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Weekly Meal Plan

I had several comments in favor of seeing more of our meal plans, so here’s our plan for the next 2 weeks:

  • Black Bean & Sweet Potato Enchiladas (we never made this off of our last plan, so still have much of the needed items)
  • Chipotle & Lime Chicken (from the book Today’s Creative Crockpot – TCC)
  • Apple Chicken Curry (TCC)
  • French Beef Burgundy (TCC)
  • Turkey (I’ve got a turkey in the freezer from last fall) & fixin’s
  • Turkey Tetrazzini (with the leftovers)
  • Chile Verde (this is a “cheater” recipe I’ve developed over the years, pork chunks & green enchilada sauce, misc. other stuff too)
  • Ginger Pork w/Pineapple (I’m going to attempt to make something up here….it may involve Trader Joe’s Island Soyaki Sauce)
  • Chicken Tortilla Soup (my own “recipe”, usually it’s a little different every time, I just throw stuff together)
  • Zesty Burger Soup
  • Korean Tacos (this is in the crockpot right now!) – this is another one that was on my last list but we never got around to making it.
  • Messy Mexican (we made this for house church last night and it got good reviews from kids & adults!)

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Meal Plan

I’ve been talking on Facebook about meal planning & grocery shopping, so thought I’d post my meal list for the next few weeks.

My challenge lately is that I am eating gluten-free, so I do my best to choose things that are easy for me to sub in a GF whatever when necessary.  For instance, I’ll have corn tortillas with the Korean Tacos instead of flour.  But it’s much harder when I choose meals that are pasta-heavy or have lots of other bread/flour/gluten items as a main ingredient.  And my other challenge is that the teenagers are so busy and Alex is working 2nd shift, so that often means our “sit-down” dinner is me, the 2 little boys and 1 or 2 of the big kids.  Then an hour or 2 later, the other kids trickle in and heat & eat when they get here.  So everything I make has to be easy to keep warm or easily reheatable and not something that is in the “cook and serve right away” category.

As usual, the list is mostly things that our family has had before and I know they enjoy, but a few new recipes to keep things interesting.  The new recipes above are noted with **.  I’m also doing my best to incorporate a few meatless meals now and then.

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Meal Planning & Grocery Shopping

I ran into a friend at the grocery store last night and we chatted about meal planning, budget and how I do my shopping & planning.  I think I’ve blogged about this a bit before, but I thought it would be worth another post.  Here’s how I typically do my meal planning & grocery shopping.

First, I make a meal list.  Typically I make a list of 10-12 meals and this serves us for the 2 weeks between pay periods.  I do 2 “big” shopping trips each month, planning my meals and going to several stores for the different things we’ll need.  When Alex works 2nd shift, I tend to be even more on my game and we definitely go through almost all the meals I plan.  When he’s on first shift, we often end up only eating 8 to 10.

I write out my meal list and then go back and make the grocery list.  I usually have 1 page for Costco, Trader Joe’s & Central Market, with the page broken into sections for each store.  Then another page for the main grocery store trip (usually Albertsons or WalMart) and  I write out categories – fresh, frozen, dairy, meat, canned/misc – and then as I make my list I add needed items on the page or in the section where they belong.  This helps tremendously when I’m shopping!

I use the crockpot 3 or 4 nights a week and then I try to plan a few meals that are easy enough for the kids to make.  I also try to keep everything in the house for spaghetti or Sloppy Joe’s or something easy like that.  So for this round of meals, here’s what I planned:

All of the starred (**) recipes are new ones that I am trying.  I try to keep my list pretty full of tried-and-true stuff that I know the kids will really like and I know to be successful recipes.  The Gnocchi soup came recommended by a friend, so I’m confident in that one as well as the Indian food as I’ve cooked from that book a bunch and we love it EVERY time!  Everything else on my list, I have made a few times and most are “everyone loves it” type of recipes.

On this round of shopping, I hit Costco, Trader Joe’s, Albertsons & Central Market.  I just recently made a trip to the Bread Outlet so we are set on bread right now.  Sometimes I’ll go to the Grocery Outlet or Cash & Carry too.  Central is usually where I go to get any specialty produce I need or bulk foods or for their great bulk spices.  Trader Joe’s is the go-to for snack items for the little boys and for Alex’s lunches.

My totals this time around were:  Costco – $144.82, Trader Joe’s – $58.68, Central Market – $52.07, Albertsons – $142.75.  That will be our groceries for the next 2 weeks, with the exception of going to pick up milk or maybe fresh veggies for salads once the stuff I got from Costco runs out.  This includes toiletries, laundry detergent, paper products and other misc. household stuff as well as staples like cold cereal, lunch meat, yogurt, eggs, etc. for lunches and breakfast.

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Cuban Inspired Stew for Dinner!

I love cooking new things, trying new recipes and making up my own yummy concoctions!  I had a dilemma the other day and it turned into a delicious dinner.  Normally I’m a goob and forget to take notes on what I’m doing….which usually results in a conversation along the lines of the hubby saying “Hey honey.  Make that one thing that you made that one time.” and then me making that one thing…..which is nothing like the thing that he wanted me to make!  This time, however I took notes!  Yay me!!

I thawed out a chunk of beef the night before so I could make chili.  Problem was that I forgot to also soak the beans.  I don’t like doing quick soaks, so I decided it would need to become something other than chili.  Since I didn’t know what that would be, I tossed the chunk of beef (about a 2.5 lb. random roast) into the crockpot with some salt & pepper, a handful of garlic cloves and about 1/2 cup of water.  Turned it on high and went about my day.  At the end of the day, I just pulled it out and shredded it w/2 forks.

I started googling ideas for what to do with shredded beef and just found page after page of taco and chili recipes.  Not helpful.  I’m not sure how I stumbled onto this site, but I did.  And Cuban cuisine sounded fun, yummy & doable.  I looked at several recipes and decided I was going for it:  A cuban-inspired stew! 

This recipe for Ajiaco Criollo probably inspired this stew the most, but I also took some ideas from this one for Carne con Papas (meat with potatoes).  Both were heavy on potatoes and root vegetables, which I had or could get fairly cheaply.  Because I’m not familiar with many of the vegetables (malanga, cassava, plantains) and I’m not sure how easy it would have been to obtain them, I used sweet potatoes and carrots as they are more widely available root vegetables.

The only part that I can’t really share is how I made the cornmeal dumplings.  I tried to use the directions in one of the recipes, but it actually calls for “ground green corn”, which I googled & googled but could never identify.  I used cornmeal, but it didn’t turn into anything that could be shaped into a dumpling.  I ended up doing a search for “cornmeal dumplings” and added milk, baking powder, flour and an egg until my mixture resembled something that could be shaped a bit and added to the stew.  So you’ll have to find your own cornmeal dumpling recipe, although this one did help me a lot and may be what I would use next time.

Have fun!  The whole family loved this stew!  We ate it for leftovers and my mom took some to work to share with a coworker who also loved it.  I can’t wait to make it again.

The Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 red potatoes, cut into 1.5-2″ chunks
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled & cut into 1.5-2″ chunks
  • 4 carrots, peeled & cut into 2″ rounds
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 10 cloves garlic, minced or put through a press
  • 2 jalapenos, finely chopped (I did one whole and 1 ribbed & seeded to reduce the heat a bit)
  • 2 green bell peppers, coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 cans Cuban-style black beans (I just happened to have these, I ended up adding 1 addt’l can of plain black beans) or you can use plain canned black beans.  I drained/rinsed the plain can that I added, I added the Cuban-style ones without draining/rinsing.
  • 1.5 cups white wine
  • 1 carton beef broth (approx. 4 cups)
  • 1.5  cups frozen corn
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs. oregano
  • 2 Tbs. cumin
  • 1 Tbs. paprika
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 lemons
  • shredded beef (I prepared an approx. 2.5 lb. roast in my slow cooker, see preparation directions above)
  • cornmeal dumplings prepared according to your favorite recipe or using the recipe linked above (cornmeal, flour, milk, butter, baking soda)

Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot.  Add onions, garlic, bell pepper, jalapeno & carrots.  Saute 5 minutes or so, until onions and other veggies are starting to soften.  Add all the spices except salt & pepper.  Cook for 2 or 3 minutes more.

Pour in wine & beef broth and approx. 4 more cups of water.  Add potatoes & sweet potatoes.  Cut one lemon in 1/2, squeeze juice inot pot, then drop lemon halves into the soup.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10-15 minutes until potatoes are starting to get soft.  Add black beans & corn and season w/salt & pepper.

Cook until potatoes are soft.  Add shredded beef, stir well.  Add additional water if necessary (I did end up adding about 3 cups of water here and I added about a Tbs. of vegetable flavored “Better than Bouillon” too), you want enough liquid for the dumplings to cook in.  Make sure that it is gently simmering and drop in your dumplings.  COVER (this is important!) and cook for 10-15 minutes until dumplings are cooked through (fish one out and cut it open to check….mine took almost exactly 12 minutes).

Cut up the other lemon and pass at the table, squeezing additional lemon on your stew before eating.

This filled our biggest stock pot (14 quarts??) and made enough for our family of 11 for dinner that night (with seconds!) plus leftovers for lunches the next day.  This is typically how much I make, but for a more average family of 4-6, I’d suggest cutting the recipe in half or even in thirds!

The yummy pot as it was cooking (I meant to get “action shots” in the bowls or at the dinner table, but I forgot!):

ENJOY!  We sure did!!

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My first foray into couponing

I admit it:  I’ve been coupon resistant.

We already save a LOT of money on groceries just because of how I cook and the foods I choose.  Our grocery budget is (I think) ridiculously low for a family of 11.  And every photo I saw that friends posted (“look at all this food!  $94 of groceries for only $3.21!!!”) was usually a bunch of pizza pockets, diet soda and Snackwells cookies.  So it didn’t seem like it would help as those things are not things we purchase or consume.

But I have a lovely friend, Diana (hey, girl!), who has been posting some of her couponing finds and she is getting great deals on things like pasta and healthful cereal.  So I gave in and asked her to give me some tips to get started.  First off, she referred me to the site Coupon Connections.  It’s a blog posting all the great deals that are out there.  I’d looked at blogs like this before and felt pretty uninspired by the thought of driving to Walgreens or Safeway – neither of which are local to me.  But the Coupon Connections website is a blog by a lady who lives locally so the deals, coupons, store references make a lot more sense.

I went to Albertsons yesterday, really only armed with a few store coupons and a fresh set of eyes.  Albies right now is running a special deal where if you purchase a certain number of something (say 3 of  a certain brand of pasta), you get a “catalina” (which prints @ the register when you check out) for $1 off on your next purchase.  So because I don’t have any coupons really from the paper yet (& my printer was down so I couldn’t print any), I just looked through the circular that had come in the mail and went with the idea of using the catalinas to my advantage.  After a quick phone call to Diana to answer some questions, I headed out.

I primarily bought stuff that we would be using anyway – soup for the kids’ lunches, pasta, salad dressing, chicken breasts.  But I was mindful of what was going to get me those catalinas!  I did 3 transactions – earned $12 in catatlinas on my first and then when I checked out w/the 2nd transaction, I used those “cats” on that transaction.  I earned $4 on the 2nd transaction and then used those on my last transaction – which was chips for Alex’s lunches, something I buy for him regularly, and w/that purchase I got a free gallon of milk!  My savings was $49% on one, $45% on another and 42% on the last.  

I was also able to get him sodas for his lunches – something he loves but is often not in the budget.  Albies was doing a sale on Coke products 3 (12 packs) for $10.  There was a peel off coupon on the Coke for $2 off when you buy 2.  And then there was a peel off on Sprite for $1.50 off when you buy one Sprite product (or any other Coke product) + 1 box of Cheez-its (which I regularly get for Alex’s lunches).  So my 3 – 12 packs of Coke were $6.50, which definitely brings it down to “budget-friendly” for us.

I got Nathan into it a little too!  He was along (he is our oldest, the 18 year old who just graduated) because I recently asked him to take on cooking dinner once a week.  He gets a budget ($25) for the meal and then has to plan his meal, do the shopping and get it cooked up & on the table.  I felt like all these things – the planning, budgeting, shopping *AND* cooking would be helpful to him in the near future.  He was purchasing 2 packages of chicken patties that would earn him a catalina so I explained to him how to separate his groceries into 2 transactions so he could “roll” the catalina onto the 2nd transaction.  Good thing he did, too!  With the $2 catalina and his $25, he ended up getting just a few cents of change.  If he hadn’t used the cat, he would’ve been over budget.

At the end of our excursion, I felt pretty satisfied.  I can definitely see that with a little practice, getting more familiar with the process and getting the Sunday paper so we can clip coupons, we can shave even more $$ off of our grocery bill.  I feel like it possibly helps solve a few other grocery shopping “problems” I have:  when I do one massive trip every pay day (so every 2 weeks), it is absolutely exhausting!  If I plan on couponing regularly, I will most likely go once a week, which means a shorter trip that will hopefully leave me much less grumpy!  Also, because I plan 2 weeks of meals before I shop, I can’t get all of the fresh stuff we need or all of the milk for that 2 weeks.  And with additional trips for lettuce or milk or apples, comes additional expense.  I think a weekly purposeful trip may help cut back on the “extras” that find their way into the cart when the trip is supposed to be “just milk”.  And lastly, I love looking at cookbooks and recipe sites and dreaming of trying new things.  When I have everything planned out for the next 2 weeks, I can’t get excited about a new recipe I want to try because everything is already set in stone and shopped for.  But a weekly trip will allow more flexibility in my meal planning, I think.

So for all of you who have been encouraging me, I wave the white flag.  I surrender.  You have won me over.  I am now a couponing mama.

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Stone Soup

I am often asked questions about our big family:  how overwhelming is the laundry?  How do I deal with cooking for 11 people every day?  What sort of vehicle do we drive?  I have the best of intentions to post answers to those kinds of things here on this blog, but time gets away from me or I procrastinate and it just never gets done.  But I have decided to do my best to post more often & try to give people a little window into our family life.

One of the things that we have done over the last few years is attempt to be more “green”, reduce our family’s carbon footprint and also save money.  We want to be using the resources we have wisely and we do our best to not be wasteful.  So on that note, one of the things I make every few weeks is something we call Stone Soup.  (It also gets called “Dump Soup”, but that honestly just doesn’t sound as nice!)

The “recipe” for Stone Soup involves first cleaning out the fridge.  Everything that seems like it would work in soup gets pulled out of the fridge & cupboards.  Then I take a look at it and decide what kind of soup it will become.  Because I had about a pound of ground beef in the freezer and a lot of the leftovers we had were from an Irish Supper of corned beef, I knew this one would be a beef-vegetable based soup.

Here is what I came up with for ingredients:

  • 1 lb. frozen ground beef
  • Corned beef dinner leftovers (the beef & a big bowl of boiled potatoes & carrots)
  • about 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1/3 package of broccoli slaw
  • mushrooms
  • 4 mini peppers (these were used in an Italian pasta salad – why didn’t  use the last 4 peppers????  weird.)
  • a few wilted stalks of celery & the heart – which I cut up leaves and all for soup
  • 2 packets of Beefy Onion Soup Mix
  • 1 can Kidney beans
  • 1 large can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 package frozen corn
  • package frozen peas & carrots mix
  • Three different halves of onions that were wrapped in plastic (seriously people??)
  • 1/2 tomato – probably leftover from someone making a sandwich

My method for defrosting/cooking frozen ground beef (this was rock solid frozen) is to put it in a deep skillet with a little water in the bottom.  Put it on medium heat with a lid and let it cook.  Every so often you have to sort of scrape the cooked layer of meat off of the still-frozen inner chunk.  But it gets it cooked up quite nicely.

I put the barley to boil on the back burner.  Chopped up the onions, celery & peppers and put them, along with the broccoli slaw and quartered mushrooms, in the bottom of my big stock pot with a little olive oil.  I cooked this for just a bit to get these veggies softened up.  I cut up the leftovers of the corned beef and also cut up about 1/2 of the boiled carrots & potatoes.  Then comes the “dump” part – it all gets dumped in the pot.  I first added about 6-8 cups of water & the 2 packets of soup mix. 

I put the tomatoes & kidney beans in undrained to create a “pot likker”.   When I make soup like this, as I empty cans or toss in leftover remains, I usually give the container a little rinse to get whatever is left in there.  It just adds to the flavor of the soup!  I added some granulated garlic (I didn’t have any fresh or I probably would have added that w/my veggies at the beginning) and some salt, pepper & Italian seasoning.  When the barley was softened up, I added that along with the little bit of cooking liquid that was left.

This was the end result:

By the way – my kids LOVE this dinner.  Every time they find out I’m making Dump Soup, they get really excited.  No joke!  We ate this with dinner rolls and they had seconds and even thirds!  It is very filling and really healthy with all the veggies.

How does this fit in with our goal of living more green?  Well, if we’re not wasting food by throwing away leftovers, then we’re not buying more.  So take the boiled potatoes that went into the soup.  I purchased potatoes – it took energy to grow those, fuel to get them to the store, etc.  If I throw them away and buy more, then obviously we’re using more energy for those potatoes to arrive at the grocery store to be purchased, not to mention the gas for our trip to the store, etc.  But by using the leftovers, we’re reducing our waste & consumption.  I don’t know how much of a dent this makes in our family’s carbon footprint, but it’s a little drop to add to the bucket.

Also, we’re saving money.  By recycling leftovers, I’m saving on our grocery budget.  Quite a bit of this dinner was stuff that might have gone bad in our fridge – the broccoli slaw definitely.  Same with the onion halves and the tomato.  Those things would have just sat there until they got squishy or fuzzy or otherwise scary looking.  Also, the corned beef dinner had already been picked over once or twice and reheated, so it definitely would’ve been tossed in the next day or 2.

Last pic for this post…..what do you do when you need to cook dinner & you’ve got a crabby baby?

So go clean out your fridge/cupboard/freezer & make some Stone Soup!

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