Roast pork loin with garlic

Roast Pork Loin With Garlic

Roast pork loin with garlic

Roast pork loin with garlic, so pretty–so tasty–so easy!

This is a very simple recipe–barely a recipe, really–that I put together while on vacation this summer. I wanted an easy dinner I could cook in our rental condo that didn’t require a lot of ingredients that I wouldn’t use up before we went home!

So play it loose. You can use pork loin, as I did, or you can use pork tenderloin. You could add fresh herbs or ginger, whatever you like–or if you’re staying at a rental house, you might have a bunch of “interesting” ingredients at your disposal. Salt and pepper is necessary, of course.

Roast Pork Loin With Garlic

You need:

3 lb pork loin (I used two 1.5 lb pork loin “cutlets,” or you could use pork tenderloin)
10 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Drizzle of olive oil (or a bit of butter)

Preheat your oven to 425. Place your pork on a rimmed baking dish or sheet and rub with the garlic, then sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil (or top with a little butter).

Roast for approximately 35-40 minutes, until done. I didn’t have a meat thermometer (vacation rental), so I took my pork out on the early side and cut into it to make sure it was cooked through–but not overcooked. Don’t overcook your pork, modern grocery store pork has so little fat in it that it goes tough and dry easily.

When it seems just done, take it out of the oven, cover with foil, and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes. Slice and serve!

Happy Wednesday! I Missed You All So Much

good-and-cheap.jpgYay! It’s not Monday, and it’s after lunchtime, but I finally have a scrap of time to blog and I’m taking it. How are you? What have you been up to? Is summer treating you well?

Summer has kicked my . . . hindquarters thus far, with GeekCraft Expo PDX debuting June 11-12 and the Doubleclicks heading out on their #MassiveTour (prompting me to launch about a million press releases). Plus, now that Sid is out of school, I have him full time, except when I’m ferrying him to his summer camps.

But it’s been worth it! GeekCraft Expo PDX, that Etsy-Meets-Comic Con curated geeky craft show, attracted 4,500+ attendees in its first year, completely obliterating my stress dream of being stuck in an empty hotel exhibit hall staring at the other GCE organizers (who I met in person for the first time at the show) and exhibitors while they glare at me and wonder where I went wrong. Instead, we surpassed my personal goals, the items for sale were incredibly awesome, and everyone went home happy! Whew.

The Doubleclicks’ tour is going strong: make sure to follow them on Twitter for pics and check out their YouTube channel for videos!

More links:

Food

I picked up Good and Cheap at the library, and I am in love with this cookbook. It was originally the capstone project of Leanne Brown, who wanted to create a cookbook of delicious, healthy recipes accessible to those on a SNAP/food stamp budget of $4 per day. As regular readers know, I’m obsessed with reducing our grocery budget (FYI: I totally sucked at that this month), but also, I love that this book encourages people to use what they have on hand, rather than sticking to strict recipes–the essence of good cooking.

Cooking for yourself is one of the easiest ways you can save money (I calculated that a ham and cheese sandwich–even without sale items–is about $2, compared to at least $8 for a non-fast food lunch out), and it’s a way to control the quality of the nutrients you put in your body. Healthy food can be cheap! There’s a free, downloadable PDF on Brown’s site, but if you buy the book, she donates a book to someone who needs it.

Speaking of food, it’s getting hot in Portland. I’m going to compile a full list of good hot weather food, but for now, check out AllRecipes’ super-easy kalua pig in a slow cooker. This is delectable, savory pulled pork that is dead easy to make and doesn’t heat up the kitchen (although your house will smell awesome).

Fashion

Remember that J Crew Factory dress I blogged about that was an alternative to the $500 dress I was drooling over? I bought it! And it fits like a dream! I’ll try to do a 10-item summer wardrobe post tomorrow.

Geek Stuff

Like I would forget. First, you’ve probably seen this everywhere since the PR was so good, but Chuck Palahniuk announced that he’ll come out with Bait, an adult coloring book, in October from Dark Horse! Let me just say I have some insider knowledge on this, and it is good. Also, I probably can’t read some of the stories.

Portland’s geek-folk sister duo the Doubleclicks might be on their #MassiveTour now, but they’ll be back in Portland July 19 at the Doug Fir! This is a 21+ event, but they’ll also be playing an all-ages show at the Tualatin Public Library (my childhood book haven!) July 24.

Tomorrow! I’m going to write that 10-item wardrobe post, by hook or by crook. Then, I’ll be prepping for a family vacation to Wyoming. Part of my (improbable) prep: giving myself the gift of a clean house to return to. Pray for me!

Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

I Cut Our Food Bill By 44%–Can America’s Cheapest Family Get It Lower?

Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

Lots of good tips, although I may have to work my way up to buying chubs of ham and asking the meat counter to slice it for me (their solution for expensive lunch meat).

So I’ve been making a Monthly Meal Plan menu and grocery lists for four months now–yay! I stopped posting my spreadsheets every month because I figured you’ve got the gist of them, but you can find past examples here.

Overall, planning out our menu has been very successful. We’ve averaged a monthly savings of 29.4% on groceries compared to our previous six-month average, plus we’ve saved 32.7% on restaurants. That means our average monthly food savings is 44%–which is insane!

But you know me: I figure I just cut the waste I should have had under control long ago. Surely there’s a way I can peel another 11% off our groceries, right? So I went to my beloved library and checked out Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family, by Steve and Annette Economides, which had a lot of tips–some useful (create a price list), and some ridiculous (go out to eat at hospital cafeterias, I kid you not).

I don’t want to lay out all of their tips here, but there were a couple that struck a chord:

  1. Create a price list. I was bragging to Sid last week that I bought avocados on sale at five for $5, and he asked, “What do they normally cost?” Yup. Grocery stores advertise lots of “deals,” but if you don’t know the relative price of, say, a gallon of milk, how do you know you’re really getting a discount? The Economides (yes that’s their real name) have a “buy price” for almost anything–they won’t buy, say, chuck steak for more than a certain price, and if they find it at a deep discount, they stock up. I realized I shop at WinCo because the total bill is cheaper, but I really had no idea how much things generally cost off the top of my head. It’s going to be tedious, but I’ll be using my receipts to build a price list of all the things we buy regularly.
  2. Shop around. I really disliked the idea of this–I like to make grocery shopping simple, and usually just go to WinCo once a month (to stock up) and to Fred Meyer weekly for produce and dairy (because it’s close and I like it). I didn’t want to be slave to the weekly ads! But the book pointed out that every store has “loss leaders,” aka attractive items at rock-bottom prices, to get people in the door. Why not read the ads and see what I could find?
  3. Plan your monthly meal plan around grocery deals. This is so simple and obvious I should have been doing this before. Instead of making menus off the top of my head, I will definitely at least check our stores’ online ads and see what’s on sale.

I kept these ideas in mind this month and realized that Safeway (not my favorite store) was having a special on boneless, skinless chicken breasts (something we eat every month) at $1.69 a pound, compared to $3.29 a pound at Fred Meyer.

Because I’ve been keeping track with my monthly spreadsheets, I knew we ate four pounds of chicken breast per month. So I went and bought eight pounds, and separated and froze them all (note: I didn’t just buy chicken breasts–I did all my weekly shopping there, concentrating on loss leaders). The next time I was at WinCo, I checked out their prices: $2.69 per pound! So I saved eight dollars.

Of course, saving eight dollars over two months is not terribly exciting–gee, what’s that, a dollar a week? But that’s also only one item on my list. I’m hoping that by shopping a little smarter and using my freezer more efficiently, the savings will add up.

So . . . am I crazy? Just a little crazier than normal? I’ll keep you updated (on both our savings and my tenuous mental health). Got any tips? Post them below. And be honest: who among you have eaten at a hospital cafeteria . . . to save money?

Monthly Meal Planning Take 2: Bulk Overload

Meal Planning Zero Waste

So many lentils and beans. And almonds! Next month . . .

So I dusted off my old Monthly Meal Planning spreadsheets last month and gave them a spin. Overall, it was pretty great: not only did I feel more prepared at mealtimes and waste less food, but we saved 25%–even though I threw a Super Bowl party. Yay!

However, when I started planning this month, I realized I still had some issues to work out: mainly, the jars and jars of dry bulk food in my cabinets. I love to purchase beans, grains, etc. from the bulk bins with my own bags! My problem: I am a terrible judge of how much we actually need. Plus, I decided to make mason jar mixes as gifts for Christmas and really went overboard.

So, Challenge #1: create a menu that would use up my surplus, focusing on:

  • Black beans
  • Lentils
  • Couscous
  • Pecans
  • Oatmeal
  • Sundried tomatoes

Challenge #2 was I wanted to still save 25% or more over our average monthly grocery bill, yet I wanted to splurge for Valentine’s Day with steak and lobster tails. However, I think Challenge #1 will actually make that quite easy, since we’ll be eating so many things we already have on hand.

Challenge #3 is that we’re having house guests this month for a couple of days. Yay! My problem is I always want to go a little bigger when guests are here. Just yogurt doesn’t really seem like an adequate breakfast! The other issue is one of our guests is a pickier eater and doesn’t care for vegetables. But this is actually something I can really work with. I mean, I’ve already gone through Sid’s picky period. And really, this is just an excuse to make a lot of comfort food like meatloaf (with Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix) and homemade macaroni and cheese (with the rest of the Velveeta from the Super Bowl party.

So here’s what I came up with! You can download my February Meal Plan here. You can also peek back and download my January Monthly Meal planning spreadsheets here.

If you haven’t read my previous posts, here’s the deal: I make a meal plan for the entire month, create a shopping list, and sort it by store, department, and week. I try to buy almost everything for the month in Week 1 at WinCo, because it’s the cheapest, and freeze all of our meat, etc. That mainly just leaves weekly dairy and produce, which I buy at our Fred Meyer grocery, which is closer and more convenient.

This month went according to plan, except . . . when I went to WinCo, I discovered that I had someone lost my list of like 53 items. Aargh. With no other choice, I buckled Sarah into our cart and went to work. When I got home and checked against the list, I was surprised–I had remember 51 things! Clearly, writing everything down and having an idea of what I was going to cook helped a lot. But still. What a dumbass.

We’re in the middle of Week 2 and going strong! Here are links to several of the recipes we’re making this month:

Banana Wheat Muffins
Black Beans with Couscous and Avocado (recipe calls for brown rice but I subbed)
Brown Sugar Oatmeal Cookies
Butter-Poached Lobster with Orzo
The Best. Coffee Cake. Ever.
Curried Lentil Soup
El Dorado Casserole
Lipton Onion Soup Meatloaf
Shells & Cheese (With Bacon & Peas)
Spaghetti Squash Noodle Bowl with OMG Sauce
Tenderloin Steak

Is anyone else trying to plan their meals? What have you done in the past? Comment below!

 

 

Monthly Meal Planning Update: How Much Did I Save?

FritoNachos

Yes, this is a combination Frito Pie/nachos plate. Jealous?!?

Whew! We finished our first Monthly Meal Planning experiment–yay! I wanted to give a brief overview and share my boundless wisdom. You know, things like, don’t go crazy in the bulk aisle (spoiler: it’s too late for me). But first, I’ll go through my original goals.

Feed my family a variety of meals: Survey says: yes! It helps that my Monthly Meal Planning spreadsheet has categories like Soup, Pasta, Tacos, etc. While I did scrupulously freeze our leftovers and serve them later in the month, it didn’t feel like too much of a repeat to eat the same thing twice in a month.

Choose recipes that have common ingredients: I did accomplish this to some degree. Most of the pasta dishes involved spaghetti, for example, and a couple dishes called for ginger and cilantro (two things that are notorious for going bad in my fridge).

Go only once a month to WinCo: I love WinCo, but it’s at least a 40-minute round trip in the car. Unfortunately, I did not go to WinCo once–I went a second time after deciding, at the last minute, to throw a Super Bowl party.

Save time (both cooking and doing dishes) by making large quantities of meals and freezing/rotating them: Making double recipes of muffins and freezing half of our spaghetti sauce and taco fixings did help to a degree. If I were willing to eat the same thing more often, this would have gone better.

Be as zero waste as possible by shopping from the bulk bins using my own containers, and by shopping wisely and selecting common ingredients (see above) so I use everything up: I did have much less food waste–both stuff going to the compost bin, and fuzzy surprises in the fridge. Yay! Plus, buying from the bulk bin and using my own cloth bags and other containers cut down on trash (mostly just related to dairy and meat).

But Did I Save Money?

In our last thrilling installment of Monthly Meal Planning, we were on track to save 35%–but then, the Super Bowl party. Since I entertain all the time, I thought this would actually be a good measure of how much I could actually save in a typical month. But I did go to WinCo (mama didn’t raise a fool).

The final numbers? We saved 25% over our typical grocery bill (the average of the past six months). Not too shabby!

Other Things I Learned

  • Um, I need more snacks. The chocolate almonds I bought the first week? Only lasted that week. And then I needed Totino’s.
  • We consume about six large cans of frozen OJ concentrate each month. We used to always run out of orange juice, but I forced myself to do the math and buy a whole bunch at once. Yay, vitamin C! No more scurvy!
  • If you want to eat tacos every week, you need to buy enough tortillas to last through the month. Damn you, math!
  • My son likes plain yogurt with jam. And he’ll eat it really fast.
  • A quart of bulk maple syrup costs $25. That is insane. Although it looks like it will last at least two months, so . . .
  • Most importantly: I think I used to be loathe to buy enough, say, OJ to last all month, because I was worried about spending too much money. But not needing to make emergency trips for one or two things actually saved us money–because I wasn’t tempted to make impulse purchases or buy more things to make the extra trip “worthwhile.”

So overall, this was a success, and I’ve already planning out the next month and done my big WinCo trip. Stay tuned . . .

Totino's Party Pizza

Monthly Meal Planning Update: Where’s the Totino’s?

Totino's Party Pizza

I love my lobster and caviar, but I must . . . have . . . Totino’s.

We’re on Week 4 of my Monthly Meal Planning experiment, and overall I’m pretty happy, except for one thing: I forgot the Totino’s.

Yes, I have a not-so-secret love of Totino’s Party Pizza (combination, thank you), but I have a couple rules for eating them: one, I have to eat the whole thing. I am not sharing. I will make you your own! Two, I never buy them when I’m grocery shopping! So I ended up asking Scott to pick some up after taking our babysitter home the other night.

Here’s my update on Week 3:

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 4.06.54 PM

Menu

Week 3 meals we did eat: grilled cheese and tomato soup, Sid’s chicken with pasta and veggies, salmon with veggies, tacos with ground beef and refried beans (freezer leftovers from Week 1, moved from Week 4), ham and cheese sandwiches with fruit and carrot sticks, blueberry muffins (freezer leftovers from Week 1), banana-spinach smoothie (moved from Week 2), pancakes with fruit and sausage, yogurt with honey and granola.

Week 3 meals we didn’t eat: Spaghetti with veggies (now I can save it for next month), pork and pineapple tacos with refried beans (ditto), kale smoothie with pineapple and banana (moved to Week 2), fruit with chocolate almonds (we ate all the almonds), Cowboy Cookies (ditto).

Week 4 shopping: There were a few additions to the list (toilet paper), but everything went according to plan.

Pros: Again, I never have to worry about what to make for meals–which makes it easier to resist any last-minute impulses to go out to dinner (sushi).

Cons: I’m happy about the time I saved by making double batches of muffins and alternating blueberry and bran week to week, but I’m fantasizing about what’s next–I’m bored! Hopefully this will help me plan next month.

Money

So, I did my official Week 4 shopping, and we officially saved 35% compared to our average monthly grocery bill. But! I have decided to host a Super Bowl party this Sunday, which falls within my 30-day timeline, so we’ll have to see where we really are next week. I would keep it separate, except I entertain all the time, so it must be included in the monthly average.

Going Forward: I’ll be putting together a full write-up of my experience with Monthly Meal planning, and updating our overall expenditure once the Super Bowl party is included (I’m going back to WinCo to hedge my bets).

Monthly Meal Planning: Eat Better and Save Money & Time

 I’ve been in a rut after the holidays–feeling stressed, uninspired, and like I’m always playing catch-up with my grocery shopping. I love to cook, like, I love to cook, but it was getting to the point where I couldn’t even figure what to make for dinner. I felt like I was spending too much money, wasting food, and just generally working way too hard. So I decided to brush off my old Monthly Meal Planning spreadsheets (something I started working on last year) and use them this month.

Plus, I’m sharing them with you: one, because hopefully they might help someone else, but two, I would love feedback on their usability, etc. Help me make them better!

Download my Monthly Meal Planning spreadsheet now, and then I’ll break down my method. Note: This is an example, not a complete list of items you would need to make all of these meals. This is because I had some items on hand, so I didn’t need to buy them.

This is a six-page Excel workbook that I’ve found very helpful. But first, as with any project, you should establish your goals. Here’s what I’m trying to accomplish:

  • Feed my family a variety of meals, but:
  • Choose recipes that have common ingredients
  • Go only once a month to WinCo (an amazing, large, cheap grocery store we have with dozens and dozens of bulk bins that is a 20+ minute drive for me, hence the once-a-month schedule)
  • Save time (both cooking and doing dishes) by making large quantities of meals and freezing/rotating them
  • Be as zero waste as possible by shopping from the bulk bins using my own containers, and by shopping wisely and selecting common ingredients (see above) so I use everything up

Here we go!

Menu

Monthly Meal Planning

As you can see, I plotted this out via several categories, beginning with dinner (which is my top priority). To help jog my creativity and make meal planning easier, I try to choose a pasta or rice dish each week, a taco (Taco Tuesday!), a soup, a meat or other entree, and seafood. Monday is devoted to either Kraft Macaroni & Cheese with a vegetable or grilled cheese and tomato soup (or something else I have in the freezer that is virtually instant). I like Mondays to be easy. As a rule, I only plot five or so dinners per week, because we may go out to dinner or eat leftovers.

Lunches are basic–I pack a bag for my husband and feed myself and Sarah sandwiches or leftovers.

Breakfast is my crucible, so planning really helps me. Categories include muffin or cake, smoothie, griddle, or yogurt. I used to have eggs in here, but I’m not a huge fan and our son Sid’s been saying he hates eggs, so we’re taking a break.

Snacks are pretty self-explanatory–for me and Scott to munch on, and for Sid after school. Desserts are also standard.

You’ll notice that some things repeat every couple of weeks this month: spaghetti, salmon, muffins, sandwiches, cookies. I’ll be making large batches and freezing them (and freezing half our fish and lunch meat) for simplicity’s sake.

Master Shopping List

I can only show you a small portion in the screenshot–this ended up being a list of 83 items! In addition to food, I went through and figured out what items we needed for cleaning, personal care, etc. I then added categories for stores (I’ll be shopping at four places: WinCo, the People’s Co-Op–I can get oils and such in bulk there–Fred Meyer, and Flying Fish, our local fish market), department, how much I need, and what week I need to buy it. Then I sort by week, store, and department.

I try to buy as much as I can in Week 1: non-perishables and freezables, weekly dairy and produce, etc. Then in Weeks 2-4, in a perfect world, I’d only need to pick up the weekly dairy and produce at the store. It never works out that way, but I can dream . . .

Week 1 Shopping

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 4.08.31 PM.png

I then copy and paste each week’s items in their own spreadsheet. Again, I can only show a small portion of Week 1–it contains a whopping 59 items. The only thing I would do to improve this is to move the departments around to mirror how the store is actually laid out–produce, then deli, then meat–but I’ll continue to refine this until it’s just the way I want it–then I can save it and pull it out every couple of months and save myself some work. In an ideal world, I would have four or five perfect months planned out that I could rotate and update, depending on what I have on hand.

Week 2 Shopping

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 4.08.43 PM

I won’t bore you with screenshots of the rest, I just wanted to show you the difference in the rest of the month–11 items in Week 2, baby! I’m living the dream! I’m only buying cavatappi pasta at Fred Meyer’s because they don’t sell it at WinCo and it’s my son’s favorite.

Sunday I went out to WinCo and did Week 1’s shopping. While I bought tons of food, including a whole chicken, four pounds of chicken breasts, two pounds of shrimp, ground beef, Italian sausage, bacon, breakfast, four pounds of dried beans, 25 servings of fruit–and on, and on–it totaled about a quarter of what I usually spend on groceries in a month, so I’m hopeful!

So what do you think? What changes would you make? I’ll continue to blog weekly and let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I’ll link to a bunch of the recipes I chose, in case you’re interested!

Banana-Spinach Smoothie
Chicken Soup With Rice
Chicken Hash
Coconut Braised Spinach With Chickpeas and Lemon
Cowboy Cookies
Coconut Curry Spaghetti Squash With Shrimp
Free French Vegetable Soup
Kale Smoothie with Pineapple and Banana
Pumpkin Smoothie
Refried Beans
Roast Chicken and Potatoes
Sid’s Chicken
Spaghetti
Strawberry-Flaxseed Smoothie

Sumptuous Spaghetti Sauce

Yes You Can: Make Sumptuous Spaghetti Sauce

Sumptuous Spaghetti Sauce

Can you hear it calling?

I’m about to do you a favor. You’re going to use my Grandma Forsythe’s spaghetti sauce recipe for the rest of your life. You’re going to pass it down to your children–and they’ll pass it on to theirs. This is why:

  • This spaghetti sauce is amazingly tasty
  • It’s super easy–it just needs simmer time
  • Also: quite cheap
  • You don’t need a lot of tools: a cutting board, knife, frying pan, pot, and spoon should do it
  • It will make your house smell amazing

This is one of my go-to recipes that has seen me from my first apartment in college to present-day dinner parties with out-of-town guests. Everyone (who eats meat) loves it!

I’ve altered the recipe just a tad over the years–the original called for vegetable shortening and garlic salt. Also, this is actually part of my Grandma Forsythe’s fabulous lasagna recipe–and it is fabulous, rich and delicious and perfect for potlucks or families with new babies. But making lasagna is a pain, and making spaghetti is easy and still quite rewarding. So let’s get to it.

Grandma Forsythe’s Sumptuous Spaghetti Sauce

Makes enough sauce for at least two pounds of pasta

You Need:

2-4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 large (28 oz) cans tomato sauce
3 teaspoons dried oregano
3 teaspoons dried basil
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup water with bouillon cube (I usually use a cup of water with a teaspoon of beef “Better Than Bouillon,” or a cup of chicken stock, or water in a pinch)
1 lb ground beef
1 lb mild Italian sausage

Warm the olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Saute the onions and garlic until soft. Add the next six ingredients. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours, partially covered.

In a frying pan, saute the ground beef and Italian sausage until cooked through. Drain and add to the sauce. Simmer for another 1 1/2 hours, partially covered.

Put a large pot of water on to boil, and then cook spaghetti according to the package directions. Toss with sauce, then top with a little additional sauce and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Lasagna Variation

Serves at least 12

You Need:

1 lb ricotta cheese
1 lb mozzarella cheese
Parmesan (unspecified: I use at least 1 cup)
1/2 box lasagna noodles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil lasagna noodles according to package directions and spread out on cookie sheets. Place 1/4 of the sauce in the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ pan. Place a third of the noodles over the sauce and top with 1/2 of the ricotta and mozzarella, and 1/3 of the parmesan. Repeat with 1/4 sauce, 1/ 3 noodles, 1/2 of the ricotta and mozzarella, and 1/3 of the parmesan. Finish with a layer of noodles, the remaining sauce, and the remaining parmesan cheese. To make ahead: refrigerate at this point if desired.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes (longer if refrigerated). Let set 20 minutes before serving. Mangia!

Your Potluck and New Baby Go-to: El Dorado Casserole

Juanitas Tortilla Chips

I don’t have a casserole picture! I’ll have to take one next time. But use Juanita’s chips, if you can!

El Dorado casserole was so prevalent in our family growing up that I refused to make it for years–especially when I got into Martha Stewart and “real cooking” in college. This was a main dish made with crushed tortilla chips and canned sliced olives! I certainly could not make it for other people!

But El Dorado casserole is comfort food in the extreme–beefy, creamy, cheesy, salty, and crunchy.

I believe this was either my Grandma Benge’s or Great-Grandma Potter’s recipe, and it was always the go-to dish when I was a child. Mom liked to make it when we were expecting out-of-town company, which I never understood as a young adult–couldn’t we make something fancier? Now I see: it appeals to virtually anyone, feeds a crowd, and can be ready and waiting to pop in the oven at a moment’s notice–especially handy in pre-cell phone times, when we were never quite sure when our road-tripping guests’ car would pull up.

My snobbishness about El Dorado casserole cracked when I made it as a backup dish for a huge dinner for a group (it is awfully handy). My friend Caroline glared at me as she scarfed it up, demanding, “Why haven’t you ever made this for me before?!?”

So make this and bring it to potlucks, freeze it and gift it to baby-having friends, and–of course–use it to welcome out-of-town guests and torment teenage would-be foodies.

El Dorado Casserole

Serves 8-12

You Need:

1 lb. ground beef
1 Tbsp. minced onion (I usually use a whole onion)
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup sliced ripe olives
1 cup sour cream (I accidentally doubled this once and I’ve always made it that way going forward)
1 cup cottage cheese (ditto)
1 4-oz. can green chiles
Monterey jack cheese, grated (there’s never been a published measurement, just have at least 2 cups)
1 8-oz package tortilla chips, crushed (I just start crushing chips–Juanita’s, of course–from a big bag and layer as needed)

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Brown meat in a pan and add onion, garlic salt, and tomato sauce. Combine the next four ingredients in a separate bowl.

Place a layer of crushed tortilla chips in a greased 8″ x 13″ casserole dish. Layer on half of the meat mixture, top with half of the sour cream mixture, and then sprinkle on a layer of cheese. Repeat with chips, meat mixture, sour cream mixture, and cheese. Top with additional chips.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. We usually had this with salad on the side, and if we were at my Grandma Benge’s, she would make sure to save any leftover (dressed!) salad in the fridge, which I attributed to her living through the Depression. Listen, I said I was snobby already.

Taco Salad

Taco Salad: Your Post-Cinco de Mayo Cleanup Recipe!

Taco Salad

I admit, I ate a couple bites before I remembered to take a photo. It’s that good!

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Today, people of Mexican descent celebrate the Mexican army’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla back in 1862. And the rest of us? Well, we use it as an excuse to consume tacos and margaritas. But what about after Cinco de Mayo, when your fridge is stocked with the spoils of your taco fest? That’s where my taco salad recipe comes in.

This year, to make meal planning easier, I’ve instituted a Taco Tuesday every week. We’ve happily eaten crispy chicken tacos, shrimp tacos, pulled pork tacos, etc. However, I realized that when I made the “traditional” Americanized ground beef and refried bean tacos, I had a lot of leftovers that would languish in the refrigerator. One pound of spiced ground beef + three to four cups of homemade refried beans – six small tacos between the three of us = a lot of waste.

Enter the taco salad! While of course we could just make tacos again, a properly made taco salad is a delight, and an excellent way to put a new spin on leftovers. The key is in getting all of the different temperatures and textures just right: cool crispy lettuce, warm meat and beans, tangy dressing, creamy avocado, crunchy tortilla strips, spicy salsa–yum, I’m drooling right now! Plus, it’s super easy.

Now your taco salad could look very different than mine–it just depends on what you have on hand. What really brings this together, in my opinion, is the dressing and the crispy tortilla strips. Here goes!

Post-Cinco de Mayo Taco Salad
Serves: However Many You Can Feed

For the salad:
Lettuce
Taco meat
Refried beans
Shredded cheese
Salsa
Avocado
Chopped red onions
Cilantro
Dressing (recipe below)
Tortilla strips (how-to below, or use tortilla chips)

On a plate or shallow bowl, layer your lettuce and sprinkle with part of the onion and cilantro. Drizzle with a little dressing. Warm your beans and meat (I tend to just do this in the microwave) and layer some over the lettuce. Add cheese, salsa, avocado, more onions and cilantro, and more dressing. Top with tortilla strips or chips and eat immediately!

For the dressing (multiply as needed):
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons plain, full-fat Greek yogurt (or sour cream, or regular yogurt)
1-2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar, to taste (or lime juice)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper

In a small bowl, whisk the mayo and yogurt together, then add red wine vinegar to taste. Whisk in the cumin and cayenne, and add salt and pepper to taste.

For the tortilla strips (multiply as needed):
Vegetable oil
Corn tortillas (1/2 to 1 per salad), cut into 1/2″ strips

In a small frying pan, add about 1/8″ of oil and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the tortilla strips in one layer (do multiple batches if you have a lot, don’t crowd them). Fry for a minute or two per side, stirring with a metal slotted spoon. Remove to a plate to drain, then use while still warm.

Other excellent additions to your taco salad:

  • Seasoned rice
  • Corn or other sauteed vegetables
  • Olives
  • Green chiles
  • Swap out the meat and beans for grilled shrimp

As you can see, this is a super-easy, super-flexible recipe that you can make your own, and enjoy a fresh, new bonus meal while using up those leftovers–before they end up down your garbage disposal.

Are you a taco salad aficionado? Do you have other clever ways to gussy up your leftovers? Share them below!