Monday, April 06, 2009

Money Monday: April 6, 2009

This weekend, I spent the entire weekend in the kitchen. My feet, they are killin’ me…but I’ve got two weeks of meals in the freezer, and another two weeks in “assembly ready” condition.

I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting meals on the table lately. Seems like every day, dinner time comes way before I’m ready for it. I’ve just finished working, gotten the kids, we’re just starting the nightly homework negotiations and suddenly it’s already that point where I should have put something in the oven an hour ago, so now we’re way off track and trying to decide if we should make a quick sandwich for everybody and then pop a kid or two into a bathtub, or put them in the tub now and just have dinner late.

This is, of course, the big downside of the ‘cooking from scratch’ thing. Sure, it’s a lot less expensive than eating out, and you can get over a pound of garlic heads for less than a four ounce jar of pre-diced stuff, but then instead of dipping out a teaspoon of pre-diced garlic and dropping it in the pan you have the ‘peel and dice’ step thrown into your mix.

Dice one onion, three cloves garlic, two bell peppers, three tomatoes and I’m sorry, were we planning on eating this tonight?!

Bonus points if your destructions say to seed the tomatoes. GAH! No one step is all that hard or time-consuming, sure, but by the time you’ve stacked up three or four or ten of them…GAH!!!!!!!

And if you want to really go for the gold, you can be one of those people who finds herself physically incapable of buying a can of pre-cooked beans. Because! A one-pound can of cooked pinto beans runs about $1.59 out here…a one pound sack of dry beans is $0.99, and will produce roughly three pounds of cooked beans.

So obviously, I’m always buying my beans dry…and then forgetting to soak them overnight, and of course do we even need to mention how seldom I’ll then remember to simmer them gently for an hour or three to actually cook them? (The secret, by the way, is to soak them in the crock pot overnight, then turn it on ‘low’ when you’re making your coffee in the morning.) (Also, putting the crock pot in front of the coffee maker can also be a tremendous boon for that whole ‘remembering to do it’ thing.) (See, I know this, I just never remember it in a timely fashion…I remember it at 5:15 on chili night, that’s when I remember it…)

The best thing about this kind of sort-of-once-a-month-cooking routine is that it helps control the grocery budget. Instead of shopping weekly or biweekly, I’m making one huge list and making one massive shopping trip…and then the rest of the month is fill-in. Some milk, replenish the fruit bowl, and we’re done.

I got a cheat in on this week, because I made the menu mostly around what I already had in the freezer – the only meat item I bought was a ham, which I decided to throw in there because frankly we’re all getting a bit weary of chicken and beef. Same old technique at work, use what you’ve already got before you buy new stuff.

The total cost at the supermarket was $151.79, which gave me a month’s worth of lunches and dinners. Not too bad, huh?

Instead of doing a full “once a month freezer cooking” ordeal, though, I focused mostly on getting things recipe ready. I browned up a ton of ground beef and onions – ready to become everything from chili to creamy beef casserole. I’ve got a ham in the crock pot today (orange marmalade and Dijon mustard glaze – so simple it’s ridiculous, but it adds a lot of good flavor), which will be dinner tonight, split pea soup another night (oh yeah…soak the peas…), ham sandwiches, a ham and potato casserole, innumerable ham and Swiss sandwiches and Denver omelets.

There’s also a few cups of cooked chopped chicken ready to go – chicken casseroles, some Mexican-doctored chicken (salsa Verde and Monterey Jack cheese, another easy dressing that tastes like you worked a lot harder than you actually did), chicken noodle casserole (like tuna casserole, only chicken).

Also, the onions, bell peppers, garlic, etc. etc. etc. are all pre-diced/sliced/minced/etc. and ready to go – neatly stacked in little screw-on lidded Rubbermaid in the kitchen. They’ll keep for one to two weeks that way, and I am able to reap the financial and health benefits of cooking from scratch without making myself a crazy person at 6:15 on a school night.

Then there are a bunch of meals in the freezer, for when the fresh ingredients are gone and/or I hit one of those nights when I just cannot find the love for dinner-making within me. From calzones to chicken pot pies, chicken burritos with salsa-cream sauce to ready-to-go taco filling, there’s a solid two weeks worth of dinner in the freezer – dinner can be just a heat-n-serve away, if the spirit is just not moving me to assemble something.

Or if I find myself working on a client site until 5:45 on a Tuesday and then facing the one-to-two hour drive home…

Also, I got sidetracked decided to make some pies. I needed to make an apple pie for a friend, and then I decided I wanted a lemon meringue because, well, I like lemon meringue and besides, what else am I supposed to do with the lemons off my lemon tree?

And then I realized that really, I’m the only person who likes it SO I might as well make a banana cream just to round things out. And then I almost stood over the pan and ate all the cream filling because it was good. Ahem. Excuse me, I need to go do a few more Penance Crunches {ugh, unggggh, ooof, gah!, [pwing!] AH! MY BACK!...} ok, that’s enough of that nonsense…

(And then I wonder why it takes all weekend to do a ‘one day’ cooking thing. Geesh.)

(Also, gee, why is it I ran the dishwasher about fifteen times this weekend? Hmmm…could it be cooking all day, PLUS pies, PLUS Denizens usual and customary decimation of clean crockery, PLUS one extra kid all weekend?!)

April is fixin’ to be a rough month. It’s a month with high expenses (taxes, more taxes, more taxes) and low billing thanks to Easter week. Knowing I’ve got food ready to go and the ability to skip the supermarket for the rest of the month feels awfully good when I’m facing one of those trying periods.


Unknown said...

What a helpful post!! I have so many ideas now. And now I can rationalize the money to fix/replace the current freezer/fridge - the fridge side keeps stuff at 55 degrees, and the freezer side keeps stuff at 40 on the top and almost frozen on the bottom back. No way to really follow your example until I have a working freezer!

Thanks again for your "money Monday" and LBYM entries!!

Science PhD Mom said...

I admire your energy. I just do not have the energy to do a weekend long prep and cooking fest. Instead we make extra when we're cooking and freeze the extras. I bow to your amazing feats!