Holiday Dinner Planning 101

So, we hosted our first Thanksgiving this year.  It was quite a feat: turkey, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, green beans with bacon, homemade rolls, dessert.  It was the first time I ever prepared such a massive meal on my (our) own, and I learned a few things along the way.  So if you’re hosting Christmas or Hanukkuh or any other major holiday at your home, here are a few things I’ve learned (some the hard way):

Making holiday memories (and food)

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare: Make a list of everything you’re preparing, and then break that list down into a few other lists: ingredients by dish (for shopping), baking temperature and time (to plan out the day of), and temperature the dish is served at. This last list is important to help plan out your day; if you have a dish that needs to be served hot out of the oven, you don’t want to bake it 5 hours before everyone arrives, and vice versa.  Something that is served at room temperature can be made earlier in the day or even the day before to help manage time.
  1. Get your prep taken care of EARLY: I spent the night before making the dishes that I knew could be refrigerated and keep well.  I also spent the morning cutting all the vegetables and herbs, so the assembly of each dish could just fly by.
  1. Accept the help: Get your husband or partner involved.  In our case, Shawn helped with a few dishes as they came up, but he was also totally responsible for the turkey.  He brined it, dried it and roasted it.  It turned out delicious, and it helped me to be able to focus on all the smaller dishes.
  1. Breathe: Remember, this is a holiday and it’s supposed to be fun. There’s nothing worse than a stressed out, irritable and exhausted host or hostess.  Prepare and plan, and then enjoy.  At the end of the day, it’s not about perfect food or an elaborate presentation; it’s about friends and family and spending time together.

Cheers!

Crockpot Sloppy Joe Recipe

It is getting cold out, so it is time for some warm and comforting meals. This sloppy joe recipe definitely falls under that category. I make it in the crockpot so that it is ready right when I get home from work. So wonderful to come home to a nice hot dinner!

A few years ago I ended up with a collection of recipes from a good friend of mine. She gives this collection of one hundred or so recipes to friends at their bridal shower. The recipes are super tasty — some are passed down from her Mom! I have adapted this one ever so slightly, so it works out perfectly in the crockpot.

Crockpot Sloppy Joes

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons Olive Oil (or Coconut Oil )
  • 1 - 2lb Ground Turkey (or Ground Beef)
  • 1/2 Red Onion (diced)
  • 1/2 Bell Pepper (diced)
  • 1 tablespoon Grilling Seasoning Blend (really any spice blend would work -- it just depends on the flavor you want)
  • 2 tablespoons Brown Sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 8oz Tomato Sauce

Directions

1. Brown ground turkey in olive oil. When just starting to brown, add onion and green pepper. Once turkey is cooked, put in crockpot. Mix together the last four ingredients and then add to the crockpot. Cook on low for six to eight hours.
2. Serve on a roll with a slice of cheese. We like swiss, but traditionally you would use American. It is pictured with a bit of Parmesean -- because that was the only cheese that we had on hand!

This is a great recipe to make ahead of time and freeze, so you can cook it in the crockpot later. [If you wanted to freeze, you would transfer the browned meat and sauce mixture to a freezer bag instead of the crockpot -- then freeze it, throw it all in the crockpot whenever you want to use it later, and cook as instructed in the recipe.] I hope you enjoy it!

Don’t Buy It, Make It! Chicken Stock

I’ve decided to put my money where my mouth is, and introduce a series of posts on Newlywife entitled “Don’t Buy It, Make It!” about all the foods you can save money with by making at home.  First up: homemade chicken stock.

The best way to do homemade chicken stock is with the carcass of a whole roasted chicken.  Roasted chicken is just a great, easy and inexpensive way to do dinner; if you need a recipe, try out my favorite roasted chicken.  Yum.  So, once you’re done with dinner, you can use the remaining bones to create a delicious and hearty chicken stock.  The best way is to cook it right away, but if that’s not possible, you can freeze the carcass until you’re ready to make stock.

First, begin with the mirepoix.

Mirepoix is onion, celery and carrots, and is the base of most stocks and soups.  You’ll want to soften them in the bottom of the stock pan in olive oil for about 8-10 minutes to release their flavors.  When the veggies have about 2 minutes left, I like to toss in some chopped oyster mushrooms.  They add a great depth and earthy flavor to the stock.

While the veggies are cooking away, you can start to create the bouquet garni.

 A bouquet garni is a collection of fresh herbs to add into the stock.  A little thyme, parsley, sage and mint, along with some peppercorns and coriander seeds, all tied together in cheesecloth.  It keeps the herbs together so they are easier to remove when you drain the stock.

Once the veggies are ready, just add the carcass (I like to keep the lemons and shallots in the cavity with the stock for extra flavor) and pour on the water.  Just bring to a boil, and then simmer for about 90 minutes.  Really, it could not be easier.  Two hours for delicious, homemade broth.

Look at that gorgeous golden color!  So good!  I like to freeze my stock in ice cube trays; each section holds 2 Tbsp. of stock so I have a great measuring system built in, and I only have to defrost as much stock as I need.

So, there you have it.  Simple homemade chicken stock.  You’ll never have to buy the over processed, sodium-laden grocery store brand again.

 

Cailin’s Book Reviews: Apron Anxiety

If you’ve read my blog you know I love food. Everything about it appeals to me.  From the research and preparation for a dinner menu to watching Food Network and reading “gastronomy” memoirs for endless hours on the weekend (and not to mention the actual act of cooking and baking itself) – I adore it all.  So, it may come to you as a surprise that my small obsession only came to light a couple of years ago when I moved out with my boyfriend (who is now my husband).

Growing up, I fondly remember my mom cooking and baking for my dad, brother and I. However, I wanted no part of it. I would occasionally saunter into the kitchen as a child only asking to lick the beaters but never further than that. My mom always asked if I wanted to help, to learn. But I always had an excuse, always my childhood obsession – horses. Equestrian sports carried me from my childhood into my early twenties and you could always find me at the barn, not in a kitchen.

Cooking for my boyfriend proved quite the challenge early on. Nailing a flying lead change on my latest dressage test, no problem but boiling a pot of water for pasta and I was a mess.  I think for the first year we lived together he cooked. I’m not sure if it was a lack of interest or nervousness but those first couple of months I stayed out of the kitchen.  Then all of a sudden, I started to take an interest. I began to check out cookbooks out of my local library, watch cooking shows and ask my mom for tips and tricks for the latest recipe I was trying out.  And you know what – I’ve never looked back.

Apron Anxiety by Alyssa Shelasky is the latest offering in a growing number of gastronomy memoirs and novels. Alyssa is a writer and journalist by trade, who never really gave food much thought – until she meet’s a handsome and well known chef (who Alyssa aptly nicknames “Chef”) . Through sincerity and quick wit, Alyssa takes the reader on her journey to becoming a foodie and accomplished cook (although she hates the term foodie – don’t we all?).  What I really enjoyed about this book was Alyssa’s narrative that brilliantly conveyed to the reader her exact thoughts and emotions during a particular difficult or joyful time. I found myself cheering her on during her first dinner party for friends and a sense of sadness at the hardships she faced in her relationship with chef. Apron Anxiety also contains recipes at the end of every chapter. Since so much of her personal and culinary growth is centered around food, the recipes included all relate back to a pivotal moment of her transformation. I finished this book in two days – yes it is that good. Maybe it’s because of my own culinary past (or lack thereof), but I found Apron Anxiety to be an exceptional memoir that is both inspiring and compelling.

Bills, Bills, (Grocery) Bills

I really hope the Destiny’s Child classic came to your mind upon reading that post title.  It was my intention :-)

But really, this is about bills.  Or, more specifically, food bills.  Because I know that as a young, newly(ish) married couple, those grocery bills can really add up.  We all want to begin experimenting with our food, go out on date nights, try the latest culinary craze.  But all of those things add up and before we know it, we’re paying close to or over $1,000 a month in food alone.  It’s a slippery slope.  So how do we feed ourselves and feed ourselves well on a budget?  Where can we make cuts and where can we splurge?

http://images.inmagine.com/img/lushpixillus/unn803/u13377355.jpg

  Source

There are quite a few things we can do to keep our champagne tastes without breaking our beer budget.  First, let me give you some examples straight out of my own life.

Shawn and I have a very strict budget every month that we keep to.  We have necessities and we also have a little fun budgeted in so we can still enjoy life together.  As big-time food lovers, we are very strict about where our money goes in terms of what goes in our stomach.  For instance, we both bring our lunches to work.  This will save you LOADS of money each week.  Think about it: a turkey sandwich and chips at the local deli may cost you $8-$10 per day, while making the same sandwich at home may come out to as little as $2-$4 per day.  Right off the bat, that’s up to a $30 per week savings.  I know first thing in the morning the last thing you want to do is think about what to make for lunch.  Shawn and I have two different methods for this: I have the exact same thing everyday until I get sick of it, then I switch.  So, I develop a routine each morning making my lunch and don’t even really have to think about it.  Shawn on the other hand, has leftovers 80% of the time.  No extra cost and almost no extra effort, and all those pesky leftovers that I never seem to eat get taken care of with little food waste.

Another place to keep your budget in check is with the actual grocery trip itself.  Always make a list to help keep you on track and to prevent any impulse purchases.  Never go shopping hungry (I frequently break this rule BTW).  Look at your grocery list: do you buy a lot of meat and fish products and not much dairy or dry goods?  Do you find yourself stocking up on pre-made meals and getting little raw ingredients?  Our grocery trips are usually about 60% produce; we both eat a lot of veggies and fruit throughout the day.  Produce is one of the more expensive areas of the grocery store.  So, in order to keep our spending down, we shop at Trader Joe’s (fantastic prices when you’re on a budget) and we keep all the extras to a minimum.  I’ll buy a $5 bottle of vinegar and an $8 bottle of olive oil and make our own dressings…much more cost effective than constantly buying $4-$6 bottles of pre-mixed dressings.  Those bottles of olive oil and vinegar will last a long time, and you can better control the portions of what goes into your dinners.  Look at where you spend, which areas are most vital to you, and try to keep costs down in the other areas.  I like to do one super cheap meal per week; crockpot beans or empty-the-fridge pasta or even just a dressed up salad.  Delicious, nutritious and you’re feeding your family for pennies per person.

Couponing is a great way to save money as well if it works for you.  Unfortunately, most coupons are for brand-name products, and we are mainly raw ingredient peeps, so we don’t do a whole lot of couponing.  But I do keep my eye out in the Sunday paper for anything that might come in handy.  But if you do frequent the bigger grocery stores or find yourself getting a lot of big product foods, couponing will be a great help.

How do you find ways to save on your grocery bill?

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