Cheap Eats Recipe #1: Roast Chicken

I’ve been using this method for preparing cheap, roasted whole chicken for the past few months. I vary the seasonings depending on my mood that day, but I *always* brine the chicken ahead of time. It really makes a difference in whether your protein-packed clucker tastes more like a gourmet restaurant entree or a flavorless failure.

  1. BRINE the raw chicken (3.5-5 lbs) in a solution of 1/4 c. salt dissolved in enough cold tap water to cover the bird in a covered container. I usually just do this in a pot with lid. Place in the refrigerator and allow to soak for 3-8 hours.

    (If I’m feeling really lazy, I’ll do this first thing in the morning and tell my husband to throw the bird in the oven when he gets home at 5 PM.)

  2. DRAIN the brining solution away.
  3. PREHEAT your oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. RUB your choice of seasonings over the entire surface of the chicken’s skin. Lemon pepper, salt & pepper, chives, rosemary, cilantro, garlic & red pepper, and commercial steak seasoning are all good choices. Pry up the skin over the breast and work some seasonings in there as well.
  5. PLACE the chicken in a roasting pan or baking dish and bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes per pound.

Voila! Oven-roasted, superbly-seasoned chicken that will rival anything you can order at a restaurant…all for under $1.00/pound.

New Rules of Lifting for Women Diet Calculator and Workout Logs

Because some of you asked for it (and I was making this for myself anyway after noticing what a major pain in the butt it was last week to hand transcribe all of the Stage 2 workouts from The New Rules of Lifting for Women book to the blank photocopied workout log sheet), I present to you my brand new New Rules of Lifting for Women Diet Calculator and Workout Log spreadsheet for Microsoft Excel, Google Docs, and/or OpenOffice!

This spreadsheet includes a nutrition calculator based on the NROLFW nutrition plan by Cassandra Forsythe. Enter your age, weight, and height, and it will calculate your body mass index, resting metabolic rate, NROLFW activity multipliers, and the NROLFW suggested calories and macronutrient targets for both maintenance and fat loss at a deficit of 300 calories per day.

Also included are printable workout log sheets for all seven stages of workouts in NROLFW with exercises, page number references, sets, reps, and rest intervals already pre-populated for your convenience. I’ve also included tables to log your interval cardio sessions and bodyweight matrix workouts in the appropriate stages.

Save yourself a lot of tedious pen and paper calculations and confusing blank workout log filling and just download and print my spreadsheet instead.

Hey, you might as well take advantage of my OCD tendencies, right?


It’s come to my attention that one of the authors of the book has objected to the posting of the full NROLFW workout logs in the past since the workouts are one of the main reasons to purchase the book. Because of this, I have moved the spreadsheet to a password-protected directory on my server that will allow access only to folks who own the book and can look up the following in their copy of New Rules of Lifting for Women:

  • User Name: Fourth word in paragraph two of the “A Decent Interval” section on page 26
  • Password: Seventh word in paragraph three on page 121

Download: New Rules of Lifting for Women Diet Calculator and Workout Logs

A final note: Bear in mind that attempting to perform the NROLFW workouts in these log sheets without the actual exercise descriptions from the book which include photos, proper form, and tempo information could result in sub-optimal results and/or actual injury.

Buy the book, ladies! It’s only $17.13 from, and it’s WELL WORTH IT.

NROLFW Stage 2, D2 Log: Food and Workout Geekery

This weekend was pretty productive for me. I did a LOT of cooking Saturday and Sunday, trying out two new recipes and one new vegetable and generally bulk-cooking about five days’ worth of food. I had a sort of epiphany while watching Top Chef last week: Why the hell am I wasting my time watching OTHER people cook on TV when I could be making all kinds of mouth-watering food for myself in the same amount of time?

So I pulled out the Wei-Chuan Taiwanese cuisine cookbook I’ve owned for over three years (and from which I had yet to make a single entree), my Weight Watcher’s Take-Out Tonight, and a steamed bread recipe from the Internet and got to work using ingredients I had on hand from last week’s grocery run.

I made:
– Honey-glazed pork (first recipe tried from my Taiwanese cookbook)
– Chinese BBQ roast pork
– Stir-fried garlic turnip greens
– Stir-fried string beans and carrots
– Kashi 7-grain pilaf
– Red pepper and garlic roast chicken
– Chinese steamed buns filled with red bean paste and gemma protein (PWO-compliant recipe modification!)

The steamed buns were time-consuming, but OMG…they are so worth it. WAY better than a PWO shake or processed protein bar from the store. DH and two co-workers all loved them. I’ve wanted to try this since I received my gemma protein order a few months ago, and it is great to see that my initial reaction to the stuff (“Hmm…tastes like a sweetened Chinese bean paste dessert…”) was right.

Anyway, I am on a mission to try one new recipe each week for the rest of the year. I’ve gotten into a good groove with food prep now, brining, seasoning, and roasting one 4 lb chicken every weekend for easy protein (salads, quesadillas, basic protein portion, pita pizzas, etc.) and making two other protein entrees to round out the remaining 2-3 lbs of protein DH and I go through for lunches and dinners the rest of the week. Since whole chicken is still one of the cheapest meats available per pound, this gives us a good baseline for the week while providing the opportunity to spend just a little more on the other protein types besides chicken. (I still go for what’s on sale, though, and decide what to cook based on that.)

Our grocery bill has gone up noticeably over the past year from an average of $45 or so for two of us per week to $60-$65 now, and honestly, I buy almost exactly the stuff every week, very little of it processed or packaged – fresh produce, WW pita bread, around 5-7 lbs of lean meat, 36-54 large eggs, cheese, soy milk, 0.5 lb roast beef, 2 cans of cat food, 2 bottles of juice for DH, one box of cereal, raisins, oats, salsa, and condiments and cooking staples as they are used up.

Besides geeking out over food, I also got nerdy with some spreadsheets this weekend. I start NROLFW Stage 2 this week, and as I mentioned earlier, I went ahead and made an Excel spreadsheet with logs for all of the workouts for the entire book plus a new diet calculator based on the nutrition chapters. The blank workout log that you have to fill out by hand was just not working for me, and I also wanted to come up with an easier way to calculate caloric needs for maintenance and fat loss than slogging through the book’s tables and equations by hand.

I’m going to work on a version of the spreadsheet for the original NROL book this week for the 12-week workout-a-long at my office that I am trying to start up. The last challenge was fun (especially since my team won), but a lot of the other guys just gave up and fell off the wagon because they didn’t have a real plan to follow. This time around, it will be non-competitive, and everyone will be using either the free TT bodyweight program or NROL for 3 months.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches (Crock Pot)

I use this easy, lean pulled pork recipe from Oxygen at least once a month and plan to bring it to all of the cook outs I attend this summer so I’ll have a healthy option that won’t scare away the “normals” at the party. Since it’s slow cooked in a crock pot, you can even prepare it in the evening before bed or in the morning before work, let it cook for 8 hours on low, and wake up or come home to piping hot, freshly-cooked barbecue nirvana.

Pulled pork…. **drool***


Pulled Pork Sandwiches (Crock Pot)
(From the December 2007 issue of Oxygen Magazine, p. 161)

* Ready in 8 hours and 30 minutes *
* Makes 6 servings *

* 2 tsp. barbecue spice seasonings
* 1 lb lean pork tenderloin
* 2 tsp canola oil
* 1 small onion, halved and sliced
* 1/2 cup canned nonfat chicken broth, reduced sodium
* 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
* 1/2 cup commercial Kansas City-style barbecue sauce
* Salt and pepper to season
* 6 whole grain rolls

1. Rub barbecue spice over meat.

2. Over medium-high heat, heat 1 tsp oil in a fry pan. Brown meat on all sides for about 2 minutes per side and place in slow cooker.

3. Pour grease off pan and add remaining oil. Add onions and saute’ until soft, approximately 5 minutes, turning often. Add chicken broth to pan and using wooden spoon, scrape up bits from bottom of pan.

4. Pour broth over pork in the crock pot. Add tomatoes and barbecue sauce over pork. Cook for 8 hours on a low setting.

5. Remove pork from crock. Let cool for several minutes. Using two forks, begin pulling pork apart into shreds. Return shreds of meat to sauce. Stir. Season with salt and pepper if needed.

6. Cut rolls in half and fill with meat mixture.

Calories: 285

Total fat: 7g
– Saturated fat: 1g
– Trans fat: 0g
– Cholesterol: 60mg

Sodium 1190 mg

Total Carbohydrates: 32g
– Fiber: 3g
– Sugars: 13g

Protein: 27g

How much did you spend on your wedding?


As our first wedding anniversary approaches in July and the official summer wedding season kicks off down here in central Florida, I’ve been reflecting back on our wedding last year and looking over the budget spreadsheet to see if there was anything I regretted on it.

Chris and I were married last year for just under $9000 (including the rehearsal dinner, rings, clothing, marriage license, all vendor fees, decorations, and food) for a wedding with around 120 guests. We fully planned on paying for the entire wedding ourselves with a budget of $5000-$7000 and a guest list of around 80 people, but our parents surprised us by contributing lump sum gifts ($5000 from my parents, and $1800 from DH’s parents) for us to use as we chose and by picking up the costs of the cakes ($175 from my parents) and rehearsal dinner (~$800 from DH’s parents). I know that a lot of people would simply add the parental contributions to their original budget and up the total for the wedding to $11800-$13800, but we opted instead to stay as close to our original amount as possible while squeezing in the 40 additional guests that our parents more or less made us invite, LOL. Between the unexpected help from our parents and the monetary gifts received from our guests, our out of pocket cost for the wedding was only $704. We are definitely not one of those couples who will still be paying off the wedding 10 years down the road.

Since I have more of a frugal male geek’s attitude toward most things, including weddings, I would have been perfectly happy with a rented dress (bridal gown rentals are pretty popular in my birth country of Taiwan–my mother wore a rental on her wedding day) for myself, origami flowers, 30 guests from my side, a reception dinner held at my favorite Asian fusion buffet at $16.99/person, and a DJ that could also provide karaoke services. Alas, DH is apparently more romantic and traditional about this sort of thing than I am, and I ended up buying a dress after all ($99 David’s Bridal clearance with free minor alterations from my younger sister; it pays to be a stock size 6), paying for flowers (I almost threw up when I placed the order at the florist 2 weeks before the ceremony–I will NEVER spend that much on plant material that I can’t plant in the ground and eat later again), extra required guests, and a reception and ceremony at our local country club that was $25 per guest plus beer, wine, and appetizers.

Well, at least I did get my karaoke DJ. 😛

Centerpieces and favors

We did a lot of things ourselves and shopped around for the best bargains on venue (a friend of the family was a member of the country club and got us the $25 per guest rate; the regular price was $30 per guest), favors, decorations, jewelry, and apparel. We used friends for photography and videography, designed and printed our own invitations, ordered many supplies online with coupon codes and free shipping, ordered half a dozen delicious, regular-sized cakes in different flavors from the local Asian bakery and Publix grocery store instead of paying hundreds for an overpriced tower of dry cake coated with fondant, and generally tried to make things nice without paying inflated wedding industry prices.

The only thing I’d change if I could do it all again is to allot some time to learn how to do flower arrangements myself. And maybe to have the wait staff set aside some of those yummy cakes for us. The desserts must have been great, because there was absolutely none left by the time Chris and I finished talking to all of the tables and had a chance to look for some, LOL.

I plan to do what my parents did and contribute a lump sum amount of around $5000 (adjusted for inflation) to the weddings of any children DH and I may have, but we won’t be paying for a $20k extravaganza even if we have a daughter and our finances allow for it. I like the idea of letting the kids know early that they need to foot most of the bill for the extras in their lives and at least half of the bill for grown up things like college and weddings as well. If we do have more to give beyond $5000, we would prefer to earmark that as a gift to help the couple get a start on a downpayment on their home.

Oh, and I will teach myself how to do flowers WAY ahead of time so I can handle that portion of the wedding for my kids and spare them the nauseating “OMG, I just squandered $823 on flowers that will die in 3 days. ARGH!” feeling that I had last July! I may even take up cake decorating.


How much did you pay for your wedding, and is there anything you regret purchasing for it? Did you receive any help from your family and/or friends (monetary or service)? Do you plan on helping your children out with their wedding expenses?

$9.99 Champion Shape Sports Bra

UPDATE: As of 12:30 PM Friday, 5/2/08, size 34B in black AND white are back in stock on the site!

Okay ladies, I thought that the $19.99 Champion sports bra sale last month was a good deal, but oh my…this one is even better! has my favorite
Sport Shape t-back bra
icon on clearance for $9.99. These are the high motion control rated sports bras with the wicking fabric and shaped seam design that won’t squash you flat like most compression bras. They normally run $33 or so retail.


The sizes are a bit limited if you are lacking in the cup department, but when I checked, 34C and 36B were still in stock. Alas, no 34A/34B for yours truly, though the back-order notice said that they would be back in stock around May 19. I was also kind of bummed that the cute light blue color shown in the pictures was not available in the lower size ranges, but hey, the black and white options that ARE offered are perfectly serviceable, too.

And to make the deal even better, here are some non-stackable coupon codes you can use:

15% off entire order (Expires 5/2/08): 611080
Free shipping on orders $60 and up (Expires 5/2/08): 611081
$3 flat rate shipping (Expires 5/2/08): 611082

10% off $50+, 15% off $75+, or 20% off $100+ (Expires 7/31/08): 470802
Free shipping (Expiration unknown, but still good 5/11/08): 608910

Good luck! I hope some of you get in on this deal.

I’m going to go back to my corner now and sulk about the shortage of sizes for rack-deficient chicas like me.

Total Money Makeover Update: April 2008

It’s been four months since Chris and I began our slightly modified Total Money Makeover plan, and despite our lack of what author Dave Ramsey dubs “gazelle intensity,” we’ve made some decent progress toward eliminating out non-mortgage debt. If you count the $4200 home equity line of credit we knocked out from September 2007-January 2008 for our new air conditioner, we have paid off $17,830 in non-primary mortgage debt so far.

I say that we aren’t gazelle intense because we haven’t done most of the things that Ramsey’s less fortunate listeners often have to do in order to dig themselves out of debt:

– Work a second or third part-time job
– Sell off leveraged big ticket items
– Cut off ALL entertainment and travel
– Eat a lot of rice and beans

Because our debt was largely comprised of low-interest rate student, auto, and home loans, not credit card balances, and we are fortunate enough to have a dual income household that brings in enough to cover basic living expenses, retirement funding, a reasonable amount of entertainment spending, and debt payments on those loans without ever being at risk of falling behind, we have been able to throw a lot of money at our debt snowball without changing our lifestyle very much. Granted, I have had tightwad impulses since early childhood, and Chris has been pretty responsible with his finances since an ex-girlfriend set him straight years ago, so you could say that the only thing holding us back from paying my car and his student loan off early was complacency. It was easy to just keep on making those minimum payments according to the bank’s schedule, especially since we were doing all the right things in terms of retirement savings and budgeting.

We also had no big ticket toys like boats or over-priced new cars to sell off, but we’ve done pretty well just by doing the following:

– Temporarily reduced retirement savings to just 4% of our gross income (down from 15% for Chris and 20% for me)
– Cut back on movie theater outings and used the 12 free Blockbuster rental coupons I earned via e-Rewards instead
– Cut back on dining out
– Chris started making his own sandwiches for lunch at least 2-3 days per week and brews his own coffee at home instead of buying some on the road
– Reduced untracked spending on hobbies, clothing, electronics, games, and other non-essentials.
– Put any bonus income (tax refunds, sales commissions, mileage bonuses, gifts, etc.) toward the snowball

Here’s where we failed to be gazelles: Some of the extra things that we did spend on probably could save us several months on the debt snowball, but we made the choice to budget for these items and deal with the extra 2 months it would cost us.

– Chris built a new desktop computer system with $1200 from our 2007 tax refund.
– I set aside $800 for the Pink Dumbbells/John Stone Fitness Bahamas cruise in August.
– I threw in $400 for a new mattress and box spring set in February. (The old mattress was sagging badly and made my back hurt every day. I consider this preventive health care. Chris’s mother threw in another $300 toward this as a gift.)
– Chris paid for the roundtrip airfare for us to visit his father in Alabama (~$400) and for his friends’ out of town wedding in June (another $400).
– Chris spent $350 or so on the materials needed to re-pave our small walled courtyard.

Reducing our retirement contributions for 2008 has probably made the biggest difference in our progress, followed by our unspoken agreement to control impulse spending on both lattes and gazingus pins. Although we both budget around $50/month for fun money, neither of us has spent much of our allowances. We’ve decided to really take advantage of the forgotten entertainment and hobby materials we have on hand instead of accumulating more. Chris has been geeking out with D&D and cards (World of Warcraft collectible card game, not poker) at his friends’ houses instead of going out and spending money on movies and dining out. I’ve been outfitting myself and Chris with home-sewn clothes made strictly from my existing stash of fabric, patterns, notions, and oversized free t-shirts. We both check out books and audio books from the library instead of purchasing them from

I haven’t bought a Wii yet, and Chris hasn’t acquired a new car stereo system. No new fitness gear has appeared in the house since I the Cardio Coach New Year’s deal in January.

And you know what? We haven’t been bored at all.

$31,782 more until financial freedom!

Baby Step
1. $1000 to start emergency fund
Contributed a combination of wedding gift money, personal savings, and bonus commissions to a shared savings account earning 3.75% APY
2. Pay off all debt (except the home) using a Debt Snowball
2008 Debt Snowball

2009 Debt Snowball
  • Maggie Visa
Made two $300 payments to clear the balance, then retired card to safe.
  • Discover (Leftover wedding expenses)
Paid balance in full in January 2008; card still actively used for gasoline ONLY. Balance paid in full each month going forward.
  • Chris Visa
Paid balance in full in January 2008. Card retired to safe.
  • Amex (travel, Ikea couches…)
Paid statement balance in full in January 2008. Card still actively used for recurring utility bills, but will be paid in full each month going forward.
  • HELOC (new A/C in 6/07)
Chris and I both cut off federal income tax withholding from 9/07 – 12/07 after calculating that we were both overpaying. The excess money in our paychecks was used to make aggressive $1000 payments on the HELOC every month.
  • Maggie Car Loan
Remaining amount: $559. Paid extra $1500 from 2007 tax refund and $500 from personal checking account on 4/17/08. Paying one more payment of $559 in May 2008. I already made a large extra payment of $1500 on the car soon after the initial purchase.
  • Chris Student Loan
Remaining amount: $6550. Chris was able to contribute an additional $2100 on top of his originally-budgeted payments these past few months, which might allow us to pay off the student loan a month earlier depending on when we receive our economic stimulus check for $1200. Combined payments of $1970-$2420/month until the loan is paid off around 6/2008; under the original loan terms and payments of only $220/month, it would be another 5 years before we would be clear!
  • 2nd Mortgage
Putting this one on hold until after the $10,000 emergency savings account and 2008 Roth IRAs are fully funded. Regular minimum payments of $205 through 1/2009, then payments of $2006 from 2/2009 until 2/2010
3. 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings
3 deposits of $2774/month and one deposit of $820
4. Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement accounts
of gross income
2/1/09 (ongoing)
Fully retroactively fund both household Roth IRAs for 2008 at $5000/each from 10/08-1/09. Reinstate monthly Roth IRA contributions for 2009 @ $454.55/month each from 2/2009-12/2009. Increase 401(k) contribution to 5% (currently at 4%). Regular monthly Roth contributions of $466.66 each starting 1/2010.
5. College funding for children
…Er…No kids yet. Need to see if an education savings account can be started without actual offspring.
6. Pay off home early
Research refinance into 15 year fixed rate mortgage and/or set up extra principal only payments of $1400/month to pay off home within 6 years.
7. Build wealth by investing
TBD Commercials

eHarmony has kindly given me permission to post two of the commercials now airing in Canada. Chris and I were filmed in Philadelphia this past December for a few of the shots along with two other awesome couples.

Don’t blink, or you might miss me and Chris in our little happy couple cameos!

(And just so you know, our teeth were chattering like crazy during the slow-mo shot on the doorstep.)