Family · Food

September Meal Plan

I get asked a lot what I do for meals, particularly since we have to be pretty savvy about buying groceries since we live in a rural area, so I thought I’d share what works for us! Especially because this is the first time in TWO MONTHS I’ve actually sat down and meal-planned, since July and August were basically a wash what with all the traveling to interviews and moving and being packed and in between houses and such.

So, at the very end of each month I try to sit down and plan the next month’s meals. I don’t have a formula (“Taco Tuesday” or pizza every Friday) because I find we get sick of meals fairly easily so I try to mix it up a little. We don’t have the luxury of takeout or a quick dinner out if I don’t feel like cooking, so I try to avoid getting in a rut. That being said, I make pretty much the same set of meals each month with one or two new ones thrown in to try, and have a few easy go-tos if we’re home late or I don’t feel like spending a bunch of time in the kitchen.

With each meal, I try to serve a green vegetable–often roasted broccoli/asparagus, or sauteed green beans–alongside if there aren’t already vegetables included in the recipe. You’ll notice that we eat meat every night; I have a husband with a metabolism of a racehorse and a work ethic of, well, a cowboy, and an appetite to match, and going meatless doesn’t work for him at all. We also eat a lot of pasta–see previously cited husband. I firmly believe that everything is fine in moderation, so I try to have more vegetables and meat on my plate than pasta and keep the portions smaller for myself.

You’ll also notice we don’t have tons of beef on this month’s menu–our freezer is almost empty and I’m not sure when we’ll be processing our next cow! I think it’s soon but I’m not sure what schedule our new ranch is on. I’m also trying to conserve our pig a little bit, too, since I’m not sure when we’ll be getting another. A lot of these recipes are the same as the ones in my pre-Buster big batch post, too. We  know what we like, I guess. At least once a month I’ll get a wild hair and throw out the calendar in favor of something new, but that’s not always easy since the grocery store is real far. My wild hairs tend to occur in town in the middle of the grocery store with my Pinterest dinners board open!

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Pasta prima: pasta with whatever vegetables I have on hand plus chicken or sausage, topped with pesto. Sometimes I make homemade but I usually just use Kirkland’s jarred pesto from Costco. This is one of our favorite things and it’s really veggie-heavy and quick so we have it a lot.

Stir-fry: I use this recipe, but use a frozen stir-fry veggie blend and it works beautifully. This is also a go-to when we’re low on produce since we use frozen veggies! We also like this with cooked chow mein stir-fry noodles.

Roast chicken: I used Ina Garten’s recipe for the first time for this one, and it got rave reviews! I’ll definitely make it again.

French dip sandwiches: I use my mom’s recipe in the slow cooker. A roast (this time I used a maybe 4-5 lb chuck), a packet of Lipton’s French Onion Soup mix, a bottle of beer, and a cup of water. I’ve found that roasting on high for an hour and a half or two hours for a thinner/smaller roast or 2-3 hours on high for a bigger/thicker roast works for us. I think I have a slow cooker than runs a little hot, though! I serve on deli rolls with curly fries.

Spaghetti and meatballs: I make a big batch of freezer meatballs, and throw them in some sauce to cook. I’ve found success with lots of recipes, so pick our fave! Our favorites are ones with Italian sausage and ground beef.

Baked Cajun chicken: This is one of our very favorite recipes! I like to make it with halved or quartered baby reds and fingerling potatoes, and it’s also good with wingettes and drummies.

Tacos: ground beef, cheese, sometimes cilantro-lime rice, sauteed peppers and onions, and the fixins. I use either this taco seasoning or a packet of McCormick’s. We sometimes do fajitas on these days instead.

Potstickers: this is one of my favorite easy meals. I used to (and sometimes still do) make a big batch of homemade potstickers and freeze them, but more often than not I get a bag of frozen ones at Costco and serve with sesame noodles.

Pork chops and potatoes: thinly-sliced pork chops fried in a skillet with breakfast potatoes (diced potatoes, peppers, and onions).

Chicken cutlets and basil orzo: pounded-thin chicken cutlets breaded with panko, parm, basil, oregano, salt and pepper, sauteed in olive oil and served with orzo baked in chicken stock and then mixed with basil and parm. Loosely based on this recipe, which is one of my faves (sans olives) but Bert doesn’t really like lemon so I don’t make it much.

Short rib sandwiches

Italian sausage and pasta: sliced sauteed Italian sausage with marinara and sauteed red bell peppers served over penne, rigatoni, or something similar.

Lemon brown sugar chicken

Cajun chicken pasta: I use the PW’s recipe but with, like, a quarter of the cream. I can’t tell the difference! Our vegetables of choice are also peppers and mushrooms and red onions. After trying many different Cajun seasonings, this one is our favorite.

Breaded pork chops with wild rice

Ground Italian sausage (we use bucatini noodles)

Chicken Parm: sort of like this one. I use cutlets, bread them, bake them, and then add the sauce and parm about five minutes before taking out of the oven.

Beef with snow peas: I like, quadruple the amount of snow peas. You can use lots of different cuts for this one, I tend to use up round steaks with this recipe. I slice and marinate overnight and add a splash of apple cider vinegar to the marinate to help the tenderizing process.

Homemade pizza: I still haven’t found a crust I love love yet, I’ll let you know when I do. We like to do sausage and mushroom with caramelized onions and a little smoked gouda on a wheat crust.

Breakfast for dinner: biscuits and gravy, hashbrowns, breakfast potatoes, waffles, sausage patties…it’s whatever we feel like!

Chicken, Broccoli, and Sweet Potato Sheet Pan Dinner. This is new this month, so I’ll let you know!

Whew! That was long. If you’ve stuck to it this far, I’m impressed and thank you. Now, this is just dinner. For lunches, we do things like sandwiches, or Bert will make a frozen pizza or a burrito (I know). Lately, I’ve been really liking a sort of snack-lunch approach with crackers, sharp cheddar, a huge amount of fruit, and maybe some salami, with baby carrots or sliced cucumber for a snack later on. Neither one of us is big on breakfast, so I’ll have a bowl of cereal or peanut butter toast, and Bert has…black coffee.  Wacey has a Nutri-Grain for breakfast with a midmorning granola/peanut buttery/cheese stick snack, and likes to have a peanut butter sandwich or quesadilla and a pile of fruit for lunch. He usually eats some variation of what we’re having for dinner, often with extra fruit and some yogurt.

We are not perfect eaters, but I try to make sure we’re all getting lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains and good sources of protein. We also don’t eat a ton of sugar, and try to limit snack-y snacks (I see you, Cheez-its).

Happy Wednesday, I’m going to go eat.

Food

Balsamic Steak Pasta

balsamic pasta

It’s springtime, which in our house means it’s time for delicious, produce-heavy dishes that are light on the sauce. One of my favorite recipes to make all year, but especially in the spring/summer, is a steak and pasta recipe based loosely on this pasta salad recipe.

What you need:
— one (3/4-1 lb) steak. Boneless cuts like sirloin and flank work the best, but I’ve used just about every steak under the sun for this recipe and they all turn out great. You could also use leftover steak if you didn’t season it with anything except salt and pepper.
— 2 cups pasta. Tubular kinds work best; I’ve used penne, rigatoni, campanelle, and cellentani pasta to great effect.
— lots of balsamic vinegar, like 1-2 cups
— a little brown sugar
— one large shallot, sliced thinly
— 2-3 garlic cloves, minced, more if you’re a garlic fiend or having a date with someone you don’t want to kiss.
— salt, pepper, and garlic powder
— olive oil. Points for a fancy olive oil bottle and flourishes while pouring into the skillet. Extra extra points for liberal usage of “BAM!” like Emeril.
— veggies. I like to use a thinly sliced whole red bell pepper, a bunch of asparagus, green beans, sometimes broccoli, but you do you.

First, make a reduction of balsamic vinegar by simmering it over low heat until it reduces a lot and coats a spoon. Tutorial here, since “reduces a lot” is in no way helpful if you’ve never done this before. I like to do this in advance in big batches on days when the boys aren’t in the kitchen and I can have the windows open. Reducing vinegar can make quite the eye-watering fumes, and it’s a pain to do every time so make extra and keep the extra in the fridge. I also add in a sprinkle of brown sugar right at the end just to make it a little sweeter, although some people like to use honey.

Put the pasta on to cook and heat the broiler.

Cook the veggies. Saute the garlic, shallots, bell pepper, and green beans (if using green beans) with olive oil over medium-high heat until they’re cooked to how you like them. I like my green beans limp but not dead, and my shallots on their way to being caramelized. If I’m using asparagus or broccoli, I roast those in the oven since I like the taste better and the crunch is a nice addition.

For the steak, season both sides with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Broil for eight or ten minutes or until desired doneness, flipping halfway through. I find four minutes each side works pretty well for about medium-medium rare on a steak about an inch thick.

Once the steak has cooked and been allowed to rest for five minutes, cut it diagonally across the grain (key for tenderness!) into thin slices.

Combine everything–pasta, steak, veggies–into the skillet you used to cook the veggies. Drizzle with the reduced balsamic vinegar until evenly coated. Toss and serve!

This recipe is SO versatile, and can be modified a thousand different ways to include more or less meat, and whatever produce you like, and is easily made gluten-free if that’s your jam. For a more summer-friendly option, grill the steaks and cook the veggies on the grill! This can also be eaten cold, although I do prefer it hot. I’m not a big wine drinker (champagne get at me though), but if you are, I’ve heard that a sauvignon blanc is lovely paired with balsamic vinegar, and Food and Wine has a great list of wines to pair with grilled steak. If I’m drinking wine with steak, I prefer a Malbec, which is on the list so now I feel a little more fancy and cultured.

…until I remember that I’ve had wine and steak together approximately five times. I blame the fact that if I have small children and thus have been pregnant or nursing for literal years now, and also the fact that if I have just a little bit to drink, I fall asleep, and if I have a lotta bit to drink, I’m hungover, and having to mom or work cows hungover is the worst. Please refer to the day after St. Patrick’s Day, 2013 for evidence.

Happy Wednesday! It’s dreary and cold here today, which I’m trying not to mind, and it’s the perfect day to run to town and get a coffee, which I’m trying not to do because seventeen miles each way is a little much for a frappucino when there’s no emergency. Thank goodness we don’t live close to a coffee shop, our budget would never survive!

 

 

 

Family · Food · Home · pregnancy

Preparing for Armageddon (or a baby)

I posted some pictures of my meal-prepping endeavors on Insta the other day, and got some questions, so I thought I’d write a post about pre-baby meal prep in our house. Disclaimer: this is not a picture-heavy post because #rawchickenfingers.

jars
Most of my “meal prep” isn’t meal prep in the traditional sense. I’m not a big fan of crock-pot meals (I know, I know) and the way I cook isn’t usually conducive to one-pot, make-it-and-freeze-it sort of stuff. I wish it were because it’s easier, but I’m a pretty picky eater (read: I have to see all the parts of my food, so soups and casseroles are off the table) and so this is how I make it work for us. Yes, this will be pasta and rice heavy, because my favorite easy recipes usually contain one or the other, and the first few weeks after having a baby is all about ease, comfort, and good fuel.

For me, a lot of it is about the meat. Handling raw meat on the daily is not something I enjoy, and you know how it is with a newborn: anything with germs is like the anti-Christ and must be kept away at all costs! Thus, I prep all of our meat in advance. I do this monthly, although not to this extent.

First, I made batches of chicken parm and plain chicken cutlets. For the chicken parm, dredge in seasoned flour, then a water or milk and egg mixture, then a mixture of panko, Parmesan cheese, Italian herbs like oregano and basil, paprika, garlic, and a little salt and pepper. For the plain chicken cutlets, same deal with flour and egg and then panko plus basil, a little parm, and lots of garlic. Freeze flat on parchment or a silpat or waxed paper, then divvy up into freezer bags. To cook, I bake the chicken parm in the sauce, and I saute the plainer cutlets in butter and olive oil (not the healthiest, but so delicious).

I also bread and freeze these pork chops.

I know that seems like a lot of breading, but serve with a little pasta or wild rice and a lot of veggies (our faves are roasted asparagus or broccoli, or sauteed green beans) and it’s not so bad. I also try and find whole-wheat panko instead of the processed white.

For more “flexible” meat ideas, I dice chicken breast and slice beef and freeze so I can just thaw and throw into stir fry or whatever without actually touching the meat. I like stir fry because it’s heavy on the veggies, light on the junk, and requires minimal effort. I get the big bag of stir-fry veggies from Costco, and make several batches of this sauce which has become our tried-and-true favorite. We eat it with rice or with Asian ramen-y noodles! I also make ahead the sauce for the Pioneer Woman’s Beef and Snow Peas and slice up beef for it. I used to put the whole kit and caboodle in the freezer to eliminate a step, but Bert and I both agree that soy sauce tastes funny when it’s frozen and thawed. Another sauce I made ahead is for this Kung Pao Chicken. Again, it’s a great, easy recipe and you can throw a ton of veggies in!

Since the meat is sliced and the sauce is made, all you have to do is throw rice in a rice cooker or some noodles on the stove (the noodles we like cook in less than four minutes), and throw the rest in a skillet. No knives or cutting boards or effort, really, and you can do a lot of it (not the actual skilleting) with a baby attached to you!

Another sauce I make ahead is the sauce for Simple Sesame Noodles, which I serve with veggies potstickers that I’ve pre-made and frozen, or just purchased from Costco.

A “fancier” meal I sort of prep for those miraculous good days when everything is jiving is fajitas. I pre-marinated some steaks (and arm roasts, I think, this time around) with this recipe, and they can marinate more while they’re thawing and I’m cutting up peppers and onions. But still, not a ton of dealing with meat!

I also do a couple of batches of meatballs, and this time I’m trying my hand at a couple different recipes for lactation cookies and some blueberry oatmeal breakfast bars–I’m hoping Wace likes the bars because he loves blueberry muffins but they’re not the healthiest!

I make sure we have plenty of “Bert Food” too, like frozen burritos and pizzas and roast beef and such, because even though I love cooking for my boys, I can’t always manage it in the crazy postpartum days. He’s super busy this time of year, too, and so it’s nice to know that he’s set. I’ve made sure to have a huge abundance of granola bars, fruit pouches, Naked smoothies, string cheese, peanut butter, juice boxes, whole-wheat bread, protein waffle mix, and fruits and veggies for us all to eat during the day, and try to keep sugar and soda out of the house since I’ll just devour it. When I had Wacey, I kept a stash of mini York Peppermint Patties in the freezer, and I’ll probably do the same this time around–Yorks aren’t as sugary as usual candy bars but totally hit the spot for me, and the peppermint is wonderful since I haven’t eaten anything minty since, like, September. #heartburn.

Other easy dinner ideas: Pasta (we use Bucatini) with Italian Sausage and Herbs, breakfast for dinner with canned or homemade-and-frozen biscuit dough, angel hair with sauteed Canadian bacon and asparagus (Bert eats his with homemade alfredo), pasta primavera with canned or pre-made pesto sauce (Costco has a GREAT one in the refrigerated section, just saute some veggies and chicken and throw it on some pasta with the pesto and BAM), chicken nuggets with mac and cheese when you really just cannot (we get the dino shaped ones from Costco so we obviously cannot on a semi-regular basis), Italian sausage links with pasta or tortellini/ravioli, sauce, and veggies (if you live in CO get Sara’s Sausage, it’s SO good. I know we can get it from either Safeway or Walmart most of the time), and, of course, frozen pizza.

Basically, we’re ready for Armageddon over here, which is pretty unnecessary but gosh it makes me feel good. #TypeAPlanner.

…and no, we haven’t had the baby yet.

 

Food · On The Ranch

My Go-To Blueberry Muffins

I have like, twelve posts that are in my drafts folder. Just so you know I’m not actually slacking, I just have horrible time management lately. Slash I have to work, to, you know, make money. For food. And moccasins.

Anyways.

This is my go-to recipe for blueberry muffins, and it’s the guys’ favorite. I sent some with Bert this morning because they have a big meeting, and everything is better when there’s muffins and coffee, right? This is also my favorite sweet breakfast thing to bring on days when we’re working cattle.

muffin.jpg
(Food blogger/photographer I am not. I only kept a couple of “reject” muffins for us to eat at home–this one is small and a little too toasted on the other side, I’ll try to remember to keep a pretty one in the future! It was still delicious though. I just ate it.)

The original recipe is from cookingclassy.com–she never fails, especially on the baked goods. I’ve tried a LOT of her recipes and they always turn out really, really well. I’ve made this particular recipe so many times that I have tweaked it a tiny bit, so I’ll include my changes.

Ingredients
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (I use white whole wheat flour from Wheat Montana-you can’t tell the difference, and it adds some protein and some taste oomph, which is a thing. I fell in love with this flour when we lived down the road from the actual Wheat Montana mill, and I’m so happy you can get it in Colorado now! Target and Sprouts carry it for certain, and sometimes the ole Walmarts. Also, if you’re baking at high altitude like me, add a little extra flour.)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup granulated sugar
7 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil* (measure 1/2 cup remove 1 Tbsp)
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries (I tend to use closer to two cups of blueberries, and have used thawed frozen blueberries with great success aka I pretty much always use frozen)

Crumb Topping
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp chilled butter, diced into small cubes
1 1/2 Tbsp Raw Sugar (I use quite a bit more than this–I like a crunchy topping. Maybe closer to 3 tablespoons? I generally just eyeball it.)

Directions
For the crumb topping:
Add all the crumb topping ingredients except for the raw sugar to a food processor, and pulse several seconds until it’s all crumbly and there aren’t any big chunks of butter left. Don’t pulse for too long, or the butter will make it too dense and wet. Add the raw sugar and set aside.

For the muffins:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Put ‘er aside. In another (bigger) mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, buttermilk, sour cream, and eggs until it’s all nice and blended. With a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture until just combined–the batter will be a little lumpy, and you don’t want to over-mix or the muffins won’t be as fluffy. Fold in the blueberries. Fill paper-lined muffin cups about 3/4 full and top with about a tablespoon of the crumb topping. Bake 18-22 minutes, until tops are lightly golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Let the muffins cool for several minutes before you take them out to cool on a wire rack, or just leave them while you give your kid a bath and such and throw them directly into a Tupperware because it’s been, like, two hours and they’re cool.

Tips:
1. I always get more than a dozen out of a single recipe (yesterday I got a dozen plus six), but I’m also very picky about my muffins overflowing and having an obnoxiously browned edge because only big muffins and can have that.
2. Also, I don’t always use two separate bowls. I know, I know.
3. I rarely have buttermilk on hand and thus almost always use a substitute. Another tip a good friend just texted me: powdered buttermilk!
4. Sometimes if I’m in a pinch for time (or it’s naptime and I’m afraid to use the food processor) I forgo the crumb topping and just throw some raw sugar on top, although they are much tastier with the crumb topping. I tend to make extra and keep it in the freezer to avoid such topping-free calamities.
5. If you’re having a hard time finding raw sugar, run out, or are very cheap, just grab a handful of Sugar In The Raw packets every time you’re at Starbucks. It works. Don’t tell them though.
6. If I’m feeling wild, sometimes I’ll add a little vanilla or cinnamon. Just a dash, you know. The boys have all said they’re better with vanilla, but isn’t everything?

There you have it! My tried-and-true, never-fails, cowboy-approved blueberry muffin recipe. Seriously, try it. I need to get some of those gigantor, bakery-style muffin tins to make big muffins because you can’t have just one (or three) of these!