Friday, February 27, 2009

Thursday, February 26, the food

Last night I went to put the split pea soup in the freezer for next week and realized that I am running severely short on room in there. To free up some space, I pulled out a container of peaches I'd put up months ago, when my mother in law bought us a bushel of peaches. That was fun, even though a lot of them turned out to have spoiled in the bushel basket. Teach me to look before I buy, I guess! Anyway, I'd chunked and frozen these old peaches months ago and they were still pretty good, though they looked kind of sad. I made midnight peach smoothies using frozen peaches, skim milk, a little Splenda, and some vanilla extract. They turned out great! I'm going to do the same thing, probably tomorrow night, with the rest of the peaches, plus the frozen blueberries and the last of our bananas. It will be a fruit bonanza, just in time for grocery day. 

This morning was oatmeal and sandwiches again, ho hum. I need to find some better options for weekday breakfasts and lunches. Leftovers help break the lunch monotony, but breakfasts are pretty blah. I often skip them or move them to the end of the day when I'm up late and hungry. For dinner tonight, though, I made ham fried rice, and that was pretty good. I used another chunk of the giant ham, diced it up, and put it into fried rice with egg, peas, rice, and a packet of fried rice seasoning, then added a liberal quantity of soy sauce. Gotta get my salt and MSG in while I'm young enough that my cholesterol is still good, doncha know. 

On a side note, taking pictures of all my food really shows me how often I use my big pasta bowls instead of regular plates. Got those as a wedding present and totally forgot them for a couple of years, but now they're my favorite dishes. I've got a huge matching one to serve pasta from, but it doesn't see much rotation at all. When you don't have a dishwasher, you serve from the pan! 

After supper I had all this fat that I trimmed off the ham, so I decided to see if I could render it down a little. Pork fat is no good for you at all, but it's a lot of pound weight to just let go to waste, and Emeril says it's like liquid gold for flavoring stuff. I took all the fat, including the stuff I'd cut off the big ham and tossed in the freezer, and put it all in the baking pan for awhile at 350. I got about 3/4 cup of clear liquid fat, and quite a bit of burnt pork rind. The smell was unpleasant. I think there must be a better way to do that, maybe next time I'll do something different. I like to think that when I experiment with leavings and leftovers, it teaches me things without me having to ruin a meal for the lesson.  After that, I made a dozen corn muffins, so we'll have some of those for breakfast tomorrow. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, the food

There was not a great deal of excitement today on the food front, certainly nothing like yesterday's great effort. M refused to take split pea soup for lunch today and instead took a microwave meal, which generated some controversy. This means there is a lot of soup to freeze, but I'm not exactly happy that he rejected perishable food in favor of something that will theoretically last about fifty years if kept in a cool dark place. At home this evening he preferred a snack of plain white bread to the soup, still waiting for him in a tupperware, so I'm going to assume that he doesn't like the soup and isn't willing to admit it. More for me, I guess. 

Supper tonight was a box of Simply Asian Spicy Szechwan noodles with chicken. At this point in the cooking cycle I'm getting low on fresh veggies, so I didn't add anything but the chicken. It was tasty, but I was disappointed at the lack of promised "spicy." I didn't add my mushrooms because M doesn't like them, but later on I went back and cooked them with a little oil, a little teriyaki sauce, some soy sauce and minced garlic. They were extremely tasty. 

With the end of the month coming up, I'm making up new menus and grocery lists. I have quite a bit of stuff on hand, so I'm going to try and spend less than last month, using up things that I've already got. Pork shoulder is on sale again for 99 cents a pound, so I'm definitely going to make another batch of pulled pork. It was wonderful last time. I also have several recipes, like tomato soup lasagna and tangy tomato chicken that will let me use some of my tomato soup bonanza. Saturday will be shopping day, before all this week's sales turn over. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tuesday, February 24, soup is made!

The soup turned out amazingly well, though I'm not sure it's a recipe I can ever replicate. Basically I looked at about ten different recipes online, then just did my own thing. I soaked a whole bag, 2lbs, of dried split peas overnight in 2qts of water. After that, I drained and split the peas into two pots and poured two quarts of water over each batch. A third of a large sweet onion, sliced thin, went into each pot. I added a bay leaf to each pot, some minced garlic, and a piece of ham. One pot got the bone, one got the small chunk, and every ten minutes I swapped them off. As it simmered, I added garlic salt, celery salt, and pepper to the mix. After an hour or so, when the ham was getting soft, I cut off most of the meat, cut it into small chunks, and tossed it into the pots equally. Eventually, enough of the water had simmered off that I was able to combine the two pots into one six-quart stock pot. 

While the soup was having one last simmer, I made up some corn muffins to go with it, and dinner was served. It was delicious! Savory and filling, and there are certainly plenty of leftovers. I have more than a gallon of soup leftover now, and I have a feeling it may cool to a consistency where more water needs to be added just to eat it. I figure we'll have it for lunch tomorrow, maybe a snack tomorrow night, and whatever's left after that goes into the freezer. Not a bad way to use a hambone!

Tuesday, February 24, making soup!

Today is split pea soup day, and I am very excited. Ever since I got this honest-to-god ham bone, I've known what its destiny would be. Turns out, I left about twice as much ham on the bone as I needed, though, so I thought I'd make more soup than the recipe was slated to. Unfortunately, none of my big stockpots ended up making the move from our last house with us. They were cheap things, and towards the end, when the moving truck was stuffed to bursting, they got triaged out. I later learned that we had boxes full of things like old mail and canned goods that should've been donated to the homeless shelter, but c'est la vie. I was buried in finals and M was left with a totally disproportionate share of the packing, so I lost my right to bitch (very much) about how it all ended up. I rarely used the pots while I was in school anyway, so it didn't seem like a huge loss. 

Unfortunately, that means I've had to try and split my recipe into two pans. Stymied as to how one goes about splitting a hambone, I've resorted to soaking it for ten minutes in a pot, then switching it to the other. Just so both pots get some ham lovin, I found a gristly bit of ham I'd saved in the freezer and put it in the non-hambone pot, and switch it around too. I have no idea if this is going to turn out, but the house is starting to smell like split pea soup. I take it as an encouraging sign. Assuming this turns out, I'm going to have enough split pea soup to float a small, viscous battleship. 

Tuesday, February 24, the food

Today was a bit of an improvisational day, for all we stayed within the general idea of the food plan. M and I both had our breakfast cereal, though not till evening, what with snack fruit available and convenient in the morning. M had his pot roast leftovers for lunch today instead of PBJ, and I finally got around to mashing that half-rutabaga and eating it with leftover gravy. It was okay, though I wouldn't buy a rutabaga just to do it. Mashed potatoes and mashed cauliflower are both tastier. 

Dinner tonight was supposed to be a pasta with parmesan cheese and hot dogs, tossed with olive oil. But when I was grating cheese, I noticed that my mozzarella is starting to go moldy, so it needs to be used more quickly than I'd planned! This is no small matter, since we're talking half of a five pound block here. I decided to make a penne pasta casserole with hot dog instead, so I could use a lot of cheese, and maybe have leftovers to boot. All my jarred spaghetti sauce is already on the menu for later in the week, but I found a can of tomato paste and a packet of spaghetti sauce seasoning in the back of the cupboard. Perfect! I cooked up a sauce with that, added a half cup of chopped onion, four diced hot dogs, and some extra italian seasoning. I undercooked half a box of penne and grated about two cups of mozza. Ordinarily I wouldn't use so much, but it's better to eat it than to let it go to waste. I mixed the pasta and sauce in my baking pan, put the sauce over top, and cooked it at 350 for half an hour. My parmesan cheese is even older than the mozza, and though it certainly keeps better, I decided to use some of that too, tossing it on in the last five minutes. It was a good decision. 

The casserole turned out delicious, and the hot dogs were surprisingly really tasty in the recipe. There's enough left for M's lunch tomorrow as well. Later on, I sliced up a potato and tried potato chips again. Not totally crispy yet, but much closer this time. I think next time I will have it, and the oil is still good for another use. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sunday, February 22, the food

Today M and I both slept in, so we didn't end up having our french toast after all. That's all right, the bread and eggs are in no danger of going to waste just yet, so they can be pushed forward. Lunch was pot roast leftovers, though for once M wasn't especially hungry. He was apparently saving himself for cookies and snacks at the party tonight. There is enough pot roast left over for him to take a very large lunch to school tomorrow. 

For the Oscar party, I made a nacho dip and took along a big bag of Meijer-brand tortilla chips. The nacho cheese dip is yet another family recipe, and was reasonably priced to make. It's much cheaper if you can find the cream cheese on sale, which I could not. But the shredded cheese was on sale, at least, which helped hold down the price. I love salsa enough to buy it by the gallon at Sam's, so there's never any lack of it around here. 

Nacho Cheese Dip (also Nacho Dip Pizza)
1 pound (2 blocks) of regular or low-fat but not fat-free cream cheese
1 packet taco seasoning, pick your favorite
Shredded cheese
Green onions, black olives, sour cream, guacamole (if desired)

Soften the cream cheese and mix well with the entire packet of taco seasoning. This is easiest to do if you buy a carton of cream cheese instead of blocks, but it's considerably cheaper to buy blocks and use a hand mixer or even just a spatula and some elbow grease to mix and soften it up. When it's very well blended, spread it in an even layer over a platter. Cover it with a layer of salsa, chunky works much better, at whatever spiciness you prefer. Cover that with a layer of shredded cheese, Mexican blend if you can get it. Top it however you like to top your nachos, with green onion, olives, dollops of guacamole or sour cream, whatever. Refrigerate a little to stiffen it up, if you have time, otherwise serve immediately. 

This is a recipe that's great for parties, and also works well at pizza parties for a little variety. Just put it in a pizza pan so it sort of fits the theme and put the chips out next to it. A nacho dip pizza, a couple of regular homemade pizzas, and a dessert pizza, and you've got a heck of a party going. For the Oscar party, I left it plain, because M is a purist and because I didn't have any other ingredients today anyway. It was still a big hit, and the platter was clean by the time we came home. That was one nice thing, even if I am incensed that Wall-E was totally robbed in most of its categories. Stupid Slumdog Millionaire.

Anyway, the other good thing that happened was that our hostess, one of M's friends and classmates, gave us a 12-pack of Campbell's tomato soup! She said she got it from another friend who was pantry cleaning, but she didn't like tomato soup. Score! My first impulse is to combine some with rice next week, as tomato rice soup is the only appropriate accompaniment for a poverty staple: grilled cheese sandwiches. But I think 12  cans of tomato soup is an invitation to creativeness as well. I'm starting to look up recipes using tomato soup. The first one I've come across is for tomato soup cake, the idea of which makes me want to hurl, but I'll keep looking. 

Tonight I ate the last of the cheddar potato soup from Friday, it was very thick. To change it up a little, I added two packets of Fire Sauce from Taco Bell. Taco Bell is our laundry day treat, it's very cheap and right next to the laundromat, and neither of us want to cook after hours of washing and folding. (We do our laundry once every three weeks or so. We have a lot of clothes, especially since when I'm around the house, I don't really care whether my clothes fit or whether they're hanging on me like sails.) Every time we go, we ask for lots of Fire Sauce and save the extra. It comes in handy for seasoning lots of different things. The cheese soup was very good, and quite tasty when I ate it with some of the leftover tortilla chips. 

M got new movies from the library today. We're trying to use the library more often and more carefully, so we dont' get any fines. Star Trek and X-Files this week, could be entertaining. I also found that Harlequin is offering a passel of free e-books to celebrate its 60th anniversary. I like romance, though Harlequin is not generally my cup of tea. But hey, when the book is free, why not give it a try? I've read three of them already and none has been a wallbanger. Just as well, since my computer couldn't stand that nearly as well as a paperback. 

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday, February 21, leftovers

The pot roast was wonderful, as usual. It cooked for six and a half hours to the sort of perfect consistency where it didn't quite fall apart but could be cut quite easily with a plastic spatula. We each had a big dish and M had seconds, and there's enough left for a big lunch tomorrow. Between that, the french toast I have  slotted in for breakfast (French toast is cheap! I don't know why I so rarely thought of it before this month), we shouldn't need to eat supper. We're going to the Oscar party, and there should be plenty of snacks. 

Afterwards, when the leftovers were put away and the crockpot was getting cool, I realized that the liquid in the bottom had thickened up, a sort of gravy of roast drippings, mashed up potato, mushroom soup, and onion bits. Normally I'd probably throw it away, but it occurred to me that I still have this half rutabaga from the pasties, and it would probably be quite nice to cook and mash it, then pour this gravy on top. So it went into the fridge as well. I'm getting into the habit of this using-everything business. 

That reminds me of the experiment I did last night. Meijer had a very good sale on potatoes this week, so I bought an extra bag, figuring they're always useful for fillers and snacks. Last night I tried my hand at homemade potato chips, actual fried chips, not oven-baked. It was a qualified success. I used one potato, cut very thin with the mandolin slicer, fried the pieces in vegetable oil, and salted them. First batch was very very soggy, second batch was soggy in the middles, and third batch was a little too done. But I'm fairly confident that now I know what a homemade potato chip is supposed to look like, and I anticipate success with my next venture. And I found a use for the peanut butter jar I saved and washed. Normally I throw those away, but I remember how my grandparents always used to save them, and figured I'd find a use for it. It makes a dandy container for used but still decent cooking oil, so that I don't waste all that I didn't use, or contaminate the bottle. It was a very thrifty day, all in all. No new home for Pookah though, she's back with us for another week. 

Saturday, February 21, Cooking and Shopping

This morning we got up to take our foster cat, Pookah, to the weekly Petsmart adoption event. She's a scaredy-cat, but we're hoping someone sees past that to the lovey kitty she is inside. Before we went out this morning, I whipped up some pancakes from a box of mix. One cup of mix makes enough pancakes for both of us, so a single box will go three or four breakfasts. Not too bad, especially since I only cook breakfast on weekends. 

After hitting up Petsmart, we stopped by Target. I'd forgotten to put canned mushrooms on my shopping list, so I had to get a can, thereby denting my twice-a-month resolution. Next month I will be better at reviewing my list of ingredients before I shop. We also looked at the Brita Filters. Yesterday after I made my wish list and decided what was actually important, I started looking around on for things to fit the bill. You can sometimes get really good deals that way. Amazon had a 5-pack of Brita filters for 25 dollars, free shipping. Not too bad. At Target today, though, they had a 3-pack for 14 dollars, and I didn't have to wait. Score! That three pack should last six months, though I know I'm using it heavily and our water is bad, so maybe not quite that long. 

This afternoon we're having leftover soup for lunch, but for dinner I'm going all out. I got a pot roast a few weeks ago at Kroger for half price, 2.5 pounds of meat for 4 dollars, no bones. I put it in the freezer to let it sit. It might just be my imagination, but I think a pot roast is actually better once it's frozen and thawed. I thawed it overnight and finished defrosting in the microwave, then got out my crock pot. I love my crock pot. It's huge, I think it's the biggest size they make. Got it for a wedding present. Got five crockpots, actually, but I only kept three, including one adorable baby-sized one for cheese dips. You can cook anything in a crockpot and it'll probably come out tasting good.

Anyway, I cut up three potatoes in chunks and put them on the bottom of the crock pot, then added about a pound of baby carrots on top of that. I love pot roast carrots, possibly more than the roast itself.I took the thawed meat and made shallow crosswise cuts across the whole surface, then seasoned it liberally with garlic salt and fresh ground pepper, flipped it over, and repeated it. The meat went on top of the carrots, and then I added the rest of my ingredients. Here's the recipe I got from my mom. It's wonderful, you just need to adjust your main ingredients to suit your needs and the size of your crockpot.

Best Pot Roast Ever
1 chunk of pot roast meat
Potatoes cut in chunks
Chunked and peeled or baby carrots
1 packet onion soup mix
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can mushrooms, pieces and stems
Splash of red wine, cooking wine is okay
Splash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of minced garlic

Add main ingredients as described, then as follows, for best results: Shake onion soup mix over everything, then add cream of mushroom soup. Fill can half with water and stir to get the last of the soup out, dump it in. Open mushrooms and do not drain, dump it all in. Add wine and Worcestershire, then garlic. Put the lid on, set to cook six hours on high or 10 hours on low. Use your good judgment to decide when it's done. The meat will fall apart and your whole house will smell wonderful. 

There's a lot of ingredients here, but only the potatoes and carrots need to be bought close to prep time. You can trim a whole lot off the price by keeping an eye out and getting ingredients when they're on sale. Things like Worcestershire and wine will last you through many, many pot roasts. And, like most of what I cook, with two people in the house, this dish will easily last two meals. We're not at the smelling wonderful phase yet, but it's been cooking less than an hour. I will try to take a picture and add it when it's done, but I sometimes lose my head around a really good pot roast. 

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday, February 20, the food

This morning we got into the box of Generic Choco-Peanutty Butterpuffs, or whatever the Meijer version of Reese's Puffs is. I wouldn't say it's the most healthy cereal you can buy, but it's cheap and it tastes good, which means that we will actually eat it instead of letting it go stale, as is the sad fate of many healthy but gross cereals I've tried. Cereal with milk for breakfast, and then turkey sandwiches for lunch. I got an excellent deal on Kraft 2% Singles at the beginning of the month, and bought a double-pack of smoked turkey slices at Sams, so there's always the makings for turkey sandwiches around. 

I like to put mine on our little George Foreman Grill (5 dollars at an auction a few years ago), to give it some texture. I don't think I've ever cooked a piece of meat on the George Foreman Grill, but it's excellent for hot sandwiches. The sandwich always ends up flat as a pancake, but that's part of its charm. It's actually an idea I picked up at college, where they had a little sandwich grilling station with two of the big industrial-sized GF Grills, that could each hold two and a half sandwiches at once. Those were good sandwiches, with different kinds of meats and cheeses, but then, each meal cost a lot more than what I spend now. 

For dinner tonight, I used a mix we got in last month's care package, one of those Bear Creek Cheddar Potato Soup things. Theoretically all you need to add is water, but that's not going to get you a very satisfying meal. Considering that those things are usually four bucks a pop, it pays to stretch them a bit! I took a chunk of my frozen ham and let it thaw in the fridge overnight, then chopped it up, cooked it in a skillet for a bit, and tossed it in the soup. I also added two more potatoes, cooked, skinned, and mashed up, and about half my leftover peas from tuna casserole. The rest are for the fried rice, but since M complained of an excess of peas in last week's fried rice, I figured I should give peas a chance, nyuck-nyuck. All this made for a very thick soup, so I added a couple extra cups of water and let it simmer nice and long. Corn muffins on the side finished it out very nicely. The soup turned out great, and there are enough leftovers to knock Ramen and Cheese off the menu for lunch tomorrow. Ramen is an excellent staple carbohydrate when things are tough, but I sort of consider any ramen meal that is avoided to be a small victory.

Shopping Wish List

One part of this whole plan is that there is not much room left for anything that isn't a food product, whether or not it would be useful around the house. Every so often, of course, I still need to pick up household essentials, though. This usually happens on the triage system, with some items on the list so far down that they will likely never reach the top. Here's my current non-essentials wish list, in no particular order. 

  • Resolve carpet cleaner
  • Filters for carpet steamer
  • Coffee Grinder
  • Shaving gel
  • Matches
  • New plants for outside planters
  • KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer (this is a convenient bottom item for any triage list, but it's fun to dream about. Especially with the attachments.)
  • New sheets for the bed
  • Pack of dish sponges
  •  Silver wire for crafting
  • Cable television (another bottom dweller, since there's always the internet.)
  • Febreeze
  • Wrinkle Releaser
  • One of those cool-looking tub wands
  • Light bulbs for my gooseneck lamps
  • Rolling pin 
  • Brita Filters 
There's more, there's always more, but those are the things I've been missing lately. Most are just conveniences that I can live without easily enough. We have plenty of toilet paper, toothpaste and paper towel, and really, what more do you need besides food? And there's generally a workaround for what you need and don't have. Yesterday I was going to use the carpet steamer ($64 from Linens 'N Things last year. No wonder they went bankrupt!) to clean up a mess, but I realized that the filter was apparently disposable and had apparently disintegrated since last time I'd used it. I had the carpet cleaning solution, though, so I put some in a plastic flour container (my mop bucket didn't survive the move here, where I have about 5x2 feet of tile), filled it with hot water, and scrubbed the floors with a washcloth. Luckily I have plastic gloves, cause that stuff's caustic, but the point is that it worked. 

Instead of a rolling pin, I've been known to use the tube part of my turkey baster, or even a ceramic mug. It's not perfect, but it works okay. I have Netflix and we're invited to an Oscar party, so who needs cable? The gooseneck lamps are among the few fixtures in our house that will not take CFLs, so they are a low priority to relight, for all that they are cute and fun. The Febreeze and the tub wand are just shortcuts and labor savers, and if there's one thing I've got right now, it's time on my hands. I can get on my knees and scrub, and somewhere around here I have an iron, if no board. 

 I will probably end up getting the matches, the Resolve, and the Brita filters as soon as money allows. The cat has stopped puking since we switched up her food the other day, but I learned in my last apartment that quick attention to stains saves a lot of money in the long run. With all the crazy weather we've had around here lately, candles are more than an indulgence, but they're not much good if you can't light them! And water is the cheapest beverage around, but only if you can stand to drink it. My current filter is two months old, and I'm starting to taste the chemicals again. Yick. Sometimes you can find bargains on that sort of thing, though, so I'll keep my eyes open. 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Thursday, February 19, box of food!

My mother in law is ridiculously awesome. My father in law is good too, but M's mom and I get along like peanut butter and jelly. Every so often, she sends us a box of groceries, generally nonperishable things we like but that do not fit into our food budget. This sort of largess has really been what's kept us off food stamps this past year, when things have been even tighter than they are now. Today she sent us a care package full of many awesome things that will go into the food plan for March. 

When she asked what I needed this month, I told her shortbread, pecans, pine nuts, and caffeinated drinks. I have a great weakness for shortbread, but at four dollars a box at Meijer, it's just way too pricey. When the box came today, I opened the shortbread and ate half my share right away. Delicious! The nuts are for the granola recipe I want to try, now all I need are more honey and some dry coconut, which are much cheaper to get. And really, you can drop a few pecans into any baked good and get their weight in delicious. Tea and coffee, of course, are to feed my caffeine addiction. We got some tea tubes, and a pound of really nice looking Panamanian coffee. I can't wait to try it out. 

Today I had nothing for breakfast (I got up early to clean up the muddy footprints an unnamed party left all over the carpet, then went back to bed for a little while), but made up for it with delicious tuna casserole leftovers at lunch. Tonight we're having pot stickers, a box of frozen ones that I found for 2.69 at Aldi this week. I haven't had them in a long time, and it's a nice bit of variety. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Playing With the Rice Cooker

I got a rice cooker off Freecycle this summer, and have only recently started to use it. It's adorable, like a baby crockpot with only one setting, but unfortunately I do not have any instructions for it, so cooking has been a bit hit or miss. The first set of instructions for cooking "perfect white rice" I found online told me to cook the dry rice in hot olive oil for a few minutes before dumping it into the rice cooker. This would, along with various other seasonings that I didn't actually want in my casserole or fried rice, ensure perfection in kernel form. 

I did that the first couple of times, and the rice turned out fine. It turned out very much like plain Minute Rice, in fact, but much cheaper. Today I decided to dispense with that extra step and extra pan. Why did I need perfect white rice for a casserole? All I needed was adequate fried rice! So I put in the water, turned on the cooker, then dumped in the rice, straight from the bag. Turns out, it was a bit of a mess. The cooker kept boiling over, and when it was done, the rice was mushy and a bit wet still. Huh. Well, it was (barely) adequate, so it was fine for the casserole. Fried rice comes up on the menu in a few days though, and for that I will go back to obeying the nonsensical instructions that actually  work. I can be taught! 

Wednesday, February 18, the food

Today was a day for leftovers, not that there's anything wrong with that. I'd originally thought to make corn muffins for breakfast, but since I had this banana bread, I pushed corn muffins to another day. Perishables before mixes, except after sickness, that's what I always say! Or what I always will say, since I thought of it just now. M had banana bread as well, and the last of the spaghetti from Monday. For lunch, we each had a leftover pasty. They reheated very well! 

A brief sidebar to the food for today: One of my big challenges in this plan so far has been to actually account for all the food that comes and goes. M. has bought into the plan by now, but in the first week, I wasn't really accounting for what a hungry guy he is. I have no idea where he puts it, since he's borderline underweight, but that's just the way it is. In the first week, he would eat the meal scheduled, if he liked it, then eat whatever else he could find in the house. It caused... friction, especially when the extra food was on the menu another day. We've worked that out pretty well by now, though. I've bought extra snacking foods, apples, bananas, pretzels, generic potato chips, and don't budget pretty much any dish to feed us more than twice. After the meal of leftovers, he gets what's left as a snack. That's worked much better for us so far. 

Tonight for supper, we're having tuna casserole and the leftover apple crisp from last night. Tuna casserole is very popular here, because I have an excellent recipe, which I will share with you. This was handed down from my grandmother to my mother and then to me, so the quantities are approximate. This recipe will feed the two of us each a dinner and a lunch. 

Grandma J's Tuna Casserole 
1 big or 2 small cans tuna (I use chunk light, but chunk or solid white is traditional)
1 cup rice, cooked (that means 2 cups prepared, you can use any kind)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1.5 cups thawed frozen peas or corn
1.5 cups grated Velveeta (approximate, my mom's instruction was "till it looks cheesy enough")
1.5 tsp Worcestershire Sauce 
McCormick's Salt and Spice (salt, black and sweet bell pepper, onion, garlic, MSG, celery seed)
Minced Onion

Cook the rice. While it's cooking, drain the tuna and put it in a mixing bowl, mix it with the soup and the thawed veggies. Dump the cooked rice on top and stir it up, then, while it's all hot from the rice, add the grated Velveeta. You can add more or less, till it looks cheesy enough. Add the Worcestershire sauce, and again you can add a little more if you like that sort of thing, then a couple pinches of minced onion and be liberal with the salt and spice. Put it all in a baking dish and cook it at 350 until it's a nice golden brown at the top, usually 25-30 minutes. It cooks faster if you put foil over it, but it's crunchier on top if you don't. 

It's not exactly a low-fat dish, but it is cheap, and delicious! I took a little of the fat out of mine by using low fat cream of mushroom and 2% milk Velveeta, and it's still very nice. Frozen peas were cheaper than frozen corn this week, plus they'll do double duty in a fried rice later. The rice was a bit mushy thanks to my rice cooker hubris, but the casserole turned out just fine anyway. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, the big dinner

It didn't all go exactly as I planned, and it was on the table later than I thought, but for a meal I'd never prepared before and have only eaten once or twice, it worked out well. I ran out of flour while making the pasties, due mainly to changing recipes after I'd already done the shopping. The dough was a simple business of flour, shortening, and salt all cut together, then mixed with water and rolled into a ball. I didn't have any waxed paper to wrap it in, so I improvised with a stylish paper plate hat so it could sit in the fridge for an hour. 

While that was sitting, I made the apple crisp. That was an easy recipe, though after trying the finished product, I think I would add more cinammon and less nutmeg. I was using fresh-grated nutmeg (nutmeg is not cheap, but I got a tube of nutmegs two years ago and they've lasted very well,) and it's quite a bit stronger than what you shake out of the canister. No cream or ice cream to go with it, since the stuff I got yesterday at the store has Oreo bits, but it held up fine on its own.

When that was cooking, I started cutting up the veggies for the pasty and defrosting my ground turkey. If you have anyone who buys you kitchen presents, ask them to get you a mandolin slicer. I got one for Christmas this year, and it has saved me hours of work and made cooking veggies much more enjoyable. I cut up potatoes, carrots, rutabaga, and onion, then mixed it all together with the raw meat like a very lumpy meatloaf. 

Not having flour for my hands, the board, or my nonexistent rolling pin made the pasty dough a sticky situation. I wound up greasing a cutting board and spreading the dough more like pizza dough, then dumping a lump of the filling on top, folding it over, and trying to get it onto a cookie sheet without the whole thing falling apart. For reasons I am not certain of, after I had my four pasties on the sheet and in the oven, I still had a little dough and about half the filling left. That was meat and veggies, and I wasn't about to just waste it. 

By this time M was home and hungry, but the pasties needed to cook 70 minutes. In a fit of inspiration, I mixed the dough and filling together, added a handful of rolled oats, some garlic salt and some pepper, then formed it into balls and fried them in veggie oil. They turned out quite tasty, and made a great first course. I skipped the cheesy biscuits at this point, realizing we were going to be pretty full as it was. We had a romantic first course of apple crisp and meatballs, then finally the pasties were done. M was very happy. I was almost full already, but I ate half of mine. Pasties are a great idea, but I think I'm going to find a new recipe for next time. 

The best part, though, is that with all the food we had for supper, there are plenty of leftovers. We ate two of the four pasties, so instead of turkey sandwiches tomorrow, we'll get to have these again. Nice! 

Tuesday, February 17, Unplanned cooking

The food plan for the first half of this month called for two bunches of bananas. I elected to buy both of them in that first shopping trip, one nearly ripe, and one extremely green. I put them in the refrigerator when they turned yellow, and for the most part it was okay. I did end up with four blackened bananas that neither of us wanted to eat. So today, since I've already got my baking gear out, I decided to use those bananas up in a very simple banana bread. Bananas, little margarine, little sugar, little flour, one egg left over from last week, bit of baking soda and vanilla. Voila! It's still baking right now, but it smells amazing. When it's done, I'll finish the dishes and get to work on tonight's supper. 

I've already started setting the table for tonight, something I rarely do. We almost never eat at the table. But Valentines, even belated, is a special occasion. I'm going to be trying my hand at pasties, one of M's favorite dishes from college, which are little bread pockets full of meat, rutabaga, potatoes, carrots, and other good things. Rutabaga is a very weird-looking vegetable, I must say. But nothing tastes quite like it. 

Update: It's done, and it looks great! It'll be breakfast tomorrow. 

Monday, February 16, the food

Like I said, today was shopping day. I also didn't get the plan for this week run off and stuck to the fridge till afternoon, so we were adrift in the morning. M polished off the old cereal before school, and took a microwave meal with him for lunch. We get a certain number of those each month in the mail from M's mom, who likes to make sure we're getting enough to eat. They're handy at times like this, or when I was sick last week and the plan went to hell. I had instant iced tea for breakfast, not the tube variety, but I wasn't hungry until lunchtime, when I ate a microwave meal as well.

When M came home from school, he was ravenous, so he polished off the pulled pork from this weekend. I found an awesome recipe for pulled pork, just when I happened to have a five pound pork roast in the freezer that I bought at Kroger for 99 cents a pound. We had a guest over this weekend, but even with the three of us eating it for two meals (and the guys really ate it!), there was still enough for M to have two sandwiches today, and for me to have used some in pork fried rice on Sunday night. I reserved the water from the pulled pork, refrigerated it, scraped away the fat, and used it in the rice cooker instead of plain water. So much extra flavor! During the day, we both ate some of our chips. Each of us get our own bag, because we are not good sharers of snacks.

Anyway, the sandwiches held him while I went out shopping, and when I came back I made granola, which turned out yummy and will be a good snack this week, and then a big pot of spaghetti with meat sauce. That took one box of spaghetti, one pound of ground turkey, about half a pound of mozzarella (I bought a 5lb block from Sam's at the start of the month), and two jars of spaghetti sauce. It will be lunch tomorrow as well, and possibly a snack on Wednesday. We both had bottles of tea with dinner, and I've snacked on a little granola as well. 

Tomorrow is our special Valentine's Day supper, delayed because of my flu, but hotly anticipated. There will be baking!

Third Week of February, Shopping

This month I've been trying to save money by planning my meals ahead of time and only shopping twice a month. The first two weeks went pretty well, although I got sick at the end of the second week, which threw things off, and ended up changing the plan to accomodate a guest for a weekend as well. I spent $140.00 at the beginning of the month, starting from what was very nearly a bare kitchen, but for condiments and spices. Over the course of two weeks, I did make two additional shopping trips, both times to take advantage of irresistable sales, which added another thirty dollars to my total. One thing that has become shockingly evident is that we spend far more money on groceries than I had initially believed. In my offhanded budgeting, I'd always alloted about 200 dollars a month to food, but the total, including meals out, was obviously considerably higher. 

This weekend I made a new food plan for the next two weeks, and this evening headed back to the grocery store to shop for it again. My total bill was 103 dollars, which included 11 dollars to cat food, a once per month purchase, and ten dollars for the ingredients for the nacho dip I'm taking to this weekend's Oscar party and a family-sized bag of tortilla chips. I go to a party once a month or less and figure my husband and I will likely not need supper on the evening of the party, so it nearly balances out. 

I made mistakes, though. Or perhaps not so much mistakes as unaccounted deviations from the plan, some of which were probably mistakes, and some of which I should start accounting for next month. I do most of my food shopping at Meijer and Sams Club, which are the cheapest stores in my area. Mejier suckered me in this week with a 10 for 10, get the 11th free sale. I love those things, and I ended up with all 11 items, only two of which, English muffins, were actually on the plan.  Three of the items were packs of fresh mushrooms, which I love but usually don't indulge in, and two  were frozen orange juice concentrate, which has been very expensive lately. I can forgive myself that, because I do need to put more fruits and veggies in the plan. But I also bought two personal pizzas, and two pints of ice cream. Not so good. 

To a certain extent, I'm ready to beat myself up for not following the plan. I made the plan, the plan is smart, the plan is wise. I don't have kids badgering me for sweets, why can't I just buy what I should? But at the same time, it's very hard to give up all indulgences, no matter what kind of fiscal hardship you're in. The foods that I bought were not terribly expensive, and will either count as a full meal or last over several snacktimes. And given the number of times I looked longingly at some favorite or another and said "no," I could've done a lot worse. Four sins at 91 cents apiece is not going to break the bank... as long as they keep me from the bigger sins of places like Pizza Hut or Dairy Queen. 

The real major issue I'm going to have to come to terms with is beverages. I've been drinking a lot more water on the first two weeks of the plan. I got a Brita pitcher for Christmas, a happy necessity since what comes out of the tap smells fresh from a municipal swimming pool. But both my husband and I are caffeine addicts, and we generally prefer it cold. For a long time, we would go through four or five twelve-packs of pop every week, but that was one of the first things to go when the budget needed slashed. We discovered the small miracle of tea-in-a-tube, those little ice tea mixes that you shake into a bottle of water for delicious instant caffeine. The water cost is small, we each use one new bottle per week and just refill over and over, and it's very convenient for my husband to take to school. At an average of 20 cents per tube, or roughly .8 cents per fluid ounce of tea, it's a lot more economical than any bottled or canned beverage. But we still go through a lot of it between us. My single biggest purchase was finding a sale on Crystal Light tea tubes and buying six boxes of 14 for 15 dollars. That was half the original price, 18 cents per tube, but it's still an exceedingly healthy bite of my monthly budget. We'll see how far  I can stretch them before I have to decide whether to buy again. 

Food I bought for the plan today and yesterday:  
Bananas, 1 bunch
Baking Soda 
Fried Rice seasoning, 1 packet
Eggs, 1 dozen
Onions, 2
Penne Pasta, 1 box
Ground Turkey, 1 pound
Sugar, 2 pounds
Garlic, 1 bulb
Dry Split Peas, 4 pounds
Cereal, 1 box generic Choco-Peanut Butter Puffs
Jalepeno Peppers, 4
Velveeta, 1 block
Frozen peas, 1 bag
Cream of Mushroom, 1 can
Apples, 7 pounds (good sale this week, and I've got the dehydrator out)
English Muffins, 2 six-packs
Skim Milk, 2 gallons
Artichoke Hearts, 2 jars (one for next month, on sale)
Spaghetti, 3 boxes
Spaghetti Sauce, 2 jars
Hot Dogs, 1 pack
Generic Chips, 2 bags
Potatoes, 10 pounds
Chicken Breasts, 2.5 pounds
Sunflower Seeds, 1 can
Rolled Oats, 1 can
Tuna, 2 cans
Ramen, 24 packs (case sale, for now and later)
Corn Muffin Mix, 24 boxes (ditto)
Shank Ham, 8 pounds (good sale! good to freeze!) 

Total plan spending: approx. 94 dollars
Total non-plan: approx 27 dollars, including party food

Amazing the Traces We Leave

When did I create this blog, anyway? Blogger tells me September of 2007. I have no recollection of that. But that's handy, because I was going to make one today, but it turns out I have this already sitting here like a clean notebook, ready to fill. I suppose there's nothing to do now but get started! 

I have a Livejournal for my personal life and a Facebook for my momentary maunderings. But my Facebook is a transient thing of one-sentence throwaway quips and my Livejournal friends don't want to read exhaustive day-to-day tracking of my life. So why not start something here instead, a little diary of this particularly arid phase of my life. 

Maybe I'll start with a little more about me, just for any wanderers who happen by. My name is Cori, I'm twenty-six years old and married for almost five years. I'm an attorney, but I have been unemployed since graduating law school, due to a combination of location, bad job market, and periods of crippling self-doubt. My husband is a full-time graduate student, and for the past six months, we have lived off his stipend and periodic help from both our parents. While I've been looking for work, I've also been looking for ways to trim our budget ever smaller. The main problem I've had, I find, is a great lack of self awareness. Growing up as we both did, in reasonably affluent families, it's very easy not to keep track of what you spend on life's needs and wants. 

That's where this journal comes in, at least for now. I'll be marking down what I spend, what I cook, and trying to track where the money goes. I won't be posting everything, that's a little more than I want to share, and not all my expenditures are fluid anyway. My bills for rent, phone and internet are the same each month, and even the electricity and gas for the car don't fluctuate much. Food and entertainment though, that's where the traps are. So we'll see what happens.