Thursday, September 20, 2012

welcome to my kitchen

First thing's first. Before you try this and fall in love with your clean and organized refrigerator like I have, I must admit that this is no revelation of mine. Let's be real, folks. I saw this on Pinterest. 

In preparation for baby and going back to work (I got a job at Gap!), I've been trying something new... In my kitchen! I would love to be that mom with the monthly meal plans that only has to go to the store twice a month, but let's be realistic... I get my work schedule for only two weeks at a time and being pregnant, I have no idea what I'm going to want to eat for dinner a month from now (Let alone tonight!). So! I'm trying a different approach. And so far it's been easy (Sooo easy!) and cheap! Though I live right across from the street from the store, I've only been going for maple bars and small items my pregnancy brain keeps forgetting.

First, figure out what it is you actually eat, or wish you were eating. I make a lot of turkey sandwiches for Stephen's lunches and dinner is usually Mexican or Italian. We eat a lot of fruit, smoothies, snacks, veggies...anything fresh! Now, make your shopping list around that. Not around specific recipes like I used to shop, but around the types of food you eat. As your digging through your fridge and cabinets looking for ideas, clean them out! Throw out anything expired (Obviously!), toss out old leftovers, and anything you never should have bought in the first place.

Pick a day. The first day I happened to try this was a Wednesday, but I'm switching shopping/preparation day over to Sunday because I know I won't be working and will have plenty of time after church to get it all ready for the next week or so.

Go shopping! Because we eat a lot of produce, I've been going to a local market to get it all. For the most part, it's cheaper than Safeway (Though if you haven't already, download the Safeway app! It's been saving me a few bucks!) and most of it's local, meaning it's fresher and most likely going to last longer than store bought produce. The market, however, doesn't have my breads and pasta that I love so much, so I'm still making Safeway runs.

Now, prepare! What you cook up or chop up will vary according to what it is you like to eat, so I'll just give you a run down of my Sunday preparation...
- I clean and chop all my vegetables and store everything in tupperware (It may not be a fact, but I think it lasts longer than in bags. Plus it makes my refrigerator look clean and organized and that makes me happy!). Cucumber, carrots, mushrooms, olives, tomatoes (One tupperware sliced for sandwiches and another chopped for salads!), and onions. For the cucumber, carrots, and mushrooms, I add a little bit of water to the container, it helps keep them fresh and chilled.
- I clean and chop my fruit, also storing them in tupperware (As with vegetables, a water/vinegar mix is best for washing. An yes, I had to buy a few more tupperware to make this work, but if you buy the cheap stuff it's totally worth it! Everything is much more organized!). It's not just Stephen and I that live in this apartment, we share it with fruit flies, too. So in my fridge is a bowl of fruit that would normally be displayed on the counter, all pretty and yummy like. In this bowl you'll find bananas, peaches, and apples. The banana peels turn brown a lot faster in the fridge, but it doesn't effect the actual banana at all (Something I learned in the sorority!). Biting into a nice cold apple beats a warm-ish one anyway! I wash my grapes and cut them into snack size clumps so their lunch ready, and I slice a little over half my strawberries for pancakes, yogurt, granola, cereal... (Add a little bit of sugar to sliced fruits like this. Not enough to make them unhealthy, but enough to keep 'em juicy and sweet! They'll last a lot longer!)
- I slice about a quarter of my cheese block (The big 'ol, what?, 5 pounder from Costco?) and grate another quarter. (Sandwich and salad ready!)
- I hard boil about a dozen eggs, leaving another dozen for breakfast and baking.
- I cook a cup or more of rice (Long grain brown rice. I love white rice, but brown is so much healthier!) and last week I made some crock pot chicken (4 hours on high in the crockpot with a little bit of salsa and spices...yum!) and sauteed some shrimp (The meat I cook varies each week, though chicken is usually a staple, I'd get sick of shrimp if it was on the menu every week, so I switch it up with ground beef, pork, tuna... Anything that can be eaten alone or added to sandwiches and salads).
- And I make granola (Stephen's recipe that I'll put at the end of the blog). It's a cheaper option than buying cereal all the time (Though I will never part from my cheerios), goes great with milk or yogurt, and when you buy the ingredients at Costco, it's something you can keep making again and again without going to the store!

A few staples I keep in the fridge that don't need preparation... Tortillas, avocado, plain yogurt (It can double for sour cream, too!), string cheese, spinach, turkey, pepperoni (We make a lot of pizza!), jelly, applesauce, condiments (Though I try to buy them as healthy as I can and use them as little as possible!), pickles, milk, and lemons (Squeezing one of those on a salad is a lot healthier and just as yummy as dumping on ranch dressing!).

A few staples I keep outside the fridge... Noodles (Usually a macaroni noodle and an angel hair noodle), rice, pinto beans, canned olives, canned black beans (Though I always drain and rinse them to get rid of the sodium filled goo they're in), canned tuna (Stored in water. Add some mayo, sliced pickles, and some spices and it goes great on any sandwich or salad!), bread, tortilla chips, trail mix (I make my own with nuts, chocolate, and dried fruit. Super cheap when you buy in bulk!), peanut butter, granola bars, ritz crackers, and of course, all the usual spices and baking goods (Including honey in bulk! Who knew it could be used for so much?!).

And lastly, revel in the easiness of preparing food for the next week or two! Seriously! It now takes just as much time to make Stephen a super yummy, healthy, veggie-full turkey sandwich as it does to make him a pb&j! Don't have a lot of time to make dinner? Throw all your veggies in a bowl, add some chopped almonds, microwave that chicken and a dinner salad is on the table in minutes! Rice with some sauteed shrimp and a side salad? Don't mind if I do! My new favorite Cuban dish my sister-in-law showed me?! Piece of cake! (I'll post the recipe at the end of the blog!) Clean up is a sinch during the week, saving you so much time! It's a lot easier to snack healthy, too! Nothing has to be washed or cut so you don't have the excuse not to eat it!

There are meals you can make that keep on going, too! About once a month I'll make pulled pork (My sister's amazing crockpot recipe that I'll post at the bottom of the blog!), rice and veggies (Sauteed zucchini with garlic and favorite!) for dinner. The next night I'll make bean burritos with cheese and loads of fresh toppings (1lb of pinto beans in the crockpot for 8 hours on low with water and garlic powder). And instead of storing all the leftovers in the fridge to hopefully get eaten before they go bad, I'll make burritos to freeze! Beans, rice, pork and cheese! Wrap 'em up individually, store them in the freezer and hand one to Stephen as he runs out the door. EASY!

So far this system has been working great...for me. Maybe it won't for you! But my vote is that it's worth a shot. One day of cooking and cleaning for weeks of healthy easy eating...?! (Though don't get me wrong... My cookie jar is currently full of peanut butter apple cookies. Oh. And there's another bag in the freezer.)

Stephen's Granola (Aka, our cereal in the morning, the perfect addition to our yogurt and fruit, and a topping for our constant smoothies)
5 cups oats
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup honey
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. vanilla
About 1/3 cup of each topping you want (We use almonds and craisins)

Mix ingredients. Bake in a 9x13 pan at 325 degrees for 20 minutes, stirring in between. Let cool/dry and then store in an air tight container. (5 cups lasts us about one week)

Stephanie's Yummiest, Healthiest Cuban Dish
This one doesn't come with a recipe card, I have no exact measurements to give you. But it's kind of like creating a salad, it depends on how many people you're cooking for and what your favorite toppings are.
1-2 cups rice
1-2 cans black beans (drained and rinsed)
(Any other veggies you like! All diced! Carrots, broccoli...?!)

Lemon juice
Olive oil
Minced garlic
(Any other favorite spices of yours! Basil, oregano...?!)
(I usually use a two to one method with the lemon juice and olive oil, since I prefer the lemon taste and the oil can be pretty strong)

Cook rice according to directions on package. Cook/warm beans on stove. Wash and chop the vegetables. Combine all ingredients in individual serving bowls (Yes, serve the rice and beans warm with the cold crisp veggies! It's a great combination!) Drizzle dressing on top!

Ashley's Famous Crockpot BBQ Pulled Pork
3 1/2 lbs country style pork ribs (I've used many different kinds of pork for this recipe. As long as it's boneless, you should be fine!)
1/2 tsp salt and pepper, each
1/2 cup Coke (Yes, the stuff you drink)
2/3 cup BBQ sauce

Spray crockpot with cooking spray (We own a 'Misto', so our cooking spray is just olive oil! Lots healthier than Pam or some other brand! Highly recommend it!). Add ribs and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add Coke, cover, and cook on low for 8-9 hours or on high for 4-5 hours. Drain liquid and add BBQ sauce and cook last hour.

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