This Week’s Menu: Spicing Things Up

My latest order from Penzey's spices
My latest order from Penzey’s spices

One of the first and biggest price shocks I got after we moved to Kaua’i was when I went to buy spices for the first time. You could have scraped me off the floor at Safeway when I saw what the 1/2-ounce jar of McCormick whole cloves I needed cost – nearly $10.00!

Penzey’s to the rescue! I’d been buying their spices for several years as we’d been lucky enough to have a Penzey’s store less than a 10-minute drive from our home in Portland. Their prices and quality were nothing short of amazing, and every visit to their store a treat for the senses. When I checked their online catalog, I discovered the same size jar of whole cloves was just $3.35 or $3.45, depending on where they came from, Madagascar or Ceylon. Even with shipping fees added in it was obvious I would be paying a whole lot less with Penzey’s than I would buying locally (and getting better quality).

Penzey’s mail order service is fast – orders have arrived here on Kaua’i just two days after being placed! And, Penzey’s always includes a surprise or two in their packages. I’ve received free taco seasoning and other spice blends in the past, and my last order contained a jar of “sandwich sprinkle” which I’m looking forward to using to season homemade croutons. Shipping costs are very reasonable as well, and orders of $30 or more are shipped for free (except if you live in Hawai’i).

If this all sounds like an ad for Penzey’s spices, I guess it is because I cannot recommend them highly enough. If you are fortunate enough to have a store near you and haven’t been, you owe it to yourself to check it out. But, their mail order service is superb as well, with quick service and an almost overwhelming selection of spices, herbs, salts, peppers, flavorings and spice blends for every palate and budget.

There is nothing minimal about my spice cabinet!
There is nothing minimal about my spice cabinet! Costco has also been a good source for spices we use frequently or in large quantities.

Also, we’re continuing to immensely enjoy Costco’s fresh peaches, but once we get them home they have to be eaten fairly quickly as they ripen fast. We’ll be getting another box later this week!

Here’s what’s on the menu this week:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Breakfast for dinner: Belgian waffles with fresh peach topping; bacon
  • Wednesday: Grilled ahi with fresh peach salsa; cilantro rice
  • Thursday: Chili-lime chicken skewers; guacamole salad (‘chickenless’ nuggets for me)
  • Friday: Grilled vegetable, mozzarella & salami panini (just vegetables for me); roasted sweet potatoes
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Slow cooker balsamic pork roast; mashed potatoes; vegetable from the farmers’ market (I have no idea what I’ll be having)
  • Monday: Bean tostadas with “the works”

Cilantro, cucumbers and tomatoes will be our “must buys” at the farmer’s market tomorrow; otherwise, we’ll see what catches our eye, especially for Sunday dinner.

Fingers crossed that we can pull the menu off yet another week! Last week went great with only one change of days.

This Week’s Menu: There’s a New Cook In Town

Chicken Fettucini Alfredo
Chicken Fettucini Alfredo

I am out of the kitchen this week, except to do the dishes and clean-up (which for some strange reason I like to do). YaYu has decided the week’s menu and will be cooking dinner for us all this week, with WenYu serving as her sous chef when needed.

YaYu (age 16) has chosen some fairly ambitious meals, but I’m confident she can handle it. The hardest obstacle, she believes, will be timing, but she knows how to set up her mise en place, and will have everything ready to go before starting, or at least thought out. Both she and I are very excited about this week for different reasons: she’s been wanting to be in the kitchen for a while now but hasn’t had the time, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do as well as having some time off.

Here’s YaYu’s menu plan:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Japanese-style curry with tofu, potato, carrots, green beans and onion; served over rice.
  • Wednesday: Chicken Alfredo over fettucini; bread; grilled zucchini (dad will be doing the grilling). Just fettucini, bread and zucchini for me.
  • Thursday: Egg drop soup and pork won tons. The girls will hand make the won tons in the afternoon. Not sure yet what I’ll have.
  • Friday: Chicken parmesan; spaghetti; green salad. I’ll have some “chicken-less” nuggets with sauce over spaghetti (no cheese though).
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Gnocchi with fresh marinara; grilled Italian sausages; zucchini (YaYu’s favorite vegetable)
  • Monday: Mabo nasu (eggplant) made with tofu instead of ground pork; steamed rice

Everything sounds delicious – I’ll let you know how it goes!

This Week’s Menu + How We Food Shop

Slow cooker pork carnitas
Slow cooker pork carnitas

After nearly two years here, I feel like I’ve finally gotten the food shopping and menu planning down to a science these days. It’s taken that long to figure things out around here as well as build up our stocks.

We budget $700/month for food, but generally only spend around $650, or maybe a little less. We allow around $450 of those dollars each month for Costco; $120 – $150 is set aside for our weekly trip to the farmers’ market (how much depends on whether there’s four or five weeks between paydays); and the rest is split between local stores – Foodland, Safeway, Cost U Less or Walmart – and/or bulk orders from Amazon. That $700 is a big drop from the $1000/month we initially spent when we arrived on Kaua’i, but we just weren’t shopping smart then. Our monthly amount will drop again next fall after WenYu leaves for college, probably by another $100 – $150/month.

We buy very little processed food these days. We occasionally pick up a Costco ready-to-bake pizza, but one of those provides three meals for Brett and the girls! We also sometimes buy things like ready-made tamales at Costco, or quiches, or a big bag of potstickers or spring rolls, which we use for the girls’ breakfasts or school lunches, and we’ll often buy something special from their bakery (last month they had guava Danish which were a big hit). Most of the items in our Costco cart each month though are basics: chicken thighs, pork roasts or chops, fish and one other kind of meat (like chicken breasts, roast turkey breast, sausages, or ham), tofu, nuts (peanuts, cashews and pistachios), eggs, bread products (sliced whole wheat, sandwich rolls, croissants, and Italian or French bread), frozen fruit and vegetables, ice cream, cheese, wine and a small amount of produce that we usually can’t find at the farmers’ market. We also buy things like peanut butter, jam, honey, butter, soy milk, cereal, rice, pasta, tortillas, crackers, English muffins, some canned goods and broth, sugar, some sauces, mayonnaise, and coffee at Costco when we need them, but those aren’t monthly purchases. We shop from a list and stick to it. If something is not on our list, even if the sample is fantastic, we don’t buy it – period. We repackage the meat and bread into meal-size portions when we get home and they go into the freezer.

Local stores are where we buy milk (just a quart at a time), the odd bit of produce (potatoes, for example), some canned goods, low-sodium soy sauce and other Asian ingredients, baking supplies and a few vegan substitutes, although I can sometimes find those at Costco. We use Amazon to bulk order items that are either too expensive or can’t be found here. For example, last month we bought pad thai kits, yellow rice, and San Marzano tomatoes through Amazon, but we won’t be ordering anything from them this month. We eat very little beef, but once in a while buy locally-raised ground beef, and very occasionally will buy a steak or London broil from the marked-down section at Safeway or Foodland.

Toiletries and paper goods (other than toilet paper, which we get from Amazon) come out of our food budget as well, and are purchased at either Costco or Walmart. A jug of laundry detergent from Costco lasts for more than four months, dishwashing soap for more than six months – both cost around $12. A package of a dozen paper towels will last us for more than a year, and a box of trash bags from Costco lasts for nearly two years. A big bottle of Suave shampoo is less than $3 at Walmart and lasts for around three months. Other paper products and toiletries we buy are also reasonably priced.

Rather than shop based on a menu, which is what I used to do, these days I make my menu based on what we have on hand, and buy the produce we need for the week at the farmers’ market. We get a nice variety of meals that way without wrecking our food budget. Everything that’s left over out of the budget each month goes into our travel fund. I always check the fridge, pantry and freezer before I make my list too. For example, right now we have a lot of pork on hand, so won’t add that to the list this month, but we will need more chicken, and because I don’t have to buy pork we’ll probably buy some extra fish or some shrimp.

Whew! Now that you know all that, here’s what’s on our menu this week. Next week is our monthly Costco shop, so we’re trying to use things up to make room in the freezer:

  • Tuesday: Panzanella with beans (we leave the cheese out)
  • Wednesday: Tuna noodle casserole (soup for me)
  • Thursday: Grilled chicken drumsticks; potato salad; corn on the cob (vegan ‘chickenless nuggets’ for me)
  • Friday: Slow cooker pork carnitas with tortillas, rice, and refried beans; cucumber and tomato salad (just rice and beans in my tortilla)
  • Saturday: Grilled ahi tuna; grilled bok choy; a treat for dessert!
  • Sunday: Yakisoba with tofu
  • Monday: Spaghetti with greens; garlic bread

Must-buys at the farmers’ market on Wednesday will be cucumbers, tomatoes, bok choy, kale, corn, and carrots. My birthday is on Saturday – the girls have an outing that day with Big Brothers/Big Sisters but will be home for dinner, and Brett and I are going to pop down to Java Kai to pick up some sort of vegan dessert to help celebrate the day. Last week went really well as far as sticking to the menu, so I’m hoping for another good week!

This Week’s Menu

Italian sausage with sautéed peppers and onions
Italian sausage with sautéed peppers and onions

All went according to plan, menu wise, last week except that midweek we ended up with a refrigerator full of leftovers. There were so many that I decided instead of serving the hot dogs and macaroni salad that were one the menu we would eat leftovers that evening instead. We all rose to the occasion and the leftovers are now gone, or at least manageable again.

I’m continuing my eating plan from last month, with no changes. No meat or dairy, but I can have fish, the occasional egg, or honey if it shows up in something.

Our family still enjoys sitting down together for dinner every evening, even if it’s just leftovers, and are mostly successful except during track season (most other sports meets are held on Saturday mornings). Most of the time we all chat together, but sometimes these days WenYu and YaYu talk with each other about school news or upcoming events while Brett and I hold down our own conversation at the other end of the table. YaYu is responsible for setting and clearing the table, Brett puts aways the leftovers, and I do the cooking (Brett does the grilling) and the dishes when we’re done. Although I was used to having just the three of us at the table when our son was growing up, I loved dinner time when all three of the girls were growing up. It felt very sad when our table grew smaller after Meiling left for the mainland, and know there will be more sadness and adjustment after WenYu has left for college. I think YaYu is already wondering (dreading?) how it will go being stuck at the dinner table all alone with her two old parents. I however intend to enjoy evening minutes of these next two years with her as our ‘only.’

Here’s what’s on the menu at Casa Aloha next week:

  • Tuesday (tonight): Grilled hot dogs (veggie dog for me); macaroni salad; corn on the cob
  • Wednesday: Spicy steak pizzaiola (using up the rest of the London broil); bread; grilled zucchini (I’ll have pasta with marinara)
  • Thursday: Cuban bowls (saffron rice topped with Cuban-style black beans, roasted sweet potatoes, fried bananas and pico de gallo salsa)
  • Friday: Open-faced hot turkey sandwiches; cornbread stuffing (vegan); steamed green beans (just stuffing and beans for me)
  • Saturday: Grilled Italian sausage sandwiches with sautéed peppers and onions (vegan sausage for me)
  • Sunday: Breakfast for dinner: Bacon & eggs; fried potatoes; toast; and fruit (vegan sausage for me)
  • Monday: Chicken ravioli with pesto; garlic bread; grilled zucchini (I’ll have pasta with marinara again)

Once again, fingers crossed!