Martha’s menu planning hints, tips and shortcuts

I read Tamy’s post about the how and whys of her menu planning and had to laugh because I had this similar post saved and ready to post. It was our conversation about menu planning that brought this blog to into existence to begin with.

Menu planning became a necessity for me due not only a very tight budget, but also the lack of time I have during the week. I work full time and have to be ready to get dinner started as soon as I walk in the door. It saves a lot of time, frustration, the urge to run out and pick up something I know is unhealthy for my family, or running into the grocery store last minute grabbing full priced, expensive items to put together a meal.

When it comes to menu planning I generally do a list of meals for the month. I keep a running list of new recipe ideas, family favorites, and new meals that were a hit. Every Sunday I like to do my more detailed meal plan for the week. It’s obviously more than just jotting down what I want to make. I first do a quick inventory of what I have in the freezer and pantry, then there’s the grocery list. There’s the actual shopping to do, there’s repackaging and there is pre-preparation to do that will make the week easier for me.

Unfortunately I really don’t have time to run from store to store to shop the sales, and I very rarely take the time for coupons either – I know I should, but I just don’t. What I do is shop in bulk, especially for meats. Meats are one of the things that tend to be much, much cheaper in bulk than buying at the local grocery store. You do have to be careful shopping in bulk, some items are a real deal, others work out more expensive. My local store also has a big buy one get one free sale that changes each week. I try to limit the remainder of my shopping to those buy one get one free sales, and stock up on all the basic items I use on a regular basis.

When I bring things home in bulk I think about the upcoming meals, cut and package accordingly. Some shortcuts I sometimes use are putting marinades in the bags with the meats prior to freezing. That way when it’s taken out to defrost it marinates at the same time and is ready to cook. Other things I may go ahead and cook before freezing, such as ground beef. I like to have a few packages precooked in the freezer to throw together quick meals without having to be bothered with cooking the ground beef. Meatloaf and meatballs can be mixed and shaped to put in the freezer. Meatballs need to be slightly frozen on cookie sheets first to keep them from getting all stuck together in one giant meatball. Even easier is to cook the meatballs and then freeze for really quick meals.

Another shortcut in cooking I use is to buy several rotisserie chickens at a time. My bulk store, Sam’s Club has them for $4.97 each. We’ll have one for dinner the first night, I freeze one whole to just defrost and reheat with some stuffing and veggies, and the third I take the meat off the bones and freeze in baggies for quick meals that call for shredded chicken.

And finally, the last shortcut in menu planning I use is to cook an extra large amount of almost any main dish I make. I plan a different meal for the next night (or sometimes the next two nights!), and freeze some as well for a future meal or two. A good example of this is in the first menu plan I posted here last week. Even very small amounts of leftovers can be stashed in the freezer and then turned into a homemade soup for a soup and sandwich night – never any waste!


I’m very interested to hear your hints, tips, and shortcuts – please share! 🙂

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

MENU PLANNING

There is more to menu planning than just deciding what to make for dinner, at least for the average family. We’re a military family used to getting paid once a month and trying to make it last. So for me, menu planning also encompasses recipe scouring, coupon clipping (we love to read the Sunday papers and have coffee. One of the things I always go for first is the coupons to see what I can save for us – hubby always laughs when I get excited at a large coupon for something already on the list – LOL), sale ad reading and logical common sense planning. I do participate in Menu Plan Monday, but I actually prepare my menu for the entire month all at once and then just break it up for posting.

I start the last week of the previous month with checking out what I already have in the freezer inventory and then the ads for my local markets for the upcoming week. I see what meats will be going on sale and then scour my recipe file for recipes to match. One of the biggest things I do to help not only with cost of ingredients, but also waste is to make sure to back up recipes to each other that use similar ingredients that I can buy in bulk. For example if a recipe calls for 1/2 an onion for Monday night’s recipe, I make sure Tuesday night’s recipe uses the other 1/2. I also know which meals we’ll probably have leftovers for so I plan to either freeze part of it for a future meal or plan a CORN (clean out refrigerator night) within my plan if there is only going to be a little of this and that leftover. I write my list and then I match up the coupons for whatever staples (flour, sugar, eggs, butter, etc…) I need and then the luxuries if there is room within the budget. If there is a really good sale I buy in super bulk for the following month also. Now I know this sounds like a lot of work, but the whole process takes less than an hour and then it’s done for the month.

I have every scrap of a recipe I ever saved as well as many of my grandma’s too. It’s like an obsession with me. If a recipe sounds good in a magazine, I figure I can make it better based on my family’s likes and dislikes and tuck it away to try and manipulate at a later date. I recently decided it was time to clean-up this mess.

I found an old metal LP file box at a garage sale for 50 cents and dressed it up a bit so it didn’t look like a trash bin on my kitchen counter. (it was a beat up lime green with stickers everywhere). I have written 2 family reunion cook books in the past which helped some with eliminating the scraps of paper and I’m also in the midst of writing a Tastebook to use as family Christmas gifts that is helping to clean up this mess on a permanent basis.

I have a perpetual list on the counter and every time we use something or run out of something, everyone is trained (finally) to list whatever they used or ran out of on an ongoing basis.

We keep a pretty concise calendar with everyone’s activities, appointments, meetings and such on it. I also write what we will be eating on each day so they’ll know what to expect. For the planning purposes here I’ll show you the rest of the month so you can see the pattern(s). If for some reason we have to cancel a night I will rearrange the week so that the meal actually canceled is one using something from the freezer, not the fresh ingredients I’ve already purchased. When I do the shopping I buy in bulk to cut the cost and since I have my menu plan ahead of time, I break down the bulk package into meal appropriate sizes before freezing when I get home.

This post originally ran as a guest post series for Barbara over at Candy Hearts and Paper Flowers who is hosting the Homemaking September Shape-up. It was an all around comprehensive house to home style of posts to help us get our homes and lives whipped into shape.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

ESSENTIAL KITCHEN INGREDIENTS ~ Tools, Condiments and Seasonings ~

I thought about this category for several days and no matter how you look at it, ‘essential kitchen ingredients’ for your kitchen are subjective. I mean if I cooked a lot of oriental food I’m sure I’d find a WOK an essential tool, but I don’t so we’ll approach this the same as we did the pantry, we’ll try to apply logic and I’ll list ‘my‘ essentials and then you can interpret any way necessary for your household and the meals you prepare.

As for essential tools I have many that I consider truly essential! But, in reality we can truly get by with very few. I consider a good set of cutting boards, a set of great sharp knives, my cast iron skillet, quality stainless steel pans, spoons, spatulas and tongs a necessity. I try to stay away from most plastics as they do wear quicker and tend to harbor bacteria. I’m still using the same stainless steel tools and cookie sheets I spent a small fortune on 20 years ago, so that expenditure has paid off. The cast iron skillet has been passed down through my hubby’s parents and grandparents and it too is still going strong. I did purchase new heavy gauge stainless steel pots and pans about 10 years ago and they look brand new as stainless cleans so well. I also stay away from all non-stick surfaces as they do wear eventually and I just don’t want that in our food. I do change my cutting boards and rubber spatulas every couple of years just to be on the safe side despite always running them through the dishwasher at a high heat.

As much as I like all my pampered chef toys, they could all be eliminated by using just what I have listed above. Personally I cannot live without my essential Kitchen Aid stand mixer & hand mixer and my Cuisinart mini food chopper. I have a blender, but only use it to make my home made Creamy Tomato Basil soup and the occasional margarita. I don’t even own an electric can opener. I do love my slow cooker and my Magnalite stock pots and roaster, but they too could be substituted with other pots and pans if absolutely necessary.

Now for seasonings, this too is subjective based on the foods you prepare, but honestly if that recipe you cut out of a magazine calls for Herbs de Provence don’t run out and buy it for a one time recipe. It is a combination of herbs you probably already have on hand. It usually contains rosemary, marjoram, basil, bay leaf and thyme. So you can adjust what you have with your own likes. What I consider essential in the spice cabinet around here is kosher salt, sea salt, white & black pepper, celery salt, garlic salt/powder, basil, thyme, oregano, marjoram, parsley, paprika, cinnamon, apple pie spice, pumpkin pie spice, PURE vanilla, maple sugar, orange rind, bourbon extract, rum extract and vanilla powder.

In the pantry I have flour, bread and cake flour, self rising flour, sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, coconut, raisins, cornstarch, baking soda and baking powder, barley, split peas, tapioca, white rice, brown rice and various pastas.

In the way of liquid essentials I have worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, honey, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, olive oil, canola oil, balsamic vinegar and several flavored rice wine vinegars.

In the refrigerator I have mayonnaise, ketchup (both homemade when I have the time), mustard (despite my severe allergy everyone else LOVES it), sun dried tomato pesto, Better than Bouillon chicken and beef bases, fresh lemons & limes, minced garlic and chili sauce.

The real key here is to have what YOU need on hand at all times without a lot of effort.

This post originally ran as a guest post series for Barbara over at Candy Hearts and Paper Flowers who is hosting the Homemaking September Shape-up. It was an all around comprehensive house to home style of posts to help us get our homes and lives whipped into shape.
Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Dietary Missing Links

Thank you Janet and Megan for resurrecting it!

These are the foods we have been craving most since coming here.

  1. In-N-Out Animal Style burger
  2. A Dunkin’ donut (any donut, there are none here, I mean absolutely NO donut shops)
  3. Chuy’s Mesquite Broiler home of the Killer chicken & beef
  4. Round Table Italian Garlic Lover’s Supreme
  5. Sea Chest Oyster Bar
  6. Prime Rib and Garlic Bread from the Smoke House
  7. Rock Inn Burger and Fries
  8. Crazy Otto’s breakfast
  9. Sierra’s Mexican Food
  10. Buca di Beppo and Capo’s the original Las Vegas SpeakeasyItalian Food
  11. Carrot Cake (and the rest of their menu too) from Stonefire Grill
  12. Elephant Bar Restaurant

final blog signature.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

ORGANIZING YOUR PANTRY

Most of you already know that I feel most at home in the kitchen and despite my VIRGO guided perfectionist ways, I too have a tendency to have a messy pantry. We all have those moments when it’s just easier to put it anywhere other than where it really goes.

I’ll show this set of before pictures with the disclaimer that we’ve been super busy around here and it really was easier to just shove it back in.

I don’t use a ton of prepared foods due to health concerns, but we all have a pantry full of this and thats. I was fortunate in that the forced remodel of this kitchen allowed me to set things up my way when it went back together. I like to group like things together and that helps to make meal preparation simpler. In the Lazy Susan next to the stove I keep the small appliances together and then on the shelf above those I keep the canned meats, canned vegetables and soups. In the opposite Lazy Susan I group together canned fruits, Jell-Os, box mixes like cake mixes, rice mixes and stuffing as well as jams and jellies. In yet another cabinet I have grouped together all the” seasoning” bottles like soy sauces, vinegars, oils, Worcestershire, etc…. In the 2 shelves below that I keep all the back stock like extra ketchup, mayonnaise, BBQ sauce, hot sauce, etc… Spices and such use on a daily basis are all labeled and alphabetized in their handy box close to the stove while additional infrequently used spices, bread crumbs, flavorings, baking soda & powder and such are kept in a separate cabinet. Baking staples are also all grouped together.

I have all of my seasonings and ingredients placed in such a way that the butcher block becomes my central point for creating. I try to keep all the necessary tools also within an arm’s reach. All of my reaching into cabinets is also at a minimum and I don’t have to dig for what I’m looking for. Every person and every family is different in their likes and tastes, so there is no right or wrong to pantry organization, just what works for you. That said, I have found that logic, organization and common sense play an integral part in kitchen success.

No matter what the size or shape of you ‘pantry’, the whole idea is to make your job easier and cooking more fun. So take that willy nilly approach and toss it out the window. It’s time to organize and see what you have in your pantry. Knowing will help you to keep things rotated and up to date. When I was growing up, my dad always wiped the lids of cans and then dated them when we got home from the store. I don’t go that far, but I do make sure to rotate the older forward paying attention to expiration dates and replace the restock to the rear.

Now for the after pictures.

I try to group like items together. For example the parts for a Mexican Meal are all together. The green chiles are right night to the enchilada sauce which is next to the refried beans, etc…

I store the back up stock on the lowest shelves since I don’t get in there very often. I also pull forward the most frequently used condiments and ingredients so I don’t have to dig for them. The refrigerator is the hardest ‘pantry’ part to keep organized since everyone is in and out all day some days, but I try to keep like items together here too. The jams are all on the same shelf, the pickles are grouped together, my garlic, pestos, bases etc… are all together on one of the top shelves to keep everyone from moving them!

This post originally ran as a guest post series for Barbara over at Candy Hearts and Paper Flowers who is hosting the Homemaking September Shape-up. It was an all around comprehensive house to home style of posts to help us get our homes and lives whipped into shape.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Spice and Seasoning Shelf Lives

http://www.thursday-13.com/
Thank you Janet and Megan for resurrecting it!

While looking something up for a friend, I ran across this Durkee spice site that I thought had some interesting information to pass along.
  1. Spices, Whole Seeds~3 years
  2. Spices, Whole Herbs~2 years
  3. Spices, Ground~2 years
  4. Dehydrated Garlic/Onion~2 years
  5. Chives~2 years
  6. Parsley~2 years
  7. Seasonings~2 years (if they’re a blend, maybe less depending on the individual spices)
  8. Sauce & Gravy dry mixes~18 months
  9. Pure & Imitation Extracts~3 years
  10. Food Colors~2 years
  11. Bouillon Cubes~2 years
  12. Baking Powder~1 year
  13. Baking Soda~3 years

final blog signature.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

TYPOS in church bulletins

http://www.thursday-13.com/
Thank you Janet and Megan for resurrecting it!

They’re Back! Those wonderful Church Bulletins! Thank God for church ladies with typewriters. These sentences (with all the BLOOPERS) actually appeared in church bulletins or were announced in church services.

  1. The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes snacks and meals.
  2. The sermon this morning: ‘Jesus Walks on the Water.’ The sermon tonight: ‘Searching for Jesus.’
  3. Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.
  4. Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our community. Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say ‘Hell’ to someone who doesn’t care much about you.
  5. Don’t let worry kill you off – let the Church help.
  6. Miss Charlene Mason sang ‘I will not pass this way again,’ giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.
  7. For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
  8. Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.
  9. Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.
  10. A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow.
  11. At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be ‘What Is Hell?’ Come early and listen to our choir practice.
  12. Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.
  13. Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
  14. Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you will want remembered.
  15. The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.
  16. Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM – prayer and medication to follow. The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon..
  17. This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.
  18. Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 AM. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B. S. is done.
  19. The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.
  20. Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.
  21. The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.
  22. Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.
  23. The Associate Minister unveiled the church’s new campaign slogan last Sunday: ‘I Upped My Pledge – Up Yours.

final blog signature.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Cooking Secrets & tips

http://www.thursday-13.com/
Thank you Janet and Megan for resurrecting it!

  1. Buttermilk ~ Need it for a recipe and don’t have any? Just add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to 1 cup of milk and you have instant buttermilk.
  2. Mushrooms ~ Need them finely sliced? Put them in the freezer for 5 minutes before slicing to firm them up, making it easier to get an even thin slice.
  3. Stubborn Cork? ~ Wrap the neck of the bottle with a hot towel. This will expand the glass, but not the cork, making it easier to pull the cork out in one move.
  4. Puddle Free Cheesecake ~ Before adding the warm topping, freeze the cheesecake for an hour before. Doing this will make the warm sauce stop about 1/2 way down as it encounters the cold surface.
  5. Over baked bread ~ poke a few holes in the top with a skewer and drizzle honey, apple juice or maple syrup over the holes. Let sit for an hour or so before slicing.
  6. Defatting ~ Do you want to get the unwanted fat off the top of your soup or stew? Place a couple of ice cubes in a slotted spoon and skim the top. The ice cubes will attract the fat like a magnet. OR you can use a slice of white bread and float it on top. It too works like a magnet to attract the grease and fat.
  7. Chewy cookies ~ More is better! Add a couple extra tablespoons of butter more than the recipe calls for to make chewy cookies.
  8. Non-soggy pie crust ~ To keep your pie crust crisper (especially when transporting it to a potluck or such), paint a thin layer of melted chocolate on the cooked and cooled pie crust. Allow the chocolate to col and then add your fillings.
  9. Lemon Wedges ~ To keep lemon wedges from squirting everywhere, slit each slice in three places to break down the membrane so the juice won’t squirt out so forcefully. Plus you get all the juice from each slice.
  10. Sweeter Cake Pan Coating ~ After greasing your cake pan use sugar instead of flour for a sweeter coating that’s sticks better and clumps less.
  11. Pasta Filler ~ Use a ziploc bag to first mix your pasta filler and then snip the end off to make a pastry bag to fill manicotti or jumbo shells.
  12. Perfect slicer ~ If your freeze strawberries or mushrooms for a few minutes before slicing and then use an egg slicer you’ll have perfect slices every time.
  13. Easy Cake Cutting ~ For smooth and even pieces with no clumping, dip your cutting knife in a tall glass of hot water before each slice.

final blog signature.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Buying Guide for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

http://www.thursday-13.com/
Thank you Janet and Megan for resurrecting it!

  1. ASPARAGUS ~ Stalks should be tender and firm, tips should be close and compact. The stalks with very little white are more tender. Asparagus will toughen quickly.
  2. BERRIES ~ Select plump, solid berries with good color. Berries such as blackberries or raspberries with clinging caps may be under ripe. Strawberries with no caps may be over ripe.
  3. BROCCOLI ~ Flower clusters on stalks should be tight and close together.
  4. HEAD LETTUCE ~ Choose heads that are heavy for their size. Avoid heads with discoloration or holes in the leaves.
  5. CUCUMBERS ~ Choose long, slender cucumbers for the best quality. Darker green is more desirable.
  6. MELONS ~ For cantaloupes, thick close netting on the rind and emit a fruity odor indicates the best quality. For honeydews, when the rind has a creamy to yellowish color and velvety texture indicates the best quality. Watermelons will have some yellow on one side. Avoid those that are white or pale green .
  7. ORANGES ~ Choose those that are heavy for their size. Smoother, thinner skins generally indicate more juice. Most skin marking will not affect the quality of the fruit. A slight greenish tinge on oranges may be just as ripe as any other. Avoid soft or sunken in areas.
  8. CABBAGE ~ Choose heads that are heavy for their size. Avoid heads with discoloration or holes in the leaves.
  9. PEAS ~ Select pods that are well filled, but not bulging. Avoid dried or spotted pods.
  10. LEMONS ~ Choose those that are heavy for their size. Smoother, thinner skins generally indicate more juice. Most skin marking will not affect the quality of the fruit. Light or greenish areas are more tart than the deeper yellow ones. Avoid soft or sunken in areas.
  11. CAULIFLOWER ~ Flower clusters on stalks should be tight and close together.
  12. ROOT VEGETABLES ~ Should be smooth and firm. Avoid over sized as they may have woody centers.
  13. SWEET POTATOES ~ bronze and rosy skins on are generally soft and sweet when cooked whereas yellow to light brown ones tend to be firmer and less moist.

final blog signature.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Kitchen Tidbits

I found this fun cooking quiz over at Kristen’s.

  • Metal or Non-Stick? Metal, definitely. I DO NOT own any non-stick.
  • Cast Iron or Stainless? Both, actually. I too think each has great uses.
  • Cutting Board: Wood or Silicone? Acrylic/silicone.
  • Knife: Carbon Steel or Stainless? Forged carbon steel, please…from Germany if possible. *grin* I borrowed Kristen’s answer here.
  • Kitchen Aid or Hand Mixer? I only use a hand mixer for mashed potatoes. My Professional 6 quart Kitchen Aid is my best kitchen friend too.
  • Apron or Whoops? Half & Half. Although I own many great aprons, I hardly ever remember to put them on before I make messes either.
  • Sandwich or Wrap? Sandwich. There are so many more choices with a sandwich.
  • Pancakes: Applesauce or Syrup? PURE Maple Syrup or cinnamon sugar.
  • Chili: beans or no? Never been a bean person.
  • Chicken: white or dark? Depends – fried chicken dark, other meals white.
  • PB & ______? Homemade chunky apricot pineapple jam.
  • Fridge: Side by Side, Freezer on Top or Freezer on Bottom? Side by side with bottom freezer.
  • Cake: scratch or mix? SCRATCH!!

final blog signature.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...