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!

 

 

Macaroni and Cheese

Creamy Macaroni & Cheese With Roasted Tomatoes

Macaroni and Cheese

Oh baby . . . come to Mommy. Oh yeah.

It’s raining today, which is heavenly. Fall is my favorite time of year, especially for cooking. Soup! Casseroles! And, of course, macaroni and cheese.

I came up with this recipe when I needed to use up a bunch of cheese (I always have too much cheese on hand, it’s a sickness) and we’ve had a bumper crop of tomatoes and basil from the garden. It’s modeled on Ina Garten’s Mac and Cheese recipe, except it’s not baked (I prefer stovetop macaroni and cheese), and I use–gasp!–American and cheddar cheeses.

Listen: American cheese is simply the finest cheese for macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese, and I won’t hear anything different. It melts smoothly and doesn’t separate. Paired with a good sharp cheddar, it is freakin’ amazing! End rant.

Baby Macaroni and Cheese

Sarah’s portion–chopped up!

Since this macaroni and cheese is not baked, I decided to oven-roast the tomatoes with basil, garlic, and olive oil. The results were . . . sublime. My husband took one bite and told me I got my cheese mixture perfect for the sauce. Thank god I weighed everything so I can preserve this momentous achievement for everyone to share! Ahem. I get excited about macaroni and cheese.

Creamy Macaroni & Cheese With Roasted Tomatoes
Serves 4-8

You need:

6 oz American cheese (I used Kraft Deli slices, which at least aren’t individually wrapped), chopped or shredded
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 cups milk (plus more to taste)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb rotini (or your choice of pasta) or, use 1/2 lb pasta and save half the cheese sauce for cheeseburger mac, another recipe I will post soon!

For the roasted tomatoes:
1 lb fresh tomatoes, halved
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh basil, julienned
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lay tomatoes on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with basil, salt, and pepper. Roast for one hour. Remove, let cool, and reserve for macaroni and cheese.

Place a large pan of water on to boil. Heat the milk gently in a small saucepan, but don’t bring it to a boil. Melt butter in a second large pot or saute pan and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Remove from heat and add the cheeses, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Meanwhile, add salt to your large pan of boiling water and cook pasta until al dente. Drain and add pasta to your sauce, adding milk if necessary to achieve a smooth, creamy texture.

Spoon into a bowl and top with oven roasted tomatoes. Prepare to go to heaven!

Basil Egg Salad Sandwiches

Oh, egg salad. How I hated you as a child. And how wrong I was. Well-made egg salad is amazing, and so easy to make. Chances are, you’ll have everything you need right in your fridge–except, perhaps, the fresh basil, which really makes it.

This is the recipe I used for my Anne of Green Gables tea party earlier this month!

Basil Egg Salad

Makes 2 regular sandwiches or 8 tea sandwiches

You need:

Four large eggs
Best Foods or Hellmann’s mayonnaise, to taste (start with 1/4 cup and go from there)
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
4 slices firm white or wheat bread

Place your eggs in a saucepan and cover them with water. Bring to a boil, covered, over high heat. Once the water reaches a boil, turn off the heat and let the eggs sit for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare a large bowl of ice water. Drain the eggs and place them in the cold water for at least 10 minutes. Then, gently crack the shells all over and remove them under running water.

Dice your eggs and add them to a medium bowl. Add the mayonnaise, mustard, basil, salt, and pepper. Taste your salad and add more mayo, mustard, salt, or pepper if needed.

Spread your slices of bread with mayonnaise and divide your salad between two of them, topping your sandwiches with your other two slices of bread. If you’re eating them immediately, slice them in half and enjoy.

If you’re making tea sandwiches, cover the sandwiches and refrigerate them for at least and hour. Then, using a serrated blade that you wipe clean after each cut, slice off the crusts, then cut each sandwich into either four squares or four triangles. Enjoy!

Deluxe Basil Egg Salad

When I’m feeling extra fancy, I add chopped sundried tomatoes (which have been rehydrated in hot water) and chopped kalamata olives.

Quiche

Yes You Can: Make a Big-Ass Quiche

Quiche

This is not my quiche. My quiches are eaten too quickly for pictures. This is Martha Stewart’s quiche!

Fact: quiche is the best food you can make. It’s all the best things about an omelet, but with lots of cream and pie crust. You can eat it for breakfast. You can eat it for lunch. Dinner? Serve it with a salad. It’s delicious cold, warm, or at room temperature. Plus, it can contain almost any kind of leftover meat, vegetable, or cheese in your fridge. You must make quiche now!

Note: My son Sid just asked me, “What about mac and cheese?” So I must amend my earlier statement: quiche is the second best food you can make. But you should still make it.

When I need a large brunch dish or appetizers for a crowd, I like to take a page from Martha Stewart (O Captain! My Captain!) and make a big-ass quiche in a cookie sheet. It’s easy, tasty, and versatile. You can cut it into three-inch pieces for a luncheon, or one-inch pieces for a cocktail party.

Since I prefer to make up my own quiches (or use up veggies, meat, and cheeses in my fridge), I’ve developed my own rule of thumb for fillings: about 2 cups of sauteed vegetables/meat/seafood, plus 1-2 cups grated cheese. You can further adjust this to your taste: for example, you don’t need cheese (but why not?). So let’s get it started!

Large Quantity Pate Brisee–From The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook

You need:

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1/2 to 1/4 cup ice water.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.

With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Flatten dough into a large rectangle and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour.

Roll pastry on a floured board until it’s about 2 inches wider and longer than your cookie sheet. Press into the pan, folding down the edges and fluting them. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line crust with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights, dried beans, or uncooked rice; bake for 15 minutes. Remove weights and foil, prick crust all over with a fork. Return to the oven and bake 15-20 minutes, until light golden brown.

Now get ready for filling!

Big-Ass Quiche Filling–Adapted From Martha Stewart’s Entertaining Cookbook

You need:

3 cups heavy cream
9 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 large pinch nutmeg
Pepper to taste
About 2 cups of sauteed veggies, meat, seafood–whatever you like
1-2 cups shredded/crumbled cheese
Fresh herbs of your choice

Whisk the cream, eggs, salt, nutmeg, and pepper in a large bowl. Sprinkle your veggies/meat/seafood into your cooked crust. Cover with cheese. Carefully pour the cream and egg mixture over your filling in a slow stream (so you don’t disturb your filling ingredients). Bake at 350 degrees until puffed and golden, about 35-40 minutes.

Filling Ideas

Red, White, and Blue Quiche

One pint cherry tomatoes, halved
One large white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
About 6 oz gruyere cheese, grated
Crumbled blue cheese, to taste
Fresh chopped basil, to taste

Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add peppers, onions, and garlic. Saute until tender, adding salt and pepper to taste. Proceed with recipe above.

Quiche Lorraine

1 1/2 cups cooked bacon, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 cups gruyere cheese, grated

Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil (or bacon grease, if you’ve cooked the bacon that day). Proceed with recipe above.

Sausage and Apples Got the Blues Quiche

1 lb bulk breakfast sausage
2 large apples, cored and chopped
1/2 to 1 cup blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 to 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Fresh thyme, to taste

Saute the sausage in a frying pan, adding the apples when halfway cooked. Sprinkle with thyme when apples are tender but not falling apart. Proceed with recipe above.

Lox of Love Quiche

1 1/2 cups Nova lox, chopped
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
1 lb cream cheese, at room temperature
Fresh chives, snipped with scissors

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly browned.

Place the cream cheese in a large bowl and stir in the capers, chives to taste, lemon zest, 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle the lox over your cooked crust, and top with the onions and cherry tomatoes. Dot with cream cheese. 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half. Proceed with recipe above.

So there you have it! I encourage you to go rogue and use my general guidelines to make your wildest quiche fantasies come true (come on, everyone has at least one, right?), or to utilize all the leftover goodies in your fridge and pantry.

So what’s your quiche fantasy? Mine involves eating in the bathtub.