Friday, October 12, 2012

Living Frugally: Eating Well on a Budget

I am going to do a new series about living frugally.  We have been working hard to save money and live well below our means lately.   I will be sharing my tips and tricks that we learn along the way.  If you have any you would like to share, I would love to include you in this!  Just leave a comment.  Thanks! 

I don't know if you have noticed but food prices are insanely high lately.  Maybe we have noticed because we are buying for 5 people (it's amazing how much school aged kids eat!), but in the past six months at least we have most definitely taken a hit.  Every few months or so we re-evaluate our family budget to see where we are spending too much, what we can cut out and save, and what has changed.
We realized our biggest expenditure (other than our mortgage) was actually our monthly food bill. It was amazing to me how much we were spending on our groceries, and then eating out instead of eating what we had already spent money on.  In my opinion, there is no point in eating out on a regular basis if you have a well stocked pantry, fridge, and freezer.  We have all 3 all of the time.  There is technically no reason for us to spend money on eating out during the week.  Even with a hectic schedule of softball games, drama classes, Girl Scouts, and so on it is still pretty easy to find time to cook. It may not be a gourmet meal, but it will be healthy and homemade (and already paid for).

When I sat down and did the math for our grocery shopping I realized with 5 people in our family we eat roughly 105 meals a week at home. (Since my husband works from home some of the time or takes his lunch and/or breakfast with him when he's not I am rounding this up.)  That is A LOT of food!  Add on to that the fact that we are trying to eat a lot of organic foods and fresh foods that are just getting more expensive.  I had to find a way to cut costs without cutting quality.  I thought I would share some tips and tricks that have been working for me lately.

~ Make a bi-weekly menu and a detailed grocery list. Take both with you when you go to the grocery stores. Mark next to your list the items you have coupons for with a "C".  You'll remember you have them and actually use them.

~Buy meat from a local farm. We buy a quarter of a cow twice a year.  The price per pound is considerably less, and our beef is organic and free range. It's a lot of money up front, but in the end you actually save quite a bit. If you plan ahead for this it won't be so tough on your budget.

~Visit your local farmer's market or farm stand weekly for your produce.  When they have a surplus of something- like tomatoes or peppers- buy a large quantity and freeze them.You can freeze peppers whole (don't wash them first), and you can find the method for freezing tomatoes here.  The owner of the farm stand we go to weekly gave me at least 20lbs of tomatoes for $10 just because I asked.

~ Repeat a few meals, or plan other meals from the leftovers. If you make chili, have nachos the next night, or make empanadas. If you roast a chicken, have chicken salad pitas or curried chicken salad the next night.

~If you can, don't take your kids shopping. I know, this sounds TERRIBLE, but if you shop alone you will pay better attention to what you are buying and spending. Plus the kids won't be hounding you for the extra junk food they "have to have".  I always grab a special treat for my girls when I shop but it's always a healthy treat.

~If you have to take the kids, make your husband go too. We almost always shop as a family.  One wrangles the kiddos while the other shops.

~If your kids are older, turn shopping into a math lesson.  Not only will they learn something, but you'll pay closer attention to the prices of items as well.

~Make a list of the things you are throwing into the cart along with their prices.  This takes some extra time, but you'll watch the cost add up and you'll be less likely to throw impulse items into the cart.

~Buy in bulk the items that you use often and a lot of.  But be careful! Sometimes bulk doesn't mean cheaper.  You have to pay attention to the unit price.

Some things that we buy in bulk:

  • canned tomatoes
  • cereal 
  • bread
  • peanut butter
  • sandwich buns
  • pickles (my kids LOVE pickle chips)
  • Mayo
  • Ketchup
  • Broths
  • Organic Juice (100% organic cranberry juice is a lot cheaper at BJ's!)
  • Chicken breasts and wings
  • Snacks- pretzels/animal crackers/graham crackers
  • Nuts (almonds, pistachios)
  • Vinegar and baking soda (for cleaning)
  • K-cups
  • Almond milk
  • toilet paper 
  • Jarred spaghetti sauce (makes easy meal starters)
  • pasta
  • olive oil
  • flour for baking
  • applesauce
  • laundry detergent and dyer sheets
  • beer - seriously.  Our BJ's has a huge beer selection and we found that buying a case there to keep in the beer fridge saved us a ton of money rather than having my hubby stop and grab some on his way home. We  like Sam Adams Oktoberfest, which is more pricey than other beers. Our club ran a special, so we grabbed a case, which we are still working on. 
Of course we buy other things, but that's a good example. Our BJ's actually carries a lot of organic items, and even has coupons for them often.  I save a ton on our organic food.

I don't go to the grocery store in between pay days unless I run out of a staple- like almond milk.  This saves me time, gas, and the risk of impulse buys in the check out line.:-)

By following these tips, I have managed to come in under budget for a few months now.   We eat well, have full healthy meals 3 times a day, but it's not breaking the bank.

We do work in one night out a pay period.  Usually that is the night we get sushi.  But on average we eat home as much as possible.  I don't feel like I am missing out by not eating out. I would rather have the extra $5.00 than a Starbucks that I can make at home.

Do you have any tips or tricks to share for saving on your grocery shopping?  

Monday, October 8, 2012

Weekly Menu

We have so much going on during the week that planning our meals is a must.  We also avoid eating out as much as possible which means I cook at least 6 nights a week.  Sometimes on the weekends we will get take out from our favorite sushi place. We do try to do a date night once a month- but even then before we leave I will cook a meal for our girls.   We grocery shop twice a month- on pay day weekends- with a detailed grocery list.  It takes most of a Saturday or Sunday, but it's worth it to have a well stocked kitchen and to know what we are going to eat every night of the week.  We may have to grab an extra container of almond milk to get us through the week, but for the most part we get everything we need on our  big trips.  We also visit the Farmer's Market or our favorite produce stand on Saturdays to pick up our extra produce for the week.   

We have been keeping up with our menu quite well since the school year started and it is saving us quite a bit of time and money. 

For this post I will include last week's menu as well as this week's.

Last week:
Starting on Saturday the 1st:
  • Saturday: Slow cooker pulled pork BBQ, coleslaw, chips, and green bean casserole (We had a friend in town from South Africa and this is one of the meals she requested)
  • Sunday: We got take out sushi since we were all exhausted. And we had eaten the leftovers for lunch.
  • Monday: Spaghetti and meat sauce (I had my CPR training so I made dinner before I left and ate when I got home)
  • Tuesday:  BBQ Chicken Nachos - it was originally supposed to be beer chicken but I wanted to try my pork BBQ recipe with chicken.
  • Wednesday: Make your own wraps
  • Thursday:  Green Curry
  • Friday: Slow Cooker Fiesta Chicken over Rice 
  • Saturday: Steaks on the grill, steamed clams with garlic butter, homemade potato chips, steamed broccoli.

This week:
  • Sunday: Fall Chili with Skillet Corn Bread ( recipe to come)
  • Monday: Leftover chili or chicken noodle soup (which I made for lunch) since both girls have Scouts tonight.
  • Tuesday: Empanadas
  • Wednesday: Brinner- Pumpkin Pancakes
  • Thursday: Chicken fingers, mixed veggies, and rolls 
  • Friday:Pad Thai
  • Saturday: Burgers on the grill

I made several pumpkin and banana breads that the girls have been eating for breakfast.  They also have the option of cereal, scrambled eggs, pancakes, or oatmeal. 

Lunches: They get to choose from Pb&J, mac and cheese (Annie's organic), leftovers, or quesadillas.  Most days they choose PB&J with applesauce.

We have a morning snack every day- kids learn better when they aren't hungry so we make sure to stop and get a snack.  They like cheese sticks ( since they aren't lactose intolerant). I normally have a Trader Joe's soy yogurt with chia seeds.  
For afternoon snacks they choose from Goldfish, fruit, yogurt, or a cereal bar.

For my snacks I usually snag a handful of almonds or veggies and hummus.

So that's it- our menu for the week. If we have to deviate a little I have options in my freezer and cabinets so we still don't have to eat out. 

What's on  your menu for this week?

Back to Blogging

You may have noticed I have not been posting hardly at all since about July.  I decided to put my blog on the back burner for a while.  The main reason is because this  year I started schooling 2 of my daughters at home and they needed my undivided attention for that.  We don't technically "Homeschool" we "school at home".  What's the difference?  My girls attend an online charter school that is technically considered public school but using a private school curriculum.  We just do it at home instead of going to a brick and mortar building.  (It's not free, but it's not as much as private school either).  The school sends us our classroom materials in August so we have a full classroom in our home with everything they will need to complete their courses.  Because it is sponsored by the state we live in, we have to abide by the same attendance and  testing rules all public school students follow.  Both girls have homeroom teachers who track their progress and make sure we are staying on track.  They also answer any questions I may have and lead the online learning groups and classes both girls have to attend. My job is to be their "Learning Coach".  While the daily plan is already written out for me, I am the one who delivers the lessons, administers their tests, and does any instruction.  I have a 3rd grader and a Kindergartner so as you can imagine it can get quite hectic some days!  It took us about 4 weeks to really get in a good groove.  I also had to figure out what to do with my extremely cute but extremely active 2 year old while we are doing our lessons.  I absolutely love being my girls' teacher (after all it is what I went to college to do),but having them home every day means I get very little free time to do my hobbies- such as this blog.

I have found that now that we have this school schedule down, I am getting a little bit more free time in my day. Not a lot, but I get a few minutes here and there while they are doing their independent work or are in a club meeting.  I am going to try to fit my blogging back into my day.  I make no promises to do it on any sort of schedule. Maybe someday I'll get to do this as more than a hobby, but for now this is something I will do on the side when I have time.  I have so many new recipes, meal ideas, and menu ideas that I really want to share and quitting altogether just was not something I wanted to do. I am going to try to follow somewhat of a schedule: Monday will be our weekly menu, Friday will be my Friday Favorites.  Everything else will fall in between.  There will be no weekend posts because I try to unplug as much as possible on the weekends.

Blog Posts to look forward to:

  • Fall Chili
  • BBQ Chicken Nachos
  • Creamed Potatoes ( South African Style)
  • Shepherd's  Pie (A Harry Potter recipe)
  • Surf and Turf with steamed clams and garlic butter
  • Mango Sriracha  from my friend at It's Good to be the Cook
  • Slow cooker Spicy Chicken Tacos
  • Tried and True recipes from Pinterest
  • Dairy Free Camping Meals
  • Friday Favorites
  • Will be doing my weekly menus for a busy family
I have one recipe coming up very soon, and will be posting as often as I can.  Until then
Happy Cooking!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

On This Day

I haven't posted in quite a while.  Life has taken over, we have been busier than busy and I just haven't taken the time to stop and write anything. I will get back to regular blogging soon.  But I feel like I can't let today go by without some sort of acknowledgement of a day such as this.

As we all know, today is September 11. Every year on this date we all are taken back to where we were, what we were doing.   On Sept. 11, 2001 I had already graduated from college. I remember my drive to work that day - I remember thinking to myself  "what a perfect Fall day!"  The sky was a gorgeous shade of blue, the sun was brilliant. There wasn't a cloud to be seen.  The temperature was just starting to get Fall like- it wasn't cold but it was cool, and the air was crisp and clean.   I clearly remember that.  Because just a short while later the perfection of that day was about to be shattered.  At the time I worked at a small country preschool in a cute little country church complete with a steeple and white picket fence. That day was my day to take my little ones to the Art Room and I was excited about it- my little ones loved going to the Art Room.  Our project was making stars and moons out of construction paper, glitter, and Popsicle sticks. I had just gotten the kids set up with their materials when my boss came in and told me my fiance David was on the phone.  David never called me at work, so I immediately panicked.  He sounded shaken and asked if we had seen any news.  Of course we had not- we had no cable TV at the school.  He was watching the news and said that two planes had hit the World Trade Center in New York. While we were on the phone the Pentagon was hit.  It was at that moment we both realized what was going on. David does not scare easily so his fear shook me to the core. During the phone call my boss was sitting next to me and asked David to keep us informed throughout the day.  The rest of the day at work is a blur.  We had to pretend that all was well and make it a normal day for kids. We also had a radio going to so we could keep up with the news reports.

I didn't see any images or pictures from the day until I got home that evening. We had listened to the radio at work so I knew what happened but I had yet to see any of it. David was waiting for me at my house and already had the news on.  The images- I will never ever forget those.  Tears- I remember crying buckets of tears for the victims, for my country, out of fear. Along with the fear I felt immense pride for my country. I also felt anger- a sickening hatred towards those that had done this.

Now, 11 years later I have 3 children of my own.  The oldest has seen some news footage and some of the magazines and newspapers I saved from that day.  She has asked about those pictures and what happened.  It's so hard to explain it to a child.  How to do you explain that some people hate our country enough to want to attack it and  hurt innocent people?  How do you explain that the world can be a big scary place? The Historian in me will find a way to explain it, but for now I tell her it was a sad terrible day.

On this day I don't turn on the TV. I have watched all the news footage and documentaries. I don't need to see the images again- they are burned into my memory.  I don't want my girls to see it either. I am not ignoring it, I just feel they are too young to understand.  On this day I watch the clock all morning and note the times. I pray. I think about someone I know who lost a parent on that terrible day at the Pentagon and I say a prayer for her.  I pray my children will never have to go through something like that.  I pray for a time when there is no more hatred and fear.

 On this day I give my husband an extra kiss on his way out the door and tell him I love him a couple more times.  I hug my daughters tighter.  On this day I hope that what happened on that terrible day never happens again.

Do you remember where you were on that September day?

Monday, July 2, 2012


One of our favorite breakfast cereals is granola.  But finding inexpensive dairy free granola can be a challenge.  I have found that if I want granola with no dairy I have to buy the expensive organic brands in the tiny boxes.  It seems to be a bit of a waste of money to me when I can easily make my own.  I have made it several times, but I tried this recipe recently and wanted to share it with you all.

                                    Easy Granola*
  • 2 teaspooons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 3 Tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups whole oats ( I like the Trader Joes Brand)
  • 1/2 cup Rice Twice cereal ( or other crisped rice)
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds or flax seed meal
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 cup dried cranberries ( I used the orange flavored ones from Trader Joes)

If you look real close at the TV you will see the severe weather alert crawling across the screen.  We had some wild storms roll in while I was putting this together. 

First things first, preheat your oven to 300F.  While the oven is heating, mix together your spices.  In a medium bowl whisk together the cinnamon, ginger, salt, honey, oil, maple syrup, water, and vanilla.

Add in all your dry ingredients and coat evenly.  Spread on a baking sheet.  You can line the baking sheet with parchment paper, but I didn't have any on hand.  We are trying to lower our waste so I stopped buying things like that and am finding alternatives.  I used just a small amount of cooking spray on my pan and spread it evenly with my (clean) fingers to lightly grease the entire sheet. 

Bake until the granola is dry and crisp, but do not let it  brown.  It took about 35-40 minutes for mine to finish up.  You can stir it a couple times as well. 

Once cooled completely, store in an airtight container.  I use Ball Jars- they work perfectly!  This amount filled 1 large jar and 1 small jar.  You could easily double it.  

I adapted the recipe from the original to suit our tastes.  I omitted the pecans and added almonds, used flax seed meal instead of whole flax seed, and added in some dried cranberries. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Foodie Pen Pal Reveal

It's that time again- Time for my Foodie Pen Pal Reveal!  

The Lean Green Bean

This month I was paired up with two readers. My Pen Pal was Shannon and she sent me package filled with awesome dairy free goodies.

My first glimpse into my goodie box.

I am not quite sure how she fit all of this into that small box!

The first thing I did was read the very sweet card she included. My mom always taught me that whenever you get a gift, you always read the card first.:-)  Shannon herself is not dairy free, but she was so sweet and made sure to read all the labels and make sure that everything in the box was.  

These chips were my favorite items.  I am a huge chip fanatic- I'll take salty over sweet any day. The PopCorners Chips were so good!  I have been wanting to try them for some time, but just never picked up a bag.  They are easily my new favorite snack food!  The Pita Chips were also very good- they tasted like the fried won-tons you get in Asian restaurants.  I did share this bag with my husband since he loves pita chips.  (I did not share very many of the PopCorners though). 

Quinoa is easily one of my favorite grains so I was thrilled to get a brand new box of it!  It's still unopened but I have some plans for it once we get home from vacation.

I always love to try a new tea, and Shannon sent me 3 to try. I had the Tazo Rest tea one evening after dinner when I was not feeling so great (allergy season has been tough on me this year).  It tastes similar to Chamomile to me.  It is a very relaxing tea- perfect before bed or if you have the sniffles. The Cold Brew tea is being packed for the beach so I can make myself a couple glasses of iced tea while we are there.   The Yogi Perfect Energy tea I am saving for those afternoons when I need a pick me up.  (I'm a bit of a food hoarder, I like to save and savor things like this).

I had never had one of these bars before, and I tried it just the other day.  It's a very sweet, nutty bar with a coconut flavor.  I reminded me of eating a candy bar, but without the chocolate.  Very sweet, and a great snack to have in my purse. 

I have been saving this specifically for vacation.  I didn't want to open it before we left and have it go to waste, so I have wrapped it up and we are taking it with us.  I love key lime, and so does my husband.  I am thinking this will be perfect in the morning on a bagel or toast while we sit on the deck and sip our coffee.  And I wanted to be sure to share it with our friends.

So there you have it- this month's Foodie Pen Pal box.  Thank you so much Shannon for all the wonderful goodies you sent!  And for taking the time make sure each item was dairy free!  

Are you interested in participating in the Foodie Pen Pals Program?

-On the 5th of every month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.
-You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal!
-The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe…use your imagination!
-You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)
-Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you are to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month.
-Foodie Penplas is open to US & Canadian residents.  Please note, Canadian Residents will be paired with other Canadians only. We've determined things might get too slow and backed up if we're trying to send foods through customs across the border from US to Canada and vice versa.

If you’re interested in participating for July, please CLICK HERE to fill out the participation form and read the terms and conditions.

You must submit your information by July 4th as pairings will be emailed on July 5th!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Product Review: Attune Foods Erewhon Cereal

Not too long ago I was offered the opportunity to try Attunes line of Erewhon cereal.  Their cereals are organic and made in nut free and dairy free facilities.  Both of the cereals we tried are also gluten free.   

I have never been a huge breakfast eater, especially as a kid.   My kids, on the other hand, LOVE breakfast and especially cereal.   The minute their feet hit the floor in the morning they are looking for breakfast.  One of the challenges is finding cereal they will like that is still healthy.  So far we have been pretty successful at keeping the junk cereals out of the house but they get tired of the same old thing. So we are always on the hunt for something new, tasty, and healthy.  They were just as excited as I was when our box of cereal arrived in the mail.  We got to try the Rice Twice and the Strawberry Crisp. 

Even though I have never been a huge fan of cereal, as I have gotten older I have found that there are a few types that I  really like. I have pretty high standards and won't eat just anything. Actually, I am super picky about cereal.  I don't like super sugary cereals, or ones that get soggy quickly. I want my cereal to be healthy, but to not taste like cardboard. See?  High standards.  

The first box opened the morning after it arrived was the Strawberry Crisp.

I was especially excited about this one because it is similar to an old favorite of mine that happens to contain dairy. (Why would corn flakes with strawberries contain dairy anyway??  That doesn't make sense to me.  But I digress...)
 My Middle One was the first to dig in to her bowl and she gave it Two Thumbs Up.  That's our rating system for food, by the way.  If something gets two thumbs, it's really good!

 We also tried the Rice Twice cereal.  We gave that one to the Littlest One.

This still sleepy little monkey also loved her bowl of cereal.

Of course I had to give it a try too, so I had a bowl of the Strawberry Crisp with  almond milk.  It was so much better than my old favorite!  The flakes stay crispier, and there are a ton of the strawberries. I seldom finish a bowl of cereal, but I certainly finished this one.  Sadly, I have already eaten the entire box.  I am still on the hunt for it at my local grocery store but have not had much luck.  As soon as I find it I will be stocking up!

 I have been wanting to make a batch of homemade granola and I had found a recipe that called for crisp rice cereal as part of the ingredients. I will be sharing that recipe soon, but I will tell you that this worked perfectly!

I will also be using the Rice Twice to make those marshmallow treats for the kids from now on. 
As a Mom, I am thrilled to find a wholesome, great tasting cereal that my kids love.  As a dairy free consumer, I am so glad there is a company out there that is catering to the needs of those with food intolerances.
For more information visit the Attunefoods website.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


As a family we try to do at least one meatless meal each week.  We actually have a few nights of the week themed to make meal planning easier: Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Fun Friday, and the one night my oldest daughter gets to cook.   Last week's meatless meal was Gazpacho with homemade croutons and lemon basil aglio olio.  The Gazpacho recipe was from Ina Garten ( one of my favorites) and it was so simple. I love her recipe because there is no cooking involved at all!  No blanching, no peeling, very little chopping.  The food processor does all the work! I couldn't ask for an easier meal. I did change a few ingredients to match what I had on hand.

  • 6 Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and chopped*
  • 1 English cucumber, chopped
  • 1 white onion (or purple) roughly chopped**
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 23 oz tomato juice (3 cups)
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar*
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • dash cayenne pepper*
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • Handful fresh basil for garnish
*Changed from original recipe.
**I  used half of an onion because a whole onion seemed overpowering.  

Roughly chop each vegetable. Put each veggie into the food processor separately and pulse it until it is coarsely chopped.  Do not over process. I did the tomatoes first, then the pepper, cucumber, and the onion last.

Combine them in a mixing bowl.  Add your garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.  Mix well, and let chill in the fridge for at least an hour.  The longer the soup chills the better the flavor gets.  
Not the best idea to use a red bowl for this- oops.
 While the gazpacho was chilling, I made some homemade croutons to go with it.  I cut up a loaf of Italian bread, tossed the cubed pieces with garlic infused olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then I baked them at 400F until they were toasted and slightly browned.
Be sure to spray your pan with a little cooking spray to prevent sticking.
 We served the gazpacho with the croutons and some fresh basil from our garden.  Paired with my Lemon Basil Aglio Olio (recipe to come soon), this was the perfect meatless summer meal.

You can also serve this as an appetizer.  I made gazpacho "shooters". for dinner with my parents and served them in small ball jars while the rest of the meal was cooking.  They were just the perfect appetizer size (and healthier than chips!)

You can kick the spice up in this by adding more cayenne, or some Tabasco.  I kept it pretty mild since the girls were eating it too.

To keep this completely gluten free, you can omit the croutons, or make them out of gluten free bread.  Or you could toast and spice some nuts- walnuts or almond slivers would work great- and use those as a garnish.

What is one of your favorite easy summer time meals?

Recipe Adapted from: The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook Copyright 1999

Thursday, June 14, 2012

(Vegan) Fried Green Tomatoes

The first time I ever made Fried Green Tomatoes was years ago after watching the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes".  I had seen the movie several times and each time I ended up with a  serious craving for this dish.  So one afternoon I found green tomatoes at a farm stand, and my husband and I tried our hand at them.  They turned out really good!  For some reason we haven't made them in years so when I saw some green tomatoes at the store the other day, I had to get some and make this dish for my girls.

Since I can't have dairy anymore, I had to adapt the recipe a bit. I am also running low on eggs since I've been  baking a lot this week, so I didn't use those either.  That makes this a totally vegan recipe!  I didn't really follow a recipe for these, I just used a few methods I've used for breading other foods.  They turned out so good and definitely took care of that craving. 

(Vegan) Fried Green Tomatoes 
Serves 4 as a side or appetizer
  • 2 green tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup corn meal
  • 1/2 cup non-dairy milk (I used almond)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • smoked paprika
  • garlic powder
  • Canola oil ( for frying)


1.Slice your tomatoes into medium size slices- if they are too thin they will fall apart, too thick and they won't cook right.

2. Put your breading mixture together: the breadcrumbs, corn meal, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  All of these are to taste. I added roughly a teaspoon of the smoked paprika and garlic.  You could add more or less.

I used my hands to mix up the breadcrumbs. 
 3.Whisk together your 1/2 cup almond milk and 1 tablespoon olive oil.  I much prefer this to using egg as a coating for frying veggies.  It's cleaner, not sticky at all, and the breadcrumbs stick better and stay on during cooking.  Plus, you don't have to worry about dealing with raw egg and cross contamination.

 4 Add enough oil to the pan to a cast iron or heavy bottomed skillet for it to come about halfway up the slices of the tomatoes. Heat the oil over medium heat, but don't let it boil.

5 .Dip your tomato slices in the liquid mixture, and then coat with the breadcrumbs. 

6. Add your coated tomatoes to the hot oil- you'll know the oil is hot enough when it bubbles as you are adding the tomatoes.  Be careful- hot oil spatters!

7. Cook on one side until gold brown.  Flip and continue to cook until the other side is browned.  Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.  

Keep an eye on your oil and make sure it doesn't start to get too hot, otherwise it will burn the tomatoes.  Add more oil if needed.

We had these with my Italian Chicken.  You can dip them in tomato or spaghetti sauce, or just sprinkle with salt and pepper and eat plain.  I don't like to add too much to them, I want to taste the tomato and the coating, not the garnish.

My girls really liked them!  The love all veggies, but especially if the have been fried!  Next time we make these I may add more spice to the bread crumbs since we loved spicy food. 

*Special thanks to my husband for taking all the pictures for this post!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cooking with Cat: Pork Chops with Sauteed Apples and Minted Roasted Carrots

Since summer is here and my oldest daughter has a lot more free time in the evenings she wants to help cook dinner more often.  We came up with a plan that she would pick out one recipe per week that she wants to cook and we will add it to our weekly menu.  Last year my Mom gave her a cookbook especially for kids, so we are going to work our way through that one. The recipes are very simple, definitely geared towards kids, but still very good.

She is also already very aware of my issue with dairy (she herself has no food allergies or intolerances and she will eat anything), so all the recipes she picks are either dairy free or ones we can adapt.
The first one she chose is sauteed pork chops with apples, and minted carrots as a side dish. She did a lot of the work on her own, but I did handle the raw meat.

Sauteed Pork Chops with Apples:
  • 4 pork chops
  • 2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon of dairy free butter


1.Season the pork chops with salt and pepper.

2. Melt the butter in large skillet.  Add the apples and cook over medium heat for about a minute on each side. 

3. Add the pork chops and cook for about 4 minutes, or until the start to brown.  Turn the pork chops over.  The butter will brown, but do not let it burn.  Cook the chops until they are cooked through.

3. Remove the pork and apples from the pan and serve immediately.
Super simple!  

Minted Carrots:
  • 1 lb baby carrots, sliced in half
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 bunch fresh mint
1.Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

2.Cut the baby carrots in half, or into sticks if you prefer. Toss with olive oil and put on a greased cooking sheet.
We also  made kale chips to have as an appetizer before dinner.  The kale takes just a fraction of the time so they were done and ready for us to snack on while everything else was still cooking.This kale is fresh from my garden picked that afternoon.  It was so good!

3.Sprinkle the carrots with salt and pepper and roast for 20-25 minutes or until tender. I always turn them at least once while they are cooking. 

4.  When they are done, transfer them to a serving dish.  Sprinkle with fresh cut mint, about 2 tablespoons.  Serve hot. 

 And dinner is done! Pork chops with apples, served with minted carrots and rice pilaf. Such a simple dinner, but it was all dairy free, healthy, and simple enough for a child learning how to cook to make.  She was very proud of herself for making this meal.  I can't wait to see what she picks out next!

What was one of the first things you ever learned how to cook as a child?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dairy Free Travel: A Wedding Weekend

Traveling with a food intolerance or allergy always requires some sort of planning and bringing of extra food.  I thought this would be a good time to share with you how I survived a weekend away from my kitchen.

This past weekend was one of our very best friend's wedding.  It was a much anticipated event- he is not only our best friend, but one of my husband's fraternity brothers, he was our Best Man in our wedding,  and he is our youngest daughter's Godfather.  Since my husband was one of his groomsmen we needed to be there on Friday evening for the rehearsal. This meant we would be gone from Friday morning to sometime on Sunday.  That's at least 7, maybe 8 meals plus snacks that I had to think about. For 5 people.  The good thing was we were headed to Charlottesville, and since we already know the area pretty well we had a plan as to what restaurants we could eat at.
A few days before we left I called the hotel to see if they had refrigerators or microwaves either in the rooms or available for use.  (Some hotels may not have them in the rooms, but you can request to have  a "Microfridge"  brought to your room upon arrival).  Sure enough, the rooms all already had fridges and microwaves.  That already made planning easier!
Before we left I made sure I have enough food to get us through no matter what was going on.  We hit up Target (I love that they have groceries now!) and I got:
  • Single serve cups of Frosted Flakes (they are dairy free) for breakfasts
  • A loaf of dairy free bread and single serve peanut butter cups for lunch
  • Chex Mix ( it's our favorite road trip food)
  • Small bags of animal crackers
  • dairy free peanut butter crackers 
  • Shelf stable almond milk
  • Powdered dairy free coffee creamer (Not the same, but it works in a pinch!)
  • Healthy Choice Pasta meals 
  • Snacks for the girls: Pop snacks for the toddler, raisins for the bigger girls
  • Take and Toss cups and utensils for the kids (mostly the toddler)
  • Paper plates 
  • Banana chips
That bag of peanut butter pretzels was sent to my by my Foodie Pen Pal Beth.  I had kept them hidden specifically  for this trip!

I decided to get these Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers just in case the food at the rehearsal dinner or wedding was not dairy free.  They weren't bad, not the best, but they work in a pinch.  It's better than starving, which I can tell you from personal experience is not fun.

I sent an email to one of Charlottesville's most famous restaurants- Bodo's Bagels- to ask if they had an allergen menu.  I explained that I had an intolerance to dairy.  I got back a response less than an hour later- talk about service! Turns out all of their bagels were vegan.  And while they did not have an allergen menu, they would be happy to answer any questions when I got there.  So guess where lunch was Friday? Yup- Bodo's Bagels.  I got the BLT on a plain bagel and it was so good!  There are no words to describe just how good their bagels are.

The rehearsal dinner was at the Boars Head Inn.  I have been to quite a few weddings and social dinner events over the past 5 years, but this is the first time  I have gotten to eat and enjoy my meal at a function like this.  The dinner was set up buffet style, and when I asked one of the wait staff if there were any dairy free options, she went to the kitchen and had them make me my own plate- completely dairy free! The best part- it was the same thing everyone else had, just without the cream sauces on the meat!  Normally I'll get a vegan meal which is hit or miss, or they just won't understand what "dairy" means and will bring me food covered in butter.  This meal was AMAZING!  I had 3 kinds of meat- all three that were on the buffet: roasted chicken, baked salmon that was to die for, and roast beef. They also brought rice pilaf (I happen to love rice pilaf.)  There was so much food on my plate I could not eat it all!  My husband commented that I should have taken a picture of it-oops.  Here's what it looked like after:
Obviously it was delicious  because the plate is almost empty!

Saturday we had most of the day to run errands or just relax. After a rather late start and an absolutely horrific cup of hotel coffee, we headed out for some lunch.  Guess where we went?  That's right- back to Bodo's Bagels.  This time I opted for the roasted turkey with lettuce, tomato, mayo on a plain bagel.  

And I had to stop at Dunkin Donuts for a  decent cup of coffee.

 I decided to call the caterer for the wedding to check and see what I would be able to eat at the reception.  The wedding and reception were outdoors at the 4H camp the Bride had spent her summers at growing up. In keeping with the outdoorsy theme they had BBQ from the best BBQ place in that part of the state.  The woman I spoke with was incredibly nice and went through all the ingredients for everything on the menu.  Turns out it was all safe except for the bread (No surprise there! Here's a hint- breads, rolls, muffins almost ALWAYS have some sort of dairy in them). 

The wedding was probably the most beautiful I have ever been to.  It was not fancy at all, but the setting was just so perfect for the two of them.  It was outside in a hilly field with  trees on all sides, under a small arch surrounded by their family and close friends.  It was truly about THEM.  It was simple, and there is beauty in simplicity.   They are two people that were truly and without question put on this earth to be together. 

Dinner and dancing were in a pavilion  just feet away from where the ceremony was held. It was decorated with paper lanterns, paper umbrellas over the lights, and candles. 
The only picture I have of them- I brought the wrong card in my camera so I had to use my phone.
Dinner was buffet style and it was delicious!  Pulled pork BBQ, pulled chicken BBQ, 2 pasta salads, baked beans, fruit platters, veggie platters. It was kid friendly ( always a plus when the kids are included!) and just laid back fun.  
Dancing with their Uncle Ed.  The only thing they really wanted to do- get to dance with him.  
  Our girls were given a very special job of handing out kisses to all of the guests.  They were thrilled that they were asked by their Uncle Ed and Aunt Ginny to be a part of the day.  
Handing out kisses to some of our college friends that made the trip to the wedding as well.  It was great to catch up with them!
The party ended with a bonfire and old friends catching up.  It's funny how so many years can pass by, but still there are some things that never change.

Sunday we packed up and headed home, but first we stopped off at Bodo's Bagels again.  This time we got lunch, ( A BLT again- it's my ultimate favorite) and 2 dozen bagels to bring home.  Before we hit the road we stopped off at UVA's campus to wander around, take some pictures, and enjoy the beautiful weather.

Maybe someday one of my girls will be a student here... maybe.

Our oldest is learning how to use my camera.  She does a decent job!

Planning ahead and having your meals with you, or options for meals means the difference between a good trip and terrible trip.

Do you plan ahead when taking trips by bringing your own food or calling restaurants to see if they have options you can eat?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Black Beans and Roasted Potato Bowl

My husband's job requires him to have dinner meetings from time to time.   On nights when he is at one of these dinners, I am the only one here to deal with dinner time, or what my friend and I call "the witching hour".  If you have young children, or have had a toddler you will completely understand what I mean.  If not, here is what the witching hour is: Somewhere between 4 and 6pm babies/ toddlers/ kids seems to get louder, crankier, more hyper, more demanding than at any other time of the day.  This is the time of day the toddler is getting into EVERYTHING- climbing on things, emptying my cabinets, stealing crayons and attempting to write on stuff  ( like walls).  When Daddy is here he  keeps the little one entertained while I make dinner.  When he's not here, I need quick easy meals that require very little attention.  We still have to eat a healthy dinner after all!
A few weeks ago I came up with this easy dish on the fly.  I had black beans in my cabinet, fresh potatoes from the farmers market in my fridge, and a spice cabinet full of spices to play with.  So I put it all together and made a really tasty, filling, easy dinner for myself and my oldest daughter. The middle one and little one had chicken tenders (don't judge), some of the potatoes, and veggies.  I didn't know it would turn out so good so I didn't take pictures.  When I made this again a few nights ago I made sure I had my camera on hand.  With the help of my 8 year old we recreated this delicious meal (with a few changes and a lot more spice).

Black Beans and Roasted Potato Bowl
  • 4-6 medium white potatoes- diced
  • 1 can black beans
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 can Rotel Tomatoes with green chilies
  • 1 jalapeno diced (remove seeds for less heat)
  • 1/2 red onion- diced
  • juice of 1half of a  lime
  • 1 teaspoon Hot Mexican Chili Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Cumin
  • Trader Joes South African Smoke Seasoning (optional)

Preheat your oven to 430F. Spray your cooking sheet with your favorite cooking spray.  Dice your potatoes, toss with olive oil and seasonings of you choice.  Roast in the oven until done. (I usually broil mine for the last few minutes to help crisp them.)

This is the best seasoning blend ever!  If you haven't tried it ( and you live near a Trader Joes) you really must try this!  It's awesome on just about anything.

While the potatoes are roasting: Saute your onions until they are slightly softened.  Add your jalapeno and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add your drained and rinsed black beans, tomatoes, lime juice and your seasonings. Let simmer until the liquid is mostly gone.

If you don't have canned tomatoes, you can use fresh diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, or even some salsa.  

Serve the black beans over the roasted potatoes. 

This recipe was really pretty spicy.  The first time I made this I did not use the jalapeno so it was a lot milder ( and I ended up adding sirarcha ).  It's totally your preference as to how hot you want it. I love it with the potatoes instead of  rice because it makes it so much heartier and more filling.  Plus if you season your potatoes you get even more flavor.

After I made it I realized this was a totally gluten free, vegan meal. It's actually free of most allergens. While this version is vegan, I think I may try it with a fried egg on top one of these days.