Thursday, March 20, 2014

Meal Planning for Beginners

I'm so excited to share this post with you today! I'm constantly trying to figure out better systems for my life to make me happier, healthier and more organized. "Meal planning" is this popular thing to do around the internet but I always found it intimidating until I created a system that works for me. And since it works for me, I thought it might work for some of you!

I'd love to hear other suggestions as well and what is working for you as I continue perfecting this system. So please comment or email me if you have other awesome tips!

How do I start meal planning?
The first thing you need to figure out is what your goal of meal planning is. Are you starting a new diet, trying to save money or trying to bring your family together more? Different goals will shape your meal planning slightly differently. Make sure you are keeping your goals in mind as you go! 

Our meal planning was motivated by 5 goals:

1. Be healthier- Eating at home is almost exclusively healthier than eating out.
2. Save money- We can feed the 2 of us and have leftovers for even cheaper than fast food.
3. Avoid 5pm frustrations-Nothing is worse than both getting home from work and realizing one of you didn't thaw the chicken or pick up that missing ingredient etc. 
4. Waste less food- Without a meal plan, I forget a lot of the fresh vegetables/leftovers etc. we have on hand and throw away too much food. I hate being wasteful and I hate throwing away money. 
5. Try new foods and develop new favorites- When we are cooking without a plan we tend to stick to the old standbys and those get old fast! 

The Best 5 Tips for Starting Meal Planning

1. Be realistic
  • If you are currently cooking dinner one time a week, don't expect to jump to cooking 6 gourmet meals a week. I was cooking 1-2 times during the week and am now cooking 3-4 times as well as 1-2 times per weekend. If you try to cook every meal instantly, you will get frustrated by not staying on track and give up. Start slowly, maybe just plan 1 week at a time and then over time, as you get more confident, plan further in advance.
2. Use what you know
Please note potato bar does not have an "e" on potato. That would be my Idaho husband that had a slight lapse in spelling.
  •  Write down all the meals you already know how to make. You will be surprised by how much you know! Most people are comfortable making tacos, pasta, sandwiches, omelettes, pancakes etc. Not every meal on the meal plan is gourmet or even officially "cooking." Again, this all relates to your goals. If your goal is to only cook new things, you may not include this but I find most people's goals include saving money and eating healthier. You can certainly do that by making a sandwich or an omelette for dinner!  This was just our first round of "favorites"-we certainly know how to make other things so we need to update our list too!
3. Write it down
  • Call me old school but for all my gadgets and devices, when I meal plan, I do use my computer for looking up recipes but I hand write my meal calendar and my shopping list. This gives me the satisfaction to not only write updates on the calendar but cross off meals when they are completed successfully and who doesn't love that feeling? I also bring both papers with me to the grocery store and keep the meal plan on the fridge so my husband is also aware of the meal plan each night. 
  • I print one month calendars at a time from this website.
4. Be flexible
  • I currently plan one month out at a time- of course, there will definitely be times when plans change and I have to work late and miss a meal. Or in my current pregnant state, not everything I planned a month ago may sound good. Feel free to move days around and update as necessary. It's a guideline for your sanity so don't freak out if you decide to move things around.
5.  Leave adequate time to plan
I set up my station with my computer, calendar, grocery list, and cookbooks/favorites list
  • I think part of the reason I always failed at meal planning was I expected to do it in 10 minutes. I would say it takes me at least 2-3 hours to plan out 1 month of dinner meals. Now granted, I'm indecisive and a food blogger so the average person may need less time. But I would say set aside 1 hour anytime you are going to meal plan so that you feel you have the time to do the adequate internet and pantry research necessary for meal planning success. 

I hope these first tips for meal planning helped you! I'll dive even deeper next time!
Next time in the Meal Planning Series: Grocery lists, meal planning resources & creating a calendar key

Friday, March 7, 2014

Frito Pie in honor of Texas Independence Day!

I've been itching to throw a party these days! It's been too long since my last one! And especially since this baby will be joining us pretty soon (12 weeks to go!) I know we should enjoy the ease of hosting parties etc. baby-free. 

My party choices were between an Oscars Party (still on my must do list one day!) and a Texas Independence Day Party since March 2nd was Texas Independence Day. Being the proud Texan I am I chose the former, obviously. 

Frito Pie seemed like the perfect food for a crowd, just make a big batch of chili and serve it over Fritos along with a few toppings and voila!

I spruced up the house with a few Texas decorations and before dinner, we recited the Texas Pledge of Allegiance. We also had Texas sheet cake for  dessert but I somehow forgot to photograph that! We also did 2 rounds of Texas trivia which was a crowd pleaser. I copied these questions for the "easy side" and then found some general questions about Texas that weren't multiple choice. 

Mark your calendars for next year or this would be great for a spring or summer get together anytime!








I'm lucky I even got some pictures of the chili! It was gobbled up fast with everyone eating seconds too! Definitely double or triple the recipe if you are having a big crowd!





Frito Pie
recipe slightly adapted from The Pioneer Woman
Serves 8

Ingredients
2 pounds ground beef (I used ground chuck for a group but for just my family would use a leaner cut)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (12 To 14 ounce) tomato Sauce
1 can (10 Ounce) Ro-tel (diced tomatoes and chilies)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground oregano
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
2 Tablespoons chili powder (more To Taste)
1 can (14-ounce) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (14-ounce) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 bags of 10 ounce Fritos or individual bags of Fritos


Toppings
Grated Cheddar Cheese
Diced Onion

Sour Cream


Directions

Brown ground beef with garlic in a pot over medium-high heat. Add tomato sauce, Rotel, salt, oregano, cumin, and chili powder. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes. 

Add drained and rinsed beans. Stir to combine, then cover and simmer for another 20-30 minutes until thoroughly melded. 

Remove from heat. Serve over Fritos and top with grated cheese, diced onion and sour cream if desired.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

One Pot Chicken Lo Mein

I'm working on our second month of true meal planning. It takes a lot of work but we are really loving it. It's healthier, cheaper and saves us a lot of frustration every night at dinnertime. 

As part of our weekly meal planning I try to rotate between new recipes and incorporate old favorites. 

This recipe was one of my new recipes and we loved how easy, flavorful and filling it was. It really is easy since it's all cooked in the same pot but it's also great because it's so customizable-include whatever vegetables you want and whatever meat or omit the meat for a delicious vegetarian dish. Once cooked, this dish has my favorite creamy texture of Asian noodle dishes that are often hard to recreate. We enjoyed leftovers for a couple days too! Win win!






One Pot Chicken Lo Mein
recipe slightly adapted from The Wholesome Dish

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients
 ½ lb. boneless skinless chicken breast (around 1 breast), cut into small chunks
12 oz. linguini or fettuccini, broken in half (You could also try rice noodles for a GF alternative)
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into strips or disks
1 head broccoli, chopped into small florets
1 medium red bell pepper, cut in strips
1 bunch green onions, sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon corn starch
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ cup water
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Chop up all vegetables and chicken into bite size pieces. 

Add the chicken, pasta and all remaining ingredients to a large pot and cover. Bring pot to a boil for 2-3 minutes before reducing heat to a simmer. Cook covered for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook until most of the liquid is gone and the noodles are tender.

Cook's Note: This meal is so easy, feel free to use whatever vegetables you have on hand in here: bok choy, cauliflower, snow peas, bell peppers, onions etc.


Enjoy!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Frog Eye Salad


When one of my friends offered to bring frog eye salad to a potluck at my house, I went...."huh?" I had never heard of such strangeness...where did she get FROG EYES? 

She quickly explained that was the name of a sweet kind of "salad" and in fact, there were no frog eyes. It's name is derived from the small type of pasta used that looks like frog eyes (sort of!).  I had never had it before but one time and I was hooked! It's a lot like my "Spring Marshmallow Salad" that has nothing remotely salad like about it. Hence my love for both :) This "salad" has a great texture from the cooked pasta and marshmallows and sweetness from the sauce, mandarin oranges and cool whip.

The only problem I have encountered with this recipe is that at least in Austin I haven't been able to find the special pasta-that makes it truly a "frog eye" salad-the acini di pepe pasta. I know you can get it in Utah and off of Amazon. If you know of a grocery store in Austin that sells it, please let me know! So once you can find the pasta-definitely go make it!




Frog Eye Salad
The Apron Gal

Serves 10 as a side dish

Ingredients
Sauce
 ¾ C white sugar
1 tbsp. flour
½ tsp salt
2/3 C pineapple juice
1 egg
1 tsp lemon juice

Salad
1 cup pasta (Acini de Pepe), cooked 

2 cans Mandarin oranges, drained
1 20 oz can crushed pineapple
8 oz Cool Whip, thawed
1 cup mini marshmallows (I usually do a little more for good measure :)


Directions

Cook pasta according to package instructions-al dente, rinse and cool. 

In a small saucepan, mix sugar, flour, salt, and then stir in pineapple juice and egg. Cook over medium heat 5-10 minutes or until thickened. Add lemon juice and remove from heat and cool. 

Mixing cooled sauce with remaining salad ingredients and cooled, rinsed pasta.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Enjoy!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Meet Austin: Austin Eats Food Tours

I heard about Austin Food Tours not long after I moved to Austin. It's such a simple idea- spend a few hours eating at different places all around Austin, I mean, it didn't take much to sell me! 

They have several different tours around Austin-each with a different theme. The original tour is on Sundays on South Congress but we wanted a Saturday tour. The Saturday tour is the Downtown Tour that starts at the big Farmer's Market and then you walk around town to different restaurants.


A few fun facts about Austin from our tour guide- Austin has over 2200 restaurants and 600 food trucks!  Austin constantly has new restaurants opening constantly and others closing-it's a big hub for eating out and is ranked #3 for eating out in the US! It's only beat out by Dallas and Houston per capita. 

Okay! Onto the food...


Our tour guide!


  1. 1st stop was a delicious breakfast taco from a local favorite- TacoDeli. If you want a local favorite try Migas- it's eggs with corn tortillas in it, it adds a yummy texture element-try it! You'll like it! 


2. This was an impromptu stop by we tried chocolate covered cocoa beans from Cocoa Puro. This is an interesting flavor and texture too- cocoa beans taste very little like chocolate until they are processed and usually you add sugar. I liked it though! 



3.  The Zubik House- They are famous for their traditional Czech kolaches but we got to try this little bite of heaven: Texas toast with pork butt, pickled sauerkrat  and jalapenos. 
This was probably my favorite bite of the whole tour!
4. The Famous Hut's Hamburgers- The oldest restaurant in Austin, it was the only building left after the famous flood in Austin in 1981. They make a good hamburger and an awesome onion ring! check out the huge one below that I only had 1/4 of! And that Barton Springs Root Beer was delicious.









5. Walton's Fancy and Staple- They have a lovely bakery as well as a deli and even flowers for sale. We tried the brownie and the famous "golden egg"-basically a simple but melt in your mouth cookie made with only butter, flour and sugar. I'd love to try even more on my next trip! 






6. Hickory Street- Brisket tacos that I apparently didn't snap a photo of! But they were good and the restaurant had a cute patio and inside. 







7. Cupcakes from delish- I had the Oreo chocolate cupcake and it was, I'll just say it, delish. 






8. Our final stop was the Ginger Man. Since we don't drink we had some root beer but I was so stuffed at this point that I could barely have a sip! (it was good though). 





We had a blast learning about all the different restaurants in town and about Austin in general. I recommend this tour for locals and tourists alike! It would be a fun way to spend a few hours with family in town, wandering around the city and eating good food!

To book your food tour- go to Austin Eats Food Tours.  (They didn't pay me to say that I just had a good time!) 


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