After months of tragic and semi-starvation, it’s time to get back on the bandwagon with my menu planning and firm, unswerving budgeting. We like to keep things frugal around here, but we also like to eat really good food. You’ve heard the adage about Quick, Good, or Cheap: Pick Two? Well, it holds true with food as well. We’re going for Cheap and Good, so Quick is likely headed out the window. But, Big Cooking can save me a lot of time, so we’ll maybe get Not-Horribly-Slow, Good, and Cheap out of the deal, and that’s none too shabby.
What follows is a very, very long and detailed description of a lot of food. If you’re not in the mood, click away to Pinterest now. Or go read news or something. This is all food.
In the first Big Shop of the month (right on the first of the month… the Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Fellow and I called it a date, because we left all the Minions at home cleaning out the fridge and it was just him, me, the soft glow off the produce at the grocery store, and 900 billion other people who apparently had similar ideas), we spent $325; today I spent another $15 on a good sale at my second favorite grocery store. And here’s what we’re doing/have done with that fundage this month:
Half the month’s eggs, which (with about two pounds of colby-jack cheese) will go into breakfast burritos, and with the addition of homemade English (Scottish) muffins, the rest will go into breakfast sandwiches for the freezer. These get used for breakfast, but also for lunch sometimes. Our family really, really likes eggs. Our home eggs (about 21 a week), produced by my Spicy Child’s pet hens, will round things out, as we prefer those for things like custard, and “runny eggs” (steamed, with the whites cooked and yolks runny. Excellent mashed with salt and pepper, and spooned over buttered toast or English muffins.)
Other breakfasts will be provided by the huge lot of oats we picked up (as well as brown sugar, raisins, cinnamon…), and the 10-grain cereal we buy in the bulk section. LOVE the bulk section. We’ll also have a few mornings where we do sweet rolls, or diced potatoes with eggs and toast.
One half-ham (tavern style!) has been diced small and bagged for the freezer. If we were to eat ham straight, we’d go through 5 pounds in moments. Diced, we’ll use it all month. Much better. It’ll go in portions of mac-n-cheese, eggs, some of those breakfast burritos and sandwiches, and fried rice kits, as well as being used in green beans (with onions!).
One lovely chuck roast will be baked up, then combined with the gravy, some potatoes, onions, and carrots, and turned into about 48 muffin-sized meat pies. Those go into the freezer. They’re lovely. One pie = one little girl meal. Two pies = me or Eldest or the Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Fellow. I limit The Boy to Three Pies, and then he adds a snack on his way out of the kitchen.
We bought about 10 pounds of ground beef this run. I get a little inappropriately excited when I realize how far we’re stretching that 10 pounds. This is what it’s doing for us this month:
- Mixed with onions, Worchestershire, garlic, pepper, and seasoned salt (Lawry’s), it’s formed 18 hamburger patties. We’ll either grill ‘em up (and use this recipe for homemade buns–it’s fantastic and FAST!), or bread, brown, and bake them to use as “cube steak” with cream gravy and smashed potatoes. 18 patties is three entire meals… the patty size can be modest, because we’ll add sides, so meat is just one minor component. It’s pretty amazing the difference having homemade sides and buns makes. Real food is Filling. You don’t need as much to fill you up. And we’re not done yet!
- Mixed with some Mexican herbs and spices, half of what remained turned into nacho meat. We used part of that for Friday night’s supper, and two more portions are in the freezer for future nacho nights. We go easy on the ground meat with nachos, since we add black beans when we make them up. It’s a great, “meaty” addition, and adds both fiber and protein to the meal.
- Mixed with Worchestershire and garlic and onions, part of the other half of the remainder was browned up and awaits being added to two honking large pans of lasagna for the freezer.
- The rest of the other half became a 10-portion batch of my mother-in-law’s Beef Stroganoff, and is ensconced in the freezer. Or rather, some of it is ensconced in the freezer. Six portions have been ensconced by the bellies of my husband, son, and middlest girlie. Apparently, we need to put that recipe back in regular rotation.
Yes, that’s right. Ten pounds of decent ground beef (from a butcher department I trust) that turns into the meaty foundation of eight meals to feed six people. Not too shabby.
We bought a lot of cheese. I’ll spend another $12 on four pounds later in the month. We tend to eat a good amount of cheese. The fat and flavor are lovely “rich” things that make basics taste great. Part of the cheese has already been used to do a batch-and-a-half of freezeable-nukeable Mac-n-Cheese; we ate our fill for supper tonight, and 24 portions are in the freezer.
The $15 I spent today went for just over 5 pounds of bacon. As with anything else, we could devour 5 pounds of bacon in three sandwiches. But instead, it gets chopped and frozen. A sprinkle of freshly-browned bacon for green beans, or in eggs, or as a topper for baked potato soup? It feels deluxe, but doesn’t have to cost a lot.
We’re putting together Fried Rice for the freezer, in quart-bag packets. With the rice cooked and seasoned, and ham, peas, and carrot slivers already in, making a lunch of nice fried rice is as easy as scrambling a few eggs and chopping them into the defrosted, pan-heated rice pack. It’s tremendously economical.
We’re also making hot-sour soup (minus the egg; that will go in when we heat the soup to eat) for the freezer. I’m doing a budget version (and still very tasty!) using chopped fresh button mushrooms, and canned bamboo shoots, and skipping the fancy mushrooms and tofu. It’s delicious. When freezing soups, remember to lay the bags flat to freeze; they’ll stack well after.
Continuing on the Asian theme, about a pound of ground pork is getting together with some ginger, carrots, soy sauce, and about half a pound of grated cabbage, to form that magical tasty thing: potstickers! I have promised an old friend to blog about those, so look for the recipe here this week.
Another dear friend heard I was planning to do some tamales (with pork carnitas, $1.98/pound and SO GOOD!), and expressed interest in making some for her household, so another Not Molly Tamale Party is in the planning stages. This will make the Eldest very, very happy; just as she was diametrically sad the other day, when what she desperately hoped was a lone, lost tamale lurking in the far recesses of the freezer turned out to be, in fact, a few over-ripe bananas I’d chucked in there to avoid them spoiling entirely on a day when no one wanted banana nut muffins.
And I’m going to use up the frozen bananas and make some banana nut muffins or bread, too. And if no one wants them right away? They’re going (finished, non-tamale-appearing) into the freezer.
We picked up buttermilk, and enough link sausage for three meals, so that makes three nights of Waffles & Sausages at some point. I’ll blog my Eldest’s waffle recipe as soon as we do it again. They are GOOD. And I’m generally opposed to everything in the waffle/pancake/french toast genre, so that’s saying something. We make that meal a tad more round by adding scrambled eggs and diced potatoes/onions/Chalula pepper sauce.
Still to buy this month are about 6 pounds of chicken wings, which we’ll pair with spinach artichoke dip (supplies bought, and it’ll be portioned for the freezer in 1/3 cup dollops) and some homemade Bavarian pretzel rolls (still perfecting the recipe, and will share when we do it up next), plus sliced raw veggies, for Party Food Nights. Random Party Food and a Movie make for happy people here.
I say, “still to buy this month” because:
- We don’t own a TV.
- When we did own a TV, it didn’t have any TV service hooked up to it. Yes, we’re That Kind of Weird.
- Pre-Me, my husband had TV service, but even then he didn’t follow sports.
- I didn’t know this weekend was a huge football game.
- Apparently, it is considered immoral to watch football without eating chicken wings.
- I definitely consider it immoral to pay $4 a pound for chicken wings.
- Thus: we’ll buy wings in a few weeks when the rush is over, and prices have descended to a reasonable price. And when the wing part of the butcher department is not thronged with very large men and their Plumber’s Butts. Gross.
A trip through the bulk foods section yielded 90% of the herbs and spices we need to tackle a cuisine my Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Fellow dearly adores, but which I have not yet learned to do: Indian food. We have the goods to make a nice Chicken Masala, we lack one ingredient for Chicken Vindaloo, and we have what we need for our choice of chapati, poori, or naan, a few styles of dal, the raita sauce goodness, and possibly also a nice rice pudding. I’m excited to try my favorite regional Greek yogurt with this stuff.
We don’t do dessert daily, but everyone seems to be on a roll lately for Pineapple Fizz Cake, so I picked up the fruit to do that. Plus, we’ll have at least two batches of from-scratch brownies, and can count on The Boy to do a few batches of his cinnamon-oatmeal-raisin cookies, or peanut-butter cookies. And Eldest may be talked into another batch of Earl Grey Shortbread, which was lovely stuff. And of course, the options for pie are always present.
We also got the supplies for about 90 servings of our favorite hot cocoa (which I’ve just realized I’ve never blogged. Bad, bad, naughty me! Good homemade cocoa is a formative childhood experience. I’ll share it later.)
And by Tuesday, I should be basically done cooking (and grocery shopping) for the month of February, aside from things like baking bread, biscuits, buns, and rolls, and picking up fresh veggies and milk. With $20 per week budgeted there, I should come through the month right close to $430 total, feeding a whole lot of really good food to six people who actually insist on eating Every Single Day. Crazy.
Now, I’ve gotta hit the hay. Tomorrow is Sunday, and I’m going to a whole lot of church.