Sunday, September 26, 2010

It Really Works

It almost never fails to amaze me when common knowledge turns out to be true. Like "eat less and exercise more and you'll lose weight", or "save your money and you'll have more of it." It's part of my charm.

When I yet again found God-knows-what in the back of the vegetable crisper, I decided that we've been wasting too much food and something had to be done. I am legendarily deficient at estimating volume/amount needed, so we usually have way too much or way too little of whatever produce we need.

That said, my wingin' it plan for dinners was a big part of the problem. Forgetting what was in the fridge, trying to come up with something reasonably healthful after a long day at work, shopping without a plan - pretty much ensured that this "making dinner" thing was a lot pricier and more stressful than it really had to be.

So it's time for a menu plan. It seemed daunting and constraining but hell, we set up a budget (thank you, Dave Ramsey) and what could be harder than that?

My friend Google showed me that some folks take this process WAY more seriously than I do. Relational databases with expiration dates and coupon notations? Auto-trigger shopping lists? SERIOUSLY????

More power to you.

Granted, I'm in the early stages on this, but it's working well so far. Here's what I've picked up along the way:

1. How many nights are we eating at home this week? Sweetie and I both have evening commitments a few nights a week and we just plan on eating separately those nights. Therefore, no need to plan for those as far as I'm concerned. I aim for planning 4 dinner menus per week.

2. What did I buy last week that I need to use up? I desperately want to believe that we have a salad-based diet. We don't. As a result there are usually some greens and cucumbers that I need to work into the first few dinners of the week (carrots keep much longer).

3. What do we have time for? If we thaw some frozen homemade soups, so be it. I'm not going to plan to make a 2-hour roast and several side dishes if I'm not getting home until 6:30 pm.

4. Assigning days - your mileage may vary. It works better for us to just make a list of entrees and side dishes, and not assign them to a specific day.

I also try to mix it up a little so that we're not eating chicken & green beans 3 nights out of 7. This week's list:

Sweet & Sour Salmon, brown rice, sugar peas

Sloppy Cubanos filling in hollowed-out baked potato, salad

Spaghetti, marinara, and Italian turkey sausage with broccoli

Lemon Lager Chicken, green beans

Pork Barbeque (currently frozen), corn

Tips? I'd love to hear them!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

And again!

The beating sun. Sweat. Running. Yelling. Uniforms and shin guards. The blur of the ball and the cheering (and jeering! WTF?) from the sidelines.

The threat of vuvuzelas.

Yes, it was 9- and 10-year-old soccer this afternoon. A brutal confrontation between our niece, Cutie, and her across-the-street neighbor ("Oh, hey, mind if I take this ball?" "Well, I guess it's your turn.").

It was unusual to spend a Saturday afternoon with my husband. Being a two-career couple Sweetie (Mr. Nostinkycheese) and I spend most Saturdays separately, catching up on Life Chores. Our Saturday night dinners are a great time to sit down to a hot meal, relax, chow down on whatever I picked up at the Farmer's Market, and pretend we're adults with real jobs.

We liked the Asparagus Chicken Roulade so much that we had it two weekends in a row. Of course, having all the ingredients on hand had nothing to do with it ("Can we please use up this prosciutto???"). Last weekend I had rice as a side dish, which was fine but just fine. This weekend I sliced a carrot and yellow squash, sauteed with garlic, and topped with parsley. Fab either way. For anyone who can't have dairy, just double the prosciutto and leave out the goat cheese.

Asparagus Chicken Roulade
Ladies' Home Journal (seriously?), Sept. 2010

4 (1 3/4 lbs total) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and black pepper
4 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
8 asparagus stems, cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces

1. Heat broiler to high with rack 4 inches from heat (Steph note: you know your oven, and in mine the chicken will be burned on the outside before it's cooked on the inside if I put it that close to the heating element. Adjust accordingly). Line a baking sheet with foil; set aside.

2. Slice chicken breasts horizontally into 2 thin pieces, using the sharpest knife you have. If necessary, layer between sheets of plastic wrap and pound to 1/4 inch thick. Lay chicken, smooth side down, on work surface. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Spread each with 1/2 tsp of Dijon. Layer with prosciutto, goat cheese and asparagus. Roll up, starting at the wide end of each breast. Place on the baking sheet, seam side down.

4. Coat lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle with pepper. Broil until chicken is cooked through and tops are golden, 8 to 10 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through.