Menu Plan 2/5/15-2/11/15

As usual, we followed about of  half of the meals on our menu plan this week… To start with, while my soreness has just about completely healed since my surgery, my energy levels are not nearly back up to normal yet, and that comes with some brain fog as I’ve started pushing myself just a little bit to start getting some work done around here again. (Don’t worry, I’m still resting too, but I’m completely sick of just sitting on the couch, and I even think I do a little bit better with a couple hours of work and then a nap than just sitting all day.)

This lead to small issues with fixing even easy meals, such as putting the pork steaks in a preheated oven and then turning the oven OFF. Thankfully, they didn’t sit in the warm oven long to go bad, but our supper was going to be delayed by this error, so I pulled out a package of ground beef from the freezer and fixed cheese burgers instead.

The pork steaks went in the fridge when they finished cooking and served very nicely for additions to quesadillas and stirfrys for lunches later in the work.

The weather caused us to miss church on Sunday, so we finished off some more leftovers instead of using our #10 can of applesauce that we’d planned to contribute to fellowship meal.

The last change was because of needing to reschedule having my husband’s little sister over for her birthday present of a game night at our house. Neither our abundance of leftovers nor the originally planned chowder seemed quite festive enough, so I pulled some more pork steaks out of the freezer and make parmesan fried potatoes and sauteed green beans with mushrooms and onions to go with them

The food highlight of the week was going out for endless sushi on my birthday. It’s like the more upscale version of a sushi buffet– a nice restaurant, which to my limited experience seems to make high quality sushi and offers this deal where for a flat rate you can keep ordering 2 to 3 maki rolls at a time as long as you can keep eating them.

This was a very nice way to try out some new kinds of sushi without as much of the pressure of feeling like I’d wasted money on it if I didn’t like it, because hey, after I finished that roll, I could just order something else! We tried a deep fried sushi, which we both liked a lot. We also discovered that I’m not a huge fan of raw asparagus in sushi and that while I am a huge fan of smoked salmon in sushi, my husband is ambivalent to it. Oh, and eel sushi is pretty good.

All in all, it was fun experience, we had some really good sushi, and we’d like to go back sometime for the lunch version of their endless sushi, which doesn’t include their signature maki rolls (such as the deep fried sushi), but is significantly cheaper.

This week’s menu contains a lot of repeats from last week’s menu as I’m continuing to rely heavily on freezer meals while I’m slowly getting my normal levels of energy back.


Social Events x3 (It’s birthday season in both our families, plus we have some social catching up to as I’ve not been up to doing much with friends the last month or so.)

Leftovers/Fridge Scrounging

Chicken Thighs (for church fellowship meal–it’s a sign of the brain fog that I didn’t think of this last week…)


Crab Chowder


Some leftovers, probably some type of ground beef and veggie stirfry (maybe with noodles) for a couple of the days, maybe grilled cheese sandwiches if they’re needed. (I picked up some sweet mini peppers when they were on sale last week at Aldi, which will make an easy way to add veggies to lunches as needed.)


I’m starting to do some minor experimentation with some sourdough starter I got last week, so I suspect (if all goes well) we’ll at least have plenty of sourdough bread for toast in the upcoming week, and if I feel up to it, I’d really like to try sourdough pancakes over the weekend as well. Other than that, my husband will probably be eating some eggs and bagels, and I’ll do my normal rotation through fruit, homemade hot cocoa, chicken stock and any leftovers that sound good.

Baking and Extras:

I have lots of ideas for my sourdough starter, but I’m keeping things fairly low key this week, as I think I should at least have energy to catch up on dishes all the way before I start elaborate baking projects. My water kefir grains are currently in the fridge (hopefully) recuperating from my serious neglect  of them after I had surgery, so they’re not a factor in my projects for another week or two. Oh, and I just ordered some uncleaned chicken gizzards (very cheap) from our local organic farmer, so at some point I’ll have to experiment with cleaning and cooking those.

Shopping List:

I was able to do some light shopping at Aldi while running a couple other errands with my husband the other evening, which means I’ll be able to put off a full shopping trip until another week when I have more energy. (Yay!) So I did pick up the mini sweet peppers, grape tomatoes and mushrooms that were on sale after all, and am enjoyed having more fresh veggies in the house.

This week’s Aldi’s sales include lots of berries and citrus for their average winter sale prices. Also, if you’re in need of any kitchenware you may want to check out their sales on stainless steel utensils ($2), stainless steel bowls ($10/2pk) and kitchen canisters ($13/3pk).

Kroger has both ham and whole chickens for .99/lb, as well as eggplant and bell peppers for .99 each, frozen veggies for $1/12oz, and the ever tempting Talent gelato for $3.99/pint.

Menu Plan 1/29/15-2/4/15

I realize it’s been two weeks since I post my last menu plan post, but since I had a second, follow up, surgery in that time, we’ve still been in that same non menu plan state the whole time. We once again had an outpouring of food from friends at church and are still trying to finish the last of the leftovers from those meals.

Because my second surgery was a shorter, simpler surgery, recovery went a lot faster. I felt like I completely skipped the first stage of recovery from the first surgery and went straight to drinking lots of water, eating lots of food to recharge my iron and vitamin levels and being able to move around semi-comfortably instead of with great difficulty.

It was hard for me to relax quite as much as after the first surgery, especially since I’d already spent over a week on the couch and I wasn’t feeling quite as bad, but my husband continued to assure me that I needed to just focus on resting and recovering, and I did my best to oblige by watching an entire Jane Eyre miniseries and finishing the book I started after the first surgery.

Once again, we very much appreciated all the meals that came in so that I could focus on resting instead of food management. We did realize after several days of eating other people’s cooking that I cook with a lot more fats (mostly in the form of butter, though sometimes coconut oil and lard) than most people do, but snacking on a batch of French Onion Dip my husband made for us helped fill the lack of fats we were starting to feel.

This coming week we’re going back to something resembling a normal menu plan, though I’m not planning to start doing much cooking for at least a few more days–I’ll mostly be pulling out freezer meals and reheating them.


Date Night/Dinner Out

Pork Steaks, Baked Potatoes, Green Beans (Not quite a freezer meal, but still mostly just throwing stuff in the oven.)

Leftovers/Fridge Scrounging

Applesauce (for church fellowship meal–less food than I normally take, so if I come up with something else that’s very low prep I’ll take that too)

Chicken Thighs, Cheesy Broccoli Rice

Burritos (Using mixed beans, rice and beef burrito filling from the freezer and Aldi’s organic jars of salsa–all I’ll have to do is warm up the tortillas)

Crab Chowder


Leftovers should work for most lunches. Realistically, the days we’re short on leftover we’re probably going to be eating frozen pizza, ramen (with butter and my own spices instead of the seasoning packet) with ground beef, or possibly grilled cheese or quesadillas. I’m in favor of healthy food, but I’m also in favor of low stress meals at certain seasons in life, and I’m okay with some white flour in our diets as long as it’s generally balanced with more nutritious foods.


Probably mostly eggs for my husband. In theory I would eat oatmeal this week, but again, being realistic, I’m probably going to scrounge leftovers that look good, maybe cook up some frozen veggies (I had peas for breakfast once last week) and supplement with toast as needed, or until we run out of bread.

Shopping List:

I’m not planning on shopping this week, though some of the produce sales at Aldi are very tempting! They have mini sweet peppers for $1.49/lb, avocados for .49, mushrooms for .69/8oz and grape tomatoes .99/pint. Also, it’s worth noting that they dropped the price on their organic jars of salsa from $1.99 to $1.69. I like homemade salsa, but it’s also really nice to have a couple jars of salsa around to take to unexpected events, for days when I’m out of fresh tomatoes, or just days when I’m feeling especially tired.

Menu Plan 1/15/15-1/21/15 & Post Surgery Nutrition

I should have known that we would receive a large outpouring of food from our church after I had surgery, but somehow, I’d only calculated for reasonable amount of food to show up. 🙂 After a few days we had to call a halt to people bringing meals so that we had a chance to eat all our leftovers from the first meals we got. (We haven’t yet eaten any of those freezer meals I so carefully prepared, either.)

I love the variety of food lifestyles expressed in the food we’ve gotten too. We got two kinds of chicken soup: one gluten free and one ‘double gluten’ (chicken noodle soup that also came with crackers). We got a simple, but completely amazing, beans and rice casserole from a foodie, just off the GAPS diet, friend. (I’m going to have ask her what kind of rice she used in it too, because I come from a rice-is-rice is-sadly-not-potatoes background, but she used some kind of very long grain rice that I actually really enjoyed.) We got a dish called Pork Chops O’ Brian, which I’d never heard of before, but since it involved meat and some kind of creamy sauce on potatoes,  we heartily approved. We also got a large tray of meat (yay, iron!), a quiche (which came in very handy for my husband’s breakfasts), banana muffins (which came in very handy for my breakfasts), lots of green salads with assorted toppings, one very much appreciated fruit salad, and ice cream.

The upshot of all that is that we didn’t even attempt to follow any sort of menu plan this week. I napped a few hours a day and took a very rare complete break from doing anything responsible. I didn’t even track what food we had available, or what tasks might need to be done, as my husband completely took over tracking when we were getting meals, warming leftovers when we weren’t getting new meals, washing dishes, refilling my glass of water and everything else that could possible need to be done.

The first couple of days I drank a lot of coconut water and some juice trying to rehydrate, and only ate small amounts of food. Cliche as it may be, chicken soup was one of the best foods at that point, followed by fruit and ice cream. I ate a few bites of meats and breads and casseroles at this stage, but mostly I wanted liquids and simple, easily digestible carbs to start to get my energy back up. (I really appreciated a couple of packets of hot cocoa mix that came in with a meal at this stage too–warm, liquid and chocolate. It was perfect.)

After I started to feel better I went to drinking mostly water plus a little bit of herbal tea. (This wasn’t part of any grand strategy to get back to water or anything–I really just went with what sounded best through most of this recovery.) At this point the beans, rice and meats started being really appealing, and I started to pay more attention to trying to boost my iron levels back up, which also encouraged a focus on beans and meat. Ice cream was still really good at this stage too, along with just a little bit of chocolate, as it had the easily digestible carbs for energy, but balance by enough fats to keep my from sugar crashing.

Basically, if I started to get lightheaded I would try to sleep. If I couldn’t I would eat ice cream. Between those two strategies I felt pretty good most of the time.

Within just the last couple of days I’ve felt more like I wanted to get back to the normal balance of foods in my diet, as well as beginning to notice the lack of fermented foods in the previous week. I’ve started eating more salads with my meals, and very much enjoyed having some kefir for breakfast yesterday. I may also start eating some homemade sauerkraut with my meat, now that I’m paying attention to available foods again.

There’s really not much of a menu plan for the coming week either, as we still have leftovers (and frozen pizzas and freezer meals for if they’re needed), and more meals coming from friends after I go in for a follow up surgery.

So I guess our menu plan looks something like this:


leftovers and meals from friends


leftovers and meals from friends


This one’s a bit more tricky, though I’ll probably have more kefir for breakfasts, and maybe even get back to my spicy creamy chicken broth routine for a few days. Hopefully we’ll get to go shopping soon and pick up some more eggs for my husband’s breakfasts, and fruit for both of us, otherwise we’re probably having lots of peanut butter toast this week.

Shopping List:

It’s worth noting that Aldi has some meats on sale, including Pork Butt Roast for $1.99/lb. They also have avocados for .49, roma tomatoes for .99/lb, navel oranges, $1.99/4lb, kiwi for $1.29/lb, and blueberries for $1.99/pint. (I’m focusing on the seasonal fruits, so skipping the blueberries, but getting oranges and kiwi.)

My own list is fairly short, as all we really need is eggs, fruit, and few ingredients that lend themselves to easy meals.

‘natural’ peanut butter, 3/$5

mayonnaise, about 2/$5

ramen noodles, $2(pk of 12)

organic salsa, about 4/$8

eggs, about 4/$5.50

oranges, $2/4lb

kiwi, $1.29



Menu Plan 1/7/15-1/13/15

This week’s menu plan will be a little sparse, because I’m starting off by having surgery, after which friends from church are bringing us a few days of meals while I start to recover.

Also, during this week’s menu plan there is a day of fasting we plan to participate in. (Because the day of fasting is only a few days after my surgery, I’m going in cautiously and seeing how I do. Most likely I’ll at least do chicken broth through the day rather than a complete fast.)

That only leaves two meals to plan for this week. If all goes well, I’ll be getting a couple weeks worth of freezer meals into the freezer tomorrow, and those two meals will come from that cooking session.


Meals from friends x 5

Chicken Broth/Fasting


Crab Chowder (with carrots, onions and organic potatoes), possibly garnished with green onions


Leftovers, sandwiches, and whatever my husband decides to fix while he’s home taking care of me after my surgery. 🙂


I’m hoping to do a few kefir smoothies this week, but it’s possible breakfasts will stay super simple with eggs for my husband and fruit, possibly with toast, for me.

Baking and Extras:

None whatsoever.


Reality Check: Christmas Food

Since I didn’t do a menu plan for the last couple of weeks, I can’t really tell you how closely I followed it. (Would it count as 100%? or 0%?) Instead I’m going to give you some of the highlights of yummy food, healthy food and meh food that we ate over our Christmas celebrations.

The Healthy:

*Shrimp: High in zinc and selenium, and one of many seafoods that I’d like to figure out how to get into my diet on more regular basis. Conveniently, shrimp also ranks high on the yummy list. (I’m sure the cocktail sauce I was eating with the shrimp was less than healthy, but it least had a healthy dose of horseradish. Kapow!)

*Grapefruit: I normally dislike grapefruit rather strongly, but deciding to add a bit of fruit to my plate was a surprisingly good desicion, as the grapefruit was some of the best I’ve ever eaten, and I even went back for seconds!

*Oranges and clementines: These were a good (frequently available) option for adding some fruit to the rich, celebratory foods on my plate.

The Meh:

*Ham sandwich: This probably doesn’t strictly belong in the meh category, but it’s worth noting that I skipped eating a sandwich at one of the Christmas celebrations. I normally enjoy sandwiches, but I decided the best strategy was to focus on eating the special foods I would enjoy the most, even if that meant skipping the official main course, and a food that’s good in its own right.

*Most Christmas cookies: There are a few exceptions, such as reindeer droppings (technically a candy, made from white chocolate and crushed candy canes), salted caramel pretzel bark, and kiflis, but in general I skip the sweet Christmas treats, as I rarely find them worth it.

The Yummy:

*Artichoke dip, salmon dip and other dips: These were some of my favorite foods I ate over the Christmas celebrations this year (and most of them would qualify as mostly healthy, though–true confessions–I was generally eating them with white flour processed crackers). I made a homemade artichoke dip with mayo, sour cream, lemon juice, salt, onion powder and a dash of cayenne that I took to two different Christmas parties. I also really enjoyed a salmon dip from Costco that my husband’s family contributed to two different Christmas parties we were both at.

*Raspberry jam with havarti cheese: There were several good (aged) cheeses that I experienced over Christmas, but the raspberry jam that was paired with havarti stole the show.

*Kringle: A Danish pastry which is a Christmas tradition handed down from my sister’s husband’s family, and is one of the few Christmas sweets worth eating. The walnut ones are my favorite, but interspersing a few pieces of fruit Kringle into the mix is also amazing. (It’s even better when you have Kringle, sausage links and coffee. One amazing Christmas brunch!)


After our Christmas celebrations were over, my husband and I were both feeling the results of having eaten a lot of amazing, but very rich, food for most of a week. Our first thought was that we needed salad, but after brief contemplation realized that what we really both wanted was fruit and tomato (specifically sandwiches with tomato and lettuce). We ate quite a few sandwiches the week after Christmas using nitrate free turkey lunchmeat, quasi whole wheat bread (the storebought bread that’s like a cross between white and whole wheat), cheddar cheese, tomato and iceberg lettuce.

Our breakfasts for the week were mostly oranges and bananas.

We also ate a few leftovers such as mashed potatoes and kielbasa (which I ate with a ton of homemade sauerkraut and some homemade ketchup) and a couple of frozen pizzas.


Menu Plan and Shopping List 12/25/14-12/31/14

I think Christmas exploded in my living room. There are stacks of gifts that need to be wrapped, boxes of wrapped gifts (sorted by which Christmas family event they need to arrive at), Christmas socks I bought for myself and never put away, scraps of paper and lamination plastic, leftover squares of wrapping paper that are theoretically big enough to wrap some gift somewhere (but never the one I’m trying to wrap at the moment), and to top it all off the lights and ornaments I put up in our window keep falling down at odd moments with startling plinks of sound and I’ve given up on trying to put them back up.

Also, my NOEL letters on the bookshelf currently read LEON, but that’s because of a family tradition of taking sides and sneaking around to switch the letters around when the other team’s not looking, so the only strange there is that I’ve been so distracted today that I never changed it to NOEL after my husband left for work this morning.

In light of this festive explosion, the title of this blog post is rather misleading. For one thing, I’m not digging myself out of this mountain of ribbon and tinsel to go grocery shopping any time soon. For another thing, I’ve decided not to make a menu plan this week.

Shocking, I know.

My husband was able to arrange taking extra time off for Christmas this year (partly because he’s been so busy at work that he had extra vacation days we weren’t able to use earlier in the year), so starting tomorrow he’s off work for the duration of this menu plan and a bit beyond. This means that after a string of Christmas celebrations with various branches of our families we’re probably going to do a mini staycation that includes pajama days, movie marathons, eating leftover Christmas cookies and cooking whatever’s easy to make that we feel like eating. (If the weather cooperates I’m sure it will also include sledding and other such outdoor winter activities, but the point is, we’re both ready for some time off to just crash for a while.)

I have checked the fridge, freezer and pantry and confirmed that we have enough hot dogs, hamburger patties, potatoes, cheese, frozen pizza and ramen noodles to last through next week, and that’s all the planning I feel the need to do. (Okay, okay, I also confirmed that we have squash, sweet potatoes, onions, saurkraut, homemade ketchup and water kefir to fill the vegetable and fermented sides of our diets.)

So, after a quick rundown of how last week’s menu plan went, and giving you a peek into my Christmas dinner and party food plans, I’ll be heading back to wrapping gifts!

Last week I followed the menu plan fairly closely, and without having to fall back on the hot dogs plan! I did a few food swaps like replacing rice with potatoes and leaving out the nachos from one meal. I also completely simplified the hash meal into hamburger patties with ramen noodles and garlic green beans. Saturday we went out to Wild Berries Cafe, a local restaurant I’d been wanting to try. Sadly, their coffee bar was closed, but their food was good (and plentiful!), and I would definitely go back again. Also, the leftover from our meals stretched our leftovers to the point where I really didn’t have to figure out anything besides creative re-combinations of leftovers for lunches last week.

We are attending three Christmas gatherings/parties this week. One is a brunch doesn’t require us to bring food, so if we take anything it will be a plate of Christmas cookies. Another one is mostly lighter sides to go with sandwiches, so I plan to take artichoke dip with crackers and tortilla chips and homemade cranberry sauce. The third is more of typical Christmas dinner and I’m taking roasted garlic mashed potatoes. (I may also take some sort of dip or other lighter food for snacking before or after dinner, but I haven’t quite decided on that yet.)

For our own personal Christmas celebration at home, we do a large breakfast/brunch and a Christmas dinner in the late afternoon, with snacking in between as needed.

For breakfast we will have flaming Christmas pudding. I bought (nitrate free) sausages at Costco to go with the Christmas pudding, but I wasn’t able to figure out if the spices would make for good breakfast sausages or not, so I also have bacon as a back up.

For snacking  we’ll have cheddar cheese and Christmas cookies, and I’ll probably make crab dip.

Christmas dinner will be corned beef brisket (I buy an extra one when they go on sale on St Patrick’s day and save it for Christmas–yes, I even saved it through the pantry challenge this year!), mashed potatoes, cheesy onion casserole and sweet potatoes.

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Christmas Gifts and Stocking Stuffers for Foodies and Cooks

Those of you who are more organized that I have been this year may already be done with your Christmas shopping. In that case, I hope  you will still enjoy this peek into my kitchen and the brief reviews of my favorite kitchen tools.

For those of you are still trying to figure out gifts for those last few people on your list, here are some ideas for those cooks, tea snobs, foodies and real food enthusiasts in your life. (Or, if you ARE the cook and foodie in your life, and you want a handy list to share with those people who are running behind on gifts for you, that works too.)

Most of these gifts are available on Amazon, and will still get here in plenty of time for Christmas with Amazon Prime free 2 day shipping. If you don’t have Amazon Prime, this is the perfect time of  year to sign up for a free trial.

 Stainless Steel Ginger Grater

(This link is to a very similar grater to the one I have; Amazon doesn’t seem to carry the exact brand of ginger grater I own.)

I picked up this ginger grater on clearance somewhere for a couple of dollars. When it came it looked like a ridiculous little gadget, and I really wasn’t sure how often I’d use it, especially since fresh ginger is something I buy occasionally and not a staple in my kitchen.

From the first time I tried it I was hooked.

It makes a very quick job of grating a few tsp of ginger for tea or flavoring water kefir and other ferments. (It get a little uncomfortable to hold if I need to grate a larger amount of ginger, but that’s a fairly rare occurrence for me.) It also works well for zesting an orange, and would probably work as a nutmeg grater and for lots of other such small jobs.

The grater I linked to on Amazon is about $6, which is well worth it for a small and versatile kitchen tool, and makes it a great little stocking stuffer.

Perma Brew Tea Infuser (Tea Toby)

As far as I have been able to discover the Tea Toby is the ultimate way to brew a single cup of loose leaf tea. It snaps closed and doesn’t leak tea leaves into your cup of tea (unless you catch some tea leaves in the seam when you close it, which isn’t really the fault of the infuser at that point).

I like the fact that I can fill it with tea and throw it in my suitcase, or even my pocket, and be ready to brew a serving of medicinal tea, peppermint tea, or my favorite chai at a moment’s notice.

It’s about $7 on Amazon, so small and cheap enough to qualify as a stocking stuffer, or it could be included in a gift basket of loose leaf teas.

Small Mesh Strainer  

This is a seriously high quality little stainless steel strainer. It costs about $13, but it comes with a lifetime warranty, and I’ve used mine for about two and half years without it showing any signs of wear. I bought it while I was on the GAPS diet, to use for straining pulp out fresh juice by the glassful, and it quickly became one of my most frequently reached for kitchen utensils.

I use it when straining spices out of water kefir or kombucha after the second ferment, straining my cold brew tea into a glass or new jar, straining cold brew espresso, and other misc. occasions of “I have particles in my drink that I don’t want there”.

It fits perfectly into the top of a glass, mug or quart jar without needing to be steadied as I pour through it, and the fine mesh does a good job of straining most things well. (You might get some small dust like particles when straining tea, but I haven’t had a big problem with that with most teas.)

Bamboo Cutting Board with Cutting Mats

I used to have this set of cutting boards (which cost about $6 on Amazon), which I really liked because of the ability to store several cutting boards in a small space in my apartment kitchen. They even lasted pretty well, as it took over a year of heavy use (probably an average of being used once or twice a day) for the fruits and veggies cutting board to start falling apart.

The problem I had with my original set of cutting boards was that they would fall down between the side of my fridge and the cupboards if I wasn’t very careful when putting them away (in the only reasonably accessible storage spot I have for cutting boards in my small kitchen).

I’ve only had the bamboo cutting board (which cost about $20) for a few months, but it’s already demonstrating all the advantages of my original set of cutting mats, with a few important bonus features.

It comes with even more (color coded) cutting mats, so I can use different mats for raw chicken, raw beef, raw pork, veggies, bread and cheese, plus a plain black mat for serving food on. The variety of mats helps prevent cross contamination while storing in a small space AND all the mats store conveniently INSIDE the bamboo cutting board, so no more plastic mats slipping down into hard to reach cracks!

Also, the bamboo cutting board has a lip around the edge to prevent juices from the chopped foods going all over the counter. Plus, the cutting mats feel more heavy duty than my original set of cutting mats, so they should last even longer. (A set of replacement mats to fit in the bamboo cutting board can be purchased for about $13.)

Aerolatte Milk Frother 

While the other items I mentioned are mostly very practical kitchen tools that I reach for often as I cook, this one is pure luxury. At $26 it’s stainless steel with a 5 year warranty (there are also lower price options with no warranty where the housing is made from cheaper metals) and indispensable for any coffee lover who likes to whip up fancy coffee drinks with as little fuss as possible.

While I can’t say that this milk frother has worked flawlessly, most of the problems I’ve had with it in the past have been due to battery issues which are not the fault of the frother. (The more juice in the battery, the better and faster it froths, while low quality batteries or mostly used up batteries cause it work slowly, poorly or not at all.) The first one I was shipped did have a manufacturing flaw which affected its use, but Amazon quickly replaced it without any fuss.

The beauty of this tool is in its simplicity. It fits in my utensil jar on my counter, so about two minutes total I can pull it out, froth milk for a latte or a steamer, rinse it off, set it in the dish drainer to dry and enjoy my fancy hot drink.

Bonus Idea: Cast Iron Skillet Maintenance Kit

This one works as a stocking stuffer, as a small extra to add to a larger gift of cast iron cookware, or just as small gift for neighbor you know could use it. It could work for newlyweds, for seasoned cooks who can always use more dish scrubbers, or for those who you think need a little help understanding how to take better care of their cast iron.

For the cast iron maintenance kit you’ll want a nylon scraper (I have these, which are simple but heavy duty, but there are a range of options available, including this more elegant bamboo scraper), a plastic scrubbie (you can make one yourself, buy them in bulk on Amazon, or buy them individually at your grocery store), and a green scouring pad (also available in bulk on Amazon
or in smaller quantities at your grocery store). Optionally, you could also include one of these scrub buds for the really tough cast iron messes.

This post contains affiliate links.

Menu Plan and Shopping List 12/18/14-12/24/14

It was a bad week to be a menu plan at our house. Our poor menu plan was twisted, pulled, ignored and pummeled this week. We skipped one social event because of illness but added another one we thought we were going to have to skip. We didn’t attend church fellowship meal (again, because of illness), and we’re still eating off of the rotisserie chicken that was intended for that meal. We’ve eaten grilled cheese sandwiches, frozen pizza, french onion soup, and a skillet lunch composed of leftovers.

I think the only two meals that truly stuck to the menu plan were one social event (my husband’s workplace Christmas party) and apple cider glazed hamburgers with sweet potato fries (which were fabulous by the way).

As we’re heading into the last week before Christmas and I’m further behind than normal on gifts and wrapping and such I’m trying to keep this week’s meals pretty simple. If even when I’ve planned ends up being too complicated I will fall back on Costco hot dogs which I have stashed in the freezer.


Social Event

Apple Cider Brined Pork Loin, Roasted Apples, Rice (carried this one over from last week)

Spicy Chicken Thighs, Tortilla Chips with Nacho Cheese Sauce, Buttered Squash

Leftovers/Fridge Scrounging

Costco rotisserie chicken (for church fellowship meal)

Ground Beef and Potato Hash, Green Beans with Onions

Pork Loin, Mashed Sweet Potatoes


We should have enough leftovers for all the lunches except one. Depending on how that day is going, I may throw together a quick french onion soup for lunch, or make cheesy fried potatoes.


I’m moving back toward having creamy spicy chicken broth as a regular part of my breakfast, though it hasn’t quite been every day. Other than that, I’ve mostly had zucchini bread and fruit for breakfast.My husband has had eggs nearly every day for breakfast, sometimes with zucchini bread.

Next week will almost definitely continue with eggs for my husband, possibly with some fried potatoes thrown into the mix. I may or may not manage to keep up my chicken broth routine, but we do have more fruit and more zucchini bread (and Christmas cookies… but I’ll try not start eating those for breakfast until Christmas vacation officially starts).

Baking and Extras:

I did finally take care of my water kefir and the grains seem to have survived their extended ferment just fine (yay!). I also did some Christmas baking and cookie swapping with my husband’s family, so I have most of the basic necessary cookies for this season.

This week I’m keeping things simple, and other than keeping up with water kefir my only definite plan is to make salted caramel pretzel bark. (I may do more baking here and there over the actual Christmas celebrations while my husband is home, but I’m not making definite plans at this point.)

Shopping List:

I ended up doing my shopping already, picking up more turbinado sugar, nitrate free sausages for Christmas morning breakfast, tomato paste, and couple more rotisserie chickens at Costco. I also got some eggnog at Kroger, along with sour cream and package of chicken thighs.

The striking deals at Aldi this week are mandarin orange at $2.29/3 lb, navel oranges at $1.99/4 lb, black beans at $2/2lb and butter for $2.29/lb (yeah, butter’s just expensive, but that’s probably the best price around right now).

Hyvee has frozen veggies for .88 (10-16 oz packages).

Kroger has sour cream for $1 (of course, now that I already broke down and bought it…), frozen veggies for $1 (8-16 oz packages), eggs for $1.50/dozen and pears for .99/lb.




Nacho Cheese Sauce

Nacho Cheese Sauce (made with real food ingredients!)

Just look at that cheesy gooeyness. Or is it gooey cheesiness?

Imagine this scenario: You’re invited to a party at the last minute and you’re supposed to bring a finger food to share. You suspect that everyone else will bring some kind of dessert, which fine and all, but you kind of get cranky if you don’t get some kind of protein for supper. The problem is finding a high protein food you have on hand that everyone else will consider acceptable party food.

No problem!

This nacho cheese sauce is mostly made out of cheese (along with a few other real food ingredients), but with that creamy processed food texture that will satisfy all your normal friends that it belongs at a party. In fact, if you could get your hands on an old Cheez Whiz jar, they’d probably never suspect the contents were homemade. (Just make sure you serve it warm–the homemade nacho cheese sauce thickens considerably when cold.)

Other good reasons to make this nacho cheese sauce include needing to make lunch in less than fifteen minutes, needing a midnight snack, having cheese and tortilla chips in the house, or having cheese and spoon in the house.

If you really want to replicate a processed food flavor, I recommend making this recipe using mild cheddar cheese and a few dashes of hot sauce. The sky’s the limit for flavor combinations though, if you want more of a gourmet and personalized cheese sauce. Mozzarella and green hot sauce? Extra sharp cheddar and lots of cayenne? Monterey Jack and a spoonful of chili powder? Okay, now I’m getting hungry…

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

As always, the quality of the ingredients you use determines exactly how healthy your end product is (for example, I always try to use organic cornstarch to avoid GMOs), but in any case you’re replacing a processed food that’s full of chemicals with a homemade sauce made from real foods, so it’s a vast improvement regardless.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

Oh, so yummy! As you might imagine, this nacho cheese sauce is very much a husband approved recipe. (My husband has been known to mix it with salsa on occasion for a different twist.)

Nacho Cheese Sauce

inspired by this recipe from How to Cook Like Your Grandmother

1 1/2 TBSP butter

1 TBSP cornstarch

1/2 cup milk

1 ounce cream cheese

1 heaping cup of cheddar cheese (or cheese of choice)

dash of cayenne and/or dash of hot sauce

Melt the butter over a medium heat. Break (or cut) the cream cheese into three or four pieces so it melts into the sauce more easily when you add it. (But don’t add it yet.)

Turn down the heat to medium low (if you’re more patient than I am you can just start with the heat at medium low). Whisk the cornstarch and milk into the melted butter.

Add the cream cheese and whisk until it’s fully melted in.

Add the cheddar cheese (or whatever kind of cheese you prefer) and whisk (or stir) it in until it’s completely melted and evenly blended into the sauce.

Mix in cayenne, hot sauce, or whatever seasonings you prefer.

Serve warm. Refrigerate leftovers.

(The refrigerated nacho sauce will develop a texture not unlike a loaf of american cheese, so if you like you can pour the leftovers into a small loaf pan and experiment with this use of the sauce.)



Menu Plan and Shopping List 12/11/14-12/17/14

We followed this week’s menu plan surprisingly well, just swapping a couple meals from the day I’d originally planned to fix them, and swapping out veggies a couple of times. In fact, I will admit that I forgot to fix a veggie to go with our meatloaf. I’m going go with the theory that the LARGE amount of chopped onion I put in the meatloaf counts as our veggie for that meal…

The only other change is with the BBQ chicken thighs meal: First, I forgot to buy chicken when I went shopping (more like I looked at it and decided against that particular chicken at every single store I went to). Second, we ended up deciding to go out to dinner anyway, as part of our date night to go see a local theater perform The Sound of Music.

I was feeling unusually ambitious about cooking meals on Saturday, so instead of just scrounging leftovers, I made a sweet and sour pork dish. It was really good, but for once my decision to double the sauce backfired, and made the whole dish just a little too sweet (which my husband didn’t seem to mind at all…). Serving the leftovers with extra veggies and pasta helped a little.

We’re heading into the Christmas party time of year, so the next few weeks will probably involve extra social events, easy meals so I have time to focus on special Christmas activities, and a lot of last minute changes between when I plan meals and when we eat them.

We had well over a gallon of apple cider left after Thanksgiving that went fizzy and is now halfway between sweet cider and hard cider. I thought we’d just drink it anyway, but we haven’t been going through it that fast, so I found a few recipes to help me use it up this week.


Social Event x 2


Leftovers/Fridge Scrounging Day

Costco Rotisserie Chicken (for church fellowship meal)

Apple Cider Glazed Hamburger Patties and Sweet Potato Fries (using this glaze recipe)

Apple Cider Brined Pork Loin with Roasted Apples and Rice


We should have enough leftovers for every lunch except one or two. I’ll probably cover those with grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, or possibly nachos.


Toast, fruit, zucchini bread, cheesy fried potatoes… Lots of options this week.

Baking and Extras:

So, I got almost nothing done from last week’s priority list, but I did make the homemade bread and also made zucchini bread. This week: water kefir for sure, hopefully process apples and start Christmas baking!

Shopping List:

Aldi has both avocadoes and pomegranates on sale for 50 cents each.

I’m probably not going shopping this week, as the few things I need (such as sour cream for holiday baking) I’d rather wait to buy until Kroger has them on sale for their cheapest price.

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