July Challenge – do not eat out

Dad and I are challenging ourselves for the month of July – do not eat out except for date night provided by Grandma on July 5.  We’re quite guilty of taking Daughter Person out for lunch on the weekends.  We all get out of the house, she’s entertained, and we all get fed.  Our restaurant spending has been creeping up the last few months, so the goal is to eat out once (about $50-$70) in July.  Can we do it?  I have no idea – given that our latest restaurant spending has been about $400 per month, I hope so!

There are already several issues we have to work out though: I’m traveling July 15 – 18 (to Palo Alto, CA), but my company picks up the tab for that, so I’m not counting it. We’re going to Grandma’s for the July 4th “weekend”,  a family reunion in Parsons, WV the following weekend, and we’re almost out of food from our last cooking session.  We’re planning a cooking session in the next week or two (whenever we can get it in given our traveling schedule), and it’ll be almost all grilled food to avoid heating up the kitchen.  We’re working on planning more lunches in the recipes we’re making, so we’ll see if we meet our challenge.

Do you have a challenge for July?

More Freezer Cooking taste results

We’ve now eaten everything that we’ve made at least once in the previous freezer cooking session, and we have several keepers, and several “please don’t make that agains”.  I’ll start with the never agains:

  • Wild Rice and Nut Bake – Dad thought it was too nutty.  Said it was OK, but not really a keeper
  • Vegetable Chili (Dream Dinners) – Dad thought the taste was a little too bland, he prefers the chili from Fix, Freeze, Feast
  • Penne w/Rosemary chicken is OK, but not a favorite, so we won’t be making it again.

Definite Keepers:

  • Provencal Flank Steak (the last one we tried Saturday night – OMG good!!)
  • Pork Tenderloin with Pears
  • Port BBQ Chicken (needs a little less spice, but otherwise good)
  • Chicken Curry

We’re already starting to think about our next cooking session, which is likely to be in July.  Of course, our freezer still looks completely stuffed at the moment.  We’re trying to finish up all of the meals that require the oven before the heat really hits, so that we don’t have to be heating up the house too.  The next session is likely to be almost all grilling/crockpot recipes, just because that’s what’s easiest in our house in the summer.  We probably won’t try too many new recipes, but I’d like to try a few new ones so that we can keep a good variety.


Massive Cooking Session – how’d it work out?

Now that the weekend is over, I wanted to report back on how well (or not) our cooking sessions have worked.

First, the plan was to do some chopping and prep work on Friday – I managed to get to Costco and the grocery store, and not much prep work was done except getting the beans soaking overnight.

Saturday, Dad and I worked during Daughter Person’s nap (2 hours), and we were able to chop quite a bit of veggies and cooking the beans.  Then, we worked after she went to sleep for about 3 hours.  We put aside 25 meals: 15 Ginger Beef, 4 Black Bean and Vegetable Chili, 3 Vegetable Chili, and 3 Wild Rice and Nut Bake.  (I also made 2 batches of Basic Red Sauce in there, but those aren’t meals…)

Sunday, we were at a birthday party during naptime, so we didn’t start until Daughter Person went to bed, and Dad was tired, so we put up shop at about 9:30.  We got 23 meals/sides put aside: 4 meals Beef Barley Soup, 3 of Penne with Rosemary Chicken, 16 of Rice Pilaf.

Dad is not working on Monday and Daughter Person is at daycare, and he’s supposed to be making the Chicken Curry and the Port BBQ Chicken during the day since those need cooked and cooled before they can go in the freezer bags.  Once that’s done, that’ll leave us with 6 recipes to finish.  Which is good since I’m working on Daughter Person’s birthday cake as well (2 years!) for Tuesday night.

We’re going to shoot for the Baked Ziti (and another batch of Red Sauce), Swiss Chicken, and 3 cheese spinach soup tonight.  And if we’re doing well, we can get the pork tenderloin with pears and provencal flank steak.  Maybe getting the corn muffins too, since they’re just throw stuff in the mixer (and hope the mixer is big enough).

One of the lessons we’ve learned this time around is that the Dream Dinners recipes are *huge* and our biggest mixing bowl is *not* big enough to hold a triple batch.  That makes it a little more difficult to mix since we have to break them down into 3 separate mixes.

Also, Onion Goggles are apparently pretty awesome.  Dad bought a pair, and he chopped all the onions with them – while I had to leave the room since even my eyes were tearing and I wasn’t chopping the onions.  They don’t fit my face very well, and Dad wanted to try them, so while I’ve put them on, I haven’t tested them yet.

Freezer cooking 3: Planning cooking session and shopping

After you’ve planned your meals and when you want to have them, comes what I think is one of the harder parts of massive freezer cooking – planning your cooking session and shopping session.  We’re going shopping this weekend, so now it’s time to get all this done.

Cooking Plan:
Time will tell if we follow this, but this is the plan. If things go beyond Sunday, we’ll be working in the evenings.

Friday night: Dice/chop/mince all produce, cook beans (we’re using dried instead of canned)
Saturday morning: Put ziti together, Put soups together, lay flat to freeze.
Saturday night: wrap ziti in saran wrap and remove from dishes. Cook rice pilaf while putting together ginger beef. Put Penne with Rosemary chicken in dishes.
Sunday morning: wrap Penne with Rosemary chicken and remove from dishes. Put Swiss chicken in casseroles.
Sunday night: wrap swiss chicken and remove from dishes. Put together remaining marinades/dishes.

Grocery List: (generated by plantoeat.com)

No Category
Low-fat shredded cheese blend  3 cup

Seasoned dry stuffing mix  6 cup

Beef bouillon granules  ¾ cup
Cayenne pepper  1 1⁄2 teaspoon
Cornmeal  3 cup
Dry mustard  1 1⁄2 tablespoon
Flour  5 cup
Honey  1 cup
Molasses  1 1⁄8 cup
Paprika  1 teaspoon
Pecans  1 1⁄2 cup
Salt  1⁄3 cup
Vegetable oil  5⁄8 cup
Walnuts  1 1⁄2 cup

Canned Goods
Black beans  105 oz
Chicken broth  10 cup
Cream of chicken soup  97 1⁄2 oz
Hot pepper sauce  ¼ cup
Kidney beans  165 oz
Marinara sauce  9 cup
Pear halves with syrup 45 ounces
Tomato paste  24 oz + ¾ cup
Tomato sauce  56 oz

Buttermilk  3 cup
Cheddar cheese  10 cup
Eggs  18 ct
Milk  10 cup
Mozzarella cheese  3 cup
Non-fat cream cheese  3 cup
Nonfat cottage cheese  1 1⁄2 cup
Nonfat milk  12 cup
Nonfat sour cream  1 1⁄2 cup
Parmesan cheese  1 1/2 cup
Provolone  8 oz
Swiss cheese  1 lb + 3 cup

Dry Goods
Baking powder  2 tablespoon
Balsamic vinegar  1 3⁄4 cup
Black pepper  3 7⁄8 tablespoon
Bulgur wheat  1 1⁄2 cup
Chicken bouillon granules  ¾ cup
Chili powder  5⁄8 cup
Curry powder  ¼ cup
Dried basil  2 1⁄3 tablespoon
Ground cumin  3 tablespoon
Ground nutmeg  2 teaspoon
Italian seasoning  1 tablespoon
Oregano  2 2⁄3 tablespoon
Pearl barley  2 cup
Penne pasta  3 lbs
Pepper  2 1⁄2 tablespoon
Pine nuts  2 cup
Red pepper flakes  1 1⁄2 tablespoon
Rice  24 cup
Sea salt  1 1⁄3 tablespoon
Soy sauce  5 1⁄4 cup
Thyme  2 1⁄3 tablespoon
Wild rice  3 cup
Worcestershire sauce  ¾ cup
Ziti pasta  3 lbs

Port  1⁄3 cup
Red wine  1 cup
White wine  9 cu

Beef, flank steak  6 pounds
Chicken breast  16 1⁄2 lbs + 12 oz
Diced cooked chicken  3 lbs
Ground beef  3 lbs
Italian sausage  1 1⁄2 lbs
Pork tenderloin  4 1⁄2 lbs
Stew beef  30 lbs

Ketchup  2 cup

Button mushrooms  3 cup
Carrots  23 cup
Celery  22 cup
Diced tomatoes  101 oz + 8 cup
Dried cranberries  ¾ cup
Garlic  1 tablespoon
Ginger  5⁄8 cup
Ginger Root; minced  2 tablespoon
Green bell pepper  4 each + 1 1⁄2 cup
Lemon juice  2 tablespoon
Mushrooms  1 lb
Onion  31 3⁄4 cup
Parsley  7⁄8 cup
Red bell pepper  1 1⁄2 cup
Rosemary  1⁄3 cup
Scallions  3 each + 36 ct
Shallots  12 + 5 oz
Spinach  30 oz
Zucchini  3 cup

Freezer cooking 2: Planning your meals

I’ve been trying to plan our meals for the last two weeks, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I really suck at it.  We operate more on the “what’s in the freezer/fridge this week?” meal planning.  Every Friday, I look at the list of what’s in the freezer (handily on the upstairs fridge), and fill in our meal plan for the week.  Then on whichever weekend morning I’m getting up with Daughter Person, we head to the grocery to get anything we need for the week – mostly fresh stuff.

So, that leaves me without a multi-month plan.  Which I’m OK with.  If you’re more of the need to plan better type – you’ll need to write down what you want to eat on every day you’ll need food.  We just plan dinner for the most part, although I’m starting to get into planning lunches as well, so that we have more interesting lunches.  At this point, for me, the lunches are just left overs, but this go-round, we’re making more interesting lunches for Dad.

Once you’ve gotten your plan ready – whether you’re going with my wing-it method or the more traditional write it all down method, we’re ready to move onto the next part – planning your cooking session(s) and shopping.

Making my own pasta mixes – attempt 1

I have to confess, I *love* Knorr/Lipton Pasta Sides (or whatever they’re calling them these days).  My favorites are the creamy garlic shells and the butter and herb ones.  Our Wal-Mart sells them for about $1 each, with the occasional sale of $0.98, so they’re pretty cheap, and really easy to make – you just boil water, butter and sometimes milk, and add the bag of stuff – in 10-ish minutes, you have a side (or a meal).

I’ve been wanting to try to recreate them myself for a while – I like the concept of quick and easy, but would like to get away from the processed food.  Well – tonight, Dad and I tried.  We started with the butter and herb blend.  We opened it up, took a sniff to see if we could figure out which “spices and herbs” were in there, and set about making our own attempt.


There’s about 4oz of pasta, so we weighed out 4oz of macaroni (the closest pasta we had on hand, the Knorr version uses fettuccine).  From there, we looked at the ingredient list and started to put things together.  Don’t make this at home yet – this is our first pass at the recipe, and it’s not perfect.  It needs some modifications described below, that we haven’t tested yet.

Butter and Herb Pasta mix

  • 4 oz pasta
  • 1/4 c non-fat milk powder
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp oregano dried
  • 1/2 tsp parsley dried
  • 1/2 tsp basil dried

Boil 2 cups of water and 2 tbsp of butter, and add everything when boiling.  Keep boiling until the pasta is tender (11-12 minutes for us).

So, how did it turn out?  OK.  It’s edible, but not quite what we’d like.  The taste of the milk powder was overwhelming, and not entirely pleasant.  The pasta was a little harder than al dente. The sauce thickened more than we would like, and the herbs were a little off from our preferences.


Next time, we’re going to skip the milk powder, and instead boil 1 cup of milk with 1 1/2 cups of water (to ensure the pasta gets cooked all the way) and 2 tbsp of butter.  We’re going to reduce the corn starch to 1 1/2 tbsp, half the basil and oregano and double the garlic powder.  I think it needs more salt, dad doesn’t think so, so we’re going to leave that alone for now.

Freezer cooking 1: Picking your recipes

The first time I did a really massive cooking spree – I picked too many recipes. While hubby and I enjoyed the variety and the fact that we haven’t bought meat in 4 months, we both think we picked too many. We picked 24 recipes. They were heavy on the vegetarian and fish side since I was not going to be eating for most of a month, and Dad and Daughter Person like fish – I won’t touch it. Some of the recipes we didn’t like and won’t be making again – Like Thai Red Curry – I didn’t like making it anyway, needed too many strange ingredients. However, some we absolutely loved and will be making multiple batches of this time (Ginger Beef). I also acquired a new cookbook in a similar style – Dream Dinners – and I will try a few new recipes from there. The plan is to limit ourselves to several recipes and make multiple batches of the ones we know we like. We’re also picking a variety of recipes for dinner, breakfast, and lunch, so they can be mixed and matched. Dad wants mostly vegetarian meals for lunches, so a lot of these recipes are for his lunch.

On the recipe list:
Ginger Beef (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Rice Pilaf (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Wild Rice and Nut Bake (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Black Bean and Vegetable Chili (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Basic Red Sauce (Fix, Freeze, Feast) – for the vegetable chili
Chicken Curry (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Port Barbequed Chicken (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Beef Barley Soup (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Three Cheese Spinach Soup (Dream Dinners)
Corn Bread Muffins (Dream Dinners)
Penne with Rosemary Chicken (Dream Dinners)
Baked Ziti (Dream Dinners)
Provencal Flank Steak (Dream Dinners)
Pork Tenderloin with Pears (Dream Dinners)
Swiss Chicken (Dream Dinners)
Vegetable Chili (Dream Dinners)

I know this list is a bit longer than we initially planned, but there’s mostly new stuff in there. We want to try some new recipes (and Dad really loves new things), and so, I’m leaning towards trying new things (and less of them) than repeating older things. Most of the Dream Dinners recipes are only 3 meals rather than the full Costco size tray (although we’re still going shopping at Costco for the meat).

Once you’ve got the recipes picked out, the next step is to plan them out on a menu – this is where I generally fall short….