Monday, January 25, 2010

Is Couponing Worth It?

I have been couponing hard-core since June and I have to say it has completely revolutionized the way I think about shopping. However, many of my friends and acquaintances have not been converted and I have been privy to many conversations dismissing the use of coupons. It takes too much time. The items I buy don't have coupons. Coupons are only for junk food. The savings do not make up for the time spent. And on and on.

I respectfully beg to differ.

Exhibit A: The above picture shows 30 bags of Kraft shredded cheese, 4 boxes of Electrasol dishwasher tablets, microwave popcorn, rice cake snacks, and a plethora of canned tomato products. I paid $25.64 for all of it and got back $30 in catalinas for future purchases. Essentially I got paid $4.36 to take all of it home.

Is it worth it? Oh yeah, baby.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Recycled Art

As part of Frugal Friday over at Life as a Mom, I'm sharing one of my favorite, FREE ways to occupy my oldest: the craft box.

As interesting items that might otherwise be recycled or thrown away come into my house, I toss them into a box I keep in the coat closet. Then, when we are in need of a diversion from the same old toys, books, and games, I pull it out. Since the items in the box are always changing and the nature of the box itself is so open-ended, this box is always a winner.

An added bonus is being able to observe the creative and often hilarious ways my kids will make use of the items in the box. Sometimes things are glued and painted and other times items become props for imaginative play. It's great fun and won't cost you a penny.

Here are some things in my box right now (to get you started):
empty wrapping paper tubes
corks from wine bottles
tiny brightly colored yogurt cup containers
baby food jars
old calendars
egg cartons
berry baskets
strangely shaped cardboard from packaging
empty canisters from baking powder, nuts, and baby cereal
clean socks who have lost their mates
bits of tinsel

What do YOU have in your house that could become a piece of art with the help of your child?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Baked Mustard-Coated Chicken Breasts

While experiencing a strong need for a different chicken recipe, I discovered one similar to this. After a bit of tweaking, here is the final result. I'd wager that most of us have all the needed ingredients in our cupboards or freezer, so it makes a great pantry meal. I like to serve it with roasted potatoes and a green salad.

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup fine dried bread crumbs
6 boneless chicken breasts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large shallow bowl, whisk together mustard, olive oil, vinegar, rosemary, salt and pepper. Place bread crumbs on a large piece of waxed paper.

Dip chicken in mustard mixture, then roll in crumbs to coat evenly. Place in a lightly sprayed 8x10 inch baking dish. Bake uncovered until chicken is no longer pink in the center and coating is golden brown, about 35 minutes.

Serves 6

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Catalina Victory

If you are new to couponing and frugal grocery shopping, you may be new to Catalinas. These are the machines at the register that generate coupons. The coupons are nice, but the promotions sponsored by various companies through Catalina are what make these machines fantastic.

For instance, two weeks ago my local grocery store was offering a promotion with Kraft cheese. Buy 5 bags of Kraft shredded cheese and receive a Catalina for $5.00 off of your next purchase. Like most families, we use quite a bit of cheese in our house, and combined with a sale and super double coupons, this made for some very inexpensive cheese. Great! But....

When I made my purchase, the Catalina didn't print. What to do? A quick web search directed me to the phone number of Catalina Marketing, 1-888-8coupon. I called, gave my information to the representative and received my coupon in the mail today. Delightful!

So, if ever you fail to receive a coupon when you have purchased the qualifying items, don't be afraid to contact Catalina Marketing.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

I love my bread machine...for certain things. I love it primarily for making dough, since I am not overly fond of the crust that is created by bread machines. However, my bread machine has a prominent place in my kitchen life and I use it several times a week. Here is a recipe we love at our house. Hope you like it too.

To save yourself from eating two loaves at once (such torture!) you can simply tightly wrap a cooled, unglazed loaf in foil and place it in a freezer bag. Store in your freezer for up to a month. If you decide to keep both out but for some odd reason are unable to finish them, the slightly stale leftovers make amazing french toast.

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

1 cup milk
1/4 cup water
2 eggs
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
5 cups flour (I use half freshly ground whole wheat flour)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast

2 tablespoons butter -- melted
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Glaze (optional)
1 cup confectioner's sugar
3 teaspoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In bread machine pan, place the first eight ingredients in order suggested by manufacturer. Select dough setting (check after 5 minutes of kneading to see if more liquid or flour needs to be added)

At end of cycle, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Roll each portion out into a 10x8 inch rectangle. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle combined sugar and cinnamon over the top.

Roll up, jelly-roll style, starting with a short side. Pinch seams and end to seal. Place seam side down in two greased 9x5 inch loaf pans. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, at least 1 hour.

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Cover loaves with foil and bake 5-10 minutes longer until golden. Remove from pans to wire racks and cool completely. If using glaze, combine glaze ingredients and spoon over loaves.

Yield: 2 loaves

Friday, January 15, 2010

Caterpillar Cake

You can do this! Ransack your cupboards (or a friend's) and pull out whatever ovensafe glass bowls you might have. I used a 4 cup-measuring cup, a Pyrex storage bowl, and 3 Pyrex custard cups. Grease and flour them and then bake your favorite cake batter at 350 degrees. The smallest ones will take around 18 minutes. Keep an eye on the others, using a high-tech toothpick to test for doneness.

When the cakes are cooled, simply frost in whatever colors strike your fancy. I used two pipe cleaners for antennae and M&Ms for eyes. You could give your caterpillar legs with licorice rope or frosting too, if you like.

TaDa1 loved her first birthday cake. Will she remember it? No, but the pictures look cute and the smallest little caterpillar section was just perfect for her to eat in a messy one year old way.

The birthday season is over for Chez TaDa. Sighs of relief....

Old Navy, How I Love Thee

Today is the day, bargain hunters! Old Navy's clearance items are now an additional 50% off. So head click over here, find yourself a coupon, and high tail it over to your nearest Old Navy. I was able to shop child-free this evening and left with $315 worth of merchandise (which of course I would NEVER have paid full-price for). What did I pay? $43.00.

Most of my purchases fell under the "Buying Ahead" category, mostly for TaDa3. They included some adorable velvet and tulle skirts I had been eye-ing for some time, jeans, tons of tops, and yes, even some crazy-cheap shirts for little ol' me. I also snatched a few ultra-cheap baby items to stash away for gifts. I'm telling you, it feels good, people.

So get on over there and buy some sunglasses for a little over a buck or some tanks for .97!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fairy Cake

As TaDa3's birthday approached, she frequently told me about how she was going to have a "fairy cake" for her big day. She had seen a doll cake (you know, the one with the Barbie sticking out of a bell-shaped cake) at our local grocery store made with a Barbie fairy and was fixated on having a fairy cake of her own.
This being only her 3rd birthday, I wasn't quite ready to take the Barbie plunge. She's still a tiny little girl, for Pete's sake, so I was scouring the depths of my mind for some creative inspiration. Nothing.

Then I remembered this book and I had an idea. I am not especially crafty, but this book inspired me to pick up a needle and learn how to daisy-stitch. A little fairy was made and now needed a cake to call home.

I took a borrowed Pyrex bowl, greased and floured it, and baked the batter for about an hour. Whipped up some buttercream, piped it all over that sucker, stuck in a fake flower and plopped my fairy on top. Voila.
The birthday girl was happy and thus, so was her mother.