Thursday, April 17, 2014

Our Chicago Mini Trip using Groupon and a Budget of Under $200.00 Spending Money

We spent Monday and Tuesday of this week in the "Windy City." We are from Wisconsin and are used to the cold weather. Even though it was raining the first day, we still walked everywhere we went. Our first stop from Union Station was directly down Adams to the Art Institute. I research every part of our trip before we go. I read that kids 14 and younger are free. Yet my 14 year old was charged full price? I still plan on taking this up with the museum. I suppose I could have lied about her age but I am a honest person. So a trip for the four of us was $57.00. The highlight was going across the street to eat at Pret A Manger. This is a chain of locally sourced fresh ready made sandwiches, soups, and salads. The four of us ate for just under $30.00. My chicken and avocado sandwich was delicious and my daughter had the pesto and cheese panini. I am in love with this place.

One thing you can do which is free is walk to Grant and Millenium parks. There is blocks and blocks full of public art and the famous Bean. I took some really beautiful shots at night and love this place. There is also the Buckingham fountain which has a light show after 8 o'clock. Only in the warmer months. We walked all the way there and the fountain was drained.

A must see is the Bean at night. It is beautiful! All of the walking makes the kids sleep really good too. Chicago has a different fell at night. During the day is bustling with people. At night it's still busy but a bit easier to get around.
We walked from Union Station. We took the Amtrak in but you can save more money by taking the Metra Train from Kenosha. Union Station is also right by the old Sears/Willis tower. We haven't been to the top yet but I hear it's cool. We tried to stick to the free things. We still had a great time on a budget.

Our hotel was the Hard Rock which I found on Groupon. is a site where you can find discounted activities and dining no matter what city you are in. Just click and paste this link so they know i sent you! . Thi

The Hard Rock was centrally located and we liked it.  The theming on each floor is a rock star. We had Led Zepplin. Unfortunately there was construction directly across from our room and we had a pretty good view of the construction workers. We had a few problems like a $50/ per night charge held on your credit card. This overdrew our checking account. I had budgeted down to the penny and this was a real issue. Luckily Zack at the front desk helped us. And luckily I found the problem before I incurred overdraft fees for those charges. I had to run to chase down the block and deposit just to be safe. We got this hotel on a Groupon too. The site has some pretty good travel deals. There is also a cool bus system but we walked everywhere to save on money. We only took a cab once to Navy Pier.

Eating on the cheap can be done. We had a Subway two doors down and they had $3.00 subs of the day. This worked out perfect. My hubby also gets a discount at Walgreens as a employee and we purchased soda and snacks there. Also 7-11 is everywhere. We got a pizza for under $6.00 the second night. One of our favorite places to go is L'Appetito. It's located below the John Hancock building. You can have a hearty breakfast for $5.50. My family loved it too.

We walked down to Navy Pier and it was a real mess. They are re-doing the entire Pier and it was very boring. There was a cool free stained glass museum inside.

I purchased a  tea tasting at Adagio Tea for my oldest and I. I paid ahead of time and it was really inexpensive. We got to choose and taste three different teas and I asked a ton of questions. My hubby and youngest went to Mcdonald's right down the street while we went in. And we each got a free tea pot too.   Here is my Yelp review of the tea tasting. Yelp! is a online forum that is free and helps you find cool new places and events:

I had purchased the Groupon for my 15 year old daughter and I so we could have a girls day out. We took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up taking the scenic route of State Street. This shop is tucked in with a few others off of Ohio and State.

We made it for our two o'clock appointment and were warmly greeted. We began by choosing three teas. They are arranged in clear jars from white teas to the darkest. It smells amazing in there! We learned all about different types of teas and how they are made, also what temps to make the tea at. Each tea reacts differently to hot water. Some require a longer steeping time to extract their full flavor. 

We were seated in the middle of the shop and our tasting began with a mango tea. There were three different tea infused cookies for us to eat also. Our person (I believe her name was Amanda) was willing to answer all of our questions. I think our tasting went on for 45 minutes. (We Yelpers ask a ton of questions) We also sampled a oolong and chai tea. 

We each got to pick out our own tea pot too and purchased some of the teas we liked. They sell loose leaf by the ounce, in packs with bags or loose, and a variety of tea infused products.  The prices are pretty reasonable. This was a fun event for the two of us and the price was really inexpensive.

So my tips are: use Yelp! to research. look for Groupons you can use to cut down on costs, price places, and always expect some hickups. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Banana Foot Scrub and Omelets

It's a very hectic week for me and on the weekends besides going for a long walk, I like to go treat myself. We had a huge bag of clearance bananas and had been enjoying bananas foster and banana bread all week. This morning  I made a foot scrub with them. This is great for all of those dried feet in preparation for sandals.

 All you have to do is mush them up with a fork into a paste. I used 3. Next get a basin and put a towel under it. Have a towel ready to wipe off your feet when you get out. Stick your feet in and have a timer set for 15 minutes. Not only does it feel good, it smells good too! Then wash off your feet with cold water and then warm. Use a pumice stone to remove any dry skin, apply a good lotion, and stick on some socks.

Breakfast for me during the week 99% of the time is oatmeal. On Saturday's I like to enjoy a egg beater omelet. The cool thing is that on WW most of all veggies are free points. I add a pinch of Feta cheese too for some added flavor. These omelets are pretty big and filling and under 3 points.

 First saute' veggies with a bit of water until they are semi-soft. Season with salt and pepper.  Heat a egg pan and spray some PAM. Then add the Egg Beaters (1/4 cup) Let the sides begin to form little crusts. Then with your spatula, push the eggs in so the liquid eggs are on the sides. Let it set for about 2 minutes and then very carefully, flip the omelet over. Now add the veggies and cheese and fold in half. I love this meal. It's pretty filling!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Review of Crock Pot Pork and Cabbage Goulash and Dill Dumplings WW 10PTS

This was intended to be cooked in a dutch oven and baked for one hour. I chose the crock pot route. I added the cabbage and onion to the bottom of the pot and the added the pork cubes dusted with Paprika on the top. I added 2 cups of the broth and the tomato paste and seasoned with salt. Then I covered it and came back 5 hours later (I cooked it on high) Then I moved it to a large stock pot and added the last cup of broth and brought the whole mixture to a boil. I made my own dumplings my way so see the recipe below.

Serving size is 1 dumpling with 3/4 cup of cabbage broth  10pts.
From the Family Style WW Cookbook

3/4 boneless pork shoulder, trimmed
cut into 1 inch cubes
1 large onion chopped
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
1 TBSP paprika
3 cups reduced sodium chicken broth.
1 TBSP tomato paste
2 cups thinly sliced cabbage

Here is where I really deviated I used my own dumpling recipe. They say to use low fat Bisquick, but I found it has an entirely different flavor. I used my own egg dumpling recipe:
Egg and dill dumplings

1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder.
3/4 cup milk
1 TBSP dill (about 1/2 if you are using dried)
1 egg (or egg beaters)
1 tsp salt

Mix all of the ingredients in the bowl and add by tablespoons to the broth. Bring down to a low and cover. Simmer for 10-12 minutes without peeking. The dumplings will be huge!
When I initially tasted this I thought it needed something. But with the addition of the dill dumplings, the flavor was elevated. I am not sure how the point total is so high? You are using pork which is very lean. All in all I thought it was pretty good.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Crock Pot Pearl Barley Risotto 5 WW PTS.

3/4 cup. Barley Risotto
I love risotto which can be made with a number of pastas, rice, and grains. Today I am trying the WW recipe for Pearl Barley Risotto. This is absolutely one of my favorite dishes to get when I dine out. Bartolotta's has an amazing one. Even better this one is made in the crock pot. I found Pearl Barley at our store called the Outpost. This also can be found at most grocers. I find it cheaper when you buy in bulk though.

The ingredients are pretty simple too. I've been to wine tastings but still don't consider myself a wine pro. I went to a liquor store today and the guy didn't know much about wine either. They say to cook with a good wine you would like to drink. I chose this Rooster white wine. Tastes good to me lol I am going to try to coax my 3rd shift hubby out of bed today to grill some chicken on our new grill. I also froze some asparagus a few weeks ago and will be adding a bag of that towards the end.

Pearl Barley Risotto (From WW Family Style Cookbook) 3/4 cup serving =5pts.

1/2 cup white wine
1 cup pearl barley rinsed
2 3/4 chicken stock or veggie stock
1 onion diced (book says 2 shallots)
1 cup peas or veggie of your choice frozen
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp salt

Add all of the ingredients in the crock pot and leave. Don't add the veggies and parm until about 25 minutes before serving.  It did say to cook on low for 4-5 hours but I found the liquid wasn't evaporating quickly enough. I set it to high and kept stirring it. I did stir mine about every hour. I started on low and at the half way mark it looked like the liquid wasn't evaporating enough. I then turned it to high for the remainder.

The taste was good but the texture is really different than rice. My house smelled really good though.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review of WW Tuscan Lamb with Rosemary Gremolata

Tuscan Lamb with Rosemary Gremolata

1 serving is one lamb shank and 3/4 cups beans and sauce for 9 pts. I added potatoes and will figure out the points for those.

4 6 oz lamb shanks
1/4 tsp. salt
1 onion finely chopped
3 celery stalks chopped
1 14 oz can of petite diced tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
10 kalamata olives pitted and chopped
1/2 cup water (omit if crock pot)
1 15oz can navy beans rinsed and drained

For the gremolata
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 TBSP chopped fresh rosemary
1 garlic clove minced

I only used two lamb shanks. Here in WI we don't have butchers like in other big cities. I had to settle for frozen ones and they are quite pricey at about $7.00-10.00 each. This is of course not something I would make every day but perfect for a weekend long roast in the crock pot or oven. I also added some new potatoes and some leftover squash.

I plan on serving it over couscous. The recipe says serving is one shank but I don't think that's possible. The shanks are pretty big and I just plan on shredding the meat off the bone. This makes it a little hard to count points. The house does smell great though.

Problem one. The shanks wouldn't fit into my crock pot. The suggested method is roasting for 1 hour twenty minutes. The time is longer for the crock pot. I have them in there with tin foil over the top. It seems to be going pretty good. I first started the shanks on the stove in some very hot olive oil. I seasoned the shanks with sea salt and pepper. They browned for around 8-10 minutes. I next added the onion and celery and let them get soft for around 5 minutes. I then added the wine and deglazed the pan. I brought it up to a boil and scraped  I poured the sauce over the shanks in the crock pot and let them go in the crock pot for around 6 hours on high. I checked periodically and switched the lamb over so both sides would cook. I also didn't add the extra water. There was plenty of liquid with the tomato juice and wine. I in-fact had to drain out some of the liquid several times.

I shredded the meat off of the bone instead of giving everyone a shank. Be sure to remove the rosemary sprigs. There was a lot of meat. I also served it over couscous. Instead of making the gremolata, I added the rosemary and garlic to the braising liquid. I thought the taste of the dish was very good. But at 9 pts. (not including the couscous or potatoes) It's a lot unless you are using your extra points. We still have a lot left over.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

My First Tortillas

As you may know, I am a Mexican food lover. A few weeks ago my hubby purchased a tortilladora for me. It's basically a tortilla press. Today we went to El Rey in search of some steak carnitas and a comal. A comal is plate type of cookware that you can cook the tortillas on. Kind of like a griddle.

After coming back from the store, I tried my hand at making some tortillas. The dough was pretty simple. The difficult part is pressing them thin enough. The baking powder makes them rise too. I had a few bad ones but finally got a hang of it. This recipe says it makes 24 balls of dough but really it takes two balls together to make one tortilla. I ended up with 12 tortillas.

Note: If you don't have a tortilladora, use a rolling pin to make the tortillas.

Flour Tortillas

4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 TBSP lard
1 1/2 cup water
cooking spray
plastic wrap

In a large bowl mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together. I used a pastry cutter to cut the lard into the flour. You will have little granules. Then add the water. Here's the sticky part. Use one hand to mix the dough. It will be very elastic. Once it's all incorporated, flour your hands and make medium sized balls like meatball shape and place on a baking sheet.

Once made spray you tortilladora with cooking spray and begin pressing out the dough. I had to press down 3-4 times until the dough was thin enough.  It helps if you have one person pressing out the dough and the other manning the stove. Set the heat on the stove to medium and begin browning the tortillas. They cook about 2 minutes per side or until no longer doughy.

Serve warm or place in a tortilla warmer until serving.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Oxtails in Tomato Gravy

I am not a Southerner but I wish I was! Don't worry, I am doing good on my Weight Watchers. I have extra points I can use for days like these. It's snowing here in WI again! This recipe bakes long and slow and sticks to your ribs. Don't know what ox meat tastes like? It tastes just like rib meat. Just like ribs you have to work at the piece a bit to get to the meat. I forgot the carrots this time but you can add them too. In my pack there was two big pieces and a whole bunch of little ones. The little ones are for the kids.

Oxtails and Tomato Gravy

1 pkg of oxtails (ask your butcher)sometimes they are frozen
fresh out of the oven
1 12 oz can tomato sauce
3 cups beef or chicken broth
bay leafs 2-3
hot sauce 10 shakes
salt and pepper
1 tsp oregano
1 cup good red wine
3 potatoes reserved and then cut into 4ths
1 onion reserved for the end with the potatoes
3-6 TBSP olive oil
Note: I wish I had a heavy cast iron baking dish. However I do I have a large stock pot and a casserole dish I use.

Place the olive oil in the large stock pot.Liberally season the pieces of oxtail and brown on all sides. Remove the oxtails and in the same pot place the tomato sauce, broth, and wine. Bring to a boil and add the oxtails back in or pour the sauce over the oxtails in the casserole. Cover with a heavy oven proof lid or tin foil. Bake for 2-3 hours. (2 should be fine) Carefully place the meat and sauce back into the stock pot along with the onion and potatoes.Here you could add carrot too. Boil for 15 minutes. Serve over rice with the sauce.