Sunday, March 27, 2011

Independace Days 27 March 2011

Earlier this week, it was trying to hit 70'f.

Today, it's trying to snow.


1. Plant something: Beets.

2. Harvest something: Nothing.

3. Preserved something: Freezing of leftovers, for later.

4. Waste not (preparations): Getting together a list of what we need to go camping. Also looking for seeds for the patio - greens in our summer heat can be a challenge.

5. Want not (manage your stores): Trimming the magazine cache, and reading. I have too many read-me book piles. Again.

6. Build community: nothing yet.

7. Eat the food: Tried homemade Stovetop-copycat stuffing; almost worked and will re-attempt shortly. Winter Bean soup. Tonight, brussels sprouts and sausage. Easy to cook, delicious, not cheap - probably $8 for the pan, and the two of us finish it - maybe 4 servings? We consider it a treat; it's perfect for this weather.

8. Crafting: Working on the commission blanket, my fingerless gloves, and spinning.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Planned-overs is what I call it when I make too much food one night, so that I can turn it into something else for another night's dinner. Right now, I have chicken broth, salsa, leftover soups, summer-fresh diced tomatoes, and cooked beans in the freezer waiting for us. If I take them out tonight they'll be ready for tomorrow.

Roast chicken is a good illustration of this: I cook the chicken in my oval slow-cooker. That night, I remove all the meat, then add more water to the crock and make sure all the bones are covered. I set it to cook on low for 10 hours and leave it until I get home from work the next day - it will automatically go on the warm setting until I turn it off, so it will still be warm. I pour the broth through a strainer and into a large container and discard what gets caught by the strainer. The broth is put in the fridge for 24 hours to chill. I skim the fat from the top, and freeze the broth. Often I'll freeze a quart canning jar with 2 cups meat and 2 cups broth, label it, and it will be the base for chicken soup or pot pie later on. My "leftovers" become, quite frequently, two to three other meals which may generate their own leftovers (potpie lasts two nights, here; it's very filling).

Roast beef is much the same way. Cook a roast in the slowcooker, with enough water to cover, and it will make dinner with a delicious, meaty broth that can serve as the base for wonderful stews and potpies. Cook the broth with lentils, barley, carrots, and sauteed onions and it's a wonderful, easy meal. Don't leave out the spices when you cook the meats; just keep them in mind when you decide what to use the broth for so that the flavors will complement each other, or blend - not fight.

Dry beans can be made ahead - soak, cook, and then freeze in 2 cup amounts (the same as a store-bought can) and you get better quality food that's nearly as easy for half the price.

Spaghetti sauce or chili can be made in large batches and frozen in 3-cup portions - dinner for two, or serve over rice or pasta for three. Add a fresh salad and you'll enjoy the compliments without the work.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Monthly Meal Planning - Options Version

Here is my version of meal planning: I plan monthly, and choose what we're eating a day or two or three in advance. It allows for whimsy and cravings in a planned menu, and that is key to its success for us.

This is how I do it:

I make a list of the recipes we like so that I don't forget any of them, or have my cookbook nearby.

On a sheet of paper, I make a chart - 7 days by 5 weeks. Each week, two days say "Leftovers." I try to schedule one day with chicken, one with red meat, and one or two meatless meals. The remaining day or two is "planned overs" (leftovers that you have plans for when you make them). I list five weeks instead of four, because some months do look like they're five weeks, and also it gives us a couple extra dinner options. Good for company visits, or if we just don't want something on the menu.

The nice part: Each weekend, get a piece of paper to write down the week's meals on. Look at the menu, and keep in mind the weather forecast. Decide what you want to eat that week, write it on the week's menu, and check it off the monthly menu. Keep in mind that anything more than two days out is flexible.

It might go like this:

"Well, it's warmer this week but Thursday looks chilly and rainy; let's have Winter Bean soup to fight off the chill. Monday we'll have roast chicken. I'll make stock from the bones to use for the bean soup, and freeze the leftover meat. Tuesday we'll have Yellow Rice & Beans, Wednesday will be leftovers. Friday we can have spaghetti or sausage grinders, and then eat those leftovers Saturday. Sunday we'll have pot pie made from the meat & more of the stock we froze from Monday's chicken. "

Monday: Roast Chicken. Shred & Freeze leftover meat; make broth from carcass.
Tuesday: Yellow Rice & Beans
Wednesday: Leftovers - oops, very busy day; ate on the run, froze the leftovers instead...
Thursday: Winter Bean Soup using homemade stock
Friday: Sausage grinders or spaghetti
Saturday: Leftovers
Sunday: Chicken Pot Pie, made from Monday's planned-overs.

I have had the "eek! food run!" days several times. I'm now convincing the slow-cooker that it needs to cook dinner for us more often.

Portions are guesstimated at 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of meat or starch, or about 8 ounces (1 cup) of anything else. I like to serve the meat with veggies & a starch, or two veggies. Starches could be pasta, grains, rice, stuffing, rolls, garlic bread and so on. During the summer, veggie choices will vary depending on what's at the farmer's market. Portions can have built-in cushions - if you make extra rice, you can add it to soup or stir-fry another night; leftover veggies or meats can be saved for soup or stock; a lunch can be packed up and frozen for another day.

At the beginning of the month, I make sure we have everything on hand to make the meals I've listed. You can do this as often as you get paid; our budget is set up for the big grocery trip once a month, and weekly trips for milk & perishables. Once a week is about the most I want to go - I find I spend too much money if I'm constantly getting 'just one thing.'

Once I'm home from shopping, I'll do any prep that's needed. I chop & freeze any bread that wasn't finished to use later for stuffing, croutons, and so on (still learning this one!). I make sure the freezer contents won't fall on you when you open the door. Then - I get a cold drink and curl up with a book until it's time to start dinner.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Planting

We prepped the balcony for planting today. The seeds will actually go in on Tuesday, which according to our local planting calendar is a better day for that.

North Side of Garden, medium picEast view of garden

We swept, hung the manger planters, and re-arranged the furniture. The lowest level of pots (black & grey) will be sweet potatoes - I've started a sweet potato in water to grow my slips, since I only need two or three. The two pots above the black pot have herbs in them: Orange mint above and lemon balm below. The one on the grey pot will be planted with collards, as will be another 12" pot near the rosemary. The planters will be planted with cold-tolerant beets, spinach, and a lettuce mix.

overwintered Swiss Chard 'Ruby Red' The Swiss Chard was planted last spring and survived our winter just fine. I'll add more to this pot, and start adding leaves from them to my spring salads, too.

Lemon Balm:
Lemon Balem

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Independance Day - 20 March 2011

1. Plant something: Something should be planted this afternoon. We hung the planters and re-arranged the balcony a bit. I've got a sweet potato in water to grow slips - I really only need two or three, so too small of an amount to order. They'll be great though; sweet potato vines spilling out over the pots and around things. Lots of kitty hiding places, too.

2. Harvest something: nothing, but at least the planters are ready!

3. Preserved something: Soaked way too m any chickpeas, put about half in the freezer for later. Some went to a night's dinner, the rest will go into chickpea & carrot salad (new recipe!).

4. Waste not (preparations): All preparations right now are focused on "budget" and "use monthly meal plan." Why does no one ever mention that if you make a list of about 25-30 meals, and just choose off the list the night before, it works just as well as a more structured meal plan? You know, the kind that doesn't work in this house?

5. Want not (manage your stores): Switched the house over to "Summer." Changed out sheets, blankets, and clothes. Donated half a dozen tops I won't wear any more and gave myself a wonderful excuse to knit up some sweaters for myself for next winter =) Also, I'm happy to note that the new storage unit configuration is working well - I can still find and easily get to the things I need, without exhuming the entire unit. Much better!

6. Build community: ah the quiet....

7. Eat the food: Cooking was a bit better this week. I forgot to do my monthly meal planner and it has completely messed me up this month.

8. Crafting: The first part of the commission blanket is finished. While I wait for the rest of the yarn to come in, I'm working on my fingerless gloves and I've picked up yarn for another pair of projects, as well. Also, I'm making a point of spinning for a least a few minutes every night.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Independance Day Challenge 6 March 2011

I'm in a bit of a hibernating mood. Not wanting lots of outside contact or to do much; hot chocolate, a book, and a rainy afternoon sound wonderful.

1. Plant something: Nothing. Wanted to put up planters, so of course it's pouring rain out. (Sunday)

2. Harvest something/ 3. Preserved something: too early still...

4. Waste not (preparations): Paid off one credit card in full.

5. Want not (manage your stores): Realized we ran out of veggies, and bought mostly seasonal fresh veggies (squashes, root veggies) and not so much of the commercially canned stuff.

6. Build community: Nothing.

7. Eat the food: Would you believe I can't remember what I've cooked this week? The only thing I remember is that a supply of diced root veggies can be added to soup, and the rest of it roasted - half hour's work, two or three night's dinners. Cool.

8. Crafting: Working on the commission blanket, and on writing my recipes down so they can go in the binder. Next up is the finance's cross-stitch stocking that I'm making. I think I'm about half-done with it, but it won't get finished if I never pick it up to work on it...