Project Food Budget / My Healthy Budget: February Month 4 / Week 3

Project: Food Budget Weekly total: $132.55

My healthy budget goal is to eat seasonal, home-cooked meals while sticking to a $400 monthly budget for all food including groceries, dining out, entertaining, vitamins/supplements, and spices/herbs.

There’s two of us eating 3 (mostly) meals per day. My husband occasionally eats take-out lunch at work, & that $ comes out of his personal cash stash.

February – Month Four, Week One

This week, I’ve spent $132.55, with a monthly total so far of $324.94, leaving $75.06 for the last week of February.

Thanks to a lil re-enforcement last week from my budget buddies, I’ve decided, NOT to automatically include the total CSA meat delivery every month. Instead I’ll be applying the meat as it is consumed, which should be easy to track, since I receive a printed invoice from the farm.

This will be a good opportunity to use some of the meat that’s accumulated in my freezer from prior deliveries, and catch up on much-needed pantry purchases. Plus I feel like I’ve been skimping on veggies and fruit.

Spending Details

Dining Out: $37.00
Groceries: $95.55

Whole Foods Market (Fri, 2/17) $76.44: (3) organic whole chickens, Pacific Oat Beverage, Pacific Almond Beverage, (2lb) Lundberg basmati brown rice, (1lb) 365 Pinto beans, (1lb) 365 Quinoa, sheep’s milk Pecorino cheese, large tub Brown Cow whole yogurt, (2) 365 canned organic tomatoes, bulk barley, (3) Newman’s Own dark chocolate, bananas, 4lb bag o’ navel oranges, organic pears, celery root (local), beet bulbs (local), turnip (local), organic mustard greens, organic celery, organic cabbage, organic fennel, organic parsnips (local), organic bok choy.

I used several coupons: Newmans Own chocolate, 365 beans, Lundberg rice, Brown Cow yogurt, Pacific beverages.

Market Basket (Monday, 2/20) $19.11: 2 bags of shell-on pistachios, 12ct bag of oranges, baby portabella mushrooms, bananas

All in all, I felt good this week, and I am fully confident that I will be able to stick to my budget. I wish I could say that I’d even be under budget, but my pantry still needs some replenishing, so for next few weeks, I’ll probably spend every available penny! :)

Week of Meals

  • Thursday: Dinner out (Chinese)
  • Friday: Leftover frozen boneless pork ribs w/ wheat Bulgar and cabbage, carrot, fennel, celery slaw
  • Saturday: Slow oven-braised pork butt shoulder w/ side of white rice & lentils and roasted beets & carrots.
  • Sunday: Chicken soup with homemade broth and winter vegetables over white rice & lentils
  • Monday: Pasta topped with tomato sauce
  • Tuesday: Wheat berries mixed with ricotta, feta and emmenthaler cheeses, over sautéed mustard greens & green beans, topped with salsa
  • Wednesday: Bread baked with salsa, roasted red peppers, mustard greens, & pecorino rolled inside

I had a big cook weekend to replenish the freezer. Friday, I threw one of my organic chickens into the crockpot, and it was fall-off-the-bone scrumptious. Saturday – I had a beef chuck roast in the electric slow cooker and a pork butt roast in the oven. I froze 5 small packs of meat for future meals. Sunday, I made my free veggie/chicken stock using the bones from the crockpot chicken and my saved freezer veg scrapes. I then made a huge batch of chicken soup, enough to freeze 3 quart containers, plus extra for dinner and lunches.

Want to Join the Project Food Budget?

It still amazes me how much I’ve learned (and continue to learn) in just a few months by participating in the Project Food Budget! It’s never too late to join us!

project food budget

If you’d like to participate, get the details and let Emily know you’re on board!

Here’s who else is budgeting this week:

Big BIG Plan Ahead Cooking Weekend

My sweet niece is having her first baby within a couple of weeks. I know as new parents, they are not going to have a lot of time (and energy) to cook healthy meals for themselves, so I am taking this weekend to cook up big batches of food to freeze for them.

Yesterday, I went shopping and purchased most of what I needed.

  • Chicken bone-in whole breast (found a good deal on Bell & Evans air-chilled) – chicken soup
  • A large beef chuck shoulder roast along with a 7-bone chuck roast – braised beef
  • 5 lb potatoes and 5 lb onions – not sure if I’ll be able to use the potatoes, as I’m reading that potatoes do not freeze well.
  • Kale, carrots, poplano peppers
  • Swanson chicken low sodium broth – a brand I haven’t bought in a long time.
  • Small bag of store brand white rice
  • 6 cans of Pine Cone whole tomatoes – another brand that I haven’t bought in awhile, but it was cheap!
  • And the purchase that shames me more than anything….a pack of frozen Perdue chicken breast. Oh the horror. I have spent so much time criticizing Perdue and other “Big Food” companies like them, I can’t believe that I stooped so low to actually purchase their product! But they are convenient, and my niece and her DBF will be able to prepare them quickly and easily.

So, yesterday afternoon I got started on the chicken soup and white rice.

The soup turned out very well. I sauteed onions, celery, carrots, (and from my fridge,) zucchini and a couple chopped radishes in my new 7 qt Staub cast iron pot (oh have I mentioned I absolutely ADORE this pot!) and then I added some fresh tomato chunks, and both cartons of chicken broth, along with the bone-in chicken breast and tons of dried herbs and a little turmeric. Simmered it on the stove for over an hour, and it was done.

I divided the chicken into two 1-gallon freezer bags along with a hefty portion of soup. I filled one more bag with just the soup (no chicken) with instructions to add a cooked Perdue chicken breast if needed.

The rice didn’t fair as well. I decided to try Lucinda Scala Quinn’s suggestion of a 1 to 1.5 ratio when cooking white rice.

In my 4 qt Staub pot, I poured 3 cups water and added 2 cups of rice and some salt. I was a little distracted, and made the mistake of leaving it for a couple of minutes, and then stirring the rice. You’re not supposed to stir rice while cooking, but there was still a big mound of rice rising out of the water. When the liquid was cooked out, I took it off heat, and allowed it to “steam” like I always do. Well, when I tasted it afterward, there were “crunchy” parts. Oh no!

My biggest mistake I think, looking back in hindsight was using such a large pot. The water wasn’t filled enough over the top of the rice and I think it evaporated too quickly. Then I left the pot with the rice still mounded up over the water for a few minutes and stirred it!

I tried to fix my mistake today by re-cooking the rice (same pot) but adding about 1.5 cups more water. I allowed it to cook until the water evaporated and then I took off heat to allow it to steam. I like steaming rice after cooking, as it allows any “stuck” on bits at the bottom to soften and lift from the pot. Makes it easier to clean and it make the rice fluffy!

So, I think the rice is saved! I packed it into 3 quart sized freezer bags.

Oh and a bit of advice about freezing. I know my niece doesn’t have a large freezer, so I wanted to make the food as compact as possible. I am freezing everything flat on a large cookie sheet, so she won’t have to worry about too much bulk.

Today’s cooking started out with braised beef, and ended with some tasty tomato sauce. In between I made her a loaf of homemade bread.

For the braised beef, I used my wonderful 7 quart Staub again (I can’t believe how useful this pot is!) and I browned the beef. Starting with the taller roast chunk, I browned all 4 sides, then I transferred onto a plate. I browned the larger flatter 7-bone “roast” (it’s not really a roast, it’s more like a chuck steak, but then I suppose shoppers might confuse it for a real steak and try to grill it, not braise it) on top and bottom. Oh and I generously salted and peppered all sides of the roasts as I was flipping.

Once the 7-bone was browned, I transferred that to the dish as well, then tossed in 5 large-chopped onions and a little bit of juice from one can of tomatoes. Using a wooden spoon (I NEVER use metal in my beloved enameled cast iron) I scraped up some of the delicious flavor bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.

I allowed the onions to cook for a few minutes, covered, then added some cheap red wine, scraping up more flavor bits at the bottom, making sure they were all found. I arranged each piece of meat back into the pot, then poured the rest of the canned tomatoes and more wine on top. Covered and cooked for about 5 hours. I checked on it once after 3 hours.

When it was tender and falling apart, I removed the meat from pot to a large platter to cool. What was left in the pot was scrumptious, so I figured it would be a great base for tomato sauce, which I could then make into chili later.

So, I poured 4 cans of tomatoes into the pot, along with what I thought was some mild Poblano chili peppers – ouch. My fingers are still stinging from chopping them. I usually wear gloves while chopping hot chiles, but since Poblanos are known to be very mild, I didn’t. Thankfully I tasted a small piece before putting too many into the pot. It was powerfully hot! So, I chopped the rest to freeze in a quart freezer bag for them to use in future recipes. I only added about a half a chili, figuring I can add more later.

In the meantime, I started to shred the beef and transfer the pieces to a glass storage container, making sure to keep out any gross fat pieces. The large chuck roast didn’t have much fat to remove, but the 7-bone had a bit.

I’ll keep the meat in the fridge overnight and pack it into freezer bags tomorrow, along with maybe starting on a batch of chili with beans, and the rest of the carrots and kale.

And so, all in all, it was a productive day…Yes, my fingers are still stinging and tingling from the chili oils, and I have two small burns on my arm. One from the beef splattering up at me trying to take it out of the pot, and once when I touched the top of the oven while taking the pot out of the oven. Boy, that pot is a heavy one too. But I love cast iron for muscles! Who needs a gym when you can lift heavy pots!

Anyway, it was a good cooking day! Tomorrow, I’ll probably make her some blueberry muffins, and get the tomato sauce and beef into freezer bags.

I was thinking I’d also like to make her a small batch of quinoa. We’ll see.

Sunday is Plan Ahead Cooking Day

Sunday is a great day to cook ahead for the week (and beyond). Today I’m slow cooking two big pieces of yummy meat:

  • I put a big piece of beef round into my 6 quart cast iron with 2 large purple onions and a good helping of Penzy’s BBQ 3000 spice. I added a few cups of left-over white wine.
  • And I didn’t have room enough for my normal roasting pan, so I had to use a rectangle glass pyrex dish to cook the big pork picnic shoulder. It was my first time “scoring” the fat on the roast, hopefully it comes out nice and crispy, but not too dry inside! I didn’t season or use any spices. Just a big ole naked pork shoulder!

I was hoping to be able to roast one of the small organic chickens I bought Friday at Whole Foods (on sale @1.69/lb) but there is absolutely no room in that oven. So, the chicken will have to wait until tomorrow, or hmm, depending on when the meat is finished, I might just throw it into the oven tonight.

UPDATE: beef was finished cooking first. I baked some rice and steamed beets & carrots and we ate a delicious dinner. There is enough beef for lunch tomorrow as well as a chili or pasta sauce recipe.

braised beef with onions and wine

Pork is still cooking. I’m almost intimidated to take it out. I hope it tastes good. I mean how bad could it really be? Hmm if it’s good, it could be our lunch tomorrow and I’ll freeze the beef.

UPDATE #2: Oh wow, the pork came out of the oven, and the fat was all crackling and crunchy. Broke off a couple of chunks, and oh oh yum. I allowed it to rest for an hour or so, and then I took it apart in chunks. Some of it was kind of tough and fibrous. I froze the bone with some tough meat attached for a soup starter. There is enough pork for at least three meals for the two of us, plus the bone for soup!

slow roasted pork picnic shoulder

Plan Ahead Cooking Sunday

Today was another plan ahead cooking day!

It’s been very busy at work, so time is limited for cooking healthy meals. I don’t want to revert to my old ways of “convenience” processed food and take-out, so I have been using my slow cooker (crock pot) a couple of days a week. It’s been a great time saver, but I was recently reminded about the crock pot/slow cooker lead problem. So, I am trying NOT to use it until I perhaps test the crock with a home lead test.

So, today in the oven:

  • A big pot of bolognese sauce (inspired by Cristina Ferrare’s Big Bowl of Love Bolognese recipe)
  • Braising two large boneless chuck steaks (London Broil) with onions, warm spices (cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, pepper, paprika) and wine. Unfortunately the beef was mostly frozen when I started, so when I tried to sear, it was just steaming. It didn’t matter though. I tasted a bite, and it was fabulous!
  • I also decided to make a batch of brown rice in the already hot oven for use later in the week.

The Meal Plan:

  1. Bolognese sauce with pasta tonight.
  2. Cooked extra pasta for our lunches for either tomorrow or Tuesday
  3. Even after dividing into 4 portions, there is still some bolognese sauce left-over, so I think on Tuesday, that’ll be transformed into chili with beans and rice.
  4. The braised beef has been divided into freezer bags. It’ll be enough for three separate dinners, including a small portion for transformation into soup or stew.
  5. I also have boneless chicken defrosting in the fridge, and tomorrow or Tuesday, I’ll make chicken soup with rice. That’s usually a quick easy meal.
  6. We’ll have a meatless meal sometime later in the week. It might be a great time to finally try making a pizza with homemade flatbread!
  7. Gotta try to fit in salmon, and that could be a good day for DH to have left-overs. (He doesn’t eat fish)

I’m also considering a rice cooker purchase. It’s difficult to find a rice cooker that’s NOT non-stick, but these Vitaclay rice slow cookers look promising.