Ferreting in the Freezer

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After 5 1/2 years of writing this blog, I sometimes feel like I am just going over same territory again and again.  Tonight I want to share something that came to me in a blinding flash this morning.

I had done a menu plan for the next week and almost everything was from the freezer.  I wanted to check what I had with a view to using some of it up.  The fridge in the kitchen has a sizeable freezer at the bottom which is 2 large drawers and we have a small, upright freezer (the size of a bar fridge) downstairs.

Once I had cleaned the freezer in the kitchen, I had the bright idea of collecting all of the items I need for the meals for the week and put them all together on the left-hand side of the top-drawer.

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There will be no more discovering that there is no pre-cooked rice left or that I need to make a new batch of refried beans and so on.  I am not sure why I did not think of this years ago but I guess it is better late than never.  It means that each week I will do a mini-stocktake of the freezer and locate what I need for meals in the coming week.

The home-made pizza bases are on top of the other containers and the rest of the space on the right-hand side has other meals for future meal plans.  Having them here together means that at a glance I can see what meals I have available.

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I have tried various lists and inventories of my freezer but none have been terribly successful as the state of my freezer is dynamic, a moveable feast, you could say.  I am hopeful that simply having the next things that I plan to use all in the same place will assist in keeping some order in the freezer.

Dinner – Mexican Quinoa

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The blog post tonight was not going to be another meal but I was not sufficiently organised to take the appropriate photos, so here we are with tonight’s dinner.

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Another night and another one pan meal – One Pan Mexican Quinoa and here is the link to the original recipe which I found on Facebook.

As always, mine has been adapted slightly so this is my version.

1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 birdseye chilli, chopped
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 can corn kernels
1 cup black beans (soaked and pre-cooked) – measured after cooking
4 slices hot salami, diced
15 olives, pitted and chopped
1 cup quinoa
3 cups water
1 teaspoon vegetable stock powder
300g cherry tomatoes
1 teaspoon powdered tomatoes

Lightly fry the onion, chilli and spices.  Add all other ingredients except salami and olives.  Simmer gently until the quinoa is cooked.  Add more water as required.  Stir in salami and olives.  Serve topped with a little grated cheese.

 

 

Dinner – Tumeric Chicken

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This was on the menu plan for last week but got bumped as I did not have time to marinate the chicken.

The original recipe is for chicken skewers cooked on a barbecue.  Here is the recipe.

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As with most recipes, I have adapted this to suit our own requirements.  Since I am cooking 1 chicken breast fillet to serve 2 of us this is what I do.

I make up a bulk amount of the spice mixture (dry ingredients) using the proportions in the original recipe.  I use considerably more of this mixture than the recipe as I found it very light on flavour if you use the quantity stated for 2.5kg of chicken.

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In my version there are 4 ingredients.

20ml olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
1 chicken breast fillet (diced)
1 and 1/2  tablespoons of pre-made spice mix

Mix all ingredients thoroughly.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

You can use lemon juice but lime is better.

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Fry in a pan with a little oil until cooked.

I serve mine with brown rice, vegetables and fresh cherry tomatoes.

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Hand in Hand

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I went shopping today and as always it went hand in hand with planning our menu for the next week.  Doing this saves money and reduces waste.

First, the menu:

Sunday – Pizza
Monday – Tumeric chicken, brown rice with carrots and peas
Tuesday – Baked potatoes with refried beans and salad
Wednesday – Celery soup
Thursday – Hamburgers and salad
Friday – Spicy mexican quinoa
Saturday – Salmon with sweet potato chips and balsamic roasted tomatoes

The fruit bowls are empty.

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I emptied out the drawer of the crisper and cleaned it out.  This is what we have left from last week.

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The beetroot are from the garden and store well for an extended period of time in the crisper. I finished the last of the cucumber at lunchtime.

Today I bought bananas, apples, mushrooms, cucumbers and capsicum.  That is all I need for the rest of the week as we also have about half a lettuce in a container, millions of cherry tomatoes growing in the garden, potato and sweet potato in the cellar and frozen peas.  There are also packs of sliced and diced onion in the freezer.

I had a few things on my list to get at Aldi but that was in the opposite direction to which we were headed today so I have decided to leave that until the middle of the week.

I have spent less than $15 on fruit and vegetables for the week.

Living Life

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No blog posts for 5 days!  What have I been doing?

I have been doing the routine things that keep our life ticking over day by day and week by week.  This has been interspersed by a couple of interesting diversions.

A couple of weeks ago we managed to go to IKEA on a busy day trip to Brisbane.  Our mission was to buy some new chairs for our outdoor setting.  We bought 8 chairs as the table we have is quite large.  GMan has made a start on assembling them and did 2 the other night.  This is what they look like.

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The old ones are the director-style chairs and they are impossible to keep clean as our cat believes that each one of them is his bed and they end up covered in grey cat hair!  I plan to make removable cushions for the new chairs so that we can have padded seats with the benefit of being able to easily remove and store them when not in use.

I have mentioned before that I menu plan our evening meals.  It is difficult to emphasise how much easier this makes shopping for and preparing meals.

Here is my plan for this week.

Saturday – Dahl with brown rice and steamed carrots and broccoli

Sunday – BBQ eye fillet with sweet potato chips, roasted beetroot in caramelised balsamic and crumbled goat’s cheese and green beans with red wine viniagrette and toasted sesame seeds

Monday – Vegetable quiche (adaptation of zucchini quiche) and salad

Tuesday – Tumeric chicken with brown rice and salad

Wednesday – Stuffed mushrooms with side salad

Thursday – Hamburger patties with home-made tomato sauce, fried mushroom and onions and salad

Friday – Baked potatoes topped with refried beans and cheese plus salad

Salad will be lettuce, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and capsicum with the addition of cheese on Tuesday and Thursday.

Sunday’s meal was actually lunch as we had guests.  It put a lot of restaurant meals to shame.

I had time this morning to prepare the mushrooms before I went to work so all I needed to do when I arrived home was to microwave them until cooked then top with a little extra grated cheese and finish them off under the griller.

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Any plan needs to be flexible and menu plans are no exception.  I try to make choices based on our activities and needs but sometimes those change.  I cook the baked potatoes in the slow cooker for 4 hours so I would need to be at home to turn it on at about 3pm.  This was going to be OK as I planned to work from home on Friday, however, I need to go to Brisbane and may not be home by 3pm so I have decided to make that meal for Sunday and we will have an antipasto platter and salad on Friday as we need to eat fairly quickly before heading out on Friday evening.

Remember KISS

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We all know the KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Sometimes I read things online or hear conversations that really leave me wondering if it is time to remind ourselves of this and, dare I say it, get back to basics.

Today I read a comment on social media from someone who wanted to know if there were any good Apps for menu planning.  I do have an iPhone and have several Apps on it but certainly do not need one to plan a menu for the week.

If you can make a decision on what to eat for dinner, make sure you have the ingredients, prepare the meal and serve it to your family then you are capable of menu planning – and it does not require an App or any other gadgetry.  A pen and back of a used envelope work quite well.

Some people plan for a month, others have a 4 week rotating menu or a set dish each week such as Monday night is pasta and so on.  Some make a fixed decision about what meal on what day or the opposite view is a list of potential meals and choose what suits each day.

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There seem to be as many ways to plan a menu as there are people but here is my take on it.

I plan meals for the coming week – 6 or 7 nights – and do it each weekend before I go shopping.  I know what staple pantry items I keep and the first step is to check for anything in the refrigerator which needs to be used up.  I also make a note of the types of meat I have in the freezer and take into account what is growing in the garden.  Basing our meals on what is seasonally available is important to me and nowhere is this more evident than what is in your own garden.  Take into account any family commitments eg: sports training, late meetings, social events.  I then make a list of meals using the ‘rules’ I have set up.  These are unique to me but I am sure you will have some of your own.  They may relate to pricing, type of food, preparation time and so on.

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My ‘rules’ are that in a 7 day period there will generally be one fish, one chicken and two red meat dishes with the remainder vegetarian which will include at least 1 egg-based meal.  Also, I try to make sure I rotate the carbs in a meal and do not have rice on consecutive nights.  Our meals are gluten-free but that is really no problem for me – it is simply how we eat.  The weekday meals must be able to be made ahead and reheated or prepared quickly due to long days at work and commuting.  I generally prepare enough of at least some meals to freeze for another week.

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Then it is simply a matter of roughing out a plan on a piece of paper.  From this you can then make a shopping list and buy only what you need for the week.  This will assist in eliminating wasted food and save you money.

I think the aspect of menu planning that people find the most daunting is actually thinking of meals to add to the list.  If you are struggling with this just start by keeping a notebook and writing down meals as you think of them and the meals you eat each night until you have at least 12 meals and use that as the basis of your plan.
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There is nothing particularly clever or high tech about menu planning.  It is simply a method of taking the angst out of deciding what to eat for dinner each night.  It removes the fallback position of “let’s grab a pizza/fish and chips/hamburger” and puts you in control.

Planning Ahead

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On Saturday or Sunday morning I generally make a menu plan of our meals for the coming week.  This based on what is in the fridge, freezer, pantry and garden and is used to create a shopping list for any additional requirements.  I try to incorporate a mix of fish, chicken, red meat and vegetarian meals.

The next couple of weeks are very unpredictable due to family issues and will mean that I am not at home some nights but potentially with very short notice.  So I used a different method today and simply made a list of 20 meals for which we have the ingredients.  We will need some additional fruit and vegetables during that time.

1  Pizza
2  Grilled salmon and vegetables
3  Tumeric chicken and rice
4  Pumpkin soup
5  Chilli con carne and rice
6  Nachos
7  Sausages and vegetables
8  Vegetable pie and salad
9  Hamburger patties and salad
10  Celery soup
11  Beef curry and rice
12  Tuna patties and vegetables
13  Shepherd’s pie and vegetables
14  Scrambled eggs with bacon and avocado
15  Chicken stir-fry and rice
16  Pizza
17  Chilli con carne and rice
18  Pumpkin soup
19  Lasagne and salad
20  Chilli chicken and corn chips

The entire plan is gluten-free.  I make my own gluten-free pizza bases and hamburger patties, buy gluten-free sausages from Aldi, buy gluten free corn chips and lasagne sheets and use gluten-free flour as required.008I intend to work roughly from the top of the list and we had home-made pizzas tonight.  This is how I make them.

Do you plan your meals?  How closely do you stick to a plan?