Budget Updates & Meal Plan for April 9-15

Here we are at week three, where our schedules begin to get hectic and a smidge crazy!  This week, I only have three days of late-night rehearsals, versus the 5 days a week coming up in the next two weeks of my internship.  But this week’s shopping was driven by prepping for the next few weeks and I am feeling very optimistic about our pantry and fridge!

This weekend, I had off from our usual Saturday classes, as all the kids are on Spring Break.  My extra time meant that I could do more shopping for our patio, go through all of my clothes in order to reorganize my side of the closet, and then spend almost all of Sunday out with some friends, at a wedding expo (there were 4 fiancees in our group a 7 ladies) and at our local winery.  It was wonderful to actually have a little time to decompress with friends and to get so much work done around the house!  We have also been lucky to have weather in the 70’s all weekend!  I’m hoping it lasts, as I am planning to fill up our herb planter and plant tomatoes in our garden plot this Saturday.

In the middle of the week, M and I also bought a new charcoal grill.  We’ll have a little bit of a learning curve, as we are both more used to propane grills, but the deal was too good to miss and it even has a smoker box.  I may be bold enough to try my hand at smoking a salmon fillet.  Our favorite smoked salmon came fillet-style from a vendor who no longer comes to our farmer’s market and I haven’t found a good substitute for my Smoked Salmon Salad in any of our usual grocery stores.  But I bet I could get a nice low temp, with a little smoke, and just spend the day hanging out on the patio while the fish cooks.  We used to freeze our salmon from the farmer’s market, so I could stock up a a large fillet, smoke it, and stash it in the freezer in smaller pieces, in order to last us a while.

Speaking of stocking up, I am pondering the idea of, in addition to my usual weekly budget of $50, if it might be worthwhile to have a small, monthly “stock-up” fund.  I’ve discussed my frustrations before, that, while shopping on a budget, not having one more dollar can sometimes mean settling for half of the amount of food.  For a short span, while we had a Costco membership, we did a pretty good job of stocking up on meat at Costco once per month, and filling in everything else in our weekly grocery trips.  But, if I wanted to smoke the salmon in an amount that was appropriate for the full day of babysitting the grill, I really should be looking at a large piece of salmon…probably $25-$30 worth, which, as we know, is almost all of my weekly budget to spend at the grocery store, in order to round out after our produce box.  I’ve been toying with the idea of pulling together maybe $20 more each month, to be spent on those larger, “stock-up” items.  I still want to get through this month on the current budget, to have a better comparison of our expenses, but we shall see…

Starting this week, with our schedules filling up, snacks are super crucial.  My rehearsals are on campus, where there are a plethora of food establishments close at hand, but I certainly don’t need to be spending that money every day on fast food and coffee.  So I wanted to have snacks that are easy for me to bring and heartier snacks that M can have at home, since a couple nights a week we may be eating later or he may be cookings and leaving me leftovers to reheat when I get home.  Thankfully, he is used to eating dinner later from his childhood (the various Europeans I’ve met tend to find American dinnertime oddly early), so it won’t be as much of a stretch for him when we push back dinner.  My receipts this week are all over place, as I picked up some homestuffs at each store and randomly found the GF chicken on sale at Giant during the week, so I snatched that up, but forgot to save my receipt.  Oof.  Lots of numbers, folks, but still on budget!

Here’s what we spent this week:receipt

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $11.25 (my friend signed up and put my name as a referrer, so I got 25% of this week’s box!  So excited to have found myself with a few extra dollars to spend!)

Giant: $5.00

Trader Joe’s: $4.49 (on food)

Aldi: $28.04 (on food)

Total: $48.78

Here’s what we got:

groceries

Hungry Harvest Box: 1/2 dozen sweet potatoes, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, 1 lb carrots, 3 blood oranges, 1 lb fingerling potatoes, 2 yellow squash, 1/2 lb green beans, 1 apple, 2 cucumbers, 1 pack of portobello mushroom caps

Giant: 2 packages GF breaded chicken tenders

Aldi: tortilla chips, 2 bags fruit/nut/seed trail mix, clementines, hummus, greek yogurt, parmesan cheese, brie cheese, drink mix packets, deli ham, deli turkey, coconut milk

Trader Joe’s: 5 mini brie “bites”

Misc: 18 dozen eggs from my mom’s chicken lady connection 🙂

And here’s how we’ll use it:

Sunday: Out to the Winery That’s where the larger round of brie will go, along with some GF crackers I had in the pantry, a jar of my Cranberry Chutney that I canned in December, and a few of the clementines.  The rest of my friends also brought snacks for a great picnic.

Monday: Mushroom Risotto with Roasted Tomatoes I’m trying to get in this favorite as much as I can before the weather get too warm! I’ll be using arborio rice from the pantry, broth from the freezer, and some of the portobellos (I’ll slice at oven-dry the rest for a future flavor booster), some of the parmesan, and the tomatoes.

Tuesday: Rehearsal Night, Quick Chicken Tenders + French Fries + Green Beans I’ll bring a little snack pack with me (I’ve found that 1/4 cup of trail mix, 1 brie bite, 1 drink mix packet, and 1 clementine can fit quite neatly into a half-pint jar).  When I get home, I’ll toss a couple of the chicken tenders and some fries from last week’s grocery haul in the oven  and sauté green beans before a small, quick dinner.

Wednesday: Class + Rehearsal Night, Macaroni & Cheese  I warned you last week that I go straight back to comfort food when things get busy and stressful!  Not to mention, I still have a couple boxes of GF mac & cheese in the pantry from when I found them on sale for $0.68 a box.  So this meal didn’t pull from this week’s budget at all.  I’ll have my snack pack at rehearsal and M can snack as well.  We might add some frozen peas or tuna if we want the macaroni to be more substantial.

Thursday: Chicken Fajitas We have tortillas, onions, tomatoes, and a bell pepper in the pantry, along with chicken, sour cream, and cheese in the fridge, so this is another meal pulled entirely from our pantry, rather than this week’s budget.

Friday: Rehearsal Night, Quick Chicken Tenders + French Fries + Green Beans the last late night for this week will use up the last of that quick chicken, beans and fries.

Saturday: Breakfast for Dinner we can roast up the potatoes for a hash and maybe make some egg & ham sandwiches.  Nice and simple.

Breakfasts will be eggs or yogurt with fruit.  Lunches will be leftovers or sandwiches.  Snacks will be trail mix, fruit & cheese, hummus & cucumbers, chips & salsa (from the fridge!), deli meat, or hard-boiled eggs.

A lot of chicken and potatoes, for sure.  But this week was all about stocking up and those cheaper meats and starches let me focus my money elsewhere.  I’ll still have sweet potatoes, yellow squash, carrots, possibly cucumber, chips, clementines, trail mix, yogurt, cheese, hummus, deli meat, and coconut milk leftover after this week.  I should actually have enough clementines and trail mix to last through all three weeks of my rehearsals, and I’ll work everything else into my meal plans for the next few weeks.


Kale Salad: Building Blocks

salad title

It’s been a bit of a rough week, in terms of stress management.  The most frustrating part is that I am not even at the actual busy, stressful time yet–I’m just worrying about it.  Anxiety life.  Oy.  But, if I can just keep on picking away at my assignments and project prep: a little bit of work this evening or that morning, I shouldn’t have any problems at all.  I’ve just gotta remind myself that the best thing I can do is to break everything into manageable tasks.

Kale Chop

Freshly chopped.

I also have to find some stress relief.   That is currently in the form of watching season 1 of Once Upon a Time (I’m behind, I know.  But I am also totally over whiny James and would just like him to disappear, please!) and planning a mini patio makeover for us.  We haven’t done much with the space in our two years here.  We brought a pair of plastic adirondack chairs we found at the curb of our old neighborhood, and purchased an Applaro table + chairs + stools from Ikea when we moved here, which I still love!  Every piece folds up, so its a total space saver!  Other than that, we have my herb planter and a very old, giant grill that was another curbside find.  M and I agreed that we would be getting a new grill this year (possibly even this weekend!) and I was feeling like things needed a little sprucing up, in general.  I want to enjoy my time on our patio, rather than simply abandoning it to the bugs.  Since the beginning of this year and our grocery budget revamp, I have also been trying (semi-successfully) to purchase our groceries with cash.  I almost never carried cash before, so this has been a huge shift for me.  But, our ATM only allows withdrawals in sets of $10, so, with my $35 to spend at the grocery store, I’m left with $5 that isn’t budgeted for groceries.  It had been easy enough to stash this weekly $5 bill in a jar and forget about it.  Now, four months into the year, I have a nice little cash fund that I can use towards a patio update: to get some string lights, pillows, and maybe a lantern or two!  Since we are hosting our families for a small Easter lunch, I am hoping to have the patio finished by then!  I’ll be sure to share the results when I do get things done.

Kale Ready

After “massaging” the kale.

Today, I am sharing our absolute favorite recipe for kale.  This is the only salad that we eat consistently, but it never disappoints, even when it is so simple.  It’s gleaned from several different recipes across the web and also from a few kale salads that we have sampled in restaurants.  By thinking of this salad in flavor building blocks, rather than in specific ingredients, we always have enough “building blocks” on hand in our pantry to make this salad, and we have endless combinations to try!  There are 5 important parts: Sweet (some kind of dried fruit works best), Crispy (breadcrumbs or croutons), Crunchy (nuts or seeds), Salty/Creamy (cheese), and Tangy (vinaigrette).  Add each of these elements to some kale and you will not be disappointed!  This salad is almost more like a coleslaw in terms of the thinly shredded greens and the ratio of greens to other ingredients.

salad close

Kale Salad

Serves: 4-6 | Prep time: 10 minutes |Cook time: (optional) 3-5 minutes

  • 1 bunch curly kale
  • 1/2 c. dried fruit
  • 1/3 c. tiny croutons (about 1-2 slices of bread)
  • 1/3 c. sliced/chopped and toasted nuts or whole, shelled, toasted seeds
  • 1/4 c. shredded parmesan or other hard, salty cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • 5 Tbsp. vinegar, divided (red wine, champagne, or apple cider vinegar is best)
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 6-8 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • salt & pepper

Place the dried fruit in a small bowl and add 2 Tablespoons of water and 2 Tablespoons of vinegar.  Microwave for 30 seconds and allow to sit while preparing the rest of the salad ingredients.  This allows the fruit to rehydrate slightly, making it softer and adding a chewy bite to the salad.

Remove the leafy part of the kale from the stems.  Stack the leafy part and slice the greens into thin strips.  Add to a large bowl and massage the kale greens.  The greens will get softer, will slightly change color, will shrink a little in mass, and will begin to smell like grass.  Your hands may even turn a bit green.  This breaks down the tough leaf without cooking and makes the raw salad infinitely more palatable! Check out the photos above–can you see the difference?  Set the greens aside.

Chop the bread slices into the tiniest pieces that you can manage.  I prefer this to breadcrumbs, as it gives a more hearty texture.  Plus, then I don’t have to keep GF breadcrumbs around.  I’ll be totally honest, we usually freeze the ends of bread loaves for this exact purpose!  Place the bits of bread in a skillet with a glug of olive oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until these tiny croutons are a little toasted.  Set aside.

Mix up the dressing: add 3 Tablespoons of vinegar, 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice, 6-8 Tablespoons of olive oil (the usual ratio is 1 part vinegar to 2 parts olive oil, but we prefer less oil for a tangier dressing), 2 teaspoons dijon mustard*, and 2 teaspoons honey into a jar.  Lid tightly and shake until the dressing is combined.  Taste the dressing and adjust as needed–perhaps more honey or more vinegar.  If I need more vinegar, I’ll first use the water-vinegar combination from my soaked fruit!  You can jazz up this vinaigrette by using different types of vinegar and oil, adding herbs or garlic, etc.

Put together the salad: Drain the soaked fruit and add the fruit to the greens.  Add the nuts/seeds, then the cheese.  Pour over about half of the dressing.  Sprinkle salt and black pepper over the salad, fairly liberally.  Toss all of the salad together until thoroughly mixed.  Add more dressing if needed.  Last, add the croutons, and mix in.  This helps to prevent them from getting soggy.  Serve immediately or set in the fridge for up to an hour before serving.  Leftover can be stored in the fridge tightly covered for up to 2 days, but you will lose a lot of the texture from the nuts and croutons as they soften.

*The mustard helps the oil and vinegar emulsify, so do your best not to skip it!

Some of our favorite combinations are:

–Dried cherries, pumpkin seeds, and parmesan

–Dried cranberries, sliced almonds, and parmesan (in the photos)

–Dried currents, toasted walnuts, and asiago

salad top


Budget Update and Meal Plan for April 2-8

Hectic week #1 is over!  We only had carryout food twice and I only cried once.  😉  But honestly, I know that I have to work on not letting stress get the best of me.  This week was just another reminder of the work that I still have to do towards stress management.  I also have to recognize and foresee how I will react in stressful situations.  It’s usually the same, so I shouldn’t be so surprised: I don’t feel like (or don’t have time for) cooking and I crave comfort foods.  And let’s be real for a second…  no matter where I go on this food journey of mine, I am always going to have a weakness for (Utz) cheese puffs and boxed macaroni and cheese (pro tip: Trader Joe’s GF version is the closest in taste to Kraft…I did a very careful study! 😉 ).  So yes, my cravings often include the totally expected: burgers, fries, chips– and the not so expected: chicken tikka masala, sushi rice, anything with rice noodles, etc.  So my main goal right now is to save money.  Even if that means the occasional convenience-type food.

So, I am trying to prepare better for my next crazy week.  And that means even faster foods and calling back to those comfort-food cravings.  Being able to grab from the freezer and have food ready in 15 minutes will be my only chance to avoid just giving in and spending money on expensive fast food meal.  Thankfully, this week is pretty normal (although M and I are on opposite schedules) so I get a little peace for the next seven days, as well as a chance to spread out my stocking-up over a few grocery trips.  I finally had a spare dollar or two, to add to my change from a few weeks ago, so I could get some cashews!  I’ll probably portion them out so that I can grab them for a snack during my late rehearsals.  If I can work in a bag of almonds next trip, I will be in good shape in the snack department!  Part of my quick-food stock up also included frozen fries.  This $2 bag of frozen french fries has almost 3 times the amount that I would get for $2 at a restaurant.  I am aiming to grab a bag of GF chicken tenders next week, in order to have a super-quick meal option available to us and yes, probably a box of mac & cheese, just in case of extreme comfort-food emergencies.

However, this week, things are nice and normal.  We got a pretty good box of produce from our delivery service, which drove my meal-planning, as always.

Here is how I spent:

receipt

Hungry Harvest Box: $15

Aldi: $33.33

Lotte Asian Market: $2.85

Total: $51.18*

*I had $2 stashed from a shopping trip a few weeks ago that was under $50, so I don’t really consider this “over-budget” in a way that is concerning…

Here’s what I got:

groceries

HH Produce Box: 2 pears, 3 tomatoes, 3 tangerines, 1 mango, 2 bell peppers, green onions, 1/2 lb. green beans, 1 pint sugar snap peas, 1/2 bunch collard greens, 3 sweet potatoes

Lotte Asian Market: tofu, 2 artichokes (so happy it is artichoke season again!)

Aldi: Bacon, frozen french fries, organic milk**, GF bread, chicken breasts, 10 lb rice***, olive oil, butter, cashews, brie

+ 18 eggs from my chicken-lady hook-up 😉

**in the most unscientific observation throughout many years, my family and I have noticed that organic milk (specifically Horizon, if its in your budget) keeps much, much longer than the non-organic variety.  I don’t know if its the cardboard vs plastic carton, but since I’ve almost always had to pour out sour milk in the past few weeks when I’ve purchase regular milk, I made room in my budget for the organic variety and will continue to try to do so

***this is the type of stock up that allows us to keep to our $50 budget.  To be eating gluten-free (and not baking our own bread) on this type of stipend, that does require a starch with every dinner, just to make sure that the meat and vegetables can stretch a little further and so we feel full.  We had a 15 lb bag of rice that we have been working our way through for months, and we used the last of it last week.  I knew it would be an investment to pick some up–and I was planning to spend $10 at the Asian market.  Thankfully, I noticed this 10 lb bag for $4 at Aldi right by the register!  That allowed me to grab my artichokes, cashews, and french fries!

And here is what we are eating this week:

Sunday: Teriyaki Chicken, Snow Peas, and Rice a thrown-together sauce using all of my stock-up from last week!  I’ll coat the chicken in a spoonful of cornstarch for some crispiness, too.

Monday: Tofu Pad Thai with Green Beans using the rice noodles from last week and eggs and various sauce ingredients from the fridge.  Plus some cabbage and carrots from weeks past!

Tuesday: Tomato Bruschetta, Steamed Artichokes, & Brie  I’ll make a have batch of my French Bread recipe tomorrow night, to slice up for bruschetta made with the tomatoes and pantry ingredients like balsamic vinegar and dried basil.  Plus some brie, artichokes, and whatever odds and ends we have in the pantry: crackers, dried fruit, carrot sticks, etc.

Wednesday: Leftovers  My class runs late and M is out at work through the evening.  Whatever is left over from the first half of the week!

Thursday: Collards & Bacon Bake, with Roast Sweet Potatoes  Not quite a savory bread pudding and not quite a gratin, I’ll sauté up the collard greens with some bacon, onions, and sourdough bread cubes from the freezer.  Coat all that with a béchamel sauce, top with some cheese and bake along side some sweet potatoes!

Friday: Buffalo Chicken-Stuffed Peppers The remainder of the chicken breast shredded with hot sauce and some cheese, and a little rice, scooped into the peppers.  Possibly with some more sweet potatoes on the side, depending on how we are feeling.

Saturday: Sausage with Pasta Keeping things simple!

Breakfasts will be eggs, fruit, the last of the yogurt, and granola (I’ll make up another batch).  Lunches will be leftovers or turkey sandwiches or hard-boiled eggs.  Snacks are cashews and/or dried fruit.

In terms of my stock up, I won’t touch the french fries, will barely dent the rice, and should have some milk, bacon, cashews, butter, olive oil, and possibly some brie leftover for next week.


Budget Update & Meal Plan for March 26-April 1

This is the first week in my long stretch of tech weeks/internship weeks that will have me getting home later and be major shifts in my usual schedule.  I’m planning to do a lot more  meals in the slow cooker, and also batch cook when I can–for instance, I cooked up twice the amount of chicken thighs when I was making Coq Au Vin last Friday.  While half the batch stewed in the wine sauce, I just  set the rest in a skillet, cooking plain.  Without much extra effort, I had cooked chicken for our Caesar Salads last night and I still have some cooked chicken for tonight’s quesadillas.  It makes dinner comes together in a matter of minutes!  These next few weeks are going to be focused on simple, quick dinners that can give us lots of lunch leftovers.

I am also recognizing that simple, but flavorful might mean relying on some more prepared ingredients, like the beans in tomato sauce on this week’s plan.   I could have made a sauce and added beans and simmered and all that…or I can open a can and heat the contents for an equally tasty dinner.  It’s all about keeping the balance.  Sometimes, that balance requires a little compromise in the form of extra cost, but, thankfully, not this week!  I was delighted to be able to fit a serious stock-up into this week’s budget.  Getting most of our groceries from our local asian market allowed me to keep the extra few dollars to get tamarin, rice vinegar, and sesame oil!  Just like dairy products, all of my specialty sauces seem to run out at the same time.  These ingredients are easy to stretch and asian dishes are usually easy and quick to cook!  I expect to see a lot of wok-ed stir fries, curries, and noodles on our meal plans for the next couple of weeks.  I also was able to grab a package of rice noodles, although we won’t even touch them this week.  Several other items, like the sour cream, cheese, onions, and sausage will even stretch into next week as well.

On Monday, we are seeing my mother and sister while M tries out his Bulgogi recipe.  Since we are feeding 5 people, we allowed a portion of the meal to come out of another budget.  We have rice in the pantry, and I included most of the accompanying vegetables and sauce ingredients into our normal $50 budget, but the meat will be paid for through our ‘splurge’ fund.  Also, Saturday is an extra long day.  I’ll know that I will be out and about at dinnertime.  We should have enough leftovers for me to bring, or I should be able to make a sandwich as well, but I may just pick up food along the way.

I’m excited to use a few new products this week: most specifically those Giant Baked Beans.  The last time that I was in Trader Joe’s, they actually had a truly gluten-free sample: these beans paired with sausage.  It was delicious and I’m excited to recreate it at home.  I love cassoulet-type dishes, with sausage and beans, and I think it will be a perfect scoop on top of polenta!  When on a budget, grains/carb-y stretches like potatoes are a necessity, in order to keep meals affordable, yet filling.  I’m doing my best to keep our carb sources varied, hence the addition of polenta.  We are also on a serious tofu kick around here.  I finally found an extra-firm variety at our asian market, so that saved me about $0.80 off of purchasing it from Trader Joe’s or Giant (my Aldi still does not carry tofu).

Here is how we spent this week:

receipts

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $15.00

Lotte Asian Market: $17.46

Aldi: $11.13

Trader Joe’s: $6.12

Total: $49.71

Here’s what we got:

groceries 3.26

Hungry Harvest Box:  2 ears corn, broccoli, 1 red onion, 2 (small) avocados, 2 apples, 3 yellow squash, 2 peppers, 1/2 lb kale

Lotte Asian Market: red lettuce, coconut milk, green onions, 3 lbs onions, sesame oil, tamarin, rice vinegar, rice noodles, bananas, tofu

Aldi: cheddar cheese, italian sausage, gluten-free bread, sour cream

Trader Joe’s: polenta, 2 cans Giant Baked Beans

And here’s how we’ll use it:

Sunday: Chicken & Roasted Veggie Quesadillas with Corn Salad and Mango using some chicken thighs from last week, plus one of the peppers and one of the onions and some of the broccoli, chopped up with the cheese in tortillas from the pantry.  We have the sour cream for topping.  I’ll use last week’s tomatoes and this week’s corn and a little onion in a salad with a basic pantry vinaigrette, plus we have last week’s mango as a sweet finish to the meal.

Monday: Bulgogi with Rice & Lettuce Wraps  We’ll be at my mom’s, as I mentioned.  We’ll bring the lettuce and green onions, and use the asian sauces + onions in the marinade on Monday morning.

Tuesday: Sausage and Giant Beans in Tomato Sauce over Polenta, with Kale Salad  as mentioned, some of the sausage and all of the beans will be a topping for seared polenta rounds.  I’ll also make our favorite kale salad with another basic pantry vinaigrette, with some bread crumbs, and some parmesan, dried cranberries, and sliced almonds from the pantry.

Wednesday: Veggie + Tofu Curry and Rice  using up the rest of the broccoli, pepper, and yellow squash, along with some onions, the tofu, the coconut milk and some rice and curry paste from the pantry.

Thursday: Citrus-Braised Pork Tacos with Slaw using some reserved, pre-cooked pork from the freezer.  I saved some when I made Chilaquiles a few weeks ago, so I’ll pickle some of that red onion for serving, along with the avocados and some tortillas from the pantry.  Again, I’ll use some pantry ingredients to make up a dressing for the rest of last week’s cabbage, to make a cole slaw.

Friday: Leftovers using up whatever remains from the week!

Saturday: Leftovers/Out

Breakfasts will be eggs+toast, yogurt+granola+fruit, or peanut butter & banana smoothies.  Lunches are mostly leftovers or sandwiches.


Homemade Granola: Your Way

titleI mentioned in my last meal-plan post that I was planning to make a batch of granola for my breakfasts this week.  Granola is one of those items where I almost always have the ingredients on hand, without even trying, as it’s super flexible and made entirely of pantry staples.  It is also one of those items that I forgot how much I enjoy it until it in right in front of me, on the spoon, on it’s way to my mouth.  I love granola!  I prefer it over yogurt or treated like cereal, in a bowl with milk, but when you make it at home, you control how large/small the clusters of granola are, so you can keep the clusters large and take the granola on the go, dry, for a crunchy snack.

dry ingredients

I also was thinking (though I’m sure that I am not the first), that it wouldn’t be to hard to swing granola’s flavors into a savory-sweet option too.  Curry, rosemary, spicy–it would make an awesome topping to salads or a “savory” yogurt (I’ll admit, I still haven’t tried those…and I’m a little hesitant) or even as an accompaniment to a cheese board!

wet mix

As I said, granola is super-customizable, but it is also very easy.  Just think of it as a ratio!  My basic ratio is: for every 1 cup of (gluten-free) oats, I have 1/3 cup (total) of mix-ins, 2 tablespoons of fat and 2 tablespoons of liquid sweetener.  I like to bump up my omega’s too, so I bargain for 2 teaspoons apiece of chia seed and flax seed.  With the variety of mix-ins, fats, sweeteners, and spices, the granola possibilities really are endless!  Here are some ideas for each:

baked

My granola looks extra dark because of the molasses–it’s not burnt!

Customizable Granola!

Be sure to use oats that are certified and labeled “gluten-free”–otherwise you risk cross-contamination.  Combine up to two different fats and two different sweeteners (just be sure the total volume remains the same) for extra depth of flavor!

1 cup GF rolled oats, plus:

Fats (2 TBSP per 1 c oats):

  • melted butter
  • melted coconut oil
  • olive oil
  • avocado oil
  • safflower oil
  • 1/2 nut butter + 1/2 fat choice above

Liquid Sweeteners(2 TBSP per 1 c oats):

  • maple syrup
  • molasses
  • Lyle’s golden syrup
  • honey
  • agave nectar

Mix-ins(1/3 c total per 1 c oats):

  • Nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, brazil nuts, macadamias…)
  • Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, squash, sesame, poppy seeds, millet…)
  • Dried fruits (cranberries, raisins, blueberries, chopped apricots, cherries, figs, goji berries…)
  • Other (dried shredded/flaked coconut, chocolate chips, cocoa nibs, crystallized ginger…)

Plus 2 tsp chia seeds and 2 tsp ground flaxseed and about 1/2 tsp each of spices (cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, clove, nutmeg, chili, etc), with a pinch of salt and a dash of extract (vanilla, cinnamon, lemon, etc) with 1 cup of rolled gluten-free oats.

jars 1

My batch that is in the photos above a larger triple batch.  I just multiplied it all (roughly) by three!

jars 2

Pantry Clear-out Coconut-Almond Granola

Serves: 10-12 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 25-30 minutes

  • 3 c rolled oats, raw
  • 1/3 c. pumpkin seeds
  • 1/3 c. sliced almonds
  • 1/3 c. shredded coconut
  • 2 Tbsp. ground flax seeds
  • 2 Tbsp. chia seeds
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 6 Tbsp. melted butter
  • 3 Tbsp. Lyle’s golden syrup
  • 3 Tbsp. molasses
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • big pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Lightly spray with cooking oil.  Add the oats, mix-ins, spices, and other dry ingredients to a large bowl.  Mix until combined.  Stir together the melted butter, golden syrup, molasses, vanilla extract, and salt until combined.  It may take a minute or two for the fat to mix into the liquid sweeteners.  Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and stir until all of the dry ingredients are coated.  Spread into a thin layer on the lined baking sheet and baked for 25-30 minutes.  Remove the granola from oven and allow to cool completely on the pan without disturbance.  This will allow the granola to stick to together.  Gently lift an edge of the granola–it will begin to break into pieces.  Stir and crumble until clusters reach desired size.  Store is a tightly closed container at room temperature for up to 10 days.

yogurt


Budget Update & Meal Plan for March 19-25

I’ve gotten so much more careful with my food use since I started holding us to this tight budget.  I’m trying to be clever and creative so that all leftovers get eaten and every food item is stretched to provide the most sustenance for us.  This makes it much more upsetting when I encounter a crack in my plans…like when the last of the milk has gone sour, right on the day I was meant to use it up in cornbread muffins.  😦  Thankfully, I had enough sour cream, half-in-half, and–yes–water to make up for the milk in the recipe.  But it was still disappointing.  I knew it was nearing it’s turning point, and I purposefully moved the muffins up in my meal plan in order to use up the milk before it soured.  But my timing was still off.

As I said, I did still manage to make corn muffins, so not too much is lost, except for a little milk down the drain.  But it is interesting to see my thought process and values changing as we adjust to this new budget.  I’m accepting almost everything that is offered to me.  I’m certainly not begging, but I find myself taking advantage when I can.  My mom’s been collecting pieces in Safeway’s monopoly game, and she has handed a few of the “free item” coupons over to me when she doesn’t plan to use them.  I got a free avocado a few weeks ago and a box of English Breakfast Tea today.  Even though they are minor, it’s a nice little treat to get something that I wasn’t able to fit into the budget.  We aren’t eating poorly, or even boringly, but it’s nice to have an unexpected item to round out my meal plans every once in a while.

Officially, we don’t really have to follow this budget anymore.  I started this strict budget this year because I was feeling the pressure from a new medical bill.  My tax return this year was enough to cover it and, as of today, it is paid off in full.  But, I think I will stick to the plan for a while longer.  If I used to average about $70 per grocery trip last year, I should free up almost $100 a month as I continue to follow this budget.  It will be nice to properly and methodically save for some short-term goals, and I intend to do just that!  So, our $50 weekly budget will continue.  I think the smaller amount of money we can adjust to living on, the better.

I have to admit, I am still torn on bread.  It is tough to see almost 1/7 of my spending money go towards a loaf almost every week ($4 seems like an awful lot when you are only working with $35).  I tried to get into the routine of gluten-free sourdough, with which I had moderate success. But it eats up so much flour in order to strengthen the starter, and we don’t have quite enough time, nor eat enough baked goods to eat up the discard starter.  So it felt very wasteful, in flour and in money.  My non-sourdough loaves are nice for a change of pace, but don’t make for good sandwich bread (which is where most of the store-bought goes each week: into M’s lunchbox).  So for now, it is a price I have to adjust to, and one of the facts we have to live with, being gluten-intolerant.  The quality and price of gluten-free products is so much better than it used to be, but it is something that I have to contend with each week.  Thankfully, I’ve mostly forgotten how gluten-full products and prices compare.  So as long  as I avoid looking at those prices, it doesn’t get to me very much!

Here is my spending this week:

receipts

Hungry Harvest Box: $15.00

Aldi: $30.29

Trader Joe’s: $3.99

Total: $49.28

Here’s what we got:

groceries

(It looks like a lot this week.)

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: 1 pint grape tomatoes, 1 head (local!) lettuce, 2 bell peppers, 1 lb red potatoes, 1 mango, 4 plums, 2 pears, 1/2 bunch green onions, 4 apples*, and 5 oranges*

*We requested not to get the eggplant this week and the apples AND the oranges were substituted in for it!  Makes me wonder how big that eggplant was, in order to equal 9 pieces of fruit?!

Aldi: 1.2 lb ground turkey, 5 lb chicken thighs ($0.69 per pound!), yogurt, sour cream, turkey lunch meat, white vinegar, cabbage, sliced almonds, white sugar, gluten-free bread, 2 lb carrots, red wine, 2 cans dice tomatoes, korma simmer sauce, and 1 can of chickpeas

Trader Joe’s: gluten-free rolled oats

And here is how we are eating this week:

Sunday: Turkey Chili + Cornbread Muffins Turkey was cheaper than beef, so it will get a splash  of worchestershire sauce to deepen the flavor, plus onion, diced tomatoes, carrots, and bell pepper.  I found a packet of GF chili seasoning in the pantry, which I use along with a little hot sauce to kick things up.  One the day we moved into our apartment, M’s mum made a big crockpot of chili for everyone, with chickpeas and fresh tomatoes.  It was SO GOOD (probably because we had just moved an entire apartment’s worth of furniture in a snowstorm), so I am adding the chickpeas to call back to that.  The cornbread muffins were primarily a way to use up our milk, but, as mentioned, plans had to change.  Thankfully, Aldi only has 16 oz sour creams, so I had enough to put into the muffins and still have enough for a dollop on the chili when serving.

Monday: Singapore Street Noodles with Tofu using the rest of last week’s tofu, along with some peppers, cabbage, carrots, and green onions.  This is the last of our stockpile of rice noodles from the pantry, and we still have plenty of sauce ingredients (tamari, etc) in the fridge.

Tuesday: Leftovers  M’s out.  More chili for me!

Wednesday: Crockpot Chicken Korma with Rice using the rest of last week’s fingerling potatoes, the rest of the bell peppers, some carrots and chicken.  I could have saved about $0.20 by getting a can of coconut milk and making the sauce myself with spices from the pantry, but I decided that my time was worth the $0.20 and grabbed this jar of pre-made korma sauce.

Thursday: Coq Au Vin with Mashed Red Potatoes I love Tieghen’s recipe, though I’m not putting that much butter into my potatoes this time around.  I’ll use the last of the sweet potatoes from a few weeks ago.

Friday: Chicken Caesar Salad I’m slightly risking the green lettuce by waiting until Friday, but this is the perfect simple dinner to whip up after my longer class.  Parmesan from last week and dressing from a few weeks ago.

Saturday: Leftovers/Pasta Whatever is scrounge-able!

I’m making a big batch of homemade granola and I’m saving the liquid from the chickpeas to try my hand at aquafaba meringues for the first time.  Wish me luck!

Breakfasts will be granola+yogurt+fruit or eggs+fruit.  Lunches are leftovers or sandwiches, along with more fruit and cucumbers left over from last week.  The sugar and vinegar is for my home-brewed kombucha, which is giving us about 80 oz a week for the cost of a couple teabags, a cup of sugar, and a few tablespoons of vinegar!


Simple Roast Chicken

roast chicken titleWe finally got our snow day on Tuesday, and I think it’s thrown off my whole week.  Monday was spent preparing for the storm (our work is tied heavily to the schools, so when they close, we are left with a lot of rescheduling) and then I feel like all of Wednesday was spent trying to get back into the groove.  But I did enjoy the day off!  It finally gave me a chance to mix up some homemade house cleaning and hair/skincare supplies.  I pulled most of my “recipes” from The Hand’s On Home, with which I am only slightly obsessed.  All of the various preserved recipes look amazing!  Considering that I’ve have breathing trouble the last few times that I’ve cleaned our bathroom (hello childhood asthma) I have really, really wanted to mix up a few sprays and scrubs made from gentler ingredients.  I now have a “grime spray” for the kitchen that is already working wonders on our glass stovetop, along with an all-purpose cleaning spray, a scrub for tougher stains, and an acidic spray to cut through soap scum.  I’m definitely willing to put in a little more elbow work if it means having the ability to breathe, so we’ll see how it goes!

roast chicken skin

Last week, a roast chicken was the focal point of my meal plan, with the meat going into another two dishes after the initial roasting night, plus the bones providing the base for several quarts of bone broth.  Now, I do realize that roast chicken recipes are a dime a dozen and range from “super” simple to the most complicated mix of flipping and brining and rubbing and soaking, all in order to get a nice golden bird with crispy skin and juicy meat.  Roasting a chicken was a little intimidating when I first tried it a few years ago, mostly just for the dense amount of conflicting information that I encountered.  I’ve honed my method of choice over the past few years, and I wanted to finally share it here.  Yes, it does involve a flip or two, but it only requires 5 ingredients (not including salt and pepper) and, in spite of the flip, is mostly hands off during the roasting time!

I’ve also included the most basic instructions for a drippings-based gravy, plus noted where I add in vegetables, when I decide to make those as well.  I’m certain you’ve already heard how well a roast chicken can be used when meal-planning and/or early frugally.  It can easily provide the protein for 3 meals, plus creating the base for a fourth meal if you make the bone broth.  A rotisserie chicken certainly saves time and effort, and can usually be grabbed for $5.  But, I’ve yet to encounter a rotisserie chicken that is clearly marked as being gluten-free.  Plus, I’ve found most rotisserie chicken’s clock in at about 3 pounds.  I’ll just note that my 5+ pounder was $5.05 and I can be absolutely certain that it is safe for me to eat.  That being said, if anyone has a reliable source for GF rotisserie chicken, let me know.  Because on some nights, my not having to do anything at all would totally be worth the extra dollar or two!

roast chicken 1

Roast Chicken

Serves: 6+ | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 1.5-2 hours

  • 1 whole chicken, 5-6 lbs
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper

Place a metal cooling rack in a higher-walled baking dish (or use a roasting pan, if you have one).  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Mix together the butter, thyme leaves, garlic, and a pinch each of salt and pepper.

It is likely that your chicken still has the giblets and neck within the cavity.  Make sure to remove those.  You can simmer these in a small covered pot filled with water while the chicken roasts, to create a basic broth to use to make gravy for the chicken (if gravy is your thing–it certainly is a necessity in this house!)  Pat the chicken dry all over, including inside the cavity.  Cut the lemon into quarters and place within the cavity of the chicken.   Place the chicken in the pan, breast side up.

Now we want to get the butter underneath the skin of the chicken.  The butter will help to keep the meat from drying out and help to keep the skin crispy.  Win-win!   Starting at the tail end of the chicken, you should be able to pull up the skin away from the meat.  You might have a little resistance, but it should pull away.  (Cue me trying not to get too technical, for those who may be a little squeamish!)  Use a spoon (or honestly, your fingers) to spread the butter over the breast meat, beneath the skin.   You should be able to poke through the dividing layer to get between the skin and the leg meat, too.  Add a little butter there as well.  Certainly can’t hurt!  Sprinkle the rest of the salt and pepper over the outside of the chicken.  Truss the chicken.  I tried this method for the first time and was quite pleased with it.  It definitely keeps the skin from shrinking!

Place the chicken in the oven and cook for 15 minutes, to start the initial browning of the skin.  Remove the chicken from the oven and turn the heat down to 350 degrees F.  Flip the chicken upside down, so that the breasts are down in the pan (I found it easiest to use tongs).  Place back in the oven and continue to cook.  You should bargain for 20 minutes per pound (So a 5-lb chicken should cook for 1 hour and 40 minutes.  A 6-lb chicken should cook for 2 hours.)  Make sure you do the math and set a timer! 🙂  If you want to add any vegetables to roast alongside your chicken, I like to give the chicken a headstart by about 30-40 minutes (if the roasting time is 90+ minutes), then add the chopped veggies into the pan around the chicken for the remainder of the roasting time.  Once the time is up, remove the chicken from the oven and use the tongs to flip breast-side-up.  Check that the temperature at the thickest part of the thigh has reached 160 degrees (it will raise to 165 degrees while it rests.)  If the skin is a little pale, go ahead and broil for a minute or two.  Just be sure to keep an eye on it!  After broiling (or not), pull the chicken out of the oven and allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes.

While the chicken is resting, you can make gravy.  Spoon a tablespoon or two from the drippings at the bottom of the roasting pan into a large skillet over medium heat.  Add a spoonful or two of flour until it makes a roux.  Let this cook, stirring frequently, until the roux turns a light brown.  Add a little broth (from a carton or from the boiled giblets/chicken neck).  The paste will bubble and thicken.  Keep adding the broth bit by bit, stirring until smooth, until the gravy reaches your desired thickness.  Taste and salt/pepper if needed.  By now the chicken should be rested and ready to eat!