - Chili
1/29 - Leftovers from freezer
1/30 - Lemon Garlic Spaghetti
1/31 - One Pot Macaroni and Cheese
2/1 - Chicken Enchiladas
2/2 - Honey Garlic Chicken
2/3 - Chicken Gyros
2/4 - Tortellini Minestrone
2/5 - BLT Pasta Salad
2/6 - Zuppa Toscana
2/7 - Garlic Rubbed Grilled Cheese w/ Bacon
2/8 - Parmesan Garlic Chicken w/ Orzo
2/9 - Lasagna
2/10 - Takeout

Grocery List 1/27-2/9

2 Chili Beans
1 Olive Oil
2 Macaroni Noodles
1 Diced Green Chiles
1 - 32 oz Sour Cream
1 Tortillas
1 Orzo
1 Bacon
1 Lettuce
1 Italian Sausage
2 White Onions
1 Russet Potatoes
1 - 16 oz Heavy Cream
5 oz Parmesan Cheese
2 Garlic Clove
1 Celery
1 V8 Vegetable juice
1 Tortellini
1 Bread 
1 Butter
1 eggs
2 Milk
1 Provolone
1 Fresh Mozzarella
1 oranges
3 pop
10 Kool-Aid
3lbs Chicken
1 Pine Nuts
1 Flour
Items to buy fresh within those two weeks

1 - 32 oz Greek Yogurt
1 Cucumber
1 Pita Bread
1 Red Onions
6 Tomatoes
1 Lettuce
1 Kale
1 Mushrooms
1 Zucchini
1 Basil Pesto
1 green pepper
2 milk

That's the plan and the list.  One thing to remember even though I planned for the next two weeks does not mean that changes won't happen.  It is important to stay flexible.  You may have company coming or something comes up in your schedule and you need a quick meal.  Or you could be like me and see the weather getting cooler so you decided to serve soup on a chilly night instead.  I will still make these meals and they are tentatively planned for those dates, but they could end up shifting around a bit.  There is nothing wrong with that :)

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My meal plan is posted at I'm an Organizing Junkie.  Head over to find other great meal planning ideas!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Creamy Chicken Pasta

Today was another busy day.  We spent the day exploring Kansas and found a few parks nearby.  Since it was a nice breezy, overcast, and 55 degree we decided to go for a hike.  One of the parks had a nice lake with hiking trails that went through the woods and hills and around the lake.  I was pleasantly surprised that we did not hear one complaint!  I thought for sure the oldest would tell me how boring this was...lol.  The little one found a couple of nice sticks in the woods and decided they needed to come home with us :)  They resemble drum sticks so he is having lots of fun with them.  Who knew how easy it was to please kids???

Here's the kiddo's taking a break during the hike.  See the little one has his sticks :)

After a long day of being outdoors by the time we got home we were starving.  I found a recipe for White Cheddar Chicken Pasta and decided to tweak it a little bit to suit our tastes and needs.  It was really good and my only complaint is that the sauce was too thin.  Next time I will cut the milk down by a 1/2 cup or so.  The recipe below reflects what I made tonight without changing the milk.

Creamy Chicken Pasta
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cubed
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 TBS olive oil
1 box rotini
2 TBS flour
2 TBS butter
1 tsp garlic, minced or 2 cloves
1/2 cup white wine
1 small onion, diced
1 TBS spicy brown mustard
8 oz shredded farmhouse cheese
2 cups milk
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 bag steamed broccoli

  1. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat and add chicken and season with ground mustard, thyme, salt, and pepper.  Cook chicken thoroughly about 5 minutes and then set aside
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare pasta according to box for al dente.  Drain pasta and set aside
  3. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add flour.  Whisk constantly until blended and cook for about 1 minute
  4. Add onions, garlic, wine, and mustard.  Cook for about 5 minutes
  5. Slowly add milk whisking constantly.  Continue to whisk and cook for about 5-7 minutes so sauce will thicken
  6. Add cheese and stir to melt
  7. Remove from heat, add chicken and pasta, and toss to coat evenly
  8. Prepare broccoli according to package or prepare fresh broccoli until crisp tender.  Stir into pasta along with thyme and oregano
You can top this with a little more cheese or some parmesan cheese too.  This would also be good with carrots mixed in.  Once again incorporate what you and your family likes and it will be sure to please.  Add cauliflower or peas or use cheddar whatever your little heart desires.  The possibilities are endless!  We served ours with a veggie side salad.  This would also be good with some crusty bread.  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Slow Cooker Orange Chicken

Another Pinterest inspired recipe.  I am loving all the slow cooker meals I am finding.  We have really been into Chinese food lately!  I know this isn't really Chinese food, but it is American Chinese :)  Since everyone loves orange chicken I decided to give this a try.  It smells wonderful and looks good too!  The inspiration for this recipe came from HERE.  I made a few modifications to suit our tastes.

Orange Chicken
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed
1/4 cup cornstarch
vegetable oil (for frying)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
3 TBS ketchup
4 oz orange juice concentrate thawed (pop in the microwave for 45 seconds to thaw)
1/4 cup brown sugar

  1. Combine chicken with cornstarch and make sure all is coated
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add chicken to brown.  You don't need to worry about cooking through since it is going in the slow cooker
  3. Add chicken to slow cooker and in a small bowl combine the rest of the ingredients and pour over chicken.  Toss to coat and cook on low for about 6 hours
You can add some veggies if you like and serve over white rice.  We decided to serve leftover fried rice from last nights stir fry.  The recipe for the fried rice can be found HERE just scroll to the bottom of the page.

To me this was alright.  Everyone else seemed to enjoy it very much, but I think I would just cook it on the stove top and maybe add an egg to the chicken after adding the cornstarch so it gets good and crispy.  The flavors were really good, but I did not like the texture.  I guess I just wanted more of a crispy chicken which would be virtually impossible in a slow cooker.  

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