Friday, February 5, 2016

Once a month meal planning - February

And on to February! I planned this out super early because I knew that the last thing I'd want to do the weekend we were moving was handle a massive grocery list. I did, however, manage to convince myself to hit the grocery store on February 1st for our big shop and I was pretty impressed with myself because what I wanted to do was lie in bed and order take out (full disclosure - we did go out with friends on Monday and then order take out with them on Tuesday, so we're not exactly starting this month off strong but when your dear friend is only in town for a few days, you take advantage).

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I stuck with my basic formula for this month, with weekly lentils and crock pot meals and I'm still hitting the sweet potato bolognese pretty hard. I keep thinking one week I'll realize I'm sick of it but it hasn't happened yet.

Recipes for this month:

Lentil and garlic sausage cassoulet - new to me recipe, only making a 1/2 batch because otherwise we'd be eating it forever. I couldn't find slab bacon so I got a small piece of pork belly instead. Maybe that's the same thing, now that I think about it?

Cashew nut chicken - Using the other half of the sauce that I froze last month (next time I might make a triple batch of sauce - it was so lovely to just dump everything together in the morning).

Spiced butternut squash, lentil and goat cheese salad - new to me, looks so good.

Crockpot beef stew - just realized I don't have the recipe for this posted anywhere. My mom always made it growing up and it's super easy. 1 lb beef stew meat, a couple potatoes, some carrots, some celery, all roughly chunked, 1 can of V8, 1 tbsp of sugar, 2 tbsp minute tapioca, ~ 2 tsp salt, cooked in the crockpot on low for 8 hours. I always consider looking for a fancier recipe, but this one never fails and it is so easy.

Canal house lentils - new to me, looks simple and delicious. Skeptical about the eight servings, though. In my experience, a cup of dried lentils usually equals four servings. Maybe it's meant to be a side dish?

Chicken enchilada soup - always.

Black lentils with caramelized onions - but just once this month.

Sweet potato and black bean chili - again, using up the odds and ends of the spiralized sweet potatoes. Last month I couldn't find ground chipotle so I just used some canned chipotles in adobo sauce (not a whole can! they are spicy) and it was delicious. I froze the other half of the can so I can do it again this time around.

Sweet potato bolognese - again, no real recipe. It's just 1/2 lb ground beef, 1/2 lb hot sausage, 1 jar marinara and 2 large sweet potatoes that have been spiralized. (spiralizer post is here).

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The worst part of this for me is figuring out the grocery list with this many meals in the mix, but I assume I'll get better with that. I just jot down the ingredients for every meal, then consolidate them on a single page, keeping them roughly divided into categories (produce, meat, canned goods, etc). I check the pantry to see what I have and cross those things off. I usually then split the list into what I need from each store, but this month I lost energy at that point and it was fairly well divided anyways. I get my produce from Jons (best produce prices + selection around here) or the farmer's market, meat from Whole Foods, odds and ends from TJs or the regular grocery store. What surprises me is that once I get it all boiled down and consolidated, the major shopping trip really isn't that huge or that expensive! With perishable produce I also note down the week I need it (and make a note on my actual meal planning sheet), so that I can just get it that week.

I don't know - is my scribbled out grocery list the weirdest thing I've ever posted? Maybe next month I'll remember to take a picture before I write all over it and wad it up in my bag to take it out to multiple stores.

Previous once a month meal planning posts - January planning and January execution.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Once a month meal planning - January revisited

You guys, I loved having all my meals planned for the month. Looooved it. Front loading the "real" cooking on M/T/W worked really well for us because it left us a lot of flexibility at the end of the week but ensured that we always had enough leftovers to take to work for lunches. Grocery shopping was super minimal week to week, which makes me happy. We also came in below our usual grocery budget, which is probably because we weren't at the store as often and there was almost no food waste, which makes me happy (totally guilty of being overly optimistic while shopping and buying more produce, etc, than we can actually use - I've been working hard to improve this).

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I did adjust as necessary (see all my scribbles - I was trying to keep track of how it played out) and we almost never needed our Th/F quick meals because we usually had leftovers. But it worked out well to have the ingredients because we used them for weekend meals and ate out less.

Even with the move thrown in there things didn't get too hectic. I just cooked as scheduled M/T/W and then as soon as I was done cooking on Wednesday I cleaned up and packed our entire kitchen other than the bare essentials (two bowls, two plates, two cups, a skillet and a smattering of utensils). I knew we'd have enough leftovers to get us through the rest of the week so we'd basically just be microwaving and cooking eggs.

I was so excited about this system that I got my February meals planned well ahead of time so that I'd be all ready to jump in on week one despite our move. Those will be up tomorrow! Fair warning - it will be almost as boring as this month.

Which leads me to this question - did we get bored? Nope! I was afraid we would, but it turns out we're just really hungry when we sit down for dinner and the fact that we ate something two weeks ago doesn't even register. I'm relieved because am I the only one who sees those fancy meal plans and thinks people are crazy for being willing to make a different breakfast, lunch and dinner every day? I love the idea of that much variety but in practice it is way too much work for me. That said, I did search for a few new lentil recipes to try out in February because I don't want to push my luck.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Moved!

We survived, by the skin of our teeth. Neither of us could take any time off work and we had a very quick turn around. We were moving out of our little house on Saturday and the new tenant was moving in on Sunday. Since she's a friend of a friend we wanted to leave everything perfect, so I literally mopped my way out of the house and then left the keys with our friends and said a tearful goodbye (we're only moving four miles away, so it's not like we won't be seeing them, but it still feels sad!).

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We hired movers, which was a life saver. They ended up running a couple hours early which threw off our schedule. I was literally just throwing things into boxes as they carried stuff out of the house. It wasn't my finest hour. Moving brings out the worst in me anyways because I get a little panicky seeing all our stuff gathered in one place. What is all this stuff and why do we own it? Should we consider giving up all our hobbies and just watching TV instead? Think of the space savings! It would be so much easier to move if we weren't also hauling around my sewing, baking, crocheting, macrame and paper goods supplies, along with D's ceramics and woodworking tools and bikes and surfboards and our camping equipment and our books, etc, etc, etc.

We didn't accumulate anything new this year other than a camping tent, which means that everything we owned (and more! we pared down when we moved last year) used to fit perfectly well in our old 600 sf apartment, but you wouldn't have known that if you saw the insane pile of boxes in our new house.

I could barely sleep on Saturday night because I was so wired from the day. I was up at the crack of dawn on Sunday and unpacking. I was a beast. I didn't stop until all the boxes were emptied and I paid for it the next day when every single muscle in my body rebelled.

But we're in! We still have some work to do but it feels so good. More pictures to come, as soon as I'm actually home while it's light outside and can take some. I'm also busy rearranging everything in the kitchen over and over again, so we'll have to see how that settles out. Those cabinets though!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Best biscuits

I woke up a few weeks ago dreaming of biscuits, so I spent an inordinate amount of time searching the internet for recipes. I have a biscuit recipe from Tassajara that I've used quite a few times and it's pretty good but I don't believe in being 100% faithful to recipes, even my tried and true ones. Sometimes it pays to stray.

best biscuits

I am so, so glad I cheated.

I stumbled on this Alton Brown recipe that uses buttermilk (vs. the cream the Tassajara recipe calls for). I almost never have buttermilk on hand, but I always have full fat Greek yogurt, so I mixed a couple tablespoons into regular milk and it worked just fine. I also used all butter, rather than butter/shortening. I'm sure that if you have all the correct ingredients it's even more delicious, but considering the fact that I made these twice in a one week period, I don't think it's critical.

I also love that the recipe is very easily halved, so I can easily make a small batch (although you can always freeze unbaked biscuits and bake them later). The recipe below is how I made a small batch.

Best buttermilk biscuits (my adapted recipe for a mini batch, makes 4 - 6 biscuits, depending on how big you go, original recipe from here)
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar (optional - I like a little bit of sugar in my biscuits)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1 tbsp Greek yogurt + milk to 1/2 cup, whisk well)

:: Pre-heat oven to 400 F.
:: Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
:: Cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter, the food processor, or your hands (as long as you don't run hot - warm hands ruin pastry). The mixture should look like crumbs, with small pieces of butter intact.
:: Pour in the "buttermilk" and stir until the dough just comes together (I always use a rubber spatula for this).
:: Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured board and pat into a rectangle, then gently fold the dough over on itself 5 - 6 times (you're creating layers here - if you haven't done this before watch the video in the original recipe for a demonstration).
:: Pat down into a rectangle at least 1" high and then cut into 4 (or 6) squarish pieces. You can also opt to make circles and then re-roll the scraps, but the second pass won't be as tender, so I go with squares and save myself the trouble.

Add some egg, cheese and bacon and these make the ultimate breakfast sandwiches.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Sizing up

We move in one week (I had a minor heart attack when I realized this - we've known for months so how could it sneak up like this?) and I'm not at all prepared right now. We'll get there.

I am dreading the entire moving process, and already shedding a few tears at the thought of leaving our good friends/landlords/neighbors, but I am also so! damn! excited! at the thought of being reunited with some of my kitchen things.

I half-heartedly did the whole Marie Kondo bit last year but didn't fully buy into it. But then we moved into our little cottage and had no choice but to suddenly simplify. Paring down for several months was a great exercise. We tried our best to guess what we would use and what we wouldn't as we packed, and anything that didn't fit was either donated or put into storage. I think we did a pretty good job. We took advantage of every little nook in our mini kitchen, and it was completely functional. We could probably continue to live with just what we have right now and it would be fine.

But.

I've been dreaming of those storage boxes as our move approaches. Our wedding china, our wine glasses, our serving platters, my ridiculous collection of cake stands, full size baking sheets, our DINING ROOM TABLE! I'm embarrassed to admit that my heart jumps a little each time I think of them. Apparently all these things spark joy, because I can't wait to see them each day, to pull them out and use them.

Ten months of living in a small space taught me that I am not a minimalist about some things and that's okay with me. I can happily live with one set of sheets and just half a closet of clothes, but I feel deprived if I don't have five different tablecloth options. Pick your poison, I guess. I liked not having too much clutter around in our little place, though. As I start packing up I'm going to be extra conscious of what we used and what we didn't. If there's anything we haven't used since we moved in, it's not coming with us.

In the meantime, I'll be right here, just trolling through my own photos and staring at my stuff like a creepy stalker.

the table, set

plates, waiting

cake stands!

Sigh.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Saving citrus

We are deep in the midst of our annual citrus glut here in Southern California. Neighbors are ditching bags of oranges on your front porch and running away before you can give them back. The farmer's market is bursting at the seams.

What I mean is, it's the best time of year.

pomelo slices
{pomelo slices from our tree}

Citrus season is fleeting, and I pretty much only eat oranges during these few months. Spoiled brat that I am, I hate buying subpar oranges from the grocery store. And it's not just oranges! It's tangerines and Meyer lemons and pomelos. What do you do with all that? The answer is you eat as much as you can and save the rest.

zesting
{zesting}

I've been trying to be extra good about putting up as much of the bounty as possible this year. I had a huge bowl of these beautiful Meyers and no immediate use for them, so I zested them (I used the microplane on half of them and then used a peeler on the other half to get strips of zest - I like having options) and popped the tray in the freezer and waited till everything was frozen before I bundled the zest up in the cling wrap and tucked the packets in a large freezer bag. Then I juiced all the lemons and froze the juice in ice cube trays that hold 1 ounce each (I have these and love them).

I also zest our oranges and tangerines before we eat them and at this point I am well stocked with zest from lemons, tangerines, pomelos, and a nice variety of different orange breeds.

We should be set on cocktail supplies for the foreseeable future, is my basic point.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

More pillows!

I was on a roll after making my crocheted pillow cover (and looking for someone I could pawn the second one off on) so I made some throw pillows for my sister, a project that's been on the back burner for over a year now, when she first mentioned that she'd like some. This is the only gift I attempted this year and I'm really happy with them. She has our dad's old leather couch, which he had for as long as I can remember. He never had throw pillows for it (too manly?) but every time I visit her we talk about how it should have some.

Now she does.

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pillows on my couch, not the leather one

That couch has always felt very classic and masculine and I wanted the pillows to be in keeping with it. I decided to go with a clothing theme, if that makes sense. I had the crocheted pillow, which is reminiscent of a sweater. The camel and the houndstooth are cashmere fabrics that I salvaged from thrifted men's coats and they're backed with linen (white for the camel, black for the houndstooth). The grey one is a nice heavy duty linen that I got at Ikea (best source for good cotton/linen solids) and I gave it some pintuck pleats for good measure (and then promptly made myself one because I love how it turned out).

These Ikea pillow inserts are the best. 20" square, down filled, inexpensive. They aren't super plump, so I sew my pillow cases a bit small (17" or 18" square) and kind of stuff them in there. I like an overstuffed pillow because you don't have to fluff it up as often.

Throw pillows are pretty simple but I still manage to spend a lot of time on them, especially when I haven't done them in a while. For these I used an envelope style closure* in the back and then added a couple of buttons on each. Since they're overstuffed the buttons help prevent gaping.

This reminded me that it isn't that hard to do these little projects I keep putting off.  I can be really lazy about pulling out the sewing machine, but the end result is so satisfying. Maybe I'll actually hem those curtains that have been dragging 2" on our floor for the last six months.


* I was looking back for the tutorial I used the last time I made slip covers and was bummed to discover that the page is gone. But this tutorial has a nice explanation and works really well for the 20" inserts.