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.