Wednesday, June 30, 2010

SNAP Challenge: Conclusion

Well gang I have some sad news to report. I can’t find my June receipts! They are all sitting together tucked away in a notebook or cookbook that I’m not able to find. I don’t know exactly how much we spent, but I was keeping a running total in my head. So I know we had like $10 dollars left to play with. I think we'll make a donation to the Jimmie Hale Mission. One of our local grocery stores has a system where you can "buy meals" for the soup kitchen. Easy peasy.

I will say that Dennis and I did not give up going out to eat and that I get free meals at work. Some people may not have that advantage, but we’re a young couple. We want to have fun, and we can. I am perfectly convinced that I could make the small budget work. Earlier this year we ate in most of the time and I was keeping us to a budget.

I got really panicked after the first week when Dennis and I went a little crazy. Automatically, $118 was taken out of our budget for my weekly vegetable box. I was not willing to give up that produce. I could have easily given more room in our budget by buying conventional produce from ALDI, but I just couldn’t do it. I believe in eating locally and I am working hard to get my diet as local as possible.

What ended up happening is that we ate very simple meals using up what I had on hand and in the pantry.

Sorry that I didn’t blog much about this challenge. Truly, our regular budget so closely resembles the proposed one that I was really just documenting what I normally do. For those who are merely stopping by to glance at my Food Stamp Posts, I encourage you to come back often. A year from now, my blog should be filled with month by month seasonal recipes. One of my main goals for this blog is to find recipes for two that use everyday ingredients. Sure, I definitely will play with cuisines and flavors, but I usually restrain myself to what I can do with my box. If I can afford to do it, then so can you.

Besides reducing the amount of meat you eat, eating seasonally is definitely the most food budget friendly thing you can do. You don’t even need a CSA box to do it; you can simply learn food schedules and buy accordingly.

I have been participating in the June Food Stamp Challenge issued by Katy at The Non-Consumer Advocate. To see more about this challenge, visit her blog where she updates daily on her progress.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Corn and Bacon Chowder

It is the thick of summer vegetables. I am having issues keeping up with my box! So last night it was imperative that I get us to consume a good chunk of the produce. Once again I turned to old faithful, Eating Well Serves Two. It is an awesome little cookbook. I was explaining to Dennis last night that a lot of his favorites came from this book. When I mentioned Parsnip & Apple Stew, he remarked that we hadn't eaten that in a while. I reminded him that we wouldn't be eating it again until the winter. We both are getting used to eating seasonally. It really makes you appreciate a recipe.

I really needed to use up some corn and potatoes, so why not serve up Corn and Bacon Chowder? It took me a little while to prep, because I had to slice the corn off the cob and dice up my own potatoes (why would I buy packaged diced potatoes?). However, it was all worth it because we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Dennis sliced up some cucumber and tomatoes (that were also starting to pile up on me) and I threw salad dressing on them. He liked the cucumber/tomato combo because it reminded him of the salads in Greece. Maybe next time I'll throw some feta on top of it for kicks and giggles.

I've already decided to cook a batch of this and freeze it. I'll just skip the bacon step and add that in when I reheat later. I told Dennis we would either enjoy it 6 months from now when corn is no where in sight or next month when I don't feel like cooking.

Mandy's Notes: I did not add the extra olive oil the recipe calls for, I just used the leftover bacon grease. I diced up my own russet potatoes instead of using packaged potatoes. And I used fresh corn, not just because I had it fresh but because frozen corn has a weird waxy consistency that turns me off. While I would have liked to have added chives, we had none on hand. Oh well!

Cooking up some bacon.

Browning some onions and garlic.

Added the broth, milk, corn, and potatoes.

Isn't everything better with bacon?

Corn and Bacon Chowder
(Serves two)

2 slices of bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 14-ounce can chicken broth
½ cup low-fat milk
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 cup frozen diced hash brown potatoes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon lemon juice or rice vinegar

1. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add bacon, and cook, stirring often, until crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

2. Add oil, onion, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper to the pot and stir to combine. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to brown and soften, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle flour over the onion mixture and stir to coat. Add broth and milk and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Add corn and potatoes, increase heat to medium-high and return to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the potatoes are tender, 4 to 5 minutes.

3. Transfer 1 cup of the soup to a blender, and puree until smooth. Return the pureed soup to the saucepan along with chives, lemon juice (or vinegar) and the cooked bacon.

Makes 2 servings, 1 ½ cups each.

Per serving: 338 calories; 17 g fat (5 g sat, 9 g mono); 15 mg cholesterol; 38 g carbohydrates; 12 g protein; 4 g fiber; 444 mg sodium; 507 mg potassium.

Note (8/7/2010): I recently found myself with a surpluss of corn. I decided to double this recipe and freeze it. I decided to skip putting the bacon in until later, so that there would be chewy bacon in my soup. I divided the the soup into two 1-quart freezer bags and laid them flat on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Once frozen, you can remove the cookie sheet and you'll have nice flat bags. This way they'll stack easily and thaw out faster.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Food Waste Friday

Yeah... I know it's Saturday.

Yesterday I was too busy laying around on the sofa with Dennis, working, and then going out for wine to be bothered blogging. Life>Blogging. On a completely unrelated note... I tried a wine called Jazz Jam Sweet Shiraz, from South Africa - so yummy! I told Dennis I was celebrating the World Cup the only way I knew how.

So I have joined Kristen from The Frugal Girl and other bloggers in Food Waste Friday. Every Friday I will post pictures of the food that has to be thrown away because it has gone bad. This is to bring consciousness to the amount of money we throw away every week. The point of the picture is to shame the blogger into reducing their food waste so that they have nothing to report. In a Tim James kind of fashion, "It makes sense..... does it to you?".

I think this is terribly important for singles and doubles who cook. Sometimes when cutting a recipe, you only need half a can of something (it's usually tomato paste at my house) and you never seem to finish it off before it turns fuzzy.

This week, there is quite a bit of waste. And since I cook at two houses... I am not really sure what's under my jurisdiction. I will claim Dennis' food waste for him, but there are no pictures of that ugliness. I know you guys hate that!

From my house there are leftover grits from brunch party last week, some braised white beans from work, and lots of cold cuts. Two out of the four cold cuts aren't mine. They are my room mate's who left for Fiji a few weeks ago. I don't really eat much sandwich stuff, so this was bound to happen.
From Dennis' house, there was a whole pineapple that we go to too late. We thought very briefly about salvaging it, but there were so many brown spots to cut around that it wasn't going to happen. And there is some chicken broth that I don't know how long has been in there. I am not sure when chicken broth goes bad, but I am not going to find out by trial and error.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

SNAP Challege Update: Week Three

I think Dennis and I may come out even after all. I decided that the last couple of weeks, to stay under budget we’d just eat very simple meals. These are meals that I throw together with absolutely no recipes and using just what I have on hand. We bought some eggs, cheese, and fruit to supplement the box. Other than that, I was on my own. This is very rare for me. I usually have very detailed menus, using recipes that incorporate my local vegetables.

So Wednesday night rolled around and I had to figure out what I could make with on hand ingredients. I still had half a bag of red leaf kale and some pork sausage (left over from my Potato and Kale Soup). I took the eggs and cheese we bought, added some red onion, and made a frittata. I served it with some boiled potatoes mashed with Gorgonzola cheese (leftover from Polenta Squash Sauté), and steamed some broccoli that was just a few days shy of becoming completely wilted and rubbery. We even had some left overs to enjoy, which is rare for this Tiny Tables cook.

Here is the recipe I used for the first frittata I ever made. It’s scaled down to serve two. Perfect for Tiny Tables!

Thursday I found out one of my best friends was coming into town very briefly from Chicago. I got asked to cook, and I couldn’t turn down the request. As it was so last minute, I literally had no time to make anything elaborate. Nor did I want to break too much from the budget. I had some potatoes, cheese, bacon, and eggs; all the makings for another excellent frittata. I had some cucumbers and red onions that I sliced up and dressed with mustard vinaigrette. To finish it off, I cooked grits, made sweet tea, and a banana bunt cake.

This whole feast only required me to buy a dozen more eggs at the local convenient store. Everything else I had on hand in my pantry. Now I understand that some of you may not have a well-stocked pantry, but buying a bottle of vinegar here and some vanilla extract there will help you for impromptu moments.

Frittatas are a cheap and easy meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I learned Saturday that people really enjoy them, and it feels much more substantial and luxurious than simply serving breakfast for dinner. Somehow eggs and cheese can take even the most random ingredients and make them have a cohesive taste.

Crab and Spinach Quiche

Broccoli and Cheese Frittata

I have been participating in the June Food Stamp Challenge issued by Katy at The Non-Consumer Advocate. To see more about this challenge, visit her blog where she updates daily on her progress.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Southern Peach Cobbler

Peach season has arrived. Peaches may be my favorite fruit of all time. Fuzzy skin and all, I will quickly devour it down to the stone. My mother used to buy the huge basket from truck stands and it was my personal goal to eat them all before they went bad (never happened). I made my first peach cobbler a few years back. I soon realized making a whole pan was deadly. As I ate it for every meal that day (no lie). So it makes good sense to me, just to make a smaller version. Thank you Small Batch Baking. Once again, I have picked up this book from the library scouting out small scale versions of my favorite large baked goods. Don't throw away grandma's recipe yet, you'll need that for the you next potluck meal. But in the mean time, this one is a great replacement if you are just feeding one or two people.

As always, this book advocates individual servings. But I actually have a little corningware dish that is perfect for baking it together. You need a very small dish, or two 1-cup ramekins. I know you'll make it work. The crust was really good, I just might put a tad more butter in it next time (maybe 1.5 tbs instead of 1tbs). In fact, instead of putting it all on the top. I made two discs and rolled them out to width of my dish. That way I'd have the gooey crust on the bottom and the crispy crust on the top. My crust didn't brown that well, so next time I might put an egg wash on it. I also made my life easier by making the crust in my new food processor. If you don't have one it's fine, just follow the directions of the recipe as it states.

This didn't take much time to put together. I peeled and sliced peaches while watching TV. And made put it together in one or two commercial breaks. I sliced up 2 cups worth (instead of just slicing 3 peaches). My peaches were rather small, the season just started after all. Dennis was off watching baseball with some friends, I opted to stay home and watch The Tony's. He did appear magically at my door as soon as it came out of the oven. We spooned the last of my homemade ice cream onto it and drizzled it with caramel, and I sat down and ate my dinner.

That board is amazing. I just rolled it out to a tart size.

The crust mix, thanks to my new food processor.
As you can see, perfect little cobbler dish.

Southern Peach Cobbler
(Serves Two)

Unsalted butter, at room temperature for greasing baking dishes.

For the Filling:
3 ripe peaches, or 2 cups thaw frozen peaches
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Pinch of ground cinnamon

For the Topping:1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons cold whipping (heavy) cream
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar.

Baking Dishes Required:
Two 1 to 1.5 cup ovenproof bowls or ramekins, or one 2-cup souffle dish or casserole.

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preach the oven to 375F. Lightly grease the baking dishes and set them aside.

2. Make the Filling: If you are using fresh peaches, peel them and cut them in half. Remove the pits and cut the pieces into 1/2 inch slices. Place the peaches and the lemon juice in a medium-size bowl, and toss to mix. (If using frozen peaches, omit the lemon juice). Add the brown sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon, and toss well to coat the peaches. Spoon the peaches and juices into prepared baking dishes, dividing the filling between them.

3. Make the Crust: Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium-size bowl and whisk to blend well. Add the butter pieces and too to coat the butter with the flour mixture. Rub the mixture with your fingertips until the mixture is crumbly. Add the cream and toss with a fork until the dough is combined.

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly flour surface and knead it a few times to smooth it. Form the dough into a disk and roll it out, forming two 1/2-inch-thick pieces the shape and size of the top of the baking dishes. Place the dough pieces on top of the filling, and sprinkle each one with 1/4-teaspoon of sugar. Bake until the top is golden brown and the juices are bubbling, 25-30 minutes.

5. Remove the dishes from the oven and let them cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Serve the cobbler warm (with ice cream!).

Don't be fooled, we ate that too.
The filling, before I mixed it up.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

SNAP Challege Update: Week Two

So, after busting this week’s budget (of which Dennis and I are both guilty of), I have decided that no matter what we’ll make a donation. Our budget so closely resembles the one stated by the challenge that the donation most likely would have been under $10. So basically I have decided to resume my normal budget and make a more substantial donation (as in, more than $8.26).

Last week I talked about budgets. So this week I will talk about seasonal menus. I am a firm believer that people really don’t understand that a big reason why it’s expensive to eat fresh vegetables is because they are buying vegetables that aren’t in season. Strawberries in Winter? I don’t even want to know what you pay for those tasteless things.

It takes a lot of work to find good recipes. A lot of the seasonal cookbooks I have found are created by these chef-types who have these ultra lush gardens in California where everything grows (endives don’t come in my box, okay!?). If I read the word micro-green one more time, I will scream. Where are the real recipes? They’re there, you just have to dig. I really recommend magazines, as they are really great about including recipes that are in season now. Some magazines are more user/family-friendly than others. You can go to your local library, kick back, and read away.

If you were to come over to my house right now, you’d see stacks and stacks of cookbooks from the library. I have a very weird system worked out. When looking for recipes, I only look for recipes that are in season. Most of the time, I am looking for certain ingredients. Certainly I take note of recipes that sound good for other seasons, but I don’t write them down (unless they just sound too good to be true). This is so I don’t end up like my mother with folders of recipes never tried. However, when a new season rolls around I check out the cookbook again and look all over again. Eventually, I will have a nice base of recipes that I can go to season after season. My boyfriend still talks about my turnip, potato, garlic, and apple mash. But we will not enjoy this tasty treat again until late Fall. Until then, we’ll just be stuffing ourselves silly with tomatoes, eggplant, and squash.

Eating seasonally really will cut the amount you spend on produce, thus making it more affordable for those on a tight budget. Some produce is always cheap (onions, potatoes, celery, bananas), but you should compare the price of Asparagus in November versus the price in May. A dollar here and there does make a difference when on a small budget.

I have been participating in the June Food Stamp Challenge issued by Katy at The Non-Consumer Advocate. To see more about this challenge, visit her blog where she updates daily on her progress.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Spicy Potato and Kale Soup

I had never eaten kale until early this year. It's that vegetable that you see in cookbooks and magazines, but you never really see something that calls out to you. But when you get it in your box, you just have to use it up. The first time around I made a kale and white bean soup that instantly made me realize that kale was just a more flavorful version of spinach. This time around it's red leaf kale, and I decided to make another recipe from Eating Well Serves Two. Really, if you are cooking for two you should get this book. Out of all the "for one" and "for two" books I have looked at, I have used this book the most.

This soup is so straight forward that there is no reason for me to really talk about what I did with it. If you can't find chorizo, just use a sausage of your choice. Just make it! I think I am going to make another batch to use up the rest of my kale.

I'm working on Dennis' chopping skills. The potato was simple enough.

Now what you can't tell, is that right before I snapped this picture he was hacking away at the onion (with his tongue stuck out in concentration). This picture was supposed to be captioned "How not to cut an onion." But as soon as I pointed the camera, he started doing it right.

Soup in pot.

Soup in mouth.

Spicy Potato and Kale Soup
(Serves Two)

1/4 cup halved and sliced chorizo sausage
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 14oz can chicken broth
1/3 cup water
1 small russet potato, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
4 cups kale, ribs removed, thinly sliced
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper, or to taste

1. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add chorizo and cook, stirring until browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer the chorizo to a paper towel-lined late; wipe out the pot.

2. Heat the oil in the pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add brother, water, potato, and garlic; increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potato is tender, 6 to 9 minutes. Lightly mash the potato with a wooden spoon. Add kale, a handful at a time, waiting until it has wilted before adding more. Adjust heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale is tender, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved chorizo and season with pepper.

Makes 2 Servings, 1 ½ cups each.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Creamy Gorgonzola Polenta with Summer Squash Sauté

I think electronics really do have a mind of their own. Until yesterday, my digital camera hadn't been working since March. I got the dreaded lens error that killed my last camera. I changed the batteries and still, no go. Since then, I haven't been able to document any of the cool things going on with Dennis and I (Easter with his family, my sister's graduation, the zoo, etc). Not to mention I couldn't really take pictures of anything I was cooking. I thankfully I had a backlog of photos so I've been able to blog with no issues. But yesterday I realized I was running out. So, I finally go to the Kodak website (I have a warranty thank goodness). I look up the problem and the answer is "Change the Batteries" - duh! I already did that, but I humor them and do it one more time. It magically turns on. Are you kidding me?

So now you get pictures of last night's yummy meal, Creamy Gorgonzola Polenta with Summer Squash Saute. It came from Eating Well Serves Two and I was able to use my Grow Alabama yellow squash. The recipe says to use zucchini also, but I didn't have zucchini. It was tasty with out it. This was super easy to make and really flavorful. The recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of garlic, which would have been like a whole head of garlic. So I just used 1 tablespoon.

Cooking polenta can be a little tricky. So here is what I learned... I measured out the cornmeal and put into a bowl. I would whisk with one hand while I sprinkled the polenta slowly into the water. This avoided clumps that I would have gotten if I tried to pour it from the bowl. It says to leave it setting on low for 15-20min. I put it on the lowest setting on the stove, and I was getting concerned it might scorch. Thankfully Dennis has a "warming" station on his stove, so I just moved it over there. Be carefully when cooking the polenta, get the burner as low as you can. I might even take it off the heat and put it back on if your burner wont cooperate. [There are no pictures of this, cause it took both hands.]

The squash was easy peasy. Slice the squash, heat the oil, add the garlic, add the squash, sprinkle with flour, cover with broth, and top of with basil. When cherry tomatoes come into season, I plan to slice them up and add it to the squash. It will add some nice color too.

Even though I used Gorgonzola (which is a blue cheese for any unfamiliar) many cheeses could be substituted. The recipe also suggests goat cheese, but I think Parmesan or mozzarella would be good too. Just use your favorite and you should be good to go.

[If you look in the corner, you can see the recipe. I have to say, mine looked pretty dead on. Success!]

Creamy Gorgonzola Polenta with Summer Squash Sauté
1 14oz can vegetable broth
¾ cup water
6 tbs cornmeal
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup Gorgonzola cheese
4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbs minced garlic
1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 small summer squash, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 tbs all-purple flour
¼ cup chopped fresh basil

1. Bring 1 cup broth and ¾ cup water to a boil in a small saucepan. Slowly whisk in cornmeal and pepper until smooth. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until very thick and no longer grainy, 15-20 minutes. Stir in Gorgonzola; remove the pot from the heat.
2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle flour over the vegetables and garlic; stir to coat. Stir in the remaining broth and bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened and the vegetables are tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in basil; serve the sauté over the polenta.

Makes 2 Servings, ¾ c. polenta & 1 c. vegetables each.
Update 6/7/2010: We just used mozzarella instead of Gorgonzola. It was good, but we've decided that Parmesan might be the best substitute when Gorgonzola isn't around or wanted.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Pizza

About the time I started dating Dennis is when I decided to get creative in the kitchen. Up until that point I was just roasting all my veggies in olive oil and eating them with couscous. Great single food, if I do say so myself. But when Dennis came into the picture, I wanted to bring up my game. So the very first thing I ever made for him was Goat Cheese Pizzas with Indian Spiced Tomatoes and Mustard Greens. I had just received mustard greens and goat cheese in my Grow Alabama box, and I thought this sounded exotic. That would sure impress Dennis! I even posted the recipe on Facebook for some feedback. My foodie friends all said "yum!". It turns out I should have gone with my instinct. The recipe wasn't bad, it just wasn't my taste at all. I couldn't even finish mine, but Dennis choked it down. I was convinced our dating life was about to be over. Who could get serious with a girl who was going to cook him nasty Indian fusion pizza? Even though at the time he said it was good, he has since fessed up to not being a huge fan.

So shortly after that fiasco, I made a MUCH tastier goat cheese pizza. I think I found it on Epicurious, but I can no longer find the original. Thankfully I have it written down. So we can all enjoy it. I plan to make it just as soon as Grow Alabama add goat cheese bake to their grocery section. I have a basil plant overflowing out of the pot, so now I don't even have to buy the basil. In these particular pictures I even made my own pizza dough in my bread maker (look for recipe and pictures coming soon!).

For Tiny Tables, I will most likely cut the recipe in half. I've made the whole thing before, and usually provided enough for the two of us, and a few slices left over for breakfast. Most pizzas you don't even need a recipe, just throw on things you like and voila you've got a homemade pizza.

Caramelized Onions and Goat Cheese Pizza
2 tsp olive oil
2 c. thinly sliced onions, separated into rings
1 (1lb) pizza crust
1/2 c. bottled pizza sauce
1/4 c. oil packed sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1 1/3 c. (6oz) goat cheese
1/4 c. chopped fresh basil

Preheat oven to 450F.

Heat olive oil over medium-high. Add onion; cover and cook 3 min. Uncover and cooked for 11 minutes (or until golden brown), stirring frequently.

Place pizza crust on a baking sheet. Combine the sauce and tomatoes, spread on pizza. Top with onions and cheese. Bake at 450F for 10min or until crust is golden brown.

Yield: 6 slices, 1 slice serving

Cal 285
Fat 9.2
Fiber 1.4

I'll leave you with a quote from The Great Outdoors...

Wife: Come downstairs, Roman is making a goat cheese pizza.
JC: A what?
Wife: A cheese pizza.
JC: No, no, no, I heard a goat in there...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Snap Challenge Update: Week One

This last week was crazy for Dennis and I. It was one of those weeks where we had opposite work schedules. We did go out for BBQ Tuesday, but other than that – we’ve been eating up leftovers. I cooked the old faithful Thai Stir Fry (chicken with squash, carrots, and broccoli) and he enjoyed leftovers while I cooked up a little pasta.

Let's talk about budgets. Very important when you have limited funds. So how do I work our budget? I pretty much do all the math, and Dennis just participates. So starting in January we decided it was time to start cooking more at home. Until that point, we had been going out a lot. You know… early love bird stuff. So I started saving grocery receipts as part of my “get organized” resolution. Well for about six weeks I kind of let us go free for all. I’d pick recipes that went along with my Grow Alabama box and I’d cook them all up.

This is when I realized that a budget was needed. We’d leave having spent $100 for about a week and half of groceries. And the next week would be similar. Did I forget to mention that I was spending $120 a month for a weekly supply of vegetables? On top of that we were shopping at ALDI, a super discount grocery store. I had assumed the weekly cost would be about $30-40 a week to get anything to supplement the box. But we were tripling that estimate. We could have eating out that week on a similar budget. I knew this couldn’t continue.

However, I will be quick to point out, that a lot of the expense at that time was buying a bottle of vinegar (or whatever) for the first time. It will last you months, but you still have to fork out $8 for that recipe that needs 2 tablespoons. I now have a well stocked pantry of oils, vinegars, spices, and wines.

Afterwards, I took all the receipts I had collected and compiled them together in a notebook (organized by category). So every week after that I would look at the recipes figure out what I had to buy and literally add it up (leaving room for tax). Sometimes, a recipe would get pushed back because I needed to wait until I had a little extra money to buy that $10 bottle of walnut oil. This is a very detailed, nerdy way to do it. But it works for us. Dennis now just hands the receipt to me as we walk out of the grocery store. Then I get to go home and scribble down prices in my notebook. Since I shop at ALDI the prices don't really fluctuate, so there is never any needed to update a price. If the price does change week to week I over estimate for that item. For example, if milk ranges between $1.80 to $2.29 I'll typically just play it safe and price it at $2.50.

I don't really break down my budget too much at this point. It's just whatever I need for that week's menu. I do always set aside at least $5 for fruit. This usually gets us some bananas and one or two other items (typically on sale). I usually suck it up and buy the meat in the huge family packages. It is way more than Dennis and I could (or would) eat in one week. So I usually flash freeze them and pull out what I need when I need it (this further stretches the budget).

Since I spend $120 on the box, Dennis spends $120 on whatever we need to supplement. So basically, I look at both of our schedules (work, activities, etc) and figure out when we’re both free for meals together. There are usually one or two pantry meals (pasta or burritos) and then the rest utilizes vegetables. But for this month, we’re cutting down $20 at least. We really want to try to just eat very simple meals so our donation can be larger. Honestly, we’ll rely a lot more on our pantry to get us through. But we’ll be fine.

I am working on next week’s Menu. So I will post all the fun details.