A Valentine’s Day Feast in Charlotte

My husband and I had a much needed date night this Valentine’s Day after weeks of recovery from surgery. We had planned to go to a restaurant in Dilworth, but when we called to make reservations they told us they would only be offering a set menu with a fixed price. So, we decided to try a restaurant that we had never been to before. A few of our friends told us about Zio, a casual Italian restaurant off of Queens road, so we thought we would try it out. They don’t except reservations so we arrived early just in case. The only negative thing I have to say about this restaurant is the parking. We witnessed two minor fender benders just in the parking lot!

Once we got inside, we only had to wait 10-15 minutes to be seated. Not bad for Valentine’s Day and not having reservations! Our waiter was prompt and was very knowledgeable about the wine list. The wine was moderately priced with a variety of whites and reds. I went with a buttery Chardonnay while my husband chose a dry, earthy red. And that’s all I know about wine.

Once we had our drinks we looked over the menu. I had done a little research to find out what other people ordered and loved. The Beef Spiedies (pronounced speedies) came highly recommended, so we ordered them for an appetizer. But before they arrived, our waiter brought us a basket of warm, home-made bread with olive oil for dipping. Oh my! I could have filled up on bread alone. I’m sure it was very unromantic of me to scarf down the complimentary bread, but this girl loves carbs! Especially, if they are home-made. Okay, enough about the bread. The Beef Spiedies lived up to the hype. They are bite-size pieces of steak, cooked to medium, and put on skewers. The steak marinade was excellent, although a bit vinegary.

For the main course, we both chose the grilled pizzas. I ordered the grilled pear and Gorgonzola pizza with arugula and smoked bacon. My husband chose the grilled pizza with sweet Italian sausage and roasted red pepper. Both pizzas had thin crispy crusts that held up to the plentiful toppings. I would have never thought to put pear on a pizza, but it was delicious! The soft, sweet pear perfectly paired with the smoky bacon and peppery greens. The Italian sausage and red peppers were also  delicious, albeit  more traditional toppings. We each had half a pizza leftover!

After debating if our stomachs could hold it, we ordered the Tiramisu. It came in a glass sundae dish and was perfect for splitting! The custard mixture on top was very sweet, but still creamy and rich. The strong espresso and chocolate took the edge off the sweetness, making for a delicious end to an outstanding, affordable Italian feast!

Total, with tip, we paid just under 60 dollars and had almost a whole pizza leftover! We will definitely be visiting Zio again!


The Southern Bee


Tip of the Day: Save on dough!

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I love a good pizza. A soft, chewy crust topped with a slightly spicy tomato sauce, covered with melted cheese and a number of delicious toppings is my kind of pie. However, ordering a large pie from a pizza chain can cost $10 or more. Don’t get me wrong, I order delivery pizza every now and then, but most of the time I make my own. A pre-made pizza crust can be a huge time saver during the week. I’ve tried the pizza crust in a can from the refrigerated section, but I think it tastes more like a biscuit than pizza crust. So, I have turned to the deli for my dough. I can buy a dough ball (white or wheat) for about $2.50. When it goes on sale I can usually get it for $1! How’s that for saving some dough?? Corny jokes aside, this is a great way to cut costs and still make something your family will like to eat. You can save more by making your own pizza sauce instead of buying the jarred pasta sauce. Now, all you need are the cheeses and toppings! Oh, and one more plus to making your own pie–you get a great arm workout rolling out the dough! I’m making one tonight!

Working out in the kitchen,

The Southern Bee

P.S. To avoid a sticky situation when rolling out the dough, use a good bit of flour on your work surface and rolling pin. I also sprinkle cornmeal on my pizza stone before baking the pizza.

Meal Planning 101: How I learned to plan, shop, and save

I had to learn how to really stick to a budget while I was in college. That meant I couldn’t go out to eat whenever I wanted, so I learned to cook. But learning to cook also meant learning how to shop and plan for what I was going to eat for the week. However, I soon learned shopping on a budget was not as easy  as I thought. The tips below are things I’ve learned over the last few years that help me save money and time. I wish I could go back and give this list to my college self, but since I can’t do that, I am giving it to you!

Find a grocery store…

1. Pick a grocery store based on location, quality of service/food, and how good their sales are.

I loved Publix while I was in college, but there is not a Publix in Charlotte. So, I started shopping at Harris Teeter because it was close to me. Harris Teeter, like Publix, puts items use regularly on sale. Plus, Harris Teeter will double any coupons less than $1. Location is important because you don’t want to have to drive 20 minutes each week to get to the store. It saves time and gas money if it’s close.

2. Once you pick a store, find out when their sales ad begins and ends each week.

I schedule my meal planning and shopping around this.

3. Sign up for their online rewards program if they have one as well as their normal rewards program.
Harris Teeter gives you extra discounts with their online e-Vic program. For example, this week you can get a dozen eggs for $1.37 (regular price: $1.89) if you have a VIC card. But if you are an e-Vic member too you get a dozen eggs for $ 0.97! You also get access to online store coupons that you can use on top of regular coupons. I know Bi-Lo has a similar system.

4. Buy a Sunday paper.
This is where the most of my savings come from. There are usually coupon ads from SmartSource, RedPlum, or P&G in the paper each week. I am planning on subscribing to the Sunday paper to make it less expensive.

5. Use a coupon website to help you match sale items with available coupons.
I love SouthernSavers.com! She does coupon match-ups to almost every grocery store! This is really helpful and saves a lot of time. If you aren’t familiar with the site she has a tutorial that teaches you how to coupon and save!

Now for the actually meal planning….

1. Cook on sale

I look through the store sales ad and Southern Savers ad to see what is on sale each week. Then I plan my menu around sale items.  I look for sales on items that are the most expensive or items that I use a lot. Also, know what you (& your significant other or family) like to eat! This will keep you from wasting food and will narrow down recipe ideas.


  • Meat is expensive so I plan meals based on what meat is on sale.
  • Once I have my proteins/meats picked out I find recipes that include that meat and have minimal or staple ingredients.
  • Then I look at the produce and grocery items that are on sale. For example, if chicken breasts and brown rice are both on sale I will try to find a recipe that includes both of them and has minimal ingredients. I usually try to make sure 3-4 ingredients in a recipe are on sale to cut costs.
  • Once you have a main dish planned, look for simple side dishes. This can be a vegetable, pasta, rice or whatever you think would go well with a main dish. I usually go for the produce that is on sale ( I bought broccoli this week and plan to roast it). Frozen vegetables are good choices too and they usually go on sale pretty often. Rice is pretty inexpensive so I try to incorporate that into weekly meal plans.


  • Once you plan your dinner meals think about lunches . We normally take sandwiches (can’t go wrong with PB&J) or leftovers for lunch. Look for items like bread, deli meat, and condiments on sale because this will help you keep down costs. If you are cooking for yourself or one other person dinner leftovers are a great idea for lunch. Sometimes I cook extra so we will already have lunch made!


  • For breakfast: oatmeal, cereal, or english muffins are our main choices. I stock up when these items go on sale because we eat them so much. All of these items keep very well in the pantry or freezer so you don’t have to worry about them going bad. My  husband really likes bacon and sausage (who doesn’t?), so I grab these items when they are on sale because they are more expensive. Also, bisquick is very versatile. You can make pancakes with it or use in a dinner dish.


  • These are the last things that make it onto my lists because they aren’t the most important.
  • We eat apples a lot so I normally buy apples that are on sale. Bananas are also inexpensive and make a great snack.
  • Yogurt is another top snack item. I can usually find a brand on sale or find a coupon for it (sometimes both).
  • Popcorn, pretzels, cheese, nuts, etc also make good snacks and they usually go on sale.
  • I usually buy ingredients to make desserts because it is less expensive than buying pre-made ones and you can use the ingredients in other dishes.

Food Staples:

  • These items include: milk, eggs, bread, flour, sugar, oil, grits, oats, canned tomatoes, canned beans, rice, pasta etc. I stock up when staples go on sale because you normally have to pay full price for them.
  • Milk is hard to stock up on but brands like Horizon and Smart Balance last longer. Smart Balance usually puts out coupons so I can get a half gallon for $1-$1.50. A normal half gallon of store brand milk costs 2.60+ and will expire much sooner.
  • At Harris Teeter they usually have one brand of bread for buy 1 get 1 free each week. I use bread every day so if I can get a good price on bread and find a coupon for it, I am one happy girl!

2. Look for items on sale that can be used in multiple dishes.

  • This really helps to cut costs because you reduce the number/variety of ingredients you have to buy. This really helps when you are planning on using fresh produce. Produce expires fairly quickly and is more expensive than shelf stable ingredients.
  • For example: I see that green bell peppers are on sale for $0.69 each and a 3lb bag of onions is on sale for $1.99. I will try to plan out more than one meal that uses both ingredients. Two recipes that come to mind are chili and fajitas. These are both great low cost meals that use green bell peppers and onions. This helps me cut waste and spend less!

Now for the shopping….

1. Stick to your list!

  • Once you plan out a list gather all the coupons to go with it. Take your list and coupons to the store. Now, stick to your list! You will save by not reaching for that extra item that you didn’t plan to buy.
  • I find it helpful to write down the price of an item next to it so I can add up my total before I shop. This helps me stay on budget!

2. Don’t tune-out while you check-out!

  • Sometimes, items don’t ring up at the sale price. By keeping a watchful eye at the register you avoid paying full price.
  • Don’t forget your coupons. I always hand mine to the cashier so I don’t forget them and he/she doesn’t forget to scan them.

3. Make one trip

  • I pick one day out of the week to do my grocery shopping. I know if I go to the store mulitple times a week I will spend more money because I am more likely to buy things I don’t need.
  • Shopping once saves you time.
  • Sometimes I go to two grocery stores if they are both having great sales…but only if the sales are too good to miss!

Now for the cooking…

1. Know your schedule

  • Don’t plan a more complicated meal on a really busy day. On Wednesdays, we have about 1 hour to prep, cook, eat, and clean-up. I plan to make the quickest meal on this day. I usually have extra time on the weekends so this is when I try new recipes or cook ones that require more time.

2. Find recipes that are easy, but equally tasty.

  • This will save you time during the week and ensure food doesn’t go to waste!
  • Have go-to recipes. I keep a little file of recipes that I use multiple times each month. This helps me plan quickly. I also already know the steps and how long each take.

3. Write down comments about the meal after you cook it.

  • This helps me to avoid cooking something again, that we didn’t care for the first time.
  • If you develop a tip or trick while cooking the meal write it down so you can use it next time.
  • Write down if it was good for leftover or froze well.
  • Write down any changes/substitutions you made to the recipe and if it worked well.

I hope you find this helpful. I know meal planning and cooking can seem daunting, but it gets easier the more you do it!

Finding joy in feeding those I love,

The Southern Bee

Meal Planning Day!

I am aware I am about to sound like a total nerd, but here it goes. I love to create weekly meal plans. There I said it. I know that it is a necessary part of family life, but I love it! Getting the weekly deals in my inbox brings a smile to my face because I know meal planning day has arrived.

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For me, meal planning day falls on Wednesday, because that is when the new sales start at Harris Teeter (my favorite grocery store in Charlotte). So, I thought I would share some tips that I use. Weekly Meal Planning Tips:

  • Know what’s in your pantry – this keeps you from spending money on something you already have
  • Keep a list of staples you are running low on. I keep it on my phone for quick access.
  • My biggest money saver:  Shop on sale! I base my weekly plan on sale ingredients and save at least 30%. It helps to know when sales begin and end.
  • Clip coupons! I know it seems like a hassle, but there are some great sites out there that make it easy! I save tons of $$$ by combining coupons with sale items!
  • Check out store coupons. Harris Teeter makes them available online through E-vic. Clipping averted!
  • Keep a file of recipes your family loves so you can access them quickly (I put most of mine on my Google drive).

There can be quite a few challenges to weekly meal planning, but I like a challenge! Here are the three main hurdles I face and my solutions to them:

Challenge #1 : Small sales ad – I am referring to when a grocery store runs a small sales ad that doesn’t include many items you use.

Solution #1 : Get creative! – Put together a list of low cost meals so, when there aren’t great sales you can still save! This is also a great time to try new recipes with the items that are on sale. You may try something you didn’t know you liked!

Challenge #2: Small Budget – I know from experience it can be difficult to shop on a small budget.

Solution #2: Stick to your meal plan! – This is the best way I have found to stay on budget. Create a list of every item you need and how much it costs before making a trip to the store. That way you know exactly how much you are spending and it keeps you from purchasing extra items. Note: Some coupon sites will list the exact sale price of an item or you can look at the sales ad.

Challenge #3: Time! I admit meal planning takes time, but it saves time too!

Solution #3: Make time to plan! I make my plan on Wednesdays because that’s when the sale ad comes out. I look at the sales then go to my recipe file, Pinterest, or cookbooks for ideas.

When I started meal planning as a college student, I was clueless. Now, I am so thankful I learned because I get to make good food without spending a lot of money or time worrying about what’s for dinner. I hope some of these tips and solutions help you. Happy Planning!


The Southern Bee