Since I started working, I’ve had to do more planning than usual, and I already thought I was doing pretty well in the planning department.  Mind you, my standards of planning ahead are probably much lower than most people’s.  So, in order to have dinner ready for my family ahead of time, I turn to the altar of Crock and offer up my pleas to the dinner gods to guide me in finding inexpensive slow-cooker meals.

One easy recipe I found is taking 1-2 cans of chicken soup, mixing it with a pack of ranch dressing mix and dumping it over some boneless pork chops. Set it on low and cook for about 4-5 hours.  Serve it over rice with some veggies on the side and there you go.  I can throw the stuff in the crock pot at lunch time, set the rice cooking a few minutes before I have to leave and my family gets a delicious dinner even when I’m not there.  What are some of your favorite crock pot meals?  There are lots of crock pot meal ideas out there but they can get kind of pricey.  I try to keep my dinner costs at around 10 dollars.  Any ideas?

My $75 Week

I found a dresser on our local yard sale Facebook page for $75. The only place the money could come from this month was the grocery budget. I did a quick tally of our pantry staples (flour, sugar, rice, oatmeal), freezer, and canned goods. I could make it work! And I did. It’s Friday and I am on budget and my son has a better place to store his clothes than the plastic storage drawers we have been using for years. Once I realized I could survive on $75 dollars this week I thought “Hmmm, what else do we need that I thought we couldn’t have?” My shoulder angel quickly yanked me off that slippery slope and reminded me that I was able to use a small budget this week because I have used all of my budget for the past few weeks to build our supply. Here is what saved my budgeting bacon this week:

Dinner: Rice and gravy, left over shredded pork that I stored from last week’s enchiladas, lentils (always cheap, always healthy).

Snacks: I bought two bunches of overripe bananas @ .39/lb and I baked a huge batch of banana bread Breakfast: Oatmeal, homemade muffins, scrambled eggs and puffy pancakes.

Fresh: Apples and bananas are my go-to fruits for snacking. Our garden is producing copious amounts of lettuce and we have enjoyed that for salads and on tacos and sandwiches. (Okay, I’m the only one around here who will eat a salad.)

I’m sure I’ll use my whole budget next week to stock up again, but I’m grateful for the weeks I don’t have to.

What’s on the Menu 5/29-6/4

We bought our first humongous summer watermelon this weekend. Are watermelons the elephant of the fruit world? You know the saying “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”? Every time we buy a watermelon I stare at it for a while before cutting into it, doing some mental prep, psyching myself up, as it were. It’s a big commitment to cut into one of those things. There is no going back once you crack the rind. Often I find myself giving half of it away to our neighbors so it won’t go to waste. This weekend’s specimen was a whopping 18 pounder. I’m not sure if even our empty cupboard household is up to the task. I hope we are because watermelon, at the right price, is a big-time heavy hitter in terms of budget and eating healthy. Here’s what else is on the menu this week:

Oatmeal: I finally found a local supplier of rolled oats in bulk! Hallelujah! This will be breakfast for at least three mornings, topped with frozen blueberries makes it a very inexpensive and healthy meal.

Produce: Once every few weeks the grocery store lets you fill a paper bag with select produce for ten bucks. It’s a great deal and along with our ginormous watermelon we will be enjoying cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, mangos and pineapple with our meals this week.

Cereal: Cereal is on sale and I am stocking up! For better or worse, we are cold cereal eaters and my kids often prefer it to a hot breakfast, the ungrateful wretches, ha ha! I try to stick with raisin bran, cheerios and shredded wheat, but we are all suckers for some Cap’n Crunch every now and then.

Grilling meats: Memorial Day means grilling, and the grocery stores will usually have pretty good deals on meat. I will have pork chops and spare ribs on the menu.

Review: Black Diamond Women’s Primrose Climbing Harness

As a climbing/rapelling newbie I purchased a harness from a reputable brand, hoping I would be getting what I paid for. So far, I have. Before purchasing I studied the size guide carefully, measured my legs and waist and ordered a medium. Their sizing guide was spot-on and the medium fits perfectly.

First, I love the color. Maybe color doesn’t matter to you, and I applaud your open-mindedness, but I like anything I wear to be easy on the eyes. The harness comes in a pretty indigo with silver accents and grey straps.

The first time I put the thing on I was able to get my legs through the proper openings without any trouble. The leg straps are easy to adjust with one hand which is important to a newbie such as myself. Not needing both hands to adjust the leg straps allows me to focus on other things, such as not dying.

The waist strap is comfortable, though you need two hands to adjust it. The adjusting straps are nice and thick and felt secure, so I didn’t mind having to use both hands, but it’s something to keep in mind. The waist strap also has several places to hang your quick-draws, straps and carabiners.

I’ve used the harness for belaying and rappelling and it has worked great. Nothing dug in or rubbed me the wrong way. I hardly noticed it as I was suspended over and eighty-foot cliff, or when I was keeping my 250 lb husband from plummeting to the ground. Good equipment should allow you to focus on the task at hand, and not the equipment itself. I highly recommend the Black Diamond Primrose climbing harness for beginning or experienced climbers and rappellers.

Cost: $$  ($41.21-54.95)

Easy to use: Yes!

Comfortable: Yes!

Stylish: Yes!  (If you’re into that ‘harnessed’ look)

Functional: Yes!


What’s on the Menu 5/15-5/21

I’ve got camping on the brain but the weather is not cooperating.  So we’ll have camping food at home in the backyard.  And really, it’s easier this way.  We can cook bratwurst and s’mores in the fire pit and sleep in our own beds if it starts to rain (and it probably will!).


B: Cereal, bananas, toast

L/D: S&S pork with rice, green beans


B: Pancakes, eggs

L: Sandwiches

D: Stuffed baked potatoes


B: Mush

L: Quesadillas

D: Spaghetti, meatballs


B: Cereal

L: Mac n’ cheese

D: Cheesy potato soup


B: Waffles

L: Sandwiches

D: Pork Chops, roasted potatoes


B: Cereal

L: Ramen, fresh veggies

D: Brats, baked beans


B: Swedish pancakes

L: leftovers

D: Pizza

Snacks: Sour cream cake, brown sugar muffins

Menu for 5/8-5/14

Do you save a day in the week for leftovers? Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Mostly it depends on the meals I am making that week. In any case, I am always, always grateful for leftovers and this week is a big leftover week, hallelujah. I’m also looking forward to my big kiddos making our anniversary dinner tonight! Here’s what’s on the menu this week:


B: Cereal, LO Swedish pancakes

L/D: Shredded pork sandwiches, homemade mac n’ cheese


B: Toast, eggs

L: LO Shredded pork sandwiches

D: Spaghetti, salad, garlic bread


B: Mush

L: Ramen, apples, oranges

D: Ham hock and beans


B: Cereal

L: LO soup

D: Ham, cheese and potato soup


B: Puffy pancakes

L: LO soup

D: Sweet and sour pork, rice


B: Mush

L: Sandwiches

D: Brinner


B: leftover pancakes/waffles



Lentil Soup

Cook time: 1 hr. 15 mins   Serves: 6-8 (at least)   Difficulty level: Easy    Budget: $

1 lb lentils (uncooked)

2 cubes chicken bullion or two cups chicken broth

2 cans diced tomatoes

1 onion (diced)

2 tsp minced garlic (garlic salt or garlic powder works too)

2 tbsp olive oil

2 cups chopped ham (optional)

Cook lentils as directed on the package. Add the bullion. If you are using broth, adjust your water amount. Bring to a boil then reduce to medium-low and cover for one hour.

While the lentils are cooking, heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the chopped onion and fresh garlic. When the garlic is golden and the onions are tender and translucent, add the diced tomatoes. If you are using garlic powder or salt, add it and stir in to the tomatoes. Let simmer on medium for twenty minutes then remove from heat. After the hour is up, check your lentils to see if they are tender. Add the tomatoes to the lentils and stir together. Add chopped ham if you have it, if not, no biggie. Serve and enjoy!

What’s on the menu 5/1-5/7


Asparagus is in season so I’m going to splurge and get some for dinner tonight, even though the price isn’t fabulous, at this point the quality should be good. Ham is also on sale so I am buying one and using it for three meals, possibly more. Grandma is coming to stay while the Computer Nerd and I get away for our Mothers Birthdayversary Day. Our anniversary, the nerd’s birthday and Mother’s Day often happen in the same 2-3 day period. I hope to have laundry fairly caught up and the kitchen well stocked so grandma doesn’t have to worry about going to the store. What do you do when company is coming? I get paranoid about what is in my fridge, or more specifically what is growing in my fridge. You know what they say, your fridge is a window to your soul. Or something like that. Here’s what’s on the menu this week:


B: Mush

L/D: Sweet and sour chicken thighs, rice, cabbage (church is over at 2:00 so sometimes we will eat a quick snack immediately after and then eat a late lunch/early dinner around 4:00)


B: Mush

L: Sandwiches, apples

D: Linguine in Alfredo sauce, asparagus


B: Cereal

L: Mac n’ cheese

D: Ham, mashed potatoes


B: Puffy pancakes

L: Grilled ham n’ cheese

D: Lentil soup with ham


B: Mush

L: Ramen w/ cabbage

D: Tacos (Happy Cinco de Mayo!)


B: Cereal, eggs, toast

L: Tuna melts

D: Meatloaf, baked potatoes


B: Swedish Pancakes

L: Leftovers

D: Shredded pork sandwiches, homemade mac n cheese

Snacks: lemon bars, brown sugar muffins, rice pudding

Kitchen Triumph: Roasted Sweet and Sour Chicken Thighs

Whenever I use my pepper grinder I feel like such a gourmet. Or when a recipe calls for an uncommon spice (by which I mean something besides salt and/or pepper) and I 1. know what it is and 2. have some residing in my spice cupboard, I wonder why the Food Network hasn’t called me to host their newest show. But the best feeling by far is when you see a new technique or recipe on a cooking show, try it, and succeed. I’ve been gleaning America’s Test Kitchen and my grocery store for ideas on how to cook less expensive cuts of meat. I found chicken thighs on sale so I bought two packages and threw them in the freezer, since I hadn’t found a recipe to use them in.  Chicken thighs are great because they are more moist and flavorful than chicken breasts when cooked, thanks to the skin and bones.  They are not great because while they are inexpensive you have to deal with the skin and bones and figure out a recipe that makes good use of the skin and bones or skin and de-bone them yourself.

A week later I finally settled on a variation of roasted chicken breasts I had seen on America’s Test Kitchen. I thawed the chicken and mixed up a batch of sweet and sour sauce. I put the chicken in my crock pot and poured half the sauce over the thighs. I didn’t remove the skin or bones. The value of inexpensive cuts of meat is taken away if I have to spend time de-boning or skinning. I know what you’re thinking: You left the skin on a piece of chicken and cooked it in a crock pot? Do you enjoy soggy, chewy rubbery skin on your chicken? Yuck! Just wait, dear reader, just wait.

I left the thighs in the slow cooker for about 5 hours. Initially on high, then turned it to low after 2.5 hours. I follow a very scientific process with my slow cooker that goes something like this: Hmmmm, my slow cooker cooks kind of hot. I’m in a hurry so I will put it on high and try to remember to turn it down in a couple of hours.

Now, here is the moment of triumph. Are you ready? I turned my oven on to broil and I took the thighs out of the slow cooker and placed them in a baking dish. I moved my oven rack up to the slot that was second from the top. Then I put the chicken in for a few minutes. I have to confess, I forgot to set the timer. I just happened to remember to check the chicken after a few minutes. I think the kitchen gods were pulling for me because what I pulled out was nothing short of heavenly. Golden roasted chicken thighs with just a hint of blackening to make it look pretty and colorful. I served them with rice, broccoli and more sweet and sour sauce. The chicken was moist, moist, moist. (Thank you bones, skin and crock pot). The skin had crisped up perfectly and was delicious. Victory!

Here is the recipe for sweet and sour sauce:

1 cup water

1 cup brown sugar

¼ cup white vinegar

½ cup ketchup

½ tsp paprika

¼ tsp salt

soy sauce-to taste

Bring to a boil in a medium sauce pan. After it comes to a boil thicken with about 1-2 tablespoons cornstarch that has been dissolved in about 1/3 cup cold water.

Roasted Chicken Thighs (Serves 4-6)

1 package chicken thighs, thawed (about six)

1 recipe sweet and sour sauce

Place chicken thighs in a slow cooker, skin-side up. Pour half of the sweet and sour sauce over the thighs. Cook on high for 2.5 hours, then change to low for another 2.5 hours. If you put the chicken in earlier in the day you could just cook them on warm or low for about 6-8 hours. 15 minutes before you eat, turn your oven on to broil. When the chicken is done, place it in a shallow baking pan and let it broil in the oven for about four minutes. Serve with rice and the rest of the sweet and sour sauce.

In Defense of Spaghetti

Spaghetti gets a bad rap as the cop-out dinner when you can’t think of anything else to make.  It just barely squeaks by as an acceptable dinner, probably because you are still required to cook something.  When you hear someone say they are having spaghetti for dinner, you know cold cereal was a runner-up.  Here is why spaghetti is one of my go-to meals and why I unabashedly love it:

  1. Pasta.  Hello?  I love carbs.  It’s also a good and inexpensive way to fill hungry bellies.
  2. Tomato/marinara sauce:  this adds fruit to the starchy pasta, making the meal much healthier.  Tomatoes have anti-oxidants, potassium, vitamin C and folate, just to name a few.  If you are making your own spaghetti sauce, then it’s even better.  Here is one I have tried and liked.  Add some parmesan cheese and you get some protein and calcium, especially if you use the real stuff.  (No judgements here, I’m just happy when my bottle of grated parmesan boasts ‘no fillers’)
  3. It’s easy to make a salad or add another green vegetable to this meal.  Some of my favorites are green beans or peas.  We’re not salad eaters.

So, next time you make spaghetti because you’re out of ideas, don’t hang your head.  You’re doing better than you think!