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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

successes and failures of meal planning

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I am prefacing this by stating that i'm typing on the most ridiculous keyboard EVER and it has a tendency to put in double and triple letters, occasionally skipppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp a bunch of letters and just be ridiculous. Like the ppppppppp's above. Ugh.

With the little munchkin, I will edit if I have time, but you'll have to bear with me. Also, would you believe I paid like $90 for this wireless keyboard/mouse combo at best buy? It is CRAP. And before you ask, I can't find my receipt.

The two-bean tamale pie was a success, though I do wonder if Canadian cornmeal muffin mix is the same as American corn muffin mix. We just don't do cornbread all that often north of the border, so it's a little hard to be certain.

Last night, I got lazy. Munchkin was fussy ALL afternoon, so by the end of the day I was completely exasperated (i.e., hadn't had more than 5 cry/whine-free minutes and ZERO naps). I wasn't cooking. And I wanted pizza.

So I ordered pizza. And it really sucked. And it cost $35.

And I just threw over half of it out because it sucked.

That'll learn me. That cost 41% of my grocery costs for the entire week and most of it went in the garbage.

Anyway, two-bean pie is yummy. You should make it. :)

Two-Bean Tamale Pie
stolen and lightly modified from Better Homes and Gardens
two bean tamale pie

1 green pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T oil
1 can kidney beans, rinsed, drained and slightly mashed
1 can pinto beans, rinsed, drained and slightly mashed (I used romano beans because I don't know what pinto beans are and have never seen them in my store, but I suspect they are VERY similar to romano beans)
2/3 c vegetable juice (upon checkingg the bottle of v-8 at the back of my fridge, I discovered that it had gone very sketchy. I substituted 1 cup of fresh salsa that a friend had left in my fridge
1 4-ounce can diced green chile peppers, undrained
1 T chili powder
2 tt cumin
1 corn muffin mix (I used PC Organics)
1/2 c shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 c fresh cilantro, chopped

1. Grease a 9x13 glass pan. Set aside. In a large skillet, cook green pepper, onion and garlic in oil until tender. Add chili powder and cumin. Stir.

mixing the spices in

2. Add kidney and pinto beans, veggie juice, chile peppers and stir. Heat through. Dump into 9x13 pan.

as per instructions, slightly mashed beans

3. Preheat oven to 400F. Prepare corn muffin mix according to package directions.

i hope my cornmeal muffin mix is the same as the american kind

4. Add cheese and cilantro, stirring just until combined. Spoon cornbread mixture evenly over the top of the bean mixture. Bake, uncovered for about 25 minutes or until golden.

I grated a little more cheeses overtop. I recommend doingg this.
not so sure if this is gonna work

success!  it did bake

Munchkin interruptions while writing this post - 6

Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 06, 2008

a wee cuppa chowda

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Unfortunately, this is going to have to be a bit of a speedy gonzales entry....I have a cute little munchkin who has kept me hopping (or literally bouncing) all not a lot of time at the computer to type anything...

Anyway, night one of meal planning had me in the mood for clam chowder. It was quite tasty - two thumbs up from hubs. Me too. This isn't the same as a true maritime chowder, but I'd like to think it strikes a balance between Chunky Soup and the Real Deal. If you like chowder, don't have a lot of time and aren't scared of taking a few shortcuts, this dish is for you.

Quick Clam Chowder
my dinner was cute

1 lb potatoes
5 slices of bacon
1 onion
2 ribs celery
1 clove garlic
3 cans clams (6oz)
3 bottles of clam juice (6 oz)
1 t thyme
4 bay leaves
1.5 cups half and half

1. Run the hot tap water and fill a medium pot and set it on the stove to boil. Now, cut your potatoes into small pieces and put in the water. Once it boils, let the potatoes cook until tender (about 10 minutes). You'll note that I underestimated the number of real potatoes I had in my I used a spare sweet potato that was hanging around. I peeled it, but didn't peel the regular potatoes. It was a little weird in the chowder, but still good.

i didn't have as many potatoes as i thought...oops

2. Over a large skillet, use kitchen scissors to cut the bacon right into the skillet. Turn the temperature to medium high. Use a wooden spoon to break it all up.

3. Now, cut both ends off the onion. Cut it in half length-wise. Chop. Wash your celery ribs, and cut them the long way. Now, line all four celery pieces up and chop (the initial instructions said to use a food processor, but for this small amount, it doesn't make a lot of sense to dirty a big appliance like takes me about 10 seconds to chop an onion!).

4. Add the onion and celery to the bacon. Keep an eye on your potatoes.

double fisting....range-style

5. Open up the cans of clams and bottles of clam juice. Once the onion/celery mixture has softened, add the clams and juice to the skillet. Check your potatoes again (they are probably done now). Add the thyme and bay leaves to the skillet. Bring to a boil.

6. When the potatoes are done, drain them. Now, take your cream (I debated using light cream, but calculated the caloric difference would be minute) in a glass measuring cup and microwave it for 2 minutes to preheat it. Add the potatoes to the skillet. Reduce the heat.

7. Add the cream to the chowder and let heat through (try not to let it boil). Fish out the bay leaves and voila! It's done.

All told, I thought this was pretty good. Next time, I might be tempted to thicken it a little bit with some cornstarch (i.e., mix some water and 1-2 T cornstarch together and add before adding the potatoes/cream), just because I like a bit of a thicker chowder. Flavours are awesome though. It's not the cheapest dish to make (about $3/serving), but it makes a lot (as you can see by all my leftovers) and it's yummy!

this is how much clam chowder was left

Thanks for reading!!! And keep those comments comin' :) I wouldn't have a blog if I weren't a bit of an attention whore...hehe

Sunday, October 05, 2008

fruit of the land and fruit of the sea

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shrimp and mango salad on brown rice vermicelli

I love mangoes.

Hubs is on the fence...and really is not a big fan of my habit of sticking them in various savoury delicacies (like curries and pastas). He kinda liked this one. I didn't intend to blog this, as I'd planned it for this past week and just didn't get my butt in gear enough to get it made until Saturday. Hubs insisted it was blog-worthy though, due to presentation. It really wasn't that fancy - I just put everything on a black platter and layered it. Simple as that.

The key with this dish is having everything ready beforehand. It's SUPER quick to put together - the time investment is really in all the chopping.

This dish was pretty quick to put together and received rave reviews from all who imbibed.

Shrimp and Mango Salad on Brown Rice Vermicelli
1 T canola oil
1 lb shrimp, peeled
5 cloves garlic
2 T grated ginger

12 ounces of brown rice vermicelli

2 carrots, cut into matchsticks
1/2 cucumber, cut into matchsticks
2 mangoes, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup chopped basil leaves
1/3 cup chopped mind leaves

juice of 2 limes
1/4 c vegetable oil
1 t thai hot chili paste
1 T fish sauce
2 T soy sauce
2 T mint leaves
2 T basil leaves
1 T brown sugar

1. Take a large pot and fill with water. Set it on the stove to boil. When it comes to a boil, cook the vermicelli for about 2 minutes (or until it's done to your liking). Drain and rinse with cold water. Arrange it on a large platter.

2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the ginger and garlic. Just when they start to brown, add the shrimp. Cook them until they are opaque and pink. Turn off the heat and remove from heat.

3. To make the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until smooth (I use the little cup that came with my immersion blender).

4. Arrange the chopped veggies, mangoes and herbs on top of the rice noodles. Add the shrimp and then drizzle the dressing over top.

Hubs heated his up. I ate mine cold. We both loved it, and it's also pretty good with a little extra soy sauce.

Thank you for reading...look for my meal planning results throughout the week. :)

meal planning 101 - the grocery trip

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In continuation of my last post, hubs, Lil' Z and I ventured out to the grocery store(s) today....and it reminded me of why I despise grocery shopping on Sundays. It was a bit of a zoo....between a number of tottering seniors (and yes, I FULLY realize not all seniors totter...but these ones WERE tottering, particularly in the produce section), and sprawling families with massive strollers and rangy kids everywhere...ugh.

I need to get myself in a mental happy place before going in a place like that. Lil' Z was the picture of serenity however, letting us know of her boredom by snoozing her way through the shops today. :)

In the interest of being honest and open, I thought I'd share the real cost of everything we're eating this week. I ended up having to go to two grocery stores (this is a common occurence for us - I start at the cheapo store - Food Basics, in this case - and then go to a snazzier store for any strange ingredients I wasn't able to locate at the cheap place). Hubs patiently waited with Lil' Z while I ran into the second store, all the while reminding me that he was missing the beginning minues of the all-important hockey game...

Anyway, here is our list. I've italicized the off-list stuff we bought.

dozen eggs - $2.29
2 boxes of frozen chopped spinach - $ 1.78
activia yogourt (8) - $4.99
flat-leaf parsley - $0.99
2L skim milk - $3.79
1 lb dried pigeon peas - $1.39
1 lb dried chick peas - $1.39

1L half and half cream - $3.19
chives - $1.39
mint - $1.39
3 cans baby clams - $ 5.82 (total)
6 whole wheat english muffins - $1.29
romano beans (can) - $0.69
red kidney beans (can) - $0.69
5 green peppers - $2.25
2L extra-virgin olive oil (good sale!) - $11.98
celery - $0.99
2 lbs tomatoes - $1.94
1/2 lb feta - $2.77
5lbs carrots - $1.99
frozen corn - $1.99
jalapeno pepers - $1.00
1 lb low-sodium bacon -$2.99
2 lbs parsnips - $3.98

Food Basics Total: $62.76

As I said, there were a few things I couldn't find at FB and a couple of things I forgot while we were there. So we stopped in at Loblaws on the way home.

cilantro - $0.99
3 bottles of clam juice - $5.67
1 L maple syrup - $12.99
lemon - $0.79
can green chiles - $1.99

Loblaws Total - $22.13

Total for the week: $84.89

Now, keep in mind this total isn't really fair....there are a few things on the list that weren't planned for, some that are expensive (like the syrup), but will last for MUCH more than what I need this week. AND...there's a lot of stuff I already had on hand - like 2 pork tenderloins (which would have been about $7, because I only buy it on sale) and the fish.

At any rate, it's a pretty fair representation of what a week of planned meals will cost you. This makes WAY too much food for 2 people (Lil Z doesn't count, as she gets it all second-hand!). This will make dinners for 4-5 people every night - we eat the leftovers for lunch the next day, but if you had a larger family to feed, this would definitely feed 'em.

I do let myself stray from my list, mostly for sale items, or for pantry staples...we don't have a super strict grocery budget, so it's not a big deal for us. I also keep a pretty well-stocked pantry (okay, ridiculously overstocked, as you may witness below...oof).

my pantry is full

My fridge isn't much better....
my fridge is full

I think I should probably do an 'eating for free' week again soon, eh?

Friday, October 03, 2008

meal planning for the uninitiated

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Now that I'm adjusted (okay, adjusting) to life with a wee munchkin, I find I get quite a few comments about the fact that I still find the time to cook. And people wonder how it is possible to cook with a little one.

Or just how it's possible to get organized to cook in general.

For me, there are a number of key contributors to any success I may have....some are relevant to those with munchkins, and some are just more generally relevant...

1) I have a pretty easygoing baby. She does fuss, but overall, I'm not sleep deprived, she's not colicky and overall, things are pretty smooth.

2) I have a ridiculously awesome soon as he gets home, he makes a beeline for Lil Z and I'm free to make dinner while he and she get caught up.

3) When I'm on the ball, I plan my meals.

The last point is the most generally important one. The most enthusiastic would-be cook would balk if coming home to barren, uninspired cupboards. Meal planning is awesome in so many ways. First, if you're into trying new stuff, it gives you a chance to regiment your sense of adventure and ensure you always get to try something new and fun. Second, it saves you wicked amounts of time at the grocery store - you've got a list, you go in, you get 'er done. Third, you save tons of money! You don't buy too many things that don't get used up, you don't order in because you're just too despairing to cook and you don't end up eating as much cruddy processed food.

I've tried to convert the uninitiated, but people always seem to balk at the idea...I've heard people argue that they don't always know what they want to eat on a given night, or that it seems complicated.

And I'm here to assure you that it's totally not that complicated. So we'll go through what I am hoping to do this week, will all be witness to any success or failure I might have because this is real-time meals folks. All I've done so far is make my list.

My recipes are chosen for taste, speed and healthfulness. :)

How to plan your meals:

1. Pick your grocery store of choice. Ideally, it will be a cheap store. Sure,they aren't as pretty and they don't put your crap in bags...but when you're saving upwards of 30-40% on your grocery bill, you can suck it up.

2. Check out your grocery store's flyer. Canadians, a great site is Flyer Mall, but nearly every grocery store has a website where you can peruse. IGNORE the crap they put in the flyer (usually 80% of it is junk food or processed food). Ferret out the veggies, fruits, meats (if you eat them) and dairy products on sale. Make note of ones you like that are on sale (i.e., potatoes, chicken breasts, whatever). Write down a couple of them, especially if it's a really good sale.

This week, at my cheap store, 10 pound bags of potatoes and carrots are on sale, as well as hot house tomatoes and boneless pork loin. Cool.

3. Pick up a favourite recipe book. You all know my absolute fave (Eat Shrink and Be Merry), but I have a number of other trusty standards - Cooking to Beat the Clock, Better Homes and Gardens, etc. There is any number of cookbooks out there with quick recipes - 30 minute meals (Rachael Ray), Cooking for the Rushed (Sandi Richards), etc. Get yourself a quick and easy book to start with.

4. Go through the book and pick out 4-5 dinner recipes for the week. Generally, we like to aim for variety - one night meat, one seafood, one veg, one chicken, etc. Obviously you don't HAVE to pick from a book - you may have a favourite blog (like mine!) where you've taken note of some recipes (take a look at recipes I've tagged as "QUICK" if you want a short list) that you want to try. Or maybe you like a site like,, Anyway....

I decided to start with Cooking to Beat the Clock. I found four recipes in this book that appealed to me. I found a fifth recipe in Better Homes and Gardens.

5. Once you're written down the names of your recipes and WHERE TO FIND THEM (this is important)....go through them one by one. Before you start writing your grocery list, divide your paper into two columns. The left column is for produce. The top half of the right column is for meat and dairy (basically, the stuff along the back and side of the grocery store). The bottom half is for anything you;ll find in the inner aisles (like canned goods, pastas, etc.). In each recipe, write down ingredients you are missing, and write down how much you need (i.e., 2 peppers, 1 pound of tomatoes, etc.). If you're not sure if you have something, go check the freezer/pantry/whatever so you don't end up buying stuff unnecessarily.

6. Do this for each recipe. The net result is a relatively organized list that is easily divided among two people, or at least if you're on your own will let you go through the grocery store in a more logical fashion.

7. Now the way it works it that you don't really have a set night for a set meal. Monday is not meatloaf night in perpetuity. You have basically a smorgasbord that you can use to work things out for the week. I shuffle my meals around all the time. Even if I've defrosted something in preparation for the night's meal, there's no reason it can't just sit in the fridge for another day or two if you don't want whatever it is you planned that night.

Perhaps over time you'll be the kind of person who develops a list of standards. Perhaps you'll be like me and want different stuff ALL the freaking time. I love trying new recipes!!!!!

Anyway, this is how it will hopefully go down for me this could change, but this is the plan.....

pork tenderloin with figs, brandy and parsnips (I chose this because I think I have pork hiding somewhere in my freezer, I have a whole crapload of figs and I just love parsnips)

panfried snapper with fresh salsa and basmati rice (I have snapper lurking in the freezer, I have basmati rice and fresh salsa is my favourite food)

warm bulgur tabbouleh with feta and chickpeas - I have bulgur and chickpeas and we're trying to eat less meat

clam chowder with potatoes and bacon - saw this recipe and I just wanted clam chowder. It's getting cold so this is the kinda stuff I want!

two-bean tamale pie - this recipe looked cool, I have a corn muffin mix hiding in the pantry and again, trying to eat less meat. Also, I can use up some of the extra cilantro that will be left after making the salsa

It really only takes about 20 minutes to plan things out...and then you'll be set for the week.

Keep tuned in to see how I do. I'll let you know how much I had to spend in groceries (keeping in mind I'm using a lot of stuff I have already) and we'll see if this stuff is any good....

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 02, 2008's kinda been a while

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anyone still out there?

Holy crap I suck at this.

I have been a *wee* bit busy, between moving (I HAVE A NEW KITCHEN!!!), being pregnant and of course, my cute little munchkin, lil Z. :)

Lil' Z was born in early August and weighed in at a hefty 8lb15oz...and she's kept us hopping ever since.

DSC_8122 copy

Don't worry though...there's no way we're going hungry. In fact, I could probably have a football team move in here and we still wouldn't be going hungry. At the end of my pregnancy, I was so enormous that I ended up bombarded by twin/triplet inquiries at least once a day (I became somewhat of a recluse just to avoid people's jackassed comments). So everyone thought lil Z would come early.

I'm only 39 weeks and change in this pic (I almost went to 42 weeks):
39 weeks, 4 days

I went off work.

I cooked copious amounts of food and froze it. Pic below is from one day of cooking. I was off almost a month before lil Z made her grand entrance.

i have enough food for an army

I have an upright freezer, as well as the one on my fridge. Both were so jam-packed that my engineer hubs could no longer figure out any viable way of squeezing anything else in.

We were totally prepared.

Except for one problem.

I don't like frozen food.

And I like to cook.

So here we are, almost 8 weeks later...and the freezer is almost as full as it was to begin with...and I'm still cooking up a storm. :)

I've just been a real truant about writing anything about it. However, tonight's dinner was SO freaking good that it couldn't not be shared. Way in the back of my (enormous - YAHOOOOO!) pantry, there was a medium-sized tupperware container of a mystery grain. I remembered that I had purchased this grain a while back (like probably a year or two). Unfortunately, I didn't have the presence of mind to bother labelling it.

So the mystery grain sat, untouched, and totally unidentifiable. I couldn't cook it because I didn't know what it was.

Finally, today it occurred to me that the mystery grain might be quinoa. I dug up a trusty google image search and sure enough...the funny little grain was (likely...probably...i think?) quinoa. I didn't have any sort of exciting side dish planned for dinner, so I then set out to figure out a) how to cook it and b) how to serve it. This is what it looked also feels really cool (yes, that is a handprint on top...I was inspired by Amélie's love of plunging her hands into a bin of grains...)

mystery grain that sat in my cupboard for two years

Cooking it is pretty easy. Boil for 15 minutes and then strain....but the straining turned out to be a little more complicated than anticipated because all of my strainers are far too coarse for such a little grain...I ended up using a towel to line the strainer...messy, but workable. I like quinoa. Hubs likes quinoa.

And we're both kicking ourselves that we didn't identify the mystery grain sooner. Quinoa is so insanely good for you - it makes almost every superfood list out there. It has loads of protein, fibre, potassium and all that good stuff and is lower in carbs than other grains too. Yum. Look for it again here soon.

Without further jibber jabber and rambles...this was dinner. It kicked ass and was about 45 minutes, start to finish.

Quinoa, Black Bean and Tomato Salad

Quinoa is a fast-cooking, protein-packed whole grain. Steamed, it makes a perfect partner for lime-spiked black beans and fresh tomato.

Makes 4 (main dish) servings.

2 teaspoons grated lime zest
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon brown or demerara sugar
1 cup quinoa, uncooked
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 medium tomatoes, diced
4 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (unfortunately, as happens all too often, my cilantro had liquified in I just skipped this)

1. Whisk together lime zest and juice, butter, oil, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.

dressing for the quinoa dish

2. Wash quinoa in 3 changes of cold water in a bowl, draining in a sieve each time.

3. Cook quinoa in a medium pot of boiling salted water (1 tablespoon salt for 2 quarts water), uncovered, until tender, about 15 minutes

4. Add quinoa to dressing and toss until dressing is absorbed, then stir in remaining ingredients and salt and pepper to taste.

quinoa looks kinda funny

Kickin' Chicken (shamelessly stolen from a book everyone should have, Eat, Shrink and Be Merry

12 chicken thighs
1 cup reduced-fat peanut sauce
2/3 c hot salsa
1/3 c fresh basil

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray. Spread the chicken thighs in a single layer in the pan.

2. Mix together the peanut sauce (I like PC brand), salsa and the chopped, fresh basil.

yummy sauce

3. Pour over chicken. Bake for 40ish minutes. Serve the chicken with the sauce.


It's insanely awesome and ridiculously easy. I was skeptical...but it's SO YUMMY. I think the sauce would also be good on pork or tofu. I served this with the quinoa salad and some steamed broccoli. Two thumbs up from me and two thumbs up from hubs. :)

this was my dinner

It's quite the experience to be writing this as I hear my little baby cooing away in the background.... :) Thanks for reading, thanks for sticking with me...I'll be back soon!

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