Saturday, February 28, 2015

March Grocery Challenge

Instead of making New Year's resolutions like everyone else, I seem to always challenge myself in March instead.  Last year I picked several items such as drinking a glass of water every morning and parking in the back of the parking lot at work to do every day for a month.  This year I had already mapped out an exercise and food challenge but then I got a better idea.

Now that I don't have to spend all my spare time studying, I seem to have a lot of extra time. Through February I used most of that time to declutter our house.  When I first mentioned this, Bill and Kayleigh looked at me like I was crazy because they didn't think there was anything left I could get rid of.  But there was!!  I cleaned every room, closet, and drawer upstairs.  The basement still hasn't been touched - maybe next year!  But during this process I realized that we really have a crazy amount of food.

I have two big pantries in the kitchen and 3 other cabinets and a drawer that we keep food in.  We also have the refrigerator/freezer as well as a separate freezer downstairs.  All of these are packed full but somehow that wasn't enough space so I took over the closet in one of the spare bedrooms as well.  Is this really necessary?

So, to help us get through some of this food as well as to save us some money (college is creeping up quicker than we'd like) I came up with the idea of not grocery shopping for a month, kind of.  We are used to eating a lot of fresh vegetables and we each have specific foods we rely on that I didn't want to eliminate.  It was meant to cut back our stash, not make us miserable and unhealthy.  So I decided that we would have a $100 grocery trip to get enough of some items that we use all the time for the month.  We weren't allowed to stock up on random things though.  Although Bill and Kayleigh both readily agreed to this challenge, I didn't feel it was fair to make Kayleigh change her lunches.  Every day she takes the same lunch (warning - it is pictured below and will make all vegans scream in horror - I've learned to just not think about it!).  Plus we can't live without any fresh vegetables for a month.  So each week we can spend up to $20 for her lunch items and 2-3 fresh produce items.  If there is enough money we can also use this for bread items depending on what is planned for the week.

Earlier this week I planned out a month worth of meals and the grocery list for the beginning of the month.  Today we went to Sam's Club, Aldi and Meijer.  Here are our results:

5 bunches of bananas that will be frozen once they ripen for my breakfast smoothie, 2 bags of flour tortillas, 2 2-pound bags of carrots, 1 bag tostada shells, and a 5-pound bag of Cuties.

5 boxes of hard shell taco shells, 4 soy milks, 3 almond milks, lasagna noodles, jumbo pasta shells.

15 pounds of baking potatoes, 10 pounds onions, 5 oz baby arugula, 2 8-oz bags of baby spinach, 1 pound baby spinach, 1 pound kale medley (all greens are frozen for my smoothies), 1 head iceberg lettuce,

2 loaves wheat bread, 2 baguettes, 2 pounds garlic (there were 21 bulbs in there!).

For Bill - granola bars that he eats for breakfast and iceberg salad.

And here is Kayleigh's horror of a lunch:

Brioche buns, yogurt (from a cow) and (yes, that is a deli bag) ham, What can you do?

Those are Kayleigh's favorite buns and they don't always have them so we bought one bag for this week and one bag to freeze.

Our total spent was:

Aldi                 $20.23
Sam's Club      $48.54
Meijer              $35.46

TOTAL           $104.23

Not bad.  If we hadn't got the second bag of buns we would have been good but that is money we will not have to spend another week.  I was hoping Sam's would have big bags of greens but they didn't.  They did have all that garlic, though, that wasn't on my original list.

So we are off to a good start.  We'll see how this goes!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Spice Organization

This is a really simple idea but something that has saved us so much time and frustration.  We use a lot of different spices and I've tried a million different ways to keep them organized.  Ours are in this cabinet in our kitchen:

The problem is that you are looking down at the tops of the lids when you open the cabinet.  That means we had to pick each bottle up and read the name, then put it back until we finally found what we were looking for.

I've tried organizing them by type of spice, size of jar, alphabetically.  The problem was that they always get messed up after a few meals.  A few years ago I brought a different brand of turmeric and were thrilled to see that they printed the name on the top of the lid.  Each of us would often say "why can't they all be like this"?  One day I was again rearranging the spices and decided to just go for it and label the tops of all the lids.  Kayleigh soon came in to help.  When Bill saw what we were doing, his reaction was "That is FANTASTIC"!  I thinking looking for spices was his most hated part of cooking!  We did this over a month ago and it still looks great and is working perfect.

We decided to keep the font large and abbreviate the name so that they were easier to see.  When we run out of a spice, we either switch the lids, if it is the same brand, or move it to the old container.  We could always make a new label but I'm hoping to avoid that when possible.

This is the label machine we have if anyone is interested.  It is really easy to use.  Warning - it will make you want to label everything in your house!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Weekly Meal Plan

In order to simplify things for Bill and Kayleigh, I've tried to pick recipes all from the same book or location each week.  Last week we focused on this book:

Vegan Casseroles: Pasta Bakes, Gratins, Pot Pies, and More

because my mom just bought it and was asking for good recipes to try.  We made quite a few when I first got it a couple months ago but I tried to pick new recipes that we hadn't tried yet.  We repeated Aloo Gobi, however, because Bill really likes that one.  On Sunday, we had the two appetizers along with tacos.  Other than that, all our meals for Monday through Friday are listed below.  I took leftovers every day in my lunch and we all finished everything off between lunch and dinner on Saturday.  So very little waste and no disasters.  Not a bad week!

Unlike past weeks, I actually remembered to take pictures of a few of the meals this time.

One-Dish Appetizers
We had both of these on Superbowl Sunday.  Bill is the only one who actually watched the game but it seemed like a good excuse to make some snacky-kind of things.

Caramelized Onion Dip  - I found beet chips and kale/spinach chips to eat with this.  It was thicker than regular onion dip but good and I ate it all week.

Loaded Nacho Fries - Although the recipe calls for frozen fries, I made my regular baked fries instead.  I took a large portion of this to work on Monday for lunch and it warmed up surprisingly well.  We had tomatoes, jalapenos, green onions, and cilantro as toppers.

Dutch-Oven and Skillet Casseroles
Aloo Gobi - We eat this on brown rice.  Bill really likes it and it works well as leftovers.

Jambalaya - I included this one because it is the recipe that my mom specifically mentioned.  I make my own Cajun spice mix and next time I will use a lot less because it was very, very spicy.  It was good though.  Kayleigh thought it would be better with some beans added in.

Veggie and Dumplings - My hands-down favorite of the week.  Delicious.  A word of warning - as with all recipes that include dumplings, make sure you use a large pot.  My husband picked the wrong one resulting in a big mess.  It still tasted good though!

Old Favorites and New Twists
Bean and Rice Casserole - Good and very easy. It would be really quick to pull together if you had leftover rice.  Kayleigh was very happy that it didn't include onions!

Taco Casserole - Bill wasn't home the night we had this. I really liked it but Kayleigh didn't.  It also warmed up well which surprised me because of the crushed tortilla chips.

Dessert Casseroles
Baked Coconut Rice Pudding - This is not sweet at all but we liked it.  I added mini chocolate chips to my portion because dessert isn't dessert without chocolate!

Sauces, Toppings, and Basics
We used the Nacho Cheesy Sauce on the Loaded Nacho Fries and Taco Casserole.  For the Bean and Rice Casserole, we used the Cheesy Sauce.  We figured out that Kayleigh doesn't care for smoked paprika so next time we'll cut back.

Some other recipes that we didn't have this week but have made in the past and really liked are:

Mediterranean Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Nacho Tots Casserole

I thought maybe I had some older pictures of these from last year when I stopped blogging but I couldn't find anything.

Overall, this is a good cookbook.  It seems a little heavy on nutritional yeast but we don't view that as a negative since we love it!  That's really the only "unusual" kind of ingredient and the recipes are easy to follow and don't take very long.  I've been really happy with how well everything warms up the next day.  That makes lunches so much easier.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Drop Biscuits

Last week we were at my parents and, as usually happens, we started discussing recipes.  Somehow we got on the topic of biscuits and my mom said she couldn't be bothered rolling out and cutting homemade biscuits.  I make homemade rolls, biscuits, scones, muffins and breads on a pretty regular basis and I think, in general, they are a lot easier than some people tend to think.  But to make it even easier (or more likely to prevent me from having to wash more dishes) I have a biscuit recipe that is just as good but doesn't require a rolling pin or biscuit cutter.

These are very basic biscuits.  If you wanted to add a little sweetness, you could easily sprinkle in a little sugar.  We usually leave them as is and add the sweetness in the form of jam after they are baked.

I was reminded today that I never gave my mom the promised recipe so I decided to make them for dinner tonight and post it here for everyone to enjoy.  So enjoy!

Drop Biscuits

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  

Mix the following ingredients in a bowl:
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
pinch of salt

Using a pastry cutter, cut in 1/4 cup shortening until the mixture is crumbly.  Stir in 1 cup soy milk. 

The mixture will be a little gummy.  Drop heaping spoonfuls onto a lightly greased pan.  They don't expand much so they can be somewhat close together.

Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown.  

Makes one dozen biscuits.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Be Nice

I silence my phone at work and I'm terrible about remembering to turn the ringer back on when I get home.  Most of the time I don't even pull it out of my bag.  Ask anyone I work with.  Many times they've sent me a text that I don't see until the next day at work.

Tonight Kayleigh had to work, though, and it is snowing again so I had it sitting next to me on the couch.  It rang and a number came up that I didn't recognize but I decided to answer it.  The man on the phone quickly apologized and said he was trying to call his sister and dialed wrong.  I told him it was OK and to have a nice night.  I was about to hang up when he said, "Can I tell you something?  I really appreciate you being so nice.  I'm having trouble reading with my bad eyes and it is hard for me to dial the phone and I really appreciate you being so friendly."  

After I hung up, I was thinking about how I could have just as easily been irritated and hung up on him when I realized that it was a wrong number but it was just as easy to be understanding.  It didn't cost me anything to say a few nice words and hopefully it made him feel a little better, too.  

So many times, people seem so irritated by the smallest things.  Especially online.  Facebook often almost pushes me over the edge with everyone's neverending complaints.  Seriously people, just be nice.  It isn't hard and I promise it won't hurt you!

And just to help everyone relax, here is a beautiful sunrise (don't let the snow make you mad!)...