Friday, March 26, 2010

Meal Planning

I've noticed that I have a bad habit of not feeling like cooking - mainly because I have no idea what I have available to cook - and grabbing some take out or ordering pizza for dinner, instead. This adds up quickly. So, in an effort to save money and better realize what I have in the pantry and fridge/freezer, I'm making a calendar with meals all laid out. I'm going to try to come up with meals and ideas on a 25-30 day rotation. This way, I don't get tired of having the same thing on the same day of the week every week, and I get some variety. This should also save me money at the grocery as I'll know exactly what I'll need for the week and will only buy (theoretically) what is needed that week. To help save money, I also am utilizing Excel to list out all the groceries I buy at all the different stores, listing their most current prices per item, and leaving space to mark which items and how many of each I need. This should help me to better budget my grocery money, as well. I'm also going to try to buy more locally grown items at the farmer's markets down here. I'm trying for more responsible food consumption. Becca posted a lot on her blog about her efforts. What about you all? Do you have a favorite cheap recipe to share? Any budget-friendly ideas? How do you save money at the grocery? Please let me know!

Monday, March 15, 2010

More White People Food

(Let me know if you're offended, and I'll stop calling it that.)

Daniel started a new job (yay!) and wanted to take white people food to work for lunch for a while. We've been using some new recipes, and some that we'd been experimenting with for a while. Here are two I really like.

Barbecue Chicken Pizza (check out Pioneer Woman's, too.)
This recipe is from Better Homes and Gardens. It's really just a recipe for crust, and has some suggestions for toppings, so we just followed the guidelines and went with what we liked.

2 3/4 to 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I like King Arthur)
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (120 to 130 F)
2 tablespoons cooking oil or olive oil (I used olive.)

1. In a large mixing bowl combine 1 1/4 cups of the flour, the yeast, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; add warm water and oil. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping bowl. Beat on high speed 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can. (Notice you don't have to mix the yeast and water separately first--I'm no good with yeast. Also, I used a hand mixer, but I think this would be way easier in a Kitchenaid deal. I had to keep turning it off and shaking the dough-ball down. It kept climbing up the beaters.)

2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (6 to 8 minutes total). Divide dough in half. Cover; let rest for 10 minutes. Use to make Pan Pizzas or Thin-Crust Pizzas. (I freaked out a little when my dough was not smooth and elastic after I kneaded it, but then after it rested for 10 minutes, it was gorgeous.)

Pan Pizzas: Grease two 11x7x1 1.2 inch or 9x9x2 inch baking pans. If desired, sprinkle with cornmeal. (I didn't.) With greased fingers, pat dough onto bottoms and halfway up sides of prepared pans. (Mine kept slipping down, and it looked really thin in some places. I even had to seal a little hole. All was well after baking.) Cover and let rise in a warm place until nearly double. (30 to 45 minutes). Bake in a 375 oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until brown. Spread sauce onto hot crust; top with meat, vegetables, and cheese. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes more or until bubbly.

Thin-Crust Pizzas: Grease two 12-inch pizza pans or baking sheets. If desired, sprinkle with cornmeal. On a lightly floured surface, roll each dough portion into a 13 inch circle. Transfer to pans. Build up edges slightly. Do not let rise. Bake in a 45 oven about 12 minutes or until brown. Spread sauce onto hot crust; top with meat, vegetables, and cheese. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes more or until bubbly.

We usually make pan, because that's what we like (duh), but this time we tried the thin crust to save an hour (an hour!). So first we did the thin, and had that for dinner, and then I did the pan for the next day's lunch. Indeed, we still like the pan better, but the thin was fine for time saving.

Here are the suggestions for making pizzas:
Spread one 15 ounce can pizza sauce or one 10 ounce container refrigerated Alfredo sauce over each hot, partially-baked crust.
--For each meaty pizza, add 1 lb cooked and drained Italian sausage or ground beef, 6 ounces sliced pepperoni, or 1 cup cubed cooked ham or Canadian-style bacon.
--Additional toppings could include 1 cup of your favorite vegetables, such as sliced green onions, sliced pitted ripe olives, sliced fresh mushrooms, and/or chopped sweet pepper for each pizza.
--Finally, sprinkle 2 to 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese over your toppings on each pizza. Finish baking according to the Pizza Dough recipe.

Daniel and I used Sticky Fingers Memphis Sweet barbecue sauce, a rotisserie chicken from the store, a can of sliced black olives, and slices of a red onion and a bell pepper coated in olive oil and grilled on the George Foreman. The first few times we made pizza at home, we used "Pizza" cheese. This time we used part-skim mozzarella. (I couldn't tell a difference, but it made Daniel feel like he was eating less fat. Can you believe he eats cheese now? He used to not even want to walk next to the cheese in the grocery store. It freaked him out.) Anyway, yummy! The pepper and onion are super mild if they're grilled until soft. My mom ate it once, and she hates bell peppers. (My parents are wonderful house guests. My dad hates strawberries and ate homemade strawberry sauce on his pancakes that same visit. You should have them over.) We've also made this when we cooked thicken ourselves. It tastes the same, just takes a little longer. I probably poached it and then may have put it in the skillet or on the grill for a minute. I might try spreading some garlic on the crust next time I make this.

The Easiest Pasta Ever.
We don't make our own pasta at this point, but may someday. But we do make sauce. This is based on a Rachel Ray recipe. I have learned a lot from her over the years. I'll just give you the three recipes based on the same basic one, and then I'll tell you my variations.

Basilico: Tomato-Basil Sauce

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans (28 ounces each) crushed tomatoes, or diced in juice if you like chunky tomato sauce
20 leaves fresh basil, roughly cut or torn

Heat olive oil and garlic in a deep saucepan over medium heat. when the garlic speaks, add tomatoes and heat through. Stir in basil leaves and reduce heat to low. Simmer until pasta of choice is cooked until al dente. This is enough sauce for up to 1 1/2 pounds pasta.

Marinara Sauce
In addition to the ingredients for Basilico Sauce, you will need:
3 stems fresh oregano, leaves stripped from stems and chopped
A palmful of fresh flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Follow method for Basilico, adding the other herbs and pepper when you stir in the basil.

Arrabiatta: Spicy Tomato Sauce
In addition to the ingredients for basilico, you will need several shakes crushed red pepper flakes, about 1/2 teaspoon

Follow method described in Basilico Sauce recipe, adding the crushed red pepper with the garlic when first heating the oil.

So I just make it with whatever I have, and we almost never have canned tomatoes (though I like them and am trying to convince Daniel that we should try them sometimes because the tomatoes we get aren't very flavorful and because I hear there is more lycopene in them than in fresh tomatoes.) So I just quartered several roma tomatoes, because that is what we have, and put them in the food processor. One time I made this we didn't have fresh basil, so I used dry. The sauce was sour, so I had to add a little sugar. The next time we had plenty of basil and I used all of it and the sauce was not at all sour, but not to sweet, either. We like this recipe. We have a couple other recipes for cream type sauces (Better Homes and Gardens), and one with portabellos (from Rachel Ray), but this is my favorite because it tastes so fresh and can be reheated well. (The cream sauces get a little clumpy when they cool.)