Food Challenge

I think at times I’m a bit dorky.

Okay, maybe more than just at times.

Anyhoo.

I love to challenge myself when it comes to our grocery shopping, meals, and how far I can stretch something.

Take for instance, carrots.

I grew one little row (note to self: next year plant way more) of heirloom carrots. When the harvest came in I used a few in quick meals like stir-fry and the rest I made into freezer meals. I made Middle Eastern Carrot Tacos, Roasted Carrot & Fennel Soup, and a Creamy Thai Carrot Soup. That pretty much used up all the carrots and I gained three dinners (in the freezer) from that one little row of carrots in my garden.

My challenge for the month of September is to see how many meals I can make – for our family of five – without having to do much grocery shopping.

It helps that I have an overflowing vegetable garden. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, herbs, fennel, leeks, onions, carrots, beets, and beans – and the produce dictates what I make so I can utilize the garden to the fullest.

With the produce and with grocery items I bought in previous trips (over the last month or so) I was able to put together a few freezer meals for when the weather is a little chillier. For instance, I made several batches of both Broccoli and Leek Soup and Potato and Leek Soup (I bought the potatoes from a local vegetable stand for twenty cents a pound – so I got a total of six meals out of about 10lbs of potatoes, or $2, which works out between six meals and five people to be about SIX CENTS a person per meal. Six Cents!). I also made about half a dozen batches of Pesto varieties (straight basil but also kale with basil and the Sicilian type, my current favorite). I made Zucchini Meatballs with my zucchini, Yellow Pepper Soup, and Jambalaya.

I was also able to make some Banana Pepper Honey Mustard, Cucumber Relish, Zucchini Salsa, and Pepper Jelly. There will be more to add to this list as the weeks go on – harvesting and preserving the garden goods is a slow and long process in late summer, early autumn – like tons and tons of spaghetti and pizza sauce, more pesto, more relishes, and anything else I can prepare and either can or freeze for the later months when the garden has been put to sleep until next spring.

In the meantime, some things I need to just freeze and deal with later like: beets, leeks, and corn. I tried to make soup with the leeks but how much soup can I freeze, for heaven’s sake? So, I’m going to slice the leeks, blanch the beets and freeze them until I can find a use for them later (I already made a batch of Spiced Beets). As for corn, I’m not growing corn but I like to buy local corn in the peek of the season, grill it to a charred loveliness, take the corn off the cob, and flash freeze them. Nothing is better than fresh summer grilled corn to add to a soup in the middle of January.

This past weekend we used previous purchases by making up about two dozen freezer meals – including a variety of chicken recipes: Cranberry Chicken, Pineapple Salsa Chicken, Spicy Braised Peanut Chicken, Peachy Balsamic Chicken, Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Sweet Asian Chicken – to name a few. We also put together Lentil Burgers, Broccoli Parmesan Meatballs, Two varieties of homemade Ravioli, and Mongolian Beef.

In addition to the over 35 meals currently in our freezer and ready for a dinner near you – the freezer is also housing more chicken breasts (enough for at least two or three meals), a whole ham which would yield at least 4 meals (I love making pineapple ham tacos, for instance), meatballs, about ten pounds of ground beef, two pounds of mussels, two pounds of shrimp, and three packages of Italian sausage links.

And we haven’t even covered the pantry yet.

Needless to say I counted at least two months worth of dinner possibilities. I have canned and dry beans, cans of tuna and salmon, pastas, polenta, couscous, rice, tortillas – to name a few.

I wrote out a quick list of possible meals I could make right now based on what we always have on hand (eggs, flour, tortillas, tuna, cheeses, yeast, cream soups, canned tomatoes, pasta, breads, and of course fresh and frozen vegetables).

Here is my tentative list:

Homemade Pizzas
Pasta with just about anything from mussels to fresh vegetables to meat sauce to pesto (and a million other options)
Chili
Bean & Rice Wraps
Wild Rice Burgers
Sandwiches (a variety of options from spicy egg salad to eggplant Panini’s)
Frittata’s
Tostados/Tacos/Burritos
Bean & Beef Burritos
Mexican Pizza/Mollettes
Omelets or Eggs in Hell
Beef Stroganoff
Polenta with grilled vegetables and poached eggs with homemade French bread
Tuna Cakes
Swedish Meatballs
Italian Grilled Cheese
Salads
Shrimp Pad Thai
Bean/Ham Soups
Caribbean Beans and Rice
Sausage and Biscuits
Potato Pancakes
Matzo Ball Soup
Meatball Sandwiches
Stuffed Zucchini
Potato Balls in Sauce
Simple homemade Soups
Black Bean Burgers
Stir-Fry over Rice

Of course, there are probably more meals but this was the quick list I came up with so far. (I love looking for recipes and realizing that I have every single thing on the ingredient list without having to go to the grocery store!)

There will always be things to buy at the grocery store: paper towels, lotion, bar soap, eggs, milk – and so on. Not to mention breakfast cereal and lunch items for the kids.

But, my challenge for the month of September is to make due with all that I have overflowing in my refrigerator, freezer, pantry, and garden and try and prepare as many meals as I can without having to go to the grocery store for ingredients.

I will let you know at the end of the month how well I did, what we ate, and what I spent.

How much do you spend every month at the grocery store? 

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