Saturday, January 29, 2011

Super Fast Update

I'm back from Miami and am getting my house back in order, literally and figuratively. I spent about $70 at Sprouts and $67 at Whole Foods and picked up my Urban Acres share ($50). I didn't go to the store at all last weekend, so this is two weeks worth.

I'll be headed back to Whole Foods tomorrow to pick up some buffalo, fish and cashews. I've got everything else I need for the week, though.

I've been playing in the kitchen this afternoon and a new post with my creations will follow.

This week we'll be having our standard menu: beef, chicken or fish, our fresh produce and I picked up some gluten free pasta we'll be testing out.

The share this week included apples, oranges and lemons (yay!), onions, potatoes, carrots, celery, lettuce, purple turnips, and lots of greens. Oh, and a butternut and acorn squash. Not sure how I'm going to prepare those and I've never seen a purple turnip before.

I am so glad to be home.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Brief Hiatus and Budget Observations

I will be out of town for work for most of this upcoming week, which means there will be little to no blogging. Unless I post pictures of my hotel room. Stephen is going to be home alone with the kids.

Which means he's da man.

Which translates into: Easy meals and lunches are mandatory.

The kids will eat lunch at school this week. *shudder* I'm throwing Stephen a bone on this one.

Dinners will be a crockpot stew I will make ahead of time, spaghetti with butter and parmesan, and one night will be broiled fish with steamed veggies. I'm sure there will be cereal for dinner one night.

I'm headed to the grocery store for a few staples in the morning, but we have pretty much everything we need. I went over budget last week, but didn't keep track (or blog about it, sorry). I've figured out, though, why I haven't been able to stick to my original budget.

There are two very logical explanations. First, the kids aren't eating lunch at school. I'm packing their lunches. I figure this adds an additional $20 a week to the budget.

Second, I'm back on the Mellman plan. Which means my diet consists of very specific and sometimes expensive items. Like buffalo. And cashews. And goat cheese. I'm going to have to figure out a way to either spend less on these items, or as I add new foods, hope that the ones I add aren't uber expensive.

I'm stumbling along the way regarding the budget, but I'll get there.

It's all a journey, right?

Organic Chili A La Crockpot

This was a really fast dinner. When I'm making stew or chili or whatever in the crockpot, there is no recipe.

This meal was made by combining organic ground beef from Texas Daily Harvest, a can of organic white beans, organic black beans (I had made them from dried beans and frozen them, so I pulled them from my freezer), bok choy from my Urban Acres share, a carton of 365 organic chicken broth, a can of tomato sauce, salt, pepper, and paprika. Oh, and an onion.

I served it with the homemade cheese bread sticks. I didn't eat any of it, because it's not on my Mellman plan, but Stephen and the kids did. This is definitely an easy, weeknight, make ahead kind of a meal.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Roasted Organic Potatoes, Broiled Buffalo and Homemade Cheddar Cheese Breadsticks

Buffalo. It's what's for dinner.

Along with some roasted potatoes and homemade cheddar cheese bread sticks. I used the bread machine and Texas Daily Harvest cheddar.

I have it on good authority (the husband and kids) that the bread sticks were delish. (They aren't on my Mellman plan, so I didn't eat them.) But, the buffalo and potatoes I did eat. And they were good.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Delicious and Super Easy Nut Butter Cookies

There's nothing quite like diving into a plate full of these:

These are so easy to make, and totally on my Mellman plan. Mix in a bowl one cup of sugar (I used organic cane sugar by Florida Crystals), one egg (Organic Valley) and one cup of any nut butter. I used cashew butter (Artisana), but since it's pricey, I substituted 1/2 cup of finely chopped cashews for 1/2 cup of the cashew butter.

Once you stir it up, it will look like this:

I added a dash of cinnamon and vanilla extract. Then used a small scoop to line them up on the Silpat (greatest invention known to cookies).

Then pop them into a 350 degree oven and set the timer for 14 minutes. About midway through, they will look like this:

Check them at the 14 minute mark. They may need another minute or two.

But DON'T GO FAR. Definitely don't get distracted by writing a blog post about the cookies. They burn to a crisp before you can upload a few pictures.

I wonder how they'll taste with that freshly burnt flavor.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Pork Lo Mein, Organic Style

The picky eater asked me to pack him ramen noodles for lunch. I decided to make some without so many chemicals and preservatives. I got some japanese somen noodles at Tom Thumb for $2.65. On the back was a recipe for lo mein that I sort of followed.

All of the organic produce I used was from an Urban Acres share. I shredded a carrot, diced a red onion and pulled out some shredded cabbage and bok choy.

I cooked the noodles according to the directions on the package which took three minutes in boiling water. I used three bundles:

I cooked the pork and garlic in olive oil until it was done, then removed the pork to a bowl and sauteed the vegetables for about five minutes, then added the noodles and pork and topped it with some soy sauce and lemon juice.

Stephen liked it. The kids asked for plain noodles. I thought it looked delicious. I was on my Mellman plan, so I didn't eat it. But I really, really wanted to.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

She's a Hoarder

When I stocked up last weekend, it wasn't just on groceries. I also bought an 8 pack of paper towels. I immediately pulled one out and put it on the kitchen counter on my paper towel holder.

I went about the rest of my evening, then the whole family hit the sack. The next morning, I found this in the family room:

To recap, one roll on the kitchen counter, plus one roll on the family room floor, equals two.

Plus one in the dining room equals three.

Plus four in Lilly's crate equals seven.
Yeah, I can't find the eighth one. Seriously.
**Insert some elapsed time and hunting.**
Nope, still can't find it. I'll let you know if I ever do.

Laptop Lunches Times Three

I had fun packing lunches in the kids' new Laptop Lunches. If I'm being honest, though, the later in the week we got, the less creative their lunches got.

On Tuesday, we had homemade ramen noodles (I'll post the pictures of the lo mein I made to go with it later) with organic italian cheese blend, organic cage free hard boiled eggs with a Texas Daily Harvest colby cheese star, organic cheese crackers and organic fruit salad. The tiny container is trail mix with chocolate from the Whole Foods bulk bin.

The next day we had homemade french toast sticks using leftover homemade whole wheat bread, a clementine, organic sweet potatoes, popcorn and half of a Clif Organic Twisted Fruit. In the tiny container is maple syrup from the bulk bin at Whole Foods. Not much protein in this lunch, now that I look at it.

My son, the picky eater, doesn't like sweet potatoes, so I made some homemade organic french fries from the potatoes in my last Urban Acres share. We had these french fries with our dinner the next night.

For dinner on Wednesday night, we had baked pasture fed beef new york strip steaks and homemade organic french fries. I took some of the leftover beef and made steak fingers for the kids' lunches. I also packed a clementine, organic cheese crackers, organic vanilla cookies and decidedly non-organic ketchup (still leftover from my processed food days -- but it's almost gone).

The kids were pretty happen with their lunches this week and not a lot came home uneaten.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Homemade Organic Pizza Sauce and Pizza

Last week I decided I wanted to try to make my own pizza sauce, instead of using canned or jarred sauce. Plus, I got a lot of little tomatoes in my Urban Acres share. I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but decided that if it truly sucked, I could try again.

First I boiled some water, then put the tomatoes (I had sliced an X on the bottom of each one) in for about 20 seconds. The skins came off like butt-ah.

Once the tomatoes were de-skinned (is that word?), I put them in a pot with a diced red onion, garlic, basil, oregano, thyme, about a cup of olive oil, salt and pepper. I didn't really measure, I just threw it all in.

Then I put it on low and let it go. Soon, it became this:

Then, a few hours later it looked like this:

It smelled fantastic! Once it was good and thick, I took my handy dandy immersion blender and did this:

I made pizza dough with my bread maker (which, incidentally, made enough dough for two pizzas). I put the second ball of pizza dough in a baggie with a little bit of olive oil for later use. I figured it would keep for a few days in the refrigerator. My kids love pizza. This is not a problem. Although, I'm sure I could freeze it, too.
I got a pizza stone for Christmas, which was gonna be great. I rolled out the dough, put the toppings on, then dusted the pizza stone with some flour. I put the finished pizza on the stone and put it in the oven. Then I read the directions, which said not to use flour, use cornmeal, since flour can burn. Oops.

The flour problem wasn't a big issue. The pizza wasn't charred and it was gone in 2.2 seconds.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Menu Plan for the Week

This week's menu is going to be pretty simple:

1. Tacos using the leftover chicken and rice. I'll serve them with a salad and fresh fruit.

2. Grilled pasture fed new york strip steak, baked sweet potatoes, and another vegetable of some kind.

3. Eggplant parmesan and pasta with a side salad.

4. Baked fish, roasted potatoes and fruit salad.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Homemade Whole Wheat Bread

This was my first attempt at whole wheat bread with the bread machine. I can't eat it (gluten sensitivity), but my husband said it was really good.

This one will make some good sandwiches and french toast sticks.

Our First Laptop Lunches

I actually had fun putting together the kids' first Laptop Lunches. One of these days I'm gonna have to admit that I have an inner Martha.

Here is the picky eater's lunch:

It's a peanut butter and strawberry fruit spread sandwich on homemade whole wheat bread I made using my bread maker. On the side are apple stars with peanut butter in between each one. There's a clementine, fresh blackberries, organic cheddar crackers and some organic vanilla cookies.

And for the girl:

Top left is a salad with homemade parmesan bread croutons and parmesan hearts, a clementine and fresh blackberries. On the bottom left are goat cheese and olive tortilla rollups, ranch dressing and a trail mix from the bulk bin at Whole Foods (it has chocolate chunks, peanuts, almonds, peanut butter chips and raisins).

I've already got ideas for the rest of the week and am super Martha excited about that, too.

Budget Review, Second Week of January 2011

The theme for this week's budget is Stocking Up. It's also a really long post, so prepare yourselves.

Another wrinkle: I am making the kids' lunches instead of letting them eat hot lunch at school, so my grocery expenses are going up. I'm going to have to make a budget adjustment. I was spending $160 each month on the school lunches, so clearly that's going to have an impact on my weekly budget. I don't expect there to be a corresponding increase in the budget (in other words, $40 a week), but I'm going to watch and see what happens in the coming weeks before I settle on a number. Maybe an extra $20 each week? What do you think?

Okay, on with the show.

First of all, there are a LOT of stores on the list this week and a lot of trips to Whole Foods. This is not normal. I didn't prepare properly for making the kids' lunches or for the fact that I'm back on my Mellman plan.

Whole Foods. This week I made three trips (one mid-week, one Friday night and one Saturday -- don't ask). The first trip totaled $55, the second one $45 and the third $44.

I don't have the receipt for the first Whole Foods trip. Why, you ask? Because it was in my purse. On the floor of the passenger side of my car. And I put my full cup of tea on the dash to open something for my daughter while I was driving.

The cup of tea (with sugar and soy milk in it) slid off the dash, flipped over and landed inside my purse. Totally not kidding. I'm still trying to figure out how to clean the lining of my bag. But that's another issue completely. The receipt was a casualty of my stupidity.

Trip Number 1. I know that $55 included a lot of eggs. I don't remember what else.

Trip Number 2.
  • White Cheddar Rice Crackers, $2.50
  • Organic Fruit Leather, 2 at $.59 each
  • Canned olives, $1.99
  • Stonyfield Yogurt, $3.99
  • Sea Salt, $6.99
  • Goat cheese, $8.00
  • Prepared chicken salad, $5.99
  • Naan bread, $3.49
  • Tortillas, $1.99
  • Organic apples, $2.33
  • Grapes, $3.19
  • Watermelon chunks, $2.55

Trip Number 3.
  • Organic Valley Eggs, $2.79
  • Cheddar Crackers, $2.50
  • Clif's Twisted Fruit, 2 boxes for $7.00
  • Organic Yogurt, $3.49
  • Hummus, $1.50
  • Bulk Chocolate Nut Crunch Trail Mix, $1.76
  • Florida Crystals Cane Sugar, $4.99
  • Ground buffalo, $10.55
  • Organic Valley italian blend cheese, $4.99
  • Goat cheese, $5.99
  • Corn tortillas, $.99
  • Grapes, $3.09

I saved $4.70 using coupons.

Amazon.Com, $16. I bought boxed water (like a juice box but with water instead) to put in the kids' school lunches until the Laptop Lunch Boxes (and water bottles) arrived. They've also been drinking them while at home.

Target, $38.83. We use a lot of oatmeal in our house, so I bought some oatmeal coupons on ebay. 20 of them, in fact. (They cost me $7 total.) Target was having a sale on oatmeal. I stocked UP. I also found some Kashi apple bars on clearance (plus, I had a coupon for free produce when I bought Kashi products).
  • 9 boxes of Kashi apple bars
  • 12 - 18 oz cans of Quaker oats
  • 2 boxes of Tazo Chai Latte concentrate
  • Corn Meal
  • 5 pounds of Cuties (little seedless oranges/tangerines)
  • Fresh black berries
I saved $21 using coupons.

Tom Thumb, $27.92. I went to Target to get coffee creamer (on sale) and found some great deals and coupons scattered throughout the store.
  • Actual somen noodles (the kind used in ramen, but just the noodles), $2.65
  • Organic soy sauce, $3.49
  • Rice vinegar, $2.09
  • Sparkling water, $4.50
  • Dijon mustard, $4.59
  • 3 bottles of Coffee Mate creamer, $5.97
  • Organic soy milk, $2.49
  • Organic bananas, Not sure, I was charged $0 from a coupon
  • Almond slivers, $2.50
  • 2 bags of sweet butter lettuce, $4.00
  • Bag of organic red apples, $3.00

I saved $7.65 using coupons.

Dollar General, Less than $2. This was the first time I'd ever been to this store. I couldn't resist free oatmeal. I also got a lamp and paper towels, but those don't count towards my grocery budget.

  • 6 bags of oatmeal (5 servings each), $6
  • Can of coffee, $1.75
All of the oatmeal was free after coupons (I saved $12.50 total, but not just on oatmeal).

GRAND TOTAL. The total is, give or take some change (I didn't have my calculator), about $213.

I definitely have a lot of lunch items that will last beyond this week and the oatmeal should last for months.

I spent a lot this week, no question. I blew the weekly budget, but I stocked up, which will help lower my future expenditures.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

An Organic Snowman

This morning when we went into church, it was raining. When we walked out, it was snowing. This is not a common occurrence in Dallas, so the kids wanted to go outside and play in it.

The picky eater all bundled up:

The little girl was outside longer and was very busy:

This, ladies and gentlemen, is our version of Frosty. The radish eyes and carrot nose are all from our Urban Acres share. Priceless.

Homemade Cinnamon Swirl Bread

I made this cinnamon swirl bread Friday night. Actually, since I failed to read the directions in advance it's not a swirl, rather just cinnamon bread. Details.

The fam loves the way it tastes. I love that it doesn't have any preservatives. I doubt it will make it to the 24 hour mark, but if it does, I'll make some french toast sticks with the leftovers.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Book Review: How to Shop for Free by Kathy Spencer

A few months back I discovered a youtube video about Kathy Spencer, a Boston mom who feeds her family of six on $4 per week. Yes, you read that right. I was intrigued.

I found my way to her website, How to Shop for Free, and started reading what she had to say. Then, her book came out. I got the book for Christmas from my parents and devoured it in a day.

Kathy has some excellent shopping tips in there. Some strategies she recommends I use at places like Whole Foods and Sprouts to get the best deals possible. But grocery shopping isn't the only place I can take advantage of her tips. Clothes, home decor, and drug stores, to name a few.

For example, she explains how to stack coupons with sales. I bought several Organic Valley coupons off of ebay for very little. I stacked the $1 off coupon with a sale on organic eggs at Whole Foods and was able to get a half dozen eggs for $1.79. I was also able to get oatmeal using her strategies for free.

This book is incredible. Truly. After you read it, you'll never pay full price again. For anything. I'm going to read it again and continue to see what amazing deals I can get. This is one book that's not going to be collecting dust on my bookshelf.

Making Lunch Fun and Practical

I have recently discovered some blogs that focus on bento box style lunches. While I seriously doubt my lunches will ever rival ones like this or this, I did discover a new lunch box system that will work great for the kids and the environment.

The kids are really excited about these. Making lunch fun will help, particularly with the picky eater, the transition from their eating hot lunch every day to eating healthier food from home.

I can't wait to get started!

Making Your Meals Work Double Time

This was a quick weeknight dinner this week. I pulled out the trusty crock pot and put 2 pounds of frozen chicken tenders in it, then covered it with several cups of leftover organic soup I made earlier in the week.

I put it on low before I went to bed and it was ready to pop in the refrigerator in the morning. The chicken was super tender and shredded really easily. Later that night I came home and popped the chicken and sauce in the microwave, cooked some brown rice (the quick cooking variety leftover from my days of eating processed foods) and steamed some broccoli from our share. I squeezed some lemon juice on top of the broccoli while it was still in the steamer.
I put everything in bowls, then grated some fresh Texas Daily Harvest parmesan on top and added some hot chili sauce (I left the spicy off of the kids' plates). I also added some soy sauce and ladled some of the soup from the crockpot on top.
It took about 20 minutes to put together and was really very good.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Quick Weeknight Dinner

This is the quick dinner I put together in about 15 minutes after I got home from work. The dandelion greens and roasted root vegetables were prepared on Sunday night in advance. I chopped up sweet potatoes, carrots and potatoes from our Urban Acres share, marinated them in olive oil, salt, pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar, then roasted them in the oven until they were golden brown on the outside. Maybe 20-30 minutes?

The salmon was frozen and I put it in a baggie with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and soy sauce. The salmon marinated while it thawed overnight and during the day while we were at work. When I got home (Stephen was at soccer practice with the kids), I put it in a glass dish and baked it at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes.

While the fish was cooking, I heated up the sides, sliced the banana and the homemade challah bread. (This was the second loaf I made and I'm telling you, it doesn't last but two seconds in our house!)

My daughter thought the greens were too spicy, but she otherwise cleaned her plate.

The picky eater looked at them on his plate like they were from another planet. I did get him to try the potatoes, though, after I told them they were the same as what french fries are made out of. He tried them, but didn't eat more than the bite. He did, however, eat all of his salmon. I was so proud.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mystery Item of the Week

There's usually something in the share I've never seen before or can't easily identify. This week it was dandelion greens.

Who knew?
So, I googled "dandelion greens" and up popped this recipe from Epicurious. Then I made it.

I made this on Sunday in advance of the week. I try to prepare sides on the weekend so putting together dinner on a week night doesn't take as long. With after school activities and two parents who work outside the home, week night efficiency isn't an option. It's a requirement. At least it is in our house if anyone is going to eat something more complicated than cereal.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Simple Organic Soup

At my daughter's request, I made soup over the weekend. Soup is really easy to heat and serve during the week.

I never follow a recipe when I make soup. I just use what I have on hand. In this pot I combined fresh produce from my Urban Acres share, a can of organic stewed tomatoes (28 ounces, I think), a can of great northern beans, and 32 ounces of organic chicken stock.

The produce I used included onions, celery, carrots, the stem of the broccoli, and spinach. I added some chopped garlic, garlic and herb seasoning, salt and pepper. I didn't measure, I just threw it all in.

I sauteed the veggies first, then added the canned ingredients and brought everything to a boil. Then I reduced the heat and let it simmer for a while. Maybe 30 minutes. I added about 8 ounces of organic cream from Texas Daily Harvest at the very end.

Then. I pulled out one of my new kitchen gadgets. (Admittedly, I had to google it when writing this post to see what it was actually called because I'm too lazy to walk into the kitchen to look.) It's a Cuisinart Smart Stick Immersion Hand Blender. It sounds way fancier than $25, but it's not.
So I grabbed that Immersion Hand Blender (I can't bring myself to refer to it as a Smart Stick) and beat those vegetables into submission. So much faster than a blender and way easier to clean.

I had some leftover homemade parmesan bread that I sliced, sprayed with cooking spray and then toasted in the oven until they became giant croutons. I added some organic parmesan (from Texas Daily Harvest) and voila, soup with cheese and croutons.

A slightly less sophisticated plate, this is what I served to the kids. There's a salad made with goodies from the share (dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar), as well as some more fresh fruit.

Another quick and easy weeknight meal.

Sunday's Light Lunch

A little homemade parmesan bread, with sliced tomatoes from the Urban Acres share, a mix of Texas Daily Harvest cheeses (gouda, parmesan and cheddar) and some fresh fruit.

Quick. Easy. Delicious.

Saturday's Urban Acres Bounty

Lilly, one of our rescue dogs, was very curious about our Urban Acres share this week. She wasn't the only one.

I was thrilled when I dug down into the bin.

My daughter was super excited about the cherry tomatoes and I immediately started fantasizing about all the stuff I was going to make. No, seriously.

'Cause I have lots of fun new kitchen gadgets that I am going to get to experiment with. On a side note (attention span of a gnat), I'd never seen one of these stickers on my produce before:

And with that, I must bid you good night. I'm back to work after a much needed vacation, which means I've got to get to bed at a reasonable hour.
Truth be told, I would have liked a few more days off so I could play with my food.