Sunday, August 25, 2013

Dad's $75 weekly meal plan

Last weekend my husband gifted me a Mom's afternoon out and took over meal planning and grocery shopping for the week. I got a mani/pedi (his treat!) while he combed my dinner diary for recipes and took our toddler shopping at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. 

Pinch me? I could get used to this.

Besides being pampered for a few hours, reading three back issues of Sunset Magazine, and returning home to find two happy boys, perhaps the best part of my day was seeing the delicious meal plan my husband put together while I was out. Not only that, but his shopping trip totaled only $48 which, when added to the $15 spent at the farmer's market/grocery the previous day, kept us below our $75 a week grocery budget. (Note: Our total $75 grocery budget does include breakfasts, lunches, snacks and kid-friendly staples. As far as planning goes, we focus on dinner as that is the main meal we prepare each day, and our lunches are nearly always leftovers.)

As with each of our weekly meal plans, he took into account what we already had in the fridge, garden and freezer, substituted (or omitted) ingredients in recipes, stayed away from processed foods, and stuck to his list when he went to the store. While your family may not be able to match our exact spending given what you already have on hand, the meal plan below is budget-friendly, reuses ingredients, and takes advantage of fruits/veggies that are in season (and thus less expensive). To help you see how we cut corners and saved money, I inserted notes on how we prepared each meal.

Have your own meal plan tips? Please share them in the comments!



Matt's Awesome Meal Plan

Saturday: Burgers with Kale Chips 
  • The grass-fed ground beef for the burgers came from my husband's winery. Don't have your own free beef from work? (Really, who does?) Buy it on sale and stock your freezer. We get the kale from our garden, but you can find a bunch of it at the grocery store for $1.50 or less. If you have kids, I bet you can get them to try these delicious and crunchy kale chips. Our toddler loves them.
Sunday: Salmon Tacos with Carrot & Cabbage Slaw
  • This recipe is for white fish tacos, but we like to spice it up with salmon. We buy 1/2 lb of fish for our family of three and make it work by having plenty of veggie toppings. Other ways we keep this recipe cheap: skip the jicima and red cabbage (just do green), and if you don't have all of the spices for the fish rub, no biggie. We often just do chili powder.
Monday: Grilled Whole Chicken w/Tomato Cucumber Salad
  • We stock up on chickens when they are on sale (like this week) and put them in the freezer. Tomatoes and cucumbers are in season so if you don't have them in your garden like we do, you can find good deals at your grocer or farmer's market.
Tuesday: Chicken and Black Bean Tostadas
  • Use leftover dark meat from the grilled chicken for these yummy toastadas. Also plan to reuse a lot of ingredients from the salmon tacos: tortillas, chilies in Adobo sauce, sour cream, limes, and cabbage. We also save by not including the radishes, and keeping our pantry stocked with black beans we bought on sale.
Wednesday: Chicken BLTs and Side Salad
  • Use the leftover white meat for these yummy BLTs and whatever bread you have on hand. Save any remaining bacon for a leisurely weekend breakfast. For the side salad, be creative with whatever you have on hand. For us this week? Let me guess...tomatoes and cucumbers...
Thursday: Zucchini Baba Ganoush with Fresh Vegetables
  • This has become our go-to recipe this summer - it's delicious, easy and healthy. You will need to invest in Tahini paste the first time you make this, but it keeps well and can be used to make other great frugal dishes like homemade hummus. I've also found that I can use half the amount of Tahini called for in this recipe and the result is even - if not more - delicious. Zucchini is in season and if you ask around, you may find a friend who would beg you to take some off their hands. We serve our Baba Ganoush with Mediterranean flatbread from Trader Joe's (or leftover tortillas), sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. Notice a veggie theme this week?
Friday: Margarita Pizza with (shocker) Tomato Cucumber Salad
  • I love pizza nights because I can almost do the cooking with my eyes closed. We buy pizza dough and a huge hunk of mozzerella (you always save when you buy ungrated cheese) from Trader Joe's, and use tomato sauce that we canned last year. If we have leftover veggies or meat from the week, onto the pizza they go.
You might also like...

1. Meal Planning: How we eat well on a $75 weekly budget 
2. Eating Well on the Cheap: Keeping a stocked freezer
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Monday, August 5, 2013

A Napa Valley Peach Harvest

Biting into a ripe, juicy peach - the kind where the juice runs down your hand and drips off your elbow - means summer has officially arrived.

This year, that moment occurred for our family in early July when we arrived home from vacation to find our peach tree so laden with fruit that branches were laying on the ground. After four years, our tree had finally decided it was going to bear fruit. And bear fruit it did. Bushels and bushels of it.

It would be a conservative estimate to say we picked 100 peaches over the course of the next two weeks (nonwithstanding the countless number that fell to the ground). We ate peaches for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We gave them to friends. I think our 18-month old son lived on peaches alone for days on end (to his glee, I might add). And yet this barely made a dent in the pile of fresh fruit blanketing our patio table.

It was time to get to work.

As a child I spent a lot of time in Ohio, visiting my grandparents' farm. I always loved peeking into their root cellar to see canned fruits and vegetables neatly lined up along the shelves. The colorful rainbow that the jars made - red tomatoes, green beans, pink rhubarb, orange peaches - captured the essence of summer.

While our idea of preserving food is much different that my grandmother's - she canned/froze to feed a family of nine and we do so for three - when I'm in the kitchen in the heat of a summer afternoon with a big pot of water boiling on the stovetop, freshly sanitized jars on the counter and something delicious and bubbling ready to fill them (say, peach salsa), I like to think that she would be proud.

In preserving this year's peach harvest we canned, froze, dehydrated and baked. Have your own bushel of peaches? I hope you find some inspiration below.

Peach Salsa

Courtesy of the Ball Book of Complete Home Preserving

Note: If you haven't canned before, I highly recommend taking the Ball Book of Complete Home Preserving out from the library to read about the process, or visit their website for more information. When canning, it is extremely important for food safety to follow the recipe to a tee as you want an appropriate balance of acid, salt and sugar.

Makes about eight 8-ounce jars

1/2 cup white vinegar
6 cups chopped, pitted and peeled peaches 
1 1/4 cups chopped red onion
4 jalepeno peppers, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed finely chopped cilantro
2 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
2. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine vinegar and peaches (to prevent the peaches from browning, put the vinegar into the pot first and as you cut the peaches, add them to the vinegar and stir). Add onion, jalapeno, red pepper, cilantro, honey, garlic, cumin and cayenne. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch (1 cm) headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot salsa. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.
4. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.

Spiced Peach Jam

Courtesy of Preserving the Harvest, by Carol W. Costenbader

Makes five 1/2 pints

4 pounds (about 8 large) peaches, peeled, pitted and chopped
5 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Place all ingredients in a heavy 8-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, to dissolve the sugar.
2. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil until the mixture reaches 220 F on a cooking thermometer.
3. Ladle into sterile jars, allowing 1/4 inch of headspace. Cap and seal.
4. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.

Fruit Leather

Pit your peaches and place them in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. If using a dehydrator, follow the manufacturer's instructions. If using your oven, pour the puree onto a rimmed cookie sheet lined with plastic wrap or freezer paper. The puree should be about 1/8 - 1/4 of an inch think (the thinner the fruit leather, the less time it will take to dry). Place in a 135 degree oven for 8-10 hours. Set the door ajar with a spoon handle to maintain the low temperature and allow for moisture to escape.

Peach Cobbler

This summer I discovered a recipe for the best, easiest, you-probably-already-have-the-ingredients-on-hand peach cobbler. Per the usual, it came from one of my favorite blogs: Dinner, a love story. I made this cobbler at least four times with our fresh peaches and every time it came out perfect.  

Frozen Peaches

Peaches should be wet packed, meaning they should be frozen in liquid. This year I froze our peaches in a 'honey pack,' a syrup made of 1 cup mild honey and 4 cups water. You can also use a 'sugar pack' - just substitute the sugar for the honey.

To make your syrup, heat the sweetener and water to a boil in a large stockpot. Let the syrup cool completely. Add 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice to your syrup to keep your peaches from darkening.

You can freeze peaches with or without the skins, either in slices or halves. As this was our first year freezing peaches I tried freezing them every which way so that next year I'll know what works best.

Add your sliced/halved peaches to your freezer container of choice (you can use plastic containers or glass canning jars). Use the syrup to cover the peaches, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace in pint size containers and 1 inch of headspace for quarts.

Place in the freezer and add to your freezer list.

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2. Eating Well on the Cheap: Keeping a stocked freezer
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