Saturday, October 2, 2010

Gravity is never really that far away and neither is the Taco Casserole ....

Here in Maryland, the nights have gradually become more nippy. It's officially FALL. Apples, pumpkins, squashes, roasted cabbage and potatoes, cinnamon and spices, hot apple cider, and Halloween. Okay, one cannot technically eat Halloween, but it's good excuse as any to eat chocolate and candy. It's a reminder that this nasty, brain-boiling worthy hot summer is behind us and winter is upon us (oh, goody [sarcasm]). My favorite part of Fall and Winter is coming home to two cranky guineas and tormenting their warm, cozy lil' bodies with cold, freezing hands :)

Apparently, I need to take life more in stride and stop trying to prove that gravity does - and will always - win. Three weeks back, my back bike tire skidded out on some gravel coming down off a hill and I took the full brunt of the fall with my right (re: good) knee and my chin. I think I skidded a few feet because, as I pointed out earlier, I was going down the hill. On a windy day, to boot, and cycling as fast as my legs could go so that I could get to CVS before 6 PM. The good news is that I made it to CVS pharmacy just as they were closing and, thanks to shock, the pain held off until I got into line. The manager called 911, I was cleaned up, I tied an ice bag to my knee, the manager straightened out my handle bars, and I limped home with some asphalt for a souvenir. Some nice dude walking his dog took my bike up three flights of stairs. After popping a few pain killers and one rough night, I limped to the Urgent Care Center the next day and have been proudly on crutches since. And it only took me a week to be able to move my knee, another two days to be able to straightened out my leg, and a few more days to be able to bend my knee enough to put a sock on my foot! The coffee-cup sized color-changing bruise (I mean there was colors in this bruise that I've never seen before!)bout on my left thigh only took two weeks to heal and is (almost) not even visible. The bruises on my right knee came in about a week after the inflammation went down and are still there, four weeks later. I have bruises from my knee to mid-shin bone and I still can't kneel on it (but I can squat!!!). I should be off the damn crutches (aka Thing 1 and Thing 2) either this week or next (depending on the bad leg that got worse due to the injured leg heh). Luckily for me, no broken bones or ligaments and the orthopedist doesn't have to amputate :) That was the bad kind of fall, not the good kind of Fall with apples and pumpkins and Halloween.

Since I haven't been able to stand for long periods of time without either the injured or bad leg becoming cranky and/or throbbing with pain, I've sort of become more creative and flexible with meals. Which meant I spent more money the first week on frozen gluten free goodies for lunches and dinner and spent a wee bit more than I wished on taxis. To made up for some of the costs, I adapted a recipe for Taco Casserole my mom gave me and then dumped some chicken (on sale via Peapod - woot to ordering groceries online!) with a jar of Alfredo sauce in one crockpot and then dumped cabbage, potatoes, carrots, celery, garlic, molasses, red wine vinegar, a dash of onion powder/salt/pepper, and weeks-old mushrooms into the other crockpot to roast them (even better with cheese!). The chicken Alfredo is very verstaile - dump it on rice, noodles (gluten free or otherwise) and a side of broccoli or veggie - or even just by itself with a side of roasted veggies and warm chopped apples with cinnamon and butter - and it is one very flexible dish! Both the roasted cabbage and potatoes and chicken Alfredo dishes (aka lazy chicken) are adapted from the Make it Fast, Cook it Slow cookbook by Stephanie O'Dea (I found a copy at my local library - squeal of excitement!). But, the Taco Casserole cannot be beat. It'll feed an army and then some and, lucky for me, freezes well AND goes well with broccoli (it's been on sale lately and is ubber cheap at Giant's ... I'd say I'm almost getting sick of frozen broccoli except I found that Benny will eat it, even warm).

Taco Casserole

Baking dish (mine is 9 by 13, I think)
Package of refrigerated croissants or ingredients needed for the pizza crust on the gluten-free (or regular) Bisquick mix [for the gluten-free version, this means 1 and 1/3 cup of Bisquick Gluten Free mix, 1/2 cup of water, 1/3 cup oil - I used olive oil, but any oil should work, provided it's not oil meant for cars heh - 2 eggs, beaten]
Package of ground meat (turkey, hamburger, road kill - whatever floats your boat)
Taco seasoning, homemade or otherwise
8 oz tomato sauce, salt free or salt-load
Doritos, crushed (I used regular tortilla chips)
Package of shredded cheese, any flavor that you prefer (you'll need about two cups)
Sour cream
Salsa (optional)
Olives or whatever other toppings that float your boat (optional)


Turn the stove on to 350 degrees.

Ground meat (turkey seems to be on sale a lot lately)
Two tablespoons of taco seasoning [NOT the whole package - luckily for me, I called my mom again and she caught me just before I dumped the entirety of my taco seasoning mix into the meat!]
8 oz tomato sauce [I used salt free because of the salt in the Bisquick mix but use whatever you prefer.]

Brown the ground meat. Drain the meat. Yell at youngest guinea that you're busy cooking and cannot stop every-single-thing to feed him right this very minute, cave, and then almost burn the meat while serving said guinea some goodies from the fridge. Place the meat back into the pan, add the two tablespoons of taco seasoning and the tomato sauce, and stir together. Let simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the majority of the liquids is soaked up.

While the meat is doing its thing, create the bottom layer. My mom called for those refrigerated, gluten-worthy croissants smooshed flat to cover the entire baking dish. I used the pizza recipe on the Gluten-free Bisquick box and that worked most awesomely. Never dried out and froze even better!

To the bottom layer you will add a layer of crushed tortilla chips. Then add a layer of meat, a layer of sour cream (I only had Greek yogurt on hand and used that), a layer of salsa (optional - I did because I have salsa on hand), and a layer of cheese (I used pre-shredded Mexican cheese). Continue layering ingredients until you've used them up. Since I love olives, I topped mine with sliced olives and some more cheese.

Pop the baking dish into a 350 degree pre-heated oven and let cook for 25 minutes or until cheese on top is melted and the bottom crust layer is done. Cool (if you can wait that long!), serve with guacamole, sour cream and/or your favorite toppings and enjoy!

What are you go-to meals when your injured or ill?

Until then, may your guineas not bite your hands whilst you attempt to warm your hands by wrapping them around their warm, cozy lil' bodies!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Still trucking along ....

It's been a while since I've last posted. I tried sticking to a once-a-month-on-the-weekend sort of deal, but life keeps getting in the way. I think Maryland's recent heat wave boiled my brain and then the smokers, the mildew in my bedroom, the continual stress which is my life, and the constant demands of two guinea pigs (one is energetic, the other one prefers to be left alone until otherwise stated) just leaves this single gal a bit tuckered out by Sunday. And then there's Monday and yet another work week to get through.

This week, thanks to my asthma, icky air quality, and smokers on the bus who just need that one last drag before they get on the bus (and inadvertently blowing it in my face and/or breathing space) and I wound up in the ER on Tuesday. My lungs finally caved. It took THREE treatments before they released me with a prescription of oral steroids. Now, thanks to blood sugars that remind me more of the recent Wall Street crisis than anything else, I'm left just a wee bit weak. I can only stand for so long. Thanks to Vicks Vapor waterless thing, I was able to sleep last night and my lungs aren't as congested as they once were and I can breath a wee bit easier. I no longer have to make the hard choice between walking or breathing :) I still have to do my usual chores and cooking (because, seriously, last week my idea was to eat gluten free Hamburger Help for a week ... it was good, but, by Friday, I had stooped to making chicken nachos), but hey, floors were made for holding dirty dishes!

Thanks to my sharp eye, I picked up some beef on sale, saving myself almost like six bucks in the process. I got split chicken breast buy one get one free. Thanks to 365 Crockpot, I got the grand idea for shredded chicken and, with that, I can add some chicken to my pinto and rice dish, and then make some awesome shredded chicken BBQ sandwiches, thanks to the French Rolls I found at Mom's Organic Market (if you're gluten free and tired of Whole Foods lack of options and high prizes, I'd highly recommend them, especially if you live in Maryland!). So, once again, with a few key ingredients and some store bought stuff (I found gluten free raviolis, gnocchi, and pierogies, I'm going to have a healthy, yummy, and relatively in-expensive meals for next month. Which is really, really great because PEPCO decided to stick their grubby little paws into my bank account (again) and I will be have to be very careful about what I do, and do not, buy. Oh and I'll need Tide and Downy - so this month ought to be, at the very least, interesting.

If you, dear reader, will allow me one paragraph on my soap box, I want to say I almost didn't make it last month. I was ready to buy the farm, to go visit my relatives in the sky above, to go and have a long talk with God, etc. As an Aspie with a deficiency in executive functioning skills and an inability to handle stress, I almost snapped. I had to take paid time without leave, which left even less in the good ol' bank account, because I got the runs from eating beans for two weeks in a row (I thought I would have learned my lesson the first time but apparently not ...). The next day was a Code Red day. I got up late, feeling really dehydrated. Well, in my confused state, I finally left the house around 2 PM for work and ... gasp ... forgot to drink water! I thus passed out in the parking lot - about four feet from work - and wound up in the ER (the ER is a constant in my life - it's really pathetic or sad or something because the three constants in life is change, taxes, and death ... and in mine, the fourth is the ER). Anyways, I digress - I took the next day off because I mentally snapped. There's only so much stress one person can handle at a time - add in the constant financial pressures, the "Will I make it to the next pay check?" anxiety, all the while living in the constant fear that if that car does hit you, if you do loose your job, if you get sick and wind up in the hospital, etc. you will totally loose your footing and be buried alive. It's no wonder the United States is living in fear - there's no security, especially if you're living paycheck to paycheck with less than $700 on your credit card as your life savings (or, even worse, none at all). If you find yourself in such a position, don't be afraid to ask for help. I know this is extremely tough for Aspies, especially for those, like me, who WILL be independent come hell or high water, but it is vital.

Food, too, is vital to our being - not only via the nutrition, but by its very essence. Food is soul. It is life. It is magic. Add a can of this, some spice of that, and a little protein and bam! you have a great meal (well, granted if you're not adding something gross like peanut butter, tomatoes, and garlic together - and, if so, good luck!). Whether you're following a recipe, reciting a recipe that you learned by rote at your mom's knee, or diverting off onto a unexplored path, food helps us to heal in so many ways. It brings together (and helps create) friends and family, new memories, and, at its very best, a new history [Did I tell you about that one time ...?]. At its very worst, it can destroy our bodies and feed our depression. At it's very best, it can make you smile, even sing, and brighten your day. Your food can communicate for you - as to who you are as a person, at the very essence of your core.

Okay, and I took two paragraphs - oopsie :) So, then, I will leave off with a pasta dish that, although it sounds very weird, will get your taste buds going "Ohh, this is good!" and your wallet humming with dollars saved, and a template on creating your own spaghetti sauce (just whatever you do, cook the noodles using the stove method and not the Crockpot - just . trust . me on this!).

Gluten-free or otherwise Green Olive Pasta Salad

Jar of green olives (or, your favorite olives)
Spicy brown mustard (or, your favorite kind)
Noodles (gluten-free or otherwise)

1.) Cook noodles according to package. Drain; set aside in a large bowl.
2.) Roughly chop olives
3.) Toss noodles, olives, and mustard.

You can also add veggies to this. Experiment!

Spaghetti Sauce Template

Roughly chopped veggies (bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, garlic, whatever floats your boat - or just onion or none)
Two cans of tomato sauce
A can of diced basil/oregano/garlic tomatoes
Various spices: basil, pepper, salt, Mrs. Dash Italian stuff, parsley, bay leafs
Squirt of two of ketchup (as a single person who has yet to find a can of tomato paste that suits my individual serving size need, I just use regular ketchup)
Dash of sugar (i.e. no more than a teaspoon - you want a sauce, not desert!)
Ground turkey, sausage, beef, or chicken (optional)
Other good ideas to add, but optional: kidney beans, 1/4 cup of wine, Parmesan or other hard cheeses (NOT soft because it will glob up and look nasty).

Combine ingredients into a big pot. Season to taste (in other words, adjust the seasonings to your taste). Cook on medium heat until boiling. Cover the pot with lid and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 4-6 hours or until you can't stand the smell and serve over noodles or whatever floats your boat - enjoy! :)

What's your inspirational stories? What go-to dish keeps your head up high in troubled times (and, no, I'm not talking about the lock pick buried in the cake delivered to the prison ;-) )? What's your favorite food memory? Have a funny story to tell, a bad recipe to post? Do tell!

Until the next time, may your guinea pigs have many healthy years ahead of them!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

If You're Lucky to be Irish - You're lucky enough!

Hello fellow readers :) It is now the fine month of March - not only is it the month of my birthday, but it's also the month of Saint Patrick's Day. Growing up Irish not only meant being instilled with the fine values of hard work and laughing much, but also wearing of the green on Saint Patrick's Day. As children, my brother and I were so hardcore in this tradition that we wore green to bed so neither one of us would be pinched in the morning (or, at least that's how I remember it!).

As an adult, I've taken things to a new level, culinary-wise. Last year, I tried my hand with corned beef. I might do that again this year if I'm able to chew (this lucky gal is getting much dental work done - I'm getting fit for a cap on Friday and then, hopefully, some cavities dealt with so I can chew on the other side!). If not, I will just put green dye in my mashed potatoes, have an extra mudslide, and call it a celebration :) Potatoes, of course, are an Irish staple. So are cabbage and Irish soda bread (which I make gluten free, courtesy of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef), and Irish cheese. One of the most filling, inexpensive, and nutritious dishes I've been able to create as of yet is "Cabbage Stew", which at the request of a coworker I have posted below.

So, without further ado, Cabbage Stew!

4 quart or so crock pot.
1/2 head of cabbage, chopped into bite-size pieces [Whole Foods will chop a cabbage in half - just as the produce peeps; if using a crock pot larger than 4 quarts, you might need a whole cabbage].
1 cartoon of vegetable or chicken broth (I use low sodium)
1/2 pack of raw bacon (I use low sodium, uncured - for St. Patrick's day, I splurge and use Irish bacon).

1 "stew pack" - or two turnips, 2-4 parsnips, 1-3 carrots, 1/2 an onion if using vegetable broth (or a whole onion if using chicken broth), two small potatoes (or one really big one) and whatever else veggies float your boat. All veggies need to be chopped in bite-sized pieces, but make sure they're big enough so as to not turn to mush in the crock pot!.

Herbs & Seasonings
Herbs to your liking - I use some dill and parsley (it comes in the stew pack). You can use these or whatever herbs float you're boat. You can used dried or the real deal.
Seasonings - a dash of pepper and a big heap of diced garlic works well. Sometimes I use some freshly ground mustard seed.

If I'm in the mood to go vegan, I'll toss in a can of kidney beans - kidney beans are also a lot cheaper than bacon. Or, you can do both - experiment!

Pour veggie or chicken broth into crock pot. Add herbs and seasonings. Taste and adjust according to your taste. Add cabbage, veggies, and bacon (yup, raw - it'll cook in the crock pot, no worries about deadly bacteria or germs!). Leave about 1/2 inch gap between the food and the lid - if you need to add some water or extra broth, feel free to do. Just be careful not to overfill - believe me, you don't want the stuff boiling all over the place! Turn on low, leave for work, and voila! Instant Irish dinner (well, except for the Irish soda bread - I haven't tried that in the crock pot ... yet).

Until the next time, May the road rise up to meet you. / May the wind always be at your back. / May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. /And until we meet again, /May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

... and may your guinea pigs give you much joy :)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Can a person really survive on $25 a week?

I was reading this blog awhile back and I was 1.) chuckling [because I've done it before and some weeks, lived on even less] and 2.) wondering if they had access to a crockpot.

Yes, it is hard to live on $25 a week. However, there's four weeks in a month (give or take). So, that's $100. With a little planning, one can avoid eating the same thing every single day - granted, it will be meager, it won't be 5 star quality, and there will be times when you want to strangle your co-worker for bringing fast food into the work place, but it is possible to eat cheaply and still eat relatively healthy without starving (although if you had $50 bucks a week, you could get your five servings of fruit AND vegetables per day!).

With a bit of research, I learned about the Depression diet and figured out some good modern-day staples: peanut butter, rice, beans, cheese, eggs, frozen veggies (usually cheaper than produce and has more vitamins and good stuff than canned!), frozen fruit (or, canned fruit on sale), dried milk, sugar, flour, and avocados (for a healthier alternative fat). The cheapest meat today, depending on which sales you hit, can range from chicken to turkey (which is cheaper than hamburger!) - pork is often hit and miss (it's either cheap or it's not). An investment in a crockpot means you can purchase the really cheap, crappy beef and turn a tough hunk of meat into a chewable, edible, and moist hunk of meat :) Yes, there's also canned tuna - but I hate fish and, unless I am faced with ultimate starvation, refuse to eat it. It's just not good to my taste buds unless I can smother it in mayo and sweet relish (which would totally throw off my $100 budget unless I could get the stuff at a fast food restaurant - you know, those little packets filled with various chemicals and high fructose corn syrup? Ick!).

I'd have to go back to the Giant's to gather up some prices, but the basic idea is to get your fruit in the morning (orange juice - cheap if you go with store brand or even cheaper if you can pick up a sale on either store or name brand) with perhaps an egg and some toast (if you can afford the ingredients for gluten free bread - those who can eat store-bought bread do not know how lucky they are). Or, mix rice with sugar and reconstituted milk. Or, there's oatmeal or there's the brown rice puffs which can be picked up at Whole Foods for a buck and some change.

For lunch, grab some peanut butter and jelly. Or, pasta with canned tomatoes (Del Monte's getting pretty crafty with their salt-free tomatoes and if you watch the sales carefully, you can pick them up at Giant's for a buck a piece!). Snacks can be bananas (combine that with some peanut butter - mmmm!) or whatever fruit or veggies are on sale. Or tuna fish wrapped up in tortillas with whatever condiment you can borrow from the local fast food chain. Be creative (without breaking the law)!

Dinner? Simple rice and beans. Or whatever meat's on sale turned into a poor man's stew (meat, potatoes, onion, and carrots in water with may be a bay leaf tossed in if you have the extra money). Or cabbage stew (cabbage, whatever meats on sale, and one of those stew packages if you have the extra money or, if not, then a carrot and onion) and chicken stock (or just water if you're really broke). Garlic is a very cheap seasoning - I get those really big jars found in the international aisles for $2.70 on a bad day and $2 on sale. Various dried seasonings and spices can also be found in the international aisles (and, yup, that's the same aisles as the rice and beans in most grocery stores!) for about half the price of the McCormick spices in the baking aisle.

For desert, just throw some flour together with some sugar, oil, eggs and whatever else you have on hand and bam! Brownies (esp. if you have cocoa) or cake or pies [Need I remind anyone of Ritz "Apple" Pie?]. For those who are gluten-free, an investment in all-purpose gluten free mix is a good investment (bonus: with a jar of yeast, you'll have bread all month!). A little investment in some basic staples pays off in the long run!

With just a few simple ingredients, you can easily mix & match the above ingredients and create an endless option of meals for $100 a month. But, it does take a good dose of self-control (especially when the all important ice cream is on sale, sigh), time and dedication to cook at home and scrounge for sales and coupons. It's obviously easier to live as a single person than a family of four on $100 (duh) per month. It's difficult, but not impossible.

Who here tries to live cheaply? I'd love to hear your stories!

Until the next time, may your guineas bring a smile to your face and give you a reason for getting out of bed in the morning other than just to feed them!

Monday, February 15, 2010


Here's the cost of my first two meals:

Easy Chimichangas Thanks to the CrockPot

1 1/2 lb of meat: 5.59 [saved $2.81!] - used half ($2.80)
salt and pepper: free
1/2 cup of water: free
1 diced onion: free
3 heaps of minced garlic: $0.02
I can tomatoes and chiles: $1 – used half
I can diced tomatoes: $1 – used half
brown rice tortillas: 2.69
Avocado: $1
1/4 of Giant's salsa: $.50
1/2 can of olives: $0.75
Shredded Kraft's Mexican cheese (about 1/4 cup): $0.38
Sour cream: $1.22, 2 servings (4 tablespoons): $0.15
Total cost: $9.29 / 4 meals = $2.32

California Casserole

1 1/2 lb of meat: 5.59 [saved $2.81!] - used half ($2.80)
1/2 cup of water: free
1 diced onion: free
3 heaps of minced garlic: $0.02
I can tomatoes and chiles: $1 – used half ($0.50)
I can diced tomatoes: $1 – used half ($0.50)
Remaining Giant's salsa: $3.5
Remaining olives: $0.75
Remaining shredded Kraft's Mexican cheese (about 1/4 cup): $1.62 [I had a “buy $5 worth of Kraft products, get $1.00 off, so $1.62]
18 corn tortillas: $1.20
Festive Bean & Corn frozen veggies: $2.49
Total cost: $13.38 / 6 = $2.23

Turkey and Rice

Turkey: $4.99 [since I bought one, got one free - $2.50]
Brown rice: $0.65 [Got it from the bin @ Whole Foods)
pepper and salt: free
Chicken Stock: $1.99
Giant's brand (3 cheese) – 3/4 of package: $2.00 [$1.75]
3/4 of package of the pepper stir fry (Bird's Eye, frozen veggies): $2.39 [$2.00]
Frozen broccoli, Giant's brand: $2.50

Total: $11.39/6 = $1.90

Augratin Potatoes
Potatoes [I think I used about 3 lbs of potatoes for this gig, so I figured the price to be around 30 cents per pound ($3/10 lb), so $.90).
Chicken: $2.95 [I got one package for $5.89 and the second one ($5.04) for free. Minus 2 dollar coupon for buying meat and I got $1.95 per package!]
Kraft cheddar cheese: $2.99 [Had $1 coupon, so $1.99]
1 1/2 sticks of butter: $0.93
6 tbsp of gluten-free flour: $.40 [I use Namaste's Perfect Flour Blend]
2 tsp dried thyme: free
2 tsp salt: free
4 tsp of mustard: free
1 tsp black pepper: free
3 parsnips: $0.94
green onions: $0.99
1 pint of heavy whipping cream: $2.69
1/2 cup of Silk Creamer: $1.79 [$0.45]
1/4 of Pepper stir fry (Bird's Eye, frozen veggies): $0.59
Frozen broccoli, Safeway brand: $2.79 [So Giant's IS cheaper than Safeway!]
Green beans, Whole Foods brand: $1.79 [compared to the Bird's Eye green beans, which cost me a whopping $2.69!]
1/2 package of the Bird's Eye green beans: $1.35 [The other half was used for lunches, along with the 2.50 baby frozen carrots, which I could have picked up a $0.80 bag of fresh carrots and just steamed them and saved myself $1.70 ... sheesh!]
Total: $17.76/8 = $2.22

Chicken Enchilada Chili

Chicken: $1.95 [I got one package for $5.89 and the second one ($5.04) for free. Minus 2 dollar coupon for buying meat and I got $1.95 per package!]
1 and 1/4 cans of salt-free tomato sauce and other ingredients for gluten-free enchilada sauce: $1.80
2 cans of salt-free Del Monte's bell pepper, onion & celery: $2
1 cup of pinto beans: $2.30 [I threw in fifty cents for the olive oil, garlic, vinegar, and various spices]
1 onion: free
2 tsp of chili powder: free
1 tsp cumin: free

Total: $8.05/5 = $1.61

16 Bean Soup

Package of 16 bean soup: $1
1 onion: free
3 heaps of garlic: $0.02
2 tsp of Mrs. Dash Garlic & Herb [Or, one lid full]: I can't remember how much this cost me when I bought it and so I'll just $0.35.
1 can of Del Monte's diced tomatoes: $1
Water: free
Salt: free
Total: $2.37/5 = $0.47

Sloppy Joes

Turkey: $4.99 [since I bought one, got one free - $2.50]
Sloppy Joe Mix (various spices): Um ... I'll throw in $0.80. There was brown sugar, corn starch, and various spices - most of which are free - so I'll be generous and charge myself $0.80.]
Tomato paste: $0.50
1 cup of water: free

Total: $3.80/4 = $0.95

Note: Each one of the containers holds enough for two sandwiches. So that's like $0.48 per sandwich! I bake my own bread and I've never honestly tried to sit down and calculate how much it is per slice of bread... Anyone want to take a stab at it?

So, if we don't total in the cost of bread, the total cost of 34 meals is $66.04. Thanks to coupons and snagging good deals, I saved $12 on meat, $2 on cheese, $0.55 off of my soy milk and $.50 on my V-8 Splash (okay, so the V-8 and soy milk tech. doesn't count but whatever - it still adds up to $1.05 in savings!). KA-CHING!

Until the next time, may your guinea pigs sleep through the afternoon without a temper tantrum!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chimichanga Heaven

Today is V-day. Day of hearts, the color pink, and pollen-ridden flowers. And oh-so-lovely chocolate, which almost makes up for the pink hearts and roses. Almost.

So, I was planning out my month-long meals by visiting good ol' 360 Crockpot blog and I decided on the following:

Easy Chimichangas Thanks to the Crockpot I wanted something tasty and something to break the meatloaf cycle - and this, as it turns out, was the most excellent idea!

Crockpot 16 Bean Soup Because I always need a bean recipe to get me through the month (and I had all the ingredients on hand)!

Chicken Enchilada Chili [Because I had most of the ingredients on hand and this sounded easier than making homemade enchiladas. For the enchilada sauce, I went to Gluten-free Goddess and borrowed her Quickie Enchilada Sauce, subbing one boring ol' can of salt-free tomato sauce for the 28 ounce can crushed fire roasted tomatoes.]


Potatoes Augratin [Because I found that Safeway had a weekend sale on potatoes - buy 10 lbs for $3!!! So, I had potatoes on hand.]

How did I make these decisions? I first thought of what I had in the kitchen (canned tomatoes, onions, beans, rice, etc.) and then planned on the rough draft of my shopping list. Since I don't trust processed enchilada sauce, I added "salt free tomato sauce" to my list [Whole Foods usually has a good deal on these], and other necessities (like cream for the potatoes augratin). Then, I was shopping at Safeway for a "tide me over until Sunday, when I can start creating my meals for the month" meal and I saw that ground turkey was on a "buy 1 get 1 free sale" [which gave me the idea to try my hand at making homemade sloppy joes] and then, poking around in the meat department for my chimichangas, I saw a most excellent price for the meat (I saved 2 dollars and some change for over a pound and a half of a beef roast!). To add to my excitement, Giant's had chicken on a "buy 1, get 1 free" deal for Perdue chicken. I then rounded out my meals with the basics: cheese, Giant's salsa, olives, corn tortillas, and frozen veggies (which, thanks to my short-circuited brain, I picked up two packages of green beans - do'gh!).

Since I had left over meat from the chimichangas (a few of the brown rice tortillas fell apart), I used the meat to make a Mexican lasagna - or California casserole as the recipe on the olive can read - and layered corn tortillas, the meat mixture, salsa, and cheese and topped the whole thing off with cheese and olives. I thus have 6 more meals for this month :)

More tomorrow - I'm doing a two-day cook instead of a one-day cook for this month because I really, really wanted chimichangas and I need the crockpot for three meals. Thanks goes to Uncle Sam and, additional thanks to a good deal at Target, I got a brand new 3 quart Crockpot for $14! Not only is it shiny and pretty, but it gives me more room in the kitchen to cook (and with less time)!

All in all, I spent $100 for a month's worth of dinners. That's $25 per week, or $3.57 per meal! I'll get back to you with the exact totals [because, this month, I saved the receipts ;-)].

Until my next post, may your oldest guinea pig give you his very first guinea kiss and may your youngest guinea pig wear himself out by doing laps in the kitchen!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Week 2: Beans, beans, the magical fruit ...

Hello my fellow readers!

I am back after a brief absence. It all started out with a flat-screen monitor falling on my hand while typing at work which left me only able to type for work for a good two weeks, rounded out to a nice distracting week in Florida for Christmas, mourning my step-grandpa who died the Monday after Christmas, and I'm just now coming back to freezing cold temperatures and snow. Ack!

And now ... a three month budgeting hell! PEPCO's being a jerk and charging me $245 for electricity - and I was gone for one of those weeks. Not only that, but they normally charge me $180 and, yes, that's with the heat on. And then I needed all the godly household goods, like toilet paper and Downy and body wash (which Target seems to be having some killer sales lately - even beating Walmart!). Which means I have about $300 to spend on food this month. Eeek.

With the Christmas "gifts" I got from a co-worker gluten-free pasta, a thing of 365 gluten-free bread mix, and some of Bob's Mighty Tasty breakfast stuff, I should be able to get through this month. Next month is a whole other ball park and to which I am not allowing myself to panic over just yet (February and March mean 80 hour checks, which are a pain in the neck simply because they're not 88 hour checks - blah!). Although these generous gifts stretch the budget, they're not food food.

That's where beans and rice come in handy. Giant's has been friendly and having either canned or frozen veggie sales each week (or, if I real lucky, both). So, this week I will write about how I'm freezing beans because Giant's has one pound bag of various beans for only one measly buck. Which means for 3 bucks, I can have enough beans to last me all month AND gas out my poor co-workers (sorry in advance!). Once I combine the generous gifts and my poor excuse for a food budget, then I will something worthy of two weeks worth of meals - and a non-hungry employee is a happy employee :)

Luckily for me, I have public television. Not only that, but I was bored one night and PBS had some Italian something or another cooking show on and it happened to be about beans (or some Italian soup with some beans). Anyhoo, I figured out how to properly soak and cook beans. Apparently, if you don't want your beans drying out during the cooking process, then you best soak them overnight (duh) in salt (dur - what?). I don't normally cook with salt and so I forgo the salt. Apparently, you can wash the salt off of the beans before cooking and, as long as you remember to not add any salt during the cooking process, you're good to go as far as the sodium content goes!

So, tonight, as I prepped the beef stew (I got the beef stew cubes for like $2.35 at Whole Foods but, anyway, more on that later!), I decided to get out my beans that I bought. To prep them:

1.) Spread your beans out on a cookie sheet (I use about half the bag, or one cup). Throw away any wrinkly or broken beans, stones, or other foreign objects that don't look like a bean.

2.) Place beans into a colander and rinse in warm water.

3.) I forgot the ratio of salt to water, so I got down my Kosher salt and added a tablespoon of salt to about two cups of water. I need to do more research on this, but, so far, it's working (knock on wood) and I will report the results upon after eating my beans. Dissolve salt in water.

4.) Place beans in salt bath. Let soak over night.

5.) Before cooking, rinse the beans really well. Add beans to Crockpot. Fill Crockpot with enough water to cover the beans.

6.) Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for four hours. Drain the beans. Either freeze or use in any recipe.

Or, just go to 365 Crockpot. She has a nifty picture and there's some good info on red kidney beans to be found. Which is a good thing, because I plan on making a batch of chili tomorrow! I'm also freezing some pintos (more on that later, too, so stay tuned!).

Until the next time, may your hibernating and your cranky, "I'm-Not-Sleepy-And-So-Not-Hibernating" guinea not fight!