Monday, September 08, 2014

Freezer/Pantry Cleanout and Menu Plan

Without really even realizing it, over the summer I was working on cleaning out my pantry.  I have a computerized inventory system that my husband created, which prints out a shopping list that shows me what I'm low on for things that I've given a minimum required quantity (like chili beans - heaven help me if I run out of chili beans for my daughter, she can eat a whole can at one sitting).  It's been weeks, maybe months, since I printed out that shopping list.  Gradually, things are being used up and the shelves are becoming a little emptier and a little more manageable.  As fall stock up season is coming upon us (like canned and dry goods that always go on sale for the holidays), I need to make a more concerted effort in this area.  I've always been a bit compulsive at the grocery store, buying things just because they were on sale or they sounded good, without a real plan.  The upshot of this is that there's a lot of old food in my pantry that I've never worked into my meal plans.

I've also found my freezers to be bursting at the seams.  We were eating them down over the summer to make room for the chickens I was going to buy from my sister-in-law.  The chickens have arrived and they are ENORMOUS.  Once again, the freezer is filled!  I can't find much, and I want to make sure I have room for that free Thanksgiving turkey I am offered at the grocery store every year, but always have to turn down because there is just no room for it.

So, in an effort to eat what we have, I find myself once again needing to make a more concerted effort at menu planning, to use up what we have.  My goal for the month is to only buy bread, produce, and dairy.  I have plenty of baking supplies, breakfast food, and meat (though it appears we'll be eating a lot of sausage).  Unfortunately, other than tomatoes and tomatillos, our garden produce is just about done for the season (I planted cucumbers and zucchini a couple of weeks ago but I have no idea if anything will actually come of it).  I may get a few more raspberries but most of this second crop of the season has dried up before ripening. 

And here's our "let's use it up" menu plan for the week:

Sunday:  last night I made baked pork chops and gravy with spinach stuffing balls and salad
Monday:  Kielbasa and cabbage (I have purple potatoes in the pantry so this could look interesting!)
Tuesday:  Taco salad (I did buy Doritos for this one but everything else is already on hand)
Wednesday:  Pigs in a blanket (I LOVE this recipe!)
Thursday:  Spanish rice casserole (I have pre-cooked rice in the freezer so I'll add the turmeric and all the onions to the ground beef mixture).
Friday:  School fundraiser at Panda Express.

Have a great week everyone!  There are also tons of menu planning ideas over over at I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Monday, September 01, 2014

Caitlyn's Ramen Egg Flower Soup

Hello!  I'm back!  I certainly didn't intend to take the summer off but it appears I've done just that.  I was brought back by a delicious soup my daughter made for lunch today, which she asked me to post.  I'm very excited that at the tender age of five, she already understands that, except for baking, it is perfectly ok to use a recipe as a guideline, not as a rule.  The recipe she was following in her cookbook called merely for ramen, six spinach leaves, three mushrooms, and 1/4 cup each of corn and peas.  Caitlyn's version is much more flavorful!

Caitlyn's Ramen Egg Flower Soup
(makes 3 large servings)

1 package ramen (I recommend pork, chicken, or oriental flavor)
1 large handful fresh spinach
1/2 c. corn kernels
1/2 c. peas
6 mushrooms, chopped
3 c. water (or two cups chicken broth and one cup water)
2 t. chicken base or 2 bouillon cubes (omit if using chicken broth)
1 t. garlic powder
1 T. dried minced onion
pinch dried red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs, beaten

Break noodles into a two or three quart saucepan.  Add water or chicken broth, ramen seasoning packet, vegetables, and seasonings.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes or until spinach is wilted and the vegetables are cooked through.  Slowly drizzle egg into the soup to form ribbons in the mixture.  Stir gently, and cook two minutes more.  Serve immediately.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Poblano and Cheese Enchiladas

I ran across this recipe the other day and was instantly intrigued.  I absolutely love chile rellenos and this sounded so similar I just had to try it.  Unfortunately, my salsa verde expired in 2011.  No problem, I thought, I'll just improvise with the sauce from my enchiladas recipe.  Oops, out of green chiles!  Fortunately I had some frozen roasted Hatch chiles.  And, I prefer flour tortillas over corn any day, so I swapped them out as well.  After all that, I ended up with something delicious!  The flour tortillas do get a bit soggy in the sauce so if you don't like the texture, go with the corn.

Poblano and Cheese Enchiladas
serves 4 - 6

1 c. chicken broth
1c. evaporated milk
1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. chopped roasted green chiles (or one small can)
2 T dried minced onion
1 t. garlic powder
1 c. sour cream
4 poblano chiles, roasted, seeded and cut in half lengthwise
3 cups shredded cheese, divided (I used a mix of jack and cheddar)
8 flour tortillas, fajita size

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bring chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Meanwhile stir the flour into the milk until smooth.  Whisk the milk mixture into the broth and cook over medium heat until thickened.  Stir in the chiles, onion, and garlic powder.  Continue to cook five minutes longer.  Remove from heat; stir in the sour cream.

Spread 1/2 cup of sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.  Place half a poblano and 1/4 cup of cheese in the center of a tortilla.  Roll tightly and place, seam side down, in the baking dish.  Continue with remaining peppers and tortillas.  Pour the remaining sauce evenly over the enchiladas.  Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.  Bake 25 - 30 minutes until the cheese is bubbly. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

In the Kitchen...Menu Plan May 12 - 15

In spite of my best laid plans, I did not stick to the meal plan last week.  The good news is, we still ate at home nearly all the time and only picked up fast food once.  Honestly, I can't remember what we actually ate, except I know I made bacon cheeseburger puffs with oven fries, ham and beans, and homemade weiner wraps and home fried potato chips.  Other than that, I honestly can't remember.  Ham and beans was the only thing I crossed off of last week's list.

Here's what's on the menu for this week:

Tuna casserole
Scalloped potatoes and ham
Chicken and broccoli impossible pie
Taco salad (Fred Meyer has an awesome Doritos coupon this week, by the way)

That's it for this week.  Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy, as my daughter would say.  Hubby will be on his own all weekend and goodness knows what he'll eat.

Hope everyone has a great week, and remember to visit Menu Plan Monday at for all your menu planning needs!

Sunday, May 04, 2014

In the Kitchen...Menu Plan May 4 - 9

I wonder how many of these "time to get back on the menu plan!" posts I have on this blog.  It's one of those things that I know I *should* do, but sometimes I just get lazy.  Actually, even when I don't have one posted here, there's usually a list on the "board of possibilities" on the fridge that I can work from.  At the moment, that board is empty as we've eaten everything that was on it.

About six weeks ago we looked at our spending and decided if we were going to move forward with any of our plans, we needed to really focus on sticking to our budget.  Next to the mortgage, food is our biggest expense (and depending on how the month goes, sometimes it even surpasses the mortgage.  So we're trying hard to stick to the budget.  Last month I was within $60.  This month, a trip to Costco with daughter in tow completely blew it out of the water. 

So now my focus is on using what we have.  I've been slowly whittling away at our over-stuffed pantry.  I found room to put my new ice cream maker in there, so that's progress.  Eventually I hope to have a whole section dedicated to kitchen equipment, because my cupboards are overstuffed with pans and small appliances (gadget girl here!). 

In a couple of months, I'm going to be getting five farm-raised local chickens, so I need to make room in the freezer for those.  I'm really excited about that - local chicken is hard to come by around here!

This week, I need to use up sprouting potatoes and broccoli.  Speaking of broccoli, which makes me think of broccoli beef (word association!), I need to find a new cut of beef for making broccoli beef.  We've been using hangar steak, which we LOVE LOVE LOVE, but it's $8 a pound now or something ridiculous like that, and I can't justify that while we're trying to scale back.  Flank steak would be perfect but it's even more expensive.  Thinking about bottom round but I need to do a little research online and see what other people are using. 

And so, without further adieu (er, total babbling), I present...our menu plan.

Scalloped potatoes and ham (this will only have two cheeses this time!)
Chicken and Broccoli impossible pie
Chicken Strips and Oven Fries
Grilled sausages with black bean and rice salad (salad recipe from this  cookbook)
Ham and Beans (I will likely use a different kind of beans as I'm not fond of limas, though I do have butterbeans (large limas) in my pantry).

What's cooking in your kitchen?

Have a great week!  And, as always, remember to visit Menu Plan Monday at for more menu planning ideas than you ever imagined!

Monday, April 28, 2014

In the Garden

I harvested the first of the radishes last week.  They were delicious - very mild.  This year I planted two kinds - French Breakfast and Amythest, because they tend to be less spicy than some other varieties.  I don't mind the spice, but the rest of my family prefers them on the mild side.  With these, I sauteed the greens in olive oil with spinach and garlic, and served the radishes on a veggie plate.  When I have a bigger harvest, I'll roast them - I love roasted radishes!

It's been too wet and I've been too busy to do much in the garden the last couple of weeks.  Everything we've planted is coming up nicely.  The lettuce is taking its own sweet time, though - I think I may have to come up with something to cloche them.  I have two beds completely planted and I'm saving the third for the things that will be planted after the soil warms up a bit more.

The herbs are going strong - this weekend we harvested some rosemary and chives to sprinkle on goat cheese sandwiches, and I put some rosemary and parsley in a pot of vegetable soup.

This coming weekend I'll need to put a layer of dirt over the potatoes.  They're growing like wildfire!

Last week I was reading an article about intensively planting fruit trees.  It said you can plant dwarf varieties as close as 24 inches apart and the competition will keep them small and more manageable.  I'd love to get some peach and pear trees in my yard, so I just might try that!  I want to put in a grape vine or two, also. We're talking about adding a slightly raised bed to the front yard so I may wait for that and put a couple out there with a decorative trellis. 

What's growing in your garden?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Pineapple Rhubarb Sorbet

Earlier this week, I used Amazon gift cards I earned through Swagbucks (affiliate link) to buy myself this little gem.  And today, I got the chance to try it out.

I know that strawberry and rhubarb is the classic combination, but in this house we're fans of pineapple and rhubarb as well.  I just happened to have some fresh pineapple needing to be used up, and my rhubarb is going crazy in the garden, so I found a recipe online for rhubarb sorbet and improvised my way to perfection, though I am half tempted to add a little fresh mint or rosemary to it next time just to see what happens. 

Pineapple Rhubarb Sorbet
Makes 1 1/2 quarts

8 oz rhubarb, diced
8 oz fresh pineapple, diced
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
3/4 cup water
3 T. light corn syrup

 In a medium saucepan combine rhubarb, pineapple, sugar, salt and water.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is soft, 10 - 15 minutes.

Carefully transfer mixture to a food processor and blend until smooth, adding corn syrup while blending (I'm guessing you could also do this with a blender or stick blender but I've never tried). 
Place in bowl and refrigerate until cold.

Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions (mine took about 16 minutes).  Transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze for three hours or until firm. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

In the Garden

I am LOVING our raised beds.  Seriously.  We've taken all the backbreaking work out of the vegetable garden. 

Spring has unquestionably arrived here in Zone 8, and I spent most of the weekend in the garden.  The seeds I planted a few weeks ago are all up and doing great. 

This weekend, in the front yard I:

 - cleaned out the dead canes from the raspberries.  I've never done that before (this is year three for raspberries) and they look so much better!
 - ripped out the Spanish lavender (we killed it - I don't know if it was because we pruned it back too far or if it froze, or maybe both) and planted mint and chamomile.  These are in half barrels on the strip between the sidewalk and the street.  Someone remind me not to let the mint go to seed, please!
 - added parsley, blue hyssop, thyme, dock, and sage to the herb beds.
 - added 10 more strawberry plants to our strawberry beds.
 - my five year old, who doesn't follow my "edibles only" philosophy, added a nasturtium and a pansy to one of her flower barrels and planted entire seed packets of cosmos and purple coneflowers to another barrel.  This could be interesting...

In the backyard vegetable garden I:
 - harvested the rest of the green onions I planted in the fall (there were a TON). 
 - planted tomatoes, tomatillos, kohlrabi, turnips, radishes, peas, celery (we've never grown celery before), shallots, and pac choi. 

Two vegetable garden beds and all of the backyard half barrels are now full.  I have one more bed left to plant (except for the garlic already occupying one corner) and we will build two more beds this spring.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how we do this year!

What's growing at your house?

Monday, April 07, 2014

Chicken Pot Pie

This year, for the first time, we bought 1/4 of a pig.  With it, I bought the leaf lard so I could render it, because I've always heard that lard makes the best pie crust, but I've never tried it.  After I rendered it, the whole house smelled, well, piggy, as did the lard, and I knew I wasn't going to be using it for fruit pies! 

Yesterday I pulled some of that wonderful snowy white lard out of the freezer and decided to try it out.  I made up the crust and, sure enough, it smelled piggy, enough so that I had to bake a test piece to make sure it wasn't just going to be disgusting.  In fact, it was delicious!  Just a hint of pleasant porkiness and wow - the texture!  Amazing!  So I decided to make this recipe.

Chicken Pot Pie
Adapted from Allrecipes
Makes 1 9-inch pie

Crust for a 9-inch pie (my recipe is very similar to this one)
1/2 large onion, diced
1 c. sliced celery
2 large carrots, sliced
4 oz. sliced mushrooms
1/4 c. butter
4 cloves minced garlic
2 1/2 c. chicken broth
1/4 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/3 c. flour
2/3 c. water
2 cups shredded chicken
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Prepare crust, placing the bottom crust in a pie pan (I made this in a deep-dish 9.5 inch pan and it would go just fine in a regular 9 inch pan).

In a large skillet, saute onions,celery, carrots and mushrooms in butter until carrots are just beginning to soften.  Add garlic and saute two minutes more.  Add chicken broth, celery seed, and thyme.  Simmer for five minutes.  Add chicken.  Mix the flour into the water until smooth.  Pour into vegetable mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils.  Turn off heat and let cool for 15 minutes.  Transfer to pie crust.

Add top crust, crimping however you prefer.  Cut 4 - 6 slits in the top crust for ventilation.  Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until crust is nicely browned and you can see the filling bubbling under the slits. 

If the edges of your crust start browning too quickly, make some 4-inch wide strips out of aluminum foil and wrap them around the edges of your pie pan.  This will help keep it from burning. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Feeding the Freezer

Not too long ago we had an unexpected major expense.  Not like "oh we need a new car", but more "oh we're now camping for vacation this summer".  Fortunately we've managed to sock away a decent emergency fund, but in looking more closely at our overall financial picture, I realized how much we've nickeled and dimed away our savings lately.  We knew something had to change.  So, I've started once again tracking every penny we spend (which sounds arduous but really only takes about three minutes a day if I actually keep up with it).  By far our biggest expense that we can actually do something about is food. 

I actually have a very generous grocery budget for three people.  Not USDA Thrifty Plan generous, but close.  Very close.  And that doesn't include eating out.  Also a very generous amount.  I tend to buy natural and organic meat and dairy, locally when I can. About 2/3 of our produce is organic.  So it adds up fast.  And when I come home in the evening and don't feel like cooking, I'm not shy about running right back out to pick up fast food.

I love the idea of freezer cooking, where you spend a day whipping up a bunch of fabulous, ready to pop in the oven meals, and then you don't have to think about cooking again for a few weeks.  But realistically, that doesn't work for me.  We just don't eat like that.  But if I'm going to get out of the habit of running out for burgers just because I had an exhausting day, the best thing for me to do is to keep my freezer well fed.  So over the last couple of weekends I've been doing some prep work that won't give me ready to serve meals, but will make my meals much, much quicker to throw together.

Yesterday I poached a whole chicken.  I took the meat off the bones and shredded it, giving me enough for three future casseroles.  When I cooked it, I added carrots, celery, garlic, onion and herb to the water.  Once I took the chicken out, I strained the broth and put it in the fridge.  Tonight I'll pull most of the fat off and then freeze it in one or two cup portions, to be used in future meals.

Today I pulled four pounds of ground beef out of the freezer (I bought 20 pounds on March 7 and I'm very interested to see how long it lasts us).  Two pounds were browned with onions and garlic, which gives me four meals' worth of pre-cooked meat for tacos, chili, casseroles, etc.  I made Italian meatballs with the other two pounds.  I use my cookie scoop and got 50 meatballs, so I froze them in packages of 10.  If we're having spaghetti, I'll pull out one package.  If we're having meatball subs, I'll pull out two.  Quick and easy.

I also made a batch of pizza dough.  This is my favorite recipe.  I don't have pizza on the menu this week, so I put both balls in the freezer so they'll be ready in case the mood hits.

I'm planning to make broccoli cheese soup this week (I finally got my family to agree to try homemade - it was a bit of a disaster last time but I know where I went wrong).  My daughter asked for bread bowls.  I've been wanting to try this Italian Roll recipe, so I mixed up the dough.  It's in the fridge now and tomorrow night I'll bake it into four bread bowls for soup on Tuesday.

Hubby asked for no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookies, so I made a batch of those, too.  I was going to try this recipe for Blueberry Banana Oat Bread but ran out of steam.  So I pulled a loaf of banana bread out of the freezer for this week's breakfasts and I'll freeze the bananas that need to be turned into baked goods (we have some every week lately, which probably means I need to buy less!).

After all that I didn't really feel like cooking dinner, so we had a simple meal of broiled pepper steak (got some on the clearance meat rack yesterday), baked potatoes and roasted asparagus.  Tasty.

What's cooking in your kitchen this week?