Friday, August 31, 2012

So, What *Is* Homemade?

As we finish up this first official week, my husband and I have chatted about the definition of "homemade" ... or, at least, our definition of homemade. 

As I mentioned from the start, this will evolve, but for now ... here's the goal: "Nothing from bottles, boxes or bags that I could healthfully make myself (or, ourselves)." What a tall order! Between the 40+ hours of work, plus the 15+ hours commuting time each week, this will be challenging. But, for those who know me, I'm always up for a good challenge!

We will, of course, be using what we already have in our pantry and cupboards over the next few weeks, but ultimately, it will mean:
  • Breads -- Everything from white to wheat, cinnamon raisin to banana. If it goes in our tummies, it comes from our oven. And what's more comforting and heartwarming than the smell of fresh-baked bread?
  • Dressings -- I never realized how easy it is to make your own dressing. We were so used to buying a few bottles of dressing as our "go to" for our salads. But, when we looked at the ingredients, at words we can't even pronounce, that was enough of that. I've started experimenting with all kinds of vinaigrettes and even a few creamy dressings. So much better than the bottled stuff for sure!
  • Sauces -- No more bottled bar-b-que or stirfry sauce. I'm shying away from ketchup for the moment and still plan on using our three-month supply (my husband is a little obsessed) and haven't decided about this one -- especially since we use an organic kind made of just a few ingredients. Hmmmm .... 
  • Pastas -- Being Italian, I've always prided myself in my family's recipe for gnocchi (yum!), but we've always purchased boxed spaghetti, rigatoni, etc. But, once our current pantry supply is exhausted, we'll be making delicious homemade pasta that can be prepared in little more time than it takes to boil the pot of water.
  • Chips -- Hellllllo, baked kale, potato and apple chips! We'll start these this weekend. I'm really excited for these guilt-free pleasures! (And really excited to buy a mandoline!) 
  • Baked goods -- And I mean any and every. I love baking, always have. But, I'll be the first to admit that buying a box of cookies or picking up a cake or pie from the local bakery is a great, quick way to satisfy a craving or reward yourself with an indulgence. But, now, if we're in our house, the cookies, pies, cakes, muffins (you name it!), will be created with love in our kitchen.
  • Stocks -- I've always been a weekend cook, loving to make brunch and big family style dinners on Saturdays and Sundays. Earlier this year, I experimented with making chicken stock. From that I made several meals, including chicken pot pie, chicken soup, chicken and biscuits, risotto, etc. My husband said it was so much better than store bought, boxed stock. Since then, every time I've made any of the above, he asks, "Is that homemade stock?" With it making that much of an impression, I've always felt guilty about resorting back to the box. But, not now. From now on, I'll make stock once a month for everything from risotto to soup to pot pie.
  • Granolas -- Who doesn't love a good yogurt and granola parfait? Well, in our house, it's something we all agree on (yup, babies included!) for either a simple breakfast or filling afternoon snack. In addition to making granola granola, we'll also make our own granola bars. 
So, what do you think of our definitions? Are these fair? Too narrow? Impossible? 

Friday's dinner: chicken cacciatore
Rounding out this week
As mentioned in Wednesday's post, the pickings in the pantry and refrigerator were getting a little slim, but just by using what we had on-hand, I've been able to rustle up:
  • Thursday -- potato frittata
  • Friday -- chicken cacciatore
Thursday's dinner was a little harrowing, as I worked 1.5 hours overtime and the commute home was s-l-o-w. I was "thisclose" to suggesting a pizza from the place around the corner, but then I thought a frittata might just be the answer. Thank goodness for eggs! 

I'm fortunate enough to have a job where I get two Fridays off a month. And today just happened to be the day. This slow-cooked chicken cacciatore is a recipe my mother used to make when I was little, and something that just warms the heart. When my husband suggested it for dinner tonight, I was so excited to have a "Sunday" dinner on a Friday.

And since I exhausted nearly everything except a few summer squash and a few heirloom tomatoes, a trip to the local market is definitely needed before this weekend's dinners take shape.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mid-week Madness

So, we've made it to Wednesday, and so far, so good.

Since I didn't plan the week's meals in advance, I've been scouring the internet trying to find recipes that complement the mish-mash of food we have in the fridge and pantry. I've found some delectable menu items:
Tuesday's dinner: couscous, chick-pea and vegetable
stuffed peppers. Yum!

I've been playing the substitute queen, though. I'm a firm believer in making a tasty sounding recipe work, even if you're missing an ingredient or two ... or, er, five.

Now, as the week continues and our produce and pantry supply dwindle, we'll see how creative I can get. And I think I'll really have to be creative for at least one or two dinners. I do plan on taking advantage of the homemade ricotta gnocchi I froze a few weeks ago, but I'm not quite sure how else to round out the week. 

This is definitely a problem of not planning ahead, something my husband cites every week we go shopping together. 

That aside, I've either been lucky and found terrific recipes that are simple and quite tasty, or this "homemade" business every night is just as time-effective as hitting a restaurant for take-out or calling for a pizza delivery. 

Wednesday's dinner: chicken and green bean
stirfry with (leftover) couscous.
Tonight's dinner -- the chicken stirfry -- only took 10 minutes to prepare and less to cook. The most time-consuming meal thus far was the stuffed pepper because I turned down the oven temperature so I could get in a workout (so the peppers needed a little extra oven lovin').

My goal as the week comes to a wrap is actually creating a comprehensive game plan for next week. I'll also take advantage of the four-day weekend to bake and do some serious meal prep for the coming week (even seeing what I might be able to prepare and freeze for a quick go-to meal should an evening get completely out of hand). We really are trying to limit the "let's hit XYZ on the way home" conversations.

One main challenge as we move forward is finding meals that not only the hubby and I enjoy, but also that our children enjoy. I can decidedly say they did not dig the couscous-stuffed peppers, but the quesadillas were a hit (albeit with some ingredient adjustments). The other big challenge is really defining "homemade" (which I firmly believe I've been successful at so far, at least for dinners) and incorporating that meaning into lunches and breakfasts throughout the week, too. But, that will come later ...

Monday, August 27, 2012

And so we begin ....

I've always craved happiness. (Well, who doesn't, right?) But, since having my daughters (I have a boisterous just-turned 3 year old and a "I'm not too far behind" 20 month old), the craving has become insatiable. I want to be wholesome happy myself and have that resonate with my husband and children.

As a full-time working mom, the balance of work and home can seem nonexistent. Work weeks rarely balance out to the 40-hour-of-work standard, and the "45-minute" commute is rarely that ... some days even exceeding two and creeping toward three hours. I've found our family falling into the same rut as so many others. Calls between me and my husband on the way home from work go something like, "Traffic is awful. Can you swing by XYZ and pick up something for dinner?" The only plus of that is our ability to eat dinner as a family, something we cherish and know will become more challenging as the girls grow.

But, we want more for them and more for us.

Never has it been so important for us to be healthy and happy. So, I proposed this experiment to my husband: let's work toward eating as much homemade, wholesome food as possible.  

And so we begin ...
Tomato, basil & mozzarella salad for lunch, August 25

We're still laying out the true ground rules for how this whole thing will work, and as we evolve and grow and morph into our homemade lifestyle, but we're simply starting with dinners. Yes, there will be slip-ups, and date nights and family dinner outs, but our primary goal is to have dinners, from scratch, every night. Once we've nailed that down, we'll work on lunches and breakfasts (though, weekend breakfast is a cinch, and one of my favorite things to give my family).

Now, as a working mom who has typically logged a 14-hour day by 6 p.m., this is a little overwhelming, but we're not talking Beef Bourguignon (mmmmmmmm ....) every night. Yes, we'll do classic dinners on weekends -- as well as weeknight prep. But, during the week, we're talking meals I can cook in around the same time as it would take for a pizza to be delivered to the house.

As we go through this lifestyle evolution, we hope to:
  • Give our children a real appreciation for time in the kitchen (letting them help out when they can)
  • See a visible savings in our pocketbook
  • (And, maybe even a visible shrinking of our waistlines!)

Today's homemade menu:
  • Breakfast: French toast (made with fresh bread from the farmer's market, though next time it will be homemade bread) and scrambled eggs
  • Dinner: Summer fest of hamburgers, corn, tomato/basil salad