Wednesday, February 15, 2012

This week Thursday is turning into grocery day, since today was packed with other things. My pantry and freezer are looking so bountiful right now that I've decided to try cooking out of it this week. I'll still need to grocery shop, but I don't think I'll make too many purchases. Here's my plan so far:
  • Mac and cheese with caramelized onions, bacon, and spinach. Tart cranberry sauce on the side (I have everything except the cheese and the bacon. Probably will be buying another bag of onions too though. I plan to use some of my homemade yogurt in the casserole too)
  • Turkey and gravy over biscuits (I've got everything I need on hand. I'll buy butter if it's on sale though, it's nice to have extra on hand in the freezer)
  • This chili and cornbread (I'll need to get crushed tomatoes, peppers, and grains)
  • Slow cooker porridge (I probably have enough rice and steel cut oats to take me through this week, but I'm getting some grains this week anyway. So some of those will probably end up going into the porridge as well)
  • Cake (because those apples aren't getting any younger)
  • Bread (a loaf of oatmeal bread tomorrow, and then maybe one more loaf sometime later in the week. If there's time and I feel motivated.)

    So that's 3 dinner/lunches, a breakfast, a dessert, and something to snack on (I almost always eat leftovers until they're gone, so a couple of big meals feeds me for the week). It's quite a lot of food, but I plan to share the turkey and biscuits with my two meat-eating roommates; it should be gone in one sitting.

    Well, that's the plan for this week. I'll write an actual list tomorrow and may or may not share.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Grocery shopping results:
budget: $40
actually spent: $39.02
over/under: + $.98

1 head of celery
1 lb carrots
2 lbs cranberries
5 lbs oranges
1 gallon milk
1/2 pint half and half
10 lbs flour
5 lbs cornmeal
1 (pint? The large container) jam
1 (small containter) honey
1 (large, but not "family sized) peanut butter
1 pkg Italian sausage (6 sausages)
3 cans beans (chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans)
1 bag mixed frozen veg.
1 lb dried split peas
2 lbs black lentils
2 lbs red lentils
1.5 lbs steel cut oats

Good outcome overall, considering I bought a couple of items that weren't on the list.
I also went to the library, returned books, and picked up two novels (It's been a while since I've read professionally published fiction). I'll possibly write about those another day.

Dinner tonight is spinach and meatballs over rice. Also need to make yogurt and a pot of porridge, and dishes absolutely have to get done at some point. I'm going to go get on all that right now :)

Grocery Shopping

Wednesday is almost always grocery day. It's when the sales are, and oddly enough, it's also almost always my day off. I spent a little time this morning writing down all of the meal plans I've had in my head for this coming week, and compiling a grocery list. Last week and the week before I overspent quite a lot at the grocery stor: stocking up my pantry and loading up on necessary household food items (I generally buy the coffee around here, unless I'm feeling resentful about it and let a roomate take a turn) in addition to buying unnecessary stuff like ice cream and soda. I want to get back on track this week, and am doing at least a little bit of cooking from my pantry (which is really well stocked at the moment). I'm also trying to get back in the habit of eating lots of vegetables (when eating in a hurry I tend to fall back on more filling items, grain and protein). So I've made a plan.

Some of my friend have been asking how I do all this, so I'll explain it here. I don't know how other people plan meals and organize shopping trips, but this is what works for me.

1. Figure out how much time you have to cook. Cooking is something I do for fun as well as for nourishment, so I'm happy to spend several hours on a day off preparing food for the rest of the week. If it looks like it's going to be a slow week, I plan for more elaborate meals and spending at least a little bit of time baking. If the week is going to busy, I plan to fall back on simple pasta dishes, casseroles, and slow-cooker food.

2. Allow for snacking. My diet has always been a little... eccentric. I don't sit down for 3 square meals a day, I snack. Even after a large meal with meat, I'm hungry 2-3 hrs later. More than once my roommates have found me sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor (tables are inconvenient), eating slices of bread, cold leftovers, or a bowl of frozen veg. The trick is to keep a wide variety of healthy food on hand that requires minimal prep, for snacking. Usually I eat leftovers from the big cooking days, but I also keep things like frozen edamame, yogurt, and fresh fruit on hand (frozen mixed vegetables in the summer, since I eat them right out of the bag).

3. Before shopping, check your staple items. If something is getting low, write it on the list. If it's not something you need right away, you can always just check the price when you're at the store. If the item is on sale or you find yourself with a little leeway in your grocery budget, then you can stock up.
4. If your favorite grocery store sends out sale fliers, check them out. I don't usually buy a lot of the processed foods that go on sale but I like to check out the deals on produce, meat, and dairy. And every once in a while there's a great deal on things like canned beans and toilet paper. There are 4 different stores in my area that I like to shop at, depending on where the sales are and what I need that particular week (one store has a wide selection of dried grains and beans, but not so great in the produce section. Another has great produce, but I'm not too happy with the state of the baking aisle. Etc.)
Once I've done all this, I make a list of things I plan to cook in the upcoming week. This week my list looks like this:
  • spinach and meatballs (carryover dish. I didn't get a chance to make it last week and have everything I need on hand)
  • porridge
  • split pea soup
  • potatoes, cabbage, and sausage (I have some cabbage, potatoes, and apples on hand)
  • bread
  • yogurt (saved some yogurt from last week for starter, need milk)

Then I look over the list and figure out what items I need to buy in order to make those foods (this is where I feel glad that I went over my pantry earlier). This includes looking over my recipe notebook to make sure I have all the necessary seasonings (ever started making a big pot of chili, only to find that you only have about 1/2 tsp of chili powder in the bottom of the jar? Not fun). I write down all the necessary ingredients, as well as snack foods, and pantry items I'm low on. Sometimes I try to write it down in the order of the departments I'll be shopping in the store, but this week I just made a sort of general list. Here's what it looks like for this week:

  • Steel cut oats
  • green split peas
  • red lentils
  • black lentils
  • carrots
  • celery
  • sausage
  • peanut butter
  • gal. milk
  • flour (10lb)
  • cornmeal
  • jam
  • honey
  • snacking fruit
  • 2-3 cans assorted beans (if room in budget)

That should allow for meals and snacking. Since I only need a couple of carrots and stalks of celery for the pea soup, I can snack on the rest. If my sweet tooth starts acting up, I can make a cake out of the apples left over from last week. Or peanut butter cookies. Those are always good. Or I can have yogurt and stir in a spoonful of jam. Or put sugar in my tea.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Today was full of the sort of self-directed busyness that I absolutely love. I had to work this morning, but the afternoon was mine.

My yogurt was somewhat successful. Two of the Five jars didn't really set at all and the others set but didn't get that lovely tangy flavor (maybe that'll happen with time?), but it was my first attempt so I'm counting it as a win. I drained the whey off the yogurt, brought it to a slow boil, added a little vinegar and salt, and ended up with about 1/3 c of ricotta cheese.

Then I used the whey left over from the cheese to make some "kitchen sink" bread. That turned out pretty well. I decided to take a minimal kneading freeform approach to the bread, making a really moist dough and then dusting loaves with flour before baking to get a nice crust. I pretty much threw in just about every grain at my disposal:

3c whey
1.5 T yeast
1.5 T salt
1.5 c rolled oats
approx 1.5 c leftover porridge (brown rice, red rice, quinoa, wheat berries, cinnamon)
approx. 3 c rye flour
enough all-purpose flour to get a fairly sticky, but not at all runny dough.

Mix it up, let it rise someplace warm for about an hour, shape it into loaves by hand, put loaves on cookie sheets that have been sprinkled w/ cornmeal. Preheat oven to 450, and let the loaves rest for their second rise (30 min)

Dust loaves w/ flour, score, and throw them in the oven. Toss maybe 5 or 6 ice-cubes in the oven as well, to make steam (which promotes a good crust, though I have yet to look into the science behind that). Bake in 450 degree oven for 30 min.

If you start to smell smoke, don't worry too much. Just check on the bread and make sure nothing's on fire. If you accidentally get flour on the baking sheet when dusting the loaves, the flour will sometimes start to smoke (mine did tonight). Nothing is ruined, it just means you'll have a bit more cleanup when all's said and done.

And honestly, what's a kitchen for if not making messes? Kitchen counters and floors are generally smooth for a reason, you know. So they'll be easier to clean. No sense getting upset about making a mess in a room that was made to get messy.

You cook, you have fun. You work and work and work on the food, throwing lids and utensils wherever they'll fit in your rush to get what needs to happen done in the second it needs to happen. You try, and often fail, to time things to your best advantage. You leave ineffable gunk on the counter, splatters of red and yellow on the stove top, flour dust all down your front, and a nightmare sink full of dishes.

Then there's an ebb in the chaos, everything is happening as it should and nothing needs your immediate attention, but you can't leave the room either. You find yourself bored with this seemingly sudden moment of inactivity. In that moment, washing a sink full of dirty dishes starts sounding pretty good... especially when you remember that you'll be needing that sink clear in 5 minutes, to drain the pasta. Don't worry about making a mess, and then use those boring moments to stay on top of things. You often end up with a kitchen that's cleaner than it was at the start of the project.

So that was my day. Self inflicted chaos, and a damn good time. I got to take secret pleasure in the look of horror on my roommates' faces when I asked if they wanted to try my yogurt (the four of us all have very different diets), and I'm ending the day with a mostly clean kitchen. All is good :)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Food for Thought

A bit of the history of nutritional policy, from Frugal Dad:diet


Today I worked on charting out a knitting pattern. I'm thinking about knitting a sweater for my niece, though I'm not at all sure if I'm even capable of it yet. Probably, but it'll take a lot of math and a lot of patience. I couldn't find a free pattern that looked appealing to me, so I'm making adjustments to this one. Mine would have that same shape, but I'd change the yoke (the colorful part of the sweater near the neck) and have the body of the sweater be a solid color (instead of having all those flecks of color). My niece really loves dinosaurs (I'll obviously check with her again about that before starting this project, just to make sure she's still as into them as she has been for the past 2 years), so I want to try incorporating this chart instead of the zig-zags and diamonds used in the original pattern. This means that I have to alter the original pattern a bit so that the yoke is a multiple of 15 stitches (that's the size of the pattern)... which will require some careful reading and a suspicious amount of algebra.
I also bought groceries, and some necessary household items and toiletries. I made an "Autumn Millet Bake" for dinner tonight. It turned out pretty good, but probably could have used a bit more time in the oven for the first phase of baking. Some of the millet was a little chewier than I like. I'm glad I made it though, I've been wanting to play around with grains for quite some time now.

I'm also trying my hand at making porridge in the crock pot again. I've used it to make oatmeal before, with mixed results. Still, I love the idea of waking up and finding a steaming hot pot of porridge waiting for me. And I'm getting a little sick of my usual oatmeal. I used a recipe from a cook book I found at the library. Unfortunately I can't remember the title of the book, and it was returned weeks ago. The porridge involves:

4 1/2 c water
1/3 c brown rice
1/3 c red rice
1/4 c quinoa
2 t cinnamon

I put it all in the slow cooker and set it on low for 8-10 hrs. Though mine will be more like 11 hrs... I should probably go throw in another 1/4 c of water...
I'm also making yogurt for the first time. I used Owlhaven's recipe, though of course that's not the limit of my research. So far so good. I heated the milk until it was nice and foamy (yes I used a thermometer. But had to borrow my roommate's, because apparently I didn't do enough research when investing in that meat thermometer last November. I don't need a giant face labeling the safe cooking temperature from various meats, but I do need a thermometer to read low temps as well as high ones), then poured it into jars and stirred in some active cultures. Hopefully it works... but now I think about it, it might not. I think I forgot to let the milk cool a bit before stirring in the cultures... oops. Well, we'll see what happens.