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by: Emily St. John Mandel

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Here is a break from the coupon adventure for a recipe that has been requested that I post (Hi Sue!):

Granny's Caramels

This recipe was introduced to me through my husband's Grandma.

1 lb (4 sticks) butter
2 lbs light brown sugar (1 bag)
2 cups white Karo syrup
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Butter a 9x13 inch pan (or a long cookie sheet with at least an inch high edge.
Melt the first two ingredients in a heavy kettle (needs to be deep because it bubbles up).
Add 2 cups light corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk.
Cook until candy thermometer reads 245 degrees F. (do not go below 240 or above 250 degrees)
Carefully pour mixture into buttered pan. Cool mixture in the refrigerator.
Take out 30 minutes before cutting, Wrap in waxed paper.

Tips to take into consideration: It takes a few makings to figure out your stove and how much to heat these caramels to. The candy thermometer is very important because it is your key to either caramel sauce or hard HARD caramels.
This recipes does make roughly 250-275 caramels depending on how big you wrap them. You should keep that in mind when you see how much butter and sugar is in this recipe.

I love this recipe. When I need to wrap these I put a movie on, and sit at the table and wrap, wrap, wrap (and try very hard to not eat them all.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Couponing this weeks meals - Working out the Kinks - Week 1

Okay so a few friends asked me to post a blog about my attempt to keep our weekly food budget at the grocery store under $25. This is week one...I like to call it working out the kinks...

So We've run into a rough patch with money this month between paying for a couple vacations from previous two months, car problems, and probably some unchecked spending. As a stay at home mom, there isn't much I can do to help bring in more money so I decided to help where I could.

First, I decided to take a month off my ballet classes (a whopping $165 a month savings) because yes I love it but I'm hoping to figure out how to work at the studio to earn some free classes to go back. I also decided if it's just a month or two it's ok. I can do my ballet at home and maybe take a class here and there. I'd like to mention this was voluntary as my husband did say I should keep going. I feel that it's an extra splurge at the moment.

Second, I have been dabbling in couponing since july and decided I could "kick it up a notch" and really try to spend only $25 dollars at the grocery store for a weeks worth of food. This week happened to be the best week for it as our local grocery store, Albertson's, had twice the value coupons in the sunday paper. They will double a coupon up to a dollar making some items on sale free.

For those not new to the best way to use coupons, here's a quick run down. Manufacturer's put items on sale. They also send out coupons weekly in papers they have contracts with. Your best bet is to match the coupons up with the sale (which makes things WAY cheaper than just using sales only or coupons only.)

How did I figure everything out? Well luckily there have been a couple ladies who live in my are on the show Extreme Couponing and they actually make things easy for me. They figure out the ads and coupon match ups and even highlight those items that are best to "stock up on".

DISCLAIMER: I do love to watch Extreme Couponing but I am not of the opinion to get something I don't need because it's free. I like to think of what I am doing as realistic couponing. I stock on the items my family uses and try to work off my stockpile when money is tight (such as now). Also stockpiles take time to create, unless you have buckets of money laying around, try just using $25 aside from your weekly budget to add new items to your stockpile (anything left over from that $25 you can add to next week's $25 stockpile budget.)

Anyway...So I used my favorite site Coupon Connections and made a list of things I would like. A few months ago I had a friend (Hi Becky!) send me her spreadsheet on how she lists out her trip to the grocery store. It helps me figure out where I'm using coupons, how to maximize any Catalinas that print for "future" purchases (coupons that print when you check out good on your next purchase), and what my total might be.

I must tell you I went back over that list 3-4 times trying to make sure all my math added up and I was making the smartest choices. So Jeremy, my husband, went with me last night around 10:30pm because I was afraid a couple items I wanted that would actually make me $3.00 would be sold out at midnight and that would blow my budget. (when I have money makers that expands my budget without costing me more.) I was working on getting those items that would make me the $3.00 and asking the nice cashier if the items I got matched my coupons when we found out the store actually closes at midnight...well darn...

The nice, nice, nice cashier told us we could still shop for our items and she would put them in the freezer/fridge and we could pick them up today!

So we did that, I came home, secure in my purchases...and then I woke up and checked back on my favorite website to make sure one last time that things added up. Boy am I glad I did...i almost didn't make the extra $6.00 because I failed to put 4 items in one I quickly re-organized and added a couple free products I found I had coupons for and off I went.

I had a total of 5 transactions (normally unless you find a cashier as nice as I did, the store says 3 transactions per store trip.) Plus one transaction at a different grocery store yesterday for some produce and things.

Here's a list of what I bought:

1 French's mustard
3 20 oz Heinz Ketchup
1 Kroger's brand Aluminum Foil 75 feet
1 bag pinto beans
2 Hass Avocados
4 roma tomatoes
1 2lb bag carrots
1 gallon 1% milk
1 box Loaded Mash Potatoes
5 Loaded Chicken and potato TGI Friday meals for one
2 heads of iceberg lettuce
3 Steak Fajita TGI Friday meals for one
3 Bird's Eye Steamfresh Frozen broccoli and rotini with cheese
2 Bird's Eye Steam fresh Frozen penne and veggies
3.29 lbs chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
1.27 lbs broccoli (bunch of three heads)
1 loaf bakery cinnamon bread (this was free from a coupon I had from a previous purchase)
1 5 oz kikkoman soy sauce
6 jello puddings (2 chocolate, 2 vanilla, 2 butterscotch)
2 jello - strawberry
2 Dreamfield Pasta spaghetti (this is pasta good for diabetics - very expensive normally)
1 small Morton's sea salt
3lbs 85% lean ground beef
1.48 lbs Honey Crisp apples
1 Sara Lee Whole Wheat Hearty and delicious honey bread
2 Beechnut Baby Oatmeal Cereal

Total retail value: $134.60
Total paid : $60.44
Total saved: $74.16
Percent saved: 55%

So I ended up getting more meat and chicken then I was planning on because the cost was better and I can roll that meat over into next week's meals. Best things I got for free: 2 boxes of Baby Oatmeal for Lucas, 1 loaf of cinnamon bread (which I used to make yummy french toast for brunch), and the pasta which is normally $2.79-$2.99.

Things I learned: My grocery store closes at midnight. I need to patiently look at the deals from the website to make sure I put my transactions in order. Have transactions as low as 67 cents is pretty awesome when the retail value is $25.

Food to make this week:
Chicken Stir-Fry (from fridge and pantry - rice and veggies, chicken from fridge as well)
Roast with potatoes and carrots (roast and potatoes in the fridge already)
Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup and bread bowls (from stock and from my list)
Pot Roast Pot Pie (from stock and fridge Items)

Planning already for next week:
Juicy Lucy burgers (from stock)

So there is my adventure.

Things I need to buy next week:

Dish soap if on sale
Vanilla extract

Last thoughts: I usually spend between $150 - $200 a week - this weeks purchase was a 70% savings. I think that works for us.