Sunday, May 20, 2012

Just say NO to prepackaged convenience food Pt 1

The Massive Meatball Making Marathon

At some point this week a hair brained idea made it's way into my head, and since I live alone with my kids, there wasn't anyone around to talk me out of it. The thought was, "Why do I feed my kids crap?" Seriously, why do I buy things that I know to be inferior. Convenience? Yes. Because my kids like them? Yes. Cost? Well, probably not. Because I am not capable of making those things myself? HELL NO! So I got it into my head that I am going to move away from buying these prepackaged convenience foods. Frozen meatballs, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, and the like. So when I went to the store and there was a large package of ground beef marked down, it was like a sign. So I picked it up, along with some ground pork and some lean chicken sausage. Then, because it would be silly to make meat balls and not eat any of them, I got sliced provolone and hoagie rolls for meatball subs.

So here's my "recipe" though I use the term lightly.

All lined up in rows
  • 2 Lbs Extra Lean ground beef
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 ln Extra Lean chicken sausage (and let me just say something about the chicken sausage, it was PREMIUM, the meat was minced instead of ground and it smelled super flavorful, I will use that brand again)
  • 1 cup seasoned whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 3-4 eggs
  • 1-2 tsp thyme
  • 1 or 2 handfuls of finely chopped spinach

Mix well, roll into golf ball sized balls and place on a greased sheet pan, leaving about an inch between meatballs. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, then turn them over and bake an additional 5. Makes Approx 64 meatballs

I kept out 14 to feed my kids dinner tonight, so in the end I put up 50 meatballs for future use. These meatballs are larger than the frozen ones you can buy at the store so I think that will see us through 5 meals. And the best part is, I know what went into them and was able to choose ingredients to make them healthier than the prepackaged variety.

Bonus content: Vegetarian "Meatlessballs"

I was going to buy some veggie meatballs for myself until I thought "well that would be pretty darn stupid". So I didn't, cause I hate being stupid. The problem then became the fact that I had no idea how to make veggie meatballs, and all of the recipes I was finding online called for things I did not have. But the name of this blog IS "making do" so that's what I did. I threw some lentils and some brown rice in water and overcooked them a bit so that they would mush up a little. Then I added an egg, about half a cup of breadcrumbs, thyme, garlic powder, and some Penzy's Mural of Flavors, a little blob of the veggie base I use and the rest of the chopped spinach. Then I mixed it and rolled it into balls. I had a whole pan's worth rolled when I remembered that I had about a quarter pound of maitake mushrooms in the fridge that needed to be used. So I put them back in the mix, minced up the mushrooms and mixed everything all over again. The whole batch made about 36 "meat"balls. I used half a bag of small lentils and probably as much rice. I only used one egg because that's all I had left, I think I probably would have use 2 if I could. These meatless balls have a great flavor but would not hold up to being simmered in a sauce.
I promise these are much more than balls of grey goo

Bonus bonus content: This meal's ata girls: the bag of spinach in the fridge, the half bag of lentils on the shelf, the eggs from one of my nurses, and my fancy shmancy mushrooms

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Spring Time in Boise

is not as glamorous as springtime in Paris, but MUCH less snooty.  It brings wildly fluctuating temperatures, hoards of pissy geese, and the return of the Capital City Public Market, aka That Farmer's Market that fraks up traffic downtown every Saturday morning.
   I've mentioned before that Beastie is playing T-ball this year.  His games are in Boise (we live 20 miles away in Nampa) and half of them are Saturday afternoons.  At some point I realized that it's pretty silly to drive into Boise, just for a one hour t-ball game, so I started looking for things we could do while we were in town.  The top of my list was the farmer's market.  We've gone three weeks in a row now, and each week I come home with more.
This is just what made it home....
   This week's haul include: A bag of pink lady apples, a bunch of radishes, a bunch of red spring onions, a bottle of basil infused Kombucha, and some fiddle head ferns.  The things that didn't make it home were some vegetarian Sambusas eaten for breakfast, Parmesan bread sticks eaten for a snack, a glass of horchata, a glass of organic root beer, and a blueberry handheld pie.

See how pretty?
I was pretty excited when I saw the fiddle head ferns.  I've heard, seen, and read that they are a prized ingredient with a super short season.  How could I pass them up?  So I got a modest half pound, and my brain started into overdrive thinking about how I would use them.
The makings of a fine meal
  Right away I thought of stir fry, so I set about gathering up any other fresh vegetation that might be tasty.  What I found was radishes and spring onions.  Some people might look at me funny when I mention the radishes, but those people just don't know how mild and sweet radishes get when they are cooked.

  While some brown rice was cooking I blanched the ferns and marinated some tofu in soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and a little bit of red pepper.  I then stir fried the tofu and onions.  When the onions were nice and soft I added the ferns and the radishes.  Those cooked for another 5 minutes, then at the last minute I added the last bit of a jar of terriyaki sauce I had in the fridge.
A bowl of spring
The result was a fabulous meal, seasonal and fresh.  The fiddle head ferns were mild and slightly chewy.  The kids liked their curly-q shape and gobbled them right down.  It's a real shame that their season is so very short, I may have to get more next weekend, if it's not too late.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Not-so-extreme couponing

   Extreme couponing is SO not my bag.  I am far too lazy and too busy to spend all that time organizing coupons, searching the sales, and storming the stores at the butt crack of dawn to get 15 boxes of minute rice for $2.  Not to mention the fact that I have no pantry space to speak of.  I don't care how good the price is, if you don't have space for it or can't use it before it expires, it's NOT a good deal.  Not to say that I don't need to save some scratch, I just do it in a different way.
   About once a week I stop by one particular grocery store, either before I pick up the kids or on our way home.  Now, this chain isn't known for it's low prices, quite the opposite.  I don't do my regular shopping there, I go there for one reason, the Clearance.  Most grocery stores have things that go on clearance from time to time, products that are out of season, discontinued, dented or near their expiration.  This store seems to have more products than average go on clearance.  Meats, cheeses, fresh pastas, sauces and salsa's, canned and boxed goods.  In the case of the perishable goods they're marked with coupons stuck to the front of the package that has been put on clearance.  All you have to do is find them, kinda like an easter egg hunt.

Look at all that red in my basket!

   I usually start at the back of the store, with the fresh meats.  Bacon, sausages, microwave meat entrees and side dishes, pork, beef, chicken, and sea food.  This trip I got 3 packages of breakfast sausage, one package of bacon, one meat entree and one mashed potato side dish.  A lot of these items can be frozen, so the expiration date becomes a little less important.

   From there I head down the isle with the lunch meats, cheeses, fresh pastas and fresh sauces.  I bagged, 2 packages of lunch meat, 3 packages of fresh pasta, 4 packages of american slices, 2 tubs of cream cheese (that I have a very tasty plan for) and a tub of pesto.  One of the packages of pasta didn't have a coupon on it, but I picked it up because they were buy one, get one free.  That means I got 2 for the price of one, AND still got a dollar off.  These can also be frozen, whoot!

It's a cardiologist's worst nightmare

    After I've picked up what strikes my fancy I head for the back of the store again.  In the back corner there is a shelving unit and a couple carts.  These are where you will find the non perishable clearance.  This time there was quite a bit of asian sauces.  I got 2 jars of duck sauce, 3 jars of satay sauce, 2 jars of chinese BBQ sauce, and one jar of kobe steak grill sauce.

Did someone say "Stir Fry"?
     I did pick up a few things that weren't on clearance, but they were on sale.

Carbs carbs carbs
     Checking out reminds me of another reason I don't bother with the whole couponing craze.  Using all those coupons and dealing with store policies often means multiple transactions.  Ugh, not something I'm eager to deal with when I have 2 wriggling, whining kids climbing all over me and touching everything else.  Certainly can't argue with the results either!

Hells yeah, saved 50%

   And as an awesome bonus, the coupons generated at the register were actually ones I would conceivably use.  That never happens!

Stupid upside down photo :(
 Bonus "Making Do" content...  I took some broccoli cheese soup out of the freezer before leaving the house anticipating it to be a soup kind of day.  Now, this soup was a bit disappointing the first time, just not cheesy enough.  While digging through my fridge I found exactly what that soup needed.  Half of a cheese ball!  Yep, as weird as it sounds, I cut up half of a cheese ball I had no other plans for and stirred it into my heating soup.  It thickened it, bumped up the cheesyness and creamyness, and the the almonds were actually a nice compliment.

Cheese Ball Soup!