Day 3 – New Dishes

I love fresh fruit and vegetables in the summer and try to incorporate them in every meal. Frozen and canned come second to fresh but sometimes a mix is necessary. Most days I do a salad like this one:

but I find it hard to go several hours without protein. I suppose I could add tuna, a hard boiled egg or chicken to the salad but it’s not the same. I’d rather do a cold salad, no dressing with hummus on the side.

Day 3 – New Recipe

My dinner tonight also included a load of fresh vegetables: peppers, onions, zucchini and brown rice. It was a new recipe that mixed sausage (I can’t remember what I bought but I needed to use it up) with a bunch of vegetables and spices. It’s always a little risky trying a new recipe but you may be pleasantly surprised.

This recipe, a vegetable and sausage skillet, was just the right balance of starch, vegetables and protein. I didn’t add the spices so I just substituted with pepper and garlic salt. Serve over brown rice or just mix it up like I did here.  If I run out of rice I could serve the rest of this dish with pasta or couscous.

Action Step: Identify a substitution in a favorite dish

For dessert tonight I had a cup of coffee with french vanilla creamer. But when the coffee got cold I was in the mood for ice cream. So mixed up vanilla ice cream and the last of my coffee. It’s back in the freezer now to firm up – hopefully it tastes good!

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Day 2 – Breakfast is Served

If I had a nemesis, it would be breakfast.

It is just so difficult for me to fight my way out of bed in the morning (especially with an 80 pound dog who tries to sit on me) not to mention be coherent enough to provide myself with sustenance.

Day 2 – Start Small

Normally I don’t go out for breakfast, I just don’t eat it. The only benefit of working in an office I mourned was loss of my morning coffee. But I also hate making it every day at home. So every few days I make a pot of 10 cups of coffee and put half in the fridge. This morning I had a simple breakfast: oatmeal, orange, coffee.

idiot proof breakfast

This morning I mixed a packet of oatmeal with flavor added to a quarter cup of regular oats. Add hot water. Done.

The best thing about oatmeal is that it requires mindfulness. If you leave it for 20 minutes while answering emails it gets cold, hard and icky. When the premade packets run out I might make my own using this guide from the Simple Dollar.

I took the cold coffee from the fridge, added some milk (expires today – eek!) and then a little creamer to add flavor.

the best part of waking up...

I started rinsing and saving my coffee cups so I could take smoothies to work and not worry about cleaning the cup. Now I use these one more time to drink my morning coffee cold.

Action Step: Check out fridge items with short life spans NOW

After looking all the way in the back of my fridge, the doors and the easily ignored drawers I found out I’m having a salad for lunch!

 

Day 1 – Getting Started

Getting started on any new project is fun until you realize that you may not know where to start. So I’m going to make this easy if you’ve never tried to eat entirely from your pantry for any sustained amount of time.

Day 1 – Clean Up

Commit to the fact that you’ll be spending time in your kitchen. Maybe more time than you’re used to. So you should start by cleaning it up so it’s a place you want to work. If you walk into the kitchen and think ‘ug, let’s order pizza instead…’ that’s a bad sign. The challenge is an adventure, not a punishment.

For me this means doing the dishes (there’s always dishes in my sink!), cleaning out the microwave and then wiping down the counters. I also took some time to put away my Fall-ish decorations and put away things on my counters I don’t use every day.

Action Step: Set the timer for fifteen minutes and just clean something!

Tonight I wiped down the cabinet doors (jeeze, I spill too much) and then cleaned off the fridge doors. Best thing I’ve found is a Mr. Clean Eraser, those things are awesome.

embarassing how dirty these get

Other things to try

  • empty the utensil drawer and clean the organizer
  • take everything off one shelf and wipe it down
  • go through the spice drawer/cabinet/shelf and throw away expired spices
  • refill your salt and pepper shaker
  • start a list on the fridge with food expiring in the next week
  • sweep the floor and/or mop
  • wipe down the window sills
  • move out non kitcheny things like the mail, your camera, phone chargers

Then, if you’re ambitious, take one step to prevent the bad habit that bothers you most from returning. For me that’s the dishes. When I do get ambitious and cook up a frenzy I’m excited to eat and never follow through with the dishes. Until my parents come to visit. My dishwasher is broken so it’s really up to me.

I just took a break to find a blog post by Leo at Zen Habits that I meant to read, never clicked on but wanted to include here. It’s worth reading and it’s a practice I want to incorporate this month: Wash Your Bowl.

Don’t think that the only way to keep your kitchen clean is to never step foot inside. Take a few minutes to mindfully decide what you’re going to eat for your next meal (hopefully from home) and plan for it, including the clean up.

Tomorrow: breakfast is served!

Empty the Pantry December

Well I’ve decided today, for the second year in a row, to empty my pantry in December. Or as close as I can get.

I picked up some food today and have a breakfast scheduled for Friday but other than that no food related outings on my schedule.

It can be really interesting when I start eating out of the pantry so I’ll do my best to keep this saga updated here. The worst (for me) is no coffee. I have a ton of it at home, and the fancy creamers, but it’s just not the same. Sad.

This year I’m going to keep an ongoing “January Shopping/Stock List” running on my fridge so I don’t forget what I don’t have.

*

Now that I think about it, aside from Christmas presents, I pretty much have all I need at home already. The dogs have plenty of food (and treats!), I am not lacking for clothes or entertainment and  I have plenty.

There are a few planned purchases on the horizon

  • iPad purchase (swap with my mom)
  • Christmas tree
  • Final gifts & shipping

So let’s see how close to $0 I can spend this month outside of my usual $1200 ish for expenses. It’s nice to go into the New Year with a fresh slate!

 

Rescue Dinner Recipes

On Friday The Empty Kitchen issued a challenge. Easy to follow recipes with easy to find ingredients, adaptable for vegetarians and oh yeah, they have to taste good too.  It’s a good thing (for them) that I’m competitive! While I don’t use these recipes often enough I find that they’re infinitely adaptable to diets, veggies and the pickiest of children.

1) Taco Bar

Start with bowls. Big bowls. Then go down the conga line of yummy ingredients that make your favorite taco salad or bean dip.

I suggest:
lettuce (chopped)
black olives (sliced)
tomatoes (chopped)
cheese (shredded)
chips (pulverized)
ground beef (hot and crumbly)
or chicken (hot and chunked)
salsa
thousand island dressing

Everyone gets a bowl and makes their own mix. My brother loves thousand island, I prefer salsa. It’s a great way to use up the pieces of chips in the bottom of the bag and the meat is completely optional. Cheese can be any variety, pepper jack is good to try as well as regular cheddar. If you don’t like olives, don’t add them. If you can’t find lettuce at your grocery store then you’re an idiot.  This is a great recipe for the Empty Pantry Challenge because you can use what you have on hand and omit what you don’t.

2) Gnocchi, cheese & veggies

I just met gnocchi in 2008 and couldn’t even pronounce the dish when ordering (that’s why I prefer to point to the menu). But yummmmm.

Pick out a package at the grocer and follow the instructions. It’s very much like cooking pasta: drop in boiling water, stir, remove.

Then comes the fun part: dressing it up. You can add to some milk and cream of mushroom soup and top with mushrooms and cheese. Or just serve with butter. The possibilities are endless.

Serve with a side of steamed zucchini or squash.

3) Grilled Vegeta-bob

soak wood kabob sticks in water for 10-15 minutes
spear a variety of vegetables
drizzle olive oil and season lightly
grill

I love these suckers. My favorite vegetables to grill are zucchini, squash, mushrooms, peppers, onions and chunks of tomatoes.

4) Fajitas – like burritos but fancy

Tutorial here including ideas for zucchini & rice

Extra Credit: 7 layer vegetarian dip for pita chips

Layer 1: refried beans
Layer 2: avocado spread
Layer 3: mix 1 cup sour cream, 1 cup mayo & taco seasoning to taste
Layer 4: shredded cheese
Layer 5: diced tomatoes
Layer 6: black olives
Layer 7: chives
chips work fine but it’s a pretty heavy dip if you get all the layers in there. So Simply Naked pita chips are lovely for this purpose.

Tonight, well tonight I have a sore throat and need to do my taxes so I suppose my dinner will consist of hot tea, honey and maybe some frozen strawberries.

Once A Month Cooking

Crystal over  at MoneySavingMom and Jessica at Life As Mom are hosting a virtual “Once A Month Cooking” session.  This is the first time I’ve participated and decided to do the majority of my work on Sunday since I’m working Monday before prepping for Tuesday’s class.

My first dish was chicken alfredo pasta using up leftover chicken from the crockpot.  That went into the oven and I mixed up brownies (from a mix) and twenty minutes in tossed some goodies on top:

Brownies with chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.  Probably won’t last all month…

Then I finished up another pasta dish, this one heavy on the vegetables.  I’m thinking about grilling up the steak from the freezer this week if the weather holds out.

Tomorrow I’ll finish up my cooking “day” with scrambled eggs since I’ve got a short time to finish up nearly 2 dozen eggs and brownies only use so many eggs.

While I’m nowhere near an expert at this type of cooking it does help save money because instead of stopping at the grocery store I know there’s food ready at home. Plus cleaning out the pantry is always a money and time saver for me!

Chicken or Beef?

*warning pictures and recipes ahead*

Ah, the eternal question of brides and cooks everywhere. Chicken or Beef? After a hectic morning I came home to a suspiciously full fridge and started cooking.  While I started with chicken it’s not done yet so I’ll post about the beef.

Hmmmm beef.  Open up the package and pull out the strips (mine came pre-sliced for the same price as whole), separate them into a bowl and make sure none of the meat sticks together.  I counted 40 slices of beef in my package of .77 lbs. I decided to season my beef so I pulled out the packets from the spice cabinet. I keep them bundled together so I don’t lose or spill them.

Here are my options:

Despite having a half used taco seasoning and half opened fajita seasoning I went with the garlic, herb and wine mix (far right) and it was perfect. Add a dash of olive oil and mix.  About the time I started to season the beef I put the pan on the stove and heated it up. If you wanted kabobs to  grill you can skewer the meat:

But I ended up throwing it in the pan:

While the meat is cooking I start to slice the vegetables. I separate the onions and peppers from the zucchini because zukes take longer to cook and I don’t like burnt peppers.  Zucchini are cut in half twice and then into strips:

Drizzle in some olive oil and a little bit of Mrs. Dash seasoning.  While the meat finishes I start cutting the peppers. Unfortunately I only have fresh red and orange peppers so I have to pull some green and yellow from the freezer.

Again, mix with a very small amount of olive oil and stir.

By this time the beef is done cooking so I set it aside on a plate keeping the juices in the pan.

Add the zucchini to the pan and de-glaze it by scraping the pan clean.  The zucchini sautees for about 10 minutes on high heat. This is a really good time to start your rice and or beans for the fajitas.  Black beans or pinto are good, white rice is a nice side dish.

After the zucchini has cooked for awhile I add water, lower to medium heat and cover the pan.  How much water? A coffee cup full. Not a big mug, just normal sized.

Let that really cook the zucchini the rest of the way and then set aside the zucchini and save the juice.

The juices are so yummy, people! You can use it to season rice or a pasta dish. So many options, so little juice.

Now that the pan is empty again toss in the peppers and onions. Same speel, sautee until soft and set aside.  It helps to clean as you go, wash out the  measuring cups and mixing bowls and clean the cutting boards.

I was a little bored at this moment so I took a picture of my salt & pepper shakers:

I also have watermelon and corn on the cob sets. Anyway, pretty soon you’ve got plenty of veggies and meat for fajitas so load up a tortilla and dinner is served!

I opted to add some juice and a bit of zucchini to white rice on the side.

There’s plenty of veggies for other meals, they mix well with pasta or as a side dish.  Also easy to substitute chicken fajitas if you’ve got a chicken in the crockpot (I do!).  In fact once that chicken is done in the crockpot I’ll post again another recipe, how to de-skin a bird and my favorite soup. Don’t worry, I had canine supervision the entire time. My dog Jackson didn’t come in the kitchen though, he had the perfect view from the couch:

this is a look that clearly says “I don’t trust you with knives or hot objects and I’ll leap over this arm the second you drop something on the floor”