Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cook Once, Eat All Week!

When I was a wee lass of only tween years, my mom and dad divorced. Mom worked two jobs (real estate by day, factory by night) in order to support herself, my younger brother, and me. Fabulous mom that she is, she wanted to make sure that even though we were often home for dinner without her, that we had good food to eat.

With that in mind, she took every Sunday off both jobs. Every Sunday, she and I cooked, otherwise prepared and froze food for the coming week.

I had, at that point in my cooking career, mastered the my job was to create several of them, which were then integrated with small rolls or english muffins, a slice of cheese and sometimes ham, for quick, nukeable breakfast sandwiches. I cooked spaghetti and Mom made sauce. We baked potatoes and stuffed 'em, and other stuff I'm probably forgetting (it's about 30 years later, after all). We packaged everything up in single servings or meals - we used compartmentalized styrofoam plates - and packed it into the big freezer. My brother and I had wonderful, home-cooked meals all week, regardless of whether or not Mom was available that night to cook them. It was great for us, and great for Mom. Not only did we have great food, but dishwashing was minimized during the hectic week, and I'm certain that cooking once a week saved us money - both on energy and because we bought stuff in bulk. I had great fun and learned a lot about cooking in the process, too!

Now that summer is here, and I'm writing this blog, this experience from my youth is becoming especially pertinent.

Our freezer isn't that big, but fortunately, we're only a two-person household. Most of the stuff I freeze is meat purchased on sale and frozen veggies, the same. But I do tend toward cooking only once a week - and I suspect this will be a very hot summer, which will encourage me to do that even more.

I typically boil a bunch of eggs for my sweetheart to have for breakfast or lunch. Sometimes I make tuna salad for him for lunches. A large pot of rice or pasta (and if I'm feeling magnanimous, macaroni & cheese) is usually in the fridge. This week, I cooked a beef roast in the slow cooker (both of which I bought on sale, of course), and we've been nibbling at it in various formats ever since (tacos, mostly, because of the heat, and because we both love tacos). I'm really starting to realize what a useful and economic practice it is. If I worried about us getting bored with the same thing, I might have cooked a smaller roast, and grilled a few chicken breasts, and alternated those things with some vegetarian meals. If I were cooking for a bigger family, I might do a larger roast and several chicken breasts. Pasta or rice or microwave-baked potatoes and microwaved frozen veggies round it out. I buy a lot of produce in the summer, and mostly we eat it raw or lightly steamed...and it all means minimal cooking during the week.

Having a major cooking session one day a week, and reheating after that saves money, precious time, and leftovers. Plus, if you get your household involved in it, it's a great family activity. Give it a try, you'll see what I mean!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Meatless Monday - Tacos!

Heat waves suck. You still have to eat, but who wants to cook? Well, tonight we'll be falling back on my hot-weather standby: tacos.

Precooked shells heat in 3 minutes in the toaster oven(at 350 degrees). Going veggie means that the only other thing that needs to be heated is the refried beans: 3 minutes in the microwave.

I plan for 4 tacos per person.

Dinner for two:

8 taco shells
1 can refried beans
shredded cheese
shredded lettuce
diced tomatoes
diced red bell peppers (these are sweet, not hot)
salsa to taste

Most of the recipe is assembly. I find that heating the refried beans in a wide, shallow dish (covered, or it will spatter) makes it easy to use a butter knife for application to the taco shell.

-Fill the taco shell about 1/4 of the way with beans.
-Add vegetation and salsa to your own preferences.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Freebie Friday! Aveeno Samples

Try out Aveeno's new Nourish+ collection for free! Request your sample here:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Meatless Monday - Red Lentil and Rice Pilaf

I thought I'd go with something easy and quick for my first Meatless Monday. Here's the recipe I'll be using as a guideline:


* olive oil
* 6-8 garlic cloves -chopped small
* 1 medium onion -diced
* 1/2 cup brown rice (I use brown basmati)
* 1/2 cup red lentils ('cause they cook faster than the green/brown ones)
* 1-1/2 cups veggie broth (actually, today I'll be using chicken stock - not from a can, but from a chicken I cooked a week ago and needs to be used up - which counts as meatless for my purposes, since I'm mostly about the saving money thing)
* Assorted diced veggies - in this case, cauliflower, carrots, green beans, bell pepper and whatever else I pull out of the fridge

* garam masala
* curry powder
* salt and pepper

Start by sweating the veggies you want more done (carrots, onions, garlic, cauliflower)with a bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat.

When they're about halfway cooked, add the rice, and allow it to toast for about 10 minutes (don't scorch it though). The grains should start to look whitened.

Stir in seasoning, lentils other veggies (green beans only for me - I like my bell pepper crispy) and broth, reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for about 40 minutes (closer to 20 if you're using white rice). Don't stir during this time.

When the broth has all been absorbed and the rice is cooked, add veggies you want less cooked (bell peppers for me), fluff and serve!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Introducing Meatless Mondays

The whole point of this blog is to help people live less expensively, but still well. My primary source of information on how to do this is my own life, and I'm constantly making changes to make it more efficient and less expensive.

The latest change in my life is that I'm going to commit to Meatless Mondays. I've been trying for a while to integrate at least one vegetarian day into the week (see this post for how it relates to sensible spending), but I'm not very organized, so it's been sporadic. Part of my commitment to having meatless Mondays is to share one meatless dinner recipe here each week. Hopefully, that will increase the success and regularity of both my eating veggie once a week, and my posting here. Win=win!

Meatless Mondays have quite a history. In WWI, the FDA (US) introduced it as a way to encourage food conservation in order to support the war effort. More recently, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has combined with the Meatless Monday Campaign, in order to try to raise public awareness of the dangers of saturated fats (going one day a week without meat is purported to reduce saturated fat intake by about 15%), and reduce Americans' overall saturated fat intake.*

I got the idea from Whole Foods ad/magazine/newsletter, The Whole Deal (free at the checkout counter or customer service desk).

"Meatless Monday", I thought, "hmmm. Maybe that'll keep me on track!" And so we shall see. Meanwhile, I'll do my best to share meatless recipes and thoughts on a weekly basis. Comment to let me know what you think, or share your own ideas & recipes!

*High saturated fat intake is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and several types of cancer - which is one of the other reasons that I'm trying to cut back on meat consumption; I am at risk for cancer for many different reasons, and while I could just not care what I eat and wait for it to happen, I prefer to try to improve my chances.