Monday, September 14, 2009

Arts discounts in Cincinnati

I do exist - things have been super crazy the past week and a half getting ready for a craft show I had last weekend, and I have had no free time.  However, I'm back and I have an awesome discount for everyone...

If you live in the Greater Cincinnati area, and are at all interested in the arts, you need this!  Especially if you are 35 yrs old or under.

Click here and join the Enjoy The Arts group for $40.  For your membership fee you will receive:

  • half-price tickets to many arts venues in Cincinnati available the week of the show - Symphony, Opera, Pops, Ballet, Playhouse in the Park, various other theater companies that perform at the Arnoff
  • discounted tickets to Museum Center, the Zoo, Cincinnati Art Museum special exhibits, Taft Museum, the Aquarium
  • discounted tickets to all Broadway Across America shows - between 25%-50% depending on the performance and seating area - the membership can pay for itself if just 2 people are going to one Broadway Across America show!
  • Plus, if you are under 35, you get a slew of free day-of-show vouchers for 2 free tickets - Ballet, Playhouse, Symphony, etc.
If you do sign up, mention that I referred you (Alyssa Louagie), since you can get additional free ticket vouchers if you refer 2 or more people.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What's for Dinner? Wednesday

Quickie Calzones

What you need:
1 package pizza dough mix, or use this recipe for no-rise dough here
1 package shredded mozzarella or Italian mix cheese
pizza toppings of your choice (we typically like mushrooms, pepperoni & ham)
pizza or spaghetti sauce for dipping

1) Mix dough with water according to package directions

2) divide dough into 3 or 4 pieces (maybe more if you used the recipe) - we typically do 2 large pieces for the adults and 2 smaller pieces for the kids

3) Using your hands, stretch (or smush, as my 4 yr old says) each dough ball out into a circle about the size of a salad plate.

4) Put your pizza toppings and cheese on one side of the circle.  Fold the other half of the circle over and push the edges together really well, sealing the calzone.

5) Repeat for other dough balls (we typically serve the kids as regular pizzas, as they prefer it that way)

6) Place calzones on a greased cookie sheet.  (We put calzones one sheet & pizzas on another & bake them both at the same time, pulling the pizzas out a few minutes earlier than the calzones)

7) Bake at 400 for about 12-15 minutes, checking after 12.  Calzones are ready when they are brown on the outside.

8) Serve pizza sauce on the side for dipping.

Quick & easy - ready in less than a half hour and minimal prep time.  This is a great quick meal on a work night or a day where things are crazy and you didn't think of dinner, etc.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What's for Dinner? Wednesday

I'm starting a new themed day, because I think we all can use some dinner ideas.  This is one of my husband's favorites, and when he took leftovers into work the next day they asked him what restaurant he went to for dinner the night before.  :)  I love that!  This is an adaptation from this recipe submitted by Star Pooley on one of my favorite recipe sites - Allrecipes.  I did some modification to the technique (quite a bit) and the ingredients.  It's extremely rare for me to make a recipe with zero modifications!
Swiss cheese is not pictured as I need to get more today!

Cajun Seafood Pasta 
If you don't care for seafood, you can easily make this with cut-up chicken breasts instead.  Also, you can use all scallops or all shrimp if you prefer.  I make it with all shrimp about 1/2 the time, as I can't always find scallops on sale.  If you use the large sea scallops, cut them  into quarters. It is also very good with crumbled bacon in it.

2 cups fat-free half & half (or milk)
1 tbsp chopped fresh dried basil (or 1 tsp dried)
1 tbsp chpped fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
2 tsp salt (can use less)
2 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (can use more or less to taste)
1 tsp ground white pepper (sub more black if you don't have it)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 c sliced mushrooms
1 c chopped green onions
1 c chopped fresh parsley (1 T dried or a bit more)
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled & deveined
1/2 lb scallops
1/2 c shredded Swiss cheese
1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese (fresh, not the bottled powdery stuff)
1 lb dry fettucine (or spaghetti or linguine) pasta

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente (see box for cooking time depending on pasta thickness)

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, cook shrimp & scallops in a tiny bit of olive oil and/or butter until shrimp is pink.  Add minced garlic, mushrooms and green onions.  Once mushrooms are soft, add half and half (or milk).  Add the thyme, basil & parsley.  Cook over medium heat 7-8 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened (it should coat the back of a spoon).  Stir in cheeses until well blended.

Serve over drained pasta.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why you should visit your local farmer's market!

I love saving money as much as anyone, but there are some things I think are worth every extra penny.  One of those things is shopping at my local farmer's market.  I know I won't convert everyone, but I just thought I'd share a bit about why I love the farmer's market so much and why I think it's not as expensive as people think.

First, NOTHING compares to freshly picked fruits and vegetables.  No tomato in the grocery store (even when they are advertised as being "local" - which still may be 1 to 2 hours away) is going to come anywhere close to a tomato that completely vine-ripened and picked a day or two before you buy it.  Also, fresh sweet corn is beyond comparison also.

Second, you get personalized service.  The people at the farmer's market will give you tips on how to prepare your purchase, whether it can be frozen (I heard a tip 2 weeks ago about freezing corn still on the cob that I am dying to try this week), prepared ahead, etc, etc.  Become friends with the vendors at your farmer's market!  Today I got some great heirloom cherry tomatoes and some great tips on saving the seeds so I can grow my own next year.  I also will be getting some free zucchini seeds in a couple of months from another stall.  They had "Eight Ball" zucchini which are round, and I commented to Kate (my 4 1/2 year old) that they would be fun to grow next year, and asked if you could get the seeds in the area.  The owner of the booth said to stop back and ask at the end of the season and if I didn't need many seeds (I figure I can maybe grow 3 plants in the space I have by the house) he'd just give me some free.  His wife is there every week and knows me by sight because I came in the pouring rain one week to buy blueberries from her.
Some of the heirloom cherry tomatoes I got today at my farmer's market - I can save the seeds from these and grow my own plants next year, and they were $3.50 for this pint container.  I need to email the farm I bought them from and have them remind me of the variety.

Third, you know where your money is  going and what it is supporting.  Often, the people working the booth are the same people who are directly benefiting from your purchase.  By purchasing from your local farmer's market you are supporting small business, organic farming methods (typically, though many small farms don't spend the money to be certified) and sustainable agriculture.  Plus you can often get things like humanely raised meats and fresh eggs.

Fourth, you may be inspired to try growing your own produce, which is MUCH cheaper than buying it.  I love to garden, and I have a separate blog with gardening info here.  You do NOT need a lot of space to garden.  You can grow many, many, many things in pots.  Lettuce, for example, is GREAT for pots - it has shallow roots and is fairly compact.  In fact, unless you live in the extreme north, you can plant some lettuce in a pot right now, and get some fresh lettuce before your first frost.  And to extend the season, you can bring your pots inside or into the garage overnight for the first few frosts.  The only thing you really need to successfully grow your own produce about 6 hours of sun in a spot a day.  Though I know of someone who put their pots in a wagon and pulled them around to different sunny spots throughout the day.

So please consider visiting your local farmer's market.  When you see the prices, remember that you are paying not only for the actual produce, but the vendor's time and energy in raising that produce.  How much is your time worth per hour?  How much should their time be worth per hour?  That factors into the cost.

I will step down from my soapbox now. :)

Monday, July 27, 2009

PF Chang's Lettuce Wrap copycat recipe

I love PF Chang's but we rarely go out to dinner because of the cost.  So here is a copycat recipe of PF Chang's lettuce wraps that is basically spot-on as far as taste.  The original link can be found here on Recipezaar but I have re-typed it below with a couple of modifications that I made.  It's a little bit complex and calls for some unique ingredients, but you should be able to find them in the asian section of most major grocery stores. Below is a photo of what you'll need: 

PF Chang's lettuce wraps

3 Tbsp peanut oil (or other high temperature frying oil - preferably not olive oil)
3/4 lb ground chicken (or 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced small)
1 8oz can water chesnuts, diced
3 Tbsp diced onion
2/3 c mushrooms, diced
1 clove garlic, minced (or 1 tsp jarred minced garlic - not garlic powder)
Optional - 1/2 c diced carrots

Stir Fry sauce
3 Tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
3 Tbsp brown sugar
3/4 tsp rice wine vinegar

"Special Sauce" 
1/4 c sugar
1/2 c water
2 Tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp ketchup
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp Chinese-style hot mustard
2 tsp hot water
1-2 tsp garlic and red chile paste

1 head iceberg lettuce

Optional crisped noodles
Frying oil (such as peanut)
1 pkg cellophane (rice vermicelli) noodles

1) Heat oil in a wok or large skillet
2) While oil is heating, make stir fry sauce by combining soy sauce, brown sugar and rice wine vinegar in a small bowl. Set aside.
3) Add ground chicken. Stir and break up into small pieces.  When cooked through, add water chesnuts, onion, mushrooms, garlic and carrots (if using). Saute for 1-2 minutes, then add stir fry sauce and saute 2-3 minutes more until mushrooms are cooked and onion and carrot have softened somewhat.
4) For the "special sauce" dissolve the sugar in the water in a small bowl.  Add soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ketchup, lemon juice and sesame oil and stir to combine.
5) In a separate bowl, combine hot water and hot mustard and stir until smooth. 
6) Add mustard and garlic & red chili paste to special sauce slowly to desired taste. If the sauce is too runny, at 1 tsp cornstarch to sauce and bring to a boil to thicken.

7) If you'd like rice noodles, heat frying oil in large pan or deep fryer to approx 375. Break rice noodles into 2-3" pieces. Add in small batches to the hot oil, they will puff immediately. Remove them from the oil with a handheld strainer or large slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  These will keep up to 1 week in a zip-top bag or longer in the freezer

To serve - place chicken mixture into a lettuce leaf. Top with puffed rice noodles and special sauce.  Roll and enjoy!

So there you go.  Some of the ingredients are uncommon, but once you have them you can make many batches of this with the bottles.  The chicken mixture is not as dark in color as PF Changs, but the taste is very very similar.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Super Cute gift idea!

I was looking on Etsy and found this SUPER cute listing for washcloths made to look like cupcakes!  This would make a really cute shower gift.  I'm sure you could probably make your own if you're craftily-inclined.  If not, buy them from the link below as they're very reasonably priced for a gift and they're super cute!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Welcome & Coupon Basics

I didn't think the gardening blog I have covered quite everything I wanted it to, so I started a 2nd blog.  As if I don't already have enough to do.  This one is going to be more about our daily life and crafting/creating and saving money and whatever else pops into my head to blog about.
One of the things that has been on my mind this week is saving money, since the alternator just went out in my car and that will be an unexpected expense next week when our mechanic gets back from vacation.
So I thought I'd share some couponing tips.  I'm not going to share everything there is about couponing, as there are tons of blogs out there dedicated to couponing.  I'll link to some below if you want more info.  Here are some basics if you're just getting started...
1) get your Sunday paper - there are generally 1-3 coupon sections each week in the Sunday paper.  You can subscribe to just the Sunday edition in most cities, or you could pick it up anywhere that sells a paper.
2) cut out all the coupons (or most all of them).  Even for things you think you might not use.  You never know when you can get things for free or better.
3) organize your coupons.  The super-basic way is to buy a small coupon sorter with about 12-13 pockets and then divide your coupons into 12 categories that make sense to you (ie - canned, frozen, refrigerated, pasta/rice, etc, etc).  If you're really going to start couponing seriously, you'll probably want a 3 ring binder (the kind that zip closed are really nice, but I have a regular one that I already had and didn't have to buy).  Then you'll want inserts to organize your coupons.  I use 3x5 photo pages I got at Staples - I got two 10-page packs, so I have 20 pages, or 60 coupon pockets.  That seems like a lot, but I use them all!  I've heard of other people using trading card pages, but those pockets seem small to me.

This was my first coupon binder. I used a binder I already had. After about a year I upgraded to a zipper binder that I got a good deal on using coupons. :)
4) At the very least, check your grocery ads.  Ours are typically delivered on Sunday morning in our driveway or hanging on our mailbox, but can arrive anywhere from Friday evening through Monday morning.  Take them out of the bag, open them up and look at them.  Also check the Target, Walgreens & CVS ads that come in the Sunday paper.
5) Make a list - I have a friend who doesn't shop from a list, and I am totally baffled by it!  Even without coupons, I don't know how you get everything you need if you don't have a list!  As you're looking through the ad, write down the deals you see on produce, etc that you probably don't have coupons for.  For example this week our Kroger has containers of blueberries for $1.  Since Kate could eat about a pint of blueberries in one sitting, those went on my list right away!
6) Know your store's coupon policies - do they double coupons?  If so, up to how much?  Do they price match competitors ads?  Here in my area, Kroger and Meijer do double coupons regularly (coupons up to and including $.50 are worth double the face value, coupons between $.50 and $1.00 are rounded up to be worth $1. Coupons $1 and up are face value- Meijer doubles the first 2 coupons that are the same, Kroger has unlimited double coupons).  Biggs, WalMart, Walgreens, CVS and Target do not double.  WalMart price matches competitors ads, as does Target.
7) Be willing to shop a couple of stores.  Some people swear this is not worth it.  I beg to differ.  For example this week I ran errands on Monday morning.  I spent $86 at 4 stores (Kroger, CVS, Walgreens & Target) but I saved $123.  It took me about 3 hours and that included the time I spent getting 2 kids in and out of the car, in and out of carts, trying to keep Claire, my 18 month old, from standing up in the cart, etc.  Even figuring the value of gas I spent and my time, that's a deal.  
8) Use electronic coupons.  This is the biggest no-brainer with coupons there is.  These load electronically onto your Kroger-affliated store card, and come off the total automatically when you buy an item.  The best part is that they can also be combined with paper coupons for the same thing - ie a $1.50 electronic coupon for Huggies and a $1.50 paper coupon for Huggies = $3.00 off a package of Huggies.  Here are some sites:
9) Check out some of the following blogs/sites for more couponing info and info on sale/coupoon "match-ups" each week... - Cincinnati/NKY area blogger - obviously Cincinnati area - somewhere in Ohio, not sure where
10) If you don't want to be bothered checking several different sites, then do a trial of - you get 4 weeks of any stores you choose for $1.  You can see if you think it's worth it in the long run.  I used to use this site a lot, but now that I know what I'm doing pretty well and have found the lists on the free blogs, I cancelled my subscription.  But it's definitely worth it to help you get started!


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