Here’s a post of Marissa’s from the archives that you might enjoy!
Being young, married, tight-budgeted college students, my husband and I have been trying to get creative and think of things that we can make on our own, that we would normally pay more for at the grocery store.
Unfortunately, one of those things that a large part of our grocery budget is dedicated to is cold cereal… When we came to this realization, and talked about the possibility of reducing the cereal consumption in our home, there were tears…. Yeah, I cried! I know it sounds silly. But you don’t understaaaandd! – My whole life up until now, cereal has always been a part of my breakfast. It has always been there, waiting for me, like a true friend! How could I even think of including any other breakfast food in my morning meal? And all through my single years of college, what would I have done for breakfast and dinner, if I hadn’t had my cereal waiting there so patiently in the cupboard for me? I could go on, but I’ll spare you my “life cereal” poetry… that’s just embarrassing.
As we talked about cutting cereal out of our lives, I thought of my morning bowl of cereal and all its deliciousness and glory. I couldn’t bear to let it go. I knew I had to come up with a solution. Well, I actually came up with two!
SOLUTION #1: only cut back on cereal, rather than cut it completely out. Instead of going through 3-4 boxes of cereal per week, cut it down to 1 box, and supplement it with other foods like eggs, toast, fruit and yogurt. It’s been working pretty well so far. I tried buying two kinds of cereal and splitting them each in half, so that we could have a variety still, but keep it at 1 box’s worth of cereal. That has worked decently well – I just put the other half in a gallon ziploc bag.
SOLUTION #2: (This one is my favorite) Make. Granola. That counts as cereal, and do you realize how much cheaper it is to make it??! I found a recipe on allrecipes.com for really simple granola, with typical ingredients you would have on hand. I have made it 4 times now, each time, changing it a little so I liked it better, and now, I have come up with a recipe that I really like! I’ll share it with you because I’m just hoping it will give you as much joy as it has brought to me.
Honey Almond Granola
2 c. old-fashioned oats (or 1 c. quick oats and 1 cup old fashioned if you want it to be in clusters)
¼ c. Sliced almonds
¼ c. + 1 Tbsp flaked coconut
1 Tbsp packed brown sugar
1 ½ tbsp vanilla pudding powder, divided
½ tsp cinnamon
Scant ¼ tsp. salt
½ c. orange blossom honey (or clover honey)
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp almond extract
1. Combine oats, nuts, coconut, sugar, 1/2 Tbsp vanilla pudding powder, cinnamon and salt in a mixing bowl.
2. Measure 1/2 cup honey into a liquid measuring cup, an then add milk on top of the honey* until it is up to 2/3 cup.
3. Add 1 Tbsp vanilla pudding powder, vanilla and almond extract to the honey and milk, mix together and pour into dry ingredients. Mix well.
4. Bake at 280 degrees for 35 minutes. (check every 10 minutes, stirring each time) Bake until golden brown. Let it cool (and if you want it to be in clusters, let it cool before you stir it again), and store in an airtight container.
For a low sugar version – I have made it without the brown sugar or pudding powder, and just let the honey do all the sweetening, and it is still delicious.
I have found that Granola is a very forgiving recipe – you can really tweak it to meet your desires – If you want to add something or leave something out, you can, and it won’t mess it up!
*EDIT 7/28/10: I found out that boiling the honey for 1 minute and then adding it to the dry mixture helps to soften the oats so they aren’t so hard and crunchy and hard to chew…
**Rochelle’s notes 6/18/12: An alternative to using quick oats is to just pulse the old fashioned oats in your blender for a few seconds. I have tried this recipe with agave and it works well. A fun way to change this recipe is to add in some dried fruit after the bake time. I usually go with craisins, but you could add whatever you like.
Centerpieces are great for adding a festive touch to your holiday table, but why not try some fun napkin folds as a way to make each guest feel like their place setting is extra special?
Here are two really simple napkin folds for you to try, the Fleur-de-Lis, and the Silver Buffet:
For this one, begin with your square napkin unfolded (press it for a really polished look).
Fold the bottom corner up to meet the top corner to form a triangle.
Then bring the two side corners up to the top corner so that you have a square again.
Bring the bottom corner up part way so that there is an inch or so of space between it and the top corner.
Then fold the bottom corner down so there is a little triangular tab hanging down.
Tuck the side flaps towards the back.
And pull the “rabbit ears” at the top down and to the side, and you have your fleur de lis (I think it could also pass as an ear of corn on your thanksgiving tablescape).
This one is very simple, and creates a nice pocket to put the silverware in. Start with your square napkin unfolded.
Fold in half from the bottom two corners up to the top two corners to form a rectangle (hot dog style!).
Fold in half again to form a square (hamburger style!) and rotate it so that the open corners are pointing up.
Roll the top two corners down to the halfway point.
Then just tuck the two side corners behind the whole thing, and you have your silver buffet pouch.
Slide a set of silverware in, and place it on top of the plate, next to it, or in true buffet fashion, in the center of the table.
Ready for some more tricky folds? Check out these websites:
Napkin Folding Secrets
We cook a lot of Asian food around here. The whole family loves it. It is delicious and nutritious (I cook in a wok using little oil, no deep frying around here… well, most of the time). We love Japanese Golden Curry and Yaki Soba, and Korean Chap Jae and Mandu (pot stickers), Lao Egg Rolls, Chinese Stir Fry and Fried Rice, just to name a few of our favorites. We end up with quite a few leftover ingredients in the fridge, so from time to time I make a throw- it- all- together kind of a meal using the extra ingredients from other dishes. I love it because not only is it delicious, but it is packed with vegetables, so it helps us get closer to our 5 veggies a day. This is not a recipe that needs to be followed exactly. If you don’t have something, omit it. If you have something you would like to try, add it in, by all means. Taste it when it is done cooking to see if you like the flavor, and decide if you want to add more of anything. This kind of dish is very flexible; pretty much all the ingredients are optional. Here is the approximate recipe I came up with:
Asian- Inspired One-Dish Meal
Prep time ~ 10 min
Cook Time~ 15 min
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 white or yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, julienned
1/2 lb. lean ground pork (I have also used ground turkey and chicken)
2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 chopped green bell pepper
1 small bundle rice stick noodles
3 tablespoons water
2-3 tablespoons terriyaki sauce, soy sauce, or a combination
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup sugar snap peas
1-2 cups shredded green cabbage
salt and pepper to taste
In a wok or large frying pan, heat the oil on med/high heat and begin cooking onions and carrots. Meanwhile, put the rice stick noodles in a bowl of hot tap water to soften. Let them soak for about 5 minutes, then drain and cut the noodles into smaller strands, about 4 inches long. Add the ground pork, bell pepper, and minced garlic to the pan and mix well. Let it cook for 5 minutes then turn the heat down to medium heat. Add the softened rice stick noodles, the water, sauces, and any spices that sound good to you. Cook for 5 minutes and add in the rest of the veggies- your broccoli, peas, and cabbage. Cook until the green veggies turn bright green and are tender but not mushy.
Serve and smile because you only have to wash one pan, and one dish and utensil per person!
I had a ton of cubed ham and some tomatoes from a friend’s garden that needed using last night, and I found a yummy looking recipe here that I thought I could use, but as it turned out, I was missing at least 1/3 of the ingredients. So… I looked through my refrigerator to come up with something else, then threw what I had together and the result was tasty, not to mention pretty healthy.
Ham and Pasta Salad
Prep time ~25 min.
4 c. your favorite uncooked pasta (I used tri-color rotini)
2 1/2 c. cubed ham
3 medium/ large tomatoes, cut in large chunks
1/2 diced green pepper
1/2 sliced cucumber
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 c. grated cheese
1 c. plain nonfat yogurt
1 envelope of ranch or dill mix
Cook the pasta according to package directions, then rinse with cold water and drain. Combine pasta, ham, tomatoes, green pepper, cucumber, celery, and cheese in large bowl. Mix seasoning envelope with the yogurt, then add to other ingredients. Chill for several hours, or eat right away- your choice (it will taste saltier if you eat it right away). It tastes great the next day. This recipe makes 6-7 generous servings.
I first posted on meal planning in January with a goal of cooking nutritious meals for my family more and coming up with a system for meal planning that would help me get over the fact that I completely hated everything about meal planning.
I am happy to say that I have progress to report! While I wouldn’t say that cooking and planning meals is my all time favorite thing to do (ok, not even my second or third favorite…), it has become much more bearable, and perhaps a teensy bit enjoyable.
The first step is to find recipes that are inspiring! I have a tab in my browser that is just for saving web pages with recipes that sound good to me. I also write down page numbers of recipes from cookbooks, so I can easily find what I am looking for later. If I found the recipe on a blog or website, I print it out and put it in a sheet protector in a 3-ring binder. Having a pool of recipe ideas that you already know you want to make is really helpful when you are in a time crunch to get dinner made. If I can’t think of enough meal ideas, I look at my list of mind joggers or mix and match meal plans that I have printed out and in sheet protectors at the front of my binder.
Second, I roughly map out the menu for the month on my dry erase calendar. This is easy to change and rearrange, so I don’t worry about getting every last detail planned all at once. I just write down the recipes that I know for sure I want to make that month, and fill in the other meals as it gets closer to that time.
Third, I make sure I have a meal plan for each night of the upcoming week (even if it is leftovers). The plan is pretty flexible. I go through each recipe and make sure I either have the ingredients, or that the item is circled on my grocery list. I print up several grocery lists and put them all together in a sheet protector at the back of my binder.
Fourth, I have planned to keep my afternoon free from other stuff after 4:30pm or so (depending on what I am making) and just focus on dinner. You can’t always predict whether or not your babies/ toddlers are going to support you in this, but it does help! My mom has an alarm on her phone that goes off around 4 or so that says “Make something yummy!” Whatever works for you.
This might be overkill, but after dinner, I evaluate how much my family and I liked the meal (not my cooking skills -haha- just the meal in general)- i.e. on a scale of 1-10. I printed off some calendars and wrote in the meals I cooked, along with how much we liked them. I also make notes on the recipes for the next time I make it so that I can remember changes I make, and figure out ways to make the dishes better suit my family’s tastes.
Here are some of the fairly successful meals I have made in the last couple of weeks:
Chicken Salad Sandwiches (So yummy)
Terriyaki Chicken Pita Pockets
Mexican Grilled Corn on the Cob
Grilled Buttermilk Chicken and Cheesy Mashed Potatoes
Eggs Poached in Curried Tomatoes with Quinoa (just a tad too spicy for my son- I would tone it down)
Southwestern Dinner Frittata
Lao Egg Rolls
PS- The grocery list, Mind Joggers, and Mix and Match Menus can all be found under the Freebies Tab at the top of the page.
Recently I realized that my biggest hangup in meal planning and cooking was that I was not excited about what I was cooking. It didn’t sound good to me, and I just wasn’t motivated to spend time on something I didn’t like eating. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a very picky eater, and I will eat most things put in front of me, but as far as cooking goes, I discovered that I need to plan meals that are exciting (to me) in order to look forward to preparing and eating them. (Otherwise, I spend most of my time in the kitchen doing silly things to amuse my son while he eats- case in point, pictures from last summer below…)
Now, I feel like I’m pretty creative when it comes to sewing, repurposing, and a few other crafty type things, but cooking and baking are things I struggle with. I have found that the more I cook and bake, the more comfortable I am adapting and inventing dishes, but I still have a really hard time with thinking of what to make for dinner. I know there are some wonderful recipe websites out there that you can look up and find almost any recipe on… but you still have to think of what to make! So lately I have been loving browsing recipe blogs. I come across exciting new recipes and bookmark the ones I want to make, then plan the next week or so of meals.
I previously mentioned a dry- erase magnetic calendar I have on the side of my refrigerator that I wanted to use… and I am happy to report that I have been using it with good success! It helps me remember what I planned for the week/ month, it is easy to add and change things around to fit my schedule. The only problem is that I only have room to write the main dish, so I don’t always plan side dishes. That is something I need to work on… adding healthy, veggie- based side dishes to each meal.
Part of my motivation for making meals pretty much each night is that I decided to stop eating refined sugar (after I realized that my “sweet tooth” had become more of an addiction and I wasn’t feeling so great). Since I was snacking all day on sugar and simple-carb- laden snacks, I wasn’t all that hungry at dinner time. So after I stopped eating all the junk, I started feeling better, but I felt like I was starving, since I wasn’t really cooking all that much. So that’s my confession. I thought I would hate cooking every night, but surprisingly, I have really looked forward to making new things that sound good to me. Not all the recipes I have tried have been smashing successes at our home, but they have exposed us to new things and have given me further ideas of things I could make.
Here are some of the things I have been making:
Chicken Strips (using plain yogurt and ritz cracker crumbs)
Deli-Style Pasta Salad– turns out so pretty and colorful!
Chicken Taquitos (I followed the recipe except instead of frying, I baked the assembled taquitos on a cookie sheet.)
Sweet and Sour Chicken (give yourself 2+ hours to make by yourself)
Twice Baked Potatoes
Chicken/ Cranberry Braid
Pastitsio (takes 2 hours total and makes tons of dirty dishes- not a good combo.)
Santa Fe Chicken and Potato Soup
Barbecued burgers (ok, I didn’t really do this one, my husband likes to do the grilling)
Here’s what I will be making in the next little while:
Chicken, Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas
Pesto Chicken Wraps
What are your favorite resources and inspirations for cooking?
Last night, we had a dinner party – everyone brought part of the meal, and I got to do dessert! I always jump at the chance to make dessert for any occasion… it is my FAAAVORITE part of meal preparation – maybe because I know it is what everyone will remember after the meal, and if it turns out well, people make a big deal about it. Ok, so I just really like receiving praise and recognition…I can’t help it!
Last night was one of those nights where I got to bask in the glory of everyone else’s praise and recognition for my dessert. I was just so proud and so flattered that everyone liked it! I thought maybe you guys would like to try making it too, and have a little taste of the glory! I got the recipe from a mini cooking class I took a few years ago, and this time, I put my own twist on it to make it lighter and a little more guilt-free. Here is the recipe, enjoy!
3/4 c. Graham Cracker Crumbs (about 4 1/2 – 5 full graham crackers)
3 TB packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 TB butter, melted
4 oz. neufchatel cheese
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. plain lowfat yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 oz. lite frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 1/2 c. strawberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c water
2 TB frozen juice concentrate
Combine graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter. Divide into 4 individual custard cups (I divided it into 8 cupcake liners in a muffin pan) and press to form a crust. Set in fridge to chill.
In a large bowl, beat the neufchatel cheese until smooth, gradually beat in the sugar. Blend in the plain yogurt and vanilla extract. Fold in the whipped topping until well mixed. Spoon the mixture into the crust. Chill to set until served. I put mine in the freezer for about a half hour before we ate it, and it was perfect.
For the topping, mix sugar, water and juice together, then add sliced strawberries to the mixture.
To serve, unwrap cheesecakes and put on a plate, then top with the strawberry topping.
Makes 8 mini cheesecakes (but probably serves about 4 people…its that good, you’ll want more!)
Oh, and if you need a meal idea, here is what our meal was composed of
Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo
Whole wheat bread sticks
Steamed veggies – broccoli, cauliflower, carrots
Do you dread the approach of 5:00pm? Do you open the refrigerator door over and over to see if by some magical possibility, a delicious dinner (or hey, even leftovers) has appeared on the shelf next to the jar of pickles that are sitting so lonely in the corner? Do you experience guilt over having just spent $200 at the grocery store only to come home at a loss of ideas of what to make for dinner?
Many days, that is me. If that occasionally describes you too, do not despair! I have just the thing. We will unite and conquer, one baby step at a time.
My fabulous mother emailed me some wonderful spreadsheets she made some time ago with some great resources for meal planning. She called them “mind joggers”. You could look at what main ingredients you had on hand, look at the mind jogger list, and come up with something to make for dinner! She also put together some mix and match menu samplers for nutritious meal planning. I have tweaked those documents a bit, and they are going right into the front of the recipe binder I am building.
Mix and Match Menus
Again, you will be able to download these documents from my Google Docs, so once you have it, feel free to edit, add to, or delete things on the lists to customize it for your family. I would love to know if you find these useful!