7/17/13

What's for Dinner?

I have been the cook of the family ever since moving in together with Justin. The only dishes he can make are BBQ tofu and french toast. I never took the time to learn to cook while living at home or living on my own in my 20s. It also didn't help that I never cooked meat in my life due to being a vegetarian for over a decade. Not a strict vegetarian, I occasionally ate seafood when eating out.

My cooking philosophy have always been just throwing a protein, usually tofu or fake meat and some vegetables in a pan, cook, season and a side of rice, dinner is served. I would try to make something different when the mood strikes me. But I never planned our meals in advance, it's usually cobbled together right before dinner time depending on what we have in the fridge. That's how I would shop for groceries too, just buy whatever produce appealed to me and get the usual proteins for the week.

A few months ago, I had an epiphany while fretting about what to prepare for dinner for the husband and child. I was attending a twice a week night class and wanted to have dinner ready for the two of them before I leave home in the afternoon. So I got organized and put together a grocery list, which was something I've never used before. It helped to know what ingredients I was going to need for the week if there was a dinner menu. Having a list also helps to keep me from buying unnecessary food items.

I used to enjoy taking my time at the grocery store wandering all the aisles and picking out things that catches my eye. After having a child, I can no longer afford the luxury of time to do that. Plus I don't have the brain power to remember everything, there are just too many things to keep track of, so making a list is the only way to go.

Anyway, since I started making a weekly menu, I've been trying out new recipes and making the occasional meat dishes too. Our dinners are more varied now than ever, Chinese, Italian, Thai, Mexican, and American, all in one week.

I had hoped that by shopping in a more systematic way our grocery bill would go down, but that's not the case at all. Our grocery bill hovers around $600 a month, so when I read online about other people's grocery bill of $200-$300 a month, I didn't know what to cut back on. But what I've realized is that having a healthy diet is worth the money. I don't buy fancy food, not even organic, and try to get stuff in bulk when available. It's just that we live in an expensive part of the country and everything cost more here.

Here are some of the meals from these past few months and they all came out pretty tasty.

Black bean Enchiladas.
I started to make granola because Justin eats a ton of cereal. Box cereals are expensive and the packagings are bad for the environment.
I was buying pizza dough from Trader Joe's but hated how hard it was to roll out the dough which always end up in weird shapes. I discovered that pita bread is perfect for a personal sized pizza and it comes out as a crispy crust. 
Sadly,  I still haven't perfected the roast chicken after couple of tries. I am taking a break from it for a while to regain my confidence. 
Lazy taco night. Canned black beans, homemade pico de gallo, Trader Joe's breaded fish and taco shells, mexican cheese and avocado. 
I usually buy frozen pot stickers from Asian supermarkets but you can't beat the fresh made potstickers. The wrappers were store bought. 
This was an ambitious brunch. The hollandaise sauce too forever to make but it sure was delicious and full of calories. Next time I would probably make the sauce the night before to save time.
This was an indulgent night. Canned refried beans, homemade pico de gallo, Trader Joe's guacamole, cheese and big dollops of greek yogurt in place of sour cream. 

Meatless ground, pico de gallo, sliced radishes, lettuce, and mexican cheese. 

This chicken parmesan came out so good. It's not super healthy so I can't make this too often.  

Shepherd's pie with meatless ground. I prefer to use meatless ground as a substitute in my dishes even though we are not vegetarians.
Indian coconut curry with cauliflower, chick peas and carrots. 
For the soup, I used broccoli stalks I saved from other recipes, celery and carrot and homemade lentil leftover from another meal. Sandwich is sautéed mushrooms and cheddar on rye bread.  
I totally lucked out on getting 2 giant bags of blueberries on sale for 99 cents each. The berries were super ripe so I froze one bag and used the other one for this pie. Pie crust was store bought because making pastry is not my cup of tea. I recently saw homemade pies for sale at a farm stand we visited. The pies were selling for $25 each, granted all the ingredients were organic and handmade. Even with the cost of the frozen pie crust, my pie only cost $6.
Another staple that Justin cannot live without is peanut butter. We used to buy giant jars of organic peanut butter online. We don't like  peanut butter like Jif because it's too processed. I've been buying pint size fresh made honey peanut butter from Berkeley Bowl, but I have to get one every week. I looked online and found out how easy it was to make it at home. Bought peanuts in bulk and made some the other day, so easy and delicious and cheap!
Black bean and corn enchiladas with fresh avocado and tomatoes. I was trying to make some guacamole, but the avocados were not quite ripe yet, so it came out more like pico de gallo instead, still tasty though. 

Used the avocado pico de gallo on my eggs this morning. Yum!







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