Tag Archives: menu

Freezing!

It’s October 1st and we are freezing!

Wait. What? It’s a beautiful, sunshiny, warm-ish (for October in the Pacific Northwest) day! But alas, my household is freezing. Our spending, that is.

Ruth over at Living Well Spending Less has put out the challenge, and I am up for it! The challenge: 31 Days of Living Well and Spending ZERO! Yes, ZERO! I’m a little nervous, but my nearly non-existent budget for the last…well, as long as I can remember…has prepared me for this day and this challenge.

My long-time blog readers and followers may recall me going on assorted different spending freezes, clean out the fridge/freezer/pantry challenges, and just plain being broke over the years, but this will be the first time I take on the challenge of actually committing to spending NO MONEY (aside from necessities and bills, of course.)

$10 Menu and Shopping List (Yes, I used coupons. No, I don't always spend so little at the store.)

$10 Menu and Shopping List (Yes, I used coupons. No, I don’t always spend so little at the store.)

All of this means that I am going to be brewing my stock-piled coffee stash (my beloved Starbucks Tribute will find its way into my coffee cup this month), will not be drinking wine (this isn’t a necessity, and I did NOT stock up before taking this challenge, because, well, that kind of defeats the purpose, right?) but may pull some long-forgotten vodka from the back of my freezer as I dig around in hopes of locating an also long-forgotten yummy treat to enjoy, and our menus will be fun and maybe a bit quirky as we use what is floating around our pantry, fridge, and freezers. This also means that my lunch-time visits to Starbucks are on hold for the month, as well as my more-frequent-than-I-care-to-admit trips through the McDonald’s drive thru for lunch (good-bye cheeseburger and small fries. I don’t think I’ll actually miss you, and I will be happy to keep my $2.62 per visit all to myself!)

What would you have the most difficulty giving up for a month, or even indefinitely? For me, it’s coffee (I know, shocking, right!? :)). And chocolate. My chocolate stash will surely run out this month…good thing I have plenty of chocolate chips. Yes, I know they are meant for baking into yummy treats, but I see no harm in popping a handful of that semi-sweet chocolatey goodness in my mouth while I give myself a pep talk convincing myself I do NOT need to go buy more Godiva chocolate (at the mall, where of course I will want to stop in at all my other favorite stores as well…). Don’t worry, Godiva, I WILL be back again. I won’t leave you forever, I love you too much and you make my stress melt away. xo

Now that you know what I *won’t* be buying, let’s talk about what I *will* spend money on. Bills. Gas (so I can get to and from work so I can get paid so I can pay those bills). Required school fees for my teens.

Perishable foods including produce (if needed. But we have an awesome neighbor who likes to share his garden goodies with us, so those may not be needed. Plus, I already spent the money on a Bountiful Baskets contribution that I get to pick up on Saturday, which should hold us over for a couple of weeks at least.), dairy, perhaps bread (I may decide we should just get back to making our own like we used to…) Our grocery budget is generally low anyway, in about the $200/month range, but we are cutting way back to just the basics and I anticipate spending around $40 this month.

Stick with me this month and see how much fun we can have without spending any money! It CAN be done, even with two teenagers roaming the house with me. They’re on board for the challenge too. I think. I hope. Well, if they’re not, I guess it’s time for them to get jobs. 🙂

I may not post all my random ramblings about this challenge here on my blog, so pop on over to my Instagram account and join the fun there. ThatCookGirl on Instagram

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Bountiful Baskets

Bountiful Baskets

I have discovered (with the help of my Baby Sis) an amazing resource for affordable fresh produce, and I’m wondering what took me so long to participate in the Bountiful Baskets Food Co-Op. I picked up my second basket this morning, and am so excited about all the fresh foods my kids and I will be having this week! Plenty of fruits and veggies to last us all week.

When I say affordable, by the way, I mean that I got all the produce you see in the picture for just $15! That’s right. I got 6 sweet potatoes, 3 small zucchini, a bunch of asparagus, a large head of lettuce, 2 heads of broccoli, 2 bags of brussels sprouts, a pineapple, a bunch of bananas, 3 grapefruit, 5 apples, and 7 oranges! Thatsalottafreshfood! Will we eat it all? You bet! Possibly not all this week, but when stored properly, most of this will be good for 2+ weeks.

I bet you’re wondering how we’ll use all that produce… well, we started out tonight by roasting some in the oven and topping off big bowls of pasta with the vegetables and some fresh grated parmesan cheese. And for dessert? How about some pudding and sliced fresh fruits? Yes, please! And Thank You. 🙂 And of course there will be plenty of snacks with all those fresh foods! (Hint: If you put out a bowl of cut up fresh vegetables and/or fruits while you’re cooking dinner, the kids will have something to snack on when they say “I’m HUNGRY!” Hummus or Ranch Dressing may make those veggies more appealing to the pickier eater.)

(I bet you thought I was going to be talking about a different kind of Bountiful Baskets, huh? Silly… the Easter Bunny hasn’t visited yet… that’s not til tomorrow!)

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Filed under Journey to Real Food

Fabulous Friday

Today is not just Good Friday, it is Fabulous Friday! The perfect ending to a perfect week. It was like shipment central around my place all week, with packages arriving from all kinds of places, including one I have been waiting on for many years. Ok, so not the package itself, but the item. I finally purchased something I have been wanting for many, many years. It’s a French Butter Dish (you may have heard it called a Butter Bell). The husband of one of my friends makes handmade pottery and he does an amazing job. I was so happy to get my much-anticipated new piece of pottery for my kitchen, and getting to support a friend’s business just sweetened the deal!

So, what else makes this a Fabulous Friday? Well, it’s FRIDAY! Need I say more? And I got to run the bar at work today, steaming milk to a perfectly creamy, frothy texture with all it’s sweetness, pouring it over caramelly shots of espresso, chatting with customers and wishing them a Fabulous Friday…what’s not amazing about bringing a smile to everyone’s face?

And in case I hadn’t been given enough reasons to smile throughout the week, I did get some good news via email several times this week. Some relating to my kids and school, an email from an old friend I hadn’t heard from in awhile, and then an email from someone who is planning to make my Garlicky Buttery Shrimp Pasta for some family. I am excited to hear how everyone enjoyed it!

Now I get to enjoy the day tomorrow with my favorite kiddos… picking up our produce basket from Bountiful Baskets, dying Easter Eggs, eating candy, and probably planning more menus!

Excitement abounds. New beginnings emerge. What kind of amazingness are you up to this weekend?

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Filed under Cooking With Love

Finding Dinner Menu Planning

Your menu planning and grocery shopping worries are about to come to an end! Introducing That Cook Girl’s Finding Dinner Menu Planning! Each week, you will be greeted in your email inbox with a new menu plan and grocery list. Stop wasting time and money wandering the aisles at the grocery, deciding what to make for dinner. I’ve got it all planned out for you.

The details are HERE and you can get started with your kitchen basics list HERE to get an idea of how simple your meal time can become.

So, are you ready? Subscribe now and don’t miss a thing!

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Excitement!

I owe you all so many posts. I had fun trying new foods with my kids in February, but was having so much fun and there were so many new and exciting things happening in our lives that computer time was limited at best. That’s a good thing, right? 🙂 I still want to share with you some food fun we had, and I will try to back-track and do that soon. In the meantime, I wanted to share with you some exciting news: I am changing jobs and career path! I realized I need to work directly with people and start working towards some larger life goals, so I have gone to work where I get to learn about coffee, talk to people, and smile all day long (and they pay me for this?!) This is going to free up a lot of time for me to get into college, learning about nutrition and so much more. It’s an exciting time!

And here’s some more excitement: My best friend talked me into offering my weekly menu planning and shopping lists to subscribers to make a little extra money. I wasn’t sure how that would work, but found a lot of people interested, and so I’m giving it a shot and I’m excited to launch my first email subscription with an aim to launch by April 1st (eek! That’s only a week away, isn’t it?! I better get back to my menu writing!)

So… for more information about joining my “Finding Dinner” menu subscription, check out the Finding Dinner tab and keep watching for details on how to confirm your subscription and find more time and money in your budget.

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A Little Money Goes a Long Way

Many people are surprised to learn that I lived on and supported myself and 2 children on nothing more than $650 a month and the help of a food grant from the state for several months and during that time, we ate healthy, well rounded meals. I was fortunate enough to be living in assisted housing, which of course helped me make the ends meet. I’ve answered many questions about this time of my life, and I am always happy to share what I learned and how I managed to get my family out of that tough spot. Some of the more common questions have been:

1.) What was your food budget? (A: Around $150-$200/month)

2.) Yeah, but was the food good? (A: Why does food have to be pre-packaged or expensive to taste good?)

3.) Can I really make it work for my picky family? (A: YES! My kids were young, 2 & 4 years old… those are some of the pickiest eaters on the planet–ask any parent, they’ll tell ya!)

I have this first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to live on extremely limited income. I pulled myself up from that situation with the help and support of many wonderful people, to a point that I now work with families living in similar situations to what I got through. In my position, I don’t have the opportunity to share what I learned, what I went through, and how they can come through it.

One of the most important things I learned through it all is that menu planning will save you time, money and sanity! Some day, I will have at my disposal all the resources necessary to reach out to families living at or below poverty levels, and help them learn the skills to plan healthy, affordable meals. Menu planning, budgeting, and grocery shopping are skills that have been lost along the way and it’s time we start finding those skills, learning them and teaching them to everyone!

You don’t have to be rich to eat well. You just have to know how to shop and plan. I want to teach you these skills, and then I want you to teach the skills to someone else, plus pass the knowledge to your children.

Give me the resources to share and watch as changes emerge!

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Filed under Cooking With Love, Menus

Perfecting Perfection

You hear it all the time… things like “Why mess with perfection” and “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”… well, tonight I not only messed with perfection, I fixed it! I’d love to just let this picture speak for itself, but I’ll tell you what is in the sandwich so you can create your own “Perfected Perfection”…

Perfected Perfection

To create your own melt-in-your-mouth perfection, start with your favorite bread (we used a whole grain wheat bread). Toast it, if desired. Spread some avocado onto the bread (I use this in place of mayo), then layer it with bacon, lettuce, more avocado slices, tomato, and sprouts. Tonight I had some arugula and asian greens left from the weekend, so I topped it off with extra greens!  Now THAT’S “Perfected Perfection ”

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Filed under Cooking With Love, Sandwiches

“I don’t have time to cook”

This is what I hear from many people I talk to for their reasoning to eat dinner “out” on a regular basis… To people who tell me they don’t have time to cook and then question how I find time to cook with how busy I am, I say “I don’t have time to eat out”… let’s think about this… and if you have kids at home, this especially applies to you…

I’m going to use my favorite local mexican restaurant as my example for the following reasons:

  1. I rarely eat dinner out, but when do, this is usually where I go
  2. They have probably the fastest service of any restaurant in town
  3. Moderate prices, friendly service 🙂

For the sake of argument, let’s assume you aren’t going out for dinner during “peak” dinner times. (Although we both know, if you’re going out to eat, you’re probably hitting the dinner rush along with everyone else who believes they don’t have time to cook.) Let’s also assume you know the menu pretty well, and it only takes as long as the drinks arriving at your table to make your menu selection… with those things in mind, let’s see if we can time it…

  • It’s dinner-time. 5 o’clock. You decide to go out. If you’re lucky enough to live in a small town and not have traffic to fight (I am that lucky!), let’s say 5 minutes to get to the restaurant. 5:05.
  • You are greeted by your favorite cheerful waitress who immediately takes you to your favorite table, chatting along the way. Drink orders are placed as you sit in the booth. 5:07
  • Menus open. Chips & salsa (and of course the guac you always order 😉 ) and waters arrive. Menu choices are made. Drinks arrive. 5:12
  • Place your order, but of course you know the waitress so there’s a little chatting, as well. Afterall, you eat out often, right? Because you don’t have time to cook… so you know the waitress. 🙂 5:18
  • Look at that… almost 20 minutes has gone by…
  • Now you’ll get a chance to visit with your family and eat some chips, salsa & guac and wait for your food. Since you’re supposedly not eating at “peak” dining time, let’s say food arrives quickly. 5:28 (Yes, at my fave place, when I go at off-peak times, my food really does arrive that fast, or faster! Sometimes even that fast at peak times…)
  • Listen to that sizzle, smell that yumminess in front of you! How fast do you eat? Well, that varies for everyone, but let’s say 15 minutes? 5:43
  • Your waitress is sweet and realizes you’re always in a hurry, so she left your bill while you were still eating. Get out the card to pay (paying with cash and don’t need any change? that’ll save you a few minutes). Credit card slip arrives to sign and you’re ready to head home. 5:45 (let’s just pretend that it only took 2 minutes to process that payment… we all know it takes a bit longer, though. 😉 )
  • Load up the family, drive home. 5:50

There you have it. 50 minutes for dinner! And guess what?! Your kids still have homework to do, and showers to take, and wouldn’t it be nice to get in a little snuggle time or reading time with them, too? And let’s be completely honest here… you’re probably eating at the dinner rush time, which will add quite a bit of time to your evening, not to mention  most people linger over their meals at a restaurant more than they would at home, and sit at the table long after they’ve finished eating… so we’re really looking at an hour+ for dinner…

My proposal to you: Spend 15 minutes on an evening, or a weekend sitting down with your family, planning out your week. Know what’s on the calendar for everyone, and plan your menus accordingly. No fancy software required. A simple notepad, lined or unlined, or a simple menu planning calendar like this one I found at a craft store will work just fine. Use your slow cooker for those craziest of days/nights, and you’ll spend 10 minutes prepping in the morning to come home and have dinner ready to eat! Next, by taking the time on a weekend, or evening to prep some foods for the week, you’ll be more likely to eat at home, knowing you have things ready to go. Cut the vegetables, slice or cube some cheese for snacks, shred some cheese, too, so you don’t have to buy the pre-shredded cheese (that’s not only more expensive, but has extra “stuff” on it to keep it from clumping!). Anything you can prep ahead of time for the week will save you time, and then MONEY by not eating out. You’ll also be saving your health!

Stay tuned for more on menu planning and quick meal time tips! I’ve got plenty, because I’m a busy momma and “I don’t have time to eat out”.

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What’s in the Freezer?

I’m in “stop spend” mode right now. I go through these cycles of buying too much food… and when I realize I can no longer fit anything else into the pantry and/or freezer (and often refrigerator), I put the family on “stop spend” and then we take stock of our food and create our menus using only what we have in the house, going to the grocery store for only milk, bread and possibly some fresh produce.

So… what does a “stop spend” menu look like, and is it really possible to create a full week of meals without going to the store?! Keep reading this week to see what we create from our “stock on-hand”. For those of you that did not follow my previous blog, you may be wondering if it’s really possible to have that much food in the house, and really not need to go shopping for a whole week. Let me tell ya… I’ve done this challenge in the past for 2 weeks and longer! It’s an awful, wonderful thing, my love of all things food!

On to tonight’s “stop spend” dinner: Creamy Pasta with Roasted Vegetables! This dinner required nothing from the store, because I had it from last week’s shopping trip (or from previous trips…that pantry is pretty full!)

  • Whole Wheat Pasta (pantry)
  • Shrimp & Scallops (freezer) cooked in butter & garlic (fridge & fresh garlic keeper)
  • Asparagus, Zucchini, Mushrooms (fridge), drizzled with Olive Oil & tossed with garlic (pantry & fresh garlic keeper)– roasted on stoneware bar pan at 425F for about 25 minutes
  • Whipping Cream (fridge)– simmered on low to thicken
  • Fresh Basil (snipped from my window container of herbs… but you can use dried also, just simmer it in with the cream)
  • Tomatoes (sitting on the counter–did you know tomatoes lose much of their flavor and they have a different texture when stored in the refrigerator?)
  • Fresh Parmesan (fridge)

Toss all this together for creamy goodness! Serve with a salad and/or garlic toast, if desired. I like this with whatever vegetables I happen to have on-hand, and usually don’t add any kind of meat. I compromised with the family and added the shrimp & scallops this time… but next time, it will be a perfect “Meatless Monday” kinda meal!

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Filed under Eating What we Have, Main Dishes, Menus, Recipes