Thursday, June 24, 2010

Just Not What I Grew Up with

There are certain things you should just not mess with.  I have written about my Granny's recipe for Mac and Cheese before on this blog.  To me, it is what Mac and Cheese should be.  I would describe it as dry - meaning it is not made with a bechamel sauce.  It is the easiest mac out there (the blue box does not exist in my world).  So, tonight, I went up against all my preconceived and correct notions about this dish and went for a new recipe. 

The recipe from Cooking Light for Stovetop Mac and Cheese (with chicken sausage) was not bad, it just isn't what I grew up with.  It could not be much more simple to put together, but the taste and texture is just not what I grew up with.  I did, however, enjoy the addition of the sausage (it brought a nice flavor).  By the way, this dish works well when cooking for 2.  There's enough for dinner size portions and a little bit leftover for lunch the next day.

Grocery Challenge: Week 1

Last night, I went to Henry's Farmers Market to get most of the groceries required for this week.  I got lots of great produce and a couple indulgence items (we don't normally get these, but they were a great price).   I got Drew a couple of things for a treat - grapefruit juice and all-fruit Popsicles; and I got a some orange juice for me.  But the best deal of the night goes to eggs - organic, free range brown eggs, to be more exact.  They were marked down to 2 dozen for $4, I had a coupon, making them $1 a dozen.  When they rang up at the register, I found out the regular price is $4.99 a dozen - what a GREAT deal!  The grand total was $21.38!  Not bad for most of the week's grocery needs.

Tonight, we stopped by Walgreen's and CVS to get some great deals and ended up buying bread, jell-o, Chex mix, 4 packages of Life Saver Gummies, and a pack of Reese's Pieces.  The total for these items was $8.99. 

This brings me to TODAY'S TIP:  Think outside the grocery store for grocery items.  You can often find basic grocery needs at places like the drug store and the dollar store.  Often you can combine a manufacturer's coupon and a drugstore coupon to increase your savings.

UPDATE: On Sunday, we had to stop by Ralph's to get a couple items for Sunday night's dinner.  While we were there we got some items for Week 2.  I separated out the items and the total for items for Sunday's dinner was $9.90. 

Grand Total for the week's groceries: $40.27.  Not bad.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Let Me at It...oh, Wait...

We got back today from our modified staycation (e.g. free nights at a local hotel) and I was ready to sprint to the store and get started on our All You Grocery Challenge.  In my opinion the first trip to the store, sets the tone for how the rest of this challenge is going to go.  So, I had my coupons, had my list, had everything I needed.  And then...I was attacked with stomach cramps that I have been looming for the last 24 hours.  They make me in the mood only to lay and hope someone will come along and take out my insides because I am sure I don't need them any more. 

Which brings me to what I have been thinking about regarding this challenge.  Always be ready with PLAN B.  Drew, unbeknownst to me (due to my prone passed out state), went to the freezer, grabbed one of the many convenience freezer meals we have (purchased on sale, with a coupon, and got a giftcard, thank you), and made dinner!  What a wonderful husband I have! 

So my tip for the day: Be prepared for plans to change.
This can mean having convenience foods on hand to make for a day when you are under the weather. 
This can mean having snacks in your purse, when the day stretches a little further than you were expecting. 
If you have a secondary plan, it will prevent those desperation trips to the drive-thru and help preserve your waistline!

Check back tomorrow for details of my late-night trip to the grocery store. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Back to School

I have always been a sucker for back to school.  I love the search for new school supplies, the difficulty of remembering your locker combination, the newness of teachers on the first day.  My brother and I used to "play school" every year, a few weeks before school was about to start.  While we ate breakfast or on the way to school, my dad would lecture us again about the importance of getting a good education.  He trained us to believe that school was our job; school was for learning, not for socializing.  So, I have always approached school as sacred: pay attention, get your work done, don't pass notes (and don't write on your hand!). 

When I was a kid, we moved a lot and I started at a lot of different schools, not always on the "first day."  I was forever introducing myself, hoping to find someone to sit by at lunch, and adjusting to different teaching styles.  It was different to move that much, but it prepared me for later in life.  When I was a young girl, I spoke so softly, that people constantly had to ask me to repeat what I had said.  I was painfully shy.  I still am today, but I have learned to overcome it by being thrust into new situations so often. 

So, yesterday as I got ready for another "first day of school," I was thinking about all the same things I thought about when I was growing up: will I do well? will I find somebody to connect with? will they think I am a total loser?   But, I was also thinking that this would be different than any other school experience I have ever had before.  This would be a hands-on, get-knowledge-where-you-can-get it experience.  This would not be the one where notes were passed while the lecturer droned on and on.  This would not be the read 100 pages and write a three page report kind of class.  And I was excited!

I walked into my Professional Baking class last night, met my fellow students, and got to work.  The lecture was a little long and the practicum was short, but I really am looking forward to the coming weeks.  Things I learned at class last night:
The proper way to wash dishes (in a restaurant)
How to work with ratios in formulas (not recipes) to work with the ingredients you have
How to crack an egg (and to think I have been doing it wrong all these years)
How to separate an egg (been doing that right!)
How to measure and weigh ingredients

Next week, we are learning quick breads and cookies.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Birthday, Happy Father's Day

My dad has the special distinction of celebrating his birthday on or around Father's Day.  When we were kids, we had such a hard time coming up with what to get him for both occasions.  I remember very distinctly getting my dad a pair of gardening gloves when I was 9.  I thought this was the perfect gift and he, being a professional landscaper, found it amusing.  I was not so amused at his amusement - I was heartbroken that he didn't like my gift (I now know that it was strange,akin to giving a vacuum cleaner to your mom for Mother's Day).  Many years have passed and I have gotten a little better at figuring out what makes a great gift.  Part of what makes a great gift, is a great meal.  So I decided to make dinner and invite Dad over for a Dad's day/birthday celebration.

The recipe for last night (Penne with Sausage, Artichokes, and Sun-dried Tomatoes) was from Giada's Family Dinners by Giada De Laurentis.  I have rarely used this cookbook because Drew is not so much on the pasta.  I LOVE pasta and so I have to have a relationship with it at arms length or Drew will not be able to get his arms around me.  But, hey, we were celebrating, so why not? 
After going to the store to shop for this pasta, I was unable to procure artichokes as prescribed in the recipe (it calls for frozen), so I decided to use some asparagus we already had on hand.  I also did not use white wine in the recipe, I just used more chicken broth. 

The resulting pasta was very good, very flavorful.  Delicious.  I took two servings (I told you I LOVE pasta).  Dad really liked it too, which was the goal for the night. 

Happy Birthday, Dad!  Happy Father's Day!  So thankful you are my dad and my friend - the relationship we have is something special, something unique, and something I cherish!  God bless you this year!

Menu Plan Monday: Week of June 21 - 27

We have a crazy week ahead of us!  This marks the beginning of the All You Grocery Challenge and the first day of school for me.  I am taking a Professional Baking course (more on that tomorrow) and I am so excited about what I am going to learn.  We are also taking advantage of two free nights at a local hotel.  To top that off, we are hoping to have some family over later this week to celebrate yet another birthday!  So, with all that in mind here is the plan*:

Monday:  Breakfast: yogurt and fruit
Lunch: leftover pasta (from last night)
Dinner: snacks we are taking to the hotel (my class is tonight)

Tuesday:  Breakfast: TBD
Lunch: TBD
Dinner: out at a restaurant (we have a gift card)

Wednesday: Breakfast: TBD
Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Mushroom and Bacon Stuffed Trout, Grits and Greens

Thursday: Breakfast: oatmeal or yogurt and fruit
Lunch: English Muffin Pizzas
Dinner: Stovetop Mac & Cheese

Friday: Breakfast: oatmeal or yogurt and fruit
Lunch: Tuna Garbanzo Salad
Dinner: Sopes, Sopecitos Con Chorizo

Saturday: Breakfast: Pancakes and Eggs (maybe some bacon)
Lunch:  Sandwiches
Dinner: on the way to a concert in L.A.

Sunday: Breakfast: smoothies before church
Lunch:  Sandwiches
Dinner:  Slow-Cooked Chile con Carne

*Best laid plans of mice and men..., etc, etc.