Quinoa for days

I used quinoa for my grain this week.  I selected it solely because I had some in the pantry.  Usually I keep quinoa and rice (white, brown, or basmati) on hand, but have recently tried out farro and enjoyed it.  Having quinoa available in the fridge was a helpful shortcut to get lunches prepared for the week.  I even tried it out for breakfast.  I’m going to try and keep this tip in mind.  Lunches tend to be the last meal I want to plan yet need to have something readily available if I want to avoid buying lunches out.  Leftovers can work, but sometimes those get boring.  I noticed I found a handful of recipes or methods to use with my quinoa this week and could use this practice in the future.

The evening I made the batch of quinoa, I was going to use it for a casserole or gratin, but instead kept it simple and just made a grain bowl with other veggies.  I roasted brussels sprouts (bought a bagged of shredded bsprouts at Trader Joes—huge time saver) that same evening to have on salads and decided to include it in my grain bowl along with sautéed onions, cauliflower rice (another TJs shortcut), and peas.

img_3541-1I topped the bowl with a bit of soy sauce and Sriracha and it was delicious! img_3542

Since we were challenged to use grains at breakfast, I tried it out.  A few weeks ago I saw a food blogger post the recipe Cinnamon Toast Breakfast Quinoa (http://cookieandkate.com/2017/cinnamon-breakfast-quinoa-recipe/).  This isn’t normally a recipe I would consider making as quinoa isn’t something I think about for breakfast, but since the homework encouraged it, I tried it out.  It tasted fine, but I likely wouldn’t make it again.  I prefer an oatmeal if I’m going to have a cooked grain for breakfast.  And I wouldn’t say it tasted like cinnamon toast; more just like cinnamon on quinoa.

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With the leftover quinoa, I made a salad using quinoa.  I used this recipe as a guide, but made some changes: http://pinchofyum.com/spring-quinoa-salad-honey-lemon-vinaigrette.  I made the dressing and fried up bacon the night before so I would have that readily available.  Since I had the roasted brussels sprouts on hand, I added those too (I didn’t have cilantro or basil).  And I already toasted pecans for my breakfast quinoa so I used those instead of almonds.  I thought it was a great lunch option and super easy to put together in the morning; especially if you make the dressing the night before to have on hand.  I also think it would taste more fresh if you added herbs or mixed greens.  But without those it tasted good too.  I think I found a new lunch method!  Yay!  I made 1 cup of uncooked quinoa and after several meals, I still have leftovers so if you don’t mind having 1 grain for multiple meals, this is a fast and economical meal plan.

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Vegetables in new ways

I mentioned in my first post that I’m more of a spontaneous menu planner.  This type of “planning” also means I tend to pick up produce based on the recipe I planned to make.  For lunches, however, I tend to keep bagged greens, carrots and cucumbers on hand to at least have a base for a salad.  Salads are an easy way for me to get lots of vegetables in a meal, but I also find I get tired of them quickly.  My intention is often to mix up what goes in my salad, but that seems to be easier said than done for me.  I’m trying though!

A few years ago, I signed up for a summer CSA.  This totally opened my eyes to the large variety of produce available; particularly in the summer!  After that summer of cooking so many different vegetables, I found there weren’t too many items in the produce area I haven’t tired.  So I went with some produce that I could use in recipes I haven’t tried yet.  The first was a butternut squash and pancetta pizza.  The recipe officially called it a tart.  I made this for a baby shower I hosted on Saturday and it was a big hit!  When I roasted the squash, I also added a bit of maple syrup and lots of pepper.  Seriously, this recipe is quite good and I would recommend at your next gathering. http://acozykitchen.com/pancetta-goat-cheese-tart/.  I was in party prep mode when I made this and completely forgot to photograph it.  The blogger’s post with the recipe has much better photos than I would have taken anyway!

I had leftover squash so I decided to a make a butternut squash soup.  I often buy squash in the fall and winter, but usually roast it for a pasta dish.  I’ve often thought of making a soup with it and now seemed like a good opportunity to try it!  I also got an immersion blender for Christmas and could use it for the recipe I found: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/curried_squash_soup/.  I halved the recipe as I didn’t have as much squash as the recipe indicated.  I also think I sautéed the squash a bit longer than the recipe creator (more browning) since mine turned out a bit darker.  But it was delicious!  And I had some pancetta leftover from the tart so I sprinkled some of that on top.

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For my third recipe, I used the prompt from the homework assignment encouraging us to use produce for breakfast.  I took that as challenge to use veggies in my breakfast, which rarely happens.  I roasted the broccoli the night before so it was ready to use in the morning.  In the morning, I sautéed some onion and broccoli and threw in some diced Canadian bacon making a sort of hash.  If I had some sweet or white potatoes on hand, I would have prepared those as well, but I didn’t.  I added a fried egg on top of the hash with some avocado and really enjoyed it.  Eggs are a frequent breakfast food for me, but it felt good getting some green in the meal too.

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This week was similar to others with my veggie and fruit intake.  I try to be intentional about making sure I fit in veggies at every meal.  I will usually only have fruit in the morning or maybe an apple in the afternoon.  During the summer, I definitely increase my vegetable intake due to all the fresh produce at farmers’ markets.  The summer also allows us to use the outdoor grill which adds more opportunity to try veggies in different ways.  I feel like I tend to get in a rut with using the same vegetables.  This homework assignment made me pay closer attention to the produce section and think about ways to incorporate more produce.

I have been in situations buying fresh produce in bulk where it worked well and was an advantage, but also where it didn’t work and felt like I wasted money instead of saving it.  Usually it works when I have a menu or recipe in mind when buying in bulk.  Even for just two people, I can find a few recipes to use the bulk produce.  It doesn’t work when I pick up produce in bulk thinking I will use it, but don’t have a plan or spontaneously decide to eat out more that week.  In those cases, I usually have to throw out the produce for not using it quick enough.  This is a good example of not saving money by buying in bulk due to wasting my purchase.  I feel as though I have encountered these “disadvantage” opportunities enough where I’m more aware of not buying only for the sake of a good deal.

homework 1 – soup and veggies

At my house, it’s my husband and I.  Generally, meal planning is deciding after work what we might need to pick up to make dinner.  We tend to have some easy go-to meals for instances such as these (or we often keep frozen pizza at home; don’t judge! 🙂 ) I love reading food blogs and scanning Pinterest so I will often try a new recipe which usually requires a special trip to the grocery store.  On weekends, we tend to spend time making meals. The other option is going out.  We go out to eat at least once a week.  All this to say, I guess I fall under the spontaneous category!  It works well for the most part.  I try to be conscious of what we are eating from a health perspective.  When we start to feel lazy about cooking or get in a rut with foods, we then tend to eat more packaged food or go out.  When we get to that point, I know it’s time to start doing more cooking at home.  We both enjoy cooking so that helps!

I feel we do a good job of keeping a stocked pantry.  In our pantry, we keep canned goods such as black beans and chickpeas; diced tomatoes and tomato sauce; rice and quinoa; and boxed chicken stock.  Costco is our go-to place for these items.  We also keep lots of different spices and seasonings on hand.  Another product we keep in stock from Costco is meats.  We like to buy organic chicken and ground beef.  We can keep these on hand as we have a freezer out in our garage which saves on space in our kitchen freezer and money by buying in bulk!  We also usually keep frozen vegetables and fruit stocked as well.  The items we tend to buy as needed are fresh fruits and vegetables and any dairy items we may need.  Although I’ve found we can get a lot of our perishable foods such as eggs and vegetables at Costco too.  If you have ever wondered how to make a warehouse store work for 2 people, I would be happy to share tips!    Some of the known unnecessary items are things like potato chips and other various packed chips and snacks.  Both of us tend to love salty snacks and if we keep them around, they of course get eaten!

Because we keep various canned goods stocked, it was easy for me to make a chicken tortilla soup recipe I’ve been wanting to try.  I thawed some chicken breasts overnight and also had some onions and peppers on hand.  I found a couple of different recipes that I combined to make my soup.  http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/chicken-tortilla-soup/ and http://fitfoodiefinds.com/2016/10/crock-pot-chicken-tortilla-soup-kale/.  I didn’t have kale so I omitted that and didn’t want to add corn so I added more bell pepper.  I was happy we keep a variety of spices on hand to make this flavorful soup!

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The next dish I made was roasting some vegetables in a stir-fry sauce.  We had some rice in the pantry and thought having both the vegetables and rice available for lunches would be an easy option.  I found this recipe recently http://www.gimmesomeoven.com/sheet-pan-chicken-stir-fry/.  I omitted the chicken and roasted bell pepper, broccoli, and onion.  I used the same sauce from the recipe, but omitted the oyster sauce.  I would use this recipe again and cook the chicken next time for some added protein.  I feel the timing of this homework assignment worked well as we had just been to Costco last week and I bought bagged broccoli and a bag of bell peppers so I didn’t need to make a trip to the store for these fresh items.  This assignment helped confirm I do keep the pantry well stocked.  And making a habit of having some fresh vegetables in the fridge can help me be creative with the recipes I find in order to use up the vegetables.

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