Someone asked me today to please please please write about my meal planning and food budgeting on here. Why? Cause I’m awesome at being poor. Poverty is a skill and damn it after years of rocking it I have got the skill. The skills to pay the bills when you can barely pay the bills… sorry that was cheesy. Even for me.
I digress… for a while when David was in school our food budget was $100 a month for a family of 3… that’s about $1 a day per person in case you suck at math. I don’t mean to toot my own horn but I can stretch the daylight out of a packet of ramen. Now, for the record, I don’t recommend doing that level of budgeting unless you absolutely have to. Why? Because there’s a time and a place for that much ramen… and it’s called college.
We are definitely not on the $1 per day budget anymore (thank god) but I’m pretty good at keeping on top of it so I will share with you my wisdom… or whatever the mediocre version of “wisdom” is. Here’s my weekly menu board, it’s a clipboard from the dollar store covered with some pretty paper I had laying around and then glued tiny clothes pins to. It does not need to be as amazingly cute as mine is… I just also have a skill for using unnecessary art projects as an excuse for not doing the grown up kind of things I really should be doing.
“But Jen!” I hear you say, “I don’t want to meal plan! It’s boring and I don’t have the time!” Bullshit I say! Bull. Shit. It literally takes me 1 minute to flip through my stack of tiny cards and pick a couple to put on the week. 1 minute… and involves an incredibly low amount of mental energy and saves a lot of money.
The meals we make all the time I write on pieces of pretty paper, also from the massive stack of pretty paper sitting in my basement waiting for me to need an excuse to procrastinate. (Days that I’m doing something new I just leave it empty.) And here’s the best part… On the back of the cards I have the maximum amount it will cost me to buy stuff to make the meal (I don’t count the stuff we always have around like butter, oil, rice, spices… etc). It usually ends up being less than that because I have a couple of the ingredients already (which is often why I decided to make it in the first place) or I can find stuff on sale but that’s worst case scenario what I’ll need. Almost all of our regular dinners will feed 5-6 people because I like to be prepared in case someone shows up.
So that’s that. In the next week or two I’ll show you a couple of my cheapy cheap dinners… or when you’re not quite at “ramen forever and ever amen” level poor but squeezing all the pennies.
Edit: In theory I go to the store twice a week… in reality I get food for the first 3-4 days and then one of those days someone invites us over so we’re not home, and one of those days the kids beg on bended knee to go get sushi so we go out, and one day we’re all lazy and just eat cheese for dinner (don’t you judge me) so that 3-4 days of food lasts all week. Then usually I just do the rest of the week the next week.
I like Erin Bramscher because she finds cool and random things to do and places to go and then does them. But I love Erin Bramscher because sometimes she invites me along. Also, I like Phoenix because we’re big enough to have things like this, but love Phoenix but we’re chill enough that things like this aren’t a massive chaotic nightmare.
I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but I am a fan of really good pie, and there was plenty of really good pie at the pie festival. Entrance got us five tickets for “tasting” different kinds from various famous bakers around the valley, which we thought meant we would be getting tiny, tasting sized portions. No, it was five entire slices of pie or an entire mini pie. I can honestly say I’ve never eaten so much pie in one sitting (excluding munchy influenced college experiences of course).
At the bottom you’ll see a bourbon pecan pear pie with sweet bourbon whipped cream. To the left a chocolate chili pie filled with, you guessed it, chocolate and spicy chilies; that one was actually a little dry but the flavor pairing was spot on. To the right a peanut butter chocolate pie with a no bake cookie crust. Up at the top a mini pie of tart black cherries with white chocolate crumble on top and a a blueberry rhubarb pie; those two were my favorite which is not a statement I make lightly because everything was so good I thought my taste buds were going to explode.
As though the day wasn’t fun enough as we left we ran across Judah Friedlander himself, just strolling down Van Buren downtown. Proving again that you never know what crazy stuff this city will throw at you.
Back in my crazy high school and college days my sister Tricia and I were not allowed to watch TV. Why? Because we are completely incapable of ignoring commercials… specifically food commercials. Like, it was a problem. We’d watch something for 15 minutes then be in the kitchen making anything from pudding to chili and cornbread casserole… all because we saw it on TV. We are a food advertiser’s dream come true.
One time we saw a Taco Bell commercial late at night, so of course we jumped in the car to go get some… but it was already closed. Instead of going home we drove to the next town over to their Taco Bell. Also closed. (Remember, we grew up in a place with a million tiny towns spaced obnoxiously apart.) Except by then we NEEDED a fucking Taco Bell crunch wrap supreme… it wasn’t negotiable anymore. So we kept going, from town to town. Four hours later, after putting more than 100 miles on my car and checking every single Taco Bell in a three county radius, when we stomped back into the apartment in anger and wrote very strongly worded letters to the TV company about how they should not be allowed to air commercials for restaurants when said restaurants were already closed.
Eventually we were told by pretty much everyone we ever hung out with that we weren’t allowed to watch TV anymore. For our own good.
But that was then… I’m a grown up now. Right?
Fast forward to the present. David and I haven’t had TV since we moved here more than 6 years ago. We have netflix, a DVD player, and right before the last World Cup he and our friend Steve jimmy rigged this thing to try and make it possibly for us to watch the matches. (It’s a 2 by 4 with a bunch of untwisted clothes hangers connected to it with wire… all nailed to our roof. We’re classy people.) Even then we could only get it on the Spanish channel… needless to say it’s way too much effort to watch normal TV on any sort of regular basis.
Until tonight, when David decided he wanted to try and watch football. By the time he got it going football was done but we watched an episode of The Voice because, hey, all that effort can’t go to waste.
And then, all of a sudden, I was in the Jack In The Box drive through ordering David and I something called a “Late Night Munchie Meal” that included (among so many other things) a cheese burger that instead of sitting passively between two buns was smashed between two entire grilled cheese sandwiches.
And this, my friends… this is why I’m not allowed to watch TV.
The first was a fig spread and brie grilled cheese.
It was good but a little too sweet for everyone. I think it would be better baked separately in the oven and served with crackers when you want to pretend to be fancy.
Next was a buffalo chicken and a pizza grilled cheese. For the buffalo chicken we mixed shredded chicken with buffalo sauce, drizzled it with some blue cheese, and smashed it all between some cheddar. It was good but it’s hard to go wrong with buffalo sauce. The pizza was great, just pepperjack, basil, and pepperoni… it was so simple but maybe that’s part of the beauty of grilled cheese… that it’s the perfect vehicle for simplicity.
Not pictured: Thai peanut grilled cheese, a spicy peanut sauce covering crispy chicken with cilantro and cheddar. It was just ok, we gave it 3.5.
And a peach, brie, and basil grilled cheese. The thai peanut didn’t get pictured because we had already had a couple margaritas and forgot… the peach didn’t get pictured because as soon as we smelled it we all dove head first into the plate. I sauteed the peach slices for a few minutes in a pan with a little olive oil, then when they were slightly caramelized on the outside put them between two slices of bread smeared with brie and some fresh basil leaves. True story, it was unanimously the favorite by far, 5 our of 5 coffee mugs! You all need to go make one right now… I’m not even kidding.
Last but certainly not least, the apple cheddar grilled cheese. After grilling the peach I threw thin apple slices in the pan with a fat pad of butter, a healthy sprinkling of cinnamon, and a handful of brown sugar. It turned into apple pie filling which juxtaposed nicely with the cheddar and crisp bread.
I don’t think anything needs to be said about this. Spicy chili inside a grilled cheese… it was like a chili dog without wasting your time on the dog, and something about the chili made the cheese get so much gooier even though it was just the sharp cheddar I’ve been using for everything else. 4.5/5 coffee cups!
Judith is one of those friends that I never see. We met at a mother daughter tea our mutual friend threw like two years ago and hit it off, we read each other’s stuff online, occasionally chat about whatever… but we never actually see each other despite living upsetting close.
So today she came over with her youngest for a playdate/grilled cheese adventure!
We started out with a kimchi grilled cheese. We cooked bacon on the griddle than crumbled a few pieces and grilled the kimchi in the remaining bacon grease.
Then grilled it and the bacon crumbles in wheat bread with lots of sharp cheddar. The kimchi grilled cheese garnered a score of 5/5 coffee cups… assuming you like kimchi to begin with. The blend of gooey melty cheese, buttery cheese, salty bacon, and spicy cabbage was perfect.
Our second cheesy adventure was a breakfast grilled cheese, just plenty of whipped cream cheese on two pieces of wheat bread, with handfuls of blueberries in between.
The Blueberry Grilled Cheese was a hit too, especially with the kids. The cream cheese melts faster than most things so keep your eye on it because it doesn’t take long, and it cooked the blueberries a lot better than we thought it would. Judith and I gave it a score of 4/5 coffee cups… not because it wasn’t fantastic (it was) but because we think we could make it even better next time. We tossed around the idea of mixing the cream cheese with a little honey, vanilla, and/or cinnamon… and I think I’d like to try rolling the berries around in the pan for a minute first to see if it’s better with them softer.
We had some leftover bacon so we did a plain bacon grilled cheese too, it was out least favorite. 2/5 coffee cups. You’d think it would be awesome, but grilling it makes the bacon less crispy and we both agreed we’d be happier just eating a plain grilled cheese and also eating some bacon.
So there you have it, more grilled cheese… getting tired of these food porn based posts yet?
Fact: Grocery shopping with kids is a million times easier if they have a friend there. Which is why Kristen and I will occasionally meet at the store to do our separate shopping. We have more fun because things are always more fun with a friend, and the kids are busy talking to each other in the carts (the two youngest usually crawl into one cart together and the two oldest crawl in the other) to get into as many shenanigans as usual. WIN!
Anyway, we met there this morning and got stuff to make sushi because that was the plan… but got to talking more about the grilled cheese project and what not, one thing led to another, and we made a Sushi grilled cheese instead.
This was our settled on creation. Cream cheese, imitation crab meat, thin slices of carrots and cucumber, and my special sushi sauce.
Throw that mother in a hot pan with plenty of butter.
My special sushi sauce is just mayo, sweet chili sauce, peanut oil, soy sauce, and sriracha to taste.
Kristen and I decided we needed a system for rating the various grilled cheeses in this project so we needed something awesome… and what is more awesome than coffee? From here on out we will be rating the cheeses on a scale of 0-5 coffee mugs.
Our Sushi Grilled Cheese got a score of 3.5 out of 5 coffee mugs.
We also threw together a Mexican grilled cheese with the leftover taco meat, black beans, and corn salsa I had in my fridge, that one got a 4 out of 5 score.
As many of you know I’m embarking of a month of grilled cheese. I have an entire pinterest board of different grilled cheese recipes and I aim to try every single one in one 30 day extravaganza. Why not start at the beginning of a month you ask? Keep it simple, you ask? Because I want to start eating carby cheesy goodness right now and you’re not the boss of me, that’s why! (I also have a habit of vastly over complicating things… so there’s that.)
So last night I kicked it off with not one, but two different kinds!
The one with mac and cheese in it was dumb. It seemed like such a fun idea, but it just dried out the pasta and no amount of extra cheese or sauciness that I made the pasta with to try and combat that completely forseen problem seemed to help. I actually only ate half of it then quit and made another Jalapeno Popper Grilled Cheese instead.
Because seriously, the Jalapeno Popper one was the bees knees. I’ve put jalapenos in grilled cheese sandwiches before, but this recipe called for cream cheese (which made it melty fabulous goodness) and crushed tortilla chips to simulate the crispy outer layer of poppers. It was the bomb. I dipped that business in some marina and it was a fantastic start to this culinary endeavor.
If anybody’s got any fabulous grilled cheese recipes I should add to my list let me know and I will. The more the merrier!
David and I have a new obsession, and it’s our goal to try all the bazillion kinds of fancy soda at this nondescript little hole in the wall my friend Dierdre found, Rocket Burger.
Over 300 different kinds of soda and new ones all the time that the staff is usually super excited about. These people know their soda.
I totally wasn’t kidding about David and I trying them all… so be prepared for more soda posts.
We were only going to get a couple, but then they said if you buy five you get one free so… hell… you can never have too much soda. The Fungal Fruit tasted like bubble gum which isn’t bad I guess but not a taste I’m excited about. River City makes an awesome root beer and the Raspberry-Lime Rickey and Stewart’s Grape was delicious and exactly what you’d expect.
The Chocolate-Covered Maple Smoked Bacon… oooo that was good, but not for long. That’s one you get to share the novelty of with other people. After my first sip I swore I would drink a whole case, but by the third sip I was like “The smell of bacon in this mixed with the moisture on my face that is unavoidable with a carbonated beverage makes me constantly think that my face is greasy… and now I’m done.”
The Cafe Azteca Sparkling and Spiced Espresso Cola was my favorite. It tasted like a dirty chai latte, but in soda form… I bet it would make a mind blowing float. The Cafe Azteca is now tied as my favorite soda with one I got previously on an adventure with Dierdre called Leninade. The carbonated lemonade was good, but the bottle kept us laughing all evening long because it was covered with hilarious communism jokes including the tag line, “Leninade, A Taste Worth Standing in Line For”. Because the only thing that can make a good soda better is getting a hearty serving of political humor as well.
Roses are red, Violets are blue, My husband’s awesome, Bacon.
For Valentine’s Day David made me a bouquet of roses… out of bacon. I’m not a fancy girl, in fact I’m about as (monetarily) as low maintenance as they come… but I appreciate a thoughtful gesture, and I appreciate bacon.