Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Culinary Inquiries, Explanations, Explorations and a Menu Plan!

When it comes to food and eating around here, I've been getting some inquiries on how things are going on that front here, asked some questions about some of the ingredients I've mentioned and/or shown on the blog recently and other things.  So, I figured I'd kind of conglomerate a few of the posts I was working on into one big post and just hit a couple birds with one stone (I hope *laugh*).  

First up, people have been asking me how the freezer inventory system I mentioned here was going for us this year.  

Well, the short answer's not.  

"The best laid plans of mice and men" pretty much sums up the whole idea of having a freezer inventory going and just rotating things out as I needed to.  I'm not downing the original plan.  It's a good plan.  I stand behind the idea of it and I think it would work.  On a normal year.  Unfortunately, the year, as everyone knows, got turned on its ear pretty early on and the plan pretty much immediately fell apart.  Suddenly supply lines became unreliable, food shortages hit with weird things being out of stock (and still being sporadic in supply, like chicken, or yeast, etc) and there are some pretty dire predictions on how things, such as meat, are going to be this winter in the availability category.  So, instead of doing a freezer inventory like I had planned, I immediately changed plans to a pretty simple one.

The plan breaks down as this.  Stock up on meat as it is available.  Stock up on meats I know we will eat and just creative in the way I cook those meats as needed.  DO NOT waste freezer space on things that are on sale cheap that you MIGHT eat sometime in the future...maybe.  Start to weed out things that I got on sale cheap in the past that we hadn't eaten yet to reclaim that freezer space for things I know we will eat and fill in those gaps as I can.

And that, my friends, is it.  No "shopping sales" or anything like that comes into play here.  In my mind there is no point in trying to shop sales for more than say, fresh produce or something (and that is a crap shoot), as supplies of items is so unreliable that I don't see the point in wasting gas and going into the stores and than finding that they don't have what I needed to get anyway.  We always kind of had that problem up here, but with Covid it has gotten way worse.  Canned goods were out of stock so much and still sell out regularly up here to the point that I just started buying in bulk from Amazon as I could find things and just paid what I had to stock up on things.  I'm super glad I bought that freezer full of beef when things first hit as the price on meat has gone up and I've even noticed that the beef package I bought has gone up in price by a significant amount since I got mine (by like 500.00).  I go into the physical store once a month, if I can get away with it, to pick up my son's prescriptions and while I'm in the store I'll go and see what I can find for things like chicken or pork chops to supplement what I have in the freezer (or like the last time I went in I got some ground Italian sausage and some breakfast sausage as well as we were out of both).  Past that we just get whatever we can through the order online and pick up at the store program.  Is it the cheapest way to do things?  No, not even close.  But it is the best way to keep Alvah safe as he plays with everything when he is in a store, gets sick at the drop of a hat as he doesn't understand the whole "keep your hands away from your face" thing, won't wear a mask for more than a few seconds and I want to keep my kids (and others) as safe as I can.  

When it comes to putting up baked goods in the freezer, I threw that idea out the window pretty much on day one when the pandemic started to really take off.  I don't want to waste the space in the freezer with bulky baked goods like loaves of home made bread and things.  I'd prefer to save that space for the veggies I'm putting up in the freezer for this winter with the CSA box and things.  And honestly, I'd prefer to save the flour and make baked goods when we need them to just make that flour stretch further.  I'm supplementing with home ground flour from the many buckets of wheat I have, but I want my nice commercially ground flour to last as long as I can to make my life easier.

So, yeah, hopefully at some point in the future I can pick up the freezer inventory idea, dust it off, and try it again.  But, it isn't happening this year that is for sure.

Next up is the questions with people asking me about some of the ingredients that they've seen in my posts (wait until I show my pantry if you think those are different *laugh*).  Since Covid hit, I've been trying really hard to focus more on feeding therapy with the son (since he doesn't have swimming or therapy anymore, or at least for the foreseeable future), so I have gotten some odd to some ingredients to add to my repertoire.  For instance, the spatzle threw a few people.  Spatzle are just German egg noodles.  I am hoping that they'll be close enough (since I got commercial ones instead of making them myself) to regular wheat pasta that he might start eating them.  That will give him a bit more nutrition in his diet.  Same with the black rice.  If I can get him to start eating just tiny bits of that, it has SO much more nutrition than white rice, that I'd be super happy paying for it.  Feeding therapy is basically like throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks sometimes, so if you start seeing some oddball things showing up in photos, those are probably things I'm throwing at that proverbial wall *laugh*.

I've also been trying to source more food with just more simple ingredients, trying to avoid high fructose corn syrup more for the sake of my family's health.  It's led to more nutrition label reading (I already read them obsessively looking for that peanut allergen warning) and then sourcing things out.  That has led me to getting more things imported in from Europe and countries that I know will declare peanut on their labels to keep the son safe, so yeah, um...I've gotten some interesting things added to the pantry this last year.  Some of the things are just to try out, some for nutritional profiles that I was impressed by (my family is going to hate me by the end of the year probably as they are looking at a foreign fruit and saying, "What is THAT?" *laugh*) and some things I just ran into in cookbooks and wanted to try out (like the juniper berries are to use in some German dishes that I ran into that sounded good and I knew, having had juniper berries in the spice cabinet before, that you can't really substitute out juniper berries with other spices).

To further the culinary adventures we are having...well there is me and my love of cooking and just exploring different things as they look neat.  For instance we recently tried Okonomiyaki (if you want a more Americanized version that is probably cheaper to make Budget Bytes has a pretty good one here) because I had a ton of cabbage to use and the daughter and I got into watching "Little Forest" on Amazon Prime video at night.  The daughter actually asked for me to make the "cabbage pancake" and after a little research I found out what it was and made it.  I made ours with bacon instead of pork belly, made and used some dashi stock in the batter (which honestly if you can I would suggest doing that or adding a bit of fish sauce to the water or something and making your own "pseudo dashi" as just using water would make a really bland pancake) and while I did order actual okonomiyaki sauce from Amazon (which I am glad I did as it is basically a sweetened sauce made of vegetables, which would be hard to replicate), once I read the reviews on Kewpie mayonnaise I just used Miracle Whip instead and it turned out pretty tasty (sorry purists).  The husband and I were kind of "meh" on it as to us it tasted like a cabbage pancake (go figure), but the daughter really liked it.  So, while I'm not going to go crazy making it into regular menu rotations or anything (as it is a fair amount of work to put together and cook), I might definitely make it again if the daughter asks for it :).  

With home school this year we are also doing some culinary explorations.  The Raddish boxes have been fun so far and that adventure will continue through the year (which should lead to some interesting menu plan additions) and so far we had to make, of all things, an ancient Mesopotamian/Sumerian meal to go with the daughter's history unit on Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt.  We were instructed to make a salad with certain vegetables in it, a lentil stew (meat was optional and yes, it literally just said "meat" as your ingredient.  Lamb was suggested, but I used beef because that is what I had) and flat bread (I ended up using their suggestion for pita bread as I ran out of time and couldn't make the flat bread from scratch).  The finished meal, minus dessert, but plus added crumbs on the table (it was kind of a late dinner, I was tired, and I forgot to shake the table cloth...what are you going to do?) is seen above (we had grape juice, versus the wine and/or beer that was suggested with the dinner :).  

The dessert was interesting.  It was a dessert where you took plain yogurt, added honey to sweeten it and then you took fruits (fresh and dried), which was dates, figs (reconstituted), apples (we just had a couple in the fridge) and pears (we used canned as that is what I had) for us.  You then took your fruit after you reconstituted your dried stuff and you mixed the fruit with honey as well and then put it on top of the yogurt.  And I have to say that while this was something that was hard to source ingredients for (I had to order peanut safe dates from Amazon and also had to order lentils from Amazon as well, along with dried mint), it came together in the end really well.  I even got Cilantro the day before from our CSA box, so I was able to use fresh cilantro versus dried in the recipe.  

The lentil stew was REALLY good (I put the link to the Pinterest image version above as it is easier to read).  I was really impressed.  Even the husband liked it and took the leftovers to work for lunches (which you KNOW he liked it if he is willing to eat leftovers).  And really, it isn't that expensive to make (really the mint and the cilantro are the most expensive things if you have barley and lentils).  The dessert was really good too and really simple.  I also learned that fresh dates are worlds and worlds above the dates we can get in the stores up here and I will definitely look to purchase fresh in the future if I need some.  I thought I hated dates until I ate this menu.  And don't worry date fans, I did store my dates in the fridge per the instructions on the package, so hopefully they'll keep moist and good for a while that way.

Nice thing about the school related menus, as well, since a lot of it is feeding therapy/speech therapy related, I can get reimbursed for my materials.  So, at least the culinary adventures are a bit more affordable this way as I can use our school allotment to help us pay for it.

I also made Hunter Schnitzel one night for dinner and another night I made sausages with "fancy" German Sauerkraut (basically home made sauerkraut stewed up with some stock with added bacon and a few ingredients.  Can you tell I got a German cookbook for my anniversary?  *Laugh*),   It has been a lot of fun exploring the foods of different cultures of late and I'm looking forward to trying out more new recipes in the future.  I figure this year might not be working out the way anyone was planning on, but that doesn't mean cooking has to be boring :).

So, yeah, basically my pantry items have expanded this year to include things like Japanese ingredients, German ingredients and other eccentric ingredients (like I now have mint and dates in my everyday'll be interesting).

Right, so now that I've babbled about everything in creation, let's get to this week's menu plan, shall we?

This week's Dinner Menu

Wednesday:  Sliced beef in gravy (using left over beef roast), mashed potato and turnips, salad.

Thursday:  Hamburgers, french fries.

Friday:  Chicken enchiladas, Spanish rice, spiced black beans (use dried beans)

Saturday:  Grilled pork chops, grilled corn on the cob, garlic toast (home made bread).  

Sunday:  Home made pizza (or stuffed manicotti...still up in the air on this one), bread sticks, salad.

Monday:  Chicken Caesar Salad Wraps (Raddish box recipe) 

Desserts:  Melon (honeydew, Wednesday), strawberry cheesecake, lemon bars.

Breakfast items (to make):  Zucchini muffins (Raddish kit recipe).

And there you go folks.  Tangents and a menu plan for this week.  I'm so happy I got at least a menu plan worked out *laugh*.  How about you?  Eating anything interesting lately?


  1. During lockdown, I tried making an Mediterranean dish call Mujadara (hope that is the right spelling, but I did find the recipe on Pinterest) for my autistic daughter. Surprisingly, my bean hating husband also liked it! It is a VERY basic, super cheap recipe of lentils and rice cooked together and served with fried onions. I'm wondering if your son might eat the plain lentils and rice, which are pretty bland and of similar texture. If he will eat them, the lentils are a great source of protein and fiber.

  2. I rotate thru beef, pork, poultry and vegetarian for menus... don't set anything solid as we never know what is going to be happening. Like yesterday, emergency vet visit. One of the dogs got into or ate something that caused hives. and then after we got home from there , kid texted a video of her totaled car that got hit while parked in front of her house. So a 3 hr trip to take her my car so her and granddaughter (who totaled her car a couple weeks ago) and the daughter's boyfriend (who's wheel bearing broke on the way to get granddaughter from her accident) all work together so no one had a way to work.
    I don't inventory, I store some buns in the freezer but not bread. I do have cakes as it's just the 2 of us so when I bake part of it goes into the freezer.
    We are stocked except for tomato products..which I can myself.
    I have juniper berries and a lot of "weird" stuff in my pantry. When I homeschooled, we always connected the menu to what ever country the kids were studying .

  3. I've also been adding some "different" ingredients to the pantry as I'd like to try some new recipes this Fall. A local Lebanese restaurant makes a "stew" of lentils, rice & fried onions and you have to get there early before it sells out - it is so popular! Given the rising cost of meat I'm looking to try more bean and lentil recipes.