Meal Plan Monday: April 28, 2014

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Happy Monday! This week I’m trying out a new trend from Plated, which is essentially a meal delivery service. They send a box of ingredients right to your doorstep to make “chef-inspired” recipes that you choose from their menu. The box includes just enough of everything you need and has instructions for how to cook the meal.

I have been so intrigued by this concept (Plated recently struck a deal on Shark Tank) and couldn’t resist when I saw they were running a promo for two free meals this week. So I took the plunge! I only had to pay for shipping which made it very affordable (just $20!). Based on the portions I received, I think I can make three meals out of each recipe – an even better deal. I’ll follow up later this week in a comment to let you know how I like it (follow me on Instagram @cooklikekayla for photos)!

Sunday

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday

Saturday

B

Banana & peanut butter

Cheerios with strawberries Cheerios with strawberries Cheerios with strawberries Cheerios with strawberries Cheerios with strawberries Scrambled eggs
L Brunch with the girls Plated Meal 1 Leftovers Plated Meal 2 Leftovers Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai Leftovers – TBD!
D Plated: Spice-Rubbed Steak & Roasted Carrots Plated: Mushroom & Gruyere Toasts Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai Plated Meal 1 Leftovers Plated Meal 2 Leftovers Cookout with friends (bringing kale salad)

Out with friends

Snacks this week: Bananas, apples, peanut butter energy bites, yogurt protein shakes, popcorn

Grocery list

  • Bananas
  • Strawberries
  • Kale
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Carrots
  • Green onion
  • Cilantro
  • Bean sprouts
  • Lime
  • Peanut butter
  • Oats
  • Milk
  • Total bill: $29 (Including Plated = $49)

From the pantry, fridge, & freezer: Honey, shredded coconut, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, eggs, sriracha, peanuts, chicken

What’s on your menu this week?

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Meal Plan Monday: April 14, 2014

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I’m happy to introduce my new blog feature: Meal Plan Monday! Twice a month, I’ll post my meal plan and grocery list for the week. I chose to post this on Mondays because 1) alliteration and 2) I usually grocery shop on Sunday (giving me time to prep and write the post). If any of these meals or ingredients intrigues you, let me know in a comment and I’ll try to post them on the blog or explain in a response. 

My meal plan for this week is below – I’m super excited to try to recreate a take-out favorite, Orange Chicken. I picked up some really great looking organic bok choy at the grocery store to serve it with. I’m also looking forward to spending some quality time with my roommates, catch up with a few friends from college, and see my Mom and sister this weekend.

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
B Bagel with cream cheese Cheerios with sliced strawberries Cheerios with sliced strawberries Cheerios with sliced strawberries Cheerios with sliced strawberries Cheerios with sliced strawberries Bagel & scrambled eggs
L Sandwich  Spinach salad with roasted asparagus, beets, and goat cheese Spinach salad with roasted asparagus, beets, and goat cheese Spinach salad with roasted asparagus, beets, and goat cheese Orange chicken with quinoa and bok choy Orange chicken with quinoa and bok choy Mom & sister visiting
D Chicken pot pie Chicken pot pie Out with the roomies Orange chicken with quinoa and bok choy Leftovers Dinner with friends from college Mom & sister visiting

Snacks this week

  • Banana
  • Yogurt
  • Goldfish
  • Blueberry Kind Bars

Grocery list

  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Strawberries
  • Bok choy
  • Spinach salad blend
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Goat cheese
  • Chicken
  • Quinoa
  • Honey
  • Frozen vegetable mix
  • Chicken broth
  • Milk
  • Total bill: $46

What’s on your menu this week?

Loving Leftovers: Spring Rolls & Veggie Bowl

If you don’t plan ahead, cooking can take a lot of time out of your life. Although I love to cook, I only do it a few times a week. If I had all the time in the world, I would love to cook a meal from scratch every night – but that’s just not realistic between work, going to the gym, and having a decent social life. Instead, I plan ahead to make 2 or 3 different dishes in bulk and eat leftovers throughout the week.

The leftovers approach is fine by me – I have no aversion to leftovers and find it the easiest way to cook for myself without spending all of my free time in the kitchen. But I recognize that leftovers aren’t for everyone. Sometimes I can get a little bored of eating the same thing over and over.

My best advice is to reinvent your leftovers. Here I’ve prepared two dishes with almost all of the same ingredients except a few (very easy) additions. First, I made spring rolls with farro, tofu, vegetables and a peanut-mustard dipping sauce. Using a fried egg, I reinvented the dish into a veggie grain bowl using the filling from the spring rolls. You could take it a step further by adding a different protein, a new veggie, or your favorite grain to the bowl. This approach will save you a lot of time in the kitchen while also keeping your meals exciting every day.

Read more about my approach to leftovers in this post from September. How do you keep your leftovers fresh and exciting? Leave a comment with some inspiration for me and other readers!

What you need for both recipes:

  • 1 cup cooked farro
  • 2 cups Brussels sprouts chopped and sautéed with ½ tablespoon soy sauce until wilted (I used the leftover Brussels sprouts centers from this recipe)
  • 1 head red cabbage, chopped and sautéed with 1 clove minced garlic and ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups shredded carrots
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Farro & Tofu Spring Rolls with Peanut Mustard Dipping Sauce

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Drain a ½ block of extra firm tofu between paper towels for 20 minutes (best results if you put something heavy on top, like a large saucepan, to press the tofu). Meanwhile, prepare the ingredients above (you’ll use only half for this recipe, the rest for the grain bowl). Slice the tofu into ½ inch slices and season with salt and pepper. Heat ½ tablespoon olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Cook tofu in pan for 10 minutes, flipping halfway through. Set on a paper towel to cool and cut into 1 inch strips.

Moisten 1 spring roll wrapper according to package directions. Lay on a wet paper towel on top of a cutting board. In the center of the wrapper, place the farro, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, tofu, and cilantro (about 1/3 cup total). Roll according to package directions. Repeat to make a total of 6 spring rolls.

Prepare the dipping sauce by whisking ½ tablespoon peanut oil, ½ tablespoon soy sauce, and ½ tablespoon whole grain mustard in a bowl. Store these in the fridge wrapped individually in plastic wrap (otherwise the wrappers will stick together and tear).

Yield: 3 servings. Serving size: 2 rolls. Per Serving: $2.88, 343 calories, 11g fat, 68g carbs, 16g protein.

 

Veggie Grain Bowl

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Top the leftover farro and veggies from the spring rolls with a sunny side up egg. Garnish with fresh cilantro and enjoy!

 

Yield: 2 servings. Per Serving: $3.01, 339 calories, 7.5g fat, 83g carbs, 18g protein.

How to Save Money on Food in 2014

With all of the good things that the New Year brings (celebration, a clean slate) there’s also some bad. It’s a time of reflection, when we look back at our bank statements and say “Where did it all go?!” We make a budget and promise we’ll finally follow it. 2014 will be the year of saving. New Year, new resolutions… new budget.

As we all know, that’s easier said than done. Budgeting can be pretty depressing (as I found out when I factored in grad school tuition for this year… ouch). There are some things we have control of – like buying another pair of black patent leather flats – and other things, like rent, that we (to some extent) can’t control. We all have to eat, making food a necessary expense, but we can choose to eat more affordability – giving us control over our budget!

I’m always in pursuit of a good deal, and over the years have whittled my food budget down to the bare minimum. In that spirit, here are some tips for saving money on food in 2014.

  1. Cook for yourself. This should go without saying (this is a cooking blog after all), but it needs to be said. Cooking is extremely less expensive than eating out. Create a budget for your weekly food allowance and try to stay within it with groceries and meals out.
  2. If you do eat out… make the most of leftovers. It’s not always the most cost efficient to order the cheapest thing on the menu. Look for menu items that keep well and could be repurposed as leftovers, like rice or pasta. Stay away from salads or sandwiches that don’t keep well. Take advantage of big portion sizes and pack the leftovers for the next day.
  3. Plan your meals in advance. Before heading to the grocery store, make a plan for what you’ll eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day of the week. Make a grocery list that includes only enough food to get you through the week. Pencil in planned outings – like a coworkers birthday lunch or dinner with the girls – so you don’t buy extra food. This is the best way to figure out how much you need to buy to avoid wasted food and money.
  4. Read the circular. While planning meals for the week, check the circular of your local grocery store for the weekly sales. Circulars for most major grocery stores are available on their websites. Decide what to eat based on what’s on sale.
  5. Buy in bulk during sales. Reviewing the circular can tip you off in advance when your favorite items are cheap. Take advantage and grab staples (like chicken breasts) in bulk when they’re on sale. Proteins are typically the most expensive part of your grocery bill, so keep an eye on these and freeze extras for a later date.
  6. Get a savings card. If you don’t have one already, make sure to pick up a customer savings card at the customer service counter at your grocery store. Most of those savings from the circular don’t apply if you don’t have the card, and you can often get better coupons.
  7. Eat vegetarian. You can get just as much protein at half the price by cooking vegetarian meals. Try working affordable proteins like tofu, quinoa, or edamame into one meal per week. You’ll be surprised as how inexpensive (and delicious) it can be. If you save with a veggie meal one night, maybe you’ll be able to splurge on a steak the next day!

How do you save money on food? Any creative solutions?

Thanksgiving Round-Up

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I feel a little guilty for not posting more Thanksgiving-themed recipes this week. Thanksgiving is like the Olympics of food events and I feel like I’m not doing it justice! I had every intention of sharing something new for your Thanksgiving feast. Last week, I attempted to make pomegranate-glazed Brussels sprouts but failed. It was a good idea in concept, but the finished product was a strange brownish reddish green color and tasted pretty sour. It wasn’t pretty.

To make up for my lack turkey-inspired recipes, here are a few past recipes that would be perfect additions to your Thanksgiving dinner. Have a happy turkey day!

Thanksgiving Round-Up

  • Sriracha Kale Chips: Crisp up a head of kale while the turkey is in the oven. These are a great snack to have on hand while everyone is hanging (or helping) out before dinner.
  • Butternut Squash Soup: Try soup instead of mashed butternut squash – this would be a perfect appetizer before the main Thanksgiving meal.
  • Oven-Fried Tomatoes: Not a traditional side dish for Thanksgiving, but sure to be a welcome addition to the table.
  • Simple Apple Pie: A classic turkey day dessert – make sure to save some room!

4 Tips for Soup Season

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It’s just about soup season and I’m pretty excited about it – for a couple of reasons. First of all, soup can be one of the healthiest meals you can eat, especially if it is vegetable based. It’s true that soup can also be very unhealthy – by using lots of butter, using cream as a base, or loading your bowl with cheese – but everything is good in moderation. Soup is also very affordable. The main ingredients are vegetables, stock, and beans, all of which you can find at very low prices in your grocery store (especially when buying in bulk). And finally, despite popular opinion, soup is really, really easy to make.

Healthy, cheap, and easy – sounds perfect for CLK! So, as we embark on soup season, here are four tips to help you make the most of it!

1. Buy storage containers with twist on lids. These are essential for transporting soup for lunch. Snap on lids are too risky and may result in soup spilled all over your bag. It’s also preferable if these are freezer safe (see tip number 3).

2. Stock up on stock, broth, or bouillon. Healthy soups use these as a base rather than cream. When you’re at the grocery store, check to see if anything of these are on sale. Before you decide what to use, check out this article from Real Simple magazine about the difference between the three options. I used to buy bouillon cubes but now stick to reduced-sodium chicken broth.

3. Break out (or invest in) your blender. Having a blender opens up a lot of possibilities when it comes to soups. You can blend pretty much any vegetable into a soup very easily. If you don’t already have one, I suggest purchasing a hand blender. They are perfect for blending soups and save you from having to transfer the soup from the pot to the blender.  

4. For every soup you make, freeze at least one portion. This is my favorite part of soup season. I usually make one soup per week, freezing at least one portion each week. In the coldest, darkest week of winter – when it’s dark at 4PM, freezing cold, and the last thing I want to do is go to the grocery store – I have a soup week. All week I eat the soups that I have in my freezer. I might pick up some cheese to top it off or bread to dip in, but generally I save myself a trip to the grocery store!

A Second Chance for Leftovers: Caprese Salad Two Ways

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I recently made a big win for leftovers. The photos above (which may look familiar if you follow me on Instagram) capture two caprese salads: on the left is a traditional caprese of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil topped with farro; on the right is a caprese minus the basil plus quinoa and a poached egg.  Both salads warranted #nofilter and were as tasty as they are beautiful. The traditional caprese was dinner on Tuesday and the poached egg caprese was brunch on Sunday.

A key component of my approach to home cooking is leftovers. Leftovers save time and money by allowing you to make multiple meals at once while taking advantage of bulk pricing. However, I understand that there are people in this world that are vehemently opposed to leftovers. If you are one of those people, I hope you’ll give leftovers a second chance (no pun intended) by trying these tips to keep things exciting:

1) Add a new ingredient every time. If you’re the type that will get bored of eating the same meal multiple times in one week, add new ingredients to the dish each time. With my caprese salad, adding a poached egg completely changed the dish. Add a handful of spinach to leftover pasta, throw some kale chips on top of soup, or steam different veggies every night to serve alongside chicken. I’m also a huge fan of throwing anything on top of a salad – including deli meat, meatballs, and even lasagna.

2) Store and reheat properly. I recently had a terrible experience with a leftover quesadilla that I attempted to reheat in the microwave at work. What was originally a crispy, melty veggie quesadilla ended up a greasy, soggy mess. In retrospect, I should have brought the ingredients (cooked veggies, shredded cheese, and a tortilla) separately and cooked them for the first time in the microwave, rather than reheating. A great dish can turn into a disaster if the leftovers are not stored or reheated properly (think soggy salads). In advance, think about how the leftovers will reheat and plan accordingly.

3) Consume in a timely fashion. When people think of leftovers, they imagine a forgotten container in the back of the fridge filled with an unidentifiable substance. Don’t let your leftovers get to that point – intervene by the one week mark. One week after the dish was originally prepared, either eat it, toss it or freeze it. If you need to, label your leftovers with a date to make sure they aren’t forgotten.

Caprese Salad

Cook ¼ cup farro according to package directions. Slice 1 beefsteak tomato into ¼ inch slices. Slice 2 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese into 1/8 inch slices. Arrange the tomato and mozzarella slices in an overlapping fashion on a plate. Top with farro, drizzle with ½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar, and 2 basil leaves cut into ribbons. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Yield: 1 serving. Per Serving: $3.72, 474 calories, 11.5g fat,69g carbs, 26g protein.

Poached Egg & Tomato Salad

Cook ¼ cup quinoa according to package directions. Slice 1 beefsteak tomato into ¼ inch slices. Slice 1 ounce mozzarella cheese into 1/8 inch slices. Arrange the tomato and mozzarella slices in an overlapping fashion on a plate. Top with quinoa and ½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar. Boil 1 inch of water in a small saucepan. When the water is simmering, gently drop 1 egg into the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes, keeping the water at a simmer. When the eggs white have cooked thoroughly and are opaque, remove the egg from the water with a slotted spoon. Top the salad with the egg and season with salt and pepper to taste. Yield: 1 serving. Per Serving: $3.09, 338 calories, 13g fat, 38g carbs, 21g protein.