Archive for November 19, 2014

Menu Plan (and limited shopping list) 11/20/14-11/26/14

As has been the case for the past few weeks, if you’re interested in details of how the menu plan went this week, you can peruse my daily pantry challenge notes. The brief overview is that everything went surprisingly much as planned, despite the fact that we got sick over the weekend. This is perhaps not so surprising when you consider the fact that we don’t have a lot of extra ingredients for improvisation right now… ūüôā (Though the truth is, there are all kinds of baked products I could still make if I took the time. Which I really need to start doing, because the breakfast situation is about to become dire.)

I had toyed with idea of whether to stop the pantry challenge at 28 days or not. A month of pantry eating is a pretty good accomplishment, and it might be nice to have a little leeway for buying Thanksgiving food ahead of time.

But….

Last week I thought we were scraping the bottom of the barrel for meat. I plotted it all out carefully, assigning one meat to each day, and it worked. There were a few salmon fillets leftover, and maybe a freezer meal or two, and a couple cans of sardines, and some turkey lunch meat… It wasn’t until I added up all the ‘non-meat meat’ available that I realized we could actually scrape through for one more week. (Add to that the fact that I inexplicably have a pound of ground beef left after finishing last week’s meals, and we’re rocking this!)

My husband also strong encouraged me to keep going. Far from getting tired of the pantry challenge, he said he was going to be kind of disappointed if we didn’t have any really weird meals before the pantry challenge was over.

So on that note, weird meals, here we come! We’re continuing the pantry challenge for another week, for a total of 35 days. On Thanksgiving Day we will officially come off the pantry challenge and be able to buy all the groceries we want to (though, practically speaking, I’m not going shopping on Thanksgiving).

Because of practical issues, such as needing to make food for Thanksgiving ahead of time, and signing up to make a meal for a family at church who just had a baby, I will be doing a small amount of grocery shopping this week. We’re also receiving our Azure Standard order this week.

I will not use any of that food in my normal cooking this week, unless it falls under the original exceptions of the pantry challenge.

For instance, I’m still undecided about whether it’s reasonable to go without butter for another week, so I may add one pound of the organic butter I ordered from Azure into our usable food supply for the pantry challenge. (I’d definitely like to get another vote on that one: is it reasonable or unreasonable to go without butter for two weeks and have to use olive oil almost exclusively for our fat?)

Dinners:

(We likely have a social event going on one night, but at this point I wanted to make sure we have food planned for every night we MIGHT need it.)

Salmon Fillets with lemon garlic sauce, zucchini fritters

Sardine Pizza (with homemade cheese)

Leftovers/Fridge Scrounging Day (we may end up pulling out one of those extra freezer meals this day)

Salmon Chowder (for church fellowship meal)

Meatloaf, Celery Fritters

Turkey Sushi (using turkey lunchmeat, candied celery and sprouts along with anything else I can scrounge up that seems sushi worthy), pickled ginger, miso soup

Sardine Fritters, freezer baked beans, zucchini chips

(Before you ask, I have no idea what my obsession was with fritters this week. I guess it was my one repetitive idea to keep weird food interesting. Or I’m subconsciously craving fried foods because I know we’re out of butter…)

Lunches:

Leftovers, when we have them, but some of these meals being made with limited amounts of meat to start with ¬†may not produce enough leftovers for a full lunch. To fill in the gaps we have freezer meals of grave of small birds, beef stew (shepherd’s pie filling), a pasta dish (with meat and tomato sauce) and one beef topped baked potato. Most of those are small portions to make a whole meal for two out of, but if combined or supplemented with rice, etc, should work just fine. We should also have extra turkey lunch meat that won’t be needed for the sushi, which we could use to make wraps or sandwiches, mozzerella which can¬†be used as a protein in a pinch, and we may have extra food from one of the above dinners if we end up having that one social event this week. (Don’t mind me being exhaustive–this is one week where I really want to have all my options listed out for reference in case of feeling like I’ve run short on food.)

Breakfasts:

As I mentioned, the breakfast situation is getting pretty sparse. We did toast and smoothies this week, ham slices once, and fried potatoes (with diced ham) on Saturday, and I made rice pudding for breakfast this morning, which helped a lot. Once we get more milk I can make chia pudding, and in the meantime we have some more rice pudding and I plan to make zucchini bread and possibly some kind of muffins. I can fall back on oatmeal for breakfast if needed, but I’ll try to avoid inflicting that on my husband if possible. (I’m Scottish enough that I really don’t mind oatmeal for breakfast, and am starting to wonder why I haven’t been eating it more often already.)

Baking and Extras:

I got some of my baking projects done last week, including roasting the squash. This week the top priority is for breakfast foods. After that, keeping up with the water kefir and making bread and possibly making some sort of snack. Is it time to revisit that idea of homemade crackers already?

Shopping List:

Aldi has sweet potatoes on sale for .49 each, onions for .79/3lb and cranberries for .99/12 oz.

I will, however, be doing my shopping at Costco:

cheddar cheese, about $15/5lb (I need cheese for the meal I’m making for a family at church, the rest will be on hand for us to go crazy with as soon as the pantry challenge is over. ūüôā )

sour cream, about $4 (Everything I said about about the cheese also applies to the sour cream.)

ice cream, not sure of price (Okay, so I actually need this for a recipe video I’m filming, which means we might end up eating some before the pantry challenge is quite over… Ah, the hard necessities of being a food blogger…)

frozen green beans, not sure of price (for Thanksgiving dinner)

apple cider, not sure of price (also for Thanksgiving dinner)

fresh garlic, about $5/lb (also for Thanksgiving dinner)

I’m going to restrain myself from buying too much, because it seems as though it would just start to get complicated keeping the pantry challenge food seperate from the after pantry challenge food. However, if Costco still has cans or organic pumpkin, I may snag some before they’re gone.

 

Pantry Challenge, Day 27: Kombucha Chicken, Lentils and Creamed Celery

Over the weekend my husband discovered a box of off brand rice crispies in the pantry, which I’d forgotten we had because we so rarely eat cereal. He was quite pleased with this discovery, and it was good timing because we’re really starting to run low on breakfast food. As you might have guessed, we had rice crispies for breakfast this morning.

I was once again on my own for lunch and I had leftover salmon and cucumber pasta from last night. The cucumber pasta was much better as leftovers than it was the first time around, and I think it might even be good cold as a pasta salad.

For our main dish for supper¬†I cooked chicken breasts in kombucha. Kombucha¬†has worked really well for me before as a sort of glaze for ham cooked in the crockpot, but in the this case I think it would have been better if I’d gone ¬†with my original instinct to marinate the chicken breasts in kombucha and then cook them with this method.¬†The skillet method has worked amazingly well the last two times I’ve cooked chicken breast, and by comparison the chicken breast semi stewed in kombucha was kind of dry.

I also made celery gratin, or perhaps just creamed celery. I was originally planning to work from this recipe, but in the end what I made bore almost no relation to the original recipe. I simmered the still kind of frozen celery in white wine to defrost it, made a simple white sauce spiced with basil, mixed together the celery and white sauce and added parmesan. It was actually pretty good, though more like a thick cream of celery soup than anything else.

To round out the meal I made red lentils, cooked them in chicken broth and added lots of spices, especially cumin, turmeric and garlic. I was counting in the RED lentils to make the meal less beige, but I forgot they pretty much turn brown when cooked.

In order to try to compensate for the  excessive beigeness of the meal I plated it up as nicely as I could, with half a chicken breast on top of a heap of lentils and the creamed celery in a half circle around it, then sprinkling the whole thing with dried parsely.

It only kind of helped. Still, my husband’s assessment was, “It was like a real meal made from weird ingredients,” so I think that qualifies as a pantry challenge success.

Pantry Challenge, Day 26: Marinated Salmon Fillets and Cucumber Parmesan Macaroni

Monday morning I was hoping to wake up energetic and ready to clean up the house and catch up on dishes after a weekend of being sick, but I wasn’t that surprised when instead we still needed another sick day.

For breakfast I fried up a bag of sliced apples I’d found in the freezer, using almost the last of our coconut oil. (This means we’re basically down to olive oil and a ¬†little bit of rice bran oil for fats in the house. Not ideal, but for now I’m going to try to make do with those until my Azure order comes in later this week.)

For lunch we had leftover salmon chowder from Sunday.

Once again the lack of easy snacking food in the afternoon was a bit challenging (no pun intended), especially as we’re now out of crackers. I mixed up some more garlic cream cheese dip and (after my husband definitively determined that it’s NOT good with graham crackers) we ate it with ezekiel toast triangles.

I didn’t have a lot of energy for cooking supper, but I knew it would be easier to throw together that it might sound from the description, besides which, we had very limited options for food in the house if I went off the menu plan at this point in the pantry challenge, and I was also quite curious as to how this particular meal plan would turn out.

I had some flat punch, originally made from cranberry raspberry juice and ginger ale, and I really didn’t want to throw it out, so I decided to use it as a marinade for salmon fillets. Once I’d gotten to that point it was a very small jump to decide to take whatever part of the flat punch I didn’t need for the marinade and boil it down for a reduction sauce to serve with the salmon fillets. (I added a splash of red wine to the reduction sauce also.)

I also had some frozen cucumbers that I really needed to use up, or just decide to throw away, and I opted to at least make the attempt to make them taste good to eat. (Can you tell I really don’t like cucumbers that well?) I was originally just going to sautee the cucumbers and serve the salmon fillets as sandwiches, but since I still haven’t made homemade bread, I opted to serve elbow macaroni as our carb for the meal, and then I decided that if I mixed the sauteed cucumbers with pasta it might be more edible.

Overall the meal turned out pretty well. The salmon was good, the flat punch made a quite good reduction sauce, and with the addition of lots of garlic, some parmesan and touch of olive oil the cucumber pasta was not bad, though not something I’d ever plan to make again.

This was the first of our ‘beige’ meals this week, but the reduction sauce added a nice splash of color and I sprinkled dried parsley over the whole thing, so the overall effect was of a meal that was surprisingly elegant for being eaten curled up on the couch watching How to Train Your Dragon 2 at the end of a sick day.

Pantry Challenge, Day 25: Salmon Chowder

Sunday morning we were still feeling pretty crummy so we stayed home from church. We’d kind of swapped places though, so at least at the beginning of the day my husband was feeling a little bit better and I was feeling a little bit worse. So, he fixed breakfast for us (also because he’s awesome like that).

He used the last egg and some of the (nitrate free) turkey lunchmeat from Costco to make himself a breakfast burrito. He made me toast with the last of the butter and some honey and cinnamon and heated up the last of the diced ham to top some turkey lunchmeat slices for me.

For lunch I threw together quick salmon chowder using leftover creamy spicy broth from the day before as a base, adding sliced carrots (I’d sliced a lot more than I needed for fried carrots, so I had a bag of pre-sliced carrots in the fridge) and a can of salmon. All I had to do was crush the bones in the salmon and chop a couple of small potatoes, and the whole thing made a pretty good soup.

Supper came in two parts, or as a couple of heavy snacks, depending on how you look at it. We fixed some more ramen (using olive oil since we’re out of butter) and also heated up some chili I had in the freezer which we ate with mozzarella cheese and tortilla chips.

 

Pantry Challenge, Day 24: Leftovers (and Fridge Scrounging)

So, Friday afternoon my husband was already feeling under the weather, but pushed through so we could make it to the Night of the Burning Plum celebration. By the end of the evening I was pretty sure I was also coming down with whatever cold or flu he had so Saturday was an official sick day for both of us.

Saturday morning I still wasn’t feeling too bad, so I put more energy into breakfast than any other meals that day. I took what was left of the sliced ham I’d found in the freezer, diced it up to add to fried potatoes and put cheddar cheese on top. (This was almost the last of the cheddar cheese, and the last bit got eaten as a snack later in the day, so we’re out of cheddar cheese now.) I fried the whole thing in coconut oil because we were down to our last few tablespoons of butter.

We had breakfast late enough that we really only ate two main meals on Saturday, plus some snacking.

Sometime between those two meals I made up a big batch of creamy spicy broth to help ward off germs.

We had leftover orange chicken and rice along with leftover pan fried carrots for our second (late lunchish) meal of the day.

Over the course of the evening I really started to feel the pinch of being almost at the end of a pantry challenge while not having a lot of energy to fix food. It was verging on a situation of “we don’t have any food, just ingredients’. Then I remember that we still had cream cheese, and mixed up some cream cheese garlic dip to eat with crackers and the world was a happier place.

We also fixed some ramen noodles before the end of the evening. (Without the spice packet, of course, just seasoned up with butter and some of my favorite spices. I may be okay with the occasional white flour, but I usually draw the line at MSG.)

I was really glad to have coconut water on hand because I was at that stage of feeling bleah where it’s really hard to drink much water, so having coconut water, fermented ginger ale, fermented peppermint (tea based) soda and hot tea and honey around made the day much more pleasant.

Pantry Challenge, Day 23: Pinto Beans (lunch) and Night of the Burning Plum

I’m behind on my pantry challenge posts because I came down sick over the weekend and I’m still not feeling great. Bear with me and I’ll get caught up as quickly as I can.

For breakfast on Friday I had creamy, spicy broth and a bit of fermented (water kefir) ginger ale. At this point I don’t remember what I fixed for my husband’s breakfast, so it was probably toast.

Once again my husband had to a work lunch so I was on m own for lunch, and oddly not very hungry, so I just heated up the last of pinto beans left from our burritos meal and added some spices.

For supper we went to eat with friends for our Night of the Burning Plum party. Every year, sometime in October or November, depending on how schedules work out, we get together and eat ham and mashed potatoes and salad, drink plum wine and mead, have flaming plums and cherries over ice cream and tell conflicting stories about the true origin of the Burning Plum. I’m not even going to attempt to explain how I accidentally participated in the creation of this holiday, all I’ll say is that it’s great fun, and if you’ve never had a Burning Plum party you should try it sometime.

In this¬†video I included a shot what food has come into the house other than the squash since the pantry challenge started. There’s a gallon of maple syrup (which I’m splitting with a friend, so only half a gallon is staying here), a quart of honey, and vanilla beans. Only some of the vanilla beans made it into the shot because I went ahead and started some vanilla extract with a few of the beans and some vodka we had in the cupboard. I’ll be refraining from using any of this new food until after the pantry challenge is over, so I only mention it in the interest of complete transparency and full information.

How to Roast Squash

This post is really more of tutorial than a recipe. I use butternut squash in the video, but this method can be used on any kind of squash or pumpkin.

Most squash roasting instructions will tell you to roast the squash for 30 minutes, which results in tender but firm squash to serve cut into pieces. I prefer to roast the squash for closer to 60 minutes, resulting a squash which has essentially pureed itself. (If desired, a quick whirl through the food processor will remove any lingering stringiness or lumps.)

I generally roast squash to prepare it for freezing, though, of course, the roasted squash can also be served immediately, preferably with a pat of butter and perhaps a sprinkling of turbinado sugar and cinnamon or of garlic. I often defrost the squash for a hearty winter breakfast (usually with served with that bit of turbinado sugar), but it can also be used in any soups or casseroles that call for squash puree, or as a substitute for pumpkin puree.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

It’s squash, plain and simple.

Yumminess Rating: Kinda Yummy

The yumminess rating really depends on what you do with the squash. On it’s own it’s okay, but not that amazing, however it can be turned into yummy amazingness as desired.

How to Roast Squash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. This isn’t really an exact science. 350 or 450 will still get you roasted squash, 350 will just take longer and at 450 you start to risk scorching the squash.

Rinse any loose or excessive dirt from the outside of the squash. You don’t have to be meticulous because you won’t be eating the skin anyway, but I like to avoid the risk of having large chunks of mud fall into the food part of the squash.

Cut of the top of the squash, then cut the squash in half lengthwise. Unless you have a particularly small squash or are particularly handy with a knife, it may be easier and safer to cut the squash in half once crosswise before cutting it in half lengthwise.

Scoop out the seeds. I like to use a large spoon for this because it has enough edge to easily scrape out the orange stringy bits clinging to the seeds, but won’t take away much of the flesh of the squash with it. If you like, you can set aside the seeds to clean and roast later.

Arrange the squash on cookie sheets with sides. (Once I forgot to use cookie sheets with sides and water released by the roasting squash spilled all over the floor of my oven and scorched there. Not ideal.) I can normally fit one squash per cookie sheet unless the squash are abnormally large.

Put the squash into a hot oven for 45 minutes to an hour. The squash is done when a fork easily pierces the skin and slides through the squash.

Remove from the oven and let cool. (If you’re not going to get to it within a reasonable amount of time you can throw it in the fridge and deal with it later, but generally just letting it cool to room temperature on the counter works fine.) If you like, you can save any ‘squash water’ that’s collected in the cookie sheet and add it to soup or stock.

Peel the squash. Once again, I like to use a large spoon for the process. If the squash has been cooked very well you may just be able to remove the peel easily with your fingers, and if it’s still a bit hard it’s best to peel it with a knife as you would any vegetable. However, for everything in between the spoon does a good job of scraping the squash from the peel without making too much of a mess.

Use or freezer the squash puree/pieces. Half a squash serves the two of us for a breakfast or side dish and fits nicely into a quart size freezer bag.

Did you notice how at 40 seconds in I said “cut the half in piece” instead of “cut the piece of half”? Yeah, I’m smooth like that. But I make up for it and prove I’m a cool person anyway ¬†with that Tetris reference at 2:52 right?

Pantry Challenge, Day 22: Orange Chicken

For breakfast this morning I fried up slices of ham I found in the freezer, and we had it with toast and apple butter.

For lunch I ate leftover freezer lasagna and the one lonely little piece of broccoli that was leftover from that dinner.

For supper I made Orange Chicken, loosely following this recipe, but using frozen orange juice concentrate and mostly dried spices. I made pan fried carrots (using coconut oil) and heated up leftover rice to go with the Orange Chicken.

Pantry Challenge, Day 21: Pizza (lunch) and Dinner Out

For breakfast yesterday¬†my husband had scrambled eggs (there’s now only one egg left in the house), and I had Ezekiel bread toast with homemade apple butter.

Lunch (which is what I videoed) was pizza. I still had one crust worth of pizza dough sitting in the fridge from pizza a week and half ago, and I figured the yeast might not be as active now, but there shouldn’t be anything wrong with the dough. So, I made pizza sauce from tomato paste, water and spices, topped it with leftover ground beef from our burritos meals and extra fake sausage that I cooked up when I was making the crockpot spaghetti, then added feta cheese and black olives. It turned out to be quite tasty.

For supper¬†we headed out to celebrate my husband’s grandmother’s birthday with his family at our favorite nice restaurant, The Harvest Cafe. (We have several ‘favorite’ restaurants, but this is our favorite for a nicer and fancier level dinner out.) It’s a farm-to-table restaurant using real food ingredients (not necessarily whole food, but real food, nonetheless) and mostly local ingredients.

Every time we go to the Harvest I am re-inspired to TRY learning to up my game in seasoning foods and matching tastes. I do okay at creating individual dishes that taste good, but a meal at the Harvest always reminds me how outstanding a meal can become when assembled by a chef who has mastered the art of combining the flavors of different dishes into into one whole cohesive meal.

Menu Plan 11/13/14-11/19/14

As usual the last few weeks, if you want details on how our meals went this week ¬†you can check out my pantry challenge posts where I’m giving a daily description of what we’re eating without adding groceries. The quick summary is that the first few days went as planned (surprisingly much as planned, considering my habit of changing things around, but I supposed being on a pantry challenge tends to give me a little less room to be completely spontaneous). Instead of eating orange chicken though, I used up some extra leftovers that were starting to build up in the fridge, and instead of salmon fillets, we’re semi-spontaneously going out to celebrate my husband’s grandmother’s birthday. (Semi-spontaneously = we did actually have a couple days warning, but the plans were made after my menu plan was made.)

I went through my freezer today and found a few freezer burned items that just need to be thrown away, identified all the packages of meat (just enough to get through this week) and targeted some of odd bags of vegetables the need to be used up this week.

Pro tip: Don’t ever buy an entire case of celery, even if it is organic and super cheap. Just don’t.

Also, I realized that between kombucha, homemade fermented ginger ale, juice, some flat punch that I haven’t brought myself to throw away, fermented coconut water, leftover miso soup and some broths, there are a lot of jars of liquid sitting in my fridge. We’re actually drinking the homemade ginger ale, but with¬†most of the others I’m going to be inventing marinades for just about every piece of meat I can get my hands on this week.

Dinners:

Social Event

Orange Chicken, Rice and Roasted Carrots

Leftovers/Fridge Scrounging

Salmon Chowder

Marinated Salmon Fillet Sandwiches, Sauteed Cucumbers

Pork Dumplings, Roasted (or Sauteed) Cabbage

Kombucha Chicken Breasts, Celery Gratin and Red Lentils

(There are a couple of very beige meals in there, but I think if color palette is as bad as it gets on the pantry challenge we’re doing pretty well. I’ll go heavy on the dried parsely and see if I can work in some carrot strips to improve the color factor.)

Lunches

If we don’t have enough leftovers for all our lunches I really want to do some kind of pasta salad with the candied celery I have in the freezer. If that doesn’t work out (or turns out inedible) we have turkey lunch meat and ezekiel bread we can fall back on.

Breakfasts

We did a lot of toast for breakfasts this week. I found some ham slices in the freezer, which will help with breakfast protein, and I’m really going to try to make some chia pudding for a couple of breakfasts.

Baking and Other Extras:

This past week I got two of the four squash roasted and in the freezer, made a cashew pie and finally made that dutch apple pie for my husband’s coworkers, in addition to keeping up with my water kefir/ginger ale production. This week I need to roast the rest of the squash, make some bread and hopefully get some other fun baking in too.

Shopping List:

I’m on my last stick of butter, and since I don’t have a lot of coconut oil in the house either, I may decide to buy a pound of butter to tide us over using the ‘reasonableness’ clause in the pantry challenge rules. I’ll see if I can just keep my use of butter down to very minimal for one more week though. Other than that, I think I can go one more week without shopping.

For those of you who are shopping this week, feel free to comment and let us know about any good grocery deals you noticed.

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