Saturday, November 14, 2009

Week 1: Little to Spend, Much to be Thankful for :)

In my very first post, I forgot a very important item that you all must have: a microwave! Unless you have microwaving powers (and please let me know if you do!), you will need a microwave to reheat your frozen meals. Unless, of course, you are re-heating frozen onion rings in the microwave - which I wouldn't do because onion rings turn to mush upon reheating in the microwave. Not that, of course, *I* would do this - no, not at all! *Whistling innocently* Some things are best left reheated in the good ol' fashioned STOVE, which is also one of those really neat and handy inventions that come in handy.

Any hoo ...

If it weren't for the magic tooth fairy dropping $40 bucks in my lap, the next two weeks of freezable meals would have consisted of beans and rice. But, thanks to the magic tooth fairy, I had $40 extra to spend on food :)

So, with that in mind, I set out to do my shopping, migraine/fatigue/rain, dreary weather or not!

I was going to make pepperoni AND Canadian bacon pizza "muffins", but because uncured meats cost a small arm and an ear, I crossed off pepperoni and just kept the Canadian bacon. I can share the pineapple between the sweet and sour chicken and the Canadian bacon pizza "muffins".

I also thought that the ground turkey was going to be $3 - apparently, I can't always read the Giant little sign thingies correctly because it rang up as $6. No biggie - I have learned my lesson and will make sure I stock up on cheaper meat next time. I scored .83 pounds of stew beef cubes for $2.50 and 1 1/2 pounds of summer pork ribs (boneless) for $3 and some odd change.

Now, I'm realizing, dear reader, that some of you reading this blog don't eat meat. No biggie - just do whatever you normally do instead of eating meat. I'm still working on my theory of whether or not I can freeze and re-heat tofu. As it stands, my theory is that although tofu might freeze very well, it might just turn to a rubbery eraser upon being reheated in the microwave. If any vegans or vegetarians out there in Internet Land know one way or the other, please let me know. In the meantime, if you're wanting to make pizza "muffins", just use veggies and whatever you normally use when you make pizza.

One note before starting: I'm gluten-free, so I use gluten free flours. I'm not sensitive to oatmeal as long as I keep it to a minimum and so I don't use gluten-free oatmeal (which is also very expensive and out of my budget range). If you are sensitive to oatmeal, by all means, use gluten-free oats. If you can eat gluten, use regular oatmeal AND regular flour. By all means, don't let me stop you!

Also, when I'm cooking, I tend to start with the prep. I then get the longer cooking things out of the way and simmering (beef cabbage stew, taco soup) and then move onto the lesser things. I make in turns because half of my stove is covered up by a cutting board, leaving me with two burners. With the back burner left to the simmer beef cabbage stew, that leaves me with just one burner. So, I back in batches. This also frees up much-needed bowls, pans, and pots. I start the meat loaf and turkey casserole at the same time, but, since the turkey casserole will finish first, I then set aside the meat part of it once the bowl is washed so I can wash out the pot and cook the noodles. I then combine every thing and stick it into the plastic containers. In the meantime, I mix up the pizza crust mix and let that "rise" while prepping the potatoes (by this time, the noodles are cooked and the pot can be cleaned and re-used). After the potatoes have cooled and have been mashed/roasted, I cut up the meatloaf, assemble my meals, and then add the frozen veggies (which helps to further cool the food). This then leaves the one burner free for the preparation of the chicken. Once the chicken for the sweet & sour is fried, I set that pan aside, cook the sauce in my smallest pot, and then quickly clean the pan so that the marinated chicken can be cooked. Around this time, the rice gets started and the stew/soup gets turned off so they can start cooling. Once the chicken and the rice is done, every thing is ready to be prepped so that it can be cooled for the freezer (confused yet?).

My two-week menu thus is going to look like this:

1.) Beef Cabbage Stew

2.) Canadian Bacon and Pineapple Pizza "Muffins"

3.) Turkey Meatloaf and Turkey Casserole

4.) Taco Soup rice "burrito" bowls

5.) Pork Ribs

6.) Sweet & Sour Chicken and another chicken dish (it's the classic mystery dish - what it will be, no one knows!)

7.) BROWNIES (the magical romantic love story where my mouth meets chocolate).

Before you begin, you should have several clean, dry plastic containers. You want enough to cover all the food you're going to cook, yet not so many that you can't fit it all in the freezer - ideally, aim for two weeks worth of food. You should have also 4-5 hours set aside for cooking and a possible second day if you're planning on making both the stew and the 16 bean soup both in the crock pot. You should assemble all your ingredients, prep where you can, and clean up as you go.

Now, to begin ....

1.) Beef Cabbage Stew: Beef stew with potatoes, cabbage, and carrots (omit beef if you're not a vicious meat eater, like myself)

* Toss beef stew cubes with 1/4 cup of gluten-free flour (whatever you like), regular flour, or cornstarch. If you don't eat meat, skip this part and add a tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with some veggie broth. If you don't want thick stew, also skip this part.

* Chop up cabbage, potatoes, onion, and carrots. I bought one of those stew packets that also came with a parsnip and some herbs (score!). The idea is to use whatever what you like and whatever you can afford - I'm not your mother and thus I cannot make you eat your veggies!

* Dump beef, veggies, herbs (I always use one or two bay leaves, garlic, parsley, and dill as a general rule of thumb), and veggie stock or broth (or whatever floats your boat) into crock pot. If needed, add enough water to cover veggies. Stir and turn on low. Leave for the rest of the day (about 6 to 8 hours) - this will mark one meal for that night and then, upon cooling in the fridge over night, can be then transferred to plastic bowls and frozen.

Note: I can never manage to fit this stew into my crock pot, so I often wind up using the biggest pot I have, leaving it on the back burner all day on medium-high until it boils and then leaving it to simmer on low all day. I use a potato and an extra turnip, too, so I definitely need extra water so everything's nice and covered.

2.) Canadian Bacon and Pineapple Pizza "Muffins"

For this week's pizza dough, I'm using Ian's gluten-free pizza kit. Since they're discontinuing it at Whole Food's [ :( ], I stocked up a while back. Unfortunately, it's my last one which means I'll have to order more from Amazon's when I have some extra dough (no pun intended!) but, for now, I will happily mix the dough according to the instructions on the back and let the dough "rise" while I fashion the other meals ...

A note on pizza: If you can eat gluten, then use a regular pizza kit or make your own homemade dough and sauce. You don't have to do Canadian bacon and pineapple. I'm choosing to do so because that's what I'm currently craving. This is one project you can really get creative on and use whatever you're craving, have in the pantry, or can "borrow" from your parents and friends. AKA: use what you like and what you can afford. Just remember: mushrooms DO NOT freeze well and so it's best to leave these out. As for me, I'm using the sauce that comes in the kit (yeah, I could make my own, but that's one less step for me!), uncured Canadian bacon, mozzarella cheese, onions, bell pepper, and olives.

After the pizza dough "rises", I will make little patties out of 6 balls of dough. Once I have a big enough circle (about 4 inches in diameter), I pat mold them to one of the muffin tins, add some sauce, then add a pinch of mozzarella cheese, some olives, bell peppers, and chopped up Canadian ham. I then take the left over dough from the sides and kind of mold it to the top of the goodies, making a sort of "muffin". I like using muffin tins because working with gluten free pizza dough is tough. It tends to fall apart really easy because it's more like a really thick cake mix with some elasticity - so pizza pockets are sort of out of the question. When I'm making a regular pizza, I'm usually having to spread the dough out on to the pizza sheet.

However, if you're working with normal dough, then just form 6 medium little patties, roll them out into 4 inch diameter disks, smear some sauce on one half of each circle, add some goodies, and then fold them over and seal with a fork.

I let each of these little beauties cook at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes. You want them slightly underdone so they don't go all to whack later when it comes time to nuke them.

3.) Turkey meatloaf and Turkey casserole

From the lovely, but fictions, Betty Crocker, comes the turkey meatloaf:

* 1/2 the group turkey (or beef or chicken or pork or whatever floats your boat - just please don't tell me if it involves anything resembling road kill)
* 2 tablespoons of milk [I use Silk creamer because it's cheaper and I've found it works better when freezing mashed potatoes]
* 1/2 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce [Because I keep forgetting to pick this item up while grocery shopping, I use some of Mrs. Dash Spicy Teriyaki or Mesquite marinade with a 1 tsp of apple vinegar and cumin thrown in for some kick]
* 1/8 tsp (or pinch) of dried sage [Use fresh if you have it - I find the dried stuff works just as well, last longer, and is thus cheaper in the long run]
* Dash of salt AND pepper (or a really, really small pinch of salt and pepper, or a couple of quick turns of the pepper mill and salt mill)
* 1/8 tsp (or pinch) of mustard [dried or wet, doesn't matter]
* Garlic [How much depends upon your preference]
* 1 medium egg [or, if using egg substitute, half the amount called for one egg]
* 1/2 cup of plain oatmeal or one package of plain oatmeal [I don't use gluten-free oatmeal because a little bit of oatmeal doesn't bother me and I'm fairly tolerant; however, if you're not as tolerant or just feel more comfortable, by all means, use gluten-free oatmeal. SPECIAL NOTE: Bread, gluten-free or not, torn or in crumbs, makes meatloaf yucky. Trust me, stick to oatmeal!!!!]
* 1/2 half of an onion, chopped [Or omit if you hate, or are allergic, to onion]
* Ketchup or barbecue sauce or whatever floats your boat [Again, if it involves road kill, please leave me out of the discussion - thanks!]

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Chop one onion and set aside half for the meatloaf and half for the turkey casserole.

Except for the ketchup, mix all the ingredients for meatloaf together. Dump meatloaf into a cooking dish and smooth ketchup on top.

Cook the meatloaf for about 40 minutes. It's okay if it's a bit pink or whatever in the center because you're going to be eventually nuking the meatloaf and, if microwaves can kill nasty germs in wet sponges, it can kill any nasty germs in undercooked meatloaf. Since I hate being sued, please cook the meatloaf to your specifications. The whole point here is to not overcook the meatloaf because it will turn into a rubbery mess otherwise.

While meat loaf is cooking, chop bell pepper (setting aside some for the pizza "muffins"), cook noodles, and prepare to make Cheesy Hamburger Casserole (which I snagged from the Incredible Edible Gluten-Free Food for Kids cookbook):

* Remaining ground turkey or whatever you're using
* 1/2 cup each of chopped onion and bell pepper
* Garlic [However little or much you want. Remember: the more garlic you add, the more likely you're to keep vampires away. HA HA, I kid, I kid!]
* 1 tablespoon of dried parsley
* 1 1/2 tsp of dried basil [Fresh is better but dried also works]
* 1/2 can of diced tomatoes [I use the salt free kind and dash all thoughts of BP-whatever chemical induced danger out of mind. Canned tomatoes are cheap, so I buy canned. However, if you the money or prefer glass-canned tomatoes or fresh, go with the notion. At any rate, dump the remaining tomatoes in the taco soup.]
* 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese AND mozzarella
* 1/2 cup of milk [I find Silk Creamer works best for me - you can also use regular soymilk, goats milk, or whatever floats your boat.]
* 1 tsp ground pepper (optional)
* 1 tablespoon of sweet rice flour, white rice flour, or whatever flour your prefer
* 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese or gluten-free bread crumbs [I have Kraft Parmesan so I'm going with that]

While noodles are cooking (you want these al dente, meaning firm but not soft, so that you don't end up with a mushy product after re-heating; so, please do not over cook!), add ground meat, onion, bell pepper, and garlic to saute pan [I use the biggest pot I have so that I later dump the noodles in with room to spare, but use whatever you feel most comfortable using]. Saute. When meat is no longer looking raw and dangerous, add the parsley, the basil, tomatoes, cheeses, milk, ground pepper (if you're using it), and whatever flour you're using. Again, if you don't like onion or bell pepper or don't eat meat, just omit those items and add whatever veggies or protein you love. For example, I chop up some zucchini and toss that in at the last moment so it doesn't turn all mushy.

By now, the meatloaf should have come out of the oven and should be cooling ...

Add noodles to ground meat mixture for turkey casserole. Transfer to plastic containers and sprinkle Parmesan cheese or breadcrumbs on top. You're supposed to transfer the meat and noodle mixture to a casserole dish and then add Parmesan cheese on top and cook at 350 degree for 20 minutes but phft - that's the microwave's job!

4.) Taco Soup "Burrito" Bowls

Since the crock pot was now empty thanks to the over-sized beef cabbage stew, I halfed the recipe given below and dumped it all into my crock pot.

Taco Soup recipe is from the most awesome crock pot blogs "A Year of Slow Cooking". I have ate enough Taco Soup that it needed a re-invention or I literally wouldn't be able to eat another bite! So, thanks to $5 Dinner blog (Beef and Black Bean Burritos), I will just add some rice, some ground buffalo I found hiding in my freezer, and some shredded cheese. For that purpose, I will also need to use my rice cooker to cook up some rice (about 3 cups so that the sweet & sour chicken can have some rice, too!).

Note: I substitute Kernel Seasonings Ranch instead of the packet of ranch dressing mix - it's lower in salt and has less scarier chemical names (in fact, if memory serves me correctly, I can pronounce the majority of the names, whereas in the Ranch dressing mix, I just scratch my head, saw "Ewwwww" and place the packet back onto the shelf). To the best of my knowledge and research capabilities, only the White Cheddar and Jalapeno Kernel Seasonings aren't gluten free (Mom Knows it All: Kernel Seasons Popcorn Seasonings), but everything thing else is gluten-free and, since there's also no MSG added, Kernel Seasonings received an "A+" in my book.

For the taco seasoning, I make my own. It means less salt, no scary sounding chemical names, and no worries about gluten contamination. To make taco seasoning, I mix together the following: 1/2 tablespoon of chili powder, 1/8 tsp each of garlic powder, onion powder, crushed red pepper flakes, and dried oregano, 1/4 tsp each of paprika and salt (or omit salt all together if you're on a low-sodium diet), 1/2 tsp of crushed black pepper, and 3/4 tsp (1/4 tsp and 1/2 tsp) of ground cumin.

For the taco soup, I usually substitute kidney beans for pinto beans because I can never remember to soak pinto beans the night before.

5.) Pork ribs: Dinner for Sunday and a few meals left over for good measure. This will definitively have to wait until tomorrow because I forgot to pick up a bottle of Mrs. Dash's Mesquite marinade while on my Safeway trip. Which means I will have to dig up my homemade barbecue sauce recipe and mix some up and leave it over night to mingle into tasty-lip-smacking-goodness.

Barbecue sauce:


* 2 tbsp ketchup
* 4 tbsp honey
* 1 tbsp molasses
* 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
* 1/2 each tsp of mustard [I use this awesome spicy hot dijon mustard I found at Giants for a buck and some change], onion powder, cayenne pepper, and chili powder
* 1 tsp of garlic powder
* 1/4 tsp of ground pepper

If it's too thick, add some water.

6.) Sweet & Sour Chicken [And, if there's room in the freezer, a chicken meal thrown in for good measure.]

From the mysterious Betty Crocker, comes the recipe for Sweet & Sour Chicken. However, Ms. Crocker is up to crockery because the recipe is, in fact, hidden under the section "Pork". You can use pork, chicken, or whatever for this recipe - no need for my permission!

The short cut version of this recipe goes as follows:

* Heat some sort of oil in a pan (I use canola oil, but vegetable or olive oil also works just as well)

* Cut up chicken into cubes (I use three chicken tenderloins)

* Combine 1/4 cup of cornstarch/gluten-free flour, or flour with 1/4 cup of cold water (aka just the turn faucet on cold!), 1/2 tsp of salt (optional), and 1 egg (or 1/2 of egg substitute conversion)

* Toss chicken chunks in with the above mixture (not the hot oil - you're cooking with that!)

* Add coated chicken pieces one at a time to above heated oil. Allow to cook on one side for five minutes, then turn, and allow to cook for another five minutes. Drain on paper towels. I suppose you could also bake the chicken, but I'd rather just lightly fry it; it's my one chance in the two weeks to have just one meal fried!

* If you're using pineapple from the pizza "muffins", save the juice! Otherwise, you'll need pineapple juice. You'll need to add this to the following: 1/4 cup each of packed brown sugar and vinegar, 1/4 tsp of salt (optional), 1 tsp of gluten-free soy sauce, and garlic. Heat this mixture in a small pot until boiling.

* Mix 1 tbsp of cornstarch to 1 tbsp of cold water (from the faucet works fine). Stir this into above mixture. Allow to boil for one minute, until thick. Add remaining pineapple chucks (or about 1/2 cup). Cool.

Later, you'll add this to some rice and some chopped pepper or frozen stir fry veggies. Place cooled chicken pieces on top.

Since I had room for an extra chicken dish (score!), I marinated three chicken tenderloins with some apple vinegar, canola oil (about 1/4 cup of each), and a capful of Kernel Seasoning's Chili Lime (which is AWESOME!). After leaving it to marinade for 30 minutes while I prepped my other meals, I let the chicken cook on the stop top with a tablespoon or two of water (so the chicken wouldn't dry out), placed a lid over the pan, and let it cook for 15 minutes. I LOVE chicken that takes care of it itself!

7.) Brownies - because with desert, I'd just be stressed! For this, I let Betty Crocker do all the talking: my mom sent me "I Care About You" package and one of those goodies was one of the new gluten-free brownie mix from Betty Crocker. I'll add walnuts to the mix because adding walnuts to anything chocolate automatically makes it healthy for you (there's also a river in Egypt calling me, but too busy cooking at the moment!). I then cut up the brownies, have a quick taste-test to make sure they're good, wrap them up individual style in some plastic wrap, and dump all of these into a Ziplock plastic bag (one of those huge freezer bag kind). It also makes it easier if the brownies are cool before hand, but, sometimes the mouth - or freezer - can't wait!

Each meal includes rice, potatoes, or noodles and a heaping portion of veggies. In my librarian's mind, I'm thinking "rice OR (potato OR potatoes) OR ((gluten-free OR "gluten free") AND (noodles OR noodles)) AND (Vegetable OR Vegetables OR Veggie OR Veggie)". Luckily for me, my mad librarian skills come in handy for planning menus :)

I use the rice cooker to cook me up some rice because I have a tendency to over cook and burn rice. You, however, can make it on the stove or whatever you do when you cook rice. Add butter if you'd like (with the rice cooker, do that AFTER it cooks). I like my rice plain and so I don't add anything.

To make mashed potatoes, all you need to do is chop up some potatoes (I'm using red organic potatoes because that's what was cheapest), boil them until almost done (DO NOT OVER COOK - you want it under cooked so that it doesn't turn gross after reheating), drain, add milk or whatever you use [I highly recommend Silk creamer so you can still have edible mashed potatoes upon reheating], butter, salt, pepper, or whatever you want - get creative while still being on budget and sticking to your dietary needs - and then set aside to cool. Of course, you don't even have to do mashed potatoes. You can make roasted potatoes or use frozen or homemade frozen fries to your meals. Do whatever works for you and your taste buds!

I had some left over cheese, so I topped off my mashed potatoes with the left over cheese. I mashed three red potatoes and roasted three other red potatoes. I cut up three tbsp of unsalted butter and sprinkled the top of the potatoes with Mrs. Dash's Garlic and Herbs. So the potatoes wouldn't dry out while cooking (about an hour on 350 degrees), I add about 1/4 cup of water.

For all things cooling, I have my handy dandy card table. The table also comes in handy for when I'm assembling my frozen meals. Using the floor to hold the pots (after they've cooled so you don't trip over them and burn your foot), spread out your clean, dry plastic containers on the table. Arrange your meals in the plastic containers - I call this process "Mix & Match". For example, I'll lay out of the meatloaf, adding mashed potatoes to some, roasted potatoes to others, and a good portion of frozen veggies to all. Turkey casserole tends to stay by itself [for obvious reasons - it's a meal within itself]. The sweet and sour chicken gets rice and the optional chicken dish might get some rice or potatoes with veggies. Even though I accidentally made enough rice for an army, I had plenty of roasted potatoes, too, and so I added that to the mysterious chicken dish. The left over rice got stuck with the left over frozen stir fry frozen veggies - I'll later pick up some Tofu from the store and marry the two together.

At the last moment, if I still have some energy left over, I will make a few servings of rice pilaf: all I have to do is add some sesame seeds (it is, after all, the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street!), some of the frozen stir fry frozen veggies, some parsley, garlic power, and tumeric (since I don't have this spice, I just use ground dry mustard). Gently toss and add as a side! I didn't make rice pilaf this time because I don't really care for anything bothering my rice other than veggies.

To make the whole week further interesting, I'm also planning on making homemade gluten-free bread tomorrow.

Which means, before I begin anything, the kitchen must be cleaned, the dishes scrubbed and dried, and my prep table cleared off of the week's crap.

And then, I begin the process of cooking! I promise photos!

Until the next time, may your guinea pigs nap all afternoon!


  1. I just had some awesome steak tartare at a trendy nightclub where my chapter of the Recording Academy had a party for ourselves. It came on crostini with garlic aoioli. Gotta recipe for that? :)

    Hey - it was work. Some of us have harder jobs than others. Couldn't afford the $300 bottle of vodka delivered to my table, but at least I was on the guest list. Still, I'm craving the steak tartare. Help?

  2. I have no clue what steak tartare is lol It sounds expensive. *Scratches head* When I come out of my "Budget like you're dying" phase around March or April, I'll settle down and do some research and figure it out - sounds like a good challenge. Thank you! :)