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Sunday in the Kitchen February 10, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in cooking, Gluten Free, Groceries, Monthly Challenge.
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I did my monthly grocery shopping yesterday. I’ve decided that’s how I need to think about it — that I grocery shop once a month only. I might make a quick dash into the store to replenish milk or produce, but anything else will wait for my big shopping trip. I was pretty good about sticking to my list. There were a couple things I remembered while I was in the store and one or two impulse buys (a big jar of pickled cauliflower for only a dollar, for one). Mostly I bought a LOT of produce and I’ll be making that the star of my meals for the next couple weeks.

Today I’ve been doing some of the prep work so I actually use the produce. I hate to admit that too often I buy the stuff, then I’m too tired or rushed or let’s face it, just too lazy to prep it and cook it. So today I roasted some beets (will be cut up for salads or as a side dish), sauteed mushrooms (add to salad, and use as a base for soup), enjoyed some fresh guacamole* and will be putting together some jars of salad. My plan is to eat one of these salad jars daily for either lunch or dinner. I’ll also be making a batch of this celery salad with Feta cheese.

Around Thanksgiving I bought a crate of butternut squash and split it with my daughter. I have only a few squashes left and I’ve been experimenting with this recipe for Butternut Fries. I think the picture in the link might be real potato french fries because they look nothing like how mine have turned out. I did a couple batches this past week with the squash cut think like the link shows. As they are baked and not deep-fried, they don’t really crisp up. The thin fries were very floppy. Tasty dipped into a little ranch dressing laced with Frank’s Buffalo Sauce but floppy. I tried again today cutting them about a half-inch thick and was pleased with the results. Still not crispy, but they browned nicely and had enough substance that they weren’t floppy. I don’t see these as an alternative to french fries made from potatoes, but for a healthy snack, they fit the bill. (I didn’t use the non-stick spray on the squash but instead used about a teaspoon or so olive oil.)

Butternut Fries

Guacamole

* Guacamole – Smash an avocado in a bowl, add some chopped tomatoes, diced onion (I prefer red), fresh cilantro and some type of spicy ingredient (I used a spoonful of adobo sauce from a can of chipotle in adobo). Squeeze on juice from half a lime, salt and pepper to taste and enjoy with tortilla chips.

 

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January Challenge – Reporting Out February 2, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Groceries, Monthly Challenge, My No Spendy Year, Shopping.
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At work, when asked to provide information about project results, or statistics for a time period, it’s called “Reporting Out”. As in “Be prepared to Report Out in our meeting.” Or “Will you gather the monthly stats for such-and-such Client so I can Report Out to the Big Boss.” I don’t know if this is a common term in the corporate world (although I guess it might be) because I only have experience at this corporation. The phrase does fill a need and I’ll use it each month to document how successful (or not) I was with each monthly challenge.

My January Challenge limited my grocery purchases to fresh produce and milk. Everything else needed to come from my freezer and cupboards. I am happy to Report Out that the challenge was successful.

I did not intentionally stock up prior to this challenge but the kids had been home for various Holidays and various lengths of time. I bought more food through December than I would have purchased just for myself. And there were those ‘clearance’ meats I found on my last grocery trip of 2012. I didn’t go to the store that day with the intention of filling my freezer as that would have defeated the purpose of the challenge, but that did end up happening. The only non-produce, non-milk purchases I made this month were either from the clearance baskets at Woodman’s or from my Free Spending Money.

Woodman’s is the biggest grocery store close to me. It’s far enough away that I generally need to make a special trip rather than just pop in but I think that’s a good thing (less impulse shopping that way). Prices are generally good (although I can find some things cheaper elsewhere) and I can find just about everything I need. I like the fact that they are employee owned and they get special bonus points for being open 24 hours. It’s nice that I don’t have to think about closing time for those occasional late night trips. They also have a full sized liquor store attached but mentioning that runs the risk of sounding like a lush.

One thing I love about Woodman’s is their clearance baskets. When you walk in the store there is a line of grocery carts with overstock items, out of season, or close to the sell-by date. Sometimes I can find bags of produce as well. I always cruise through and see if there are any treasures. On my one trip in January there were a few boxes of Gluten Free crackers I had not tried before for only $2.00. Gluten Free anything generally starts at about $4.00 and only goes up so this was a great deal and I bought one box each of two different flavors.

My total for that one trip to Woodman’s was $39.68. It wasn’t all produce and GF crackers — my youngest was with me and I know he picked up something (some Lara Bars if I remember correctly) but I don’t count that. I bought a big bag of grapefruit and another of oranges, some apples, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and celery. I also made another trip to the closer store to get a Serrano pepper. So that’s it for grocery spending in January!

Well, almost… like I mentioned earlier, I did spend some of my Free money. One of my weaknesses is tortilla chips. Preferably On The Border brand or the traditional restaurant kind that taste like they were made from cut up tortillas. I did buy two bags of those this month. And when I bought the pepper, I also bought a block of sharp cheddar cheese. Cheese is the one thing I ran out of this month that I really missed. I still think I was successful (but it’s OK if you think I cheated, I won’t hold that against you.)

I still have quite a bit in my freezer and cupboard. I’m going to make one planned trip to the store after my next payday, and then extend this challenge for another month. I’ll go to the store with a list and if something is not on that list I won’t buy it. The only exception will be if I find something in those clearance baskets or on sale for a great price. No other impulse shopping allowed.

I haven’t yet inventoried my cupboards but I pulled everything out of the freezer yesterday to take stock of what was there. My only freezer is the little one attached to the fridge, but as you can see, there is more than enough to feed one person for at least another month. Depending on what I find in my cupboards, I may need to get a little creative but I certainly won’t starve.

  • Tilapia filets – 2
  • Boneless chicken thighs -8
  • Italian sausage links (chicken) – 4
  • Italian sausage (pork, cooked and crumbled, ready for pizza) – 1 serving
  • Ground turkey – 2 lbs
  • Pizza sauce (enough for one pizza) – 2
  • Spaghetti sauce – 1.5 cups
  • Chicken stock (2 cups) – 2
  • Sofrito (used to make Arroz con Gandules)- 1.5 cups
  • Blueberries – 2 cups
  • Bananas – 4-5 bananas, in chunks
  • Mixed fruit – 1.5 or 2 cups
  • Pumpkin, canned (1 cup) – 2
  • Pumpkin, cooked at home (1.5-2 cups) – 1
  • Cranberries – 1 lb
  • Corn – 1 lb
  • Broccoli – .5 lb
  • Green Beans – .25 lb
  • Pound cake slices (homemade, GF) – 6
  • Cinnamon raisin bread, GF – half loaf
  • Chalupa – 1 serving
  • Hot dogs (Oscar Mayer, packs of 5) – 3

I must have been thinking about this Reporting Out last night before I went to sleep because I dreamed about grocery shopping. I was at Safeway (haven’t been to a Safeway since I moved from California 15 years ago, but yes, it was Safeway and I’m pretty sure it was the one I went to as a child so maybe 40+ years ago… dreams are funny that way) and buying asparagus. I remember thinking I didn’t need to buy as much as I initially grabbed because I would be the only one eating it and that I put some back so it wouldn’t be wasted. The dream went on from there in weird directions as dreams often do and I woke up amused. I rather like the fact that this mindset is becoming so ingrained that it shows up in my dreams.

Look for another Grocery Shopping Challenge Reporting out March Second.

No Spendy Week Two January 14, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in cooking, Finances, Groceries, Uncategorized.
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I checked the calendar and this past week only had seven days, just like normal, but boy howdy, did it feel longer. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me there were a couple extra days crammed in there somehow. I think it felt so long because I was ambushed by a sinus infection. I wonder if my Adventures with Wheat compromised my sinuses enough to make me vulnerable to the abundant germs floating around this time of year. Thursday and Friday I was miserable and slept as much as possible. My days of soldiering through an illness and simply waiting to get well are long gone and I went to Urgent Care on Friday for antibiotics. I’m still dragging but I no longer wonder if I’m going to survive.

I have quite a bit to report about my money adventures this week…

Tuesday I made a great pot of Sausage Lentil Soup*, maybe my best ever. This soup is generally successful and this batch was better than most. After dinner I turned a burner on to heat water for tea. Or so I thought. What I really did was turn the burner under the soup on high instead of the one under the tea kettle. I didn’t realize my mistake until the soup was burnt long past saving. That will teach me to pay better attention!

Storage containers always seem to go on sale in January and I’ve been planning for months to buy some. My Christmas storage boxes are starting to fall apart, plus I want to better organize my yarn and fabric stash. When I went to Target to buy the containers, I found some on clearance! I paid $3.84 for the “Christmas” storage containers instead of $6.99 for the regular sale ones. The only thing really Christmassy about the ones I bought were the red lids on the clear tubs. Finding a bargain makes planned spending less painful.

I’m still working my way through my freezer and cupboards but I did buy some produce this week. I loaded up on oranges and grapefruit along with some cauliflower and broccoli. I wish I would have remembered to buy some jalapenos because I want to make some spicy black beans. Looks like I’ll have to find something spicy in my spice cabinet instead because I’m not going back to the store for at least a week.

Monday I picked up Downton Abbey Season 2 from the library. Downton Abbey is a great thing to watch when sick. I’ll admit, I’m tempted to buy the DVDs, but it would definitely fall under the Wants column. It is a much better decision financially to borrow the DVDs from the library… as long as I remember to return them on time to avoid the fine!

*Sausage Lentil Soup

Crumble some Italian Sausage in your soup pot and cook it up (I used a little over a half pound). When it’s done, scoop it out and set aside. Throw in some chopped onions, carrots and celery and let them ‘sweat’ a bit. You don’t need to really cook them through, just brown a little to let the flavor develop. If your sausage was very lean and your vegetables are sticking, add a little olive oil. (I used one large onion, 5 carrots and 4 stalks celery.) Add the sausage back to the pot, water (or broth) to cover generously (I used 6 cups water and 3 Knorr chicken bullion cubes) and a cup or so of dried lentils. Bring to a simmer, cover and turn the heat to low. Let it go until the lentils are soft, maybe 30 minutes, minimum. Taste to see if it needs any additional seasoning. Maybe salt and pepper. That’s it! Enjoy your soup!

January Challenge January 1, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in cooking, Finances, Groceries, Monthly Challenge, Spending Diet.
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Each month I want to challenge myself to save money in new and different ways. My challenge for January is to eat out of my pantry and freezer. The only groceries I’m allowed to buy in January are fresh fruits and vegetables and milk. Everything else must come from my pantry or freezer. In all honesty, I think I can extend this past January but for now the challenge will last one month.

I have more than enough protein foods to feed me for the month. On my last grocery shopping trip in 2012 I cruised by the discounted meat bin right after it was stocked and picked up some treasures. I had Italian Sausage on my list because I planned to make Sausage Lentil Soup sometime this month. I found some Organic Chicken Italian Sausage for only $2.99 a pound and picked up two pounds. I separated the links and froze them separately so they would be easier to access. Now I can pull out ‘just enough’ from my freezer to flavor a small batch of soup. I also found a family pack of boneless, skinless chicken thighs for $6.33. Those were also frozen individually so there are 15 portions in a bag in my freezer. Add to that at least a pound each of at least six different dried beans and I’m more than set.

I think I have enough fruits and vegetables on hand to last a couple of weeks, possibly more. In the refrigerator vegetable bin there are about two pounds of carrots, two heads of cauliflower, some mini sweet peppers (that might need to be tossed as they’ve seen better days), a full head of celery and a few limes. I also have some sliced, sautéed mushrooms (that will be turned into soup today) and a bit of cooked cauliflower (seasoned with a bit of butter and lemon) from our big family dinner on Sunday. In the freezer there is a bag and a half of broccoli, maybe some frozen peas (or maybe not) and some frozen blueberries. Oh, and about a cup and a half of frozen Classico spaghetti sauce — I’ll probably use that as a soup base rather than for pasta. Add to that a few cans of assorted tomato products in my cupboard — crushed, sauce, diced, paste.

Milk is on the buy list because I need it for coffee (ok, do I really need it? probably not. I could learn to drink coffee without milk but I prefer it that way) and to make yogurt. My typical breakfast is a bowl of Greek yogurt with fruit and homemade granola. A couple of months ago I dug out my dusty yogurt maker and perfected a Greek yogurt recipe, saving a TON of money. Good Greek yogurt goes for $5-7 dollars a quart. I can make a bit more than a quart for the price of a half-gallon of milk. Well worth the (decidedly minimal) effort.

My son once told me “Mom, you don’t keep food in the house, you keep ingredients.” I’m looking forward to seeing just how true that may be. I like to cook and most of my experiments are at least edible and generally pretty tasty. My biggest downfall lately has been taking the easy way out (which is just a nice way of saying I’ve been lazy). It is easier to pick up something instead of cooking from scratch, or to treat myself to dinner out at my favorite Mexican place. I need to break those habits for good. Takeout and eating out need to be treats rather than habit.

Anyone want to join me? Adapt my challenge to meet your needs and let’s encourage each other!