Sunday, March 4, 2007

Menu Planning on a Budget

The last few days I have stepped aside from my menu plan to rustle up some unexpected pantry meals. On a normal day, I have a list of about 10 meals I can make where I have everything on hand, and I pick and choose according to what I'm in the mood for that day. If I do go shopping and pick something up, most often it gets tucked in the freezer and then added to my menu list. It's quite encouraging to me to look at my list and see that I have food on hand for dinner for 10 days for sure without a trip to the store. That isn't to say that 10 days and we run out, that's just what I have planned. Lately I've been deviating from that list, and pulling dishes out of my pantry that I didn't know were lurking there somewhere! Since our funding is severely limited, I can't go shopping and put whatever I want in my cart. Instead, I go shopping in my pantry and freezer to see what I can come up with.

Here is an example of my current running menu list. It has things on it that I can make from items just inside my home, or things that I have made and there is a family sized portion in the freezer for a quick dinner night. This list doesn't include side dishes, because I've been trying to let Zander pick out the vegetable every night in an attempt to get him to eat them.

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Cheese Tortellini
Herb Roasted Pork Tenderloin
Macaroni and Cheese
Hot Dogs (if it ever warms up enough to grill)
Lentil Soup
Mustard Braised Chicken Legs
Pasties (a stew-filled pastry with Cornish roots)
Lumpia (a Filipino eggroll- but I do need the wrappers)
White Chicken Enchiladas
Pot Roast
Flank Steak (again with the grill)

This doesn't include the chicken soup I could make at any time, and the use of leftovers. Like when I make the pork tenderloin, leftover pork will become either fried rice or stroganoff. Leftover chicken will become chicken pot pie. When I make Lumpia it makes enough for two meals, and so on. As you can see, we're hardly starving on a budget. And the items like macaroni and cheese and hot dogs will be for this week, as Andy will be heading to Minneapolis to help my brother with some kitchen renovations this week. So it's just the kids and I, and no need for fussy meals here.

So what have I found lurking in my pantry that I didn't know had been there? To start with, my Indian favorite that I briefly mentioned the other day, Butter Chicken. That really is a simple dish, and with the cashew butter and ginger paste in my fridge, a can of tomatoes in my pantry, and a forgotten about package of chicken thighs, it was almost decadent! I've only made this before with boneless, skinless chicken, and let me tell you, never again! I used skinless chicken thighs and the depth that the dish had because of it was wonderful! I had to leave out the cayenne, but it was worth it since the kids inhaled the chicken. I also omitted the cream at the end. I was going to put it in, but at the last minute, I changed my mind, and while it may not be authentic now, I really thought it didn't hurt the chicken in the least, so if you've been looking at this recipe, feel free to omit the cream at the end.

The second meal I found in my pantry was a lentil soup. I really wanted soup, but I didn't necessarily want a leftover type soup or a clear-broth chicken soup. I wanted something hearty. And the package of lentils in my kitchen annex answered that question for me. I used this recipe for Lentil and Sausage Soup as inspiration, but changed it up for what I had on hand. To start with, the sausage I used was a spinach and asiago chicken sausage, and I didn't want it to cook in the soup and lose it's flavor, so the sausage was added at the very end. Instead of canned tomatoes I had two tomatoes that had seen better days, so I peeled them and chopped them before tossing them in the pot, and I also have fresh herbs around, so I added a sprig each of rosemary and thyme. I also eliminated the potato completely- although that would have been the perfect opportunity to use up the about-to-sprout sweet potato in the pantry had I thought of it. It was the perfect soup, and made plenty so I have another round of soup for another time.

And finally, last night I made a Quick Tortellini and Pesto. This really is a brainless recipe. It is really easy if you have the ingredients on hand, and it's a lighter dish in flavor. I made some homemade bread sticks to accompany and while the kids didn't like it, Andy and I did, and leftovers will make a great lunch for the next day or two for me. I used a Sicilian vegetable blend which added a punch of color, and I used store-bought bottled pesto. It was perfect as I'd been looking for a way to use up a tub of ricotta, and this fit the bill perfectly.

Tonight is Sunday Company Dinner, and company has already dropped off an assortment of meats to prepare...and it is definitely an assortment. We have some salmon, some pork chops, and whatever else I decide to add to the mix. Oh! And if anyone has eaten it, I would love to know what anyone thinks of Cudighi. I have a one pound package in my freezer from a friend. Best I can find is that this is an Upper Michigan sausage similar to Italian sausage, but I'm not entirely sure what to do with it. To the best of my knowledge my package of Cudighi is actually made from wild boar... so if anyone has a suggestion as to how to make this a star, I will be looking for something to do with it for next week Sunday. Anyone?

Okay, I'm editing to add that I have just found out that some of the mystery meat we are making for dinner tonight is in fact wild boar chops. So come back tomorrow to learn a little more about wild boar, how to prepare it, and most importantly...does it taste good?

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