It’s the Monday after Thanksgiving and I’ve Already Bought Christmas Dinner

There’s no turkey shortage this year, but still, reasons.

I hope your Thanksgiving day was warm and cozy and merry however you celebrated, and that might be ‘uh, not at all, Rachael, we live in East Somewhere that doesn’t do the whole Pilgrim-y myth thing, we do what any sane person does in November and that’s stay inside and eat soup‘. This is all good, although I’m going to unequivocally state that turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and whatever sides you prefer is the meal of the year. Which is why we frequently hit the repeat button for Christmas.

This year food prices are absolutely shocking. I mean like the tub of cream cheese that was $3.69 last year at this time is now $7.69. Even though we are doing ok, we have to be thoughtful. I’ve considered making a price book again, just to track the changes.

Last year prices weren’t so bad, but there was shortages of everything. While the supply chain has smoothed out, the increase in prices is reason enough to spread out the costs. So here’s what we did.

  1. November is our big food stockpile month anyway, so this year we have most of the goods from that – squashes galore, sweet potatoes and a 25 lb bag of keeping onions my sister brought from the farm by her that we love. So with the exception of potatoes and cheese and crackers, most of the sides are set. We have 5 pie pumpkins alone, so I see a lot of pumpkin recipes in our future. So most of our sides will come from this bounty.
  2. Stuffing bread and mixes are cheapest around Thanksgiving, and for the most part, they keep. Same with turkey brine mixes if that’s your thing. So those are bought and tucked away in the pantry for a few weeks.
  3. Our meat share offers turkeys at Thanksgiving, but not at Christmas, so we ordered a lovely bird and popped it in the freezer. Same with salami/cured sausage, so we got that too.
  4. We ordered 5 lbs of cranberries – I love cranberries – this fall and used some for Thanksgiving #2, but still have plenty for more Cranberry-raspberry sauce, cranberry bread, and so on.
  5. Flour and sugar for Christmas baking are also the cheapest right around now, so we just buy a lot. We also have a lot of butter from our last (and likely last) Azure Standard order. We make baked goods for gifts, and of course, for ourselves.
  6. Our Winter CSA runs through December and so we’ll choose our greens and some sides from that. We have a pickup every other week, and the list of what’s available is published the Monday of pickup week. So we’ll eat well, but won’t be able to plan that part out.

So what that means is when I start doing Christmas dinner prep sometime on the 23rd – because much prep can be done in advance – I’ll probably only need a few things. December’s grocery budget is much, much lower than November’s, but we’ll still need to shop for our traditional homemade Chinese feast (the last couple years we have supplemented with ordered food, not sure how we’ll do it this year). We’ll take the kids with us to the Asian market to get our supplies the week before Christmas.

January’s budget is lower still, since that’s the month of our pantry challenge. We’ll buy milk, fruit and veggies and that’s all. It’s pleasant to start cleaning out the freezers and cabinets as we head into a new year. It makes meal planning super important, because we can’t just run out to get something, but it also means being creative, which is a fun way to challenge oneself.

And all that’s great. But by doing it in advance I also saved myself time and mental energy, which is a holiday gift in and of itself.

Why Recipes Are Just a Starting Point

I am not a big YouTube watcher – after talking on Zoom all day 8-10 hours a day, the last thing I want is to watch videos. Also, I just generally prefer the printed word, but a recent profile of June Xie on The Guardian got me watching.

This woman is a badass cook, and is much more along the lines of mostly how I grew up, with a bunch of things throw in a pot or pan, and very few measurements. It was creative, and cheap, and while there were definitely a few recipes that were followed to the letter, most of the time it was simple.

This past weekend found us very busy on Friday and into Saturday. Friday afternoon my son had a haircut, I had to run to the farm to get the next installment of our winter CSA, and then we had a much-delayed Azure Standard pickup. All 3 of those things meant our plan for homemade MYO pizza was off the table until Sunday, so I started picking through our very full freezer for options. I pulled out some pulled pork from Walden Local to thaw, and noodled around the interwebs for ideas. And found it – a tamale pie recipe. Which called for things we didn’t have.

I had ordered groceries – mostly based around the idea that we need lots and lots and lots of cheese for Thanksgiving appetizers, so it wasn’t hard to add (gasp!) a box of corn muffin mix to the order. Do I normally buy pre-made mixes? No, not really, but with only a few minutes here and there to cook, and hungry cold kids after school, I figured I had better take a couple of shortcuts.

I didn’t have creamed corn, but I did happen to have one random can of corn in the house, nor did I have sour cream, but I did have plain Greek yogurt. So I added a full cup of that, more than the recipe called for to offset the lack of cream in the corn.

I baked that, then I covered the top with some of the homemade refried beans I’d made and frozen a while back. Then I added the pulled pork but I also sauteed half a red pepper in with the onions and garlic for a little color and extra veggies (our current goal is to eat 30 varieties of plant-based foods a week) put the enchilada sauce on top of that, and then topped it with shredded cheese and baked it.

And that was how I loosely baked Delish’s Tamale Pie, but not really. At the end of the day my oldest pronounced it good, but it really could have used more flavor. Still, it was filling and warm on a cold night.

I’m a huge fan of the food renaissance that has occurred over the last 2 decades, and I love that people who make food are just as big as rock stars, because food is literally life. I adore trying new recipes, mostly on weekends when I have extra time. I take delight in feeding my family wonderful, healthy meals. I love learning about different cultures via their food.

But look – we all have to eat, right? And not every meal we eat needs to impress Gordon Ramsey. And I’m a fan of the idea that most of the time you shouldn’t be trying.

I mean that. What you should try for is: healthy, nourishing, tasty, and with variety. Pretty, too, I like a good looking meal. But you know what you shouldn’t worry about? Whether you used Himalayan Sea Salt or plain old table salt. If you didn’t use the Burrata the recipe called for vs. just some mozzarella. The pressure to follow recipes exactly and use ingredients that may or may not be out of your budget should be jettisoned.

Completely.

It was just as busy Saturday, so I got up early and tossed some stringy cuts of beef from our meat share into the crock pot with red wine, crushed tomatoes, and onions and carrots – the recipe called for celery but we didn’t have any and I never use it fast enough to make it worth buying – sauteed and then coated with a combination of cinnamon, allspice, pepper and cloves. 10 hours later the stringy beef was shreddable and it went well on top of pearl couscous and a cabbage slaw I just made up, with a dressing of the juice of 2 limes, a couple teaspoons of sugar, a generous scoop of plain Greek yogurt and a little bit of olive oil. I topped it with toasted pumpkin seeds.

This pot roast is always a hit in our house.

The slaw turned out great, even for my not-really-cabbage-loving husband, a win for the ‘use what’s in the house and use a recipe as a jumping off point’ method of feeding everyone.

Because it’s Thanksgiving week and our autumn bulk food stock up time, even though we don’t host this holiday, the pantry and freezers and fridge are literally bursting with food. We’re on for starters Thursday and a series of sides and a dessert for the other side of the family’s Saturday feast. On top of that, it’s holiday cookie baking season, and we ordered our Christmas turkey – oh how i love turkey – so that’s taking up a bunch of space in the freezer. Because everything is so full it’s easy to lose track of things, so I’m working extra hard to try and stay on top of what we have.

This week’s meal plan is a little wonkier than most because of the holidays.

Sunday: Homemade pizza with various toppings – finally! Pesto, fresh mozzarella, sauteed onions, sun dried tomatoes, sausage, shredded mozzarella and tomato sauce are all good options, but really any veggie or condiment we have in the house is fair game. Everyone chooses their own toppings for MYO night.

Monday: Leftover night – Parmesan-crusted chicken I made a while back and froze for a future meal, leftover Italian pot roast, with noodles or more pearl couscous, whatever the kids want. Sauteed spinach on the side, simple with garlic, oil and salt.

Tuesday: Eli Cooks..maybe homemade Empanadas

Wednesday: Chicken Gyros with Naan and tzatziki, a house favorite with roasted Brussels sprouts and onions on the side. Probably a cucumber salad too.

Thursday – Thanksgiving: We make some appetizers and plate some cheese and things. Then onto mashed potatoes and stuffing! Oh, and I’m making these (with sprite for the non-alcohol drinkers and littles) and this amazing salad.

Friday: If we get lucky my older sister and her family will be with us at lunch, and that’s likely going to be a pizza order. Eli and I head out to holiday shop and maybe we’ll get some delicious Indian food out as well. Not a frugal day!

Saturday: Thanksgiving #2. We’re on for creamed onions, a dessert, some wine and Cranberry-raspberry sauce.

Sunday: Time to cut down our Christmas tree, and we’ll need warm comfort food after that outing. Bread of some sort, either Foccacia or our traditional Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. I’ll pair it with One Skillet Greek Meatballs and Lemon Butter Orzo.

And then I’ll prep a dish for Monday, just to get us through. Occasionally our meal plan holds us through the week, but often things change and our plans get upended. Still, we mostly eat at home, even if it’s just some Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken, rice and sliced veggies because no one had time to cook. Or some ground beef and veggies in a simple stir fry over rice.

But we’ll be flexible. And if we don’t have an ingredient, we’ll find something we can use in our house or we’ll move on to another more fitting dish.

Sunday Food

It looks like November outside, but it has remained unseasonably warm, a thing both enjoyable and worrisome. But what it does mean is that this morning I went out and picked a few tomatoes, peppers and the only butternut squash to survive drought, bunnies and groundhogs eating the garden, and rot.

A hard freeze is coming this week, finally, so I want to be prepared. By next weekend it will be time to rip out the last of the garden and prepare it for next year.

We spent a lot of of money on groceries and supplies this month. I don’t know what it is about November that leads me to stock us to the gills, but every year it’s the same.

This weekend I went to Trader Joe’s and Costco, borrowing a friend’s card for the latter, and stocked us up on bulk items I know we’ll use, plus a start of things for the holidays. I’m not even close to done for Christmas but I am picking things up here and there.

We literally have almost everything we need, except twice now I’ve forgotten to get garlic powder.

Next week comes Azure Standard – huge piles of squashes, canned tomatoes (since our garden really didn’t comply this year, largely because of drought), seeds for next year and some other pantry supplies. Also our meat share and the next drop of our CSA.

So at the end of this week we’ll be in eat-down mode again. After 2 back-to-back trips to my office in Michigan to meet with clients, I’m home for a month, with the exception of a weekend away with my oldest, just us.

We have a busy week ahead with lots of appointments, kid activities and things we absolutely have to get done, so this week’s meal plan was made with that, and the target of eating a lot of veggie varieties in mind.

Knowing that Sunday was my best day to cook, I made the meal plan and then headed into the kitchen. First up was using the last of the farm apples and making Spiced Apple Butter. If all goes well we’ll have enough to give away as well as use. My travel lately meant I was a bit behind on using up the apples, so we lost a few to rot. A couple cores went to our bunny, Marshmallow and the rest of them plus the peels to the chickens, who were very happy about it.

Tomorrow’s dinner is meant to use up the Tomatillos that are still coming out of our garden, so right after that I pan-roasted 2 Poblano Peppers, 1 Jalapeno, 6 cloves of garlic and about a pound of tomatillos at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes. Taking that prep step out will allow me to do the rest of the cooking during small breaks throughout the day. The recipe calls for carrots and onions as well, so we’ll get a large variety of veggies into our diets tomorrow.

And then my son requested chocolate chip cookies again, so I went to my go-to recipe, which makes enough to eat and some to give away.

Tonight Sunday 11/13: Chicken Parm, pasta, garlic bread, broccoli & the last of the Shishito peppers from the garden roasted with olive oil and salt

Chicken Parmesan will make plenty of leftovers for lunches this week, and we still have a couple servings left of Thai Peanut Chicken Ramen for lunches too.

Monday 11/14: Instant pot chili verde, rice, salad. I combined a couple recipes to make ours, which I’ll post soon.

Tuesday 11/15: Eli Cooks, kid friendly, protein TBD.  Our monthly meat CSA comes today, so plenty of choices!

Wednesday 11/16: Simple garlic chicken, roasted Brussels sprouts and onions, pearl couscous

Thursday 11/17: Just Eli and I, possibly Clam Chowder. Great for leftovers too.

Friday 11/18: It’s pickup #2 of 4 of our winter CSA share. It’s going to be a cold one, so MYO pizza (dough is prepped on Wednesday and cold-proofed in the fridge) topped with tomato sauce or pesto, caramelized onions, sliced San Marzano tomatoes, the last few from the garden, fresh mozzerella, spinach and whatever anyone else wants.

Saturday 11/19: Busy day – High school open house in the AM, the Moms church fair PM.  Days like this call for the crockpot! Italian pot roast, noodles, salad.

Sunday 11/21: Home day!  Roast chicken with roasted veggies and maybe Parmesan Tater Tots, a house favorite. I might get motivated to make some meatballs for Couscous Meatball Soup on Monday

Sundays in the kitchen are busy but fun, and at the end of it the house smells wonderful.

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