Monday, February 24, 2014

A year of food #7

Buffalo chicken tater tot casserole

This has got to be the MOST redneck, typical Mississippi recipe ever created. It's got fried chicken, frozen tater tots and ranch dressing. So, so classy. But my husband loves it, so I make it. 


Pizza roll ups


This was a big failure. It was bland and the rice didn't cook right at all. Kinda disappointing. 

Chicken fried steak and (not pictured) baked potatos. 

Challah bread

Saturday night:
Steak, fried smashed potatos, zucchini and mushroom couscous salad, popovers

Baked pasta shells with spinach, bacon, and a shit-ton of cheese 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Meal Planning for the lazy

Part of my Year of Food challenge is coming up with dinner ideas, staying on budget, and then actually getting things made each night. It's not as easy as just whipping up dinner every night. Those dinners take time to plan. Part of my previous no-cooking problem was that I never had a plan. I never shopped with a grocery list or planned what I was going to eat more than a day in advance. It was very unproductive. 

But I am proud to say that I have been successfully meal planning this year. I know a lot of people can go hardcore on the planning, but I'm too lazy to go to 3 different stores looking for the best deals or try to shop for one month of groceries at a time. Way, way too lazy for that. So here is what I do and what works for our family. I hope it helps someone like me who thought meal planning was overwhelming and time consuming. 

1. Make a budget. This is where I always start. My husband handles our money, so each week I ask him what my budget for the week is. It's usually around $65 but some weeks he says "go wild" or cuts me back to $50.  I like to think of the budget as a challenge. The tighter it is, the more I have to work. But I refuse to cut back on quality or tastiness even with a tiny budget. 

2. Go shopping on the same day each week. We go shopping either Sunday or Wednesday. No other days. It just keeps us from making 100 little stops throughout the week. Those quick stops add up quickly and usually include some impulse purchases. No good. 

3. Plan your meals. Duh, right? I search food blogs, the cooking channel, and the food network looking for things to eat. Sometimes I have something particular in mind, but often I just scroll and browse until I find something I like. 

4. Pick your recipes wisely. Keep in mind how long the recipe will take, if it has any expensive ingredients, if it will make leftovers, etc. If a recipe calls for 20 speciality ingredients, it's probably not going to work if you're on a budget. But, one trick I use is that if it's just one or two expensive things, I'll find two other recipes that also call for that ingredient so it gets used up. 

5. Use technology. I create a book mark tab for each weeks' recipes. That way I can easily add to it and access it throughout the week. Also, copy and paste all ingredient lists into your phone and use that as your grocery list. Super easy. A new trick I discovered is to group like ingredients together on the list and then arrange the list in the order you usually go through the grocery store in. For example, my list goes fresh fruit and veg, meat, canned items, baking goods and spices, frozen, dairy, deli and bakery. 

6. Stick to the list. It's so tempting to throw in junk food and impulse buys. But if it's not on the list, I try not to buy. No only will it increase my total cost, but it may not even get eaten. Waste of money. I try to avoid even going near the potato chip aisle. It's my weakness.

7. Use fliers and coupons. Now, I am not a couponer. I don't clip coupons at all. Mostly because we always buy store brands or generics and they usually don't make coupons for those things. But I love Kroger because they will sometimes give coupons for their store brand products. By signing up for a (free) Kroger card, you automatically get discounts. Then, use the Kroger mobile app to download coupons directly to your card. And then use the same app to browse their circular for that week. If frozen chicken is on sale that week and I have a digital coupon, then I buy several bags. It's good to know of it's going to be on sale so I can plan for that in my budget. 

8. Review your receipt. I like to look at how much each item cost and where the bulk of my money went. Usually it's on met and dairy, but sometimes I'll find myself going over board on something else. Kroger also breaks down how much you saved by dollar amount and percentage wise. I usually save 15% but have saved as much as 40%. 

9. Use all of what you buy. Stretch as far as you can. Freeze anything you don't use for later. The freezer is your friend. Freeze unused items or freeze leftovers. 

10. Keep your "pantry" stocked. About one a month/every 6 weeks, I need to restock my pantry. That means I buy staples like oil, butter, canned tomato sauce, flour, sugar, canned beans, spices, rice, pasta. All of those things last pretty much forever and you can make quite a few meals from them if you have to. It's good to have the basics on hand just in case. 

So that's how I do things. It's really not hard or time consuming. Most of this is common sense to anyone who has been running a household for any amount of time, but I know there are lots of newbies like me out there. Meal planning and budgeting don't have to be a chore. I actually look forward to planning my meals and my weekly grocery trips. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Out on the town

Saturday night was date night and it was wonderful. Caleb and I desperately needed some time to ourselves and some good food and date night delivered. 

We dropped Wilson off with Caleb's mom about 2 and we started getting ready. I rented a BEAUTIFUL Kate Spade dress from Rent the Runway. It was so lovely and I felt really pretty in it. If you have a special night coming up and you want a designer dress that will make you feel like a million bucks, then seriously go browse Rent the Runway. They have dresses for every event, from a casual brunch to the most formal galas. I cannot stop swooning over all the dresses. I can't wait to rent again. 

We went to eat at PF Changs, which is my ultimate guilty pleasure restaurant. Afterward, we went to Minglewood hall and hookah-ed and drank too much. We let Wilson spend the night with his Grammy so we go a peaceful night of sleep. It was just fabulous. 

Leaving Wilson overnight wasn't as bad as I expected. I missed him lots but it was a nice break. I texted Caleb's mom tons and age sent pictures, so I knew what he was up to all night. He played and played with his Grammy and Grandpa. I know he had fun. 

I'm already counting down the days until our next big night out. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Year of Food #6

Pork Braciole 

If you are like me and had never heard of Braciole (pronounced bra-jole, I think. I don't know Italian), it's just rolled up meat with a filling. I watched Giada make it on her show and thought "hey, I can make that" and I just went for it, no recipe. I stuffed it with mushrooms and breadcrumbs and cheese. It was really good. They turned into mini bracioles because I bought the wrong pork, but they were still tasty. 

Tortellini tomato soup with spinach and sausage

Sesame chicken with green beans and mushrooms, vegetable fried rice 

Red beans and rice

Chicken pot pie

We went out to eat Saturday and Sunday. Eating out is probably one of my favorite things to do, ever. So I really enjoyed this weekend. 

I'm craving "southern" food like chicken fried steak and hush puppies but I can't find recipes I like. Any suggestions? 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Our Wedding (2.5 years late)

Caleb and I got married October 15, 2011. That's over 2 1/2 years ago. And we just recently bought our wedding photos. I'm so terrible at remembering things. 

But in honor of Valentine's Day, I thought I would share some of my favorite images of our wedding day. 

Photos by Susan Prater at Designs by Prater

Thursday, February 13, 2014

We survived Ice Storm 2014

If you/your family have lived in north Mississippi for 20+ years, then you have heard about THE ice storm that hit in 1994. At least I think it was 94, but I was only 4 at the time and not cognizant of the ice-apocalypse. But boy, I have heard about it. Every winter when Mississippi gets threatened with snow/ice, people immediately start taking about the big one. My gran talks about how they didn't have power for a week and my parents had to stay with them because they had running water (or something like that). She talks about how my grandad had to take his chainsaw with him in his truck and he had to cut a path down the road to town. It was obviously a big, bad deal. 

As I mentioned, now every time we are threatened with any winter weather, people start talking about how it's going to be another big one. The weather gets hyped up for days by the weathermen. People buy all the bread and bottled water at Kroger. We batton down the hatches and wait for the ice-maggedon. I am not kidding. We do not play in Mississippi. 

Well, Monday night, we got a touch of ice. I didn't go out in it, so I'm not sure how bad it actually was, but it certainly didn't look that bad. But they cancelled schools and businesses closed. Then Tuesday night, what ice was left over refroze and we got more ice on top of that. That ice actually looked dangerous and I'm glad they cancelled school again. But it certainly wasn't an "ice storm". More like an ice drizzle. 

However, I'm totally ok with over zealous, freak out prone Mississippians because it means they close the university and my husband gets to stay home with me. We had an extra weekend in the middle of the week and it was wonderful. We cooked breakfast and watched movies and baked cookies and drank beer at 3 in the afternoon. It was the best. 

My driveway Tuesday night before we got more ice. 

I was clearly excited for the ice day. Wilson, not so much. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

What's been going on around here

We had an extremely light dusting of snow on Saturday. I got excited because it was Wilson's first snow. We took him out for just a few minutes and I let him touch the snow. He was pretty unimpressed. 

We went shopping and out to dinner on Sunday. Wilson rode in the big boy part of the cart for the first time and did great. So much easier than wearing him in the wrap. The cart cover is great! It was only $15 at target. Its plenty big and padded and has clips for toys. A very good purchase. 

Sunday was my husband's birthday. I'm exactly 3 weeks older than him. He was pretty sick but he still had a good day, I think. He bought himself some shoes as his present. I think we are going to do a big date night soon to celebrate both of our birthdays. Maybe I'll let Wilson spend the night with his grandparents. Maybe. 

A year of food #5

Chipotle chicken chilli

Chick Fil A

Sriracha baked chicken tenders, couscous and white beans

Chick Fil A again
I feel like I need to justify all the chick Fil a here. Caleb works for the university and they give all faculty and staff $100 to use for the Union or Cafeteria. Caleb didn't realize it was there until last week and it's just so easy to go grab something for free. 

Chicken Marsala 

Those mushrooms were sooooo good. Nothing is better than wine cooked mushrooms. 

Mushroom risotto

Risotto is one of those things that chefs really play up on the Food Network. So I wanted to know what all the hype was about. Man, they were right about the hype. It's like the most heavenly Mac and cheese you have ever had. It's not even that hard to make, it just takes time and attention. 

Japanese steak house for Caleb's birthday

Friday, February 7, 2014

Things that make me angry

Maybe I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning or maybe the world is just being extra ridiculously stupid this morning. Either way, I'm just annoyed with everything this morning and I feel like ranting. So rant I shall, in list form.

Things that make me angry:


When my suuuuper classy neighbors get into shouting matches in their driveway.

The damn excersaucer. Wilson loves it but it is impossible to get a kid in and out of without two sets of hands.

When my husband leaves his dishes on the table. It takes ten seconds to walk them to the sink and rinse them. I wash them without complaint, he could at least get them to the sink for me.

The lack of a Target in a 100 mile radius of my house.

The assholes who broke into my brothers apartment.

The "religious right".

The fact that my husband keeps buying coke to tempt me.

The cold.

When I burn the garlic.

30 minute naps.

People who over share on Facebook.

The Praxis.

Insurance companies.

And one little boy that always makes me happy:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wilson--5 months

I cannot believe I have a 5 month old. Gosh. Next month he will be half a year old!!! Time is flying with my little Bud. 

- Wilson is 28 inches long and around 20 pounds. He just keeps growing and growing! 

- He is in size 4 diapers. The 3 just weren't giving him enough coverage on his booty and he was exploding out of them. No fun for anyone. 

- He is wearing 6 months, 6/9 months, 9 months and 6/12 month clothes. The 6 month pants and jammies are way too short on him. 

- Wilson consistently sleeps through the night! He usually goes to bed around 8:30-9:30 and wakes up between 7:30-8:30. I am so beyond happy that we are all getting a full nights sleep. 

- Wilson out himself on a schedule. I was more than ok with just doing whatever Wilson wanted with our day time. But over a week or so, he found a schedule he liked and sticks to it. 

- He takes 2 good naps a day. Morning nap is from 10-11:30ish and afternoon is 1:45-3:30. Sometimes one will run longer but then the other will be shorter. He sometimes takes a cat nap around 6:30 but not always. 

- Wilson has also stopped fussing when he is hungry. So I have to remind myself to make him a bottle if we are busy playing. He eats 7 ounces at 8, 12, 4, and 8. He is still doing great on solids. He has oatmeal every morning and then a fruit or vegetable at dinner time. He loves squash, sweet potatos, and carrots the most. 

- He learned to roll from his back to his belly and now is constantly rolling. I'll put him in the middle of his playmat and 2 minutes later, he will have rolled and scooted off the edge. 

- He is becoming much more social these days. He smiles and laughs lots. He also babbles a good bit. He grabs and reaches for his toys or anything he wants. He has discovered the cats and dogs and loves to pet them. 

- Wilson finally has some hair coming in. It's so soft and blond. His eyes are getting to be a more true blue color. 

- Likes: Mr. Giraffe and Rocky Raccoon, being tickled, walks in the stroller, rolling around on the floor. 

- Dislikes: nap time, not being the center of attention, strangers (at first, he warms up after a minute) 

Monday, February 3, 2014

A year of food #4

Well look at that. It's February already which means I have stuck to my goal for one month! If you know me and my will power, you know that one whole month is huge for me. Yay for me.

I ended up slacking off some last week and I felt super guilty. I only cooked 4 nights, but in all fairness, we were away from home two nights over the weekend. I'm not going to beat myself up over it at all because I've got meals planned for the next 10 days straight. I'll make up for it.

"Midwestern" chicken and brown rice casserole and baby Lima beans

Greek marinated chicken and white hominy

Cajun chicken pasta with peppers and onions

Chik Fil A.

Chicken, rice, and black bean quesadillas

I went crazy at the huge Kroger near my parents' house over the weekend and I can't wait to use the things I bought!