Thursday, May 30, 2013

Meal Planning

This is a post I've wanted to write for a while now, in the hopes that it could help somebody out.  Way before I even get around to making a recipe there are two crucial steps- planning (which includes list-making) and shopping!  Here's how I do those.

Meal Planning
1. Getting Started- I start with a blank shopping list that I print from the computer.  I used to shop once a week, so I have a list template for that, but now I use one that lets me plan for two weeks at a time.  You can view those here: Grocery List- One Week or Two Week.  For the one week at a time version, I cut the paper in half, and for the two week version, I fold it.  It fits perfectly on my 6x9 inch clipboard I bought at WalMart- kind of like this one. (I can't figure out a way to make it so anyone can edit the shopping list templates, so if you'd like a copy to make your own changes to, leave me a comment and I'll email it to you.)

2. Dinner- The first thing I write down is anything that we have going on that would affect dinnertime (Awana, MOPS, etc.).  I also write the date on each box or line.  Then I typically see what type of meat (or other type of dinner) there is in the freezer, and start making meals based on that.  At this point I'm more concerned with filling the boxes than I am with when we have a certain dinner.  I often end up making a different dinner on my list based on what I feel like making.  We typically eat dinner out once every two weeks, so I try to plan 13 dinners. 

3. Breakfast, Lunch, & Snacks- I don't plan out breakfast & snacks; I just generally stock up on the foods we eat and go from there.  As far as lunch goes, the kids and I have a set schedule that we go by Monday-Friday.  That saves time, so I don't have to try to figure out what to make, and it also saves fights.  I'm not saying that all of my kids like each day's lunch, but it's easier to say "Sorry kiddo, today's Tuesday, I have no choice but to make turkey sandwiches.  See, the schedule says it!" He (my primary picky eater) knows I'm not going to change my mind.

Grocery Shopping
I do almost all of my grocery shopping at WinCo.  Their prices are fantastic, the food is good, and my FAVORITE thing about that store is their bulk section.  Not bulk as in mass quantities, but bulk as in they have tons of bins of food that you can buy however much you need.  This includes spices, flour, sugar, candy, rice, beans, snacks, dried fruit, nuts, etc... I love how far my money goes here!! (Here's a location finder- they're only on the West Coast) I try to go shopping on Saturday mornings, and leave the house by 9. 

I supplement my every-2-week WinCo trips with an occasional trip to Costco.  I love to buy their grated cheese, string cheese, frozen fruit, lettuce, reduced fat sausage patties, chicken nuggets, trash bags, etc!  I try to keep a price list (both in my head and on my iPod) of unit prices; that helps me know which store to buy things at.  Some things are cheaper at WinCo, some are cheaper at Costco.

[I also go on a short shopping trip on my "off weeks".  This mainly consists of buying milk and produce.]

How has this helped me?
  • Having a list helps me know what meals I have available to make.  Dinnertime is stressful enough without having to stare in the fridge and wondering what you can make!
  • Writing my list in categories saves me time in the grocery store, as I'm less likely to have to backtrack and go get an item I missed.
  • Having meals planned out saves us the extra expense and calories from having to eat fast food. 
  • The fewer trips I have to make to the store, the lower my grocery budget can be.  We all know that each time we go to the store, we end up with something we didn't really mean to buy!   
While meal planning & grocery shopping might not be your favorite things to do, I've found that making the effort to do it efficiently is so helpful in the long run.  Let me know if you have any questions about how I do it, or leave me a comment on any tips you think might help me & others!  Thanks!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies

I don't know about you, but I don't think I will ever run out of cookie recipes to try.  I have several that I like, but that doesn't stop me from looking for more!  I found this one on a blog I found via Pinterest.  The pictures looked enticing, and I like that it has both raisins and chocolate.  They did not disappoint!!  They were soft, chewy, and full of flavor.  This is one recipe I don't plan to tinker with- it is perfect just as it is!

As far as why the recipe calls for you to chill it for 2+ hours before baking, that would be to help the texture be just right- because I know that a warmer dough is more likely to spread.  These don't spread much which helps keep them thick & chewy.  If you don't have 2 hours to wait, you could divide the dough into 2 smaller sections and refrigerate that way, or you could scoop the cookies onto the baking sheet and refrigerate the whole thing- just make sure it's thoroughly chilled before using.  The website I found this on said that you can make the dough up to 1 day in advance.

Recipe source: Crunchy Creamy Sweet blog via Smitten Kitchen

Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies
Printable version here

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened to room temperature
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups oats (preferably old fashioned)
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1.  In a large mixing bowl (or stand mixer), beat butter for 30 seconds.  Add brown sugar and cream until fluffy and light in color, scraping down the bowl as necessary.  Add egg and vanilla and mix well.

2.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt).  With the mixer speed on low, add these dry ingredients to the butter mixture, and beat until combined.

3. Stir in the oats, raisins, and chocolate chips.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. (So plan ahead!)

4. Preheat oven to 350ยบ.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper (or lightly grease).  Scoop the cookie dough onto the sheet.  Each cookie should be about 1 1/2 tablespoons (I use my medium cookie scoop and fill it a little less than full).

5.  Bake for 10 minutes, or until slightly underdone in the middle yet browned on the edges.  Let them cool on the sheet for 5 minutes. (They will finish baking this way)  Transfer onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: About 3 dozen cookies

Why I love it? I love how full it is of raisins and chocolate chips!  My husband isn't a big raisin (or oatmeal) fan, but he loved these and said they reminded him of chocolate covered raisins! 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Homemade Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup

A while ago I had come up with a recipe I like for cream of celery soup (since I have one meal I use that for); next on the list to figure out was a cream of mushroom soup recipe!  I try to avoid buying the cans of condensed soup if I can- while convenient, they cost more & have more unnecessary ingredients than I'd like.  Now, I am NOT a fan of mushrooms... but some recipes just aren't the same without this ingredient! (One of our family's favorites is Hamburger Stroganoff.) That's why I puree this soup when it's done cooking, so I don't have to see mushroom pieces when I'm eating.  That's one of the benefits to being the cook, right?  You can make food exactly how you want it!

When it's warm, this soup isn't as thick as the kind in a can, but that hasn't been a problem when I've used it in recipes.  It does thicken when it's refrigerated, though.  I make this size batch even when I just need one can's worth, and I freeze the other half.  Enjoy!

The diced mushrooms & onion

Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
Printable version here

Yield: The amount of 2 small (10.75 oz.) cans

3 tbsp. butter
2 crimini mushrooms, diced
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup flour
1 1/4 cups beef broth
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Pepper to taste

1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat; add diced mushroom & onion and saute until tender (about 5 minutes).

2. Add flour and whisk until smooth and bubbly (mixture will be thick).  Cook for 1 minute.  Gradually add broth & milk, whisking to keep smooth.

3. Bring to a gentle boil, whisking constantly. Simmer for a few minutes until thickened. Add salt, garlic powder, and pepper.

4. Optional: To make a smoother soup (or to help disguise the mushrooms!), puree the finished soup in a blender.

Soup can be frozen for later use. It will separate after thawing. To fix this, I heat the thawed soup in a small pan, and whisk occasionally. By the time it is heated through, it is back to normal.

Why I love it? Not only is it cheaper and healthier than store-bought condensed soup, it is infinitely more flavorful!  Plus it just looks like something I'd want to eat- it's smooth & creamy, not jiggly! :)