Thursday, March 10, 2011

Project Food Budget - Week 9: No Time for Meal Planning

I've already gone over my $300/month goal for groceries. Sob!
Have you ever spent too much but as you look in your fridge or pantry you have nothing to show for it? That's basically how the last two weeks have gone. What exactly did I buy and why do I keep opening the refrigerator door like something new is going to appear?

As I mentioned in my last post, I have started a Pampered Chef business and I've been so busy trying to get organized and look through all my new kit products, I haven't had much time for meal planning. I have been cooking, but it's mostly been experimenting with a few appetizer recipes to demonstrate at upcoming cooking shows.

Maybe I will get back on track in the near future with the budget, but as of now it may be a little crazy until I get my little business rolling. I think I may be dropping out of the food budget challenge for now, at least blogging about it anyway. Here is a list of the brave souls that continue to plod along:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Project Food Budget - Week 8: New Endeavors

Happily, my February grocery budget came in around $300 for the month. However, this month may bring some big changes and challenges. For one, I started a Pampered Chef business! It's very exciting, considering I love to cook and I love their products. In terms of budgeting and buying less food, we shall see. I went well over the $75/week for this week, mostly because we were out of everything staple-wise and I also wanted to do a run-through with some Pampered Chef recipes for my upcoming opening show.

Goal: $75/week
Actual: $115.53

I'm gonna cut this one short this week folks!

Here is a list of other bloggers participating in the Project Food Budget Challenge:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Project Food Budget - Week 7: The Awesomeness of Coconut Oil

Recently, I received a free sample of Tropical Traditions Gold Label Standard Virgin Coconut Oil to try without any obligation to buy or write a post about it. I started to use some in recipes this week and what I discovered is that it is AWESOME!

I used it to replace other fats, such as butter and vegetable oil in my No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread recipe (which turned out better the second time once I followed all the directions!) and I also used this coconut oil in a recipe I made before but I modified it and also added steamed lentils. Yum! It smelled wonderful cooking in the oven with a slight coconut smell and the taste was even better!

Creamy Carrots and Lentils version 2.0
Serves 6

2 pounds cooked carrots, peeled, cooked until tender (and I mashed coarsely with a potato masher)
1/2 cup canola mayonnaise
1/4 cup red onion, minced
4 Tbsp horseradish sauce
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs (I used Progresso brand)
1 tsp paprika, or more
fresh parsley
1/8 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 package of Trader Joe's Steamed Lentils (1 lb., 1.6oz)
1/4 cup Tropical Traditions coconut oil

Save 1/4 cup or 1/2 cup of the carrot cooking liquid and mix with mayo (2 parts mayo to 1 part liquid).
Add onion and horseradish, salt and pepper. Add lentils (they're a great source of fiber, iron, protein and low-glycemic carbs!)
Toss with carrots.
Spread carrot/sauce mixture in a 9x13 pan. Top with breadcrumbs, sprinkle paprika, parsley and Parmesan cheese. Drizzle coconut oil over top.
(NOTE: under 76°F coconut oil will solidify--looks like Crisco; to reliquefy, put in a pan of warm water. I spooned out a good chunk of it into a measuring cup and microwaved it a little until it was a liquid again. I hope that was allowed considering how impatient I am!)

Bake at 375°F, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes.
According to my calculations, this ended up being 9 Weight Watchers PointsPlus a serving.

To switch gears, getting back to the Project Food Budget, after I had posted last Thursday about how I wasn't going to buy anything last week, I ended up at Trader Joe's again and spent $63.02,  which was under my $75/week budget, but it only leaves us with $17.21 until the end of the month (to stay under my $300/month grocery budget). I am determined to stay under that until next Tuesday March 1st!
I have run out of milk for myself, so I may pick up a few staples before then, but I plan on using what I got left in the freezer and the pantry!

Here is a list of other bloggers participating in the Project Food Budget Challenge:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Project Food Budget - Week 6: How I Managed To Screw Up a Bread Recipe...or Did I?

Apparently I've never been good at following directions. Perhaps it's from not being a crowd-follower, my impatience or my Type-A personality. Maybe it's from too much daydreaming, coloring outside the lines, foggy thinking or as a friend of mine coined it, 'momnesia'. I think it may be from the latter. Even as a child, the teacher would give directions and somehow I would manage to screw up a simple command like writing your name at the top of the paper.
Anyhoo, from time to time, I tend to skip an ingredient or two when following a recipe. I tend to jump ahead to the end for some reason. I attempted to make a simple, no-knead bread recipe that was from the back of the flour bag. It didn't help that I totally skipped adding the nonfat dry milk (which cost me $8.99 a box at G.E. Market District...thankyouverymuch!) When I realized my mistake, I smashed it into the already-rising dough ball and hoped for the best.

Well, as it turned out, as ugly as it was, the bread turned out pretty darn good. It was tasty especially warm from the oven! Hubby and toddler liked it too! Score! I am planning on re-making it again--maybe today.....the right way and see which loaf tastes the best. This loaf was surprisingly moist, dense, somewhat easy to slice (the middle part)...good for sandwiches!

No-Knead 100% Whole Wheat Bread
Yields: One loaf; 16 servings
I calculated 3 Weight Watchers PointsPlus
per slice

1 cup (8 oz.) lukewarm water
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup melted butter or vegetable oil (I used butter)
3 T. molasses or maple syrup (I used blackstrap molasses)
2 tsp. instant yeast
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
3 cups King Arthur Premium 100% Whole Wheat Flour
1 1/4 tsp. salt (or sea salt)

Thoroughly grease an 8 1/2"x 4 1/2" pan. It's important to grease the pan well, as this bread tends to stick. I used Pam non-stick spray.

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Beat the mixture vigorously for about 3 minutes; an electric mixer set on high speed works well here. Scoop the soft dough into the prepared pan.
Cover the pan with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let it rise for about 90 minutes; it'll become puffy.

Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for about 30 to 35 minutes, tenting it with aluminum foil after 15 minutes. The bread is done when it's golden brown on top, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 195°F. Remove it from the oven, and after 5 minutes turn it out onto a rack (or cutting board). Cool the bread completely before slicing (although I didn't....couldn't wait to try it! See, impatience!)

Getting back to the food budget, since I spend WAY too much last week, I have not gone to the store as of yet. I am hoping to hold off until next week and use up what we have. Also, we had some freebies thrown in there like a few dinners from the in-laws and my folks, restaurant gift cards (to celebrate Valentine's weekend).

Here is a list of other bloggers participating in the Project Food Budget Challenge:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Project Food Budget - Week 5: Waffling Waffles and Wavering Resolve

According to my Webster's New World Dictionary, there are two definitions of the word waffle:

Waffle: a crisp batter cake baked in a waffle iron. Then inserted into one's piehole (this last sentence is mine of course.)
Waffle: to speak or to write in a wordy, vague, or indecisive manner.

This pretty much defines how this week is going. I've been feeling pretty blah lately and did not plan well with this week's grocery trip.

Goal: $75/week (or $300/month)
Actual: (gulp!) $120.85 (from two different stores)

Lessons learned and other deep thoughts:
1. Costco can be the devil. Especially to my debit card. But I still love them so.
2. Costco samples can suck you in.
3. I now have enough Kashi blueberry waffles to last me a year. Was it necessary?
4. Buying pricey ingredients to make whole wheat bread may be costing me more than just buying a loaf.
5. Is buying pricey ingredients for one recipe really worth it? Am I really going to use a whole bottle of molasses and nonfat dry milk?
6. 'Magic Pop' korean snack cakes are the bomb. For reals, they shoot out of a special machine at Giant Eagle Market District. I was overcome by emotion.
7. I went to Costco in the first place to fill a presciption that is hard to find, and once I knew they carried this certain medication, I figured I'd "pick up a few things". Not cool, not cool.

Do you struggle with maintaining your grocery budget? There are a bunch of wonderful bloggers who are taking the Project Food Budget Challenge over the next few months. To find out more, check out Emily Levenson.

Here is a list of those fabulous blogs taking part in the Food Budget. Check them out!

I hope to have some recipes posted soon, especially when I attempt to make a No-Knead 100% Whole Wheat Bread!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Project Food Budget - Week 4: All Hail Trader Joe's!

I am glad January is under our belt now. It just means we are getting closer to spring! Yay! It's a brand new month of budgeting and clean slates (and partially clean plates?!) We didn't do too bad in January, in fact, we actually were under budget in other areas of our expenses (which is a good thing after the indulgences of Christmas)!
Also new this month, I joined Weight Watchers Online again and am learning the new PointsPlus system.

I had a hankering for all things Trader Joe's this week. If I had more time (and a patient toddler--yeah right!) I might have tried to get some of the basic stuff at my usual Aldi's, like milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables.
Goal: $75/week
Actual: $98.92 (oops!)

The trip to Trader Joe's was worth it. Here's a little sampling of what I got and how it'll be used:

Breakfast: TJ's carrot ginger oat bran muffins, almond butter with roasted flaxseeds, organic reduced-sugar strawberry preserves, bananas, kiwis, blood oranges.
Snacks: organic blue tortilla chips, 5-layer fiesta dip, guacamole hummus, persian cucumbers, baby carrots, salad, grape tomatoes, sugar-free dark chocolate bar.
Dinners: Trader Joe's packaged foods--roasted sliced turkey breast, sweet potato spears, steamed lentils, roasted chicken breast, corn tortillas, eggplant parmesan towers, and mini chicken tacos.

Note: Several of the above items were already devoured by hubby and myself, particularly the 5-layer fiesta dip!
Here is a recipe for what I made last night. I actually found it in my food processor instruction booklet.

Layered Turkey Eggplant Casserole
Serves 6

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 lb. ground turkey
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/3 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 medium eggplant, peeled
1/2 cup fat-free ricotta cheese
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese  (or just 1 cup of either kinds of ricotta; I just needed to use up my fat-free stuff)
1 egg
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 cups marinara sauce (I used Lucini Tuscan Marinara with roasted garlic from Costco I had in my pantry)

Spray a 13x9 dish with non-stick cooking spray. Brown ground turkey in a skillet until no longer pink. Set aside. Peel eggplant and slice very thinly or use a food processor with a slicing disc. Set eggplant aside. Add multipurpose blade to food processor and add Parmesan cheese, ricotta, egg and pepper. Process until well blended.
Spread 1/2 cup marinara sauce over bottom of baking dish. Cover with half of eggplant, and half of turkey. Spread with ricotta cheese mixture. Sprinkle with fresh parsley. Cover with remaining eggplant, turkey and sauce.
Bake uncovered at 350° F for 40 minutes. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and bake for additional 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and eggplant is tender. Feel free to swap the turkey for sausage (the recipe originally called for) or omit meat all together. Make it your own!

With the new Weight Watchers PointsPlus, I calculated a value of 8. Enjoy with a side salad or carrot sticks (which is what I had).

Read about how the Project Food Budget Challenge got started here.
Here are fellow food budget challenge bloggers:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Project Food Budget - Week 3: My Cravings Led Me Astray

This week started out not too shabby. Since I bought so much last week, the only things I needed to refresh were milk and bananas. Seemed easy enough. I don't know what got into me but when I went into the store yesterday to buy the two items, my estrogen had other plans. Stupid, silly hormones!
I guess part of it was just being out and wondering if we needed anything in addition to what we had at home, plus the boredom of having leftovers.

I tried to talk myself down from my proverbial ledge, even putting one item back. I tried to talk myself out of certain things: "This will not benefit you. You will feel like crap later and feel sad. You will only crave more." It didn't work.
The 'bad' items in question were: baked goods, in particular, a chocolate-iced gob-like chocolate cake sandwich stuffed with bright yellow cream and topped with matching dollop, in Steeler-esque style. The other two items were chocolate-chip cookie pie slices topped with Steeler colors. Seriously. Need I say more?
I also bought fried chicken (from the deli) and a pre-made pizza, baby food and a loaf of Mancini's bread. Yikes.

Sigh...well, I was right about feeling like crap later that day. After the sugar binge, within a few hours I felt tired, moody, and achy. Yep, I know. Why do I keep letting myself do this?

All in all, I spent $35.21 for the week, which is under my $75/week budget, but monthly, that puts us a little over the $300/month. I guess it's not too bad considering what I used to spend.

With that being said, here are some recipes I made over the last part of last week and over the weekend.
Bacon and Tomato Frittata
Serves: 4

1 carton (16 oz) fat-free egg product or 8 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt-free garlic-and-herb seasoning (like Mrs. Dash)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 T. canola oil
4 medium green onions, sliced (1/4 cup)
2 large plum tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

2 T. real bacon pieces (I used more)
2 T. reduced-fat sour cream

In medium bowl, mix egg product, garlic-and-herb seasoning and salt; set aside.
In large ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions; cook and stir 1 minute. Reduce heat to med-low. Pour in egg mixture. Cook 6 to 9 minutes, gently lifting edges of cooked portions with spatula so that uncooked egg mixture can flow to bottom of skillet, until set.
Set oven to broil. Top frittata with tomatoes, cheese and bacon. Broil with top 4 inches from heat 1 to 2 minutes or until cheese is melted. Top each serving with sour cream.

Pepper Pasta (this was modified from the original that used sweet Italian sausage and rigatoni)
Serves: 4

8 oz. pasta (I used fettuccine)
8 oz. ground turkey, browned in skillet
2 bell peppers (I used red and yellow), cut into 1 1/2" x 1" strips
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup Light Creamy Caesar salad dressing
2 T. grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh parsley

Cook pasta according to directions. Drain; reserve 1/2 cup cooking water. In large skillet, cook ground turkey until no longer pink. Remove turkey and with drippings in skillet, add peppers, onion, seasoning and salt. I think I added a little olive oil to this as well. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in pasta, dressing, reserved pasta water and cooked ground turkey. Serve with sprinkle Parmesan and parsley.

Creamy Carrots (I got this from my MOPS group. It's delicious!)

2 lbs. carrots, peeled and cooked until tender, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I used the baby carrots in a bag)
1/2 cup carrot cooking liquid
1 cup mayo
2 T. minced onion
2 T. (I added more) horseradish
salt and pepper
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I used Panko variety)
Fresh parsley
Parmesan cheese
4 T. butter, cut into small pieces
(I also added some leftover ground turkey)

Mix mayo and cooking liquid (always 2 parts mayo to 1 part liquid; adjust to your liking)
Add onion and horseradish, salt and pepper. Mix with cooked carrots, and spread into a 9x13 pan. Top with breadcrumbs, paprika, parsley and parmesan. Dot butter all over. Bake at 375°F., uncovered, for 15-20 minutes.

Here are other fellow food budget bloggers: