Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

To all those who have served, are serving, or will serve in the future: Thank you.


Happy Memorial Day. Please be safe.

*image credit danzfamily.com

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

OAM(W)C

Before I met MM, I was on a very strict budget. Being a single mom with two kids to raise and a not-so-great paying job (when you consider the cost of living in CA, I mean), I really had to watch what I spent. I especially kept a very close eye on my grocery budget. Besides books, food is my weakness. Fresh ingredients, impulse buys at the grocery store, etc. I did all my grocery shopping online and had them delivered (my local market offered the service and the delivery fee ($5) was way less than I would have spent on impulse buys) and had a set meal plan.

I cooked Monday-Friday, we had leftovers on Saturday and we ate out on Sundays. Every week, without exception. I also used to do weekly menu planning. On Sunday's I'd sit down and figure out what I was going to make every night for the entire week. It made grocery shopping a lot easier and dinner go a lot faster - none of that standing around at 7:00, wondering what the hell to make for dinner. Especially since I was a single mom with a full time job and two active kids. Have you ever tried figuring out a dinner plan when you work until 5, have baseball and ballet until 7 and homework to do? It ain't easy, I'll tell you that.

When I met MM, all of that kind of fell by the wayside. I moved to a more rural area, so I couldn't get my groceries delivered anymore. Plus, we spent quite a bit of time at MM's house and didn't really have a consistent schedule anymore.

Since MM and I moved in together, my grocery budget has greatly increased. But so has my impulse buying. Instead of making a grocery budget and strictly keeping to it, I've been running to the store for "one or two things" and coming home with $60-$100 worth of stuff. About every other day. I've also been scrambling, looking for something quick to fix at 7 p.m. because I have no clear plan in mind. 90% of the time the meat I want to use is frozen, or I'm missing one key ingredient - which starts the vicious cycle of running to the grocery store for 1 item and coming home with a shopping cart full.

Last week I decided it's time to get back on track. I need to stop the impulse buying and get more organized. Not only will it save me a ton of money in the end, but I won't be scrambling around for dinner ideas when bedtime rolls around.

I'm starting with a weekly menu. Sunday is family night, and we alternate who gets to pick dinner and an activity, so that'll be my free day. Otherwise, I plan to cook Mon-Sat.  I have Jazzercise on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday until 6:45, so I need to make sure I have fast, easy meals planned for those days or make something in the crock-pot. I like planning big meals on the weekend, so I'll probably do more complicated/longer recipes on Saturdays. Here's my menu for this week:

Monday - Chicken and Dumplings
Tuesday  - Linguine Carbonara
Wednesday - Chicken with Orange Pineapple Juice and white rice
Thursday - Chili
Friday - Steak w/ Maitre D'Hotel butter and twice baked potatoes
Saturday - Lasagna
Sunday - The Girl's choice

While I'm excited to get more organized in the kitchen, I hope to eventually start doing more Once A Month (Week) Cooking. The idea behind OAM(W)C is to set aside one - or two - days a month and spend them making as many make-ahead meals as possible. For example, on Saturday I might make 10 main courses instead of one. Then you freeze them, and have every meal already made for the entire week and/or month.

I used to do this years and years ago, when I was married to the RB. Not only is it a major times aver if you and your family have busy schedules during the week, but it's a major budget saver, too. I figure I'll start with the menu planning for now and work my way up to OAMC, though I'll probably start making an extra meal here and there now, just so I have them in case.

What about you? Do you do any planning in the kitchen? Or are you a seat-of-the-pants cook?

I remember going to friend's house during grade/high school. His mom had a set meal for every night of the week that never changed. I can't remember what it was every night, but Wednesdays were Taco Night and Fridays were Spaghetti Night. Every week, all the way through high school, my friend made sure to be home on Wed and Fri nights, because those were his favorite.

I think I'd get bored making (and eating) the same 7 meals week in and week out, but I kind of like the basic premise.

PS. If you want to start planning your meals ahead or doing OAMC, but don't know where to start, there are some great resources online. Sites like Recipezaar, Betty Crocker, Kraft, and Cooks offer Menus, OAMC suggestions and a ton of make-ahead recipes. And Once A Month Cooking World has all everything you need to get started all in one place.


*image credit SugarMama Baking Co

Monday, May 17, 2010

Emergency Pesto

I cook dinner almost every night. While I love to cook - and love experimenting with new recipes - there are times where I feel totally uninspired in the kitchen, or when I'm pressed for time. My go-to quick and easy dish is pasta. It's simple, nutritious and tastes great. It's also very versatile. We could have pasta 7 nights a week and never eat the same meal twice.

Something I like to keep on hand for emergencies is Pesto sauce. Pesto sauce is made from a combination of fresh basil (it's important that you use fresh), olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan cheese. It's super easy to make and stores great in the fridge (it's also super easy to freeze). If you aren't up to making your own you can also buy it in the refrigerated section of your supermarket. I recommend the Buitoni brand .

Pesto is very versatile. The other night I made Pesto-crusted pork loin with garlic mashed potatoes. Last week I made sun-dried tomato and artichoke angel hair pasta with sun-dried tomato pesto sauce. Sometimes I crumble Italian sausage, toss in some zuccini, squash, onions and bell peppers, coat it with Pesto and serve it with farfalle (bow-tie pasta). I even use it to season steaks and as a pizza sauce. You can do pretty much anything with it.

It has really saved me on many occasions, especially recently when I decided to try a new lemon-garlic shrimp recipe. I can't remember where, but a few months ago I found an amazing light recipe for shrimp pasta with a lemon garlic-butter sauce. This recipe was seriously amazing. MM had to work late (and doesn't eat shrimp) so I made a half portion instead of a full one, figuring the kids and I wouldn't eat as much with MM gone. That was a mistake. The sauce was so good I ended up having to cook a second batch.  Unfortunately I didn't save the recipe. A few months later I wanted to make it again, but alas, I couldn't find it anywhere. I remembered most of the key ingredients, but I had modified it and knew I was missing something.

I ended up finding another lemon butter sauce and decided to try it (not a scampi sauce, but close). This was after I'd spent an hour in the kitchen trying to recreate the original and tossing out at least 3 batches because they were terrible. It was starting to get late, so I knew this last recipe was going to have to be it. Only it turned out awful. I don't know if I did something wrong (believe it or not I actually followed the recipe exactly, because I was out of time) or if it was just gross on its own, but OMG....

It had a terrible after taste and the consistency was like slightly undercooked pudding. Slightly undercooked, warm pudding. I decided it was inedible. But now I was left with a mess of a sauce (and because I was determined that we were going to eat it no matter what, I'd added the shrimp) and no dinner. Luckily I had a jar of Pesto sauce in the fridge. I scooped up the shrimp, added it to the pasta and tossed it with the Pesto. Some of the lemon sauce transferred over, but it actually enhanced the flavor in that small amount. After 2 hours of disasters, I had dinner on the table in 5 minutes. Ever since, I've kept an "emergency" jar of Pesto in the fridge.

Here's a recipe in case you're interested in making your own emergency jar.

Ingredients
Compose
3 cloves garlic
2 cups fresh basil leaves (you MUST use fresh basil. Dried basil will completely change the flavor profile of the sauce)
3 tablespoons pine nuts (pignolia) - toasted
1 dash salt and pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese grated

Prep

Peel and chop the garlic. Then wash, dry and remove the stems of the basil leaves. Toast the pine nuts by heating them in a non-stick skilled until they're browned on both sides - approx 3 mins on each side on med heat.

Instructions

The traditional way of making pesto is with a mortar and pestle. I, however, have never made it this way. Instead I put all the ingredients in the blender or, more recently, food processor. If you want to do it the traditional way I say more power to you. I'm sure you can google how to do it. If, like me, you want to save yourself some time and trouble, read on.

Place the garlic in the food processor and mince. Then add the basil leaves, pine nuts and salt and pepper. Pulse a few times then scrape down the sides so all the ingredients are at the bottom of the bowl. Turn on the food processor and while it's running drizzle the olive oil through the feed tube until all ingredients are pureed. You may need to scrape the sides down again during this process.

Once the mixture is pureed, gently stir in the Parmesan cheese by hand until fully mixed. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 10 days (though I'd check it after 5 just to be sure since all the ingredients are fresh).

Enjoy!

*image credit Good Housekeeping



Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Puppy Love(?)

My sister-in-law breeds labs and she just sent me pictures of the latest litter. This time she used a new dog to breed (her stud was too old) and she ended up with some yellow labs (usually she just has black). Even though I have 3 black labs at home I'm OH-SO-TEMPTED by the yellow ones. Look how freaking cute!


I just want to go bring them home! My SIL sends me pictures because I refuse to go out there and see them in person. I don't trust myself not to bring one home. Of course I'd never really consider getting another dog, especially not a puppy. The three I already have take all my time and attention.

For some reason The Fat Dog who is no longer fat has developed a serious attitude/behavioral problem. He's been really aggressive the last few months, attacking other dogs (not ours, but stranger dogs), getting into the trash and taking food off the table/counters, not listening, etc. There has to be a reason he's started acting this way, but damned if I can figure out what it is. I can't figure out how to correct the problem, either. It's driving me insane. Then he gets the other two riled up and involved in his schemes.



Of course just when I'm read to send the lot of them to the pound and start over with one of those adorable yellow labs, they do something adorable and my heart totally melts. I'm such a sucker.



Lately Bella's trick has been to run to the back door and bark like she has to go out. But really it's just a ploy to get me to let the boys in so she can play with them. As soon as I open the door she runs to the middle of the living room and takes up a battle stance, then play-attacks them as they run in.




A couple weeks ago MM and I took the dogs out to play and Chewy (the Fat Dog who is no longer Fat) got tired of playing fetch, so he kept retrieving the floaty toy and putting it by our chairs instead of bringing it back to MM. Then Buddy would run over and snatch it and bring it to me and Chewy would just stare for a few seconds before repeating it. So freaking funny.

Right now Buddy is sleeping under the dining room table, dreaming some doggy dream, growling and running in place.

My purpose in posting this is twofold. 1) to remind me why I don't want another dog. Ever. and 2) to remind me why I love the ones I have and don't want to send them to the pound. (the fact that I get to post cute pictures is just a bonus)

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