Ambrosia Salad

ambrosia title

As much as I am interested in new food trends, there are a few classics–especially those that I grew up with–that will always have a special place on my table.  As a child of the ’90s, some of these dishes waver on that edge of decidedly old-school, especially as we look at cold salads.  Ambrosia is one of those.  I am seeing this creamy fruit salad less and less these days, but, in my mind, ambrosia is one of those quintessential summer dishes.  Due to the lack of vegetables and the inclusion of fruit, it was a universal favorite in my house while I was growing up.  It also made an impression on our extended family (here is the recipe, finally, Lizzie!)  Ambrosia was always a true sign of summer (even though, using the canned options, it can be made almost any time of year that grapes are in stores).

ambrosia fruit

I’ve sampled a few ambrosia salads at various barbecues, either a store-bought salad or by someone else’s recipe.  And I was always disappointed, if not disgusted.  They were always horribly sweet.  There are rules about Ambrosia Salad (in my adamant opinion! 😉 ).  Rule #1: no maraschino cherries.  Listen.  I love maraschino cherries.  Especially the un-natural, bright-red ones.  A visit to any fro-yo place usually ends with most of my money paying for at least one extra ounce of weight made up entirely of half a dozen maraschino cherries.  However, they do not belong in ambrosia salad.  The juice makes it all vaguely pink and the flavor just doesn’t fit.  No maraschinos.  Rule #2: no vanilla.  This is often linked to the third and most important rule: Rule #3: don’t cover the fruit with a sweet topping.  I’ve tried this dish made with whipped cream, cool whip, vanilla yogurt….all of those options will leave your teeth aching and your mouth crying out for water from the sugar.  The marshmallows and the coconut and, you know, all the fruit, provide plenty of sweetness.  Even vanilla extract adds a heaviness to the salad.  You just don’t need it.

In adhering to rule #3, I will finally admit the ingredient that may give you pause.  Yes, the topping that mixes everything together into creamy goodness is…. sour cream.  Gasp!  I know!  Just reminiscent enough of those terrible 1950s recipes calling for mayo and shrimp and jello and other horrors to make you stop and reconsider.  But hear me out:  Sour cream is great here.  The tang balances the sweetness of every other ingredient and after a couple of hours, the marshmallows break down into soft little pockets and the sugar on the outside of the marshmallows has blended with the cream to make the whole thing perfectly sweet.  Yes, I suppose I would allow swapping plain yogurt for the sour cream, if it really rattles you.  But let’s be honest with each other.  Sour cream achieves a texture of delightfully-creamy-without-being-heavy that no other dairy product can.  Greek yogurt would be too thick and heavy, regular yogurt would be too watery, especially combined with the juicy fruit.  Sour cream is the best option.  Just don’t think about it too much and do me a favor: try it with sour cream first.  Trust me.

ambrosia close

I was delighted, in fourth grade, when I started learning about Greek mythology, to learn that ambrosia was the food of the Gods.   Having had this dish for many summers, I couldn’t imagine anything more appropriate to feed Athena, Artemis, Zeus, and Apollo. So try it out…it is the food of the gods, after all!  Not to mention a really great addition to any barbecue or potluck and the perfect option for a summer evening!

ambrosia mixed

Ambrosia Salad

Serves 6-8 | Prep time: 10 min. + resting | Cook time: N/A

  • 1 c. mini marshmallows
  • 1 c. crushed pineapple, drained (or 1 c. fresh, finely chopped)*
  • 1 small can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1 c. shredded coconut (sweetened is traditional, but unsweetened would be fine)
  • 1 c. grapes (red or green), slice in half
  • 3/4 to 1 c. sour cream**

*My pineapple is fresh, but chopped too large in these photos.  As soon as I took a bite, I knew I should have chopped it much finer, when using it fresh.

**Depending on how juicy the fruit is, you may need less or more.  Gently fold in the smaller amount first, and then decide if you need the rest.

Combine the fruit, marshmallows, and coconut in a large bowl.  Gently fold in sour cream, being careful not to break up the mandarin orange pieces too much.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving, to allow flavors to meld.


Budget Update and Meal Plan for August 13-19

This week will be spent readjusting to life without camp.  There is always a transition period–I’ve just spent the last seven weeks entirely immersed in a whole different schedule, workload, and focus.  This week is for cleaning the house, organizing my emails, and generally getting my life in order.

I am excited, because the end of the week is our annual canning day.  A few friends and I set aside a day to spend hours preserving and canning.  It is such a long process, so it is much more entertaining with company.  Our SO’s are in charge of lunch/dinner while we wash, chop, soak, boil, and reduce a variety of produce and then rev up a water bath to process it all.  This canning day was started because we wanted to make Squash Relish, which still remains as the primary act.  This year, I will also do a batch of tomato jam and my friends are tag-teaming the process of making apple butter.  We might try tomato sauce, or something else entirely.  I found a recipe for a carrot cake conserve that I’m still considering….but it may have to wait.  Even in a whole day, only so much can be made when limited to a 4-burner stovetop.  Whatever we do end up with, we’ll swap a few jars so that we all have a taste of the product.  The produce for canning will be separate from my weekly grocery budgets, since this is a true stock up.  However, I really don’t expect to pay more that $25-$30.  This will result in 10 jars of squash relish and 4-6 jars of tomato jam + 2-4 jars of apple butter, at least.

This week, M is working late nearly every day.  Dinners are, again, relying on protein from our freezer/pantry, and are simpler dishes or platters, in order to keep everything easy.  As such, a lot of our groceries from the store are aimed at stocking up.  A condiment or too, flour, some probiotic-rich foods as well as some simple items because my stomach has been pretty unhappy for the past few weeks, after all the stress and poor eating.  I even managed a bottle of store-bought kombucha to split over the course of this week, as I neglected my own homemade booch.  Check out that mother behind the groceries–it’s grew four baby SCOBY’s.  I restarted a batch last night, finally, but it will still take about a week before it is ready to drink.

Here’s what I spent this week:

(I was lazy and only went to Trader Joe’s this week, because I needed to grab paper goods.  The TP, paper towels, and dog treats came out to $10, so my total for food was $35.18.  I’m $0.18 over, as my math regarding tax was a little off.)

groceries list 8.14

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $15.00

 

Trader Joe’s: $35.18

Total: $50.18

I was able to take home half a dozen individual yogurt cups as we cleaned out the fridge at work (the students’ parents bring us food sometimes), which really helped my budget, since those were free and can serve as my breakfast all week long.  My mom’s egg lady is back, so I also got 18 eggs from her.  Those should last us well into next week.

Here’s what we got:

groceries 8.14

HH Produce Box: 2 lbs red potatoes, 3 peaches, 3 pears, 7 tiny cucumbers, 2 broccoli crowns, 1/2 lb kale, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, 2 ears corn

Trader Joe’s: gluten-free English muffins, unsweetened Applesauce, White Beans, Butter, Red Onion, Sauerkraut, GF Flour, Kombucha, Coconut Aminos, Lemons, Ginger, Feta cheese, slice Deli Ham

plus another overflowing pint of cherry tomatoes from our own garden

We are really eating from our pantry this week!

Here’s what we’re eating:

Sunday: Out I was still at work (my boss got us all Chipotle) and then we went to our friend’s house where they fed us dinner and we watched Game of Thrones

Monday: Tomato Tarte Tatin, Cheese, Fruit, Salad using all of the tomatoes from our garden, some herbs, and a quick pie crust.  I served it withe last of the lettuce from last week’s box, plus some cheese that had been languishing in the drawer for a week or two (bleu and mozzarella) and with some of the pears

Tuesday: Burgers, Potato Salad, Roast Corn using beef and buns from the freezer.  I’m using about half of the potatoes from our box.

Wednesday: White Bean Dip, Tomato-Cucumber Salad, Baked Feta  I made this dip for a camp potluck while M was out of town.  It is sooooo delicious and super simple, so I’m making it again.  I’ll use all the cucumbers and most of the tomatoes for the salad.  I will mostly save half of that block of feta and freeze it for later.  We’ll serve everything with some crostini made from the English muffins, thinly sliced.

Thursday: Sausage & Kale Pasta with sausage from the freezer.  Whatever tomatoes don’t go into the salad on Wednesday will end up here.

Friday: Canning Day! I’ll make some broccoli salad to contribute to dinner at our friend’s–most likely hot dogs, as they are the ideal carrier for our prized Squash Relish.  We have some buns in the freezer that I will bring along, too.

Saturday: Sweet Potato Roast and Breakfast Sandwiches using last week’s SP’s.  Eggs and ham will round things out.

Breakfasts will be smoothies, applesauce & yogurt, or eggs.  Lunches are leftovers, caprese salad, or ham sandwiches, with fruit and/or sauerkraut, and kombucha for me.  I did indulge in homemade Eggs Benedict on Monday, when I was off of work, which explains the ham, lemons, butter, and English muffins in my basket.  🙂


Budget Update & Meal Plan for May 21-27

I’m back!  April and early May swung totally out of control, between family stuff, my internship, and some intensive work projects.  Only in the last week or so, do I feel as though I’ve finally gotten my feet underneath me once more.  I will say that, through all of the madness, we did actually stick to our $50-per-week grocery budget (M even did the shopping twice and stuck to the budget!), although there was also a little more ordering out and food waste than I would like, over the course of these weeks.  But our budget also worked, because, even with the cost of ordering out a little more frequently, we had that little bit of padding in our bank accounts to cover it.  Up until this year, that padding would have already been spent on groceries, that would likely have still gone uncooked in favor of the convenience of ordered food.  And then we would have found ourselves in a bit of a jam.

Anyways, this week’s dinners are–as usual–guided by the produce that came in our Hungry Harvest Produce Box.  It so happens that using all the various veggies in the box (plus a few left over from last week) created a weekly menu made entirely of our household’s Go-To recipes.  We make all of these so, so often.  It will be a nice way to ease back in to cooking most nights of the week.

I am in the very (very) beginning stages of attempting to meal plan in two-week increments, instead of one.  I’ve noticed that it may be easier to spend $100 every two weeks–all those times that I am a dollar or two short from a more budget-friendly (i.e. larger) item would be easier to work into our budget.  Plus, through Hungry Harvest, we can get a slightly larger produce box delivered every two weeks for much less than $30.  This opens up a little more to spend at the store.  It would be easier to stretch meats and dairy and other higher-cost items, too.  I want to do a couple sample two-week plans before we commit, of course.  It add another element to our meal-planning, in that I would not have to think about which vegetables might spoil faster–those would have to be eaten in week one, while the hardier veggies are saved for week two.  I’m merely playing around with my options right now, but I will certainly keep you up to date!

Here is what we spent this week:

(Ignore the weird spacing–the cashier had to adjust bananas that rang up incorrectly)

Receipt 5.20.17

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $22.00  I added on the pound of cherries and two pounds of rhubarb–all the fruit for me, please!

Aldi: $27.23

Total: $49.23

Here is what we got:

Groceries 5.20.17

Hungry Harvest Box: 2 lb. rhubarb, 1 lb. cherries, 2 portabello mushroom caps, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, 3 sweet potatoes, 2 kiwis, 2 avocados, 2 apples, 3 green bell peppers, & a head of romaine lettuce

Aldi: frozen blueberries, frozen raspberries, bananas, 2 lb. chicken breasts, white vinegar, 2 lb. carrots, gluten-free bread, organize spinach*, almond milk, butter, quinoa

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

*I do appreciate that my spinach is organic, but the $0.50 more I paid for it was actually to get the spinach in a plastic box over a bag–the fragile leaves stay much fresher in the box!

Here is what we are eating this week:

Sunday: Out? If I don’t get dinner while I am running around to various places, I’ll probably make some with eggs, veggies, and some bacon/sausage.  A frittata or omelet, maybe.

Monday: Fajitas with Portobello Mushrooms, Onions & Peppers, Corn Salad, and Guacamole  Meat is as of yet undetermined–maybe some of the chicken, but we also have steak and shrimp in the freezer.  The onions are from the pantry and the corn is from last week’s HH box.  We’ll also use some of the tomatoes, and tortillas from the pantry.

Tuesday: Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad  This is the most recent addition to my list of quick staples!  Exactly as it sounds: all the piece of a classic chicken caesar salad, just swapping the croutons with cooked (and cooled) GF noodles to make a cold pasta salad.  We’ll use the chicken breast and the romaine, plus some parmesan and noodles from the pantry.  I’m home late, but I can cook the chicken while the pasta cooks and get this dinner on the table in about 20 minutes!

Wednesday: Portobello Mushroom Risotto, with Roasted Tomatoes and Kale Salad  Two classics, using some of the tomatoes and mushrooms from this week’s box, plus kale from last week’s.  We have broth in the freezer and everything else (arborio rice, cranberries, nuts, etc) in the pantry.

Thursday: Out My coworkers and I will be celebrating our boss’ birthday

Friday: Grilling!  Protein with yellow squash, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes  Basically, whatever protein isn’t chosen for the fajitas earlier this week, plus the rest of the veggies from last week’s HH box.  We are expecting rain until Thursday, so I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that the squash will stay good for that long.

Saturday: Tofu & Broccoli Pad Thai  This meal is actually entirely from the pantry–it’s a dish we did not get to last week.  I might swap the noodles for rice and play around with a different sauce, if I’m feeling creative, but I know we have all the ingredients for Pad Thai on hand, because I love it. 🙂

Breakfasts will be Berry & Spinach Smoothies (trying to get back on that smoothie train).  Lunches will be sandwiches (we have ham in the fridge), dinner leftovers, or hardboiled eggs.


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.