Grocery Budgeting Grade Cards

Well, I told you I would update on how our grocery budgeting has been going over the course of January.  Did we save money or was it splurge central?  Here’s the rundown:

First, I have a bad and somewhat dangerous habit of straying from the grocery list.  When it comes to shopping at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, I find myself doing this.  So, I need to be more disciplined.  Overall, I only deviated from the list five times for high quality Callebaut Chocolate, snack foods, and beer. 

The other thing I have noticed that we do convenience shopping.  With Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s right near our apartment, I find myself making frequent visits for ingredients that I forgot to pick up during the major trip.  These little trips add up quick.  However, things have improved, and these trips have dwindled over the course of January/February.  

Lastly, the coupon clipping has improved.  We have saved more this month, than in previous months.  We have also joined Costco, which has helped us save in terms of pantry goods and meats.

Overall, the grade is a C.  We still have room for improvement, especially in terms of the number of nights we feel lazy and decide to go out to a restaurant.

Super Duper Chocolate Chip Cookies

Happy Epiphany! In the spirit of new traditions, I have decided to extend Christmas with today being the last day of celebration. One thing about having our wedding in December, we were delayed with certain traditions. We did put our tree up during the second week of December, but there was something else missing: The traditional cookie baking festival.

Every year, my family always bakes dozens of cookies to take to gatherings and for those who visited with us. It was a big deal, as my Mom would usually devote a Saturday for cookie baking. We would bake Chocolate Chip Cookies, Peanut Butter Blossoms, Meringue Cookies, and the Cutout Sugar Cookies. It was so much fun, since we each got to hone a special recipe. My particular task was to help with the Chocolate Chip Cookies and Peanut Butter Blossoms (which were my favorite).

I intend to do the same with our family, except I want to move it to the last day of Christmas to extend the celebration. This will only help bring many memories in the future.

Well, in the spirit of Christmas, I baked two dozen of my super duper chocolate chip cookies. You may ask what makes my recipe “super duper,” and I am happy to share this with you. Besides chocolate chips, I add Heath Bar bits to help boost the flavor. You can also add Peanut Butter chips as well, but the key is to keep things simple. They turned out great, as my husband and his friend went back for more. From my kitchen to yours…here’s the recipe for the best cookies on this side of the Potomac River:

(Adapted from the Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe)

2 1/4 c. All Purpose Flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks of butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 12 oz. package of semi-sweet chocolate chips (I prefer Ghiradelli Semi-Sweet or Callebaut Chocolate Chunks, but I used Nestle…since they were on sale).
1/2 of a 12 oz. package of Heath Bar Bits (You can use more or less, if you are using Peanut Butter Chips)
**Note: You could add chopped nuts (Walnuts or Pecans). However, I opted out due to nut allergies.

Step 1: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Step 2: Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. In a stand mixer, beat butter, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and heath bar bits. Using a cookie scoop (or ice cream spoon for big cookies), drop onto an ungreased cookie sheet.

Step 3: Bake for 9-11 minutes (I baked mine for 10 minutes) or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Step 4: Grab a cookie and a glass of milk. Then, you should totally rave about how super duper they are…and of course, share the cookies with loved ones. They are sure to bring a smile to your face.

Really super duper!

Really super duper!

Eating at home? Solving the Dilemma of Dinner

When we got married, I knew things were going to change for the better. One thing was the fact that we were going to be united in many of our decisions, especially since they impact our long-term goals. One thing that I wanted to change was the number of times we would either resort to a neighborhood restaurant for takeout or eating dinner out on the town. With both my husband and I working late at night, we find ourselves resorting to this method for dinner. My goal was to cut back on the eating out and start prepping meals in advance to have in the evenings. This would not only help us from the economic perspective, but it would help us from a nutritional standpoint as well.

Starting this month, I am making it a focus to find dinners that I can make in under an hour or in a slow cooker. This way, we can come home and know that dinner will be available with little to no prep time. I started to review cookbooks that have sections for slow cooking or quick cooking sections. One of my favorite cookbooks is the Betty Crocker Cookbook, as it has nutritional recipes that fit both categories. In fact, this week’s menu includes two recipes from this cookbook. We will see if these recipes will go in my cooking file for future dinner nights.

Outside of cookbooks, I have begun devising weekly menus that can change depending on our schedule or what we have on hand. The key is to remain flexible. For example, I made a huge batch of chili in the slow cooker for tonight’s dinner. I know that this chili can be utilized for lunch and dinner, so it will be dinner tomorrow night as well. The weekly menus have also proven beneficial for grocery shopping as well. On Friday night or Saturday morning, I take inventory in the following areas: Produce, Dairy, Freezer, Shelf Goods, Miscellaneous to determine what is needed for the week. When we go to the store, we know what we have to adhere to, so it cuts down on unnecessary expenses.

So, I’ll keep you posted on how eating at home works for us during the month of January, and hopefully, it will yield in many tasty recipes as well.

A Charming Birthday Dinner

Yesterday, my husband celebrated his birthday.  While he had a crummy day at work, I made certain that he had an nice evening with a great dinner, along with his favorite movie, The Big Lebowski, playing in the background.   I started planning his birthday dinner when we got back from our honeymoon.  He wanted a dish with meat and a birthday cake.   Check for both of these.

I settled on a menu of pork chops and cornbread stuffing.  His birthday cake was going to be a Key Lime Pound Cake with a Key Lime Glaze.   Of course, I thought it would be a menu that I could accomplish during an afternoon away from the office.  However, after dealing with the DMV for most of the afternoon, I was left wondering whether this would be too time intensive.   I decided to woman-up, because I knew he would be surprised by the effort and love.

The cornbread stuffing is a recipe that is so simple.   In a saute pan, I melted 2 tablespoons butter with four cloves of garlic over medium heat.  After the butter was melted, I threw in one onion that french cut, and one red bell pepper that was roughly diced.   After the onion began to caramelize and the pepper softened, I placed cubes of cornbread in the pan with a cup of chicken broth and  1/4 cup of apple cider for an added level of sweetness.  (Note:  I fudged and bought a large cornbread square from our local Whole Foods Market.)  The stuffing was seasoned with salt, pepper, thyme, and sage.  It was delicious and paired well with the pork chop.

Next, I proceeded to season the pork chops with a mixture of salt, pepper, tarragon, garlic powder, sage, and thyme.   Creating a rub, I patted the pork chops with the seasoning mixture.  After heating a cast iron skillet with some oil, I seared the pork chops on high to give them a good crust, then I reduced the heat to allow them time to finish cooking.   The pork chop was juicy and moist…success!

The star of the dinner was dessert.   Of course, this took a while to bake.   Pound cakes have always been the least favorite of desserts, and it was probably because they come across as being dry and crumbly, not very moist.  When I came across this recipe in Southern Living, I knew it was going to be a winner. My husband is a huge fan of Key Lime pie, so I knew he would love this Key Lime Pound Cake. It was time intensive, but the cake was moist and better than pound cakes of the past. I did make some slight revisions to the recipe by adding an additional teaspoon of lime zest. The flavor profile was unbelievable, and this is something I will make again in the future.

Best pound cake ever!

Best pound cake ever!

So tell me, what’s your favorite birthday dinner? Also, what’s your favorite birthday cake? Happy Birthday to my wonderful husband!

Getting Married: The Hair

Pinterest has got to be one of the best resources for wedding planning.  I don’t know what I would have done without it.    If you are in the midst of wedding planning, you will no doubt find some awesome ideas from the dress, reception, ceremony, and a multitude of hairstyles.

When it came to the hair, I knew I wanted something romantic looking.   I looked at two different styles and decided to find a stylist in the city nearby to the wedding to help make my hair dreams come true.   Since I grew up in the  Westminster, Md. area, I had a salon in mind.  The Hair After is a wonderful salon off of Main Street, and they were more than accommodating with me, my Matron of Honor, and my mother-in-law.   After my trial in November, I was more than excited to be pampered before the wedding.  My stylist, Mandi, did an awesome job combining the two hairstyles and transformed me into a beautiful bride.  In addition to the hair, she did my makeup as well.   For someone who does not wear much makeup, I was surprised at how natural looking (and long lasting) my  makeup was.   This was something that was needed for the wedding.

I have nothing but praise for the service we received.   Both Mandi and the owner of the salon went above and beyond to ensure that we were taken care of, and this definitely made the experience memorable.



Stay tuned…the reception recap is next up.  Also, there will be a break from the wedding recap to focus on the honeymoon and recipes from the past week.

Getting Married…The Dress

Looking back, there are a few things I regret in the wedding planning process.  With the proposal being a little under six months until the wedding, I decided to limit the dress shops to those with alteration prices included in the overall cost of the dress.  In the end, this reduction in cost may have ended up with my overall disappointment in the dress shopping experience.

I bought my dress from David’s Bridal in Springfield, Virginia after the horrible derecho storm that knocked out power for two days in my apartment complex.  My mother, sister, and Matron of Honor all joined me in finding the right dress, even though I was drenched in sweat and cranky from little sleep from the previous night.  I guess this only added to my frustrations.  However, I had a rude saleswoman, who made it her ultimate mission to place me in overpriced gowns that were ill fitting and poufy, despite wanting a dress that would show off my petite figure.  Needless to say, I was pissed that the saleswoman was not listening to what I wanted, so I was not planning to buy the dress there after the ordeal.

I tried on the first dress, which was a one shoulder white cocktail dress.  It made my shoulders look like an NFL linebacker, so the dress was placed on the rack.  The second dress was a strapless tea length dress, and it was a comfortable gown.  I kept on looking at myself in the mirror with a huge smile on my face.  I also saw the reflections of my Mom, sister, and Matron of Honor, which were favorable to the gown.  My sister kept saying how awesome the dress was and that this was the one.  Of course, I was not completely convinced, so I tried on a gown that I had been eyeing for a while.  It was a long, lacy, cap sleeve gown that was a mermaid shape.  This dress was heavy, itchy, and it left me wanting to remove it promptly.  Back to the rack went the gown and then, I proceeded to try on several strapless satin long gowns that were pretty…but not my style.

After standing and looking at myself in the mirror, my Mother urged me to try the second gown on again.  She was raving about how the dress was mine.  I went ahead and appeased her, only to find myself shedding tears of joy.  This was the dress, and I rang the bell.

However, the dress buying experience went sour a few days after, as David’s Bridal called and accused me of not paying for my gown.  I paid the day I bought the dress, and the staff was extremely inconsiderate upon purchasing it.  I had to take off work, go back to the store, only to find out that I did pay for the dress.  Again, I was treated rudely.  This did not bode well for me.  All in all, I had my dress and veil…this was the last time I wanted to ever step foot in David’s Bridal.



The hair is the next stop in the Getting Married series…

Getting Married: Let’s Rehearse…

Here’s the first in the wedding recap series, and it feels cool reflecting on the awesome experience.  Since it was only a week ago, the wedding is still fresh in my mind.    On the Friday prior to the wedding, I was a basket case nonetheless.  I did not sleep well on Thursday night, as I was preoccupied with the stress of the small details.  I knew I needed to get the programs printed, finish work on the favors, and last, but not least, work on setting up the guestbook and write thank you notes to my Matron of Honor, two bridesmaids, flower girl, and ring bearer.   So, Friday was the day everything just boiled over.

First, the glass for the guestbook broke in three different places.  We decided to do a guestbook where people signed the matting for a photo frame that had our engagement portrait.  When I saw the glass broken, I had a meltdown that left me sobbing, calling my Mother in a panicked state, texting my fiance (this was prior to the wedding), and finally emailing our reception site coordinator with a list of requests.  During this time frame, the Priest who was marrying us called to verify about the marriage license, which of course, drove me to tears.    It was crazy, and my Mom decided to pour me a stiff drink prior to the rehearsal.

Not a bad idea…or so I thought.  After a drink that she called Malibu’s Love Potion (it included Coca-Cola, Malibu Rum, and Whipped Cream Vodka), I was laughing and relaxing.   One of my bridesmaids came rushing over to witness the “event of the year,” and to help console my nerves.   The drink was not enough, because I proceeded to drink a Miller Lite.   The discussion soon turned into what the hangover of the year will look like.

Before I knew it, time had come for the rehearsal.  We got to the church fifteen minutes early at my father’s request.  Our Priest met up with us to discuss the final details of the mass, then it was time to practice after reassuring us that he found the marriage license (crisis averted).  The first time we practiced saying our vows…I was off on one thing and everyone started laughing, which broke the tension.  Our ring bearer also threw the temper tantrum of the decade…which further added to my frazzled nerves.

After the rehearsal, my fiance and I threw a gathering at a local pizza place in nearby Westminster, Maryland.  J&P Pizza was recommended to us by my sister, who works in walking distance to the restaurant.  It was pretty good and the banquet room area allowed for a more intimate gathering, where we could interact with those in the wedding party.  The food was great for the most part.  I had the Primavera pizza, which was good and had plenty of veggies.  For me, the star was the zucchini sticks with marinara sauce.  They were awesome with their crunchy breaded coating.

Overall, it was a great way to thank our bridal party.  Each of my bridesmaids received beautiful earrings to wear with their dresses, the flower girl received a dress for her American Girl doll, and the ring bearer received a Spider Man toy.  The best way to end such a hectic day was receiving a final hug and kiss from my fiance, along with a beautiful sapphire and diamond necklace as a gift.

The hair and dress update is next on the list …  stay tuned 🙂

The Married Life

Well, it has been one week since saying “I do,” and I can tell you that I am still floating on cloud nine.  I’ll probably be doing a wedding recap here, in addition to the honeymoon recap.   While there were some mishaps leading up to the wedding, it was everything I ever dreamed of and more.

Here’s a picture of my handsome husband and I from our wedding.



Next up, I will be recapping our rehearsal, the dress, and the hair.  Of course, there will be cake, food, and fun to highlight as well.  The most important thing is that two became one on December 15, 2012.

The Newly Engaged Bliss

This is definitely something that I need to share with my readers, and I am sorry it has finally taken me two weeks (wait…two months) to update the blog.

As many know, I have been busy dealing with some issues.  Toward the end of April, my fiance’s father died.  It was rough dealing with such a loss.  On top of that, my work and half marathon training schedule kept me away from the kitchen.  There has been little time to update this site, let alone my other website.

However, on the morning of June 24th, things changed for the better.  While the proposal details will remain quiet, my boyfriend (now fiance) asked me to be his wife.  Of course, I said yes and now, there is a December wedding in our future.  Wedding planning may keep me away from posting, but I wanted to let you in on the exciting news.

Also, I have a new recipe to share as well.  This one is a marinade for yellowfin tuna, which I found on special at the grocery store.  The marinade includes:

  • Soy Sauce
  • Honey
  • Sugar
  • Rice Vinegar
  • Chinese Five Spice Powder
  • Garlic Powder
  • Cilantro

Talk about a totally awesome treat for your tastebuds.  I marinated the tuna fillets for 15 minutes on both sides (total of 30 minutes).  In the meantime, I heated the sesame oil in a skillet.  Then I added the tuna fillets and seared them.  It was nice and raw in the center and warm on the outside.

I also made quinoa to serve alongside.  While I made quinoa once before, I was surprised at the taste this time around.  I used two cups of chicken broth, in place of the water.  I also added Penzey’s Spices Smoky 4S, along with onion.  Before it was time to remove, I added some diced red and yellow bell peppers.  It was totally worth it and now, I have the energy to get back to reception venue searching.

Wine Review for the Weekend: Rappahannock Cellars Chardonnay

Source: Rappahannock Cellars

White wine is such an acquired taste.  While I tend to prefer red wines, I have been on the search for a perfect wine to pair with poultry and seafood dishes.  This wine also has to have the ability to be enjoyed on its own.

Imagine my surprise when I visited Rappahannock Cellars in Hume, Va. one weekend to find the perfect white wine that could meet the criteria above.  When I had the first initial sip of Rappahannock’s 2010 Chardonnay, I knew this wine would pair well with a crab cake and would also be able to be enjoyed while sitting on the porch.  This Chardonnay was aged in French and Virginia oak barrels, and you could taste the oak overtones, along with a buttery finish.

Rappahannock is one of my favorite wineries in Virginia, and the staff is always friendly.  I strongly urge you to make the trip out there to enjoy their wines (Noblesse Rouge is one of my favorites, and my boyfriend loves their Red Dessert Wine).