sushi

No-Dine-Out February?!?

sushi

Farewell, sweet sushi! Picture from Haru Sushi.

Reader, I swear this seemed like a great idea right after Christmas. Like most Americans, we had spent too much money. I (specifically) had eaten too much candy. I was feeling undisciplined. And wasteful! What better way to get back on track, I thought, than to pledge to not go out to eat for an entire month? February seemed like a good pick–the shortest month of the year, I don’t need to be a hero–but also, it seemed so far away, back in January! Now it’s here, and I need a plan.

Crunching the Numbers

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like it would be too much of a change–looking at our spending on Mint over the past six months, we go out to eat an average of 12 times per month. This usually includes:

  • 4-5 brunches (I admit, I love not cooking breakfast on the weekends)
  • 3-4 lunches (usually my husband, on those days I don’t pack him a lunch)
  • 3-4 dinners (either sushi, Burgerville, or pizza delivery)

Currently, eating out comprises about 33% of our monthly food bill, with groceries totaling 61.5% and coffee shops about 5%.

The Goal

My goal for this month: to virtually eliminate our restaurant expenses without increasing our overall food budget by more than 10%.

The Exceptions

One: we are going to Great Wolf Lodge for a night this month. While we’ll bring food for breakfast/snacks, we’ll most likely eat dinner there. Two: getting a coffee and a pastry at a coffee shop is allowed, but I’m going to try to limit that to once a week at the most. Three: if I go completely crazy and cannot bear to cook one night, we can go get Burgerville.

The Plan

This is where I’ll put my monthly meal plan to the ultimate test. I’ve been using it for a year, so I just need to make sure to populate it with food I’ll be excited to eat–and cook–all month long!

Looking at when and where we typically eat, I can clearly see my weak spots. First up: I honestly dislike making breakfast and enjoy going out on the weekends. The solution? I’ll add things like cinnamon rolls, bread pudding muffins, and individual egg breakfast cups to our monthly meal plan and freeze them–then I can put breakfast on the counter to thaw at night and warm it up in the morning!

Second: While I’m pretty good at packing lunches for my husband, I’ll need to be extra vigilant this month. Making them the night before is best–I’ll need to get back in the habit.

Third: It’s a little eerie how we almost only go out for (or get delivered) three things: sushi, Burgerville (a regional fast food restaurant here in the Pacific Northwest), and pizza (although we do get Thai occasionally). This is because if I’m going to go out, I’m going to get things I either can’t or don’t want to make myself (homemade pizza is a paaaaainnnn). So I’ll be experimenting with oshizushi (pressed sushi) this month. As for burgers, we’re already covered–I received the Bob’s Burgers Burger Book for Christmas, and we’ve pledged to try a new burger every other week (so Sid doesn’t miss out). As far as pizza, there’s always Totino’s. Aw yeah!

But What About Burnout?

Yes, I love to cook. But even I have nights I just don’t feel like cooking. To combat burnout, I’ll be stocking up on go-to convenience foods like Kraft macaroni and cheese, Campbell’s tomato soup (with grilled cheese, of course), fish sticks and tater tots, and Seven-Can Soup. But I’ll also be making big batches of soup and freezing them for last-minute dinners.

Valentine’s Day

Actually, I think it’s been years since I’ve gone out to dinner on Valentine’s Day. As a former server, I think that’s for suckers anyway–too busy, too expensive, etc. Instead, I’m going to follow a Valentine’s Day menu from Martha Stewart (although I’ll probably do cherry pie for dessert).

So . . . wish me luck! I promise I’ll come clean if I fail miserably. And if you have any tips for me, post them below!

Great Balls of Cheese

Happy Monday: Gilmore Girls, MSW & Cheese Balls

Great Balls of Cheese

Photo via Gluten Free Girl!

Happy Monday! It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these updates, but I’m delaying my Winter 2017 10-item wardrobe post until later this week. I decided I needed one more item, and I found something for $10 on ThredUp. Fingers crossed. To the links!

Current Events

The Women’s March took place this past Saturday, and estimates place attendance at 2.9 million. Even more amazingly–no arrests! I stayed home with Sarah here in Portland, but my husband went with our son and his former wife, and said it was an inspiring show of unity.

What got me a little choked up was seeing all of the Princess Leia-related Women’s March signs, especially so close to Carrie Fisher’s death. Carrie Fisher was an outspoken broad of the first order, and I feel like she would have approved.

What’s next? I thought The Atlantic had an interesting take, comparing the demonstration to previous protests in Russia and their aftereffects.

Cool Stuff

My amazing husband, Scott Allie, and our son Sid put together an epic Gilmore Girls/Murder, She Wrote crossover comic for me for my birthday, bringing Brian Michael Bendis, Mike Norton, Dave Stewart, and Nate Piekos together to help make it. It is one of the very best things I have ever received in my life. Sid wrote most of Jessica Fletcher’s dialogue himself! More details at Nerdist.

Gilmore Girls Murder She Wrote Comic

Amazing, right?

Every year for Christmas, my parents buy me a set of Soma pajamas and I love them so much. They are cute and comfortable and have pockets. This year I got some that are gray-and-white striped with a little silver, and I just noticed they are way on sale.

My friend Liza got me Great Balls of Cheese, a cookbook dedicated to cheese balls, and I am obsessed. I will make every single one of these!

Geekery

I’m expanding my role with GeekCraft Expo to include all of their upcoming shows (including some that haven’t been announced yet–yay!). I love being able to work with so many awesome crafters and see their nerdy goods! Exhibitor applications for GeekCraft Expo PDX 2017 are open until January 31, so make sure to fill yours out now!

I’ve also been really enjoying working with The Doubleclicks! You can check out their free online show 1/26 (with special guests the Library Bards), or catch their #NerdNightOut shows 2/11 in Seattle and 2/12 in Portland!

As regular readers know, I’m a huge fan of podcast Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men. I’ve just been invited to guest-host again next month, I’ll keep you posted! In the meantime, listen to their latest episode, which covers Excalibur’s Cross-Time Caper and the aftermath.

Phew! I hope you all are enjoying January. I must admit, I’m relieved to have the holidays over with. Portland got about 10 inches of snow and then some ice, which prolonged Sid’s Christmas vacation (which was actually pretty nice), but kept me housebound a little too long.

What have you been up to? Post below and say hi!

Confetti Bean Soup Jar Gift

Confetti Soup Mix Jar Gift & Recipe

Confetti Bean Soup Jar Gift

Confetti soup looks as pretty in a pot as it does in a jar!

Yes! I have finally given out 99.9% of my Christmas gifts (listen, we were all busy), so I can post pictures and how-tos without spoiling them! As you know, I love jar gifts, especially those with pretty layers, so I was excited to try this Confetti Soup Mix, which I found at Organized Christmas.

I have to say this was successful on all levels—it’s inexpensive, easy, pretty, and (most importantly) delicious! My directions to make the soup are a little different than Organized Christmas’s, so I thought I’d post them here. Also, I have some printable labels to share!

To Make the Confetti Soup Mix Jar Gift

You Need (to make 12 jars):

12 wide-mouth pint canning jars with lid and rings
3 cups each of seven different varieties of dried beans, peas, and lentils. I used the following, but you can use whatever you like:

  • Pink beans
  • Red lentils
  • Navy beans
  • Red kidney beans
  • Split peas
  • Black beans
  • Pinto beans

12 bouillon cubes (I used chicken and veggie)
12 bay leaves

Instructions

1. Wash and dry canning jars.
2. Layer beans in jars (this is especially easy with a canning funnel). Add 1/4 cup of each type of bean to the jars, layering the beans. Think about how the colors will look as you layer!
3. Place a bay leaf and a bouillon cube on top of the beans in each jar.
4. Seal each jar using lids and rings.
5. Add a label, if you like! My husband did the lettering for these and I scanned them into a template for these Avery round kraft labels. Download my Confetti Soup Jar Labels!

Confetti Soup Mix Jar Gifts

Confetti Soup Mix in a jar! Pretty!

Recipe for Confetti Bean Soup

You Need (four servings):

Confetti Soup Mix
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
6 cups of liquid—I used 4 cups chicken broth and 2 cups water
14-oz can chopped tomatoes in juice
Dried oregano and basil (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Remove and set aside the bay leaf and bouillon cube. Soak the beans in salted water overnight, or bring beans to a boil and let sit for one hour. Drain the beans.

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil and add the onion and garlic. Saute, stirring frequently, until softened. Add the remaining ingredients except for salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, about two hours.

Taste, then season with salt and pepper.

These are perfect for Christmas, hostess, and teacher gifts—and since beans are pretty much non-perishable, you can make a batch and keep them on hand!

Has anyone given this a try? Post below!

Happy New Year & Zero Waste Jar Gifts

jar gifts lentil soup zero waste

Filling my Curry Lentil Soup jar gifts with my trusty canning funnel!

Happy New Year everyone! Wow, I did even less blogging than usual over the holidays, partly because of GeekCraft Expo Seattle and working with The Doubleclicks, but also because my computer went down, and then when it was functional again, Portland had a snowstorm (and wicked icy roads) that prevented me from getting it for about a week. Plus, I’m crazy.

I also didn’t want to blog about the things I was actually making this year–I’m keeping that as a surprise until the Epiphany, which is when my friends and I usually exchange gifts. However! I did want to share the jar gifts I made last year. If you, like me, are a little behind in your gift giving and want something easy, zero waste (or close to it), and cool to give your friends–or you’re making a game plan for next year–pull up a chair!

Jar gifts are great: not only do they look cool and handmade, but they’re useful and quite economical. They’re perfect for the holidays, hostess gifts, teacher appreciation day, etc.

jar gifts zero waste

Supplies to Make Zero Waste Jar Gifts:

  • Jars. This is probably a no-brainer. You can save glass jars throughout the year, pick them up at thrift stores, or buy a box of them at the grocery store. The grocery store option will include some plastic packaging, but in a pinch, they’re convenient.
  • A canning funnel. This is an essential piece for creating jar gifts, and the best way to get pretty layers–it’s like a regular funnel with a much wider neck, so pouring things like beans or marshmallows neatly is easy.
  • Reusable produce bags or containers for shopping. I got almost all of my supplies from the bulk bins at my local WinCo. Not only was this incredibly cheap, but I had nothing to throw away afterward–especially nice around the holidays.
  • Scraps of fabric for decoration. I used pinking shears and cut squares of decorative fabric to cover the lids.
  • Card stock and twine. I printed up recipes for those items that needed it–soup mixes. etc.

Jar Gift Recipes:

These are all the recipes I used last year, ranked in order of “would I make them again.”

  1. Curried Lentil Soup: Winner, winner, chicken dinner! I loved this recipe and will keep it in the rotation. Not only was it very pretty in the jar, but the recipient doesn’t need to add much to make it (onion and garlic, perhaps broth), it can be vegan, and the soup itself is delicious and easy to make. Yummy!
  2. Sriracha Salt: This looked fancy and was useful. It only takes the second spot because it takes a couple days to dry before you can pack it up.
  3. Cowboy Cookie Mix: Everyone gets cookies around the holidays, but what about after Christmas and New Year’s? Now your friends can have something to tide them over. This was visually appealing and tasty, but the resulting cookie dough was a little dry.
  4. Classic Cocoa: This was very pretty and very tasty, but I wouldn’t make it again. Why? Because to use it, the recipient actually needs to dump it out, mix it up, and then put it back in the jar–silly and needlessly messy. I didn’t really think this one through.
  5. Almond Joy Energy Balls: I took this recipe and made it into a jar mix, layering the ingredients. I was, frankly, searching for something Paleo for some of my friends, but if I made this again, I would just make the balls and pack them in jar.
Jar Gift Lentil Soup Zero Waste

The winner: Curry Lentil Soup–so cute, and tasty!

The method is simple: line up all your jars, and have all of your ingredients, measuring cups and spoons, and canning funnel ready. To get the most attractive layers possible, I like to pour in each ingredient and then tap the jar on the counter to level it.

Cocoa Jar Gift Zero Waste

Layered cocoa is cute, but a loser for the giftee, I realized too late.

There are tons of jar mix recipes out there, and it’s also pretty simple to take a regular recipe and jar-ify it. My rule of thumb is to make sure your giftee doesn’t have to go out and buy a lot of things to actually make the gift, like meat. If the recipe needs extra stuff, it’s better if they’re pantry staples like butter or eggs. The recipe itself should be simple, too–you don’t usually want to give two hours of active cooking to someone, unless you know that’s how they like to spend their time.

Have you ever gotten a jar gift for Christmas or a hostess gift? Did you ever use it?

turkey enchiladas

Thanksgiving Recovery

turkey enchiladas

Image via Epicurious. Get. In. My. Belly!

Whew! And how was your Thanksgiving? Mine was wonderful and exhausting, but this morning, I was confronted with the reality that it was not over: I still had a turkey carcass in my fridge that had to be dealt with. So I put on a YouTube playlist (The Daily Connoisseur gets me motivated), pushed up my sleeves, and got to work, carving off and saving the extra meat and tearing apart the bird so I could make two pots of broth (we had a 20-pound turkey this year–huge!). As I worked I had the following random thoughts, which you might appreciate:

  • Next year I need to look for the baggie of giblets a little harder. My Dad discovered it (fully cooked, in paper) while he carved the turkey. Whoops.
  • I feel like I did not sell my Fresh Herb Stuffing recipe as well as I could have (seeing that I hadn’t eaten it in a year when I typed it out). Frankly: it is gooooooood. So good! So simple, so the fresh herbs take center stage. And the texture from the artisan bread was perfect: soft yet substantial, with toasty edges. Oh, I want more. My friend Mary-Suzanne used my recipe and added some dried cherries, which sounds fantastic.
  • Finally, after 41 years, I am over canned cranberry sauce. It’s too sweet. So I need a good whole-berry recipe–anyone want to share?

Okay, fess up–do you have a bird in your fridge right now? Don’t let it go to waste! I had to toss some leftover pie this morning and was very sad. Here are my plans to put our turkey to good use:

  • Turkey broth: I follow the guidelines for my chicken broth recipe, but I usually divide the bird between two pots and make double.
  • Mexican Turkey Soup: I use the recipe from Soup Makes the Meal, by Ken Haedrich, but this recipe from the New York Times looks lovely.
  • Turkey Enchiladas: This was a suggestion from a friend on Facebook–I love enchiladas, and I like to avoid traditional Thanksgiving flavors when I use up my turkey leftovers (see soup above)–it makes them more interesting.
  • Paleo Turkey Tetrazzini: I am not paleo, but my friend Melissa is, and she is fantastic at choosing recipes, so I’m excited to try this. My husband loves spaghetti squash and will be excited to eat more vegetables.

What are your Thanksgiving recovery plans? Do you have a whole-berry cranberry sauce recipe to share? Post below!

Thanksgiving Menu 2016

thanksgivingWhew! Do you like how I’ve posted more in the past few days than the past few months? It’s all been leading up to this: my Thanksgiving 2016 menu!

These are all tried-and-true, crowd-pleasing recipes that aren’t terribly difficult and are so worth it. Anyway, I’m pleased to have them all in one place so I can refer to this post next year!

Elisabeth’s Thanksgiving 2016 Menu

Alton Brown’s Classic Brined and Roasted Turkey – This is simple yet delicious! Includes a recipe for gravy. It does require a 5-gallon drink cooler (the kind you dump on your coach after the winning game). If you don’t want to buy one, check your local party rental shop, you can probably rent one for less than $10.

The Pioneer Woman’s Parker House Rolls – These rolls are buttery and amazing. I don’t shape the dough for Parker House Rolls, however–I shape them into two-ounce balls.

Fresh Herb Stuffing – This stuffing is delicious and has countless variations!

Mashed Potatoes – I actually don’t use a recipe (I boil about 1/2 lb of potatoes per person in salted water, rice them, and add cream, butter, and salt and pepper to taste), but this one is great!

Green Bean Casserole – The classic! My brother’s favorite.

Green Beans with Filberts, Fennel & Orange – Yes, I’m having two green bean dishes. However, this one is so wildly different from the casserole, I don’t think anyone will notice.

Cranberry Jelly – The ridged kind from the can–aw yeah!

Great Pumpkin Pie – Fortunately, I don’t have to make pie this year (my Mom is making her delicious pie), but when I make pumpkin pie, I use Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe from The Pie and Pastry Bible. It has a layer of ground gingersnaps and pecans at the bottom, and it is soooooo good.

I hope you enjoy my picks!

Green Beans With Filberts, Fennel & Orange

Thanksgiving! It’s less than a week away. I never worry about my menu, because guess what: my family likes to eat the same dishes every year, no matter what. Sure, I might try a new stuffing recipe or add a new appetizer, but if I take out the green bean casserole? It’s over. But I can usually add a new vegetable dish, and this year, it’s Green Beans with Filberts, Fennel, and Orange.

My friend Sara Proctor adapted this from a very different Ottolenghi recipe. It’s zesty and fresh and tart–the perfect thing to cut through the richness of mashed potatoes and gravy. Plus it’s delicious at room temperature!

Green Beans with Filberts, Fennel & Orange

1 fennel bulb, stems removed and thinly sliced, then quick pickled (see below)
2 cups green beans, stems removed and cut in half
1 small blood orange, zested and juiced
2 Tablespoons sesame oil (olive or any nut oil will work)
3/4 cup filberts, roasted (see below)
2 Tablespoons chopped chives
Lemon juice to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Quick-Pickled Fennel:

3/4 cup rice vinegar
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon peppercorns

Bring all ingredients to a boil, then allow to cool. Pour over fennel and let sit for at least 20 minutes.

Roasted Filberts:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  In an oven-proof dish, place filberts on the middle rack and roast for approximately 15 minutes, checking and shaking every few minutes. Once roasted, place in a clean kitchen towel and rub to remove skins. Roughly chop.

Main Recipe:

Blanch green beans in boiling water for 4 minutes, then shock in ice-cold water. Drain and towel dry. Place in a medium bowl and add chives, orange zest and chopped fennel. Mix.

In a small bowl, mix orange juice, sesame oil, salt and pepper, and a few squirts of lemon juice. Pour over green bean mixture.

Add filberts, toss, and serve.