Friday, March 30, 2012

fRiDaY FaVs!

TGIF!!! Everyone, this is my first attempt at making the blog revolve another topic besides just ourselves! A fantastic topic, indeed, but maybe not of as much interest to everyone else as it is to us! :)

We are aways trying new things, and sometimes I just can't resist passing them along so that others can enjoy them as much as we do.  Sometimes I just stumble upon something really nifty and think others would find it useful! A lot of these are probably going to be recipes.  This week I'm going to list several things...this post will be a long one!... because it's my first try at this and I have had a lot of ideas of things I'd like to share.  I will probably stick to just one or two things most weeks going forward. Most of these are not my own ideas, so I'm going to try to always put links to the original source!

Recipe of the Week: Mexican Restaurant Queso Blanco

I know I have got some Laredo's lovers out there and it has been very hard moving to Columbus and not having access to their incredible cheese dip!! I discovered this recipe online and had to give it a's true.  It really does taste just like the dip in the restaurant.  Maybe even better! I'm not kidding!! And it was SO easy.  I threw this together in about 10 the microwave!... before having Jon and Autumn over for dinner the other night. Piece of cake.  Probably cost about $4 for the whole recipe and there was enough to last for more than one meal.  


The recipe suggests using Land 'O Lakes cheese, but I actually just used a block of Kraft White American cheese slices, which were just one pound as opposed to the 1.25 pounds suggested by the recipe, but it turned out fine and I suspect the cheese slices were easier to melt than the block of cheese would have been.

Date Idea of the Week: Fondue night!

This was a tough one between a picnic and a fondue night, but I figure most people already know how to go on a picnic. You don't have to have a fondue pot to do fondue...but if you are going to cook meat in it, I would say it is a necessity.  I would definitely recommend this one, which is what we have:

It is a common misconception that fondue is a huge mess and not worth the trouble.  Actually, I do not find it to be any messier than most other recipes I make.  You have to chop up a bunch of veggies and meat...all that requires is a knife and a cutting board.  You also have to make the fondue, but really all you need for that is a saucepan (if making it on the stove and transferring it to the fondue pot)...many recipes are even made direcly in the pot.  Our pot has a nonstick surface, and it comes apart from the chord, so it's easy to clean.  It's really the easiest thing in the world, so don't let it scare you!

As you can see in the below pictures from last weekend (yesterday's post), we do both cheese fondue and the "coq au vin" fondue, which is what we cook our meat in.  You can be really creative with your dippers, which is why I love it so much. For the cheese fondue, we have found that some of the best dippers are brocoli, artichokes, bread, and tomatoes.  We have also dipped celery, but have found it doesn't soften enough.  You can try with just about anything you would think is good with cheese, which is...well, just about anything.  Here is the recipe we used the other was very good and came off The Melting Pot blog:  <-- Scroll down to the "Irish Aged Cheddar Cheese Fondue".  This recipe was perfect for us last weekend because we had so much Guinness left over from the St. Patty's party.

I have also used this recipe, and it was quite good as well:

I used these recipes because they didn't call for any unique (i.e. expensive) cheeses.

The past few times we have done fondue, we have used the following recipe to cook our meat in.  I like it because I have found that I normally already have all the ingredients on hand (except for the mushrooms):

I make the coq au vin in a sauce pan and then transfer it to the fondue pot to simmer.

We have cooked chicken, steak (recommend filet makes a huge difference.  When we make fondue, I ask the butcher at the store to seperate a package of filets into just a single, because we usually have some other meat dippers on hand and we don't want anything to go to waste), and tuna filets in the coq au vin and all have turned out well.  I'd like to try shrimp, too.  The steak and tuna, if you try it, can be cooked to your preference, but make sure you let the chicken cook several minutes.  The vegetables that we have cooked with our meats are cauliflower, onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms.  We tried new potatoes with it last week, but if I would have researched it, I would have found out that it is best to steam the potatoes before using them with the fondue.  They just weren't able to cook enough by dipping them in the coq au vin alone to make them mushy and flavorful.

Why do I think this is such a fantastic date night?? Maybe because Chris and I eat in front of the TV most nights, but when we "fondue", we actually sit down at the table and talk for hours.  It takes a long time to do the fondue because you have to cook everything individually.  It's kind of like a meal and entertainment, all in one. It's very romantic and fun.  It's fun to try different combinations of veggies and meat.  If you have ever been to the Melting Pot (highly recommend if you haven't!), you know what a great date night that is...and how expensive it is! Fondue night allows you to have a similar experience for a fraction of the cost.  Yes, you have to do the work yourself, which I suppose makes it less relaxing.  But I would highly recommend either investing in a fondue pot or borrowing one and giving this date night a shot!

Favorite Decor Idea of the Week: Hanging Plates

I tried this simple decorating idea last weekend and just love how it turned out! My mom and I found the plates I used at various antique stores.  You can find the plate hangers just about everywhere for around $1-2.  You could use any color plate to match your color scheme!

Here are some more pictures that I found online:
This is kind of the model I used, since the color scheme of our kitchen is yellow and blue.
Wouldn't this be fun to do! Esspecially if you collected plates from special places you had been, or as gifts, etc...

Craft of the Week: Doiley Candle Holders

If I were you, I would not expect a "craft of the week" every week...but this week, I actually got around to this idea that I saw at some point or another on Pinterest.  It was SO easy!

1.) Purchase some doileys at an antique store, or at my case, at Michaels.  I bought mine in Easter colors, but of course you could do them any color!

2.) Blow up some balloons to be the right size for you to fit the doileys over them and be the shape that you want once they are finished.  I rested the balloons on top of some pub glasses to keep them from rolling around.

3.)Heat up 3/4 cups of sugar and 1/4 cup of water over medium-high heat in a saucepan and stir until the mixture looks uniform, but don't boil.

4.) Dip the doileys in the mixture and get them entirely drenched. Squeeze out the excess.

5.) Drape the doileys over the balloons and let them takes only a few hours.  Then they will be solid! So just pop the balloon and they are ready to go!

The only adjustment I would make to this is because you have to mash down the bottom once they are dry to make make them stand up straight, since they are curved on the bottom from drying over the balloon.  Chris and I were thinking that if I had not soaked the centers of the doiley in the sugar mixture, and the centers had not have dried stiff, they would have rested flat on the surface I sat them on.  Hope that makes sense!

Now I would stop reading now if you are short on time, because the rest of this post is PRETTY long!

iPhone Apps of the,, Year: Cozi & Food on the Table

  Sorry, but this logo image is not wanting to cooperate with my trying to make it smaller!

If you and your husband/wife/child/boyfriend/roommate are having a difficult time coordinating your schedule and keeping everything in one, simple, organized HAVE GOT to dowload this app! If you don't have an iPhone, you can still use this online.  I bet you can get it on other smartphones as well.  Here is the site:

What do I love about Cozi? First of all, the calendar function lets Chris and me organize our calendars from our phones...and we can look at either the "Amanda" calendar, the "Chris" calendar, or the "All" calendar.  We could even make a calendar for Mason if we wanted to.  So now, when I'm trying to plan something, I can look at the calendar and see if Chris has a test the next day or something.  I might decide to plan whatever it is for a different night in that case. There is a text bar at the type of the calendar where you could type something like "Amanda has yoga at 5:30pm every Wednesday" will automatically put yoga on the calendar at 5:30 every Wednesday indefinitely.  No more having to go to a certain day on my iPhone calendar and tediously type in every bit of information...I can just type it in conversational format! Another example would be "Concert on April 21 at the park ampitheatre" this case, it would default to the "All" calendar and to an "All Day" event...and even fill in the location for me. 

Cozi also keeps all of your shopping lists together.  So now, when I go to the store, I have a list that I can "check" off, that Chris is able to add/delete items on as well.  So if he goes to the store and picks up  everything on the list and doesn't tell me, we won't wind up with two of everything.  And if I go to the store and he has special requests that he forgot to tell me, there's no having to make a second trip. He can add the items to the list from his phone.  The shopping lists also have the Amanda/Chris/All distinctions.

My final favorite feature (there are even more features that I don't use) is the To-Do List function.  This works the same as the grocery list, and is convenient so that both of us are clear on what we each want to accomplish during the week or weekend.
The next app I want to share is the Food on the Table app:

You can also use the website-version of this if you don't have a smartphone.  I have already saved a good bit of money using this.  I know there is a monthly premium membership where you have to pay, but I was able to get mine for free with the code MARFREE, which I would guess will continue working through tomorrow. 

The app allows you to choose the grocery stores you shop at, and your meal preferences (meat? fish? vegetarian? low fat? low carb?).  Then it produces lists of recipes, all rated by other users and marked if they contain items that are on sale at the store you shop at.  You can click through the recipes, and add them to your recipes for the week.  From those, it gives you a grocery list.  I scan the list, mark off items I already have...and in my case, I add the items I need to buy to my Cozi list, but you could also use the list on the app if you would rather, or just print it out.  The site focuses on EASY, CHEAP meals! I like to cook unique meals out of my cookbooks pretty regularly...but some nights, you just need to...well, put "Food on the Table" and you need to do it efficiently!

Best Coupon Websites of All Time

People are always asking me when I am going to teach them to coupon.  I will be happy to give lessons on this subject any day of the week because I love couponing! Right now my stockpile is pretty low, because unfortunately, the grocery stores around here are not the best couponing grocery stores.  I haven't been to Birmingham the past few weeks, but I always do some major grocery shopping when I go because the best of the best place to coupon is Publix.  My Phi Mu big sis, Sybil, taught me how to coupon at Publix two whole years ago, and I have been getting 70%+ off of groceries ever since! You really don't even need a lesson if you just go to this website:

Once again, sorry about the huge image, but this website really deserves one!!

If you go to iheartpublix, you will find a complete set of instructions on how to coupon in general, and how to coupon at Publix.  If you live in Columbus, I would suggest keeping up with this page so that when you drive through Tuscaloosa, you can hit the Publix there.  The Publix in Tuscaloosa takes Target coupons, a huge advantage! Only some of the Birmingham Publix's (Publixes?) take Target coupons and not all of them double.  If you live in Atlanta, you will find that you can use just about any competitor coupon, and that they double.  Unfortunately, most Florida stores neither double OR offer the 1/2 off BOGO (more on that later).  Auburn Publix does not take Target coupons, but they do double.

I am going to give a brief "how to" on couponing, but I would encourage you to visit this website if you want to know more.  This is how I do it:

1.) Collect coupons everywhere you can and keep them organized.  Get a file, organized by section of the grocery store, where you will keep any coupons that you peel off of items at the store (morally acceptable according to, take from "blinkies", "tearpads", or free samples, etc.  This makes it easy to find the right coupon while you are at the store.  I also organize mine by expiration date, so that when they expire, you can throw them away (OR send them to overseas military families, who can use them up to 6 months after expiration.  For more, see   IMPORTANT: If you decide to collect Sunday paper coupons and clip all of them, you will get burned out quickly! I suggest using the "insert method".  Keep the entire insert together, make a list (if you want) of what it contains along with the last expiration date in the insert so you know when you can toss it, and file it away.  If you use iheartpublix, or any other similar couponing website, they will tell you exactly what insert to go to if you need a coupon.  To decide if you even want to buy a paper, you can use, but be advised that not all cities have the best coupons...always buy the paper for the biggest city you have access to!

2.) Every Monday, go to around 10am and she will give you a preview of everything on sale for the week.  She tells you EXACTLY where to get the coupons.  If it's a printable, she will give you the link.  If it's a Sunday paper coupon, she will tell you exactly what week and which insert you will find it in.

3.) Plan, plan, plan your trip! Make a grocery list with expected prices that you will pay before and after the coupons, so you will know if some of your coupons aren't scanned correctly.  Keep in mind that sales tax is added before the price of the coupon comes off.  Therefore, if an item is $1, and tax is 8%, and you have a $1 coupon, you will still pay the $.08 in tax.

The beauty of couponing at Publix (and the reason that it is the best place to coupon) is BOGO! At most stores, the "Buy One Get One" really means "Buy each at 1/2 off". (The exception is Florida...there, the first item is full price and the second is actually free.  Therefore, to get the bet deal, you would need to purchase and have coupons for both items.) Most Publixes (Publix's?) double coupons up to $.50 and accept one store coupon and one manufacturers coupon per item.  Publix puts out tons of store coupons, and as mentioned before, accepts competitor coupons as store coupons! So consider this scenario:

Barber's Chicken Breast, normally $6.99, this week on BOGO.  I have a $.50 off 1 ($.50/1) coupon that I got out of my All You magazine (another great source for coupons) will double to $1.  I also have a $1/1 coupon from a Publix flyer, available at the store.  I am going to buy this chicken for $1.50 ($7.99/2 -1 - 1)...that is over 75% off! There are deals like this every week at Publix.  It will take you a while to build up a stockpile of coupons.  Once you get there, you will be set. 

Many people don't want to try couponing because they think it is too time consuming.  Couponing takes me a maximum of about 45 mins a week.  When I go to the grocery store, I will typically save $50+.  $50 for less than an hour of work is WAY more than I get paid at my job, so I would say it is worth my time!

Some people also say that with couponing, you tend to buy things you don't need.  Dang right I buy things I don't the moment! Successful couponing requires you to build a "stockpile" of food, so that you can have enough to last you until the next great deal comes around.  I also buy things that I don't need at the moment, but I think may come in handy when I make a certain recipe.  I buy chips to save for a tailgate, pickles to save for a week when hamburger meat goes on sale, or bread crumbs for when it's time to try a new recipe that calls for them.  I don't build a stockpile of Zebra Cakes because we don't eat those ever.  I love buying frozen or canned items that will last a long time, until I'm ready to eat them.  You don't need to be a crazy hoarder like the people on Extreme Couponers and make an extra room in your house for coupons and stockpiles, but you should try to keep your pantry full!

Wow, I just said A LOT about couponing! Hopefully I've convinced you that it's worth your time and effort, because it really is easy once you get the hang of it.

Military Couponers:

Lists coupon matchups for the commissary.  The commissary is a little harder to coupon at because they have a more limited selection and don't discount things steeply from their regular price...but... the commissary has the lowest prices every day, so you are still saving a lot, even if it doesn't show on your receipt.

Great list of resources for couponing at your commissary

Whew, alright I think that's all! This really wasn't just a weekly "Friday Favs" post, it was a "My favorite things through the years until this Friday" post.  If I keep doing it, the others will be shorter, promise!!

Thanks for reading!

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