Archive for November 27, 2014

Pantry Challenge, Day 35: The End!

Today was the last official day of the pantry challenge. I’m glad we did it, and I’m also glad it’s over!

For breakfast this morning we once again had pumpkin pie and chia pudding, by which I mean that I had chia pudding and my husband had pumpkin pie.

We had an early lunch snack of the leftover sushi from last night before heading over to his family’s house to all get together and do Thanksgiving baking, so the rest of our meals today were eaten with them and were therefore uninteresting from a pantry challenge perspective.

Here are the notable bits if information I gleaned from 5 weeks of (mostly) not buying groceries:

*We will happily eat just about any kind of meat, or even fish. Chicken, beef, pork, salmon, sardines, crab… any kind of animal protein we had on hand, it was all good.

*We like eating a lot of protein. I did know this already, but it was actually rather gratifying to realize that as I tried stretching out the meat more the farther we got into the pantry challenge, the more we noticed carb crashing between meals and not feeling quite as well. I’ve always been resistant to the the ‘eat less meat’ theory of saving money on groceries, and this is more evidence that we really do feel better when we get to eat more meat.

*Broccoli, candied celery and alfalfa sprouts are good in sushi.

*Celery in general is really not that good, and worse after it’s frozen.

*There’s no reason for me to ever stock up on weird vegetables we don’t like to eat.

*There’s no reason for me to ever stock up on ANY weird food we don’t like to eat.

*I SHOULD stock up on meat, dairy and other basic foods that we eat a lot of.

*I SHOULD try lots new foods and recipes even if they seem weird (just in small quantities until we confirm whether they turn out well).

And now I am looking forward to a butter filled Thanksgiving meal tomorrow and going grocery shopping next week!

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

Pantry Challenge, Day 34: Turkey Sushi

For breakfast on Tuesday I (finally!) had made some breakfast food ahead, so we had pumpkin pie AND chia pudding.

I had lunch on my own, and as I tend to do when I’m eating only on my stomach’s schedule, I ate two small meals, one late morning and one early afternoon. For one meal I had leftover pasta from Monday’s lunch and for the other I had part of a meat and pasta dish that had been in the freezer. (It was originally about one and half portions of meat and pasta that had been leftover and I threw in the freezer because we had too many leftovers at the time already.)

For supper I made some interesting sushi. I did quite enjoy most of the sushi, and my husband said all of the ingredients I used were worth putting into our normal sushi rotation, but almost everything that went into the sushi was quite nontraditional.

I started with my normal nori sheets and sushi rice. I used (nitrate free) turkey lunchmeat for the meat in the sushi, and added various combinations of candied celery, homemade cheese, lentil sprouts and alfalfa sprouts. The lentil sprouts were my least favorite, but everything else was really good in the sushi, especially with some honey/olive oil/vinegar salad dressing, horseradish and pickled ginger to go with the sushi.


Pantry Challenge, Day 33: Meatloaf and Celery Fritters

For breakfast on Monday we had leftover millet, once again with honey and cinnamon.

For lunch I made a casserole sort of dish with leftover elbow macaroni I had in the fridge, white sauce, sliced up turkey lunchmeat and lots of spices. With the turmeric and onion powder being prominent flavors it kind of tasted like a hamburger helper (in a good way).

For supper I made meatloaf and celery fritters. The  meatloaf turned out really well just leaving out the egg and using plenty of oats and milk as a binder. I used a homemade ketchup based sauce on top and we really enjoyed having a ground beef based dish again.

The celery fritters were actually pretty good too, and would be a reasonable way to use up celery in the future. Yay for breading and frying! They would have actually been really good, except the celery texture was a bit tough after freezing, so it didn’t completely blend in to the fritter dough texture.


Menu Plan and Shopping List 11/27/14-12/3/14

You want to know something amazing? We made it through 35 days of the pantry challenge. You want to know something even more amazing? It’s finally over and I get to buy groceries!

Check out the pantry challenge posts if you want to see how it went on a day by day basis. The short version for this week is that we basically followed the menu plan, except that both salmon fillets and sardine fritters got bumped to make room for social events.

The one flaw in my plan for ending the pantry challenge the day before Thanksgiving is that I’m not sure when I’m going to go shopping to restock my pantry. We do have butter (and potatoes and apples) from my last Azure order that I’ve just been avoiding using until the pantry challenge is over, and some cheese, sour cream and ground beef leftover from fixings for a meal I made for friends. So, I will be able to expand my food options somewhat even before a grocery trip, but we will need meat pretty soon.

One thing that helps is that over the course of a holiday weekend (and a birthday thrown in next week) we’re going to be eating several meals that I’m contributing side dishes to, but not having to fix the whole meal.


Social Event x 3 (Imagine that…)

Leftovers/Fridge Scrounging

French Onion Crockpot Potatoes (for church fellowship meal)

Fried Potatoes with Ground Beef and Cheese (served with homemade ketchup), Green Beans

Sardine Fritters, Baked Beans (from the freezer), Zucchini Chips (I was really curious to try the sardine fritters, so I’m just moving this meal from last week)


With all the social events going on it’s really hard to tell how our leftovers situation will end up. If we run short on leftovers I’ll pull the Grave of Small Birds out of the freezer (we used most of our other freezer meals this week) and we can use salmon fillets or cheese as a protein for another meal. Or I’ll get really desperate and figure out how to fit a shopping day into our busy holiday schedule. 🙂


We eked a couple more fried potato breakfasts out of the few sprouting potatoes we had left this week, and I did finally make some chia pudding, as well as a pumpkin pie which we used for one breakfast. I also had the brilliant idea to try millet as a non-oatmeal breakfast porridge and that went pretty well (we topped it with cinnamon and honey).

This week I see lots of fried potatoes in our future, as well as any leftover pie we still have around, and possibly more smoothies or chia pudding. I’m not even going to try to get any bread baking done this week.

Baking and Extras:

I’ll be helping with some Thanksgiving baking (mostly pies) this week, and of course I’ll have to keep up with my water kefir fermentation, but beyond that I’m keeping extracurricular baking to a minimum.

Shopping List:

This week I’m buying… everything! Okay, that’s not true: no celery. Never again. (Except for stuffing.)

We do need to stock up on quite a few basics though. I’m not sure of sales yet this week, but here’s my basic Costco list for whenever I get the chance to go:

turbinado sugar, $8

ground beef and/or chicken thighs (the price seems to fluctuate quite a lot on these, so I always check the price but only buy if they’re within my budget)

cheddar cheese, $6/2lb (I had been buying the shredded cheddar cheese, but I may transition to buying the blocks, especially if they stay so much cheaper per pound!)

rotisserie chicken, $5

maybe organic whipping cream, about $8 (handy for holiday baking)


And my Aldi list:

eggs, about $1.50/doz

ground beef (if not bought at Costco), $7/3lb

onions, about $1.50/3lb

baking cocoa, not sure of price

yellow mustard, not sure, but probably less than $1

frozen pizza, $2/each (My husband was very supportive during the pantry challenge even with some weird meals–I think he deserves some frozen pizza now that it’s over.)

sweet potatoes, about .69 each

bananas, about .44/lb

frozen veggies, about $1

organic spaghetti, about $1.50


And my Kroger list, which is generally less urgent, but I’ll get to eventually:

sour cream (when on sale for $1)

chicken thighs, if not bought at Costco (when on sale for $1/lb)

canned crab, $2.79

macaroni, about .79


There will be more vegetables, and probably fruit, on my lists once I get some sales ads or get to the store and see what I can find a good deal on right now.

Pantry Challenge, Day 32: Salmon Chowder

For breakfast on Sunday I cooked up some millet which we sprinkled with cinnamon and drizzled with honey (I also added a splash of milk to mine). It made a pretty good breakfast and my husband seemed to enjoy it more than he would enjoy oatmeal.

For church fellowship meal we took salmon chowder, which I made from pretty basic ingredients: milk, chicken broth, a can of salmon, diced potatoes and sliced carrots. As with most things, a dash of turmeric really tied together all the flavors well, and I was pleased that most of the chowder got eaten. Sometimes when branching out beyond meat and potato type dishes it’s hard to tell what’s going to be popular and what’s going to be avoided, but I may make salmon chowder more often if it continues to be a popular dish even on repeat occasions.

Sunday evening we had a couple of my nieces and nephews over. We basically just scrounged leftovers for supper. I had an extra pizza crust left from Friday, so I topped it with the last of the leftover pizza sauce, the last of the leftover pork filling (from pork dumplings), the last chunk of leftover kombucha chicken (sliced thin) and homemade cheese. That made a surprisingly good pizza, and we rounded out the meal with beef stew from the freezer (which had originally been leftover shepherd’s pie filling).

The fact that we had guests becomes important, as you will understand when I inform you that we broke into the ice cream that I bought last Thursday. There are certain serious life topics that just need to be followed by ice cream, and under the comfort of guests clause in my pantry challenge rules, we did just that.

I’m actually very pleased that we’ve had minimal reason to invoke that clause, as feeding other people reasonable food has been mostly feasible even on the normal pantry challenge limits.

Pantry Challenge, Day 31: Leftovers

Saturday was kind of an odd day, not quite like our normal Saturdays or our normal week days. I fried up a couple of potatoes in olive oil for our breakfast (eaten with fermented ketchup, of course), then we went out to help with a moving day, which went surprisingly quickly. When we came home I proceeded to nap for about three hours.

I woke up hungry and we reheated our leftover Chinese food from Thursday as a late lunch and proceeded to graze on odds and ends of leftovers until my husband (who noted that I seemed especially tired) volunteered to cook up the leftover pork dumpling meat and dough into pork dumplings for supper.

I often appreciate the fact that my husband can throw together meals of ground beef and fried potatoes or pasta, but I sometimes forget that he can actually cook when he has the time to. It’s fun to be reminded of this fact on occasion. 🙂

Because we had extra meat leftover after he filled all the dough he fried up part of it to go with the pork dumplings for extra protein (it had been a fairly carby day up until then, so extra meat sounded really good to both of us). We ate it in bowls, liberally doused with faux soy sauce, and it was amazing.

Pantry Challenge, Day 30: Sardine Pizza and Pear Sauce

On Friday, which was day 30 of our pantry challenge, my husband had the last of the rice pudding for breakfast and I fixed myself peanut butter oatmeal. My husband’s not a big fan of oatmeal, but I am, and I’m surprised I didn’t think of adding it in for my pantry challenge breakfasts sooner.

For lunch we each had our restaurant leftovers from the night before, with a little bit of food swapping to balance out the meals.

Supper was sardine pizza. I think I messed up the crust, which has turned out really well for me before (I used a different flour this time which might be the problem). I put leftover pizza sauce on the crust along with sardines, homemade cheese and a sprinkle of mozzerella.

My husband summed up sardine pizza by saying it wasn’t like normal pizza, but was very good as it’s own thing. I found it to be more ‘meh’, but I think that had more to do with the crust being off than the topping, which seemed like they should have worked fine.

Oh, and as a side to the pizza I made pear sauce out of this can of pears we had in the pantry. We don’t really eat canned fruit (except maybe pineapple), so I’m not sure I thought it was a good idea to buy canned pears, but I put them to good use in the pear sauce, with a sprinkle of cinnamon, and it was really nice to have a bit of fruit in our meal.

How to Make Water Kefir (Probiotic Soda)

Water Kefir

The pitcher in the back is sugar-water-molasses ready to be fermented by the water kefir grains. The jar in the front is vanilla flavored water kefir that’s ready to drink. The color contrast between start and finish is not always this drastic, but it is usually noticeable.

 I’ve tried a variety of ferments. I’ve fermented all kinds of vegetables (the only one that has become a staple is ketchup), made kombucha (currently in hibernation), made milk kefir (which worked well for flavor, but was hard to consistently have fresh milk for at the right times, and my grains eventually died) and made tepache (which requires have fresh pineapple around, so it’s a fun occasional drink, not a staple).

I’ve only make making water kefir for about a month now, and I’m still working on how to achieve maximum carbonation in the finished product, but I have my routine down, and I’m thinking water kefir could be a new staple around here.

The real fun of water kefir is that it can easily be used to make homemade sodas ranging from any fruit flavor to ginger ale and root beer to herbal teas to whatever crazy flavor combination you want to try. However, unlike kombucha which quickly gets a strong tart flavor as it ferments, plain water kefir was a pleasantly mild flavor with just a bit of tart and sweet. While not particularly interesting, it is very drinkable on it’s own.

Both kombucha and water kefir seem to give me a similar energy boost when I drink them and I’ve been drinking quite a bit of water kefir, especially as I’ve realized that with its quick fermentation time, I don’t have to hoard it for ‘if I need it later’.

My favorite flavor of water kefir so far has been made by grating fresh ginger into the water kefir after its first fermentation. I’ll do some individual posts with more detailed water kefir soda recipes, but in the meant time, after straining out the water kefir grains you can try flavoring your soda with fresh ginger, or mix your water kefir half and half with any flavor of juice or tea (sweetened or unsweetened) before doing a second fermentation. (My husband really liked the water kefir I flavored with sweetened peppermint tea.)

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

The only possible health concern here is the sugar, and since water kefir takes a relatively small amount of sugar, most of which is consumed by the grains themselves AND does best on unrefined sugars such as turbinado, I don’t see that being a barrier to a healthy rating.

Water kefir also contains a wide variety of beneficial yeasts and bacteria, which most of us could use a lot more of in our diets.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

Sure, you can  mess this up if you try a flavoring that really doesn’t work right. (I’m going to give you a heads up that while I’ve never tried it with water kefir, I’ve had a bad experience trying to make celery soda.) But the basic flavor of water kefir is good, and gets even better with judicious flavorings.

Water Kefir 

1/2 cup water kefir grains

1/2 cup turbinado sugar or evaporated cane juice

1-2 tsp molasses (optional)

1 cup hot water

7 cups cold water

flavorings of choice

Let us assume that you are starting with a jar or baggie of water kefir grains. If they are active grains, such a might be given to you by a friend, you’re ready to go. If they’re dehydrated grains, such as might be ordered online, you’ll need to follow the instructions for rehydration first.

Once your grains are ready to go, you’ll need a container suitable for fermentation. I’ve been using these pitchers, which are a bit on the expensive side, but they’re really just the best for every kind of pouring, storing or fermenting. You could also use a two quart canning jar, or do half a batch in a regular quart jar.

Put the sugar and molasses (if using) into the bottom of your fermenting container. If using turbinado sugar the molasses is unnecessary, but more refined sugars need a little boost from the molasses to keep the water kefir grains healthy.

Pour about a cup of hot water over the sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. (There’s no need to measure this exactly–estimating is fine.) Add cold water until the fermentation container is almost full.

You’ll want to use filtered water for this, because water kefir grains are sensitive to chlorine.

The water should now be about room temperature, but if it’s still hot, you’ll need to wait for it too cool down before adding the kefir grains.

Add the water kefir grains to the sugar water mixture. Loosely cap the container, or cover it with cheesecloth or a clean dishtowel and let it sit out and ferment for about two days. (I’m finding that two days may be too long, as the kefir tends to ferment past the time of peak carbonation after two days of primary ferment and two days of secondary ferment. Experiment a bit to see how long works best for you.)

The color of your liquid will often be lighter after fermentation as the kefir grains have digested many of the nutrients in the molasses and given you happy probiotics in exchange.

Strain the liquid into a new container (another pitcher or jar or two quart jars). I generally use a nylon mesh strainer, but from what I’ve read, a stainless steel strainer is unlikely to harm the grains, despite some anti metal hype in connection with water kefir grains.

I like to leave my water kefir grains sitting in the strainer while I begin the process of making sugar water again in the first jar. I don’t wash the jar every time, as I figure it’s just growing more of the same good bacteria, but I do rinse it with hot water after every few uses or if it starts to look or smell like it needs to be washed. If you feel the need you can wash it or use a new jar for every batch.

The finished water kefir can now be flavored as desired, tightly capped and left out for a secondary ferment for 1-2 days. At this point strain out anything you don’t want left in (such as tea leaves or grated ginger) and transfer it to the refrigerator.


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Pantry Challenge, Day 29: Eating Out and Grocery Shopping (Costco and Kroger)

Thursday was a very odd food day. We had leftover rice pudding for breakfast, which was on track for how food has been lately.

After that, however, we ate out the rest of the day. I almost feel like this was cheating on the pantry challenge somehow, but since it would have worked out this way regardless of our pantry challenge status, I’m trying to be chill and not stress about having to tell all of you about it.

We discovered the day before that we had Seize the Deal vouchers to a local Chinese place that expired on Friday. Clearly, we should not let this happen, and we needed to use the vouchers as soon as possible, so we planned a lunch date for Thursday.

We had also already planned to go out to dinner with my husband’s parents that evening, as we were finally making use of their Christmas present last year which was a ‘coupon’ for them to take us out to dinner. We had a very nice dinner at a local restaurant called Salt, which my husband and I had not been to before, but had heard good things about. Everything we ate was very good, but possibly the most interesting thing we ordered was the fried deviled eggs. I didn’t have any (pesky egg allergy) but I’m pretty sure just knowing they exist should inspire some sort of burst of culinary creativity.

Since I didn’t have any meals to video for the pantry challenge post, I did a video of my grocery shopping haul for the day, with explanations of why I bought what I did and how it fits into the pantry challenge rules (hint: we’re not eating most of it during the pantry challenge).

I spent about $40 at Costco and got green beans, garlic and apple cider for our Thanksgiving meal, cheese for meal I’m making and giving away to friends who recently had a baby (leftover cheese will be saved for after the pantry challenge is over) and organic canned pumpkin which I only got because I didn’t want to miss the time where it was in stock at Costco, and we will also not be eating it until after the pantry challenge is over.

I spent about $15 on food at Kroger (this number is approximate because I also had some non food purchases, such as white vinegar, which I ONLY use for cleaning). There I got sour cream and ground beef, which like the cheese is destined for the  meal I’m giving away, and whatever’s left will also be saved for after the pantry challenge is over. I also picked up cabbage, which I’m using to make sauerkraut for someone else (and regardless the sauerkraut wouldn’t be ready until after the pantry challenge is over), and ice cream.

Admittedly, the ice cream does not really fit into the rules of the pantry challenge, but I needed it for a video I’m going to film with an idea for using up some of your Thanksgiving leftovers. In order to get the video posted in a timely way I’m going to have to film the video during our pantry challenge, so we will probably cheat on the pantry challenge in that one small way. I assure you, we will be very good and only eat as much of the ice cream as we have to as responsible food bloggers.

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Pantry Challenge, Day 28: Pork Dumplings and Roasted Cabbage

Wednesday morning we had rice pudding for breakfast. (Yay!)

For lunch we had leftover chicken, lentils and creamed celery. It was an okay meal to start with, but for some reason after eating most of the leftovers I decided I really never wanted to see this meal again, and threw away what was left. I did save a small piece of chicken that was left, and I probably would have saved the lentils if they hadn’t been down  to a couple of spoonfuls that were covered with celery sauce, so I guess it was the creamed celery I really didn’t like, but I’m really not sure why.

Supper was a very good (almost normal) meal. I made pork dumplings, with a few minor adjustments for missing ingredients and roasted some cabbage we had in the freezer.

I’ve noticed that frozen cabbage often loses its natural sweetness and gains a bitter edge, and I really didn’t want a repeat of the celery experience, so I took some extra care seasoning the cabbage. I sliced it up fairly thin, coated it with olive oil, added plenty of salt and pepper, a good hearty dash of garlic powder and small dash of cayenne, then drizzled it with a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup (the last of what we had left in the fridge at the start of the pantry challenge–there are just drippings left which I may rinse out with hot water and add to something else if it seems called for). I roasted the cabbage at 400 for 30 or 40 minutes and it came out very well. I would make cabbage like that again.

The pork dumpling sauce seemed a little off to me, but the pork dumplings themselves tasted normal despite the adjustments, so it was a refreshingly good meal after a meh meal the night before.

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