Sunday, February 11, 2018

Organizing the Pantry

Organization is NOT my "thing".  Despite years of trying to keep everything neat and structured, it goes against my nature.  That said, I never stop trying and making an effort to keep my home tidy and less cluttered.  Having been previously married to someone who was OCD in scary ways, I think there is certainly a balance between an unkept home and glorifying tidiness to an unhealthy degree.  I am ALWAYS trying to find that balance.

When I was a child, my mom was a wonderful housekeeper, but she went into panic mode when we were having parties and/or guests over.  Feelings of tension about keeping everything "perfect" for our guests ran high.  I still struggle with that since I have had my own home.  My friends know that I get very uncomfortable and apologetic if someone drops in and my home doesn't look "perfect"...whatever that means.  This is my problem and I am continually working on giving myself grace and not losing out on laughter and joy in welcoming others into my home in all its stages of cleanliness and disarray.

Last week I tackled the pantry and the freezer.  The freezer had so many odd packages of meat and veggies that I had frozen.  Some were crusted over with thick ice and I just decided to toss them for safety concerns.  In addition, I purchased a Food Saver so that I could more effectively freeze portions and stack them neatly.  It arrived yesterday and I used it to seal some chicken thighs that I poached in stock.  They are fully cooked and ready to use for chicken salad.  I sealed them and placed in freezer.  We get so much organic produce from our CSA since we are the local pick up location; I will know be able to freeze the greens for using in winter soups and smoothies.

Here are two BEFORE pictures of my pantry.

We have a tiny home, but the kitchen is the largest room in the house with a tremendous amount of storage.  This is kind of embarrassing for me, but shows how easy it is to just toss things into the pantry after grocery shopping.  Sometimes we need to clear the table and island, so I quickly put all the pantry items on the shelves and never return to arrange them.

We use a great deal of fresh produce, but always keep canned items on hand.  I make all of our marinara from scratch, so I keep canned tomatoes on hand when fresh aren't available.  I tossed some leftover boxes of sugar cones in there in December when I bought them for a craft night at church.  The taco shells are great for standing upright in a baking dish, filling with meat and cheese and baking.  My boys love to then top with fresh tomatoes, lettuce, etc.  Not as tasty as my homemade tortillas, but they are quick and easy to hold.

Here are the AFTER photos:

So much better!  I realized that I had A LOT of tomato soup cans, too.  We make tomato soup in the Vitamix, but my boys love good old Campbell's for dipping grilled cheese sandwiches.  I had forgotten when I bought these at Meijer for 59 cents (a great price).   I love olives and they are also nice to have on hand for adding to a salad when you are bringing a meal to someone.  

I rotated out some of the baking supplies and made note of a few items that were missing.  We had a few bags of pasta that were half used, so I made some simple pasta dressed with butter for a side this week.  

If you are serious about meal planning, keeping an organized pantry is so helpful.  We generally always have the following on hand:
-canned tomatoes
-tomato sauce
-canned beans
-chipotle with adobo (freeze whatever you don't use)
-Chicken and beef stock
-flour (white, wheat, bread flour)
-baking soda and powder
-1 extra ketchup and mayo

Today I am going to start another organization project: tackling rounding up our financials and doing our taxes.  2017 brought an unexpected job offer for my husband and he was able to quit driving uber as a side job and I was able to ease up on etsy.  Taxes will be "fun" this year with the first half uber in addition to the job change.  With the change came his employer reimbursing us for our health insurance which was a huge blessing, although we were locked into a high deductible plan until 2018.  This December we got the incredible news that we now have group health insurance.  With a very low no cost to us.  I actually cried and not a day passes that I am not incredulous at God's great mercy to my family.  I know that as I do these taxes, I will be thanking God for His lavish provision and goodness.  Continue honoring Him with your money, be a wise steward and live below your means.  

Friday, January 19, 2018

Spinach and Potato Frittata

I loosely call this a Spinach Potato Frittata because it sounds better than "Easy Way to Use Up Veggies".  My family enjoys variations on this and we have added bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes.  The tomatoes do make it watery so don't go crazy with too many.

The first time I had a frittata was in a college Spanish class. My grad student teacher, Ms. Beauchamp, had just returned from studying abroad in Spain and she discovered how to make it there.  She brought one in for us to try and we ate it cold and it was really delicious.  (Side note: she wanted us to pronounce her name felt sacrilegious to me as a French major.)  The two things I remember from her class was the tasty frittata and the awful butchering of her beautiful French name.

For this recipe, I do not use exact measurements since I usually use the eggs as a vehicle for whatever we need to use.  After poking around the fridge and pantry, I saw that we had one small bag left of our CSA potatoes and a package of spinach that needed to be used.  There are always onions, garlic and eggs readily available for use.

9-12 eggs
Olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 cups chopped potatoes (you could use shredded, too)
3 cups fresh spinach
Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and pour some olive oil into a heavy cast iron skillet.  My huge Le Creuest is perfect for this job.  You will need to use a skillet or heavy Dutch oven that can go from stove to oven.

Add chopped onions to the hot oil and cook until softened.

After peeling the potatoes, I sliced them in small uniform, pieces (this is important so that you don't have some under cooked, large potato chunks.  Add the potatoes and garlic to the onions and cook until potatoes are tender.

 Add all the spinach at once.  It will heap up in the pan, but the heat will quickly begin wilting the greens.  (This is where you could also add other veggies).

After about 5 minutes and a splash of water, the spinach was wilted down.  Season with salt and pepper.

While it was cooking, I blitzed the eggs in the Vitamix.

Pour the eggs over all and lift the potato mixture so that the eggs can seep underneath.  Pop the whole thing into the hot oven!

Bake for about 15-20 minutes until top is set and golden brown.  Serve while hot or cold.  Tastes delicious with salsa, too!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Meal Planning and Grocery Budget Fun

After several requests to share some of my meal planning and grocery shopping tips, I decided to write up another blog post since my "system" has changed since my last post a few years and I no longer coupon.

A few important things to help yourself:

1) Prepare a document on your computer that lists all the meals your family eats.  It helps to divide them into columns.  The ones I use are: chicken, beef, pork, other, pasta, meatless, eggs.  When you are stuck in a rut as you plan the week's meals, this document helps refresh your memory.

2) Familiarize yourself with good sale prices.  If you buy a lot of chicken, know what a great price is on breasts, thighs, organic, roasters, etc.  Same thing for produce and other items.  If you see a great deal on something you use a lot, stock up.  For instance, Meijer has their salad dressings 10 for $10 this week.  In general, I like to make our dressings from scratch.  However, I do bring a lot of meals to others and often have a salad.  I keep bottles of dressing on sale to bring with my meal, so I buy about 5 or 6 when they go on sale.  If you have a freezer, you can buy meat in bulk when there is a great price.  Meijer bought too much organic chicken thighs once and I was able to buy several packages for about $1.79/lb (GREAT for organic boneless, skinless thighs).

3) Set aside about 20-30 minutes to plan for your meals.  I actually timed myself tonight and it was about 20 minutes, including taking these pictures.

4) If you like, having a big chalkboard or erase board in the kitchen with our meals is an easy way to stay in track and within your budget.  I generally write down the week's meals and take a photo.  It helps to glance at the photo while shopping to remind myself of the menu and stay on task.

That said, here is a quick breakdown of what works for me:

Get the sales papers for the week and grab about 2 or 3 from stores with which you are familiar.  This week I am looking through: Meijer, Fresh Thyme and Shop & Save.

Go through the papers, circling items that are on sale and also noting ones that have really great prices (and that you use often) that you can add to your pantry. 

You can see here that I marked up the 10 for $10 at Meijer this week.  I love when they have this sale because they have fresh items and also pantry items (like the dressing I mentioned above).  That is a good buy on organic mushrooms so I know right away that I will make something like stroganoff this week. 

A half sheet of paper is perfect for writing down the sales for the week.  This is usually how I decide where I will shop as I generally only go to 2 stores.

Use that list to make a quick sheet for:
-What you have (fresh and pantry)
-What you need (fresh and pantry)

This is where it all comes together and you can pull out your document of meal ideas (see #1 above) if you are in a rut. If there is a great sale on chicken, add it to your meal plan twice.  Cook double the amount and you can schedule in a leftovers day if you know you will be busy.

Make sure you add any item from that need list to your grocery list for the week.

Finally, head to the store and stay on task.  Know what seasonal produce is on sale and buy in bulk.  Make your family eat what you have chosen to serve.  Complaints get the complainer booted from the dinner table. 

Keep in mind that stores like ALDI, Costco and Trader Joe's are excellent for regular staples, too.  I make a trip every 2 weeks to the Caputos in Carol Stream for produce, dried apricots ($1.99/lb!!), roasted almonds ($3.99/lb), house Ricotta, beef tenderloin and their house canned tomatoes.

The first few months may be hard, but I firmly believe that anything can become a habit if done regularly.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Posole by an Irish Girl who Married a Mexican Man

Posole is one of my husband's favorite meals.  I remember eating it for the first time on Christmas day several years ago.  My mother-in-law had made a big pot and it smelled fantastic.  She ladled up big bowlfuls and we added an assortment of toppings: shredded cabbage, chopped radishes, lime juice, tostadas and queso fresco.  It was like nothing I had ever tasted and I loved the crisp, cold of the cabbage with the spicy soup loaded with pork and maize blanco (hominy) offset by the tart lime and salty, crunchy tostada.

After that initial taste, I tried to make it myself and failed miserably. It tasted nothing like my mother-in-law's posole. She is one of the best cooks I know and just a natural in the kitchen.  The second try was a little better and I slowly improved.

That brings us to today.  I finally made my posole JUST RIGHT.  Not sure if it was my new, huge 9 quart Dutch oven (Christmas gift from husband) or a random recipe success....but it was pretty darn delicious.  I did deviate and use a lean tenderloin as the shoulder can be so fatty and require trimming.  I was unsure if it would lend the same flavor and not end up terribly dry, but it was ok!

Remember, I am not great at measuring exact quantities, so adjust as needed:

3-4 pounds pork tenderloin
2 onions, chopped
2 Tbs. garlic
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, 1 tsp. sauce
1 Tbs. Mexican oregano
6-8 cups chicken stock
1 can tomato sauce
Big can maize blanco/hominy (108 oz)
dried chilies of your choice, stems removed
salt and pepper

Saute onion in olive oil until softened.  Add pork and turn on all sides to lightly sear.  Toss in garlic, chipotle pepper, sauce, dried chilies, tomato sauce, stock and seasonings.  Set lid on top and let cook on medium low heat for 2 hours, making sure it does not boil.  Add maize blanco and taste to adjust seasonings.  Cook on low another hour.

Serve with shredded cabbage, chopped radishes, oregano, tostadas, cilantro, queso fresco and fresh lime wedges.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Anisette Knot Cookies

To be truthful, I am posting this recipe mostly for myself.  After tweaking a couple recipes this afternoon, I baked a tasty batch of anisette cookies and know how I often forget my changes.

Thes are delicious!   Not too sweet,  perfect with hot coffee.  Even better the next day as the anise flavor is more pronounced.  Enjoy!

Anisette Cookies

2 sticks softened butter
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Scant Tablespoon baking powder
3 Tablespoons anise seed

2 cups powdered sugar
Anise extract

In heavy enamel skillet or pan, toast anise seeds until fragrant, shaking pan often so they do not burn.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs and vanilla and blend.  Sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Using mortal and pestle, tap and lightly grind anise seed.  Add all dry ingredients and anise seed to mixer and blend until it forms a ball.  Do not over beat.  Pop in fridge for a few minutes while you prep oven.

Preheat oven to 350.  Lay parchment on baking sheets.  Make thin icing glaze with powdered sugar, extracts and some water.

Roll out teaspoon sized amount and form into knots.  Bake about 8-10 minutes or until bottom is lightly browned.  Remove and slide parchment off hot baking sheet so bottoms don't keep browning.

Dip tops of hot cookie in icing.  Sprinkle with sugar or nonpareils.  Let cool and store in airtight containers as they tend to dry out.  Even better the next day or two!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Just Tired

Sometimes I revisit the blog, mainly to look up a recipe that I have posted here.  It always makes me a little sad because I had so much more time to tend to my home.  Granted, the boys were smaller and Charlie was not in school, but those were sweet days.  And I probably didn't realize it most of the time.

For the past 2 years I have been working part time doing office work.  Initially, it was a limited number of hours and it has stretched into about 18 a week.  That translates to 3 days a week from the time I drop off Charlie to the time I pick him up.  And I am exhausted.  Still doing etsy as much as I can.  We self insure and our premiums have increased to such an extent that they exceed our mortgage.  In fact, in 2017 our premiums will be 39% of our take home pay.  Feeling like we are drowning in the burden of it.

My heart wants to be home, doing the mundane things like: laundry, meal planning, cooking and making the house beautiful.  Perhaps it doesn't seem like an admirable aspiration to some, but it is simply how my heart is wired.  I love being a wife and mom and homemaker.  I love it.

Hopefully people give me grace when me home is messy, because it feels like it has been an endless "messy season".

Through it all, God is good.  He gives us clear signs of His providence and love.  Despite all the weariness and anxiety, we are living in a home of love and riches that transcend anything money can buy.  E and I are praying for wisdom and clarity on how to best manage our time, finances and family.  He has been driving uber and it has been an excellent means of extra income.  We are thankful, but I miss him.

Will try to post more stuff, mostly recipes!  I know no one reads this, but if you do, thank you for "listening".  If you are a homemaker, your work is precious and my heart finally understands this more than ever.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

It has been a long time since my last post!  Wanted to share some of this year's Christmas decor.  Christmas is an exciting time around here as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior.  My mom always did a fantastic job of creating a peaceful and joyful atmosphere in our home and I hope I can do the same for my family.  Enjoy!