February was the month we kept the debit cards tucked nicely in our wallets and spent quite a bit of time wielding Santoku knives in the kitchen. It required a little additional work each week and getting creative in order to stay under budget, but last month’s No Spend Challenge was a huge success.
I discovered Cooking Light’s Weeknight Meal Planner and it was the perfect tool to get back in the swing of cooking every night.
You drag each image into the appropriate day of the week and then print out the recipe/ingredient list. It’s seriously idiot-proof and the recipes are super easy. Here’s a few of the winners and what I’d recommend tweaking:
Filet Bourguignonne with Mashed Potatoes Probably the best dish from the planner. You can’t really go wrong with steak in a wine sauce and velvety mashed potatoes. Double the sauce – it’s rich and fantastic.
Sausage, Tomato, and Arugula Fettuccine This one fell pretty short. It came together quickly but the flavor wasn’t impressive and the fettuccine overpowered the dish. For light ingredients like cherry tomatoes and arugula, angel hair or thin spaghetti would be a much better choice.
White Pizza with Tomato & Basil One of the quickest meals of the bunch and while it was good, it definitely could have used something else to take it up a notch. Prosciutto would have been a nice addition.
Maple-Mustard Glazed Chicken This prompted me to finally invest in something I’ve been putting off for a couple years: a cast iron skillet. It’s not 100% necessary for this recipe but considering it’s been used three times a week since it came home with me from Target, I’d say it was worth every penny. It cooks food evenly and being able to go from a burner straight into the oven is a huge perk. Anyway, back to the recipe. This one is a keeper. I doubled the sauce and went a little heavy on the stone ground mustard so it wouldn’t end up too sweet. Skip the starch and serve this with crisp haricot verts.
Chicken Orzo Salad with Goat Cheese If you want to know what summer tastes like, it’s this. I’m ready to make this salad again already, it was that good. The flavors intensified as time went on and made it perfect for leftovers.
After the first week I got back into the swing of things and switched back into recipe development mode. Something about coming up with a dish on my own is so satisfying and I’d much rather start from scratch than follow a recipe line-by-line out of a cookbook. One thing I was worried would be an issue last month was lunch at the office. If I didn’t have time to throw something together in the morning before heading out the door, I’d grab lunch next door at Whole Foods. It’s a healthy and convenient choice. Obviously with the challenge in place, I wouldn’t have this option to fall back on. But since I was cooking dinner every night and most recipes served 4-6, there were plenty of leftovers to have for lunch. Crisis averted.
Overall, it wasn’t as difficult as expected and the month flew by. The extra time spent in the kitchen was enjoyable and we definitely appreciated the money saved by eliminating meals out. The hardest part was figuring out what to have for dinner on Friday nights. After working all day and grocery shopping immediately after, the last thing I want to do at 8pm on Friday is cook. I tried to plan ahead so there would be leftovers from Thursday night, but a couple times we ended up having either cereal or eggs for dinner.
The purpose of this challenge was to save money and to get back on track after several months of excessive dining out. But in the process my passion for cooking was reignited and I’m looking forward to spending more time in the kitchen for the remainder of 2014.
How often do you go out to eat each week? Do you follow recipes or create your own?