Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Whatcha' Cookin' Wednesday - Cranberry Chutney



I love making:

1) holiday gifts
2) food that has many uses

A few pantry staples and stand-bys, like salsa, fit some of the criteria (condiment, sauce, topping, spread) but cranberry sauce (or in my case, chutney) tops them all. Perfect as a condiment with your Christmas ham, a sweet and tart topping for vanilla ice cream, a spread on your post-holiday turkey sandwich or a sauce alongside a lovely savory dish.

As for making holiday gifts, my love language is FOOD so (naturally) that’s what I love to make and give. Enter (again): Cranberry Chutney. Now, the reason why I call my cranberry concoction a chutney (rather than a sauce) is because my recipe calls for additional fruit and less sugar than jams or traditional cranberry sauce. It’s perfectly tart and sweet. (Besides, chutney sounds fancier.)

And here’s another thing: If you’re on a budget this is a fantastically inexpensive gift to create. For about $1 (or less) for a ½ pint Ball jar and less than $2. for ingredients per jar you can create a yummy, thoughtful, (and frugal) holiday gift. 

You can make this recipe on the stovetop or in a crock pot, depending on how much time you've got on your hands. The crock pot method will take 8 hours but here is very little hands-on work; the stovetop will take less than an hour but you'll have to be more involved with stirring, etc. 

 (all ready for givin'!)

Cranberry Chutney

 ***Triple this recipe to yield enough for five ½ pint jars.***

1 twelve oz. bag of fresh cranberries
1 Gala or Fuji apple (peeled, cored and diced)
1 orange (zested, peeled, tough membrane removed, chopped. Reserve zest, orange sections, and extra juice)
1 cup of orange juice
½ - 1 cup of sugar (start with smallest amount and sweeten to taste)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger

Tip for breaking down the orange:  Zest first, use a mini-grater or microplane for best results. Slice off both ends, and slice off peel while standing orange on end. Cut in quarters; remove pulp from white membrane with hands. 

Crock Pot instructions:
Combine all ingredients in pot.
Stir to mix.
Set to low for 8 hours, stirring about every 1 ½ - 2 hours. 
For the last hour, cover halfway (this will help it thicken a bit) and continue to cook until done.

Stovetop instructions:
Combine all ingredients in large saucepan.
Stir to mix.
Bring to boil. 
Immediately reduce heat to simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until cranberries are bursting. (DO NOT let it come to a rolling boil or the sugar will burn the bottom of the pan and your chutney will be ruined.) 

Canning:
Spoon hot chutney into hot, sterilized glass jars. Wipe edges, place canning lids and tightly screw on bands. Boil in water bath for 20 minutes. (Water must be at least one inch above jars.) Cool on wire racks. Be sure to test jars by pushing down on center of lid to make sure it’s stable, not popping up and down. You should also hear the telltale “ping” from each jar as they cool. If your jars are not sealed properly, refrigerate and consume within one week.


Organically yours,


Minde


What is your fave homemade food gift? Share below...  :) 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Whatcha' Cookin' Wednesday - Roasted Pumpkin and... Pumpkin Pie


Pic by katerha

Today's "Whatcha Cookin' Wednesday" is a 2-fer  - roasted pumpkin AND roasted pumpkin pie - because it's high time we shift the pumpkin paradigm.

It seems to me that when it comes to pumpkins folks rush to carve them into jack-o-lanterns or use as porch and mantle adornments but when it comes to using it as an ingredient... most reach for the canned stuff.  

“It’s easier!” Maaaaybe, but it's also full of BPA, sugar, preservatives and other added stuff.

”It’s cheaper.” Nope. Not by a mile.

“It’s what I know!”  Shift the paradigm!

I invite you to do your taste buds (and wallet) a favor. Allow real pumpkin into your life and on your table.

A can of organic canned pumpkin will run you about $2.40-3.00. It’s enough for ONE pie. A whole, organic pie pumpkin costs about $1.25-2.50., depending on where and when you buy it, and will yield enough pulp for TWO pies. That's HALF-OFF, folks. Buy late-season pie pumpkins at your local farmers market to get the best deal. (Offer to buy in bulk and see the prices really go down…) I buy up all the inexpensive pumpkins each season and do some bulk cooking, a  bit of a roasting fest if you will. My kitchen smells wonderful for an afternoon and I have enough roasted pumpkin to last until mid-summer, sometimes longer. This is how it looks when I'm done:

I stack them in my freezer, like edible books.

I usually preserve my bounty by freezing flat in freezer bags in 2-cup increments so it's easy to pull out for my favorite pumpkin bread recipe.

You’ll be delighted to find out how easy it is to cook real pumpkin that can be used in a wide variety of recipes including quick breads, muffins, soups and yes, pies. When ripe, pumpkins can be boiled, baked, steamed, or, my absolute fave, ROASTED. Total hands-on time is about 5-10 minutes. Easy.

Roasty goodness by Rachel Tayse

Roasted Pumpkin
-Preheat oven to 400.
-Cut pie pumpkin in half or quarters (top to bottom from stem) and scoop out seeds.
-Place pumpkin on cookie sheet or jelly roll pan.
Tip: For easy clean-up, line cookie sheet or jell roll pan with parchment paper or foil before roasting.  
-Roast for 50-60 minutes, or until a fork can be easily pierced through skin.
-Cool and scoop out pulp from skin.

And now....  PIE. Lovely PIE. Perfect for breakfast, lunch and dinner, says me and my kiddos. And especially Thanksgiving. I usually refer to this pumpkin pie recipe as "blender pie" since the only kitchen tool needed is a blender. It's easily the tastiest and easiest pie I've ever made. Hands down.

Roasted Pumpkin Pie
Pie pic by pbody

3 c. roasted pumpkin (about one 3.5 lb sugar pumpkin)
1.5 c. light brown sugar
2 tbsp corn starch
1 tsp salt
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1.5 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
6 large eggs
3 cups of evaporated milk

-Assemble all ingredients in blender and mix until slightly frothy.
-Pour into favorite pie crust.
-Bake at 350 for about 40-45 minutes or until top is lightly browned and no longer jiggly in the middle.

Organically yours,

Minde

What's your fave way to cook pumpkin?  I'd love to hear about it...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Whatch Cookin' Wednesday - Applesauce

You've heard me preach it, folks:

Buy seasonal food in bulk.  

It's a smart way to get real food at the best prices while at it's peak flavor. I'm over the moon that apples are in season right now. (Seriously, this morning I woke up thinking about rustic apple tarts. No joke.) That means those delicious red/gold/yellow/green/pink fruits are in abundance. And inexpensive.

In my area (East TN), organic apples are about $1.10/lb., which is down from about $2.25/lb in the off-season, and maybe even less expensive if a local farmer has a surplus they want to unload.  What does this mean for my family?  Copious amounts of applesauce!  And yes, rustic apple tarts.

A 25 oz. jar of organic applesauce at my local market costs about $3.60 - 4.00. Ouch. If I ration it carefully (or mix it with yogurt to make it last longer), I might get a jar to last about a week.  I use it in baked goods, we pack it in school lunches, it makes a great ice cream topping... We typically go through about 2-4 jars a month. That's approximately $14.50.

A month...

For applesauce.

Per year? About $175 buckaroos. Super ouch. 

Now, when I make homemade applesauce the cost goes down to about $1.35 for same-sized jar. Sweeeet. And yummy. That's about $3.50 for about 64 oz. of organic, delicious, good-for-you, proud-to-serve, tunny-pleasing, HEALTHY, applesauce.

Another bonus: It's easy! You can make a humongous batch of applesauce in your Crock Pot with very little effort. (Save for the peeling part but it's not too bad if you've got some tunes goin'. I found that Lily Allen is darn near perfect apple peeling music.) Get the kids in on the act. Let your munchkins measure the spices, how many cups of apples needed, and more. A great math lesson, plus they get the eat the fruits of their labor.

Store your sauce in Mason jars in the freezer (be sure to leave at least 1/2" of headspace) or use the super-easy water bath canning method for long-term preserving.

Crock Pot Applesauce
(Yields about 64 oz. For you bad-at-math canners, that's two quarts or four pints or a quart and two pints.)
-3 lbs. or about 12-15 medium-sized apples - peeled, cored, and chopped. (I use a mix of tart and sweet varieties such as a Gala and Granny Smith)
-4 tsp. lemon juice
-cinnamon
-sweetener - sugar, honey, agave - to taste (we skip the sweetener since most apples are sweet enough on their own)
-water

Tip: Use non-stick spray on inside of Crock Pot before adding apples.  Makes clean-up a breeze... 

Add lemon juice and apples to Crock Pot. (UPDATED 5.1.13 - please note that I no longer add lemon juice! We didn't see any notable difference when we omitted it so now we just leave it out.)

Stir to combine.

Sprinkle cinnamon on mixture, just to cover lightly.

Set on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.

and...

THAT'S IT.  (Told ya it was easy.) We eat as-is -- a little on the chunky side. If you prefer a smooth sauce, blend to desired consistency in blender or Cuisinart. A hand blender used directly in the Crock Pot works great too. (Use water as needed to get the right texture.)

By the way, this applesauce makes great a Christmas gift.  Can it in a lovely Mason jar, add a fun tag and you're good to go.



Organically yours,

Minde

Do you have a fave seasonal Crock Pot recipe?  I'd love to hear about it.  Please post in comments!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

RiceSelect Giveaway - extended!

Due to technical difficulties, last week's giveaway has been extended!  Submit your fave rice recipe for a chance to win a very cool goody bag from RiceSelect - see below for rules.  Deadline is this Tuesday at 10 a.m. EST; winner will be announced that afternoon.


Yummmm..  Nice pic, ☼zlady!

Here's how the RiceSelect giveaway works:

-All submitted recipes must contain rice.  ANY kind of rice.  Brown, jasmati, Texmati, etc.  Bring it on.  Recipes can be simple or complex – your choice!

-All recipe submissions must be posted in the comments of this post.

-If you haven't already, please log on to my Facebook page, “like” it , THEN tell your Facebook friends about my Facebook page. (Click HERE for my Facebook page link to include on your page.)

Have fun and good luck!  


Organically yours,

-Minde

Monday, September 26, 2011

RiceSelect Giveaway! Post a recipe for a chance to win!

Got an amazing recipe to share?  Hope so!  RiceSelect would like to send one of my lucky readers a fun goody bag!  It's quick and easy - 1) List your fave rice recipe in the comments of this blog post by this Friday and 2) tell your Facebook friends about my Facebook page.  Do this by Friday at 5 p.m. EST and your name will be entered to win!  The winner will be announced on SATURDAY.

Did you know that RiceSelect was named a national partner of Susan G. Komen for the Cure® to help in the fight against breast cancer? Cool! During the months of September, October and November 2011, you'll see RiceSelect™ Texmati® White rice brightening store shelves with their pink lids and labels. During this three month period RiceSelect™is committed to donating a minimum of $50,000 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure®.

Here's how the RiceSelect giveaway works:

All submitted recipes must contain rice.  ANY kind of rice.  Brown, jasmati, Texmati, etc.  Bring it on.  Recipes can be simple or complex – your choice!

All recipe submissions must be posted in the comments of this post by THIS Friday at 5 p.m. E.S.T.  (All you west coasters will have to get your recipes up by 2 p.m.)

If you haven't already, please log on to my Facebook page, “like” it , THEN tell your Facebook friends about my Facebook page. (Click HERE for my Facebook page link to include on your page.)

Easy, right?  I can’t wait to read your recipes… GO!  Good luck!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

This White Rice is Right Nice - RiceSelect Jasmati

Meal planning is a big part of our family eating well and organically on a budget so Wednesday is always Rice and Veggie Night

That’s not as boring as it sounds. Really! Take a peek:

Say it with me:  Yummmmmmmmmmmm...

Both rice and veggies are inexpensive, versatile and healthy. We mix it up each week by creating different rice and veggies dishes, depending on our mood and what's in season. Stir-fry combos, steamed or raw seasonal veggies, different kinds of rice and quinoa (I know, NOT a rice but we allow it to sneak into rice and veggie night anyway) and savory spices, plus a protein - like grilled chicken or artisan sausage from our local market - when the budget allows. No rice and veggie meal is ever the same, which is a simple boredom buster when it come to the drudgery of meal planning.

Since we are fans of buying in bulk in order to get the best price, we usually get our rice from Costco since they offer such great deals on organics and healthy stuff we like to eat. Our fave is RiceSelect Organic Texmati Brown. (Yes, this was our first choice for rice even before I started doing food reviews for Mambo Sprouts and RiceSelect.) Truth be told, I haven’t had white rice in years; I prefer the brown kind for a wide variety of reasons. My past experience with white rice is that it’s sticky, tasteless and gloppy and feels like I just ate glue. I usually stay away from the stuff.

So, when RiceSelect sent me their Jasmati (long grain American jasmine) WHITE rice to review my heart sank. But here I was with a new product to try so I bit the (white) bullet and gave it a go. Although RiceSelect thoughtfully included some lovely recipes, we decided to go the purist route so we could really taste the rice. I cooked it simply and paired with some steamed seasonal veggies:  

I’m pleased to report that my family’s opinion is that RiceSelect is fluffy, flavorful and, according to my 5-year daughter, YUMMY.  A pleasant surprise...  Also, it was so darned EASY to cook.  2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice, let boil, turn down to simmer, done in 20 minutes. Nice! (Simple truth: Easy, uncomplicated cooking makes for a happy mama.)

My trick to add flavor to any rice or quinoa dish is to add a bit of homemade chicken or veggie stock (or low-sodium, canned broth or stock) to kick up the flavors a notch. Add to suit your taste but we’ve been known to cook entire batches with stock or liquid instead of water. This adds an extra layer of deliciousness to an already flavorful grain.


Here's another thing about RiceSelect: It not only makes your tummy feel good but chances are your spirit too. From September to November the Texmati rice jars will sport pink lids and labels to help support the Susan G. Komen For the Cure foundation. During this time, RiceSelect will donate $50,000 to support the foundation’s work to cure breast cancer. Nice, right?


And, I LOVE this, RiceSelect supports sustainable agriculture by developing high yielding rice varieties that require less pesticides, fungicides and water resources.  Plus, RiceSelect’s production facilities operate pollution free and use only minimal processes to mill and package their goods. And finally, all of RiceSelect's  PET jars are re-usable and recyclable and BPA free. BPA FREE! Why can't more food companies get on this bandwagon?

The net/net is that I may start eating white rice again. We were pleasantly surprised and will consider buying RiceSelect’s Jasmati Rice in the future. 

Organically yours,

Minde

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Taking a Break with Equal Exchange Coffee


    (thanks for the photo OiMax)

It’s widely known that I’m an addict.  

A COFFEE addict.  

I often pack a coffee maker when we go on trips, go many miles out of the way to go to a cherished coffee purveyor, and ship beans across the country all in an effort to obtain a perfect cup of  java.  I’m serious about the stuff.  So when Mambo Sprouts asked me to review organic Equal Exchange coffee I was definitely up for the task.  I already knew that Equal Exchange works with small farmers and co-ops, which really appeals to my Mama Earth side (let’s keep those small farms in business, folks), and that it’s beans are 100% organic.  (Rubber-stamped by the USDA.) I was eager to see if it tasted as good as it made me feel to know that I was drinking coffee made from responsibly grown beans grown on small farms.

I tested two roasts: French Roast (dark roast) and the fabulously named Love Buzz (medium dark roast), which is a blend of Equal Exchange’s Full City and French Roast.

The French Roast was wonderful.  There’s no false advertising on the label, which says “intensely dark and full bodied.”  While it was steeping (we use a French press) my husband noted that the aroma reminded him of a French Quarter coffee roaster that he frequented a while back.  Indeed, a hearty, roasty, somewhat smoky loveliness filled the kitchen and we could barely wait before tucking in to a steaming cup of it.  It was very smooth with a very slight almost-chocolately aftertaste – yummy all-around.  I added a blip of whole milk, which took a bit of the edge off but the flavor still came through.

Love Buzz was a slightly lighter roast and also very good.  It calls itself “dark and velvety smooth” but I found the French Roast to be a tad smoother and all together a little more satisfying.  (Full disclaimer:  I’m a dark coffee gal, often amping up the coffee:water ratio to get a darker cup. ) I really enjoyed the Love Buzz, it was a good afternoon treat when I wasn’t looking for a super intense cup of coffee.

So, would I buy it?  Yes.  At a little under $10. for a 12 oz. bag it’s not cheap but definitely not on the expensive side, especially for a fairly traded, organic product.  I’ve paid more for good, palate-pleasing coffee (a necessity in my house, for sure) and think this coffee ranks pretty high on the flavor scale. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Week 6: Consider Store-Brand Organics - 10 Easy Ways to Living Affordably Organic


Consider Store-Brands when Buying Organic

Most chain grocery stores, even your local mega mart and warehouse stores, are finally getting with the organic program and creating private label organic products. This is great news for your wallet. Here’s a run-down:

Stores that offer their own brand of organic foods
Kroger
Publix
Whole Foods
Trader Joe’s
Safeway
Albertsons
Costco
(and many more regional stores are getting into the act too...)

More reasons to consider store-brand organics:

Small ingredient list
Most store-brand organics generally have small ingredient lists. Case in point: Publix salsa has five ingredients.(And no additives that are unpronounceable! Yay!) Their ketchup has only 6 ingredients. (And no high-fructose corn syrup, which is added to just about everything these days.) Trader Joe's organic non-sweetened apple sauce has ONE ingredient. (Apples! Surprise!)

Large variety of products
Check out the bread section of your local mart and chances are good that they have store-brand organic bread available. (Kroger has a yummy organic flax seed organic bread.) Cruise the canned food section and find organic black beans, garbanzo beans, corn and more. Also look for pasta sauces, condiments and spreads. (Organic store-brand pastas are available too but I haven't found any that are wheat or whole grain.) Costco has a really nice organic brown rice that's inexpensive and tasty. Store-brand organic dairy is in abundance too, as well as eggs, butter and sometimes cheese. Even the baking aisle has some organic private label surprises like spices, oils, flours and sweeteners.

More value for your dollar
Most store-brand items are much less expensive than brand-name items. Choose a store-brand over a name-brand and 9 times out of 10 you’ll pay less.  Eggs?  Only $4./dozen for store-brand but pay nearly $7./dozen for name-brand.  How about milk?  Pay $6.50/gallon for name-brand and only $4.99/store-brand. The savings really add up. Of course, it’s tough to find coupons for store-brands while name-brand coupons are readily available in your Sunday paper but in the long run buying store-brands will save you big bucks.

Next up: My fave store-brand items, including recipes.

Organically yours,

Minde

What are YOUR favorite store-brand organics?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Week 5: Preserving your Food - 10 Easy Ways to Living Affordably Organic

Preserving your Food - Buy and Cook in Bulk

So, now that you've bought or cooked all that food in bulk how do you preserve it?  I’ve found that a few tools are essential to success when keeping goodies fresh for future use. Here’s a quick overview of what works for me:

Tools of the Bulk Trade

Vacuum seal – My FoodSaver is one of the most valuable tools in my preservation arsenal but I must come clean and tell you that I have a love/hate relationship with it.  I LOVE that it allows me to vacuum seal just about anything, enabling me to freeze foods for months and months at a time.  I vacuum seal meats, cheese and all our sauces (like tomato), spreads (like hummus and pesto), condiments (salsa) and broths. After sealing I lay flat and stack, like a bunch of books. However, the FoodSaver takes some practice and I’m the kind of gal that doesn’t have much patience for stuff that has to be aligned “just right” in order to work.   All in all, it's a great tool and Foodsaver seems to be improving it all the time.  (Please note that my Foodsaver is nearly 10 years old.  Also, I'm not necessarily endorsing the FoodSaver brand, I'm sure there are many other sealing systems available...)

Freeze – About 6 years ago (just about the time I found out I was pregnant with twins) we found an inexpensive freezer at a “scratch and dent” sale.  Since then it has saved us thousands of dollars because I can buy in bulk and freeze, freeze, freeze.  I freeze just about everything, especially stuff I find on sale like milk, cheese and butter.


Can – Canning is easy, fun and a very effective way of keeping your food preserved.  (Eating garden fresh tomatoes in the middle of December is such a treat.  Homemade jam rocks the house.) It seems a lot of folks think that they need to have all sorts of equipment to can properly but all you really need is with a large pot. (You can pick one up for cheap at your local thrift store.) There are many great canning resources on the web and a huge variety of classes available. Check your local community garden or recreation center for more details. 

Pickle – I am new to this and excited to pickle an enormous load of cucumbers this year.   Seriously.  I went a little nutso with the planting this year so I suspect will be SWIMMING in cucumbers around August... I’d better get this pickling stuff down right quick.

Ferment – I am inspired by my neighbor to ferment my veggies this year.   Preservation by fermentation has been going on for eons and is a nutritious way to preserve veggies and more. Some say that fermentation actually improves the nutrition of foods.  I can eager to try this soon. 

Next up:  Week 6 - Store-brand organics...  A good, inexpensive option to brand-name items.

Organically yours, 

Minde

Who has great resources on fermentation?  Would love to hear about it...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cook in Bulk - Week 5 of 10 Easy Ways to Living Affordably Organic


Cooking in bulk helps us save money AND is a tremendous time saver.  Most folks might assume the opposite but we’ve found that if we set aside a little time each week to cook in bulk (about 2-3 hours at the most) then we save a lot of time in the long run.  Plus, when I'm pressed for time (which is a standard mode of me) it’s a major de-stresser to simply pull a fave dish out of the freezer (thaw and heat!) or to have ready-to-go food to nosh on all week without "making to order."  Cooking in bulk also aids my meal planning.  Often I can determine my budget for the week based on what I may already have in the ready to go from the freezer. As you can imagine, I find myself cooking in bulk more often when I have a surplus of food (see my "buy in bulk" post) and and less in leaner times.  It all balances out.

Here's a shot of my freezer from last October:

PESTO!!  I typically make at least a quart at a time and freeze for future use...


Here’s how cooking in bulk works for us:

Designate a “bulk” cooking time
For us, this usually happens Sunday afternoon. The labor varies: One week my husband (affectionately called “Danger Dad”) might start prepping and chopping veggies and I’ll assemble the dish.  Or maybe I’ll start the process and he’ll be in charge of making sure it gets cooked, like pasta sauce.  We usually choose about 2 recipes; typically those include a side dish, a sauce and/or a main dish.


Create versatile dishes for the week
Our bulk cooking includes creating something that can be eaten all week long, in a wide variety of ways.  Good examples include:

-Beans – Excellent in scrambles, tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, with rice or as a side dish

-Quinoa – Make a “plain” batch and then reheat and toss with dried fruit or shredded parmesan or sun-dried tomatoes when a meal is needed.

-Macaroni and Cheese – A popular side or main dish at lunch or dinner. Seriously, mac and cheese rocks and my recipe won't make you feel guilty about eating it...

-Meatloaf – A hearty main dish, but also good sliced in sandwiches or crumbled into scrambled with eggs at breakfast.

-Roasted veggies  - We toss with a little olive oil and kosher salt then roast on the grill, using a grill pan…  Great for a side dish, wrapped in tortillas, tossed in pasta, layered in lasagna, scattered over rice and more…

-Chicken – Either baked, roasted or in a crockpot , a chicken is always a fave make-ahead meal since it can be used in about a thousand ways all during the week…  Shred over fresh, organic greens; create a spicy chicken salad with chipotle mayo; tuck into enchiladas and on and on.


Create freezer meals
We love keeping our freezer stocked with meals and side dishes.  Items that freeze beautifully are:

-beans (black, red, you name it...)
-lentils
-hummus
-lasagna
-tomato sauce
-enchiladas
-pesto
-pizza dough
-waffles
-mac and cheese

We’ll make a big batch of any of the above, save some for eating that week, and freeze the rest. 

Next up: The tools of my "bulk" trade...  I'll share my fave products and methods for storing food.

Organically yours,

Minde

What are your fave dishes to COOK in bulk?  Share your recipes here...  :)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bulk Up! Week 4 of the 10-week series 10 Easy Way to Living Affordably Organic


And we're baaaaack.... Week 5 of the 10-week series, 10 Easy Ways to Living Affordably Organic!

Sorry for the break in posts, folks. My family got laid out with a nasty bug and we're just now resurfacing.  Thanks for hanging in there.  Let's get on with the good stuff... :) 

One of the essential keys to living Affordably Organic is thinking BIG.  That means buying and cooking in large quantities. 

First, let’s talk BUYING big.  The three top places we buy in bulk are:

1) warehouse store

2) grocery

3) local farm or farmers market 


Warehouse Store

One of the easiest and most popular ways to buy in bulk is to shop a local warehouse store. Here's our fave:


We have an Executive membership at Costco that pays for itself. It may seem a little costly at $100./year but we get 1% back on all our purchases, which pay for the membership fee and then some. We make sure that we shop there as often as appropriate - we don’t shop there for the sake of racking up that 1%. Costco offers more than great deals on food and household goods. They also have lower than usual gasoline prices, which helps us get more cash back at the end of the year. I’ve found that Costco carries more organics than the other warehouse clubs in our area (Sam’s and BJ’s) and has a wider variety of things we like. Organics that we routinely buy at Costco are: brown rice, quinoa, tomato sauce and paste, peanut butter, low-sugar jam, chicken, beef, coffee, salad mix (when it’s out of season or I don’t have any growing in the garden), carrots (same), frozen broccoli (ditto), frozen veggie mixes and olive oil. They also offer a wide variety of nuts and dried fruit, although most of the latter have added sugar so you need to read the labels carefully.

Here’s some good examples of foods you should BUY in bulk at your local warehouse store:
Rice
Grains
Nuts
Dried Fruit
Nut butters
Canned goods
Cereal (such as oats and granola)


Grocery Store
Another place we routinely buy in bulk is our local grocery store. I keep a keen look-out for rock-bottom deals (especially on items that I use regularly) and buy the place out when I find an especially good bargain. For example, last month my local grocery was phasing out nearly all it’s organic butter – about 14 lbs. worth at an average of $2./lb. (Regularly priced at $6./lb. Whoa!) I bought all of it and stuck it in the freezer. I saved over $56. on organic butter because I was willing to buy in bulk and freeze for future use.  

Here's my freezer door:
Not a very good picture but you get idea...  That's a lotta buttah!


Farmer Surplus
The 3rd “buy in bulk” option involves your local farmer. Consider buying end-of-season farmer surplus at GREAT prices and freeze, can or ferment for future use. 

Strawberry season has begun! And I'll be buying these babies in bulk at the end of the season...

Items include nearly all veggies and fruits especially tomatoes, peppers, peaches, cucumbers (make relish), apples, strawberries, citrus (freeze the juice!), basil (freeze after emulsifying in olive oil), root veggies and much more. Forge a relationship with a favorite seller at your local farmers market and offer to buy end-of-season surplus at super low prices. I scored bushels (and I mean BUSHELS) of peaches for pennies on the dollar at the end of last season. We cut into cubes and froze for future use in smoothies, pies, cobblers and jam. The farmer was thrilled that his surplus wouldn't end up as waste and I was thrilled to be eating peach cobbler at Christmas.  

Next up:  COOK in bulk.  I’ll include some easy recipes, plus storage methods that work for my family.

Organically yours,

Minde

Where's your fave spot to buy in bulk?  Where do you get the biggest bang for your bulk-buying buck?

Thanks to greenwenvy08 and ianmalcm for the awesome pics!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Find a Meal Plan that Works for YOU - Week 4 of 10 Easy Ways to Living Affordably Organic


Meal planning a go-go continues...  :)  Tonight my family's meal plan calls for Rice and Veggies. I'm serving organic basmati rice topped with organic corn, peas, green beans (a frozen mix from Costco) and organic broccoli (also from Costco) and a side of herbed Naan. (East Indian bread that we get from Trader Joe's.)  Easy, quick, inexpensive and healthy. 

I’m about to take a load off your mind:

There’s NO perfect meal planning system, program or schedule that works for ALL families.  Meal planning is different for everyone. You really need to try on a few for size and do what works best for your wallet, your busy schedule and the amount of cooking you can reasonably commit to without driving yourself batty.

Case in point:  Some folks create incredibly specific meal plans that they follow to the very letter.  No substitutions.  No veering off course.  No flexibility.

A specific plan might look like this:

-Breakfast - Rolled organic oats with cranberries and soy milk

-Lunch – Peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat with carrot sticks

-Dinner - Chicken Broccoli Casserole with green salad

This would never work for us.  

We like to have the option of changing up the ingredients depending on our mood, busy schedule, what we might find on sale, etc.  

So, our Monday meal plan looks like this:

-Breakfast – soaked oats with barley and dried fruit OR waffles and eggs

-Lunch - Peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat with carrot sticks OR grilled cheese

-Dinner – Pasta Night


Make sense?  It allows for more flexibility and, as the primary cook in the family, I don’t feel pigeonholed into making meals that we may not feel like eating.  Instead, it works for us to plan in terms of themes.

A typical weekly dinner meal plan for us looks like this:

Monday – Pasta Night
Examples:  Fusilli tossed with walnut basil pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, healthy mac 'n cheese or garden lasagna. 

Tuesday – Quesadilla Night
Stuff tortillas full of seasonal veggies and salsa for quick meal. Let the kids help!  (They love adding handfuls of cheese to the tortillas and playing chef...)  Make a huge batch of these yummy beans over the weekend and throw them into the mix.

Wednesday – Rice and Veggies
Experiment with different types of rice or quinoa and toss in seasonal veggies and/or grilled chicken. (Tip: Make the rice on a Sunday afternoon and reheat.)

Thursday – "Brinner"
(Breakfast + Dinner = Brinner!) 
Serve crustless quiche,  a seasonal scramble or strata.  Kids LOVE brinner.  It almost seems naughty to have breakfast at nighttime. 

Friday – Pizza Night
Pizza dough is easy, cheap, and fun to make. The possibilities are endless… (A great way to clean out the fridge.) Make it a family affair and put the kids in charge of putting on the toppings.

Saturday – Lovely Leftovers
Time to eat down that fridge!  Lay out a "Leftovers Buffet" (use fancy platters) and let family members compile their own meals.  Maybe make some garlic bread as a fun side that ties everything together...

Sunday – Wildcard!
This could mean something that’s in the freezer (a previously made casserole or a whole chicken) or repeating one of the other meals from the week.

Stay on top of what’s stocked in your pantry and create savvy shopping lists.  I make sure that most of the foods we purchase that can be used in many different ways. 


Next up this week:  Shopping list suggestions and recipes that will make meal planning a breeze.

Organically yours,

Minde

I want to hear your meal planning tips!  What works best for your family?  Why?