Menu planning in the depth of winter

20160128_200918Home cooked meals are a priority for me when it comes to feeding my family.  I have two major challenges when it comes to homecooking. I don’t like leftovers, and I crave diversity in my food. (This is my ahi tuna grilled with a sesame crust)

To help overcome these challenges I came up with a simple formula many years ago. It’s evolved since then, it also changes when we are in the growing season. I cook as much as I can with what is fresh and local. Unfortunately in the dark months of January & February that can be a challenge.  Coming soon is an article about creating meals around in season produce, and  article about creating a menu based on what’s on sale to learn more about eating fresh and local and eating affordably.

At the beginning of the week in January/February I sit down and plan out my meals.  Being a small family I try to account for how much the meal will make and how many leftover meals it will generate. The secret to getting rid of leftovers in my house is my husband’s lunch. He would eat the same lunch every day. However my own hang-up of not giving him the same thing twice has me planning a leftover schedule for his lunch as well. This is the time of year that sale shopping helps create my menu.  Grocery stores run the same sorts of promotions year after year, especially military commissaries. I can always count on a “Chinese New Year” sale sometime this month. It’s a great time to stock up on all my favorite Asian sauces, snacks, rice and noodles.  I tend to have coupons for more chicken and pork and we prefer fish so unless I find a great sale on it I rarely include beef in my line up. That being said many of these meals you can substitute for beef.

I would like to take this moment to say that I wish I could say I cooked in absolutes “only organic” “all from scratch” “all local” “no convenience items” , but I don’t. Sometimes a deal is to good to pass up and free yogurt has it’s uses right along side my homemade yogurt, I steadfastly refuse to by salad dressings because of preservatives and will only make home ranch with my own homemade yogurt. I love fresh produce but in the winter when nothing is local I can get bags of fresh blend three mix shredded cabbage for .09 cents after coupon. I happily stock up.  Also I can be lazy. I love my mom’s pie crust recipe it’s yummy it uses very basic ingredients but frankly it’s a pain to make. Pillsbury pre-done crust here I come.

Here is a week of meals and how I came up with the menu to save money/time and eat tasty interesting food.

I start off with a plan every week to eat a different cuisine every night .

Monday is Hawaiian – Poke usually. Frankly Monday is my worst night of the week to cook I still feel like I’m  getting my head on straight. The rest of the week’s menu is usually a stir fry or Chinese dish, Mexican, Indian or middle eastern, Italian- Friday night is always homemade pizza night. homemade greens salad

This time of year there’s usually a comfort food night and a soup/stew night.  I try to alternate between cabbage salad and a fresh greens salad out of my greenhouse. At this time of year it doesn’t produce quite enough to give us a nightly salad.

Frankly Monday is my worst night of the week to cook, I still feel like I’m  getting my head on straight. This is almost as easy as take out and it’s my husband’s favorite meal. It’s also the most expensive meal we eat. Poke is the lazy man’s sushi. poki

I start 2 cups of rice in my rice cooker usually Hinode brown rice I get $1 coupons and it makes it .19 cents for 2lbs.  You chop a pound of fresh ahi tuna (I buy the whole 8 pound tuna loin at the commissary frozen the seafood counter keeps them in the back and they always give me the sale price of $9.99 a pound on it vs. the regular $13 a pound I partially defrost it and cut it into one pound filets and package in my foodsaver)Tuna whole loin After you cube the tuna you add a poke packet (I’ve tried recreating this and I can’t find the seaweed that comes in it anywhere poke packet)

I add some shoyu soy sauce and sesame oil some chopped green onions and thin sliced red onions and let it sit and fuse the flavors together for about 20 minutes. In the mean time I make my go to Asian salad. I use some of that tri blend cabbage I mentioned above, chopped sweet peppers, a can of water chestnuts, chopped celery, and shredded carrots. I top with seasoned vinegar and sesame oil. Sometimes I’ll add some sushi shake to it. I then serve it with crunchy ramen noodles on top or Saya dried snow peas. As a final note my quality inspector always has to have a sample. Here is my inspector Harry. image-20160201_183949

The nice thing about picking a cuisine vs a dish I have lots of choices based what’s on sale. For example I made Green  pork chili verde stew for my stew item one week. I  froze the left overs in 1 ½ cup servings for Mike’s lunch. I took the rest of it thickened it up and used it to make green verde enchillada’s the next week.  (I will use a left over for a main meal if it helps create an entirely new meal.) This is also where freezing comes into play. I had way to many enchiladas for Mike to eat in one week. I broke them up into two enchilada servings and folded them in parchment paper. I them put those in a gallon Ziploc bag in the freezer along with 1 cup servings of Spanish rice.  This works well to if I’m going to be at a meeting but want Mike to still have home cooking even if I’m not home to cook.

I also love to do Chinese crockpot dishes this time of year. This week I used a beef marinated tenderloin from Hormel that I got on sale. I sliced it thin, and put it in the crockpot with a gourmet General Tsao sauce I got on sale with a coupon for a $1. I cooked it on low all day. I added a thin sliced onion, and red peppers and mushrooms about an hour before the end so they would still be crispy.  I served it over brown rice with my Asian salad on the side.  Dinner for two and lunch for him twice this week with a frozen portion for lunch next week. 20160203_082117

I’ll admit this is comfort food time of year. I have stopped trying to ignore it and embrace it. I find if I do this once a week it keeps me from craving other bad for me food. I do try to do a spin on traditional dishes. This week was a bacon ranch chicken pot pie.  Tip I like to use real bacon bits or pieces by Hormel.  Bacon is terribly expensive and I have found if I’m just looking for the bacon flavor these fit the bill at a quarter of the price. 20160205_094530I had a great coupon and was able to pick up several jars for $1.25 a piece this week. In a skillet I combined I jar of the bacon, 2 shredded cooked chicken breasts, 1 cup of chopped celery ½ cup of chopped onions  ½ cup of chopped carrots, and ½ cup of sliced mushrooms. I sautéed a minced clove of garlic and the bacon in 2tbsp of butter, added the vegetables except for the mushrooms and cooked until slightly tender. I added the mushrooms, and chicken. 2 cups of my homemade plain yogurt and a ranch season packet. I put the hole mixture into a pie pan which I lined with a Pillsbury pie crust. I topped it with swiss cheese and the other pie crust. 35 minutes at 425 with  a fresh green salad out of the greenhouse.

Friday is always homemade pizza. I have a forth coming article about the economics of homemade pizza but I always make my dough, most the time I make my mozzarella from scratch, my pizza sauce I canned this summer in 8oz jars. Then it’s just about the toppings. If I have basil in the greenhouse it goes on or I use my home canned pesto. Mike loves  pepperoni (I get great coupons for Hormel pepperoni which I freeze until it’s time for pizza) and we top with pineapple. Delicious homemade pizza for under $4 It’s usually enough to feed us twice it makes 8 pic

Saturday is usually my go-go day so sometimes I break my no leftovers rule and we eat pizza (because who doesn’t love leftover pizza) Also if we’re going out to meet it friends for dinner it’s usually on a Saturday.

Sunday is almost always soup day. I love working around the house and smelling my homemade soup in the crockpot. It’s also the day I have the time to put the most thought into a dish with lots of ingredients.  Some of our favorites are Potato Bacon, Clam Chowder, Chicken Enchillada, Butternut Bisque, Pork Verde,  to name a few.  I make a fresh loaf of bread and time it so we have hot bread with our soup and salad. I then portion it out into 1 ½ cup portions for future lunches for Mike.

A note on my greenhouse. This is a pop up version my in-laws gave me 7 years ago. It’s survived many snowy winters and four moves. I love to container garden because I can move things in and out of the green house based on what the weather is going to look like

Right now I’m picking a micro green mix, spinach, green leaf lettuce, baby bok choy purple cabbage and baby swiss chard.greens from the garden

One of the other things I love to do is growing vegetables new to me. This year we tried Kohlrabi. It grows great in a pot and made for a nice mild crispy tasting salad.

So what are some of your favorite meals this time of year?



Categories: Cooking, Micro Homesteading, Recipes, Uncategorized

1 comment

  1. Wonderful post. Very informative and the pictures looked great. Looking forward to the next post.  Gina Glock P.O. Box 682 Bayside, Ca. 95524 707-822-3185


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