Meatless Monday: Menus

The aspect of Project: Food Budget that has been the most revelatory for me is that creating menus really helps with shopping and saving money.

So it’s something I’ve been working on. When I see a dish I think I would like to try, I try to think about what would go well with it (soup? salad? some other type of appetizer?). Then I start a shopping list, and think about other things that I can incorporate into a meal plan with leftovers, and usually in a bit I have a plan for the week.

I’m still practicing, but I’m going in the right direction.

Last night, I made “Chinese” food for dinner — baked spring rolls with dipping sauce, steamed brown rice, and stir-fried Morning Star chik’n strips and broccoli. I used tofu instead of pork in the rolls. Dan ended up really really liking the spring rolls — I didn’t tell him they had cabbage in them — and asked me to try making other versions. Since I have lots of eggroll wraps and cabbage left over, and they aren’t too difficult to make (time consuming, but not difficult), I plan to accommodate his request. I think I’ll add baby shrimp for Dan and add bean sprouts to the cabbage and carrot mix.

Next Sunday, I’m having two other couples over for dinner, and I was completely stymied as to what to make. I solicited Twitter, and got a lot of ideas: baked pasta (which I love, but Dan is very “meh” about), lasagna (which I had toyed with as a plan, but Dan is a total fuss ass about lasagna), roasted chicken and potatoes (the roasted chicken part scares me a little) (okay, a lot).

My favorite idea came from @goob: polenta with blue cheese and beef stew. Obviously, as two of us are vegetarians, I’ll have to think of a good alternative that’s easy. I am leaning toward beef stew (done in the slow cooker), baked polenta, green salad, and creamy mushroom sauce for us vegetarians.

Now I just have to decide if I’m making the Tuscan Beef Stew or Beef and Mushroom Stew for my omnivorous guests. Which one would you pick?

Meatless Monday: Apples to Applesauce

Until this weekend, I had a lot of apples sitting around my kitchen.

Having fruit just hanging around my house is highly unusual. We all like to eat fruit, and apples are a favorite of the girls. The apples I get from my CSA leave much to be desired from a cosmetic standpoint. They aren’t grocery-pretty: they are bumpy, and lumpy, and splotchy. Sweet inside, but with a facade that is hard to get past when you are used to acres and acres of shiny happy produce.

An additional problem is that apples are hard to pack in lunches. The girls eat more of an apple if it is sliced than if it is whole. A sliced apple is just going to brown in a lunch bag unless (apparently) lemon juice and rubber bands are used. Please, I barely have time to pack lunches. Plus, with Flora losing a tooth every other day, a sliced apple is just easier to eat. (I refuse to peel apples for my girls’ consumption, though.)

So: about 30 apples sitting on my counter, splotchy and going soft. Apples for eating should be crisp and juicy, and these apples were past their prime in that regard. Some apples I did have to toss due to brown, rotten spots or clear insect invasion. But many of them were fine, just unpretty.

I bet I could make applesauce from those apples, I told myself.

Now some people would have that thought, and just throw a bunch of apples in a pot or slow cooker and see what happened. Not me, I have to ask the Internet and find a recipe.

My query on Twitter for an applesauce recipe got a lot of responses, and that was where I was originally pointed toward a slow cooker. A follow up question (“Do I really have to peel all these apples?”) got a similar rate of response. (“YES!”) I also found a recipe in my vegetarian slow cooker book. (Der, should’ve looked there first.)

Applesauce
Adapted from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker and every recipe that was emailed my way

3 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and cut up
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
juice from one lemon
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Throw everything in a slow cooker, and turn it on low for five to six hours. I used an immersion blender (I love that thing) to turn the soft, cooked apples into sauce. Let cool. Spoon into a jar.

It’s heavenly.

I gave Dan a taste. He wanted more. I gave him a bowl. He loved it. (Kate, also, LOVED IT.)

“What’s in this?” he demanded.
“Apples, water, brown sugar, and cinnamon,” I said.
“You’re lying. Nothing that tastes this good doesn’t have something in it that’s bad for me.”
“Okay. I’m lying.” I did forget to tell him about the lemon juice.
“I think I should take this jar to my office,” he said. “To protect everyone.” He’s a giver, that one.

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Even after using three pounds of apples (about 12 medium and small apples), I still had 8 left over. So I peeled some more, chopped them up, and threw them in my trusty muffin recipe (one substitution of note: instead of vanilla extract, I used caramel-flavored extract, a whole teaspoon). The girls ate the peeled apples I didn’t use.

Kate helped me with the muffins, and she was quite critical of the result.

“These are pretty good,” she said, eating a still-warm muffin. “Pretty good. Next time, we should use bananas.”

Next Sunday’s muffins will be banana strawberry (I have a few cups of strawberries in my freezer). I am quite excited. So is Kate.