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Shortcuts and Timesavers

Cooking does not have to take a long time.  There are a lot of steps you can take to save you time.  Here are just a few:

-Cook Extra:  If you are making a casserole, make 2 and freeze the second for later. If you are making baked chicken breast, cook extra and use the leftovers for tacos or salad. This method is also good for lunches and snacks.  Leftovers make great lunches.  And portion our snacks for the whole week so you can grab and go in the morning. 
-Prep work:  While you wait for tonight’s dinner to cook, pre-cut veggies for tomorrow night.  Or prepare a marinade for your meat.  Or, do either of these things in the morning.  That way, when you get home from work in the evening, you are that much closer to getting dinner on the table.
Crock Pot/Slow Cooker Meals:  I love crock pot meals.  Most of the recipes I have tried take no time to put together before I go to work and then dinner is ready when I get home in the evening. 
-Defrost early:  Pull your meat out of the freezer early to defrost.  This way you don’t have to wait for it to defrost in the evening when you are hungry and ready to eat.
-Have a plan: One of the biggest wastes of time for me, is just sitting around wondering what I am having for dinner and then running to the store to get that one ingredient I need for a meal.  If I make a menu and shop accordingly, I save myself time later. 
-Organize your kitchen: Know what you have in your kitchen and know where it is.  Don’t waste time searching for ingredients.
-Have go-to meals:  Some days don’t go as planned.  In that case, have a back-up plan for a really quick meal.  And go easy on yourself.  If I have had a really long day, I don’t beat myself up for eating out or heating up a frozen meal.  I just make sure it isn’t a habit. 

What are your kitchen shortcuts and timesavers?

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Ok, ok, I know. How can I use “research” and “convenient” so close to each other? Research brings back memories of writing papers and hours in the library. But it does not have to be that way. Let your fingers do the walking and reap the benefits.

Know your prices: If you know how much items cost ordinarily, you are more likely to know a deal when you see it.

Know the rules: Know how your grocery store treats coupons and specials. At one of the stores I frequent, BOGO means, I pay full price for one, and the second is free. So, I only get the benefit when I get 2. 10 for $10 means, each one is $1 so I benefit no matter how many I buy. Know if you can use double coupons or if they accept competitor coupons.

Sales: Read circulars. Every grocery store runs specials on a weekly basis. It is pretty easy to pull up those circulars on line. I buy on-sale items in bulk. If we are talking perishable items, I plan my meals around those items.

Coupons: Also a weekly thing. If you already get newspapers or magazines, keep an eye out for coupons there. Personally, I buy the Sunday paper on days that I know will have a lot of coupons (i.e. the P&G coupon saver). I signed up online and get email notification letting me know when those are coming. There are lots of sites where you can print coupons as well.

Pair your coupons with sales and you save even more. For instance, say you get a coupon for $1 off a jar of spaghetti sauce that is normally $3.50. And I use that coupon during a BOGO sale and now I have 2 jars for $2.50. There are websites that actually help you locate coupons to match sales.

Store brand versus name brand: Buy store brand instead of name brand. There are a few things that I won’t compromise on but as a whole, store brand saves you a lot and they taste pretty good.

When it comes to fruits and veggies, buy in season. I love this time of year because strawberries are always on sale. So we eat a lot of strawberries. Experiment with things that are in season and that you maybe haven’t tried before, you might find something you love.

Organic versus non-organic? I do not buy all organic. I would love to, but realistically, I can’t afford that right now. There are some fruits and veggies that are more likely to have chemicals in them than others, they are called the ”dirty dozen”. I try to buy those items organic or just not have them. And then other items, I buy regular. It is all about baby steps.

So you take a couple minutes to look up some of this information and you are ready to plan your grocery shopping. The more often you do this, the easier it gets. And you get used to patterns, trust me, there is order to this chaos. It is almost like a game to me. I gather all of this information then make my menu, then make my grocery list. The menu tips are coming soon. Happy researching!

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Why do you eat the foods you do? Is it for health? Time? Money? I read some report last week from the UK stating how trends are turning towards money and time as the leading factors of how people choose food. The younger the age group, the more this is true. So understandably, the younger generations were eating more junk food. (I am trying to find the article again stay tuned for that link)

Trust me, I get it. Baker Man and I both work. And we have a lot going on outside of work. If I didn’t enjoy cooking so much and have this blog, I would be much less likely to cook as often as I do. And even though I love it, it can still be a struggle.

But eating healthy and cooking can be done on a budget and can fit into your schedule. It just takes a little planning. So, I thought I would write some posts on how I do my planning and shopping so that we don’t have to compromise our health or our budget and time.

Shopping:

I try to do all of my grocery shopping for the week on one day. That means I need to plan ahead for a week. I’ll talk more about the planning later.

Shopping on one day does not mean I only go to one store. Generally, I go to three different stores. I have a local store that I go to for meat and veggies. The quality of the meat and veggies are amazing and the prices are equally good.

The second store I go to is a chain grocery store. Generally their items are pricier but I have found that they have great BOGO sales each week and their fruit is cheaper than my first store.

The final store is major chain that is known for its low prices. I’m sure you have one close by – it sells just about everything. I go here for basically everything that I didn’t get at the other stores.

Why three stores? The money of course! I plan my shopping so that I can get the best deals from all of those stores. I generally hit all three in one trip so even though it does take a little more time than shopping at just one store, it really isn’t too bad. And since I do my shopping all at once, it is still better than going to a store everyday trying to figure out what is for dinner that night.

I have also found that I can track and control my food budget much easier by putting it all into one day. The more times I go to the store during the week, the more I find my budget creeping up.

I have some more topics in this area, like finding deals and how to save time in the kitchen, so keep an eye out. What is most important for you in picking foods?

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I love Memorial Day weekend because it is the first real holiday of the year. And when I say holiday, I mean, day that I do not go to work that isn’t a weekend.

OK – I do love that but really, Memorial Day is all about honoring fallen veterans. I have so much respect for the men and women who serve(d) in our military. So this weekend, wave a flag, say thanks to a service man or woman, and have just a great time overall.

One great part of Memorial Day weekend is getting together with friends and family and having a barbeque.  If you have one planned for this weekend but haven’t finalized your menu, check out some our suggestions below.

memorial day collage

Sausage Ballsare great appetizers. You can prep them ahead of time and just heat them up with you are ready to serve. A great finger food.

Want to impress someone with your grilling skills? Try these “Everything But the Kitchen Sink” Ribs and/or Citrus Grilled Shrimp. Both have a great burst of flavor that will make everyone happy. Also keep an eye out on Saturday for a recipe for Jalepeno Popper Burgers.

Keep it simple and make your sides on the grill as well. Potato Packets are a quick and easy side dish with great taste. You can also grill some fantastic veggies by using a grilling pan or the same method as the potatoes.

Pair this all with Quick and Easy Sangria. It is light and can be prepared in no time.

And no party is complete without desert.  Try this amazing Orange Dreamsicle recipe that Paige posted yesterday. That may have made my menu for this weekend!

We wish you all a safe and happy holiday weekend!

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Beware, I feel a rant coming on!

I do all most of the grocery shopping in our house.  It is quite an ordeal.  I usually go to 3 different stores.  I’ll tell you about that another day.   

Since I go to so many stores, I see a lot of stupid things that people do.  I used to think people just checked their brains at the entrance to Disney World, but now I know they check them at the doors to grocery stores too.  To combat this, I have come up with a preliminary list of rules for grocery stores.  What do you think?    

  1. Get out of my way:  Don’t stand in the middle of the doorway having a conversation.  Don’t surround the baskets so I can’t get one.  Don’t take up the whole aisle.  Let’s just share the space and I won’t have to drag your butt into the parking lot and out of my way!
  2. Watch where you are walking:  Similar to the one above but now we are moving.  Can we all attempt to follow standard traffic rules while in the grocery store? Imagine that the cart is your car. 
  3. Speaking of walking, while in the parking lot…:  Yes, I have to yield to pedestrians while I am in a car and you are on the cross walk BUT, don’t let your brats kids run into traffic; TRY to move faster than a leisurely stroll; and if you aren’t on a cross walk but someone stops, acknowledge them with a wave/nod/smile.  As my mom always said “You may have the right-of-way, but the car will hurt you more than you hurt it”. 
  4. Take any open spot:  Honestly, you could be in the store and done shopping in the time that you waited on that upfront spot.  Think of the few extra feet as your required exercise for the day and save people from having to wait behind you.  Oh, and the fire lane, that is not a parking spot.  You screw up traffic while parking there or waiting to pick someone up. 
  5. Put your cart back where it belongs:  I HATE when people leave their carts all over the parking lot.  This is particularly offensive when there is an area for carts TWO parking spots down.  This is just more exercise that you know we all need.   
  6. Use a debit card instead of checks:  Especially if you are in the speedy checkout line. And if you insist on writing a check, have the date, name of the store and your signature on it before the total is rung up. 
  7. When using change..:  I get it, it sucks having a lot of change in your pocket/wallet/purse but it also sucks to be behind the person who feels the need to count out $1.47 in nickels and pennies and then dig through their purse for the last 2 cents.  So, use change but be considerate in the usage.  Sometimes all you have to do is give a few pennies to prevent yourself from getting more in return and have your change ready.  And know when to admit defeat – aka, have bills ready.  I won’t tell you to use a debit card instead – I am all for using cash instead of a card. 
  8. You are in line and realize you forgot something…:  TOUGH!  You have a few acceptable options here. 
    1. Pay, leave your bags in the cart, run get your item and stand in line again;
    2. Send someone with you to get it, but ONLY if they can make it back before the cashier is done ringing;
    3. Get it another day. 
  9. Learn Math:  Yes, I know, we have machines that do math for us today.  But when you get in line with 6 things that cost $2 each then realize you only have $10, you deserve to be smacked.  Seriously, a lot of places require a manager to delete something that has already been rung up.  So lucky me that has already unloaded a full cart of groceries now has to wait for the manager because you are an idiot.  
  10. Speaking of math…:  I know your momma said you were special, but when the sign says 10 items or less, they mean TEN ITEMS OR LESS.  Don’t think I don’t see you sneaking in 5 extra cans of cat food.  Yes, I know the other lines are long.  Deal with it. This is math related right?  Because it has to do with counting. 

I guess the moral of the story is use common sense and have a little bit of consideration of the people around you.  I know, common sense and consideration are dying terms today but let’s see if we can get them off of life support.  I’ll try to follow all of my rules too and then we can all be one big fat happy grocery store family. 

I’m done.  Thanks for reading if you got this far down…I promise to not do this too often 🙂  Anyone else have any rules I should have added to the list?

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Yesterday afternoon Jackie and I had one very important mission – to meet Ree Drummond, AKA The Pioneer Woman!  For those of you who don’t know, Ree is the author of a wildly popular blog that chronicles her life as a ranch wife, home cook extraordinaire, photographer, keeper of the home and garden, and homeschooler to four children.  She also happens to be one of the biggest inspirations for forming our own blog.

Ree published her first cookbook last October, chock full of mouthwatering recipes and gorgeous pictures from the ranch.  Somehow inbetween her responsibilities of blogging about calf nuts, holey yoga pants and everything inbetween she managed to fit in a Griswold Family style road trip cross country to promote her book.  Where was the last stop of the tour?  Orlando!

In preparation for the big meet and greet, Jackie and I stalked the blogs of other loyal fans who visited book signings in other cities.  We found a mixture of happy experiences and horror stories… including people who waited hours upon hours and didn’t even get to meet Ree.  That was NOT an option, so we snuck out of work early and off to the Big O we went.

Our drive was quick and easy at just over an hour.  Other people in line traveled from places like Clearwater, Port St. Lucie, and even Michigan!  We had fun meeting other fans (hi Jo! hi Delfi!) and people watching as we waited for Ree to make her grand entrance.

There may or may not have been alcohol involved 😉

Apparently the first people arrived around 1pm.  We got in line close to 4pm and promptly claimed our space on the floor with our new friends. 

Why didn’t we take pictures with anyone else?  Anyway, we were excited that only 30 people or so were in front of us. 

Around 5pm the manager of the bookstore opened the second floor.  Turns out that we were pretty smart to get to the bookstore early – we earned a front spot in the audience to watch Ree’s brief Q&A session.  There we learned the answer to the infamous boxers vs. briefs argument, heard an Ethel Merman impersonation, and found out that Ree really DOES read all the comments left on her posts (minus those pesky giveaway posts with over 20,000 responses).

We took this picture right before our turn with Ree.  The book signing area on the second floor was filled to capacity and these people were in a line winding through the bookshelves waiting to come upstairs.

Ree was incredibly charming, cute, gracious, and actually took the time to chat with us for a few minutes!  We bonded over the name Paige (also her youngest daughter’s name), she entertained our goofy questions, and she even asked about our blog!  The best part about the evening?!  When Ree asked to take our picture and told us that we were blog worthy!  Swoon! 

We could hardly contain our excitement as we walked down the stairs and out of the store.  We were hysterical by the time we made it to the car 🙂  Keep an eye out on her blog to see if we make the cut!

Oh, and one more thing.  Does anyone else out there want an autographed copy of The Pioneer Woman Cooks?  You see, we brought an extra copy with us… and we asked Ree to sign it. 

To Enter:
Answer the following question in a comment:

Have you ever stood in line to meet someone famous?  Do you have a funny story?

The Rules:
Enter only once – no cheating.

Enter before midnight EST, 16 May 2010

One winner will randomly be chosen using random.org and will be posted 17 May 2010.

Make sure your email address is included somewhere.  Don’t worry, we won’t spam you.  We need to contact the winner somehow though!

This giveaway is sponsored by Paige and Jackie and this blog only.

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