Sunday, February 27, 2011

Adventures in Grocery Shopping and This Week's Menu

Well... "Adventures" is probably a strong word, but I spend alot of time at HEB, it seems, and have a few observations/pet peeves.

First of all... at peak times, say Sunday afternoons and immediately after work... why do people bring the WHOLE family and allow their children to push an ADDITIONAL, unnecessary cart? Just clogs up the aisles and leads to me taking a lot of deep breaths. Honestly, taking everybody along to the store seems painful to begin with, but having a kid who can't see over the top of the cart lingering behind - would create a whole lot of anxiety for me! I can see wanting to entertain the kids, and of course sometimes you can't avoid having tag alongs. My poor mom had tag alongs probably 99% of the time she went to the store and she almost always refused to go at peak times (it was an option for her since she was home during the week, obviously not an option for everyone). We usually got to ride in the buggy - once we were too big to sit up front, we got to sit under the cart, back in the day when the carts had more room underneath, which was a big treat. When we got too big for that, she would patiently let us push the cart (or for a "big" shop, push the additional overflowing cart) until Andy and I were fighting over who got to do it and ran the cart into her heels, tearing her very delicate skin. I take my own 30-something tagalong sometimes, who people probably think I should leave at home because he's usually hanging on the cart with his head bent over his phone, looking at game scores or updating his fantasy football team... I usually park him in one spot with the cart and run down the aisle which is pretty handy. Nothing worse than traffic jams on the cereal aisle. We have spent many an hour together in HEB, and I really love his company but sometimes its easier to just do it alone without having to make any explanations :) Shhh!

I get such satisfaction about saving money at the grocery store, especially when I get free items with HEB's in store deals! Even more so if it was something already on my list. It pains me to buy the name brand item. Richard is a bit of a snob and hates it when I buy store brand cereal, cookies, or crackers. When I was younger, it really embarassed me that we shopped at PriceLo and Budget Chopper as opposed to the classier Randall's or Kroger stores. I bet I would feel differently now. I spent $90 this week on an extensive list including, but not limited to, 6# boneless skinless chicken breast, 2# pork tenderloin, 1# lean ground turkey, 2# large shrimp, beer, tons of fresh produce... I'm usually pretty good at guessing what my bill would be but I was thinking $120+ so that was a pleasant surprise.

The upside of grocery shopping at peak times: SAMPLES! It is so hard for me to pass up a sample, even if it's not something I particularly like or am apt to buy. Especially the sushi. I'll probably never buy a tempura roll or dumpling, but that's all they ever sample and I almost always take one. I LOVE the Cooking Connection at HEB, where they make "easy" meals (read: meals where you add their expensive gourmet-ish products). Its fun for ideas, and if you're hungry the little samples take the edge off, but I don't very often buy what they're making (because I'm cheap and/or don't want to use some high fat/calorie ingredient thats in it... but a bite sure doesn't hurt!)

Just call me Suzy Homemaker... I have finally realized how much easier it is to do one shopping trip on the weekend than stop by most days after work to pick up a few things. So I've been planning meals ahead of time. I'm trying to do at least 1 crock pot meal, 1 go-to meal with ingredients I can easily keep on hand (spaghetti, stirfry, tacos, turkey burgers), 1 new or special meal, and then 1 more simple meal. I try to let Richard have at least 1 request per week, and I also love going through my cookbooks to find new things to try. I also started organizing my grocery list... why haven't I done this before? It took 3 drafts, but I organized myself to sections of the store in the order I reach them as I go through (produce, meat, bread, canned goods, cold, frozen... etc) to keep me from having to navigate back across the store. It worked so well!! Maybe one day I'll try the art of couponing like several of my friends have. For now I'm trying to stock up on things I use regularly when its on sale so my pantry isn't completely depleted at the end of the week.

Update on my weekly attempt at the crockpot: Pork chops and rice, from the little booklet that came with the crockpot. I was a little disappointed, but I don't particularly like pork chops to begin with. Also, the extended cooking time of the rice plus the seasonings made it taste a little too Thanksgiving-ish, and that's not my favorite. Last week I also made Steph's ( recipe for roasted chicken, which was delicious! Richard requested enchiladas, but I couldn't bear to make them the traditional way (with all that oil... I'll eat it if someone else makes it, but I can't SEE it), so I made a "healthy"version which was good... but I thinking I'll stop attempting Mexican food because I just can't do it like his mom!

This week:

Last night I made charro beans and guacamole for a "fiesta" dinner party. The beans were a huge improvement from my previous attemps and tasted much more like what you'd get in a restaurant. Next time I'll use less bacon.

Tonight I'll be making Thai Curry Coconut Shrimp with Basil Lime Couscous for an Oscar night dinner. I've made it before, and it was really good. Hopefully it won't be a let down, which sometimes happens when I really liked something the first time.

Tomorrow night I'll be using the crockpot to make pork carnitas. Basically, I'll be slow cooking the meat all day, and then shred it and eat it in tortillas like tacos. We'll eat leftover beans with it. I don't think I've ever had that, but Richard sounded excited so I'll cross my fingers for a success!

Tuesday night Mom and I have been going to dinner and then Bible study and Richard works late so he can have leftovers.

Wednesday I'm going to make Amanda's ( crockpot recipe for Santa Fe Chicken with rice.

I have ground turkey to make turkey burgers and Tex-Mex Calzones (also courtesy of Amanda) on whatever other nights I need to cook. I think I'm set for the week! Hopefully having a plan will decrease spending for eating out (cooking also creates leftovers for lunch for both of us!) and help me eat healthier meals all week long rather than ordering pizza or some other temptation.

What tips do you have to make your life easier?

Gotta go find my apron!
Love, B

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Crock pot adventures!

First of all... I'm back!

Bridezilla did rear her ugly head just a little bit... but hopefully not too many people were scarred in the process. The HEB bagger who announced that he liked to put people's groceries in as many bags as possible (really? and did you just say that out loud?) got a little taste of my wrath... more of the evil eye and re-education of why that was not a good thing. Then my brother made the mistake of drinking the last of (MY) milk and I woke up to eat my daily oatmeal with milk and splenda two days before the wedding... it wasn't pretty. He definitely thought I was a wee bit bridezilla-ish, but handled it pretty much in stride. Surprisingly, I think I handled R's lack of timeliness (an hour late to our rehearsal and only arrived 30 minutes before the wedding started... could have strangled him!) in a relatively calm manner. I have yet to let him forget about it, though!

We survived the wedding and actually enjoyed it and had a blast on our honeymoon. I STILL haven't ordered my wedding album, so I also don't have the images yet to post, but one day I will. Can't believe we've already been married for 3 1/2 months. Between my two grandmothers passing away within 6 days of each other in early December, going to 4 weddings (2 of which one or both of us were in), and his school/work schedule, it has been chaotic but things have begun to slow down (for me at least).

Valentine's Day was a success... R redeemed himself from last year by sending me beautiful tulips to work and surprising me at home with a card, wine and best of all... hired someone to clean our bathrooms and kitchen! My efforts seemed pale in comparison, but I got a card, made him a cd and made steak for dinner with orzo and green beans.

On to cooking...

I have been trying to cook more and finally busted out the crockpot to actually use (besides to make queso!) I went out on a limb and made pot roast.... huge success! So easy and so good. I really expected to come home to it all dried/burnt up. Instead I came home after work to my house smelling amazing and a delicious dinner already made! I was wanting to use it to make something a little healthier (but still simple and yummy) so I found a recipe for "Italian Chicken" which sounded strange (chicken, italian salad dressing, and potatoes?) but was also a big success! Richard raved about it and said he couldn't stop thinking about it and had to have leftovers the next day. My goal is to try one new crockpot recipe a week so I have a good repertoire to rotate through and make my life easier. Sorry I don't have pictures, but here are the recipes:

Marie's Easy Slow Cooker Pot Roast (

4# chuck roast

salt and pepper to taste

1 packet dry onion soup mix (like Lipton's)

1 cup water

3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced (I used unpeeled baby potatoes)

3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

(Note: I used at least 2x the amt of carrots/celery called for... I like veggies)

Season roast with salt and pepper and brown in large skillet on high heat on all sides

Place roast and remaining ingredients in slow cooker.

Cook on low 8-10 hours

Zesty Italian Chicken (

4 chicken breasts (I used 1.5# chicken breast tenderloins... same thing just already cut)
1/2 cup Zesty Italian salad dressing (I did not use the "lite" version, maybe you could)
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
4-6 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed (I used 4 unpeeled, but still cubed, gold potatoes)
(I also added 2 handfuls of baby carrots and 1/2 onion pulled apart and 1 cup of chicken broth because I knew I would be gone for at least 9 hours)

Layer the chicken breasts, 1/2 of the next 3 ingredients, the vegetables, and then remaining 3 previous ingredients in the crock pot.

Cook on low 7 hours.

Do you have a good crockpot recipe? Please share in the comments!

(I just recalled what else I've tried to make in the crock pot: beans. R loves beans and really wanted me to make some. When he was a bachelor he lived on beans, eggs, and corn tortillas. The first time, I put too many beans in the pot and wasn't able to put enough liquid so they were REALLY dry. The next time was better but R admitted on our honeymoon that he didn't really like them! I hate to even attempt "mexican" food because I know it won't be like his mom's!)

Love, B