No-Buy Update

 

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Well, I made it around a month. Not my best but… there were 3$ pints of strawberries that I just couldn’t deny myself. I also really wanted fresh dairy. So after thirty days of not buying groceries, I bought a few things. This no-buy isn’t firmly over, I’m still trying to work out of the meals and proteins I have frozen and my shelf stable items, but I’m running out of things like eggs and in my house… that just won’t do.

March was a pretty easy month to not be buying groceries. I had a hospitality suite at work for three days and lots of invites out to my family’s place. I also did a cooking class that sent me home with three+ days’ worth of food.

I think as I go forward my “no buy” will just be modified- if I need eggs or a fresh item, I’ll buy it, but I’m still working through frozen items and enjoying them. Being that it’s spring (sort of… it’s been snowing for hours as I type this) I’m also not going to deny myself things like salad greens or fresh burratta if I can get my hands on them.

So what did I make and eat during this time?

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Freezer Mushroom Risotto

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Easy Ramen

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Spaghetti Squash Puttanesca

White bean dip and focaccia (post coming soon!)

Cauliflower rice and shrimp (at Mom’s, but post still coming soon!)

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Chicken Pesto Burgers with Rice

Vegan Spaghetti and “Meat” Balls (post coming soon!)

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Italiano Breakfast Bowls

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins (post coming soon!)

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Lentil Ragout with Isreali Cous Cous

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Butternut Squash Risotto Nourish Bowl (gifted, affordable re-make coming soon!)

Baked Rigatoni Bolognese (post coming soon!)

…and lots of eggs, guacamole toast and overnight oats!

 

Strawberries were the straw that broke the camel’s back for this no-buy. I really wanted them and life is short. I also wanted lettuce, ground meat and fennel. I have everything but the ground meat now! The spare time that eating pre-made meals gave me allowed me to work on other things in life, work items, visit family more and even start baking bread!

Cheater Lasagna

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I love lasagna. I think pasta is one of life’s best luxuries so I try to enjoy it decently often. Is that weird?

I don’t care if it is.

I love to make baked pastas when I have friends over, or just to keep in the freezer for when I need a comforting meal. Lasagna and I used to have a love-hate relationship because honestly, it was a bit high maintenance! You have to make the sauce, make the béchamel, par-cook the noodles and assemble it… it was a “once in a blue moon” item rather than something I could enjoy on a weeknight with friends.

Enter this cheater lasagna. Instead of making your sauce, grab a couple jars of meat sauce. Instead of slaving over béchamel, grab a tub of ricotta. And instead of grabbing dried noodles and cooking them, grab fresh lasagna sheets, which are ready to go! This makes lasagna a ten minute assembly with about an hour of baking time- just enough time to enjoy a salad and a glass of wine with friends (or solo!).

Cheater Lasagna

$13.70 for ten or $1.37 per serving

1 package of lasagna sheets- $3.50

2 jars of Bolognese- $4.96

1 small tub of ricotta- $4.49

1 cup of shredded cheese- $0.75

Optional: 1 tablespoon pesto (mix it into the ricotta if you feel like it)

Start off by grabbing a baking dish- this could be a Pyrex one or a stoneware one like le Creuset. I’ve used both, and achieved similar results. I’ve linked some options in the “shop the post” section. Pre-heat your oven on bake at 400 degrees.  Open one of your jars of meat sauce and pour down a healthy layer- this makes sure your noodles don’t stick so make sure it’s a decent layer down there. Lay down a couple lasagna sheets, cutting them to size if necessary. Next, layer on your ricotta, and lay down more lasagna sheets.

Always go meat sauce-sheets-ricotta-sheets-meat sauce and so on. Once you’ve laid down your final sheets, even if you laid ricotta on top of it, put meat sauce to cover the whole situation. If you don’t, your ricotta will dry out and so will the underlying noodles. Next, sprinkle your shredded cheese on top, wrap with tin foil and pop into the oven for 40 minutes, then remove the foil and put it back in the oven for a final 20 minutes.

When you pull your lasagna out, let it sit to cool and set for 10-15 minutes. There’s nothing quite like being burned by molten lasagna.

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Cuisinart CI1136-24CR Chefs Classic Enameled Cast Iron 14-Inch Roasting/Lasagna Pan Cardinal Red • Cuisinart •

What is your favorite pasta dish to make for a crowd?

Freezer Breakfast Bowls

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I hate the morning. Those that have lived with me, travelled with me, worked with me or even just tried to talk to me in the morning know this fact very well. I’m just not my most friendly in the morning, and my extreme morning productivity is really only born out of the internal rage I feel about needing to be out of bed before I feel ready to be.

For this reason, I try to have my breakfasts ready before I go to bed. Sometimes that means having a guacamole pack, bread and a hard-boiled egg or two ready to throw in my bag on my way to the office, and sometimes it means pulling a pre-made meal out of the freezer like my freezer egg wraps! Nothing makes morning rage worse than hanger. These easy italiano breakfast bowls are freezer-friendly and perfect for busy mornings.

Italiano Breakfast Bowls

$16.43 for ~12-13 bowls or $1.26 per serving

4  Potatoes- $2.24

1 tray of Italian sausage ~$9

8 eggs- $1.60

¼ cup of italiano cheese- $0.75

2 zucchini- $2.44

½ an onion- $0.40

Pantry staples: 1 tbs of tomato paste, hot sauce, Italian spices, olive oil, salt and pepper

Start by washing and chopping your potatoes into a medium sized chunk. Put them on an aluminum foil lined cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and bake at 350 degrees until cooked through and crispy.

Once your potatoes are in the oven (just pull them out to cool when they’re done), it’s time to work on that Italian sausage. You just want to fry it up in a large pan until its cooked and finely crumbled, then remove it from the pan to a plate lined with paper towel to cool completely. I’ve said before, the trick to freezing breakfast items is to have everything completely cooled, then refrigerated for 2 hours, and then put in the freezer to freeze in order to avoid condensation ice. That ice will make your eggs rubbery and the entire meal watery upon defrosting and heating. AKA gross.

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Next, crack your eggs into a bowl, whisk and add your hot sauce and Italian cheese. Scramble cook them and remove to another plate to cool. Chop up your onions and zucchini, then place the onions to soften in a pan on the stove. Add Italian seasoning to your preference- once they’re softened then you can add in your zucchini and cook down about half way before adding your tomato paste and cooking it out while they finish cooking. (These pictures are of a batch where I used crushed tinned tomatoes and spaghetti freezer veggie mix… it was what I had around but I like the version I described in the ingredients list much better.) Then, put this mix in a bowl to cool.

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Once everything is nicely cool, take out 12 containers and split everything amongst the 12 containers. I tried to make mine look pretty for these pictures but honestly just split it up and put them in the fridge to cool for 2-3 hours and then pop them in the freezer until you are ready to eat one! Mine usually gets defrosted in my work bag for about an hour and then microwaved for 2-3 minutes.

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Shop the Post:

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Pyrex 8-Piece Mixing Bowl Set with Colored Lids • Pyrex •
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JA Henckels Zwilling Spirit Ceramic Nonstick 8″ & 10″ Skillet Set • Zwilling J.A. Henckels •
Black & Decker Family Sized Electric Skillet – Black • Black & Decker •

Do you have a favorite freezer breakfast? Or are you one of those people that loves the morning? Let me know in the comments!

A Night with Knives- Knife Skills Course Review

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I’m a sucker for Italian food. I love eating it, I love making it… so when my mom invited me to go to a risotto making course put on by the Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group last year, I was totally game. It was honestly an easy sell.

But when she started to insist that I take a Basic Knife Skills course put on by the Sorrentino’s Group, I was a little bit less psyched. A. My chopping was truly not that horrific. I’ve never sliced and diced myself and I cook a lot. B. I was unconvinced that it would be that fun… it seemed like a very academic course to be taking.

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I was wrong. I’m fully ok with admitting when I’m wrong, and this was one of those cases. Chef Jeff was our instructor, and what I thought was going to be a night of learning to chop better ended up being a night of learning how to make a proper marinara, tips for an authentic Bolognese, get more flavor out of my vegetables, cook the perfect chicken entrée, pick the best can of tomatoes and yes- I learned how to chop better. And enjoyed a gourmet meal, a couple glasses of wine, and a few hours of being the painfully slow chopper in the group.

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I didn’t anticipate what great value I was going to get out of this course, which was $90. Maybe it was a flaw in the online marketing for it, which simply said it was a basic knife skills class and “light meal”, along with a complementary chef’s knife. For starters, our group got a chef’s knife and a paring knife (which together sell for 50$ plus tax), and we seriously made so much food that I had three meals plus enough marinara to have friends over for dinner and those glasses of wine I mentioned. Chef Jeff was hands-on, engaged, and while he taught us how to properly use our knives he also passed on loads of tidbits that only someone experienced in the kitchen would know. He also filled the class with the type of humor and laughter that can diffuse even the most nervous of feelings.

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I don’t worry about chopping off my fingers anymore. Maybe I should, but the class built the confidence I needed to attempt to make finer cuts and the skills necessary to do it. Now my meals won’t just taste good- maybe they’ll even look good, too.

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Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group regularly hosts cooking classes, and they’re great to attend with your partner or a friend as well as solo. My family has taken the knife skills class, risotto making, pasta making, macaron making and pizza making classes. There’s a ton of regional courses that you can take as well, and they host seasonal courses (Christmas cookies, Mother’s Day Brunch how-to’s, etc) that fit your life.  Check out the upcoming course offerings at: https://www.sorrentinos.com/cooking-classes/

In accordance with recommendations on disclosing brand partnerships, I am not compensated or sponsored by Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group. They were blissfully unaware that I was a blogger, with Chef Jeff even asking at one point if I cook at home.

 

Fish Tacos 2 Ways!

Hey!

Fish tacos are 100%  one of my favorite indulgences in life. The crisp lettuce, spicy fish, cool and creamy avocado-lime crema and bright pico de gallo… it’s all so, so good. Plus, it’s actually pretty healthy (if you can force yourself to eat in moderation). Unfortunately a lot of the fish you get in fish tacos out a restaurants is breaded and then fried… so this is totally a make-at-home thing if you’re looking to keep it healthy!


I love to make enough spicy fish and fixings to have tacos 2 ways- once for dinner as traditional tacos, and once as a bowl for a nutritious, low carb meal. I figure if I’m going to put in the effort, it may as well last me a few meals!.

Fish Tacos 2 Ways!

Makes 4 meals for $12.71 or $3.18 per serving

For the crema:

2 avocados

1/4 cup greek yogurt

juice of one lime

For the spice rub:

Cumin, chipotle powder, oregano and chili powder. Optional: Southwest seasoning

For the pico de gallo:

3-4 tomatoes (I used vine)

1/2 a jalapeno

1/4 yellow onion

salt/pepper

General: shredded lettuce, corn or flour tortillas, white fish

I like to start by making my pico. I think that the hardest thing ever is to do tiny knife cuts when you’re hungry and just want to eat your dang tacos. Plus, ideally I make the components in this order: pico, shred lettuce, make crema, make fish- this way the crema is cool and the fish is warm.

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Back to the pico. I start by making a very fine dice of a quarter of an onion. Next, I make very fine dice of the tomatoes- if they’re super juicey, dump some seeds etc into a garbage bowl. Lastly, I take a jalapeno and slice the ribs out of half of it and discard along with the seeds. The nice fleshy green part is left, and you guessed it- I really finely dice it. After a very light sprinkle of salt and pepper, it’s ready!

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Next, we’re going to put our blenders to work. Literally, all you’re doing here is dumping 2 pitted and peeled avocados in a blender with 1/4 cup of greek yogurt and the juice of one lime. If you like cilantro, add a bunch in here! I don’t personally, so I didn’t.

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Ok finally, finally, let’s make our fish. I start with 2 fish filets for 4 meals, and in this case I used basa but your end result would be just as delicious with tilapia. I put a tiny bit of olive oil in a pan warming over medium heat and then make my spice mix while it warms up. In a bowl I put 1/2 tablespoon of cumin, 1-2 tablespoons of chili powder, a couple shakes of chipotle powder (this depends on the heat you want) and a scant 1/2 teaspoon of oregano. If you’re adding a southwest spice blend, you’d add it to the bowl now as well.

When your pan is hot, place the fish in the pan and sprinkle ~1/2 of your spice mix over top of the fish. As the fish cooks, start breaking it apart with the spatula. Gradually add the rest of your spice mix as the act of breaking the fish apart gives you more surface area to sprinkle over.

Once your fish is cooked and fully flaked apart, put it in a serving bowl and bring to the table with your tortillas, shredded lettuce, pico de gallo and avocado crema.

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Assembling your tacos:

I assembled my tacos by starting with a shmear of the cream to hold everything down, then a couple spoonfuls of fish, shredded lettuce and a sprinkling of pico. It’s that easy! 20170222_190124

Assembling your taco bowl: Assembling your bowl is just as easy. Lay down a bed of lettuce and then sprinkle fish on top, add a dollop of crema, a generous serving of pico, and enjoy! This is also great with fresh corn and/or black beans if you have some laying around.

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Kate Spade New York ‘Larabee Dot’ Champagne Flutes • Kate Spade •

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Cuisinart Velocity Ultra 1-HP Blender • Cuisinart •

Magic Bullet NutriBullet Pro 900 Series Bullet Blender • Magic Bullet •

Do you have a favorite taco recipe? Let me know in the comments!

How to Entertain a Friend on a Diet

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Dieting, or making major life changes to be healthier, can be difficult enough to begin with. Add in that it can be isolating because often we make poor food choices when gathering as a group, and suddenly becoming healthier can become very lonely. One of my very best friends has been on a health and fitness journey for over a year (check her out over at Life as Alyx, she posts some of her healthy recipes there!) so when I ask her over it’s usually her “cheat” meal, but even so I try to provide her with options to make it a bit more healthy for her. I support you, so that means I support your goals, too, right?

Recently she came and visited with another friend of ours and we were having a “celebration” dinner of sorts. I wanted to serve something decadent, festive and fun- but I didn’t want to hand her a total gut-buster meal! We ended up having an awesome night with salad, cake, wine and pasta!  I put a lot of thought into what to make because I wanted it to feel like a fun dinner, but I didn’t want to feed her something so far outside of her regular diet that it could make her sick. Since that dinner went so well and everyone enjoyed it, dieting or not, I thought I’d share some tips and tricks!

  1. Always start with salad. And not a “salad” where it’s pasta, or marshmallows and fruit- an actual salad with greenery, a light vinaigrette and minimal cheese is ideal.
  2. If it’s carbohydrate heavy, ask if they’d like to have a carbohydrate alternative. Roasted cauliflower to sub out for potatoes, zoodles or spaghetti squash in favor of pasta- you get the idea! I find that the alternatives are often so fun that even those who aren’t on a quest for healthier living just want to try them anyhow!
  3. Serve wine in smaller glasses or pour for guests. We all have that friend with wine glasses that sneakily hold half a bottle of wine- not only is this incredibly dangerous, but if they aren’t familiar with what volume your glasses hold, it’s hard for them to determine what’s a serving. I often pour, then as I’m handing my guest the glass, I say, “This is a standard four ounce glass- not sure if you drove!”
  4. Tell your guests what’s for dessert- it helps them determine portion sizes.
  5. If you have the time and inclination, ask if they want this to be a “cheat” meal. If they do, just have fun!

Obviously it doesn’t make sense  to make multiple meals- but by asking questions, giving options, having a salad and assisting with alcohol portion control, you can help your guests make the absolute best decisions for their goals.

How do you help support your friends that are on a restricted or healthy-eating diet?

In case you were wondering, I served The Pioneer Woman’s mushroom four cheese pasta with optional spaghetti squash (I made a dish up of each and let everyone choose what they wanted), Caesar Salad with vinaigrette style dressing, light Parmesan and no croutons, there was wine and a girlfriend brought a delicious cake!

 

 

 

How to Prep for a No-Buy

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This post is probably well overdue. If you’ve been following me for a while then you probably remember that I did a 35 day no-buy stint from May-July last year and truth be told, I am on a food no-buy right now as well.

Yep. It’s been seven days since I last bought food, and no signs of buying anything soon. I actually had started about five days before that, but there was a wiiiiicked sale on sirloin beef that I just couldn’t pass up. I bought them using Airmiles, but I believe in transparency. I bought the beef (and potatoes!). I’m planning on not buying any food for at least another month and here’s why:

a. Life is expensive

b. I owe tax money (damnit)

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c. It’s a great way to make sure you’re investigating what’s lurking in your freezer and cupboards and not wasting through expiration or freezer burn (food waste is like throwing money in the air on a windy day, it’s just dumb). Think of it like an edible freezer and cupboard spring cleaning.

People ask me all the time how I do this. My number one tip is pre-planning (take a look at what you actually have. If you have no veggies in the freezer, this isn’t going to be healthy) and my number two tip is to schedule it during a busy time. What could feel like a shitty time of not allowing yourself to purchase food becomes “thank God I have these meals made and ready for myself”, and attitude is as important when you’re doing a no-buy as it is in any other area of life.

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So how do you logistically get ready for a food no-buy?

  1. Take an accurate account of what you have. This seems a bit brutal while you’re doing it, but it’s important to know what you have in the cupboards and freezer, as well as what kind of freezer space (you’ll understand soon) you have at your disposal. I look at it as making a list of my dry/canned/shelf stable ingredients, taking stock of my freezer “fixings” (uncooked items that need processed into meals) and pre-made meals. I usually do this the day of my final grocery shop before the no-buy.
  2. Make a list of what you would need to get through the 30 (or however many) days you don’t want to buy groceries for. How does this match up against what you have “in stock”? Those areas, whether it’s breakfast cereal or meat items, that are understocked go on your actual grocery list. My list of what I need actually becomes a bit of a meal plan, I think of it from that standpoint because I know if I plan it out that way, I’ll never be hungry. Be sure to prioritize eating what you already own previous to the no-buy, because this can’t become an excuse to buy thirty days of food on one bill rather than an exercise in using what you have. Well it could, but it wouldn’t save you any money. Tip: Try to avoid buying anything “convenience”. Yes, it’d be nice to have chips or flavored water, but it’s 100% not necessary. The meal plan is designed to remove these items and show you what you really need. Tip #2: If you have very little freezer space, do not load up on fresh or frozen components. Shop canned or dry items and vice-versa.
  3. Once you’ve created that list and meal plan, it’s time to hit the store. I start by shopping the dry and canned foods first, then produce, meat, dairy and freezer sections (in that order, too). Pick up everything on the list at the most affordable price possible, and if there’s something that you can’t get or is too expensive, substitute with something similar or buy frozen. These shops are a great opportunity to use up AirMiles cash or your PC Points rewards. They can feel expensive but keep in mind, you’re done after this. No more shopping!
  4. Once you come home with your loot, put it away and make plans for any fresh or non-meal items that you’ve purchased. I will look at my yogurt for instance, and say to myself… can I eat all of this before it goes bad? If the answer is no, I freeze some. If I’ve bought brussel sprouts or another veggie, I’ll often roast or cook it and then freeze it. Lastly, if it is something like a roast you bought, why not cook it and some potatoes, make the gravy and veggies and make meals? It makes life easier and you also know the day before you’re supposed to be done buying food if you’ve actually forgotten that you’ll need something like potatoes! Even just thinking about it and then popping the roast (or whatever) in the freezer will bring up those helpful thoughts.

That’s seriously it. I’m hoping to stay on my no-buy through into April for basically as long as I can (lettuce is very tempting this time of year hah) or until the food I recognize as not-so-new is  gone. I don’t want to decimate the nice base of a pantry that I have, just ensure that I’m eating what I have and not just refilling the top 1/3 of the freezer weekly. I’m thinking that every week or so I’ll do a roundup post of what I’ve been eating and how the no-buy is going.

 

Would you ever consider doing a food no-buy? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments.