Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Week 3: Back on the Wagon: Getting back to the meal plan

After a week of house/dog sitting – and eating leftovers supplemented by a couple of meals out – I’m getting “back on the wagon” and re-committing to the meal plan.

Sunday, after a long day filled with church stuff and a children’s ministry trip to the corn maze, I drug myself to Walmart to go grocery shopping.

I thought about just purchasing enough for one or two meals, but I was afraid that if I didn’t take advantage of my window of opportunity (it would be Friday before I could go shopping again), I would have excuses to eat out.

Technically, I’ve been doing this new meal plan for a month, but this is only my third week of cooking.

Observations about the bottom line
This week’s grocery bill rang in at roughly $55 – $10 more than the anticipated price on the grocery list (I purchased a half gallon of milk and some extra cheese).

Initially, I anticipated the groceries would come well under the estimated $45, because I was able to forgo purchasing the needed hamburger, chicken and steak thanks to meat stocked in my freezer.

However, Walmart has definitely raised its prizes on most food items – it may only be a few cents here, and a few cents there, but eventually, those few cents added up to a significant amount.

I know specifically, grapes have gone up from $1 per pound to more than $2 per pound. Other items rang in with a .10 to .50 cent difference. In several cases, I had to purchase a “larger” more expensive product, because Walmart has stopped carrying smaller items.

A friend suggested I purchase my next round of groceries at another Walmart, because even Walmart’s prices seem to vary from store to store, depending upon the amount of “traffic” it sees on a daily basis. I’m not sure if it will make a difference, but we’ll see after next week’s purchases.

This week’s meals
So, it’s the middle of the week and I’ve already experimented with a pesto pepperoni pizza and chicken tender fettuccini alfredo.

The pizza was unexpectedly tasty – the first time around – but not so great as a leftover. Instead of using a pre-made pizza dough – a convenience item that definitely helped make this an easy meal -  I could have spent a bit more time, and mixed together a box (or two) of the Jiffy Pizza Crust mix. 

The chicken fettuccini was a bit “heavy,” but tasted all right. I think it was the first time I’ve ever cooked fettuccini noodles. I did “cut” a corner with the alfredo sauce, using a 15-oz. jar of “shelf” alfredo sauce, rather than the 10-oz. container of fresh sauce. I’m not sure if the original sauce would have made this dish better. I’m not sure I’m a “huge” alfredo fan, regardless of the style or type of sauce. - A friend suggested "thinning" the sauce with milk might make it less "heavy."

What’s next
Other meals waiting in the wings include cheddar bacon quiche, salsa sirloin salad and Mexican casserole. 

The quiche sounds really good, and will probably be the next meal I make, although I’ve already browned the hamburger for the Mexican casserole – I used the first half on Monday in a hamburger/mac and cheese experiment.

The salsa sirloin salad intrigues me. I’m using a round steak pulled from the freezer for this meal, so we’ll see if the “results” live up to the anticipation caused by reading the recipe.

A few successes….
I’ve realized with my schedule that meals I can make in the crock pot make life easier on Mondays and Tuesdays – so I don’t have to cook or do a lot of prep when I get home.

Two of my favorite recipes so far include crock-pot beef stew and roast gravy chicken. The crock-pot beef stew, basically a chopped up roast cooked with veggies in a beef gravy. It was really good, and stretched into several meals.

The roast gravy chicken, served over rice, turned out quite well as well. I may try doubling the liquid the next time I make it, and try cooking the rice with the chicken, rather than fixing it on the side.

One other recipe – easy beans and rice – turned out quite well. While it called for hamburger mixed with the beans and rice, I think you could leave the meat out and turn the dish into a vegetarian meal.

Not terrible, but…
The creamy bacon tortellini was ok, but seemed a bit greasy from the bacon – I was supposed to save 1-1/2 Tablespoons of bacon “drippings” for the meal. I’m pretty sure I mixed in too much. This recipe marked the first time I’ve cooked with whipping cream and real parmesan cheese. Ultimately, it was a bunch of great ingredients, that didn’t exactly combine into a terrific completed dish.

The “negative” recipe column also includes the baked spaghetti pie. It was descent, but it was definitely light on sauce (it called for one, 8-oz., can of tomato sauce with Italian spices. Additionally, the olive oil, parmesan cheese and scrambled egg, which played a key role in the “pie” portion of the recipe, clumped with the cooked spaghetti and gave the entire dish a “funky” aftertaste.(A friend said it probably needed more sauce to taste better.)

So we’ll see what happens next, in the quest to “re-learn” how to cook. Ultimately, the plan continues to make it easier to avoid the temptation to hit the drive thru.

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