Friday, March 23, 2012

Sometimes, you just need a helper!

I really love having a weekly menu. I think that much is obvious. Lately though, we’ve come to a point in our lives where delegating certain things is best for the sake of sanity.
So, I turned to Professor Google and searched for organic weekly menu plans. One of the results was with a plan called Natural & Organic. Wait a minute… that name sounds familiar… they’re the folks who advertise on Dave Ramsey’s radio show (Rylee requests  we find his show when we’re on the road)! I looked at their site in the past, but wasn’t a fan of the menus heavy on prepared foods. Lo and behold, Emeals recently rolled out a Natural & Organic plan. It is available for Whole Foods or Other Stores. I chose the generic plan to use at Earth Fare and a few other local places for odds and ends. After using the coupon code on , a 3 month subscription was $17.85.
Rylee and I went shopping today for the first time using this service. The Monster Book of Monsters binder, augmented with a new menu section, in hand to keep us organized. Each week’s printout contains 2 sheets: 1) the menu featuring recipe instructions 2) grocery list divided by categories. I put these back to back in an old sheet protector. This enables me to mark on them with a dry erase pen. It was so nice to have a brain on paper that took me all of a minute to print and a few moments to review and note substitutions. One such substitution was  in a recipe calling for beef. Since I had a coupon for 75cents off ground turkey, I made that switch! I also had a coupon for our preferred brand of salad. I plan to use that in place of the head of lettuce called for since we routinely eat mixed spring greens for dinner. Easy peasy!
Tonight we plan to have Black Bean Burgers and Sweet Potato Fries. Tomato, spring greens, and cheese will be available for topping. I might even make some fresh green onion mayonaise and sweet chili ketchup. I’m hungry already!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Menu Plan: Clean out the pantry!

Ryan JAN12
That’s my love up there smiling. He puts up with me.
(You’ll see where I’m going in a minute…)
The past few months have been crazy hectic with us being out of town more than we were home. Hence the lack of posts & menu plans. Hockey season has been intense this year. Throw in caregiver arrangements for my Mother who lives a few hours away and the EE has been a glorified laundromat. We’re back now and my grand plans can recommence!
A while back there was a huge pantry/refrigerator/freezer purge and it was a great first step. The next step is removing boxes & bags from the kitchen. What do I mean by that? Convenience foods full of things we can’t pronounce and unnecessary ingredients. Prepared foods we can make from scratch in a frugal, timely and healthier manner.  The side effects for this step are simple, yet profound: intake of more fresh fruits & veggies, more accurate portions (3 people eating a box of pasta is not OK), less waste/recycling, save money (buying only what can be eaten in short order). At least that is what appears to be happening around here!
Step 3, transitioning to predominately organic or natural foods, is slowly happening with each grocery trip. I’m also looking into reducing the amount of gluten we regularly intake. I really want to make more of our bread at home, too.
The menu this week is about using up things as much as anything, so here are our options for supper:
~ cheddar brats, whole-grain chips, baked beans
~ 5 spice chicken & dumplings
~ minted lamb sausage & couscous
~ pepperoni tortilla pizzas
~ chicken alfredo gnocchi
~ pierogi, fried cabbage, fire roasted tomato & garlic sauce
~ We’re going to a pizza party one night, so that makes 7 meals!
Dinner usually consists of leftovers, fresh fruit & veggie plates, or sandwiches (egg, pb & j, grilled cheese). Breakfast options vary between cereal, yogurt with granola, grits, and oatmeal. Snacks tend to be things such as fruit, carrot sticks, tomatoes, crackers with pb or cheese, and a glass of milk.
Thanks for reading and being my conscience. accountability. friends!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Kaleidoscope Chicken Salad

*A Gracious Plenty*
A great recipe for company doesn’t need to be either difficult or expensive. A Gracious Plenty is a new feature at the EE. The intent is to help you build a repertoire of pantry recipes to feed 25 without breaking the bank or your sanity. Hospitality is one of the joys of being a Christian and yet intimidating to many of us. A Gracious Plenty will give you the culinary know how to prepare simple, even elegant, menus for your next get-together.
Kaleidoscope Chicken Salad is an excellent example of combining staples with a few fresh ingredients for a meal fit for casual entertaining! This recipe has received rave reviews, including “best sandwich ever.” I don’t know that it deserves such high praise, but I do think it is delicious! To round out the meal, serve Caesar salad and rich chocolate dessert, such as S'more Bites.
Kaleidoscope Chicken Salad
10 heaping Tablespoons mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons spicy brown mustard
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup fresh cilantro, washed, ends trimmed, stems/leaves minced
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
3 celery ribs, cleaned, trimmed, finely sliced
65 oz canned chicken in water, drained gently
1 cup red seedless grapes, washed and halved
25 large croissants
Gently combine all ingredients (except croissants!) in a large bowl, cover and refrigerate 1 hour or overnight.
Up to 30 minutes before serving time, split croissants with a serrated knife.
Gently stir chicken salad. Spoon a generous helping into each croissant.
Secure sandwiches with a frilly pick.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Change for the Better

Our family has been working hard to implement changes around the EE over the last year while maintaining a frugal lifestyle. We're making an effort to eat healthier, be more active, practice better time management, and streamline activities for maximum impact (and prevent burnout). We're figuring things out as we go along and by no means have all the answers. However, it is interesting to note the overlap between each of these efforts.

Here are a few things that are working for us:
1) Plan ahead, no matter what the subject. We have all been guilty of last minute holiday gift purchases where we wind up spending way more than if we had planned ahead and shopped throughout the year. On a day to day basis, our lack of weekly meal plans has led to food waste and frustration at supper time, therefore leading to expensive, unhealthy take away food. Implementing a plan doesn't mean we need to be unyielding or inflexible. That has been a hard lesson for me in particular.

2) Cook meals from scratch (or mostly). The result is rewarding to the pocketbook and waistline. Bear in mind that "convenience foods" don't necessarily take less time than a simple homemade meal. Take the time to learn a few homemade meals and keep the pantry stocked for busy weeknights. I'm going to be adding more recipes for this purpose under the tag Fast & Frugal. Cheatin' Chicken & Rice is a good place to start!

3) Utilize devices in the home to save time, money and frustration. A slow cooker or rice cooker can make healthy, frugal meals with very little prep time. This helps us avoid the temptation to grab fast food on a hectic day, as mention earlier. At the EE, an awkward cabinet over the stove houses these handy helpers along with a kitchen torch, coffee grinder, etc. A large saute pan, stock pot, stand mixer, set of mixing bowls, and glassware casseroles are also good tools to have on hand!

4) Frugality does not equal deprivation. As a Christian, I equate stewardship with frugality. We attempt to be conscientious in our spending to allow us to help others and enjoy the little luxuries of life. The purpose  for our efforts in this matter isn't to be martyrs on the altar of self righteousness. Rather, it is to allow us to live a full life without indebtedness.

5) Be joyful! We need to be careful not to get so bogged down in our worries about finances, family needs, and so on that we forget to find joy in our lives. We were created to be joyful beings! Sometimes we just have to stop and make ourselves find that happy, peaceful place. It helps us to embrace life choices (such as frugality) and truly live it, if it is done with a happy heart.

What are some ways your family brings order to the chaos of life? Share your comments so we can learn from one another!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Spiked Olives, a relish with attitude

Spiked Olives

The name of this particular dish makes me giggle. We all know relish trays are a regular feature at frat parties and frequently meet an unsuspecting alteration. OK, that may be an exaggeration…
What precisely are spiked olives? Simply put, it is the addition of a handful of flavoring elements to your chosen selection of prepared olives. It is a fast & frugal way to round out an elegant display of tapas. It is also just plain yummy with salads and pasta. And no, you're not going to get drunk on them. Pinky swear.

I love the tangy brine of olives against the creamy sweetness of soft cheeses. I ascribe to fusion cuisine and encourage others to take this broad minded approach. Condiments are an excellent foray into nontraditional pairings.  Experiment with different olives as well as pairings!

Spiked Olives
2 Tbs capers
1 can black olives, drained
1 jar stuffed green olives with liquid
1 Tbs minced garlic
1/2 tsp vermouth
1/2 tsp gin
Combine all ingredients in a bowl with a tightly covered lid.
Refrigerate a day ahead of serving to allow flavors to meld and permeate the olives.

If you happen to have some fresh rosemary on hand, I imagine 1 Tbs of minced leaves would be a lovely addition.

S’more Bites & Hockey Moms

Hockey season is in full swing, as evidenced by the constant stream of round robins and tournaments in which we have been involved. Last weekend, we handled hospitality for the Point Mallard Bantam Round Robin. Bantams are quite a few years older than Rylee. Know what that means? Checking. He loved watching the action. Admittedly, I cringed. It’s just different when you imagine your child taking those hits, rather than someone making megabucks in the NHL!
Over the next few days, the EE will feature a number of recipes we enjoyed in the hospitality suite. Since most good things start with chocolate, this series of posts will be no exception! S’more bites are almost indescribable. The chocolate flavor is intense without overpowering the creamy texture and crunchy base. The final product can be made in muffin cups or in a 9x13 pan. I strongly recommend using a dark chocolate for the shavings to balance the sweetness. Milk chocolate will tend to disappear. Dark chocolate is popular at the EE, so we used some 70% cacao from the pantry.
S'more Bites
S’more Bites
Graham Crust:4 0z unsalted butter, melted
10 oz graham crackers, crushed
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
1/8 tsp salt
Combine all ingredients and press firmly into muffin cups or 9x13 pan.
Chocolate Fluff:16 oz cream cheese, softened
8 oz unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbs dark corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
4 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs cocoa powder
1 oz dark chocolate, finely grated on a microplane
1 1/2 cups confectioner sugar
mini marshmallows for decoration
In the bowl of a stand mixer, blend cream cheese and butter until smooth and airy. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl frequently.
On low speed, add vanilla & corn syrup. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl again.
Still on low speed, add the other ingredients until well combined. Again, scrape the bowl frequently.
Spread mixture evenly over the graham crust in a 9x13 pan.
Pipe into muffin cups using a pastry bag and large star tip.
Refrigerate for 1 hour to allow mixture to firm up.
Prior to serving, decorate the tops with mini marshmallows.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Woodland Snow, the winter cake advisory


When we have the privilege of helping friends with a special celebration, it is generally more of a blessing to us than it is to them. Such was the case when the EE conjured* a cake dubbed “Woodland Snow.” The daughter of one of our homeschooling friends was celebrating a vow renewal after a private ceremony earlier in the year. Her mom was a whirling dervish of productivity for this event which took place between Christmas and New Year’s.

Can you imagine doing all those Christmas traditions for your little kids then kicking into high gear for a wedding ceremony and reception? Let me tell you, I admire this woman for her sheer fortitude! It was such an encouragement to see friends and family come together to realize a vision for a lovely and meaningful event. This is what weddings should be, in my <former caterer who saw all sorts of nastiness brought on by wedding-zillas> opinion.

Harker 4

The week of the vow renewal, I was given the opportunity to provide a small bride’s cake based on a picture of a larger cake found online. Now we all have our weird habits. One of mine, when it comes to cakes, is to give the vision in my head a name that sums up what it means to me creatively. There have been some doozies in the past: Behemoth, the 4 tier, 32”+ tall cake with 5 satellite cakes. Hippy Chic, 2 faux cube tiers on top of a vegan-gluten free-corn free- carrot cake. And many more I could bore you with for hours. Every one of them was a creative endeavor that made me sweat bullets and love it in the end. The point is, something requiring hours (if not days) of work and emotional attachment deserves a name. The genesis of the name for this precious little gem is obvious upon looking at a picture.

Harker 2

The cake tiers were torted to contain 4 layers of red velvet cake and 3 layers of vanilla almond buttercream. The exterior of the cake was iced with the same buttercream in a stucco finish. Before the icing was allowed to set, iridescent sugar glitter was applied to the tops and sides of the tiers for the look of freshly fallen snow. The silver swirl ribbon used as a border and snow drenched picks of pinecones and greenery were reminiscent of the fresh branches and ribbon used throughout the d├ęcor. The color scheme of snow white and rose red accented with touches of evergreen and bark were absolutely perfect! <=== Told you I see things differently. Don’t those colors sound prettier than white, red, green, and brown? Plus snow white and rose red is the title of one of my favorite fairy tales.

Harker 3

I truly loved playing a tiny part in such a happy day. It isn’t really accurate to say “I” played a part; everyone at the EE gets involved with such endeavors. At the end of the day, we wouldn’t trade it for a thing!

*conjured - Make (something) appear unexpectedly or seemingly from nowhere as if by magic. {If you knew the time frame for this cake, you would appreciate “seemingly from nowhere.” LOL}