Category: Shopping and Menu Planning Tips


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Ground meat is one of the best buys around for reasonable priced meals for your family.  I buy in bulk when there’s a sale and prepare stuff ahead as much as possible.   Meatballs are baked and then frozen.  Meatloaf is frozen to defrost the day ahead of being made.  Ground meat seasoned with salt and pepper is cooked, crumbled and drained and then frozen.  Burgers are made and then frozen.  This past week Aldi had a sale on 5 lbs. of ground beef  for $9.95.  Another market had ground turkey on a BOGO sale so it ended up being $2.20 per pound.  One of these days, I’m going to experiment with grinding my own meat.  Ironically I bought a meat grinder to make veggie burgers, but it’s sitting in my pantry gathering dust.

First, let’s talk about meatballs.  I used to buy the frozen, precooked variety until my kids rebelled and said only mine would do, claiming the others are like little rubber balls.  I see their point.  The only way I can make this happen, though, is to cook them ahead and freeze them.  I make rather large batches, so I have at least enough for two meals when I’m done.

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3-4 lb. ground meats (use a blend of at least two – beef, turkey, chicken, and pork are all great)  Keep in mind, though, that beef really throws off a lot of grease, whereas the others are leaner and less greasy.  For that reason, I try to use less beef.

2 eggs

1/ 2 or so seasoned bread crumbs (in a pinch, I’ve used oatmeal, instant grits, and leftover quinoa)

2 heaping Tbsp. sweet pickle relish

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

16 oz. cottage cheese (or ricotta if you don’t have any cottage cheese)

Optional add ins:

Pesto, seasoning packets from Rice-A-Roni (ha ha – when I make prepared foods like that I always use 1 packet per two boxes to reduce the sodium, and keep the spare packet around for future use)

Prepare two 13 x 9 baking dishes by spraying with coconut oil.

Mix meats and wet ingredients by hand, gradually adding in the bread crumbs/oatmeal/whatever, so that you can form meatballs that do not fall apart.  Add sparingly, as you can always add in more, but you can’t take them out once you’ve put them in!  Sometimes when using ground chicken, the meat is impossibly sticky.  Using the grab and roll method with flour on your hands, and rolling the meatballs in a  little seasoned flour takes care of that!

Scoop meat mixture using an ice cream or cookie dough scoop if it’s not too sticky and place meatballs in baking dishes.  If there is no beef, drizzle with a little olive oil.  If there is beef, skip this step.

Bake at 375 F for approximately 40 minutes (depending on meatball size) or until golden and the internal temperature is at least 160 F.

Allow to cool, and place in containers to freeze for future use.

I defrost them overnight the night before I am going to make them for dinner.

Meatballs are so versatile.  Some variations we have enjoyed are:

https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/buffalo-meatball-and-potato-casserole/

Ground meat 1 Buffalo meatball and potato casserole

https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/stroganoff-style-meatballs/

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https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/meatball-sub-casserole-from-tasty/

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https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/coconut-curry-meatballs-using-imagine-thai-coconut-curry-sauce/

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https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/chinese-chicken-meatballs-adapted-from-guy-fieris-general-guys-chicken/

ground meat 3 gen tso meatballs

 

https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/barbecue-ranch-chicken-meatballs-2/

barbecue ranch meatballs

Or simply bake them with your favorite spaghetti sauce topped with cheese!

Sometimes I make them big, like little mini meatloafs.  You can even cook them in a muffin pan.

The recipe for crock pot meatloaf follows much the same recipe as my basic meatballs.  Cooking it in the crock pot is by far the easiest way to make a moist, delicious meatloaf.

https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/crock-pot-meatloaf/

Crock pot meatloaf

You can stuff uncooked jumbo shells or manicotti with meatloaf mixtures, too, or add in a little sausage to give it a zing.

https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/stuffed-shells-using-uncooked-pasta-and-meatballs-for-another-night-or-two/

Stuffed shells

The recipe I use for burgers is more or less the same.  I put them in a Tupperware and freeze them until the night before we’re having them.  I cook them on a baking sheet, rather than standing at the stove flipping burgers.

https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/burgers-cooked-in-the-oven/

burger cooked in the oven

There are a load of recipes you can make with precooked and frozen ground meat or sausage:

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https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2016/02/17/stuffed-poblano-pepper-casserole/

Stuffed Poblano Pepper Casserole

https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/stuffed-bell-peppers-with-polenta/

Stuffed peppers

https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/cabbage-rolls-deconstructed-casserole/

cabbage rolls casserole.jpg

https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/cheeseburger-casserole/

Cheeseburger Mac and Cheese

https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/hawaiian-crock-pot-delight/

Hawaiian crock pot dish.jpg

https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/shepherds-pie-using-leftover-meatloaf/

shepherds pie

https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/gluten-free-sloppy-joe-cornbread-casserole/

sloppy joe

 

https://vickidelbrouck.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/lazy-day-casserole/

Lazy day casserole

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Today was food preparation Sunday.  I did my shopping yesterday (following the great, inspiring sales this week), and prepared food today.  The meatballs are a combination of several meats and I made them jumbo, like mini meatloafs.

3 lb. ground beef

1 lb. ground chicken

1 lb. ground turkey

1/2 lb. ground pork  (optional)

2 tsp. baking soda mixed with 2 Tbsp. water

2 c. crumbled cornbread

2 eggs

1/4 c. sweet pickle relish

1/4 c. pesto

3 Tbsp. steak seasoning

1 lb. ricotta cheese

1 jar spaghetti sauce (I used Gia Russa)

4 oz. each ricotta salada and fontina cheeses, shredded

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Combine meats with baking soda water and add in relish, pesto, seasoning, ricotta cheese, and seasoning.

Prepare 13 x 9 baking dishes by spraying with cooking spray.

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Using large scoop, form meatballs and put into baking dishes sprayed with coconut oil.

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Bake at 375F for 40 minutes until internal temperature is 165F.

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Pour  spaghetti sauce over cooked meatballs and top with shredded cheese.  I used ricotta salada and fontina.

 

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Meanwhile as part of food prep Sunday, I browned the remaining ground meats I bought (about 3 lb. total) to freeze and use in a future meal.

I bought a variety of sauces on a clearance sale at the local market and put boneless chicken breasts and thighs into large containers and coated them with the sauces and froze the chicken for future meals.  I only used half of the meatballs I made for tonight’s dinner.  I froze the rest for another night.

 

I served the Jumbo meatballs tonight with a tortelloni that was on a BOGO sale at my local supermarket.  I also bought their spinach ricotta ravioli, and everyone loved the freshness of this delicate pasta.  I will go buy more before the sale ends!

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All in all, a successful food preparation Sunday, ending with a delicious, easy meal made of ingredients bought on sale!

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This was one of those meals that smelled so delicious, and everyone was sooooo hungry, we didn’t get a picture of the food plated.

I love love love this Little Big Meal deal.  Amazing products!  I got extra lean sirloin, key lime cilantro taco sauce (Rick Bayless’ brand), white corn tortillas, sour cream, Mexican mix cheese, guacamole, and the roasted corn and black bean salad.

First I put some rice in the rice cooker, to make to go farther.  I chopped a small sweet onion.

Brown the meat and onions chopping up finely.   Add sauce and simmer until rice is done cooking.

Meanwhile, heat the tortillas on a baking sheet 3-5 minutes at 300 F.

Add cooked rice to the meat mixture.

I laid it out like a taco bar.  So yummy.  The tortillas were the best I’ve had.  It tasted like someone just made them.  The sauce is amazing.  Everyone loved the roasted corn and black bean salad (which is a little on the sweet/pickled side).

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This is such a hit, my next two Thursdays are set!

 

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1 lb. ground pork

1 packet SunBird Hot and Spicy Szechwan Seasoning

1 package Sidari’s fresh angel hair pasta (part of the Fresh Market little big meal)

3 Tbsp. soy sauce

2 Tbsp. honey

1/4 c. each chopped onion, red pepper, green pepper, yellow pepper, and orange pepper

1/3 c. water

1/3 c. crunchy peanut butter

1/2 packet Dole Chopped Salad (kale, cabbage, chard, brussel sprouts, etc.)

1/4 c. oil (I used pistachio but sesame oil or any other nut oil works)

1/2 bottle Honey Ginger Miso salad dressing

Sesame seeds, chopped cashews, and sliced green onions for garnish

Heat water to cook pasta.

Brown pork in skillet with nut oil.

Mix seasoning packet, soy sauce, honey, water, and peanut butter.  Mix well with immersion blender.  Set aside.  Reserve 1/4 c. sauce for meat.

Cook noodles according to package directions – only 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.

Drain.  Combine with sauce, chopped salad, and dressing.  Top with seeds, cashews and green onions.  Set aside to cool.

Once pork is cooked through, add in copped veggies.  Cover and steam until veggies are tender, but not mushy.  Add reserved peanut sauce.  Spice up meat mixture with red pepper flakes to taste.

Serve meat over noodles.

Yum!!

 

I love, love, love these noodles.  Even after they are refrigerated, they stay tender, making them perfect for this dish!!

 

 

 

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Fresh Market runs a special on Thursday called the Little Big Meal.  What would have cost $33.00 was on sale for $20.00.  Besides the makings for this meal, we got a mini pie too!

This was our favorite by far!

1 package chicken breast tenders

1 package stir fry veggie mix

1 pouch lemongrass basil sauce

1 package Udon noodles

Stir fry chicken in one skillet with a little olive oil.

Stir fry veggies in a separate skillet.

Meanwhile boil water for the Udon noodles.

When chicken is browned and not quite cooked through, pour veggies in with chicken.  Add in sauce, and cover and lower heat to low.

Boil Udon noodles for 4 minutes.

Serve chicken and veggies over noodles.

YUMMY!  It was enough for 3 growing boys and me.

LittleBigMeal_Email_Jan2016

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Fresh Market has a fantastic sale on Thursdays called Little Big Meal.

There are three options for protein, three options for noodles or rice, an amazing fresh veggie stir fry pack, and multiple simmer sauces, and multiple pillow cookies.

I chose chicken, Udon noodles, and Thai red curry sauce.  It was a hit!!!

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I am always afraid steak will end up tough.  The shrimp requires peeling and deveining (not in the mood).

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First, cook the Udon noodles, rinse with cold water and set aside.

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Cook chicken until just cooked through.

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Remove and toss with sauce.

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Stir fry veggies (except cabbage and bok choy)

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Add in leafy vegetables.

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Toss in noodles and chicken and sauce.

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The brownie pillow cookies were a hit!

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Making Food Fun!

A friend at work today was lamenting that she doesn’t know how she will afford to get through the week food wise. She only had about $70.00 to spend on food for dinners for herself and 2 kids. Everyone at work knows about my food obsession and this blog, so I thought she might be asking for advice. It turns out she was.

She went on to say that she doesn’t enjoy cooking like I do. Now, hold on a minute! I wasn’t born wanting to plan and cook a meal every single day. Motherhood and a busy life combined with the inability financially to do anything other than shop the sales and menu plan led me to learn to enjoy creating meals the kids will like. When one of them says they love something I’ve made, it’s suddenly all worth it!

In an effort to figure out what it was she didn’t like about cooking, I asked her what she usually fixes for dinner. It turns out, she was trying to do way too much after getting home from work. Even die hard food obsessed moms like me don’t want to come home from a hard day work and start cooking from scratch.

I explained that buying the meats on special and preparing and freezing them works so well for me, and suggested she might want to try it.

I looked up the ads and created a tentative menu for her week, asking what types of foods her kids like, and came up with the following:
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Then, I printed her up a shopping list with prices and scoped out coupons for items she was already buying:
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Lastly, I wrote her some daily instructions to try to help her understand how much easier it would be to, lets say, cook the meats all at once and freeze for future use.

I know it’s just the beginning, but I’m going to coach her in the ways of “Vicki’s food obsessed” menu planning, shopping the sales cooking and post what I come up with for her in an effort to help anyone out there with a tight budget with meal ideas!

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I went to my favorite Italian market. They have a weekly ad and once in a while I can’t resist. This week, it was their chicken salad and hard salami, not to mention great sales on berries, lettuce, grape tomatoes, and boneless chicken breast that brought me in.

On the way home, I stopped at my favorite grocery where they reduce the meats to prices that make my menu choices for me. Today, I got chorizo sausage, ground turkey, and ground pork.

Visions of meatballs with spaghetti, polenta, risotto, or potatoes. Chorizo in creamy cheese lasagne, chicken alfredo with butternut gnocchi, etc. Daniel gave me the Gluten Free Bible for Christmas. I can’t wait to try and post recipes. The butternut gnocchi one is the first I hope to try. I have some frozen butternut squash, the only ingredient that isn’t a staple in my pantry.

I did overspend slightly on groceries this week, but in addition to the meats and Italian market finds, I have yellow squash and zucchini on hand, potatoes, pears and fresh Gruyere and mozzarella cheeses.

Here is my menu plan thus far:

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Here is my list of to do’s as far as food preparation today:

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I prepared two types of meatballs.  Cooked the chorizo.  Cooked the chicken and cut it up for several meals.

 

Another Saturday Cooking Adventure

I’ll never forget the first time Daniel was here when I did one of my cooking marathons. It happens when I come across an expiration date clearance on meats like I did today! I bought 2 large packages of chicken thighs, 2 bags of Perdue individually wrapped chicken cutlets, and a tube of store brand breakfast sausage, all that had to be cooked right away.  What makes it soooo worth it, was that all that cost me $13.79.  Original price was approximately $40.00.  You just have to be willing to cook it all or freeze it right away.  Be sure to ask the butcher at your store about what they do with the meats that are about to expire.  My store puts yellow, tear off coupons on the clearance meats and puts them in one section of the meat cooler.  Just be sure to check the “sell by” date.

Here’s how it went as soon as I got home:

I cooked the thighs first in two skillets – seasoning them and then browning them in oil (covered to keep too much spitting on my newly cleaned stovetop).

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I then added canned chicken broth and simmered them until the internal temperature reached 165 F.

I pulled the thighs out of the skillets, put them aside to cool and shred, and poured the liquid from two of the skillets into a measuring cup for making rice for tonight’s meal. (Or you can always put it in a tupperware in the fridge or freezer).

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I cooked the boneless chicken in two out of the three skillets I used for the thighs, so all the seasonings and oil left in the bottom would flavor the boneless cutlets.

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I used the liquid left in the third skillet to make a sauce for the cutlets.  I was apprehensive about cooking the cutlets on the stove top, but since my oven is still out of commission, I have only the stovetop to work with.  I usually bake them, but they were delicious this way as well.  We love the Perdue cutlets.  I buy them whenever they are on sale.  They even have some that are preseasoned with Italian seasonings that everyone loves.

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While the cutlets cooked, I used the broth (from which I had removed the fat)

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to make rice – which cooked simultaneously with the cutlets.

SAM_0491 This is my favorite rice recipe.

I heated up some canned black beans to go with tonight’s cutlet and rice.

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While it all was cooking, I pulled the skin off the thighs and shredded the meat and froze it for a future meal.

Once the cutlets were removed from the skillet, I poured off the liquid and froze for later use.

I then cooked up the breakfast sausage for tomorrow’s breakfast in one of the skillets!

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Whew!

So, we had a nice dinner tonight, and the sausage for tomorrow morning’s breakfast is ready. We have frozen chicken and chicken broth in the freezer for future meals.

I want to share a great find. We tried the pictured Robert Rothschild Farm Raspberry Honey Mustard Pretzel Dip

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because it sounded yummy as a dip. I ended up adding it into the sauce I made for the boneless chicken (with a little lime and sherry) and the sauce was delicious.  Recipe to follow another day!

Any time I see gluten free condiments that sound interesting, I give them a try (at least as add ins for depth of flavor).

Menu Planning/Shopping the Sales

This is how my grocery week begins the day the ads come out for my local supermarkets!

I also clip coupons (and my sweet daughter Olivia gives them to me!) Some great online sites are couponsuzy.com and lozo.com.

I keep my coupons organized by food type, so that when the store has a BOGO (buy one get one free sale) and I have a coupon, it’s easier to put together.  It feels like winning the ‘shop the sales’ lottery.  My only caution with coupons though, is don’t buy something just because you have a coupon.  If it’s not something you would pay full price for, you probably shouldn’t bother buying it even if there’s a coupon.

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My other favorite money saving tip is to speak with your store’s butcher to ask if they mark down meats as they are about to expire. One local store puts out meats nearly daily that are huge savings. When you hit a BOGO and meat about to expire clearance, the savings are amazing!

Needless to say, the best way to spend less is to plan your menu after seeing what’s on sale and what you have coupons for.

My menu and shopping list are both works in progress and change often.  I put prices in next to the items on my shopping list so I don’t go over budget and don’t have to keep track (as long as I don’t impulse buy!)  I also list what ingredients I’m missing on the menu so if I didn’t make it to the store, I know I have to change things around.

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Even if you aren’t going to use an item right away, sometimes BOGO’s just make sense. Whenever those great savings happen, I stock up my freezer for weeks when the money is really tight.

Convenience foods are almost always too expensive in the overall scheme of saving money. Sometimes, though, having a convenience food on hand for the night when you just can’t face the stove is a blessing.

Frozen chicken strips (the new gluten free from Perdue is delicious) and frozen pizzas are nice to have in the freezer for one of those days!

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Last, but not least, I keep the list and menu posted on the fridge, and the kids can let me know if we already have something that’s on the list  or if I’ve forgotten anything.  I was sooooo happy that this week’s list brought me in at $19.00 under on my grocery budget, but it was because I forgot to include coffee and deodorant.  (And another item or two I’m sure will pop up).  So much for extra money!!

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