Monday, January 31, 2011

Blogging FAIL....

Okay, I'm soooooo behind on posting!  Arrrgh!!!!

Here's a list of posts I need to catch up on:
1. Recipe Recap from last week
2. Last week's "Try Me" Thursday which is actually going to be a post on buying produce at Aldi
3. Menu Plan for THIS week
4. Trip #5
5. Aldi ad I got in the mail today/getting Aldi email newsletters

Wow, that's a lot.  Good thing Snowpocalypse is coming, I'll be able to get these done!

So, here is #1, the Recipe Recap from last week.  To start with, I'm officially taking White Chicken Chili OFF the menu for awhile.  I just don't want to make it.  Have you ever had a recipe like that?  One you put off for no other reason than you just don't feel like cooking it?  It's nothing personal, White Chicken Chili, we just never "connected."  We didn't have that spark.  I'm just not "feeling" it.  Moving on, I chickened out and didn't  make the breakfast casserole from last week, either.  Just too weird to make with the cranberry pecan stuffing mix.  I can picture the disappointed faces (John's and the kids!) when and if they sit down to this in front of them.  It's also been moved to "not going to make for a long, long while" status.  AND, I didn't make the ground beef lo mein!  I'll put that on the menu again, though.  Good grief, did I cook anything last week?

Okay, here's what I DID cook....

Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Potatoes:  This was very good.  I made this marinade, but instead of the sherry, I used a really, really good blueberry balsamic vinegar that I bought this summer at an olive oil and vinegar shop in Branson (there's actually another one in Lee's Summit now, but I haven't been there yet).  I know it sounds a little weird, but it was so good.  The blueberry vinegar wasn't really sweet, but the fruity flavor was there.  I also eliminated the cinnamon.  I only marinated it a couple of hours; I read somewhere that pork shouldn't marinate longer than that, and I tend to agree--I think it gets mushy if it goes much longer than that, BUT that's just my opinion.

Chicken Alfredo Pizza:  Good.  It was pretty well-received by everyone.  Not remarkable, but good.  If we as a family eat anything "alfredo," nothing compares, in our opinion, to good, basic, heavy cream, real butter and parmesan cheese alfredo sauce over pasta with blackened chicken.  We've spoiled ourselves for anything else with the term "alfredo" in the title, no matter how hard it tries to substitute!

Tostadas:  We love tostadas at our house; this is one of our favorites.  To streamline and make it a little faster, I used some ground beef that I pre-cooked with onions and froze.  Just thaw and add taco seasoning.  The part of this recipe that takes the longest is the prep have so many things to get ready, meat, beans, all the toppings, fry the tortillas, etc.  A note about the tortillas:  Aldi has corn tortillas that are already fried and corn tortillas that are not fried, like the flour ones.  They are all in the same place.  I've tried the pre-fried tortillas and they're pretty good.  They will be fine if you're in a hurry or don't like to deep fry.  They're a little bit more expensive, BUT when you factor in the oil and time/energy costs to fry the others, it probably all works out to be the same.  We just prefer the taste of the home-fried ones better.  So this is a simple recipe that's a lot of work, does that make sense???

So there you have it, another Recipe Recap!

What's up next???  Oh, yes, produce!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Trip #4...

Trip #4 is on the books and I guess that also means that one month is down, too!  We are doing great and enjoying the "adventure" so far.  This week they had a few good produce deals, so I got a couple of things.  I've had some questions about Aldi produce, so I want to talk a little about that tomorrow; maybe clear up some questions and offer a couple of tips.  If anyone reading (haha, the four people that read this...) has a tip as well, please let me know!

Actually, I had a comment a couple of days ago with a GREAT tip.  Remember how I said I didn't find canned green chiles last week?  Well, this comment said that around Cinco de Mayo (May 5), they have them, probably as a special buy.  Anyway, this is when she stocks up on them.  Yay!  Great to know, huh?

Speaking of another special item--let's talk swiss cheese!  Wow, exciting stuff!  I think it's a special buy that they have a couple of times a year, in block, not shredded, form.  I had noticed it for awhile, but didn't need any and it was $1.99.  Well, on Monday it was .99 a block, a great price!  I bought two blocks for the freezer, and if they have any left next week, I'll probably get a couple more.  That will last us until it's available again.  The markdown probably means that they're getting rid of it for awhile.  So look for it if you like it--it will probably be .99--but not for long!

Okay, here's what I bought:
frozen french fries
frozen breaded chicken breasts
string cheese
turkey lunchmeat
low fat vanilla yogurt
shredded colby jack cheese
shredded cheddar cheese
biscuits (I call these "whack" biscuits, you know the little ones in a can)
light cream cheese
grape tomatoes
corn tortillas
roll sausage
coffee creamer
red onions
Kit-Kat bar (what???!??!  How did that get in there....)
can of crescent rolls
two blocks of swiss cheese
2 dozen eggs
breadsticks and cheese

Here's the picture, with a cute little helper, I might add:

A couple of things kept falling over when I was taking pictures, and Jessa kept saying, "uh-oh" and tried to keep it all picked up...too cute...
Here's the receipt:

Okay, tomorrow, let's talk produce!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Menu Plan for the week of 1/24/11 to 1/30/11

Breakfasts:  still eating cereal and oatmeal, but I think all odd bits and pieces of breakfast foods are cleaned out of the freezer!  John has requested Snow Day Doughnuts, plus we'll probably have some bagel breakfast sandwiches, since there's a bag of bagels sitting on my counter!

Lunches: Trying a couple of new lunches:  grilled peanut butter and banana, turkey roll-ups, pigs in a blanket, plus our usuals, mac and cheese, leftovers, etc...


Mon., 1/24:  Soup, Salad, or Sandwich:  Didn't get to White Chicken Chili last week, so it's been moved to this week!
Tues., 1/25:  Also didn't make the Pork Tenderloin with potatoes and carrots, so here it is
Wed., 1/26:  Breakfast Casserole for Supper:  I have a box of cranberry pecan stuffing mix in the pantry (from Aldi--it was a SB this past fall) that  has been taunting me for months!  I saw this recipe and I'm going to try it--it might work, or it might be a huge failure!  We'll see!
Thurs., 1/27: Tried and True (could also be Ethnic, but I have another ethnic): Tostadas
Fri., 1/28:  Pizza: Chicken Alfredo Pizza
Sat., 1/29: Ethnic: Ground Beef Lo Mein, this recipe with a little tweaking
Sun., 1/30: Leftovers

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Recipe Recap!

I thought I'd do a little recap of the past week's cooking.  Some weeks I feel like I do A LOT of cooking, some weeks, not so much, but actually it all evens out in the end, I suppose.  However, when I cook a new recipe, it's nice to know if its any good or not.  And my forgetful mommy brain (seriously, kids fry your brain--moms, are you with me???) can't remember how to "tweak" it in the future if we liked it enough to make again, but didn't LOVE it the first time around (perfect example coming up!)

Here's the recipes from last week's menu plan:

Veggie Cheese Soup:  I talked about this earlier this week.  Hmmm., I could link to it I it is.  We liked it.  Emma even asked for leftovers for lunch, a rarity!

Chicken Salad:  Hit and Miss.  The dressing I said we'd try was good, but sweet.  Definitely too sweet for John, and too sweet for me.  I also breaded the chicken with cornflakes and coconut, which only added to the sweetness, so it was a miss.  So next time around, it will be just plain breaded chicken (coated with flour, egg, and plain or seasoned breadcrumbs, drizzled with butter and baked) and we'll keep searching for the perfect Asian dressing recipe.

Baked Spaghetti Casserole:  Another good one from Cooking During Stolen Moments.  Actually, this reminded me a lot of my mom's Spaghetti Pie recipe.  I used whole wheat spaghetti and no one could tell the difference!  (Yes, whole wheat pasta is at Aldi.  I need to use it more, since the kids really can't tell.)  AND, I was able to fry up half of the package of hamburger, split that half into two meals, meat for the sauce for this recipe, and meat for the Taco Pizza...

Speaking of Taco Pizza:  This one was kind of an experiment and you could tell, lol!  I made this pizza crust, which is also good (as is Pioneer Woman's) but uses bread flour, which I am quickly running out of, but that's not the end of the world, now, is it?  BUT, it only needs 5 minutes rise time.  I substituted 1/2 cup of cornmeal for some of the flour, and aside from making a "fluffy" crust, it really didn't make that much difference.  I was hoping for more corn flavor, kind of like a big, pizza crusty corn tortilla, but that didn't happen.  Oh, well, I was the one most concerned about the crust.  The biggest mistake I made was to put the tortilla chips on the pizza, cover with cheese, and bake.  Big soggy chip mistake.  I should have put the chips on after the pizza was completely baked.  After talking it over with John (speaking with experience from his Casey's taco pizza making days), I have the steps down, I think!  Prebake crust 5 minutes, top with a thin layer of re-fried beans, taco meat, and cheese.  Bake until crust is browned and cheese melted.  Remove from oven, top with crushed chips, a sprinkling of cheese, lettuce, tomato, olives, whatever else you like.  We'll try that one again, because our family loves tacos, and pizza!

Bagels:  I made the bagels and I'm not quite happy with the results.  John says they're good, but I'm not convinced.  They're just not pretty at all, and to me, appearance is almost as important as taste.  But, if the family eats it, that's a success.  I'll keep working on it.  Not sure how, but I'll try again.

I also made a batch of oatmeal cookies.  I put raisins in half and chocolate chips in half.  I also am working on testing a "special ingredient" to put in cookies.  So far, its worked great in chocolate chip cookies, and it worked very well in these cookies.  I'm going to try it in sugar cookies, and if that's successful, I'll share with you what this special ingredient is that will give you AWESOME cookies.  People will ask you how you make your cookies--they already have when I've put this special ingredient in mine.  Are you intrigued?  :)  Anyway, oatmeal raisin cookies are John's favorite, and although he's not a sweets guy, he gave these his approval.  A cookie tip:  if you want the flavor of butter but not the crispy-ness of butter, try half butter, half vegetable shortening.  You'll have enough butter flavor and they will still be somewhat crispy, but chewy and soft, also.

Hits: Veggie Cheese Soup, Baked Spaghetti Casserole, Bagels (I'm hesitantly adding these to the hits), Oatmeal Raisin/Choc. Chip cookies

Misses:  Asian Chicken Salad, Taco Pizza

Not bad, I guess.  We'll make the Taco Pizza again, I'm sure.  On to next week's menu!

"Try Me" Thursday #3

Yes, I know it's Saturday...but let's pretend I'm on time with TMT, okay?  ;)

This week's product for TMT is a winner!  Yep, the whole family gave it a "thumbs up"!  We've actually had this several times before; it's a great last minute meal that you can keep in the freezer for those nights when you're in a hurry or just don't feel like cooking something from scratch.  I think sometimes it gets overlooked at Aldi, and I'm not sure why.  It's in the frozen section with the Chinese stuff, because, it is a Chinese meal! (duh, right?)

Here it is:  Mandarin Orange Chicken

This particular meal only has chicken and sauce in it; there are other frozen meals that have chicken, veggies, rice and sauce (which are great, too!), but those are for the microwave and feed about two people.  The chicken and sauce in this one are separate--this has two sauce packets included.  This meal is $4.99, a pretty good price for a frozen meal like this--probably not your most cost effective option for every day, but like I said, good in a pinch, and honestly, it tastes just like the sweet and sour chicken you would get from Chinese takeout, but I'll get to that in a minute.  

This fed our family (except Luke) with no leftovers, so it would probably feed three adults.  I also served it with plain white rice and steamed veggies (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower).  We did have one sauce packet left over, because the sauce, while "orange-y", is also quite ginger-y and therefore spicy.  The girls ate their chicken with sweet and sour sauce (a SB from a couple of weeks ago!).  

All you have to do to make this is bake it!  Here's what it looks like straight out of the bag (this is the whole bag):

And just so you don't hurt yourself, Aldi has added this handy warning on the back of the bag:

Why, thank you, Aldi, for reminding me!  I had almost forgotten about that.  

I think you can microwave the chicken, but I would NOT recommend doing that.  You want the chicken to be crispy.  It took about 20 minutes at about 400 degrees for the chicken to cook.  During that time, I cooked the rice and veggies.  Easy!

Here's what it looked like all plated up and pretty:

The verdict:  Really good.  We all liked it.  You know a meal is a winner when there is no talking, just chewing, which is what I heard at the dinner table during this meal!  I also wanted to mention that it is actually white meat chicken, real chicken, not pressed and formed stuff!  I tried to get a picture, but I'm not a great photographer, so here's the best I could do:

And, seeing someone's plate of half-eaten food is not the most appetizing thing to view on a blog, either, but I'm just trying to show that its real chicken.  You understand, right?

So, to recap: great meal, good price, easy to fix, kids like it!  That's a winner!  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Trip #3 plus a couple of other things...

I made Trip #3 to Aldi late afternoon on Monday.  Our store didn't seem busy, but they were already out of a couple of things, including eggs.  I really don't want to have to make another trip there this week, so we'll see what happens.  I think we have about 8-9 eggs right now, which won't last long!!! 

Before the trip details, I wanted to say that I made the Veggie Cheese Soup tonight, and it got rave responses from everyone, even Luke!  The reason for all the steamed veggies in our menus lately is due to the fact that I bought a HUGE bag of mixed veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, orange carrots and yellow (??) carrots--from Sam's during December.  I actually bought it in case we needed it for Fawn and Charlie's anniversary dinner (on Dec. 29; we were feeding about 20 people) and we didn't.  SO, I knew I had better cook with it asap or it would be sitting in my freezer taking up space for the next 6 months.  I have been including veggies with a lot of meals.  The girls are getting a little tired of them, and the bag is about half gone, so I'll probably lay off of them for a week.  BUT, they were great in the soup.  I got out my trusty hand blender and pureed them in the soup (the chunks were pretty big, and I have to admit that cauliflower is NOT my favorite), which was the right move.  It thickened it up enough so I didn't have to use cornstarch or even a whole cup of milk, just about a half cup.  I also used up some assorted cheese I had in the fridge, including some low fat cheese, cheddar cheese, and Aldi Velveeta.  A note about Aldi's version of Velveeta:  I have found that it has a good taste if melted in soup, but it also takes much longer to melt (weird, huh?), and is stronger tasting, so you could use less of it--even up to half of the amount less.  Just my opinion, but that's what this whole blog is, I guess!

OKAY, on to the trip!  Here's a picture of everything:

Woah, big picture!  Okay, here it is:
creamer (hazelnut and cinnamon vanilla *Seasonal Item*)
frozen apple juice
ricotta cheese *SB*
parmesan cheese
sweet onion salsa (refrigerated)
frozen sweet corn
black beans
salted butter
lite garlic toast (frozen) *SB*
alfredo sauce
spaghetti sauce
whole wheat spaghetti
tomato sauce
monterey jack cheese
black olives
whole almonds *Seasonal Item*
ground beef
pork tenderloin 
frozen maple sausage patties

Again, no pic of the receipt, but my pre-tax total was...guess what....EXACTLY $50!!!  Woo-hoo!  Are those some budget shopping skills or what??!??!?

I discovered that Aldi does NOT have chopped green chiles, white beans, and that almonds are a seasonal item; who would have thought?  I have also decided that I will definitely try to make my own bagels, a bag of FIVE bagels is $1.89!  That's crazy, considering they're made out of flour, water, yeast, and sugar.  I found a recipe and I'm going to try it this week.  It's this one.  John makes the best breakfast sandwiches with bagels, but that may not matter anyway BECAUSE we won't have that many eggs!  

Well, I think I've gone on enough for one post...good night all and stay warm the next couple of days; more snow is coming our way!

Menu Plan for the week of 1/17/11 to 1/23/11

Here's the menu plan for this week, a day late...:(  Trip #3 Post to follow shortly!

Wow!  It's been a busy week with lots to think about and do, aside from Aldi--can you believe it?  The snow provided a lot of entertainment, plus I've been working on things with our real estate company, Kansas City Real Estate, getting ready for spring!

On to the menu plan, I guess.  I'm still thinking about my "theme nights" and should have been writing them down as I thought of them, because I know I've thought of more than just four.  Oh, well.  

Breakfasts:  I am determined this week to eat up all the odds and ends we have hanging around for breakfast, a few pop tarts, some packages of oatmeal, a lonely pancake or muffin in the freezer, the ends of a couple of boxes of cereal, you get the idea.  However, John likes to make breakfast bagel sandwiches in the morning, so I may get some bagels or even bake some bagels if I find a good recipe.

Lunches:  Fish Sticks and Mac and Cheese, Hot Dogs, Soup, Sandwiches, Pizza Quesadilas, Leftovers

Supper:  Last week, we had an unexpected visit from a missionary/family friend, so we went out to eat that night and I made biscuits and gravy for supper instead of breakfast, so we did not have the Veggie Cheese Soup or the Lettuce Wrap Salad.  The soup will be on this week's menu, and I'm planning on changing up the salad just a little bit but it will make an appearance, too.

Mon, 1/17:  Soup Night:  Veggie Cheese Soup, Cheese Garlic Biscuits
Tues, 1/18:  Salad Night:  Our Asian Chicken Salad:  chopped lettuce, shredded cabbage, mandarin oranges, ramen noodles (uncooked), glazed almonds (cooked in a skillet with a little bit of veg. oil and sugar, just till the sugar melts), cooked chicken or chopped chicken tenders, and Asian Dressing (I'm going to try this dressing recipe--it's a new one for us.  We've tried this one, too, and like it).
Wed, 1/19:  Ethnic Night:  Baked Spaghetti Casserole, Green Beans, Bread and Butter
Thurs, 1/20:  Pizza Night:  Taco Pizza (I'll make my own crust)
Fri, 1/21:  Leftovers
Sat, 1/22:  Comfort Food/Tried and True:  Pork Roast in Crock Pot, potatoes, carrots, pork gravy, Garlic Herb Bread
Sun, 1/23:  White Chicken Chili, cornbread or saltines

Monday, January 17, 2011

What we bought...

Okay, here's what we bought yesterday:
fudge sundae cones
moo tubes (kid yogurt in a tube)
powdered sugar
potato chips :(
american cheese
fruit loops cereal (for a "project"--stringing on yarn for a necklace)
chocolate pudding cups

Total was $18.86 before tax.  If I had stuck to just the necessities, I would not have bought the sundae cones, moo tubes, potato chips, cereal, and chocolate pudding, which would have madfe my pre-tax total $11.01.  But, you know, sometimes you just need a sundae cone.  Oh, yes, you better believe that I hid those in the downstairs freezer!  HAHAHA!  So, basically, I wouldn't have bought the junk food.  Hmmm, maybe I need to pare down the junk food...okay, new resolution:  next week--no junk food.  Okay, now I feel better.  :)

Speaking of next week, I've been thinking about having a "theme" for each day to help with coming up with recipes, because even though there's a plethora of recipes and meal ideas out there, sometimes its hard to organize all that stuff into something usable.  For me, I think it would be really helpful if I had six different types of recipes that I try to cover each week.  Here's what I've come up with so far:
Comfort Food/Tried and True Recipes
Soup, Salad, or Sandwich
Ethnic Night--Italian, Mexican, or Chinese

Hmmm, will do some more thinking, I guess!

Well, off to plan another menu/shopping trip!

Friday, January 14, 2011

"Try Me" Thursday, a day late...

I have a food for "Try Me" Thursday, and I tried it before Thursday, but I didn't take any pictures of it in the daylight so I'll take some tomorrow.  But I know that's not as exciting.  I always enjoy reading blog posts that have pictures more than those that don't.  Anyway. What did I try?  The Aldi "Laughing Cow" cheese!  Or, more appropriately, "Happy Farms Light Spreadable Cheese Wedges".  It comes in two versions, Regular and Light.  First of all, there are only six wedges of cheese, where as LC has eight wedges.  They're packaged the same; in a foil wrapper with a little tab that you pull to get the foil off.  Easy to open and spread.  The nutritional stats for the Aldi version are a bit better than LC, the light cheese has 25 calories and 1.5 grams of fat per wedge and LC has 35 calories and 1.5 grams of fat.

Alright, those are the details, but how did it taste?  Well, it was kind of a disappointment, really, but I had high expectations for this product; approaching it from a more neutral perspective, I'd have to say that it was okay.  This cheese is a soft, spreadable cheese.  You can spread it on crackers, in celery, etc.  I spread it on crackers. It did have a processed taste, but I'm used to that, so that didn't really bother me that much.  It actually tasted a lot like the white American cheese you get in slices.  Different from LC, not really better, but different.  It would probably be really good on celery or apples, something sweet maybe.  It was kind of salty.  Anyway, would I buy it again?  Yes, because I can't buy LC for a year!  But I would choose LC over Aldi's version, I'm sad to say...:(  However, I think I'm going to try the regular version, too.

Hmmm, two products tried, two not so good!  Bummer, but I will say again that there are A LOT of GREAT products at Aldi!  Just this week there was a discussion on facebook about brownie mixes, and while I suggested they make their own from scratch (which they ended up doing!!), you know I had to mention that Aldi has a GREAT brownie mix!  Try it, you will LOVE it.

Lastly, we had to make an impromptu trip to Aldi tonight.  We were out of milk and a couple of other things.  I just don't think $50 a week is going to cut it for us...we spent $20 and bought a couple of things we didn't need (ahem, sundae ice cream cones...), but mostly just essentials we were out of.  So I don't know.  I'll try to stick it out through January, two more weeks on $50.  I'll post pics and what we bought tomorrow.

Good night!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow Day Doughnuts

When we woke up this morning there was about 6 inches of snow on the ground!  It had been snowing since Sunday night, off and on and has been blowing and drifting today.  I don't think its going to be melting anytime soon--it's COLD outside and supposed to get even colder the next few days.  John came in and said he was cold, so you know it's cold out there!

Yesterday EVERYONE it seemed was off school and while we don't have "official" snow days in our house, the first snow day and major snow of the season always reminds me of these "doughnuts" my mom used to make when I was a kid.  As we got older, it seemed like she often made them on snow days, in fact, I can remember John's old, beat-up white truck skidding to a halt in front of my house on snow days in high school and my mom frying these at the same time!

This is not really a recipe, and anyone that eats at Chinese buffets has had these before.  Basically they're cheap old canned biscuits, fried and rolled in sugar.  That's it!  Knowing that we'd have these one morning, I picked up a can of biscuits at you-know-where on Sunday.  You can cut out the "holes" with whatever's on hand; I used the cap to a 2-liter Coke bottle.

My mom always fried them in Crisco, so that's what I normally use.  I've used vegetable oil, too, and really couldn't tell the difference.  I used Crisco this morning.  Just fry a few at a time; they cook up quickly!

Drain for a minute on paper towels and roll in sugar.  Be careful when giving them to kids right away; they're very hot!  I know that's kind of a "duh" point, but its easy to forget...they don't seem as hot as they really are!

Hmmm...looks like there are a few holes missing!  Anyway, serve to hungry kiddos...don't forget the milk and a washcloth; these are very messy...sticky sugar mess everywhere after they're done.  Oh, well!  And make sure you eat them all, and quick; these have a very short window of time that they're really good.  After about 10 minutes they get cold and chewy--not so good.  

Enjoy the snow!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Menu Plan and Trip #2 a day early...

Due to the approaching "blizzard" tomorrow and Tuesday, I decided to go to Aldi today, on Sunday, so I had to create my menu plan a day early.  By the way, Aldi closes at 7:00 on Sunday, so it's easy to go in the afternoon when kiddos are napping.  Maybe I'll make that my usual shopping day.  Anyway, due to my menu using some stuff I have on hand already, I had a little room in my budget this week and even made up for my overage last week!

Here's a picture of this week's trip:

And here's a list of what I purchased:

chocolate chip granola bars
100 calorie cocoa roast almonds *SB*
hamburger buns
mandarin orange chicken (frozen meal)
tater tots
frozen chicken breasts
sweet and sour sauce *SB*
horseradish sauce *SB*
french fried onions *Seasonal Item*
plain bagels
canned biscuits
2 boxes mac and cheese
chicken bouillon cubes
"laughing cow" cheese--Aldi brand *SB*
low fat cream cheese
flour tortillas
whipped topping
instant chocolate pudding
baking powder
cream of celery soup

Several things were SBs, and some were seasonal items.  As we know, its best to get those things when you see them, if you want them.  I did not have any of these SBs on my list, but I was looking for the 100 calorie almond packs and of course, the laughing cow cheese, which I was pretty excited to find.  I sure the other shoppers thought I was nuts squealing in delight over cheese!  Probably.  I wasn't expecting to find the sweet and sour sauce and the horseradish sauce, but I bought it because we really like Aldi's egg rolls and that would be nice to go with them (Aldi is kind of lax in the Asian department) and John likes horseradish.  Seasonal items, like the french fried onions, are a little different.  They are limited in availability, but come back at the same time year after year.  Usually at the end of the season, they are marked down, too.  You can get some even better prices than usual if you keep your eyes open for these.  You probably won't see the fall seasonal items until September or so.  

I didn't take a picture of my receipt, and I also bought a little heater (for Luke and Jessa's room--it gets chilly in there some nights) for $14.99 BUT my food total was.....$43.55!  Woo-hoo!  For all that!  

I wanted to also talk for a minute about buying other stuff at Aldi, such as kitchen and cleaning supplies, paper products, etc.  A couple of people have asked me about it.  I do buy lots of that stuff at Aldi.  For cleaning supplies, I've bought the dishwashing soap, sponges, bleach, dishwashing detergent, and I'm sure other stuff that I can't think of right now, all with great results.  I've bought almost all the common paper products, too, such as toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, paper plates, and have been pleased with those things.  I also use their plastic wrap, foil, and ziploc/sandwich bags.  I find that most of these things ARE cheaper at Aldi, but not Sam's.  Some things I do buy at Sam's, usually tp, paper towels, trash bags, and laundry and dishwashing detergent, because they are cheaper and I have the storage for those, but I don't have a lot of extra storage, so I don't buy everything in bulk.  

If I'm picky about anything, its diapers and wipes.  I have to admit that I'm pretty loyal to Pampers, both with diapers and wipes.  I am so spoiled to have my mom and grandma who have kept me stocked with these things since Luke was born!  I think I've only bought diapers ONCE and wipes once or twice!  And they keep me stocked for BOTH Jessa and Luke.  I know, I'm very lucky.  Combined with sales and coupons, you can get diapers and wipes for even cheaper than Sam's, but you have to be on top of it and pay attention to the sales and where they are--something which my sweet grandma and mom have time for and I do not!! In a pinch, Aldi's wipes and diapers will work, but they are definitely NOT my first choice!  Although, I will say that their wipes are great for keeping in the car to clean up hands and faces, just not soft little baby bottoms!! ;) 

Okay, well, thanks everyone for reading, and if you have any other questions about Aldi, or specific items, ask away!

Menu Plan for week of 1/10/11 - 1/16/10

This week's menu!

Breakfasts:  biscuits and sausage gravy (Emma's request), eggs and toast (or "Toad in the Hole"), cereal, pop tarts (there is a never emptying box in the pantry!!), oatmeal

Lunches:  ham/cheese or PB&J sandwiches, bagel pizzas, fish sticks, chicken noodle soup and crackers

Mon., 1/10:  Sloppy Joes, tater tots, carrots and celery sticks
Tues., 1/11:  Spaghetti and Meatballs, garlic bread, salad
Wed., 1/12:  Mexican Chicken Skillet (from last week; we had two leftover nights last week and didn't get to this one)
Thurs, 1/13:  Cheesecake Factory's Lettuce Wrap Salad
Fri, 1/14:  Leftovers
Sat, 1/15:  Veggie Cheese Soup (planning on substituting frozen mixed veggies for plain broccoli), Garlic Cheese Biscuits
Sun, 1/16:  Chicken and Rice, Green Beans

Thursday, January 6, 2011

**Special Buy Alert!**

While perusing the SBs for the next week (week of Jan 12), I noticed that they will have an Aldi version of Laughing Cow Cheese.  Now, let me explain what that is, if you're not familiar with it.  Laughing Cow Cheese is a low fat, low calorie spreadable cheese product that comes in little wedges wrapped in foil.  One wedge is about 3/4 of an ounce.  There are eight wedges in a package.  There is a "regular" version, which I think has about 50-60 calories and maybe 3 grams of fat, and then there is a "light" version, which has 35 calories and 1.5 grams of fat, making it a perfect food for those trying to watch their calorie and fat intake.  Dieters across the country have become quite skilled at utilizing this wonder product and there are probably hundreds of ways to eat it.  I've even seen recipes for fettuccine alfredo made with Laughing Cow cheese!!!  Anyway, from what I can tell, Aldi will have a regular and light version available as a SB, and guess what?  The cheapest price I've seen Laughing Cow cheese for was at Walmart for about $3.50.  Aldi's price?  $1.49.

Here's what to look for:

Sorry, the picture is kind of blurry from copying and pasting from the website.   So look for it!  If you've never tried it, take my word for it and give it a whirl!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Try Me" Thursday #1: Those Fish Sticks!

Okay, I think I've gone on enough about the fish sticks, so here is our review on them.  We tried them for lunch and the response was average.  Here's the box:

"Fit & Active" is Aldi's "healthy" product line of foods.  A few years ago, there wasn't much available, but over the years, they have made quite a few products in healthier versions or comparable to name brand products.  One that comes to mind is the 100 calorie packs of cookies, such as Oreos or Chips Ahoy.  Aldi has the same kind of product, only, as we all know by now, much cheaper!  This week and next week, their "special buys" (which, by the way, I think I'm going to begin referring to as "SB" only not with quotation marks anymore) are Fit & Active products (how about we call those "F&A"?), most likely due to January being the month of the year everyone tries to eat healthier.  So, as I said previously, these were not in my menu, but when I saw them I wanted to try them.  

This package was $2.99 and I don't remember now how much regular fish sticks are, so I can't compare.  There are about 30 in a box, which is about 3 lunches for us.  Out of the box, they looked just like regular old fish sticks:

I followed the instructions exactly as written:  Preheat oven to 425, bake 8 minutes, turn over, bake 8 more minutes.  Here's what they looked like cooked:

I know, they look sticks!  The girls' response was mixed.  Jessa wasn't crazy about them, but she did eat her three.  Emma liked them and ate 5 I think.  I ate a couple and thought they tasted like regular fish sticks.  I was disappointed in the actual fish inside the crunchy coating, it was a formed stick of fish, kinda processed but again, not unlike other fish sticks we've had.  It seems like the only frozen breaded fish that really looks like real fish are the "planks," each piece is much bigger and they usually have a batter-type coating on them.  Just for kicks, or because I like taking pictures of food, here's Jessa's lunch plate:

So, would I buy again?  Yes, if they are the same price as regular fish sticks.  The nutritional stats really aren't that impressive enough for me to buy them if they are more expensive.  Only 3 grams of fat less than regular fish sticks.  Since the girls eat them, not me, it's not that big of a deal to me.  We only eat them maybe once a week, if that much.

BUT, try the F&A items at Aldi.  You may find a product that you really like.  I've tried their egg substitute, yogurt smoothies, meal protein bars, rice cakes, 100 calorie packs, and more I'm sure, all with great results.  

A Few Favorites...

I remember those first few meals I prepared for John as a new wife--and new cook.  They were, hmmm, how shall I put it?  Lackluster, I guess.  I just needed some practice, and over time, I got better at cooking, but not without some help!  I had a great foundation; my mom had written out all our family favorites, including where and who they came from.  But over the years, I have collected some resources that have greatly helped me.  Here are some of them.

The #1 website I've used for well over 10 years is  I have found so many great recipes on this site.  It was one of the first cooking websites to give users the ability to rate the recipes.  Whenever I'm looking for a "tried and true" recipe, I look here first.  

For a wide variety of recipes, check out Food Network.  You can also rate those recipes, watch some portions of the cooking shows; there's a lot of information on this website.  

A website that I've used several times in the past used to be called Recipezaar.  Now it's called  Check it out here.  I really liked the fact that it had a large section devoted to freezer and once a month cooking with lots of valuable info.  

Speaking of once a month cooking, I love the website Once a Month Mom!  This website has really grown over the last year and they have monthly plans now for regular meals, diet meals, baby food, and even a podcast for every month.  Really cool site run by great people.  

Okay, how about cooking blogs?  I must say, these have really grown in popularity over the past few years.  Obviously!  Well, I have to say that my favorite cooking blog is Cooking During Stolen Moments.  Every recipe I've tried from Kate's blog is great.  If she ever wrote a cookbook, I'd buy it. 

Well, the queen of cooking blogs has got to be The Pioneer Woman.  Her blog has all sorts of things on it, pictures of her kids, family, friends, recipe tutorials, home and garden stuff, homeschooling stuff, all written in a fresh, unpretentious style with great photos.  Her cookbook is great, too.  What I really love about her is that although she has gained quite an amount of "fame" with her blog and cookbook, she still proudly uses Cool Whip, cake mixes, canned fruit, you know "normal" stuff.

A great blog for healthy recipes is Ginny's Skinny Recipes.  I haven't tried any of the recipes personally, but they all look really good.  I go there and look over the recipes and photos a lot.

Last one for now is not really a cooking blog but the woman who writes this blog organizes a "Menu Plan Monday" (remember when we talked about that yesterday?) that TONS of people link up to and share their menus every week.  The blog is I'm an Organizing Junkie and here is her Menu Plan Monday page.  You can find the links to everyone's menus every week.  She has a post about it.  Here is the post for this week.  So far, there's 463 menus posted and counting!

Different subject, BUT, we made the Pepperoni Pizza Puffs for lunch today.  This was a new recipe for us and everyone really liked them.  The four of us "scarfed" them down, as Emma would say!  They were a little hard to get out of the mini muffin pan, and it was a non stick pan that I sprayed with non stick spray, too.  But other than that it was a good, easy, quick recipe.  We'll add it to our pizza recipe rotation, since we have pizza in some form or another 2-3 times a week!

Well, that's it for today.  "Try Me" Thursday is coming up, with a review of those fish sticks!!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Trip #1 Down, 51 More to Go! (Plus this week's menu!)

Okay!  The girls and I made our first trip of 2011 to Aldi today, and I timed us--it took 39 minutes from start to finish.  I also went to Hy-vee to buy Luke's baby food and I'm sorry to say that I'm already $4 over budget this week! :(  BUT, I do have a reason for that; we'll talk more about that later.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.  First, our menu.  It seems like out in Cooking Blog World, a lot of people post their weekly menus on Monday, so I guess Monday is the day for menu planning.  In fact, it is often referred to as "Menu Plan Monday."  Clever, huh?  Maybe when I get some experience at this blogging thing, I'll link up!  We'll see.  ANYWAY--here's the first menu.  I'll try to include recipes and/or links when applicable.

Jan. 3-9, 2011
Breakfasts:  cereal, eggs and toast, waffles, blueberry muffins, breakfast burritos
Lunches:  PB & J/ham and cheese sandwiches, hot dogs or fish sticks with mac and cheese, bean and cheese tostadas, leftovers, Pepperoni Pizza Puffs (I've decided to try to make the girls' lunches a little more interesting, so this is a new recipe for us)
Mon, 1/3:  Salisbury Steak with Onion and Mushroom Gravy, mashed potatoes, corn
Tues, 1/4:  Chicken Helper (had it in my pantry already), green beans
Wed, 1/5:  Mexican Chicken Skillet, flour tortillas, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, maybe olives if I'm feeling nice
Thurs, 1/6:  Friends here for supper!  Baked Potato Soup, salad, Cheesy Garlic Breadsticks, some kind of pie in a graham cracker crust--I'll let you know what I end up making, chocolate chip cookies
Fri, 1/7:  Leftovers
Sat, 1/8:  Pizza: crust is Pioneer Woman's recipe; here's a recipe that includes the crust, but the rest of the pizza looks kinda grody to me, but I hate eggplant, so that's probably why.
Sun, 1/9:  Apricot Pork Chops (I'll have to leave off the green onions, but, oh well), scalloped potatoes (had on hand in pantry), steamed veggies

NOTE:  We don't *always* have the menu in the exact order listed, except for special meals.  This week has a perfect example, on Thursday we WILL have baked potato soup, because we're having company.  But the rest of the week could get all switched around.  I claim it as one of my cooking liberties to mix around the days of the menu if I want!  Don't mess with me, right?  ;)

So that's it for the week!

Okay, so the actual grocery trip went fine.  Our Aldi was very busy today, but like I said, we still made it in and out in well under an hour.  Here's what I bought:

ground beef
fresh mushrooms
10lb bag of russet potatoes
frozen corn
Aldi's cheerios
oat bran bread
2% milk
frozen orange juice
3lb bag white rice
sour cream
grated sharp cheddar cheese
whipped topping
2 8oz cans tomato sauce
thin sliced pork chops
bag of oranges (can't remember how many pounds)
ham lunchmeat
american cheese
light cream cheese
french vanilla coffee creamer
AND...(this is what put me over budget, but it was a special buy and I wanted to try them while I saw them) Fit and Active Reduced Fat Crunchy Fish Sticks

Total geeky moment here, but here's a picture!  And make sure to notice that most awesome gingerbread house ever in the background.  Don't worry, it's days are numbered!

And here's my receipt:

My total was $46.10 before tax.  Not bad, but I still needed to buy Luke's baby food for the next two weeks.  I like the selection of baby food at Hyvee so I headed over there.  Baby food is expensive but Luke LOVES it!  I tried to give him mashed potatoes tonight at supper and he made a face and spit it all out and gobbled down that nasty chicken with vegetables dinner.  Go figure.  Jen (my sis-in-law) has a baby food grinder so I think I may have to borrow it and try some other things.  I'll be in the poor house if he doesn't eat more table food soon.  Here's the Hyvee stuff:  

And the receipt:

See???!?!??!  $16 for the next two weeks!  $8 a week in baby food, so $46 + $8 = $54, $4 over budget!!! 
I'll make up for it somewhere next week!

Whew!  Long post, lots of stuff to talk about today.  More to come soon; next I want to go over some of my favorite cooking blogs and resources for recipes on the internet, plus, I would like to start a weekly Aldi product review.  First one, those reduced fat fish sticks!  Hmmm, we'll see how they go over with everyone later this week.  

The Rules

Well, there have to be a few rules, so here they are!!!

1.  If I already have it, I'll use it.  In other words, I'm not starting from scratch; if it's already in my pantry, freezer, or fridge, I'll cook with it.  So, I'll force myself to finish up my Cherry Coke Zero and Ben and Jerry's.  No point in letting that go to waste, right?  We'll talk more about ingredients already on hand in a minute.
2.  If it is given to me, I'll cook with it OR consume it.  While I'm not openly asking for donations of Cherry Coke Zero (yet), I'll accept food that comes my way!!! :)
3.  Whatever we grow, we'll cook/eat.  So when it's planting time, we'll carefully consider what to grow this year.  This will be especially important when it comes to herbs, as Aldi has a somewhat limited selection of dried herbs, and I've never even seen fresh herbs there.
4.  I'll continue to buy Enfamil formula for Luke.  I buy it at Sam's, which is the cheapest I've found.  I'll be giving him formula until he's about 9 months old, then switching to whole milk.  I've done this with the okay of our pediatrician with all the kids with no problems.  I'll also continue to buy baby food as he's transitioning to table food...which is happening right now!  Three teeth in and more on they way! :)  Aldi does not carry baby formula or food.  If they did, I'd definitely try it--I've asked about it and have been told that its too limited a product to carry.

Ingredients On Hand:
When I realized that I was actually going to do this, I began thinking about ingredients that I frequently use that Aldi does not carry.  The first thing that came to mind was yeast.  I use yeast quite a bit, at least once a week and sometimes two or three times.  Aldi does not carry jars of yeast; I have seen packets of yeast as "special buys" before, but even compared to buying yeast in bulk, the cost is pretty prohibitive if you use it even as often as I do.  When trying to figure out how to "get around" the yeast thing, a friend from church mentioned becoming a sour dough expert, which I considered.  There's also quite a variety of quick breads you can make, using baking powder as your rising agent.  But, in the end, I decided to just stock up on a supply of yeast, and bought a 2 pound package from Sam's for about $4.  Secondly, cornstarch.  I don't use cornstarch too often, probably about a container a year, and I was out of it sometime in November, so I bought more of that awhile back.  Although, as most people know, you can substitute flour for cornstarch, just double the amount of cornstarch the recipe calls for when using flour as a thickening agent.  I also pre-bought for the year Worcestershire sauce (I can't confirm Aldi doesn't carry it; but I've never seen it), soy sauce (again, can't confirm it and sometimes they have Asian foods as special buys but again, not ever guaranteed), Thai sweet chili sauce--we don't use much of it but really do like it, and Walmart's Sam's Choice Fajita Seasoning (I'll have to figure out how to re-create this when we run out!).  So there's my confessions.  That's what I already have on hand.  Oh, I also have some bread flour on hand, too, but I'm not too worried about not having that.  We'll see if I think of more things that I would need during the year! (I cannot tell you how much time I spent agonizing over yeast these past two weeks!!!)

I was thinking of giving myself a special allowance of $100 for extra special ingredients I may need during the year, but I don't think I'll do that.  It doesn't seem to fit the spirit of the experiment.

I haven't gone through all of 2010's receipts yet (HA-not even close!) to average how much I spent per week last year, but I think I'll be setting a food budget of $50 a week for our family of five, not including Luke's formula but including his baby food.  Separate from the $50 budget, we'll also plan on eating out once a week, which is usually on Sunday or Papa John's pizza (once a month).  I'm not putting this in stone right now, though, I may bump it up to $60; I'll give it a month to see.

Okay, so I think that's about it for now!  Let's get started!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Why Aldi?

Shortly after I graduated high school, a group of seniors went on a missions trip to Germany and France, which I was a part of.  On our way out of Germany, several of us wanted to by chocolate to take home for souvenirs.  Assuring us that he knew of a great place to buy candy, our chaperon led us to a nondescript store practically on the border of Germany.  I scoffed with the others over its generic looking merchandise and "plain Jane" appearance, but bought my chocolate anyway, at quite a good price.  Little did I know that I had been introduced to ALDI, a chain of grocery stores that originated in Germany, founded and initially operated by brothers.

Since its beginning, the company has split into "north" and "south" divisions in Europe, with the "south" division opening stores in the US in the 70s.  The full story of the company is quite interesting, and a pretty comprehensive history can be found here, if you're interested in that type of thing.  Basically, the brother's philosophy was to sell a limited inventory with little money spent on advertising costs.  The principles that the stores have come to operate by are kind of unique in the United States, but not that uncommon in Europe, such as having to enter and exit the store a certain way (there's pretty much a "one way" flow to Aldi stores), bring your own or pay for grocery bags, sack your own groceries, and limited options for paying (cash, debit, or food stamps--and I hear some stores in the US only take cash!).

Aldi has very few name brand items, most of which are "special buys," which means that they are not a part of their regular inventory, and usually only available for a limited time.  They do have a few name brand items that are regularly available, like a few brands of candy bars at the check out registers, but off the top of my head, that's about all I can think of!  Almost everything in the store is an Aldi "store brand."  Aldi claims that they have the same suppliers as many national brands (you can check out the US home page here) and I wouldn't doubt that; almost every product I've bought from Aldi has been as good or better than its name brand counterpart.

There's a lot of things I really love about Aldi, but one of the most important reasons it has become my main grocery store is the convenience factor of shopping there.  With a limited number of products, I don't have the distraction of choosing something!  For example, if I'm looking for saltine crackers, there is only ONE kind of saltine crackers.  There's not low fat, low salt, fat free, whole wheat, mini, mega, etc, etc, there's just saltine crackers.  Or canned tomatoes.  Aldi has tomato sauce, tomato paste, and crushed tomatoes.  That's it.  Not a hundred different kinds of canned tomatoes that I need to search through and agonize over what to buy.  With a list in hand, and even with three children in tow, I can be in and out of Aldi in less than an hour.  Without kids, it's easily an half hour trip.

Don't worry, there will be more to come on the gloriousness that is Aldi in the near future, but for now, if you've never been to Aldi before, give it a try.  Go in and buy milk and bread, and try it out.  Instead of spending $7, you'll spend $4.  And for your first trip, you won't even have to worry about a quarter for your shopping cart or bagging your own groceries.  Now that's worth it, in my opinion!!!

Next Aldi Adventure RULES!!!!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Aldi Aldi Adventure!

2011 is here and with that comes an idea I've been contemplating for awhile.  Over the past couple of years, I have really enjoyed reading blogs.  The ones I enjoy the most are crafting and cooking blogs, but lately, guess what?  My family has been "getting into this 'blogging thing'" (as they refer to it).  My mom has two blogs (more on that later), my sister has contributed to her work blog (again, more info to come on that), and our real estate company has a blog.  So I thought maybe I could give it a try, too.  But what to blog, that has been a mystery to me.  I love sharing info about myself and my family.  Between the family, the kids, the dog, the business, etc, etc, I'm sure I would have plenty to "blog" about.  However, that's kind of random, and although I think (emphasis here on "I THINK") my kids are the most adorable things in the world, and perhaps there are a few other people out there that think so, too, I am well-aware of the fact that NOT everyone thinks so.  So...again, what to blog about?

Hmmm...well, I love crafting, and pretty much any type of it, although I'm not very good at decorative painting and I have convinced myself that I cannot crochet, which I know is not true, but I digress.  My main problem with crafting is that I don't have a lot of time to do it.  And personally, to me, there's nothing worse than a great but sporadic blog, wouldn't you agree?  So what do I have to do, no matter how much time there is????  EAT!  Yep, we have to eat, don't we?  And I do like to cook, and I am interested in budget cooking, hmmm, or "cent"sible cooking you might say!  Okay!  We have an idea!!  A cooking blog!  But, what will my "hook" be?  What's my "shtick"?  (Did I spell that right?  You know what I'm trying to say.  Don't you?)  How about those blogs where people do something for a year?  Like "Julie and Julia", the gal that cooked her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year, or the blog I've been following this year, New Dress a Day, for example.  Well, I think that's a good idea.  How cool is it to do something for a year!  (Like read through the Bible, right Dad??)

Sooo, that leads me to MY idea.  Well, it's probably not only my idea, but I don't know of anyone else personally who has done this.  Okay, here it is:  Only shop from Aldi, the most awesome grocery store on the planet.  For a year.  With a budget, menu plan, and a few rules, of course.  What do you think?  Now, I'm sure you're asking, "Why Aldi?"  Well, because, as I said, it's the most awesome grocery store on the planet!  Now you know my opinion, but oddly enough, many people underestimate this humble store.  And I love educating people about it's greatness!  I am convinced that you can prepare tasty, nutritious, and affordable meals from Aldi.  Even they say that you should be able to do 90% of your shopping there.  I think it can be done.  I'm sure it can.  So, here it goes, "The Aldi Adventure"!!!