Jan 27, 2012

Week 3: Cooking on a Budget

I'm not going to complain too much here because my parents' food budget is way more than my personal budget, but it is a little difficult to shop on someone else's budget. So, this week (besides the new recipe on Wednesday) was basically trying to make a menu on what we had since it was the week before payday. Fortunately, I'm amazing and was able to stay under budget even with all the stuff we had to get for this week's new recipe! The good thing is that I am used to making do with whatever I have/can afford (college taught me that at least!), so I didn't find it that difficult.

This is what I've learned about shopping on a budget (I rarely coupon, because that takes too much effort):

Shop the ads--I am still learning to do this better but plan your menu around what's on sale, keeping in mind that just because it's on sale doesn't mean you have to buy it. If you aren't going to eat it, you are wasting money for all it's on sale. Also, watch out for traps. I worked in a grocery for 4 years to pay my way through school and I can't tell you how many times we had a sale that was "3 for 5" and people thought you had to buy three to get the sale price. About 90% of the time, this is not true. It's a marketing ploy to get you to buy more.

Buy store brand, (or the cheaper brand)--Everyone has brand loyalties, I get this. I don't buy cheese unless it is Tillamook (I . . . don't buy cheese much). But when you are shopping on a budget, sometimes you should just buy the cheaper brand. I love Western Family because it's cheap and most things are pretty similar to brand name items, though there are some Western Family items I will never buy. And this week at the store I was buying enchilada sauce and put the brand we usually get in the cart before noticing that a different brand was much cheaper. Back went the usual brand! It's almost like a bonus when the brands you like are on sale, like how my favorite pasta brand was on sale this week.

One last thing . . . when I was in school, there were times when I would go over my food budget because there was an awesome sale going on. Usually pasta and chicken. But if you know that you use something a lot and it's on sale, don't be afraid to buy some. It's going to save you money in the long run.

For Sunday dinner we had grilled pork chops (grilled by Dad the Grill Master; and already in the freezer), steak cut fries (we had half a bag in the freezer), and the World's Best Applesauce (Mom's homemade and canned applesauce). No money spent on this meal!

Monday was Chinese New Year!! Go dragons! (I was born in the year of the dragon. They're cool.) We decided to celebrate with half a bag of frozen stir-fry veggies (already had), some dumplings that were in the freezer (unfortunately, they seemed a little old--they fell apart when I was boiling them), and ham fried rice (we had all the ingredients). Again, no money spent on this meal!

Ham Fried Rice
1/2 cup ham, cubed
1 stalk celery, cut diagonally (oops, I didn't do this! haha)
1 1/2 cup pre-cooked rice
1 green onion
1 beaten egg
soy sauce

Heat wok (or pan, we don't have a wok) to medium with 1 tablespoon oil. When heated, fry ham, celery, and onions. Saute until tender. Add scrambled egg. When cooked, stir in. Add rice and mix well. Let cook for a couple of minutes. Add soy sauce to taste.

Just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you can't have fancy food! For Tuesday's dinner we had salmon, rice, and peas. And all it cost was 33 cents! We already had the salmon in the freezer (they come in individual packets and we bought a bunch when they were on sale for 10 for 10), as well as the peas, and then we used Rice a Roni Chicken flavor (the only flavor we had, haha). I mixed dried rosemary, garlic, and olive oil to put on top of the fish as well as a slice of lemon (there was probably too much rosemary). It was the lemon that cost 33 cents (again, on sale).

New recipe tonight and oh my gosh, it's a keeper! Tonight was Chicken Enchilada Pasta and it was very yummy! I was recommended this recipe by a friend who I'm pretty sure found it on pinterest. It's super easy to make (I already had the chicken cooked and shredded from a recipe I made last week), smells great while it's cooking, and tastes just as good as it smells! Even though I had no idea what it tasted like I have been craving this for about two weeks and it was as good as I imagined it being. The only disappointment was that my avocado wasn't ripe. :( We ate orange slices to make it a meal. It was the most expensive meal, but almost everything we bought was on sale or store brand.

For our crock pot meal this week we had potato bar. Just poke the potatoes with a fork a couple of times, wrap in foil and stick in the crock pot on low for 8-10 hours. To shakes things up a little bit, after I poked the potatoes, I put them in a bag with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and coated them. Then just put your favorite toppings on. Potato bar is a full meal as itself, but we did have a clementine each. As for cheapness, we already had everything for this meal. The potatoes were small, so I cooked all five and we ate them all (like, they were really, really tiny).

For Friday's dinner I raided the freezer. Mom had made some taco soup before the Experiment started, so I got that out, heated it up, and made a salad. Just popped some cheese, sour cream (we ate a lot of sour cream this week--and it's not over yet), cheese, and tortilla chips on top!

For tomorrow I'm making one of the ultimate comfort foods (I haven't been feeling 100% the past three days, so I need it): Hamburger Stroganoff. This recipe is from Mom's home ec days. If 13 year olds can make, anyone can make it. We're going to have peas and a salad with it.

Hamburger Stroganoff
1 lb hamburger
dried onion
1 can cream of mushroom
1 can cream of chicken (to halve this recipe, just use cream of mushroom)
1 can evaporated milk
1 cup sour cream

Cook hamburger with onion. Add everything else and let thicken. Put on top of egg noodles (my personal favorite), rice, potatoes, toast, or biscuits.

Jan 20, 2012

Week 2: Getting into the Groove

Before I started doing this experiment, I would come home from work and sit down and wait until dinner was ready--usually bumming around on my computer. I always felt exhausted and worn out. Something I've noticed since I've been cooking dinner every night is that I feel happier, have more energy, and feel like I can make more out of my night. It's hard sometimes, too, like on Wednesday when the day felt like it took forever to end and I didn't feel like I had really accomplished anything at work and then dinner took longer than I thought, but for the most part, I think that cooking dinner has helped me conquer the winter blues a little bit. Having said that, here's this week's menu:

Every month we have a family dinner with my mom's family, which made Sunday dinner pretty easy! My dad made a German chocolate cake (mix with canned frosting) and I made a family favorite--Hot Artichoke Dip:

2 cups mayo
2 cups sour cream
2 cans artichoke hearts
2 cups shredded parmesan cheese
cayenne pepper on top

Mix together and cook at 350 for 45 minutes. Serve with french bread or crackers.

Dad got to choose what we were going to have and he chose brats. He grilled them (in about 20* weather), and I made a pasta salad (Suddenly Salad, Caesar flavor) and cut up a fresh pineapple.

Dad had a club meeting this night, so I was going to make my crock pot meal Monday night and plug it in, but I learned something about crock pot meals--When you are gone 10.5 hours out of the day, sometimes it makes it hard. I have had to search for more crock pot meals that take 10 hours to cook. Anyway, I had to rearrange my menu a little bit, and still made something fast and yummy--BBQ Cups. These are definite crowd pleasers! I have taken them to different parties before and everyone has loved them! And they are way easy to make. We rounded out the meal with strawberries, cucumbers, and carrots.

BBQ Cups
2 packages biscuits (I use Western Family homestyle and they taste fine)
1 lb hamburger (We had some already cooked and in the freezer, which makes it easier)
dried onion (OR 1/2 fresh onion)
~1/2 cup of favorite BBQ sauce (I'm not exactly sure how much, I just put some in until it looks right, but I'm pretty sure it's about 1/2 cup. My family's favorite is Honey BBQ)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
cheddar cheese, shredded

Cook hamburger and onion together. Add BBQ sauce and brown sugar. Mix well. Press biscuits into muffin tins. Spoon hamburger mixture into cups and sprinkle with cheese. (I forgot the cheese and had to pull them out of the oven to put it on. This became a theme this week.) Bake at 400 for 10 minutes.

For this day I made quiche. It's not Dad's favorite, but I like it and he'll eat it. Again, I forgot to add the cheese to the mix and had to sprinkle it on top. It looked pretty. :) To round out this meal I made a fruit salad using leftover pineapple and strawberries from earlier in the week, half an orange, and apple, blueberries and blackberries (all the berries were on sale last week).

Wednesday night I put together the casserole for Thursday. Right after I took out the quiche, I stuck three chicken breasts to cook in the oven, then made the rice. Here's a health tip about rice: use half white and half brown. It's healthier than white, but tastes better than brown. But the cooking is a bit different: 2 to 1 ratio of water to rice, add rice to boiling water, cook on low for 20 minutes, then turn it off and let sit for 10 minutes. This guarantees that the brown rice is cooked all the way. Anyway, I basically made two meals in one day, which was a little hard, but I also ended up with enough chicken for a recipe I'm making next week, so that's a plus! To make this a complete meal I heated a can of corn and sliced some oranges.

Chicken and Rice Casserole
1 square margarine
1 cup chopped celery (I use three ribs)
1 cup chopped onion (I did 1/2 onion)
Saute until brown
1 1/2 cups uncooked rice
Cook, then add:
3 cups chicken, shredded or diced
1 can cream mushroom soup
1 can cream chicken soup
1/2 cup milk
Put on top:
slivered almonds
buttered bread crumbs (I used panko, but that's just because that was all we had)
Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.

I was so excited for this new crock pot recipe from Betty Crocker's Easy Everyday Vegetarian cookbook (I highly recommend this cookbook. I'm not a vegetarian, but there are great recipes in here)! Dad only worked half a day today, so he was able to put it in for me. A couple of things: this makes a LOT! So, you could probably halve it. We just put the rest of it in the freezer for another day (after the Experiment is over) Also, it got burned on the sides. I don't really know what to do about that. Anyway, we had 1/2 a bag of caesar salad, and a can of french cut beans with butter and salt and pepper. It was so good!

Cheesy Ravioli Casserole
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
2 jars four-cheese-flavored tomato pasta sauce (I just bought traditional, since there was already a lot of cheese in this. My favorite is Prego.)
1-15 oz can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2 bags frozen cheese-filled ravioli (we bought the round ones because they were cheaper, and they really puffed up!)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, optional (we didn't do this. Buying fresh herbs is crazy expensive and you always have to buy more than you really need.)

Heat oil and cook onion and garlic until onion is tender. Stir in pasta sauce, tomato sauce, and Italian seasoning. Spray slow cooker and place 1 cup sauce in the bottom. Add 1 bag of ravioli, put half of cheese on. Then put rest of ravioli and cheese and pour remaining sauce on top. Cook on Low for up to 6 1/2 hours (Pasta will hold up to 30 minutes). Sprinkle with parsley before serving, if you want.

Tomorrow we are going to have BYU Creamery Pasta Salad. When I had to close and didn't want to get something from the grill, I usually got pasta salad. I don't even know if they still make it, but I liked it. We'll probably have oranges with it.

Creamery Pasta Salad
Mix together tricolor pasta, olives, green peppers, tomatoes, with shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Instead of mozzarella, I'm going to use the rest of the feta from the quiche. Pour Italian dressing over top.

Jan 17, 2012

Someone at Work Knows Me Too Well

Around March of last year, I got a free Josh Groban calendar. I didn't use it at home because I already had one and it had all the birthdays and stuff written on it already, so I didn't put it to use until I started working at the JSP. I got a bit of flack about it from the male historians (good natured flack, no worries) and they started doing things like this and this to Josh.

It had become such an integral part of my cubicle that I felt I needed to get a 2012 calendar, but I couldn't find one!! I mentioned this one day and a few days later, I found this outside my cubicle!

Someone made me a January calendar with Josh on it! Basically, made my day. I have no idea who made it, but I think it's awesome that someone would do that for me.

Jan 13, 2012

Week 1: Easy Peasy

The first week of the experiment was pretty easy.

I had visiting teaching on this day, so Dad made dinner. He made his famous macaroni and cheese. To complete the meal, we added frozen peas and home canned pears. Here's the recipe for our mac and cheese:

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups macaroni
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 c milk
1 tsp dry onion
1/2 lb cheddar cheese, cubed

Cook macaroni. Combine other ingredients and mis with macaroni. Put in greased casserole dish. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes. OR (and we did this because of time) you can cook it in the microwave for about 10 minutes. We like the oven better because then you get crispy cheese, but in a time crunch, the microwave works well.

Dad had a work dinner, so I cooked some frozen tortellini and put some canned mushroom al fredo on it. Not the best, but it works. I fully intended to make it a meal by eating an apple, but that didn't happen.

Dad cooked again! Twice in one week! We had sloppy joes, with potato chips and finger jell-0.

Sloppy Joes
2 lbs hamburger, cooked (we had some already cooked in the freezer)
1 can chicken gumbo soup
1.2 onion sliced (OR 2 T dry onion)

Brown hamburger and onion. Pour off grease. Then add:
2 T mustard
1/2 c ketchup (or catsup, whatever you prefer)
1/2 tsp. chili powder (so, Dad couldn't find the chili powder, so he used chipotle instead. It was quite a bit spicy than we are used too!)
salt and pepper

Cook until consistency desired.

And then to make finger jell-o:

1 package jell-o
1 package knox gelatin
stir, then add
1 cup boiling water, stir until dissolved
1 cup cold water

chill until set.

I'm in love . . . with my crock pot! Seriously, this thing is fabulous! I put it all together the night before, stuck it in the fridge overnight, plugged it in before I left for work, and it's done when I get home! It's like it does the work for you. Amazing! (And the house smelled awesome when I got home.) So, I made crock pot cordon bleu. I used 3 chicken breasts from the freezer instead of 6 because they were humongous. If I ever make this again, I would cut up the chicken (not too small) to cover the entire bottom of the crock pot, probably double the amount of soup and milk, and pour the soup over the stuffing, otherwise the stuffing was a bit dry. Also, it was a little bit overdone because I'm gone 10 hours out of the day and the slow cooker I used didn't have a "warm" setting. I'd probably make it on a Sunday or something like that where I could make sure it didn't go way over the cooking time. We filled out the meal with a green salad and the left over jell-o from Thursday (we were going to have oranges, but I changed my mind)

Tomorrow we're going to have spaghetti and meatballs. This is super easy because the last time Mom made meatballs, she made enough to freeze, and Dad made a whole bunch of homemade spaghetti sauce from the plethora of tomatoes we got during "harvest." We're going to have a salad and french bread baked with parmesan cheese and salad supreme.

Well, one week down, 7 more to go. Right now I'm having a hard time planning the meals, but I'm hoping that maybe that will get easier? (Who am I kidding, I'm going to run out of things to make in three weeks!) I just put the shopping list together and by some magic about three things I need to buy were on sale (the big things too)! It's like fate! Or something. So, keep a look out for next week's recipes!

Jan 9, 2012

The 8 Week Experiment

So, starting tomorrow, I'll be making dinner for both my dad and I every night while my mom is conducting an experiment of her own. My experiment is seeing if I can keep us alive!

What I would like to do is try at least one new recipe a week, use my crock-pot at least once a week, make a variety of foods, and not to repeat any meal for the entire eight weeks. (This last one might be the most difficult and I have not yet informed my dad of it.) At the end of each week I will try to post what we ate that week and include a link or recipe for anything I feel worthy of sharing as well as the new recipe I tried that week.

Ready, set, cook!

Jan 8, 2012

Sunday Special: Do Your Best and God Will Help with the Rest

While my brother was home, he wanted to watch Facing the Giants, a Christian movie about a football team. For those of you familiar with Christian movies, this is pretty much cheesy like most of them. But this scene that I've embedded below was actually really powerful to me. It showed me that if we keep trying to do our best, even though we can't see the end, God will be there to push us through the hard times and the pain to get us to where he knows we can go. And that's a good thing to know.

Jan 3, 2012

Looking Forward to 2012

Last year I posted at least one picture for everyday of the year. This was such an interesting experiment, mainly because it forced me to look for something to post about everyday. I had to find something unique, different, exciting, funny, or interesting that happened that day. This was hard, but it really made a difference to me. The experiment also changed as I went on. At first, it was going to be a photo that I took, and just a photo. Then I started writing a short explanation every once and a while. A few even got paragraphs worth. Then I started just putting a picture on--this could be a photo, or something from the internet that stood for something. It was a really cool experiment, but I'm glad that it's done! (Though I still have thoughts about taking pictures and what I'm going to put on my blog. Habits die hard.)

Looking forward at 2012, I've been trying to think about what I want from this year. What I really want is to write something everyday. Whether this is working on my novel, or writing on this blog, I feel like this is something that I need to do. I'm never going to get any better unless I try. I think I'm going to start by going over what I've already written in my novel (the ending will have to wait) and making revision notes.

I had a goal to read 200 books by the end of 2011; I read 182. This year, I will make it!

Big goal for this year? Find a job!! I've got four months left on my internship and I'm pretty sure I exhausted the internships I can do.

So, here's to 2012 and all the adventures that will come this year!

Jan 1, 2012

2011 Highlights

Happy New Year! Before I think about what I'd like 2012 to be, let's take a quick look back at some highlights of the last year:

First "real world" job
First interview (interviewed two amazing kids)
Working for a book company
Seeing traveling Broadway cast of Les Mis
Reading Les Miserables (unabridged version)
Seeing Josh Groban in Concert
Becoming an "Aunty" (a nonrelated aunty)
Acting Class
First Article in New Era
Articles in International Magazine, Liahona
Neil getting home from his mission