It’s NOT a torte

July 30, 2008

“Unproductive” would be the word I would use to describe today. I had no great ambitions for the day so I guess you could consider the day a success if you want to look at it like that. There was one thing, however, that I did want to do today and that was to order a vegetarian cookbook or two. I’ve had an urge lately to try more vegetarian entrees and to explore grains such as lentils and quinoa (yes I know it is actually a seed). In this I have failed. There are many reasons for this. The main one being my amazing inability to make a decision. It can take me 20 mins or more to decide between a blue or yellow shirt. Imagine what all the variables in buying a cookbook could do to me. I think I have decided to at least get Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. However this still leaves me with deciding if I should get another one, if so which one, and where should I get it from. The first site is cheaper, especially if you order two books, but they have an unknown delivery estimate. Any help you have to offer would be appreciated. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll have something more to report.

That brings us to dinner tonight. Last time we did a big grocery trip squash was on sale and since I had seen a few squash casseroles that looked good lately I picked some up. It was on sale for $.99/lb. Then a few days ago someone posted a link to a recipe for a Squash and Potato Torte. It looked soooo good that I knew that this would be what I was making with my squash. I read through that recipe and it referenced a recipe from Smitten Kitchen which I also read through. I eventually used Smitten Kitchen’s basic recipe with a few adaptations to make it my own. I told my husband that we would be having a Potato and Squash Torte and he questioned the fact that it would actually be a torte. I assured him that it would. After all that was the name of the recipe wasn’t it? Well tonight after his first serving, which he had declared quite good, he was getting another piece when he turned to look at me and said “By the way, it is not a torte.” So I went to Britannica to see what they had to say. It says that a torte is a rich cake made up of several thin layers. So I guess that the answer is that it is not a torte in content but is a torte in format. Either way we served it with a chopped salad of green bell pepper, orange bell pepper, and tomato with this vinaigrette. Now for the recipe. My changes are in italics.

Squash and Potato Torte
Makes 8 servings

1/4 to 1/2 red onion diced
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese I used 1 1/2 cups + 1/4 cup cheddar cheese for the top
2 tablespoons all purpose flour I used 3 tbsp
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

3oz prosciutto diced

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
12 ounces yellow crookneck squash or regular yellow summer squash, cut into 1/8-inch-thick rounds I used a combination of summer squash and zucchini
6 teaspoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter two 8-inch-diameter cake pans. (Deb note: I had only a 9-inch pan around, so what you see in my pictures is slightly thinner.) Set aside 1/4 cup sliced green onions. Toss remaining red onions, cheese, prosciutto, flour, thyme, salt and pepper in medium bowl to blend.

Layer 1/6 of potatoes in concentric circles in bottom of 1 prepared pan, overlapping slightly. Layer 1/4 of squash in concentric circles atop potatoes. I would add a dash of salt and pepper on top of every squash layer. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle with 1/6 of cheese mixture. Repeat with 1/6 of potatoes, then 1/4 of squash and 1 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle with 1/6 of cheese mixture. Top with 1/6 of potatoes. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle with 1/6 of cheese mixture and press gently to flatten. Repeat procedure with second cake pan and remaining potatoes, squash, oil, and cheese mixture.

Cover pans with foil. Bake until potatoes are almost tender, about 40 minutes. Remove foil; bake uncovered until tortes begin to brown and potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes longer. I found 20mins to be sufficient. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cool. Cover with foil and chill. Rewarm, covered with foil, in 350°F oven until heated through, about 30 minutes.)

Cut each torte into wedges.  serve.

Now for today’s bookkeeping

Breakfast

  • Ed fed at work – no cost

subtotal = $0.00

Lunch

  • 1 Lean Cuisine – $2.50
  • leftovers – no cost
  • 1 peach – $.60
  • salad – $1.50
  • salad dressing $1.50 *original cost and will not be charged again

subtotal = $6.10

Dinner

  • 2 1/4 cup cheese – $2.25
    1 zucchini – $.70
    1summer squash – $1.00
    1/4 onion – $.25
    1 package prosciutto – $3.00
    1 tbsp olive oil – $.10
    2.5 lb potatoes – $1.50
    thyme – $1.50 *original cost and will not be charged again
    3 tbsp flour – $.03
  • salt and pepper – no charge
  • 2 bell pepper – $2.00
    1 clove garlic – $. 10
    2 shallots – $.40
    1/4 cup balsamic vinegar – $2.00 *original cost and will not be charged again
    1 tbsp dijon mustard – $.08
    1/2 cup olive oil – $.80

subtotal = $16.21

TOTAL = $22.31

Blog Envy

July 29, 2008

You should know that I am not currently working though why is a story for another time.  Being home leaves me with a bit of downtime each day. So today, between getting up and chasing after Gabriel every 5 mins., I spent some time searching for other budget conscious, food related blogs. This left me with a serious case of blog envy. Many of the blogs I found had a customized fun design, professional appearance, organized structure, and amusing, informative, and well-written content. Many were also established enough to participate in the wonderful blogging event Bloggy Giveaways which you might want to check out for yourself. I came back home to Thyme for Change feeling a bit lacking. After a little self pep talk I decided that I was being a little hard on myself. After all this is my first blog and it has only been in existence for 3 days. So I will be patient and wait for my “baby” to slowly evolve. I hope that you will be patient and join me on this imperfect journey.

I had been exhausted all day so when dinner time came around I had no idea what we were going to have. I decided that I would go through the fridge and see what was the oldest and should be used. On the down side I discovered that the 4 ears of corn that had been in there were now moldy so into the trash can for them. However I did find four tortillas and some leftover refried beans and dinner was born. Chicken Quesadillas it was. These are simple, versatile, and always satisfying. How can you go wrong?

Chicken Quesadillas – serves 2

1 chicken breast
8oz sliced mushrooms
1/2 yellow onion diced
1/3 can refried beans
1 cup shredded cheese – I used a mix of cheddar and a taco blend
2 tbsp olive oil
Emeril’s Bayou Blast seasoning – to taste any rub you like would work
salt & pepper to taste
Pam
4 8in flour tortillas

1. Turn on broiler, season chicken breast, cook for approx. 7 mins on each side
2. Meanwhile heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a saute pan, add mushrooms and saute till mushrooms are about 1/2                                                                                           way done. Add 2nd tbsp of olive oil and the onions and saute till done.  Salt and pepper to taste.
3. Slice chicken breast
4. Assemble quesadillas. Divide each filling ingredient in half (for 2 quesadillas) and layer as follows: tortilla, refried beans, 1/2 the cheese, veggies, chicken, remaining cheese, and top with tortilla.
5. Spray grill pan with Pam and heat on med-high heat. Place quesadillas on pan and cook till bottom is golden brown, flip and cook till 2nd side is golden brown.

Serve with salsa and sour cream

 

Now for todays bookkeeping

Breakfast

  • I package poptart – $.43

subtotal = $.43

Lunch

  • Leftovers from last night – no cost
  • grapes – $.55
  • Leftovers previously unaccounted for – $.75

subtotal = $1.30

Dinner

  • 1 chicken breast – $1.30
  • 8oz sliced mushrooms – $1.50
  • 1/2 onion – $.70
  • 1 cup shredded cheese – $1.00
  • 2 tbsp olive oil – $.20
  • salt and pepper – no charge
  • Bayou Blast seasoning – $1.50 *initial cost and will not be charged again
  • refried beans – $.40
  • 4 tortillas – $.60
  • sour cream – $.90 *initial cost and will not be charged again
  • salsa – $.50

subtotal = $8.60

TOTAL = $10.33

Harris Teeter – 7/27/08

July 28, 2008

 

A Harris Teeter opened up not too far from us a couple of months ago.  I was excited to check it out.  Not only was it new and open 24 hrs but it also had a Starbucks!  Unfortunately, or very smartly; you decide, I have decided to cut way back on my Starbucks.  That left me with the “it’s new” draw.  My biggest hope when I first went in there was that they would have shallots. None of our other local groceries carry them. They did in fact have have shallots but they were these huge things that I had never seen before and looked like they were past there prime.  I had to pass.  We proceeded to wander around the store and check out some things that we consider staples.  I have one word for you – Expensive!  We quickly decided that this would not be our grocery store of choice.  However they do have good sales so we now go once a week and only buy things on sale.  That’s what we were doing yesterday. The primary thing I was after was canned tuna.  I have been out for awhile, waiting on a sale that never seemed to come, and it was killing me.  My target price was $.50 a can but that now seems like an impossible dream, so when I saw $.67 I decided to jump on it.  Now for the best part of yesterday’s shopping trip…free ice cream!  When we got there a truck was sitting in the parking lot giving out ice cream samples.  Now who can pass up free ice cream?  Not me!  So happily enjoying my ice cream sandwich we entered the store.

canned tuna – price $.89    sale price $.67  20 cans x $.67 = $13.34  savings of $4.46

yellow peaches – price $1.99  sale price $.99 2.57lbs x $.99 = $2.54  savings of $2.57

brussel sprouts – price $1.99  sale price $1.67  2 bags x $1.67 = $3.34  savings of $.64

Philly Cream Cheese – price $2.39  sale price $1.25  2 x $1.25 = $2.50  savings of $2.28

ice cream – price $3.99  sale price $2.50  savings of $1.49

TOTAL = $24.22  savings of $11.44  32% savings

 

Day is Done

July 28, 2008

 

“Day is Done” not only is currently a very true statement, but it is also the title to one of my favorite songs by Peter, Paul, and Mary.  Now I know that admitting that I like, actually love, Peter, Paul, and Mary may make me look like a freak to some of you, but it can not be helped.  The refrain of the song states “And if you take my hand my son; All will be well when the day is done“.  As I sit here now, I am reflecting on how true those lyrics are.  My daughter is upstairs and my husband is sitting across from me feeding the baby, and I know that with their hands to hold all WILL be well when the day is done.  Today is no exception.  Not that there was anything particularly bad about today if you forget about that early wake up. But this being the end of the first day of my “project” I am realizing how much time and focus it is going to take to be successful, and how much I am going to need their support and cooperation.  Well, enough philosophizing for now and onto the subject at hand.

Gabriel was nice enough to go back to sleep right after this morning’s post, so I got to crawl back into bed myself.   A couple of hours later, I got up much more rested and ready to get started.  Today I computed the costs per serving size for a number of my food staples, though there are still many left to do.  You can find these under Cost of food staples to the right.  The computations weren’t hard and neither was finding prices to start from for products bought awhile ago, thank you Giant’s Peapod. What was difficult was figuring out how to format the information.   I decided on a table, but that is as far as I got because I had no real idea about how to go actually do it.  In stepped Ed and viola, I have tables.  Thank you Ed!!!  I have a feeling that he will be called into action on many occasions in the name of the blog. 

Lunch consisted of leftovers.  Leftovers that we had eaten at least 4 other times in the last 3 days. I am grateful that they are now gone.  Well almost gone, there is still one serving of American Goulash left.  Don’t get me wrong, I love leftovers!  Leftovers are free food on this budget and usually, hopefully, they are something that you enjoy eating.  I say hopefully because we ALL have dinner blunders on occasion.  Come on, you know it’s true. We actually plan on leftovers with every dinner so Ed has something to take to work the next day.  We do this for 2 reasons. First, and I can’t say this enough, is that it is FREE food. Second, Ed really hates his work’s cafeteria.  Since we have not accounted for the original meal I have charged us for the leftovers this time.  With a general idea of the cost of the original meals and knowing how much we were eating, I estimated that we were eating no more than $.75 worth of ingredients each. So that is the number I will be using.

During the afternoon, we made a quick shopping trip to Harris Teeter and were pleasantly surprised with free ice cream.  I got an ice cream sandwich!  I haven’t had one in so long and it was so good!  In the interests of time and space, and the fact that I would like to keep grocery posts  separate for reference, I will blog about that later.

Sundays are the one day that we are guaranteed to have Ksenia present at dinner.  Most other nights she is either working or has chosen to hang out with her friends.  She’s 18 if you’ll remember.  Since she can be a fairly picky eater and I no longer have to take that into consideration during the rest of the week, not that I always did anyways, I try to pick things she will like on Sundays.  With that in mind, tonight’s dinner was grilled smoked sausage, pierogi casserole (recipe to follow), and roasted green beans. This was a satisfying meal, Ksenia liked it, and there were leftovers.  That is what I call all around success.

Pierogi Casserole found at  Mary Ellen’s Cooking Creations changes will be noted in italics.

Ingredients
1 package frozen pierogies (12 per package)
1/2 onion, sliced
1 green onion, chopped – omitted
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp flour
1 c light cream or milk  I used 2% milk
Approximately 1 c shredded cheeses; I used a combination of a Mexican 4 cheese blend, an Italian 5 cheese blend, and some mild cheddar.  If you can’t tell I was trying to use up my cheese odds and ends .
Directions

Preheat oven to 375
Bring a pot of water to a boil; drop in pierogies and let cook for 3-4 minutes. Transfer 6 to a baking dish (so they cover the bottom), and keep the other 6 aside until you are ready to assemble the casserole. (I cooked six at a time and timed it so my second set of pierogies were done at the same time as my cheese sauce)
Make the cheese sauce: Heat olive oil in a pot. Add all onions and red pepper flakes; saute 2 minutes. Add flour and stir. Add cream/milk and bring to a simmer. Add cheeses, and stir until creamy. Season with salt and pepper.
Pour some of the cheese sauce over the first layer of pierogies. Add the rest of the pierogies and top with more cheese sauce. I used an 8×8 casserole dish and that was too big to do two layers so I just put all the piragiin one layer and covered with the cheese sauce. Top with breadcrumbs.
Bake on 375 for about 15 minutes or until bubbly. Turn on the broiler for 3 minutes at the end.

 

Now for the day’s accounting.  Today, in fact probably this whole week, is going to be a little more expensive than normal because we are doing full costing for many items at once.  Hopefully this will soon balance itself out.

Breakfast

  • 1 bowl of cereal – $.45

  • milk – $1.20 ( 1/2 gallon half empty)

  • please note that I do not normally eat breakfast so the above is for Ed

subtotal = $1.65

Lunch

  • 2 plates of pasta leftovers – $.75 x 2

subtotal = $1.50

Snacks

  • nectarine – $.40

  • bowl of ice cream – $2.50; cost of carton and will not be charged again

subtotal = $2.90

Dinner

  • smoked sausage – $2.00

  • green beans – $.70 + $.10 in olive oil = $.80

  • Pierogi Casserole

               1 package frozen pierogies (12 per package) – $2.00
               1/2 onion, sliced – $.50
               1/2 tsp red pepper flakes – $2.00 – initial cost and will not be charged again
               1/2 tsp salt – $1.50 – initial cost and will not be charged again
               1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper – $2.00 – initial cost and will not be charged again
               1 tbsp olive oil – $.10
               1 tsp flour – $.01
               1 c light cream or milk  – no charge
               Approximately 1 c shredded cheese – $1.00

subtotal = $11.91

TOTAL =  $16.96

Accounting early in the morning

July 27, 2008

 Well, I would start by saying Good Morning as it is currently 6am here and Good Morning is a commonly accepted and expected greeting at such an hour, but to tell you the truth it is not currently a good morning.  As previously stated it is 6am and we have been up since 5:30 when Gabriel woke up screaming.  He is no longer screaming, we think the orajel took care of that, but he is also not back asleep.  Normally I can be what many would call a bad wife and mommy as I go back to sleep while Ed stays up with Gabriel.  Today though I decided to redeem myself a little and keep them company at this early hour.  However that does not change the fact that we didn’t go to bed till after 1am and I am NOT an early morning person. Oh well, c’est la vie, as they say.  I’ve decided to take advantage of this unexpected daylight in my life and take care of the few accounting/book keeping issues left unresolved at the end of yesterday’s post.

I spent a little portion of last night trying to come up with things that would be hard or time consuming to account for the exact amount used and then to decide how I would handle those particular items.  Here is what I’ve come up with so far, though I am sure it is by no means a complete list of troublesome products nor are the solutions written in stone.  After all, isn’t it a woman’s prerogative to change her mind?

I decided that to make things as simple for myself as possible since I easily admit that I am not the mathematician that Ed is (however his skills will come in mighty handy) most things will be accounted for with the meal they were opened with.  I believe that this strategy also keeps up from not having accounted for the food we waste.  The price for the entire item has already been added to our costs and should we end up throwing something out (shame on us!!!)  we are wasting food and not having extra money in our budget.  The following items are going to be dealt with in such a manner:

  • drinks such as bottled water, soda, orange juice

  • broth

  • spices – when first using a spice currently in our cabinet I will record a charge of $1.75-$2.00 depending on the spice and then the full price will be used when we open a new bottle.  The same procedure will be used for fresh herbs with the exception being that herbs we already have will be charged at a cost of $1.50.

  • pasta

next we have the remainder of my list with the units I will try to break them up into

  • eggs – by the egg

  • butter – by the tablespoon

  • cheese – by the estimated ounce

  • cereal – by the bowl

  • veggies – by the amount used

  • potatoes – by the estimated pound

  • fruit – for big fruits – by the piece, the cost of each piece will be averaged at purchase, for smaller fruits such as grapes and strawberries – by the container ( if you have a better way please let me know!)

  • rice – by 1/4 cup dry servings, yes I see the problems with this and hopefully I will work out a better system soon

  • olive oil – by the tablespoon

  • minced garlic – by the approximate tablespoon

As an addendum to the previous comment on waste, if we should throw away something which has not been opened or is completely unused we will charge the associated cost to that day.

Hopefully this takes care of most of the outstanding accounting issues of this project.  I say mostly because you know you never get them all in the first shot.  I promise to keep you all updated of any changes.

I am now going to bid you all goodbye.  Gabriel is getting krinkly, I’ve lost my little burst of energy, and it is time to actually get this party (I guess that should really be project) started.  I’ll be back soon to let you know how today went. 

 

Catalyst

July 26, 2008

Chicken…rotten chicken!

Alright, let me back track just a little. To start properly, I should introduce myself. My name is Debbie and I am a 35 year old wife and mom of 2 (18yrs & 11 1/2 months) with another one on the way. I love to cook and experiment with new recipes, but this is not always budget friendly, at least the way I have been known to do it. For the last couple of years, this has worked fine for me, but it is now all about to come to a screeching halt.

Well right now you might be asking yourself, if everyone has been happy for so long, why change the status quo? The answer, my friends, is simple…MONEY! It appears that we are soon going to be loosing a large chunk of our income. I am looking at having to retire from my job very shortly, and that would cut my income by 50%. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find this just a little scary and overwhelming. My response has been to analyze our expenses. The revelations were not particularly pleasant. We spend a LOT on food. I won’t embarrass myself by telling you how much, but let’s just say that it is well over the country’s average. It was time to do something.

I started with the easiest and most obvious thing: stop eating out. This was not difficult since I don’t mind cooking and had lately become very dissatisfied with our local restaurants. The next step was to start shopping the sales very carefully. This I am good at. I can go to a store and leave having only bought things that were on sale, seeing at least a 30% savings, sometimes 50% or more. I started doing this like a woman possessed. We have three freezers and they are all currently well stocked with things that were on sale!

You are probably thinking that I am missing a crucial element here, coupons! You would be quite correct. This is a flaw in my strategy that I am very well aware of. My excuse (more an explanation really) is that I simply have not gotten around to it. That seems strange for me to say since I used to be a coupon queen. I would walk out of the store with things I had gotten for free and many more at at least a 50% savings. I used coupons on things that were already on sale and would only shop where they would double coupons. However when I think back on that time in my life I realize that I was buying mostly processed, packaged foods, some of which never were eaten. Sometimes I bought stuff just because it was what I had a coupon for. This is not smart for many reasons, and until I can revamp my view on and use of coupons, I will continue to put them as a low priority. Hopefully sometime in the near future, coupons and I will find a way to happily coexist.

All right now, let’s get back on track. We have stopped eating out and started faithfully shopping the sales, so what’s next? I started googling budget-friendly meals. Unfortunately, most of what I found were stories about the many politicians who participated in the Food Stamp Challenge. I found these stories interesting but unrealistic. So I asked people on a message board I frequent for blog recommendations, and there were very few responses, and of the responses, none of the blogs actually talked about the costs of individual meals or how to buy food more economically. Yesterday while on the same site but a different message board someone posted this link about an MSN reporter who was challenged to feed her family of 4 on $100 for a week. This post led to a post about the Hillbilly Housewife’s $45 a week menu and her $70 a week menu, neither of which impressed me. Finally, someone posted a link to Rebecca’s Pocket which I found very interesting. I read this blog from her first post to the end of her 1 month challenge in one sitting. She fed herself and her husband on $320.80 which is what the USDA said a Thrifty family of 2 should need to spend in 2007. The USDA has now increased that amount to $352.50. She used mostly organic ingredients and even had wine and beer. I don’t know if intrigued is a strong enough word for how I felt after reading Rebecca’s Pocket. I discussed it with my mom, husband, and then spent most of the evening thinking about it. I decided that I would like to try something similar, but still needed to figure out the terms and time frame. Trying something like this would take a lot of planning and preparation. It was something I could think about in more detail tomorrow or next week — or so I thought.

Then, this morning, after adding up our food expenditure for the month so far and freaking out (to be fair, it included much stocking up on sale items and things for our son’s birthday party at the beginning of next month), it happened….

Chicken…rotten chicken!!!!

My husband informed me that some chicken we had bought earlier in the month had gone bad in the downstairs refrigerator because we had failed to freeze it. We had forgotten about it! Well I was pissed and almost in tears. I had worked so hard this month, and we had just wasted food and money. One might think that such a little thing shouldn’t bother me that much, but for me it was a breaking point. I no longer cared about proper planning and preparation — we were starting today!

My “plan” is to account for the cost of each meal and add it all up each week to keep a running tally of our actual expenses as we consume them. I will continue to buy in bulk and stock up when the sales are right, but I will break down the costs when making each meal. I will not resort to buying packaged food that I would not otherwise buy just to lower the total. I will make a post of each shopping trip, not only to give you an idea of what our purchases and hence raw materials are, but also to keep a list of prices for me to refer back to when pricing out a meal. I will start blogging the meals and prices tomorrow. This will initially have to be a good faith estimate as we have a lot of food in our house for which I do not have an accurate list of prices. I will do my best to price them as closely as I can remember to their purchase price, but at least in the beginning there will be a margin of error. I will post recipes as appropriate.

I must warn you that not every meal will be “healthy”. My oldest child loves sausage and kielbasa, one of my favorite meals is tuna casserole, and we all love pasta. However I will do my best to keep the menu as balanced as possible.

As for the actual budget, I am going to let it play out for a while to see where it falls naturally, and then adjust as needed. My ultimate goal will be to fall between the USDA’s thrifty budget of $352.50 and their low cost plan at $447.10 for a family of 2 adults for a month. Since our 18 year old is rarely home and eats relatively few meals with us, I am leaving her out of the equation for now. The same thing goes for the baby as he is still on formula and baby food. Before I start with the first meal tomorrow I will give you an idea of how I will account for things such as a 1/2 gallon of milk, box of cereal, bag of flour, etc.

So this is the beginning. Wish me luck!!! I’ll see you all tomorrow.

P.S. For all of you who actually read all of my ramblings, I thank you. Future posts should not be quite so lengthy.