Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Day Hell Froze Over (Otherwise Entitled: I Entered a Cook Off and Lived to Tell the Tale)


Yep, I've drunk the Kool-aid. I've seen the light. I've unabashedly become one of those Once a Month Cooking people. And in true born-again style, I want to convert you. Because if it’s working for me, I’m sure it can work for you. You know, assuming you need help. Which, in my OAMC fervor, I'm convinced you do.

I know Once a Month Cooking sounds like a lot of work, but the way I do it, it’s really not, because I faithfully follow Once a Month Mom. Creator Tricia takes all the work out of it: she not only plans each month’s meals based on trends in grocery store sales (so we‘re eating seasonally and cheaply), but she gives you an exact shopping list and step by step instructions. (You may remember the guest post I wrote for Tricia when I attempted 36 dozen Christmas cookies.)

It’s also not a lot of work because I cheat (just a little bit).

I don’t make the whole month’s worth of meals. I just can’t…not quite yet anyway. And since I have picky eaters around here (honestly, how did that even happen?), I sometimes omit certain dishes and cherry pick different ones from past menus or from my own recipe books. Although I don’t have to do that too often, because her meal plans are comprised of real dishes…casseroles and pasta and other things kids will eat. And even though I’m only doing it half-way, I kid you not: it’s transformed our dinner hour.

And all joking aside, I'm going on and on about it because when something has made my life easier, when I’ve discovered a way to feel a little more peace between 4-6 pm, a little more time to pause and shoot a basketball in the driveway with the kids or chat with a friend on MSN, I want to tell you all about it.

More importantly, I could win a Cuisinart. (Mine died during the great Christmas cookie endeavor of 2009.) Once a Month Mom is celebrating its one year anniversary by asking the readers to chronicle their own once a month cooking experience. I followed Tricia’s February menu (dipping into February ‘09 and even March ‘09 to round out my selections), and here’s what I cooked:

Breakfasts (these are great for both weekday mornings and after-school snacks):

Stuffed Pancake Muffins
Banana Buttermilk Pancakes
Banana Sour Cream Bread

See all that banana? That’s because bananas are on sale right now. Plus, my kids will eat bananas. Every day. For every meal. Win-win.

 
(One section of my now-full freezer. Ignore the Otter Pops at the bottom. You didn't see those.)



Dinners:

Chile Chicken Enchiladas
Chicken Parmesan
Pizza Roll-Ups
Spinach Tortellini Soup (my own recipe)
Firecracker Salmon
Homemade Ranch Pizza
Veggie-Cheese Casserole

Now see, that’s not too many meals. (And you can find links to all the recipes at Once a Month Mom.) But I doubled each of them (and made my life even more complicated by making half-vegetarian and half-meat servings). So I now have 14 meals in the freezer. Which is half a month’s worth, especially taking into consideration all the days we eat brunch for dinner (eggs, pancakes, and bacon for the carnivores) or stop by Mexican take-out.

It took me about six hours to make the above. And yeah, it was a little bit rough. There were multiple things on the stove at once, and other things in the oven, and other things in mixing bowls. At one point, I took Toby over to my neighbor’s house for a little attention and left the banana bread cooling on the counter. The dog ate one loaf. Wait: didn't he do that when I baked the Christmas cookies, too? At this rate, I should be calculating these casualties of Sam into the equation as expected loss, or whatever they call that in the business world.

My grocery list for the above menu:

18 eggs
18 bananas
3 16oz cartons of sour cream
1 bag flour (I needed it anyway)
2 cans enchilada sauce
2 cups diced chicken (I buy the whole cooked chicken and dice it up myself)
2 cups diced soy chicken substitute (I use Quorn brand)
2 avocados
5 cups cheddar cheese
1 lb chicken breast
1 package soy chicken breast substitute
64 oz tomato sauce
1 cup parmesan cheese
10 cups mozzarella cheese
2 loaves frozen French bread dough
1 lb ground beef
1 package soy beef crumbles
8 cups Italian tomato sauce
2 packages frozen spinach
18 oz of cheese tortellini
8 4oz salmon filets
1 bunch green onion
Two packages butter
4 packages cream cheese
Yeast
2 cans diced tomatoes
2 cans olives
2 cans diced pineapple
2 lbs carrots
1 bunch celery
1 lb broccoli

Total cost: $125

That’s for two weeks’ worth of meals for a family of five, people. Without using a single coupon. While I shopped for this list, I also shopped for all the other extras we’d need for the week, like school lunch things and fresh produce and toiletries, and still the total was only $165. This is because I had so many great snack options with the baked goods that I didn’t buy much in the way of convenience foods or packaged snack foods. Which I’m trying to eliminate anyway. I don’t know how that compares to your grocery budget, but it’s pretty good for mine.

(Below: Pancake muffins and banana bread.)


My method of organization:

So if you look on the site, Tricia organizes everything for you. But I make so many substitutions to accommodate the vegetarian stuff, the number of meals, and the number of menus I pull from that I needed my own system. On my iPhone (oh, how I love my iPhone), I have lists (oh, how I love lists). For each menu I ‘create’ borrowing from Once a Month Mom, I assign it a name, such as Winter Meal List 1, Winter Meal List 2, etc. Then I assign a grocery list to each Meal List: Grocery List Winter 1, Grocery List Winter 2, etc. That way, come next winter, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Or next spring. Or next fall…you get the idea. The same foods will be on seasonal sale, and I’ll just pick a winter meal list and hop to it. Easy-peesy.

And here’s the best part: my family likes these meals. They really, truly like me them. The kids microwave buttermilk pancakes for breakfast and get home from school to banana muffins (they can get away with this abundance of carbs, lucky things). We just ate the chicken parmesan last night, and everyone loved it. You know the last time that’s happened? Neither do I. And I’ve been cooking for this family for over a decade.


(Now when Toby prays over our meal, he can do so with a grateful heart instead of a repentant one.)

So needless to say, I love Tricia and hereby grant her my firstborn. (No really, Tricia, you have to take him. Or we can work out an exchange for that Cuisinart.)

And it's not too late for any of you readers out there to try your hand at this awesome new religion cooking method and enter too (but if you win, the right thing to do would be to donate the Cuisinart to the one who showed you the light.)*

*That'd be me.








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