Week 27 Budget and Menu

I love the July 4th holiday with all it’s patriotic red, white and blue, ice cream, fireworks and fun. It is one of my favorite holidays, which is good because I get to officiate at a July 4th celebration every year! This is great fun and always a summer highlight. But working on July 4th means that I’m not all that excited about cooking when I get home. Mostly, I need a shower and a glass of wine. So our menu this week reflects Tom’s grilling and my make-ahead cold salads. We are still a bit over budget this week, but we splurged on some grass fed, ribeye steaks for the 4th of July–I think it’s worth it!

Budget [$110.45]

  • The Produce Box (fresh garlic, sweet corn, blueberries, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, onion, Bibb lettuce): $28.50
  • Mae Farm (grass-fed steaks, eggs, ground beef): $27.00
  • Other market (peaches): $7.00
  • Trader Joes (taco shells, organic chicken thighs, yogurt, frozen fruit, almond milk, wine, cream cheese): $47.95

Menu

  • Wednesday–Tuna sandwiches
  • Thursday–Grilled steaks, potato salad, grilled eggplant, peach cobbler
  • Friday–Tuna and white bean salad
  • Saturday–Grilled chicken and peaches, farmer’s market pasta salad
  • Sunday–Pimento cheese ravioli with onion and crispy prosciutto
  • Monday–Southwestern vegetable pizza
  • Tuesday–Taco night!
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Week 25 Budget and Menu

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My treat from the market–fresh strawberry agua fresca from Bo Ku!

The blackberries are here! The blackberries are here! I am so glad to see blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches and melons all making their market appearances this week!!! And corn. Yum. This is the time of year I just eat myself into oblivion.

This week’s budget takes advantage of some wonderful produce that is available, as well as some lovely, locally made pimento cheese ravioli! I hope to be posting the recipes for the fish, spicy blackberry sauce and eggplant this week, so watch for them!

Our budget this week is over by $11.71, but we are out of some key staples like organic cane sugar, kosher salt and olive oil, so we are stocking up this week. Thank goodness for Trader Joes!

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Budget [$111.71]

  • The Produce Box (grape tomatoes, eggplant, ORGANIC: blackberries, blueberries, chard, yellow potatoes, string beans, beets): $39.50
  • Melina’s Pasta (pimento cheese ravioli): $6.00
  • Hillsborough Cheese Company (mozzarella): $6.00
  • Mae Farm (brats): $8.00
  • Locals Seafood (red drum fillets): $18.00
  • Trader Joes (prosciutto, frozen fruit, yogurt, butter, Parmesan cheese, organic cane sugar, salt, olive oil, Ezekiel bread): $34.21

Menu

  • Wednesday–Leftover pasta with cauliflower sauce
  • Thursday–Working late
  • Friday–Roasted beet salad with goat cheese
  • Saturday–Fish with cherry tomatoes, green beans, potatoes
  • Sunday–Healthy eggplant “lasagna”
  • Monday–Grilled brats with blackberry ketchup, roasted potatoes
  • Tuesday–Pimento cheese ravioli with crispy prosciutto and pecans

Tutorial Tuesday #3–10 Tips for Efficient Farmers Market Shopping

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Welcome to another Tutorial Tuesday!

Note: The photo above is from one of the many little neighborhood fresh markets in Paris. Interestingly, families in Paris don’t shop once a week or once a month–they shop several times a week and buy what is fresh. This is easier because most people walk to and from work (or the metro) and the markets are everywhere. If I could walk past a bakery and purchase fresh bread every few days, I certainly would do it!

Shifting your food shopping from the grocery store to the farmer’s market can present some challenges. You don’t always know what you’ll find at the market (especially when you’re first starting out) and you do need to have a bit more flexibility in your meal planning. Continuing the theme of how to shop efficiently and affordably while still eating local, I have 10 tips from our own family experience!

Tip One–Know your farmers, know your farmers, know your farmers.

Before starting our locavore journey, my only experience with asking produce questions was asking the “produce manager” in our local grocery store, who usually knew almost nothing about produce or cooking. So, I was pretty shy and hesitant about asking farmers information. I thought it might be rude. But you know what? Farmers LIKE answering questions and they LOVE talking about what they grow. And guess what else? Many of them cook this food themselves! Also, farmers, in my limited experience, are pretty practical folks. If you say you’re on a budget and you have xx to spend on vegetables, they can give you lots of ideas for how to stretch your dollars and feed your family. Try THAT at your local grocery store!

Tip Two–Use Social Media

You know those picture books with Farmer Brown plowing a field with oxen or riding in a horse and buggy? Well, those books need a major update. Most farmers who sell to local markets are pretty media savvy (or at least they are getting there). They probably have a Facebook page, an email newsletter and/or Twitter account. Crazy, right? I get weekly postings on what is available from local farmers and farmer’s markets in my area. That saves me a LOT of time when planning menus because I’m not guessing at what I’ll find.

Tip Three–Pre-order the Important Stuff

Related to Tip Two, I’ve found that I can easily pre-order cuts of meat, types of cheese, seafood, eggs and large amounts of produce (like strawberries for jam) and pick them up at my local farmer’s market. Farmer’s like this because they know they are bringing items to market that will be sold. And I love it because I don’t have to get to the market only to find out that no one has any chicken breasts left.

Tip Four–Allow Flexibility for the Unexpected

From menu planning/shopping system, you might think I’m a control freak. Well, that would be partially true, but I also love getting to the market and finding out that something new is available. If I’ve planned my menu right (see below), I may be able to add something unexpected into our menu. Or maybe it becomes a lunch snack. I can also make a note of it and work it in next week. The point is, don’t make yourself so controlled that you miss the beauty of the market.

One example of this is my Slightly Badass Blackberry Jam. Be open to the possibilities as long as you can use the produce!

Tip Five–Incorporate Some “Go-To” Flexible Recipes

I have plenty of recipes (roast chicken) in my culinary tool box that are pretty straightforward, simple and easy on the brain. I like to have some other, flexible, veggie-loving recipes that are always in rotation and can use almost anything in the refrigerator. These recipes are a good way to use up what’s left at the end of the week and a great way to incorporate those unexpected purchases. Here are some examples:

  • Stir-fry (one protein + chopped up veggies + onion + a whole grain)
  • Quiche/frittata (basic quiche/frittata recipe + 1 c. vegetables)
  • Pizza (one whole wheat crust + 2 c. chopped veggies + sauce/olive oil + cheese)
  • Roasted vegetables and pasta (16 oz. pasta + 2-3 c. roasted veggies + sauce/olive oil + cheese)
  • Saladpalooza (bowl of washed greens + assortment of chopped veggies + 1 protein + dressing)
  • Soup (4 c. chicken stock + pasta/rice + 3 c. sautéed vegetables)
  • Quesadillas (2 tortillas + fat-free refried beans + 1 c. sautéed vegetables + cheese + salsa)

These are all recipes that can use unlimited combinations of vegetables, grains and protein, making the most of what is seasonal and available!

Tip Six–Shop With a List

Now that I’ve addressed flexibility, once you have your list, stick to it unless you are POSITIVE you will use it. Back away from the impulse purchases that have no relationship to your menu. If you don’t have a recipe that will accommodate, say, rutabegas, and you can’t freeze them for later (see below), then do not buy them. I mean it…scoot, scoot!

Tip Seven–Make Use of What You Have

Americans throw away an obsene amount of food each year. Sometimes it happens that I get a huge amount of one vegetable in our Produce Box and it’s more than we can eat right away. Or maybe we have a last-minute change of plans and we don’t end up eating all our meals. In this case, the freezer is your best friend. Rather than throw away chicken because we didn’t make a big dinner, I can roast or bake it while we’re finishing up homework, take it off the bone and freeze it for later. Or, like last week when I received WAY more spring onions that we needed, I chopped them up, bagged them in freezer bags in 1 cup servings and froze them for later. Greens, like collards, mustard greens, kale and turnip greens, can also be cooked and frozen to eat later. Don’t waste that produce!

Tip Eight–Stock Up and Put It Up

Eating locally does not mean surviving on nothing but sweet potatoes and collard greens all winter. You can enjoy local peaches in February, delicious local corn in December and turnips in July. You just have to plan ahead. We’re new at this, but it’s already become a very enjoyable part of our farmer’s market trips. Food preservation is one of the oldest culinary skills around and guess what? It’s fun! You have three options when preserving your precious bounty–canning, freezing and drying. When fruits and vegetables are at their peak, stock up (prices are also lowest at this time) and save those wonderful flavors for later. You will save money and get high quality, delicious food all year-long!

Tip Nine–Ask. And Then Ask Again!

The local food network in my area (and I’m willing to bet in yours, too) is a close-knit community of farmers, chefs, bakers, cheese makers, etc. If you want something and can’t find it, ask around. I was amazed at what I learned once I started asking. Somehow in my mind, I thought that our local food producers would be highly secretive and competitive. While there may be some competition going on out there, the people I have found are pretty straight up. If I want something they don’t have, they don’t try to sell me something else. They tell me who has it. Sometimes they’ll actually walk me down to the other vendor and help me out. Crazy. And lovely.

Tip Ten–Realize That Sometimes You’ll Blow It

I’m human. And I love seafood. So when fresh seafood starts coming to our local market in the early spring, I go a little crazy. And going a little crazy usually means I blow my budget. Maybe even by a lot. I think this spring we had an entire week of nothing but seafood. At the end of the day, though, it’s like a fun celebration of the end of winter and the beginning of lighter foods on our menu. As long as it’s not a usual occurrence, we’re ok. We make up for it over the next few weeks and we calm down our purchases. So stay on budget, but don’t let an occasional celebration ruin your joy.

What are your tips and strategies?? I’d love to hear them!

What would you like to see in next week’s tutorial?

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