I put my co-op loot to work, y’all.

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Tomorrow makes two weeks since my mom and I visited Ashley in Dallas and helped with her co-op shopping/distributing day.  We each put in $10 for our own shares and came home with a load of produce.  I would say that the fun started once I got home, but that’s not true.  The fun started when we got in Ashley’s car and headed to the Dallas Farmer’s Market District first thing Tuesday morning.  I genuinely enjoyed the whole experience.  But I love to cook and really love to eat, so the fun simply continued.  These are some of the dishes we created with our co-op stash:

*  beautiful, flavorful, fresh salads with leaf lettuce, grape tomatoes, and cucumber, along with other toppings we added that weren’t from the co-op  (We had several of these and they did not disappoint.)
*  roasted broccoli
*  roasted red potatoes
*  roasted broccoli, red potatoes, & red bell pepper combined  (I should add that roasted vegetables are pretty much the favorite way to cook & eat vegetables in this house.)
*  grilled corn on the cob with garlic and parmesan  (amazing!)
*  jalapeño poppers  (It’s hard to go wrong when you add bacon, cream cheese, and cheddar cheese to something.  These got devoured very quickly.  And these are also the reason I am now sad that I didn’t plant jalapeño peppers in my garden this spring.)
*  fresh squeezed lemonade  (Just water, lemons, and sugar, made by following instructions on my sister’s food blog.  DELICIOUS.  Not too tart.  It was summery perfection in a glass.)
*  BLTs made using leaf lettuce – and that was done tonight … thirteen days after I brought this leaf lettuce home.  It was still beautiful, green, and lovely.
*  Granny Smith apples as a snack with peanut butter & honey

Unfortunately, our green bell pepper went bad before we got around to using it.  Our second red bell pepper had a bad spot, so I chopped that right off and threw the rest of it into our “bag of tricks” in the freezer.  When we boil chicken for any reason, we throw some frozen onion, pepper, and celery scraps in the pot for extra flavor.  I think we’ve only used one of our co-op onions so far, so we have a few left.

This co-op experience has been a thing of beauty.  I realized that freshly squeezed lemonade can be delicious if done right and can have me reaching for the pitcher to pour a second glass instead of making ugly faces.  My sister learned that even though she doesn’t usually like bell peppers, roasted red peppers are actually sweet and delicious.  She even started seeking them out on the roasting pan and by the time we were both full, the only thing left was a small scattering of potatoes.  I discovered that even though I have an aversion to mayonnaise in general, when whipped up into a mixture with some garlic and parmesan cheese and spread on an ear of corn before grilling, it makes for the best corn I’ve ever eaten.  Bring on the mayo.  We realized that even though we are usually drawn toward spinach leaves when we make salads, it’s hard to top leaf lettuce.

I am very envious that Ashley gets a fresh co-op stash of goodies tomorrow morning.  I am amazed that we still have a few items left that are still in good shape.  I am definitely working toward getting a co-op started here.  The wheels are steadily turning and this thing is going to become a reality.  It’s too great of an opportunity to let fall away.  It’s only a matter of time.

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Branching out – spaghetti squash!

One of my favorite shows is The Biggest Loser.  The season that just ended was a great season.  There were so many likable people competing.  I think one reason this show appeals to me so much is that I love food and I love to find healthy new ways to cook different things.  I prefer to eat healthy food, so I learn a lot by watching this show.

I love squash, but I had never tried spaghetti squash.  I’m sure I had heard of it, but never gave it much thought.  Then this season on The Biggest Loser, one of the contestants, Jackson, mentioned spaghetti squash several times.  He talked about how much he liked it and mentioned that he could now enjoy one of his favorite foods – spaghetti – without all the carbs of pasta.  This definitely piqued my interest.  I also love spaghetti on occasion, but hate all the empty calories that come from pasta.

I found Jackson’s recipe online and then started my search for a spaghetti squash each time I was in the grocery store.  After several misses, I finally found one.  It was the last one in the store.  I bought it and followed Jackson’s recipe.  I had no idea that spaghetti squash comes apart and looks just like noodles when cooked.  It’s amazing!

My sister also liked it.  In fact, she liked it so much that she thinks we should always use a spaghetti squash when available and then just use pasta for our leftover sauce once the spaghetti squash is all eaten.  I tend to agree!  If you’ve never tried spaghetti squash and are looking for a healthier alternative, I highly recommend it.  The only difference I noticed between pasta and spaghetti squash was that the spaghetti squash has a bit of a crunch to it.  It just has a firm crispness to it.  But it’s great and so much healthier.  And, kudos to Jackson for the idea of putting baby spinach in the sauce.  I love spinach, but that thought never crossed my mind!

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Here is a link to Jackson’s spaghetti squash recipe – http://www.biggestloser.com/nutrition/recipes/jacksons-spaghetti-squash

Shrimp Fajitas

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I bought some bell peppers – red, yellow, and orange – a few weeks ago when they were on sale at Super One Foods.  I used a little bit in what I was cooking that day, but separated the rest into three freezer bags.  Lately I’ve been thinking about how I wanted to cook with some of those peppers and fajitas came to mind.  I perused the Super One website and found that their shrimp (peeled & deveined – yes!) are on sale this week, so I went and bought some shrimp and a few other fajita necessities – cilantro, tomato, avocado, etc.  My mom and sister had both gone to south Louisiana for the day, so I invited Daddy over and we ate these shrimp fajitas for supper.

I loosely followed this recipe – http://www.food.com/recipe/shrimp-fajitas-89933 – and plan on making it again.  I’m sure it would be just as good with steak or chicken.  This recipe didn’t actually call for the bell peppers like I had, but I learned in cajun cooking class to just use a recipe as a guide.  Our teacher/chef told us, in his cajun accent, “If you like onion, put in mo’ onion.  If you like garlic, put in mo’ garlic.  The mo’ you put in the mo’ betta it be.”

My sister recently gave me some of those “Perfect Tortilla – Fajita Bowl Maker” pans, so that’s what we’ll have for lunch with the leftovers – shrimp fajita bowls.  It’s sad but I had to conceal the leftover guacamole by putting it in a non-clear container because I know how my sister can devour guacamole, and I want some for my fajita bowl.  She has no idea there’s hidden guacamole in our fridge and she won’t know until our lunch is ready and half of the guacamole belongs to me!  She’s like a bloodhound when it comes to anything avocado based.  I must take extreme measures if I want any!

I’ll admit it. I’ve become a breakfast snob.

It’s rare that I’ll go buy lunch somewhere on a workday.  There are a few reasons for that.  One of those reasons is that I like to save my money.  The other big reason is that our office is now located in a part of town that doesn’t have the best food options, at least not when you only have a thirty minute lunch break.  If I were a fan of fast food hamburger chains, I’d be in trouble.  But I’d rather avoid those.  Breakfast, however, has started to become a problem.

I like breakfast.  When I say I like breakfast, I’m not talking about a bowl of cereal or instant oatmeal.  Those things will do in a pinch, but I like a tasty breakfast.  Sometimes I’ll open a muffin mix and bake some muffins before work.  I’ll wrap up two for me and two for my sister in aluminum foil and we’ll take them to go.  (I must admit, I’m a snob even when it comes to packaged muffin mixes.  If we don’t have real frozen blueberries to add to blueberry muffins or extra chocolate chips to add to chocolate chip muffins, then I’d rather just not make them.)  Sometimes I’ll throw a couple of biscuits in the oven and heat up a slice of ham in a skillet and wrap up ham biscuits for my sister & me.  Sometimes I’ll swing by McDonalds for an Egg McMuffin or Daily Harvest for a giant chocolate haystack cookie or a cranberry apple pecan muffin.  If I lived close to ULM – which, I must say, in the grand scheme of things, I’m glad I don’t – I would be liable to stop by Einstein Brother’s Bagels.  Ever since Melissa introduced me to those on my birthday, I’ve been craving them every so often.  She brought a half dozen to the house on my birthday and we ended up freezing four of them, but those have long since been eaten.  You’d think I could just buy a bag of bagels at the grocery store to keep on hand.  Nope.  Now that I’ve tried Einstein Brother’s, Walmart bagels just won’t do.  See, I told you – breakfast snob.

Every so often I’ll feel generous and decide to bring breakfast to my roommates at work.  A Daily Harvest craving hit me a few weeks ago, so I left extra early to get breakfast for myself and my roommates.  I pulled into the Daily Harvest parking lot only to see a sign on their window stating that they had moved to a new location on Cypress Street.  I took a photo of the sign so I could google the new address once I got to work.  Momentarily, I was disappointed.  I was really looking forward to a muffin and it sure wasn’t going to happen that day.  The disappointment quickly gave way to happiness, because anywhere on Cypress was going to be more convenient than dealing with West Monroe High School traffic on North 7th.  I got to work, searched for the address, and discovered their new location is much closer to my house!  I barely have to leave any earlier at all and I can easily pick up breakfast at Daily Harvest.  This is great news!  Sort of.

I think I’ve gotten Daily Harvest breakfast three times since I discovered they moved.  Possibly four times.  This is not good for my bank account.  This could become ridiculous very quickly.  So I believe it is time to institute what I’ve heard Dave Ramsey talk about time and time again – the envelope system.  I won’t use the envelope system for every spending category, but I truly need to figure out how much I will allow myself to spend on buying breakfasts (and the occasional lunch) every month.  When the cash runs out, so does the spending.  Fortunately, as I was leaving Daily Harvest one day this week (yes, I went more than once this week), I noticed a sign – Yesterday’s Muffins:  1/2 price while they last!  I don’t mind a day old muffin!  Now I just have to get into the habit of asking what they have left from the previous day and buying one of those.  That’ll give me another day I can get a Daily Harvest muffin.  Two for the price of one basically!  Alright, now comes the hard part of figuring out how much I’m going to put in that envelope every month without going overboard.  Wish me luck!

Veering away from sandwiches

Does anyone else get tired of sandwiches, wraps, or flat bread creations for lunch?  I’m so tired of these things.  I love bread if it’s freshly toasted, buttered french bread or a hot roll from Logan’s Roadhouse, but sandwich bread can be so boring.  It finally struck me that the only reason I eat sandwich bread is because it holds all the other stuff together.  It’s certainly not what I want to be eating for lunch every day.  My sister and I discovered the wonder of lettuce wraps last year, so I thought maybe I could do something with lettuce wraps instead.

I’ve started looking over the sale papers for the local grocery stores that appear in the mailbox, and I should have been doing that all along.  A few weeks ago, I found avocados for fifty cents each at Super One.  Fifty cents!  This week a few deals caught my eye.  They had red, orange, or yellow bell peppers for 98 cents each, and collard, turnip, or mustard greens for 78 cents per bunch.  I like cooking with bell peppers, but they’re usually about $2 each for anything other than green, so I jumped at this opportunity.  Also, I experimented with cooking collard greens for the first time a month or so ago, and they were delicious.  I figured 78 cents per bunch seemed like as good an excuse as any to cook some again.  So, I headed to Super One to take advantage of these deals.  I got three bell peppers – one of each color – and two bunches of collard greens.  Then I spotted an extra special deal – avocados for 38 cents each!  THIRTY EIGHT CENTS!!  So I grabbed three of those, too.  Then I headed to Walmart for my heavy duty shopping.

Anyway, I’m straying away from the point.  I’m tired of bread!  I want to do lettuce wraps to change things up a bit.  So, I decided to buy some ground turkey and cook it with some of the peppers and a little purple onion & garlic.  That will go in my lettuce leaves for my wraps.

I divided it up after it was cooked.  I’ve got two small bowls ready to grab & go for lunch for the next two workdays.  (And I bought a fresh pineapple that I already chopped up and some strawberries to go with my lunches, as well.)  Then I have a separate freezer bag with enough for two more servings for another time.  And on top of that, I’ve got three freezer bags of sliced, mixed bell peppers for cooking with later!  Success!

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If anyone has ideas for lunches to take to work, I’d be interested in hearing them!

Greek Pita Pizza.

For a brief moment this morning, I missed Facebook.

Probably 95% of the time, I bring my lunch to work.  Partially that is because I am tight with my money and don’t want to blow it on fast food.  Partially it’s because our office isn’t near any good food options that we can take advantage of during our thirty minute lunch break. (When we used to be on Tower Drive, we had much better food options nearby, like the late great Kyoto, PieWorks, the late great Moe’s Southwest Grill, and for a quick pick-me-up, Starbucks.)

I’m tired of sandwiches.  I want some new, fresh ideas for healthy, quick, easy lunch options.  So this morning, I missed the convenience of posting a quick status update requesting lunch ideas, and getting several responses.  I decided to wing it.

While standing at the deli counter waiting on my old fashioned ham, I picked up a package of pita bread.  As I was reading the back of the package, I came across a great idea.  The suggestion was to bake your pita and “go Greek” with feta cheese, tomatoes, and olives.  I didn’t have olives, nor did I really want to buy any, but we did have feta cheese at home.  I adore tomatoes.  I brainstormed a little more as I shopped and realized the only other thing I needed to buy besides the pita bread was a tomato.  At home I had spinach leaves, feta cheese, olive oil, and Cavender’s Greek Seasoning.  The package didn’t specify how long to bake it, so I just took a guess.

After eight minutes @ 350, I came up with this:

ImageIt was quite tasty!  Next time, I might toast the pita for a minute before baking it, so it’ll be a little crispier.  I also might add some olives for additional flavor.  But for a first attempt, I’d call it a success.  And two bonuses are that (a) it was simple, and (b) it was so pretty!  I sure do love some bright, colorful food.

Inspiration from PF Changs

On Good Friday, my brother-in-law, Robert, flew Melissa, Daddy, and me to Jackson, Mississippi in his airplane and we ate supper at PF Changs.  Robert has eaten at PF Changs way more often than the rest of us, and none of us are picky eaters, so we deferred to Robert’s suggestions for appetizers & entrees. One of the appetizers Robert ordered was the lettuce wraps.  I had heard people rave about the lettuce wraps, but I probably wouldn’t have ever tried them.  I would have thought … lettuce?  Surely I can pick something on this menu more exciting than lettuce.

Well, they were delicious.  Everything was delicious, but my goodness, those lettuce wraps are worth all the hype.  Yummy.  Yummy yummy yummy.  We loved them so much, Melissa & I decided we wanted to try making them ourselves.  But the more we thought about it, the more we didn’t really know how to go about making them similar to PF Changs without going to a specialty store to buy the right kinds of seasonings & ingredients.  So, we branched out.

This is what we came up with –

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We went the Mexican route!  Lettuce, of course, diced chicken cooked in fajita seasoning, black beans, sour cream, tomatoes, cheese, & avocado.  YUM.  So good.  So good that we’ve eaten this meal several times in the past month.  Even Mama loved them (and has made them herself) and has decided she likes black beans afterall!

We’ve tried one other way … diced chicken cooked in barbecue sauce, cheese, bacon, green onions, tomato, & avocado.  It was also very good.

Who would have ever thought we’d get so excited about buying a head of iceberg lettuce.  The possibilities are endless!