Monday, September 14, 2009

Turkey Sausage and Zucchini

So the one night of the week that we didn't have guests I was faced with being rather busy that day (the only day to myself to get a lot of work done) but resisted getting take out for dinner.

I came up with this instead.

Turkey Sausage and Zucchini
This is adapted from Simply Recipe’s Stuffed Zucchini with Turkey Sausage

I was faced with having zucchini that needed to be cooked, but none of them large enough to be stuffed and one that arrived broken in my produce delivery. Certainly could have made a stir fry but I wanted to try something different. I also did not have fresh herbs on hand and so I decided to come up with something that could be pulled from the freezer/pantry.

2 small/medium zucchini, sliced
Drizzle of vegetable or olive oil
1 lb ground turkey
½ small onion, chopped
4 mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves pressed garlic
2 tsp dried basil
2 tsp salt free seasoning (Mrs. Dash)
2 pinches kosher salt
¼ cup grated parmesan or any other grated/shredded cheese you prefer

In a baking dish, drizzle with oil and then arrange slices of zucchini to cover the bottom. Season them with salt, pepper and some salt free seasoning. Place in oven to bake at 350 degrees. While zucchini is cooking, heat a sauté pan with a drizzle of oil, the onion, garlic and mushrooms. When browned, add turkey and then season with basil and salt free seasoning. Combine thoroughly and cook for about 10 minutes or until turkey is cooked through. Remove zucchini from oven, spoon the turkey mixture over the top of the zucchini and top with cheese. Return to oven for 10 minutes.

My 10 year old was skeptical at first and picked out some of the chopped mushrooms, but then asked if there were leftovers to pack in her lunch. We decided that we liked this as a quick, satisfying meal, but maybe not something you’d serve company. We also had an unbaked pre-made loaf of garlic bread (from having company earlier that week) that I added to the meal.
The stuffed zucchini recipe that inspired this is definitely company-worthy, especially with the fresh herbs. The key is making it well seasoned. I think adding either some tomato sauce or even Italian style stewed tomatoes would be good, it would just make it more like a pasta sauce and maybe with alternating layers of the turkey, cheese and zucchini it would be a heavier casserole.

Catching Up

WOW I've let the days go by and didn't get to blogging about my pantry/freezer progress.
There have been some challenges but I still think overall it's not bad. I wish there was a way to not spend a single dime, but I'm kidding myself because we have needed a few things. Plus we had company; over night guests for two nights, then my birthday. So it was a little unavoidable but still pretty good.

I for the first night of guests I made dinner almost entirely from food already on hand. I grilled a pork tenderloin (from the freezer) that I basted with a simple balsamic glaze (just heat some honey and balsamic vinegar on the stove until it reduces). I also made a delicious tomato pie from Simply Recipes. I used the tomatoes I received from my CSA delivery and I made my own crust, which I must say turned out pretty good. Then I just prepared some green beans cooked with a little butter and dill seasoning. (The seasoning is from Pampered Chef, and I love it.)

The shopping I did in preparation for the guests was getting some bagels, juice, milk and some other drink options. Not bad. The next night we had more guests join us, but they insisted I not cook and paid for the purchase of some rotisserie chickens, salad and garlic bread. I baked brownies and some peanut butter cookies. We actually had 2 less people than anticipated and was left with 1 whole chicken uneaten, one Caesar salad kit unopened and 2 loaves of garlic bread unbaked. I contemplated just eating it the rest of the week but instead decided to freeze the chicken and the bread to save for another week.

So it was just 2 nights of guests and it was a lot of fun and I felt pretty good about how I used my resources.

The following night I will post separately and and then the next night after that was my birthday and after much debate I decided to just have people over and we had pizza and the salad we had not eaten from two nights before (it held up just fine in the fridge). Plus we had plenty of leftover drinks and I picked up chips and dip and had a super good cake called Slice of the Tropics. (ACK, no photo!)

A good blogger would have better details. If I was not trying to sneak in blogging and other work between tending to sick children I'd get my receipts in order and determine how much as been spent so far. I'm going to try and get to that soon.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mid- week still doing well

Wednesday is taco day.
Really it sounds better when it’s Tuesday Taco Day, but we are busy on Tuesdays and so it’s easier for us to do it on Wednesdays. So last night I made use of 1 lb of the 5 lbs of ground beef I have and fixed tacos. We also had a few of these great flour tortillas I had purchased from Costco earlier in the month. They are uncooked; all you do is heat them in a pan to cook. But we also like crispy shells, so I made some of those using corn tortillas. When the tortillas come out of the frying pan, I sprinkle them with grated parmesan cheese. It closely resembles one of our favorite taco places, Jim Boy’s. Not nearly as good, but it’s pretty good. Many nights I cook dinner solo, but on Taco Night I have my oldest help me, this time she cooked the flour tortillas and she sprinkled the cheese on the corn shells, plus she helped set out the table when we were ready to eat. Other times she has grated cheese or watched over the taco meat. She has even helped with frying the shells and has done a good job with that. I used up 2 of the 10 avocados I have making guacamole and I’m happy that all the others are still semi-firm (the fridge is so helpful for delaying the ripeness) and not going bad yet. All I did was put 2 out on Monday and they were nice and ready by Wednesday morning, so I put them back in the fridge and they were chilled for the guacamole that evening. I remembered to take photos of our tacos after we ate and my attempt at taking photos of what was left turned out ugly, so I will spare you. I used leftover meat and cheese to pack for lunches for my girls. They each had some in containers and then my older one packed a bag of leftover tortilla chips and a container of salsa, plus a leftover taco shell. The little one I packed the meat and cheese and a baggie of chips. For the older one, I popped her thermos in the microwave in the morning and it stayed warm until lunch (she said the taco shell isn't as yummy the next day) and for the toddler, her preschool heats up lunches that need it.

For Thursday (another busy night) I fixed teriyaki chicken wings and a salad. Plus there was leftover chicken soup which my kids ate and my husband had a little helping as well since a pile of wings and salad wasn’t quite enough after a long day of work where he barely ate all day. Chicken wings in the oven often work well for us on busy nights because they don’t take a lot of tending to and allow me to multi-task. I check them periodically to be sure they get mixed around and properly coated, but then I can leave them and set the oven to just turn off, which allows me to leave the house to pick up from soccer practice and when we come back they’re ready to eat. The crock pot can certainly play the same role, but I don’t know that it provides the same sticky-crispy results that I get with the oven. I’m happy that my romaine hearts are staying fresh in my crisper, and I had 1 pear left from my CSA delivery last week, so our salad was composed of romaine, chopped pear, feta cheese, crumbled bacon (I have a big bag of pre-crumbled real bacon purchased at Costco), corn kernels (frozen), avocado with a strawberry vinaigrette.
Here’s my recipe and a photo.

Teriyaki Chicken Wings
1.5 lbs chicken wings
Drizzle of olive or vegetable oil
Drizzle of sesame oil
¼ cup teriyaki sauce (prefer Aloha brand)
2 tbl soy sauce (prefer Aloha brand low sodium)
¼ cup pineapple juice (mine came from the juice I saved from a can of pineapple chunks)
Garlic powder or any garlic seasoning (fresh crushed garlic is great too if you’ve got it)

Heat oven to 425 degrees.
I did not defrost the wings. I take the frozen wings, place them in a baking dish (I like my Pampered Chef deep dish round stoneware baker) and place them in the oven while it’s still pre-heating. After about 10 minutes I then season them with the garlic, drizzle them with the oils and mix them around to get evenly coated. Then I put them back in for about 10 more minutes. Meanwhile mix the teriyaki sauce, soy sauce and pineapple juice. Pour all of this over the chicken and mix to coat. For me, in my pan when combined with the liquid being created by the cooking chicken, it was quite a bit of sauce but the long cooking at the high heat will cook it down into a sticky glaze.

This is the point when moved the dish from being in the middle of the oven to the rack on the bottom to be closer to the heat and then I set my oven to shut off in 15 minutes. They sat in the hot oven after it turned off for about 10 more minutes.

I think they turned out very pretty. And rather yummy. I didn't count, but I think I had about 20 or so wings and I still have quite a lot left in the enormous Costco bag of wings.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Freezer Pantry Challenge- the early days

So, my introductory post was yesterday but I had conducted my inventory and wrote it on Sunday. Today I am bringing things up to date with my progress for meals for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

When I did inventory we had 1/2 a gallon of milk, no flour, no brown sugar and no half and half. So I did spend about $10 because they are some key ingredients for things I want to make coming weeks. (Plus, we always need to have milk to drink)

Sunday I barbecued chicken that my older daughter has declared a favorite of hers. It's basted with a simple balsamic vinegar glaze. We also had brown rice, canned green beans (the only version my kids eat) and sliced one of the heirloom tomatoes from our CSA that I drizzled with extra balsamic glaze. Here's the recipe for the chicken.

Grilled Chicken with Balsamic Glaze
4 Chicken breasts (boneless, skinless) or whatever chicken portion you prefer
Salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons honey
¼ c. balsamic vinegar
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper to preferred taste.
Prepare grill and be sure grates are oiled.
Heat the honey in a small sauce pan over medium heat until it becomes thin. Add balsamic vinegar and let boil and reduce for 3-5 minutes. Be careful, it can splatter while boiling; keep a close eye on it. Remove from heat.
Place chicken on hot grill, grill for about 4 minutes until grill marks have formed, and then flip over. Baste with glaze and grill for another 4 minutes. Flip over and baste again, the flip one more time and apply more glaze. Be sure they are cooked through, then remove from grill and let rest for 5 minutes.

On Monday I channeled my inner Southern self. (I have lived in CA all my life) and grilled bone-in pork chops that I basted with orange apricot preserves toward the end of cooking. I also had the craving for deep fried zucchini. I mixed an egg with milk to dip the slices in first. Then I made up a flour and cornmeal coating that included garlic powder and some seasoning salt. I was lazy and did not pull out my fryer and just used a regular frying pan. I also intended to fix a salad but instead just left the meal at the pork chop and zucchini. The zucchini was great. But isn't everything fried great?

Fried Zucchini

On Tuesday I decided to make use of a whole roasted chicken in the freezer and although its August and still rather hot here, I made chicken soup. Again feeling a bit Southern I decided to make dumplings for the soup. I've made them before but I was disappointed with how they turned out. One dumpling was fluffy inside the others were solid. I could swear it's the same recipe I used last time (from The Joy of Cooking) however I am now convinced that last time I must have used Bisquick and the recipe from the package. I am also sure that the texture of the dough and how it came together was wrong and I had a feeling it was when I was making it. I am pretty sure it was operator error. But it was easy enough to just scoop them out when I was saving the leftovers. A waste, which I hate, but at least it didn't spoil the rest of the dish. This soup was simple, I sauteed one of my many onions (which I'm saving to make French onion soup) and a couple of carrots with celery salt (because I don't have fresh celery) and the whole chicken. Then I add some water, to not quite cover the chicken and cooked it all down. The chicken was from Costco and so the skin provided a lot of flavor. Cooking it down to reduce the liquid also concentrated the flavor. I pulled out all the bones and then added more water, turned up the heat to bring it up to a boil and added a bunch of Trader Joe's frozen green beans. In the back of my head I was sort of keeping this more stew-like than a brothy soup. But when it was time to eat I mixed the dumplings and decided to add about 2 cups of chicken broth to have enough liquid to cook them.
Dumpling disappointment aside, the soup is pretty tasty. I like making it because I can multi-task while it simmers, and using a store-bought roasted chicken cuts corners on seasoning. I will still make my usual homemade chicken soup which is a longer labor of love (and a recipe I have started to write out and will post someday soon) but this made enough for me to pack a generous portion for my husband's lunch as well as a little serving for my toddler to have a preschool and there is still some more for about 2 more servings.

For Wednesday, I'm making beef tacos. I've always got tortillas and I happen to have quite a few avocados that I bought over a week ago for a party and when it came time to make guacamole they were still hard as rocks. My mistake for putting them in the fridge after just one day on the counter, I love that the fridge can extend the life of avocados, but sometimes there's an art to timing them to ripen when you need. So I put several out the other day, they are now perfectly ripe and back in the fridge ready to become delicious guacamole.

More on that tomorrow...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Taking Stock

I don’t know about other people but for me there is always some point in the year (if not all year) that you have more than your normal monthly expenditures. Our second half of the year is always like this. With all the birthdays in our family and holidays all taking place from July until December, the final six months of the year are always fun but yet stressful. Add both cars registration due and various other expenses and it’s a doozy to manage.
So I was mulling all this over, berating myself for once again not being as prepared for this as I vowed I would be last year, when I started to think about where and how to save some money. My first thought was to start with unnecessary expenditures, eating out being one of them. Which in spite of my business, we still eat out sometimes because we like to eat out and also sometimes out of convenience and schedule. But I also looked at my extra freezer and in my pantry and decided that with the shopping I had done at the start of August I had no real reason to do any large shopping for quite some time. So I issued a challenge to myself to see how I could make use of all the food I had in the house without going to the store. Or at least without replenishing a few items like milk and/or eggs. I don’t even have a real need for produce because I have a variety of frozen vegetables that I can go to after the produce I do have is gone.
So I took a pad and pen and stood in front of my freezer, my pantry and my refrigerator/freezer and took inventory and then I took that and typed it all in an Excel sheet so I could organize it by category and now I have a “shopping list” in which I can work from to create our meals. It sort of reminds me of that great Food Network show, "Door Knock Dinners". I wish they still had that on, it was fun to watch.
I took a few photos to start my challenge off. I guess like a little "before".
Stay tuned, I plan to update on my progress.

The fridge

The produce drawer

The freezer in the garage

Friday, June 12, 2009

Long Overdue

I am so bad at blogging! My excuse is that I've been working a lot on the business and that website. This week I sent out my 3rd weekly newsletter. I'm starting to establish a routine and method for compiling the newsletter and meal plan. I've thought a lot about this blog though and how I want to use it to supplement the website. Sometimes with the newsletter I feel like I'm a bit bloggy because I want to share something about my own methods in the kitchen or my own opinions, which I think is ok to certain extent, but would like that to be the exception and not the rule. I want to have good content/articles (not exclusively written by me) on the website that I can highlight in the newsletter and relevant news such as great products, other websites or articles and then helpful tips and tricks. So I want the blog to be the place where I go into a bit more detail about my own cooking and testing of recipes for the meal plans as well as where I can ramble on about the ins and outs of starting this business from the ground up.

So, in the business world I have launched the site, although it's incredibly light on content. My long term goal is that besides the paid subscription options, it will be an informative site; a portal to all of the great cooking/recipe resources on the web. I hope that over time, that quality content and high volume of subscribers creates compelling stats for advertisers.

So far I've got a nice handful of friends and family and a few people who I don't know but were referred to me, signed up as subscribers. I'm offering the first month free. I'm sort of like a pre-teen sitting by the phone constantly checking email and looking at my site stats to look for feedback from subscribers and see who has opened my emails and clicked on links. I am considering

I am looking around at online advertising options. And some advertising in local parenting publications. And I have to get my google ads going. I printed business cards and a few magnet business cards. I figured it was appropriate for my business to have fridge magnets. I've also got reusable grocery bags getting screened with my logo right now and should have them next week.

I am totally and actually in business! AAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

In the cooking world, I've been testing recipes. I'm trying each week to try a few dishes the week before I add it to a meal plan. Plus I've had other people try stuff for me too. I'm wondering how long I should wait to repeat a dish in a weekly plan. It's not uncommon in my house to make the same dish every other week and actually when it comes to grilling chicken or steaks; it can be 2 weeks in a row with the variation being in the vegetables/side dishes.

Some highlights-

Mushroom Casserole from 101 Cookbooks- I made this as a side dish with a whole chicken I roasted on the grill. I don't really eat mushrooms (but my husband loves them) and I loved this! I actually keep thinking about it and when I could make it again.

Roasted Chicken on the Grill- I roast whole chickens frequently and I usually like to make one on the grill a couple times a year. It uses up a lot of the propane, so I don't do it more than once or twice. It's a labor of love as it takes more attention than oven-roasting but the result is delish. And I have leftover in the freezer waiting to become soup. There is no link because it's my own recipe (of sorts) that I may someday write down.

Cherry Clafouti from Simply Recipes- Fresh cherries are for sale all over the place, we mostly just eat them fresh but I thought this recipe looked good and I was not disappointed.

Brown Sugar Bacon Waffles from Joy the Baker – Made these on a Sunday morning. SO GOOD! I actually split the batter to leave bacon out of some of it and instead added some cinnamon and nutmeg per Joy's suggestion and those were good too.

Buttermilk and herb marinated chicken from Martha Stewart- Really liked this. Kids loved it too. Super moist and good flavor. I made it using buttermilk I had leftover from making the waffles.

Strawberry Panzanella from 101 Cookbooks- Yum! Brought it to a bbq, I thought it was great, husband thought it was great and we left the party a little early and not many other people had begun to eat desserts yet.

Cheap and Easy Turkey Stir Fry- This was my own concoction inspired by Savour-Fare and her 10 Minute Thai Style Turkey. I have actually made stir fry using ground beef a few times and thought an even leaner version would be to use ground turkey.

A few photos of my roast chicken…

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mid-Memorial Day Weekend Post

Wanted to take a few minutes to just jot down some random thoughts. Having a very laid back weekend, the first one in I don't know how long. There are certainly plenty of projects we could undertake this weekend, but we're not. My wound-too-tightly side of my personality will probably resent that in a few weeks, but for now, it's nice. We're washing and folding laundry while watching Giants baseball on tv, or washing the car, going over to the softball field to practice pitching and going out for ice cream and playing Guitar Hero on the Wii. Leisurely enjoyable activities. A little bit of chores mixed with family time.
In the midst of that my brain is always running a million things through it. Random thoughts about the business, about food, about finances, about life in general. So I'm going to take a few minutes to just off-load the items worth making note of.

-I have been tossing slogan/catch phrases around. Something along the lines of "Never again worry about 'what's for dinner?'" Or - the answer to "what's for dinner?" I want something that can easily get my brand message across if I were to create an ad or on a business card. Or even a car magnet.

-Promotional materials. I am going to shop around for items I can use to spread the word. Reusable bags for sure, maybe a magnet sign to put on my car, maybe mouse pads. I have a couple opportunities to create a donation for a fundraiser (one a silent auction, one a raffle) and so I'm thinking about creating a bag of goodies that would include a month of complimentary service. So I want some swag with my logo on it.

-Recipes. A topic never not running through my head. Either I'm thinking about where to search for more sources, when I can work in testing some myself or when will I take some time to write out my own recipes. 85% of what I cook is from my head. Actually, it's probably more 95%. A lot of that inspired by recipes I have read, but unless I'm baking you'll rarely see me in the kitchen with a recipe on the counter. With preparing for this business I'm using recipes more because I am testing the recipes I come across, but usually I have a variety of cooking techniques and I just use those to create our meals.

-Fitness/losing weight- Along with trying to get a food-related business up and running, dealing with a nutty toddler, a busy 10 year old and a husband who commutes 2+ hours a day to work, I've been waging a war on my weight. Since mid-January I've lost 22 lbs. My goal is to lose another 20 by the end of the year. I made my goal realistic and planned to accomplish it slow and steady. I've worked my butt off (literally) at the gym. In my profile, I actually wrote the fitness was one of my interests. 2 years ago I would have laughed at that. I have always liked being active and got way, away from it. But now I read Shape magazine and go to the gym 5 or 6 days a week. When I'm not at the gym, I often find myself thinking about when I will go again and what I'll do there. BUT, I still love food, and it's sorta hard to try these new recipes and make sure I lose weight at the same time. Although they are not unhealthy, but this week I've been following a food plan outlined by my trainer to jump start my metabolism and get my body into fat burning mode. So I haven't tried any new recipes since I need to follow this strict plan. But I have tried to get creative in how to prepare the same damn meals every day. I feel pretty good about what I've made and how it's tasted. (another set of recipes I will have to find time to write down)
So with my own weight loss work in mind, I need to incorporate that into the meal plans I will create for the business, with a focus on naturally low fat or healthy foods. Not utilizing commercially created low fat foods (who really LIKES low fat mayo or cheese? ICK!) but helping people easily fix fresh, healthy meals that they will enjoy.
One of my dinners from this week- grilled talapia, a saute of carrots, zucchini, asparagus and English peas, and salad of baby greens and heirloom tomatoes. Most of the veggies came from my Farm Fresh to You delivery. I felt so good about what I made and how organic it was. Nerdy, I know, but I was proud.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


So I'm incredibly anxious to "open my doors" for business, but there are still so many things to get done. I'm terrified to not be prepared enough for clients. I don't want to start off winging it and always playing catch up. Yet, I know there is something to be said for letting things progress organically and not having every detail set in stone. do I find a mix of that?
First I must continue to research, write and obtain content for the site. I don't want to start advertising and sending people to a site that is so sparse. I have to write out my marketing plan. I have a lot of resources and ideas for where I want to advertise, how I want to promote myself, but it's scattered and not written out in one place.
I would also like to secure a few more people willing to be my test clients. I have a good group of friends testing recipes for me, which has been so helpful. Their feedback helps me to decide to which recipes to use and which to pass on. And I have to continue to research and find more to be tested as well. But I would like some people willing to either follow my basic service meal plan or be a custom plan client so that I can "practice" on them. The feedback would be so helpful as well as just being able to test how I want to run things.
I do have a bit of a time crunch to make some progress on the website content because I agreed to pay for a sponsorship of my daughter's softball league and so in a few weeks I am going to need to have the site updated with more information.

With that, I should get back to work.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Making Time

Don't you wish the phrase "making time" was more literal? Like you could create extra hours in the day. Instead of how it actually means you are setting aside time, or taking time. I have really been trying to follow my mega schedule and I actually should be working on laundry right now, but I'm going over my allotted computer time to post to my blog. I have determined that if I could not wash dishes, wash/fold laundry or do any other housework, I could have my business up and running within 2 weeks. But alas, I have to juggle and make time to do each of these things. And even my computer time is not just business stuff. It's volunteer work for my daughter's softball and soccer teams and e-mail and paying bills and of course Facebook and Twitter.

My company logo is done! Very exciting. I'm looking to get it added to the website soon even though the rest of my content and marketing stuff isn't done yet. My website is just one page of information right now with the basic template of the site. I am probably going to keep the navigation layout but I have the ability to re-do the color layout, how the navigation is titled and of course beef it up with more pages and such.

I grilled pizza on Tuesday. It was a group effort. My youngest (who is 3.5) has her own set of kitchen tools and so she kept busy with her own ball of dough while my oldest (who is 10) rolled out dough while I got the grill oiled and hot, then we both worked at getting the dough on the grill, then added toppings. My first piece of advice is have everything ready, all the toppings set out. If mise en place was ever important in the kitchen (and it is!) it really helps when making pizza. Second, be in sync with your grill and how hot it gets. Mine always seems to have more heat on the right toward the center than the left. (It is a 2-burner gas grill btw) I knew this yet unfortunately left one too long on the hot spot and the crust was charred. However the toppings were still tasty!
Next time we make this I will make a change to the process to see if it makes a difference. I had decided to put the dough on and let them sit for a few minutes and then put the toppings on. My reason was that I felt the crust would probably need more cooking time than the toppings. I also don't have a pizza peel, so it is actually easier to place the dough on the grill and then put the toppings on instead of trying to transfer a full pizza onto the grill. But then there were a couple that I cooked longer to be sure the toppings were cooked enough. I have a cookie sheet that was a decent substitute for a peel and so next time I will assemble and then transfer to the grill. I should mention that I used dough I purchased at my local Winco, which has a Costco-eque pizza counter and they also sell their dough and sauce. I bought 2 balls of dough ($1.48 each) and made my own sauce. We cut each ball into thirds and those each rolled out to be larger than your usual personal size pizza. But then it makes for small slices of a variety of combos and we like that. I had cheese, fresh basil, sun dried tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, pineapple and ham and my daughter and I just created combinations using those toppings.
Some photos during the process.

Friday I think I will skip the gym to make more time for housework. I am tempted to take a photo of the enormous pile of laundry that must be done. I am so anxious to work on the business and writing the website content but I don't think I can really focus unless I get everything else in order. I really wish I could make time. Literally.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

I actually intended to blog more than just one day a week, but I every time I've sat at my computer, I take care of more pressing items or just do things that are quick. Sitting down to write takes more brain power and energy from me.

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. I hope you've been properly celebrated by your friends and loved ones. I enjoyed a lovely brunch with my family and close friends.

This week I created a master schedule for myself as I mentioned in my post last Sunday. I tried to create blocks of time and assign tasks to them; computer time, housecleaning, laundry, dinner and exercise. I sort of followed it for two days, but I had a few extra things this week that had me out of the house so couldn't complete it all. This coming week I will make more progress. My husband has been telling me for ages that we should really cancel our yard service and have a cleaning service instead. I do like that idea but I’m conflicted about it, after all, I am a stay at home mom and it's my job. Having a cleaning service means I've failed my job. But, on the other hand, if I had to just keep things up and not get buried, maybe it would be easier. We used to have a cleaning service when I worked full time outside the house and it was by far the best investment of money.

My website is now ready for me to start loading with content. I've also got to determine if I should stick with the template layout or take the time (and money) to do a custom design. I have budgeted for the design work, but I could save the money to use toward operating expenses in these early months. I'm leaning toward a new design, but I'm going to explore a middle road of just customizing the existing template a little more than just plugging in the colors I want. My logo design is almost final. But I do have a lot more work to do to research and write content and get my marketing plan ready. I created my Google ads account and I have identified some local advertising I'm interested in. I’m shopping around to find a reusable shopping bag to order with my logo as a free gift for customers when they sign up.

Last week in cooking... I made hummus twice. The first time without tahini using a recipe that called for lemon juice, olive oil and plain yogurt. It was good, I liked the lemon, but wanted more garlic (it called for just 1 clove). Then I made the recipe from my friend Kate at Savour-fare and that uses tahini and more garlic and I also squeezed some lemon juice into it. My husband, who detests hummus had some and liked it. I also made a stir fry that was pretty darn good and used the onion, broccoli, snap peas and mushrooms that I received in our produce box on Wed.

This week I’m looking forward to trying out a couple recipes and also grilling pizza. My friend Allibrew, grills pizza and I did it with some friends a couple years ago and have been itching to try again. I may or may not make the crust from scratch…not sure yet. This week’s meals are going to have a focus on health (not that every week doesn’t) but a much stronger emphasis because I’ve been a bit of a stall with my weight loss and I know it’s because my treats in moderation have been more frequent than moderate. So grilled chicken to cut up and toss with salad, salmon, and naturally lighter foods are on tap, with grilled pizza being a treat and even that can easily be low cal especially if I just have 2 slices. But besides all that, I also have to watch my snacking (meaning healthier snacks and overall daily calorie intake. Oh, and do more cardio.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

To Do

Sunday for us is often a day we are mostly at home, doing things like laundry, shopping or other errands, generally getting ready for the week ahead. I've done some of that and I've had a mental To Do list that I want to get written out, so that I can really start this week (and actually this month) out right.

I will start with what I have accomplished already. I have done my major shopping for May. I have been to Costco, Trader Joe's and Winco. I need add up my receipts, but my rough mental estimate is about $400 for quite a bit of food, some of which will last beyond the month. This does not include my $31.95 organic produce delivery which will arrive on Wed. I have planned the meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) for this coming week and I'm working on next week. When I made breakfast (pan fried diced potatoes, Italian sausage and scrambled eggs) this morning, I made more than needed and used the rest to make 3 breakfast burritos for my husband. He makes a long commute to work and he likes something portable like a burrito. I also usually pack him a yogurt and in addition I have yogurt, fresh blueberries and granola to pack to change things up a bit. For months I've had a package of Trader Joe's banana bread mix in my cupboard and decided to bake that this morning. It's tasty, but nothing like made from scratch. It's very light on banana flavor. I can't even remember why I had that mix in the first place. Anyway, we ate a couple slices and the rest can be eaten this week for the girls to have as a quick breakfast in the car on the way to school/daycare. When I plan our meals I have a chart that includes all meals because it really helps with creating my shopping list and my oldest can actually look at it to know what to grab for breakfast and she can also use it as a guide to pack her own lunch. The breakfast and lunch portion is not has locked in as dinner because I generally have on hand a variety of things that make it flexible, but when you're pressed for time at night to get ready for the next day or rushing out the door in the morning, it's been helpful to just refer to the chart.

So for this week I need to:
*Apply for business license and get started on DBA paperwork
*Continue gathering recipes and send out to friends for testing
*Close survey and download results.
*Create a work schedule for myself to map out time for business and time for home/family
*Make chicken soup - I have a leftover roasted chicken in the freezer from several weeks ago and I keep putting off making the soup.

Tonight we had fish tacos. I also made guacamole and ate my weight in guacamole. I'm very full and content.
Happy Sunday.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Time Management

The week seemed to fly by and I have not taken the time to write. It's been a nice week of cooking which is good, but my desk time has not been as organized as I would like. I think this will change in May as we're making some changes in daycare schedules and I hope this will give me the time I need to devote to starting the business. I've got an extensive To Do list both with the business and other household management duties and my execution of them has been sub-par. I think it is time for me to breakdown the hours in the day and schedule tasks that way. I have not wanted to operate at that level of control freakiness, but it's become apparent to me that I need this sort of structure for myself or I will end up running around starting and stopping all sorts of things and never completing anything. It's funny because I watch the clock so much throughout the day but still run out of time. And yet come dinner time, I watch the clock and manage how each element of the meal will come together and timing it all perfectly. I have to apply that same sense of management to the other parts of my life.

This week I sent out some recipes to friends who are willing to test them for me. It's important that when I begin creating the weekly meal plans for that I am offering recipes that have been tested and given favorable reviews. Sometimes I will use my own personal creations but mostly I have been doing a lot of research to find recipes from other sources. Something I noticed in my research for my potential competition is they mostly provide all their own recipes. I don't think I need to be yet another recipe website. I'd much rather rely on tried and true recipes from well known sources (like Martha Stewart, Food TV and and with those try them myself or have someone I know try them. My site will be a portal to all of the quality cooking and grocery shopping resources already out on the web.
I have also launched my market research survey and it's been great to see the results. I think some people might have taken it as fishing for customers and I actually had not even considered that. I really want to know if the assumptions I'm making about the profile for my target market is correct and I wanted feedback on pricing so that I structure my pricing to be reasonable. I'm happy to see that I am on the right track as well as learn some more about people's perceptions and expectations. It also confirmed that I have a lot of foodie control freak friends (like myself) who have no use for my services. But I knew that, and appreciate that in spite of that they still have positive encouragement and still think it's a good idea.

In cooking news- This week I tried several recipes and I liked them all.
Orange beef stir fry- I added zucchini and snap peas from my produce delivery and used the organic oranges and their juice too.

Grilled chicken w/balsamic glaze- I did manage to clean up the grill and add new lava rocks to it and it's ready to use. So I made a glaze of honey and balsamic vinegar to to baste the chicken.

Slow Cooker Sausage Lasagna- This is a very quick way to have lasagna on a week night. It's not the same as the real deal, with ricotta but it was quick and easy and very tasty and liked by everyone in the house.

Tomorrow I will do my major shopping for May, so I'm finalizing my lists and doing a little coupon research. I will report back on how that goes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Heat Wave

So we're having a heat wave...Yesterday morning, when dropping off my daughters at school, it had the feel like it was the end of the school year and then suddenly realized it was just April. 90 degree heat in April, totally wacky.

I'd like to take a moment to gush about a new favorite thing. I should start by saying I am an ice cream person. I love super premium ice cream, although I'm not snobby about it, I'll eat regular supermarket ice cream just the same. But I have always felt like soft serve (except Foster's Freeze) and frozen yogurt are sub-par. They are pretend ice cream. However, I recently tried Red Mango frozen yogurt and I am in love. I can't stop thinking about it. Tart, creamy, and full of healthy stuff - I had the original w/ strawberries and coconut on top. I also tried a sample of the green tea flavor, which was great and will order that sometime soon. YUM!
So I love ice cream and now I love Red Mango's yogurt as well.

Back to the heat. I actually welcome it, although I still reserve the right to complain about it. But when it's hot, I tend to change how or what I cook. Soups, stews, meatloaf and casseroles are gone. It's now time for grilling and salads and things that are quick and don't have you standing in front of the stove for awhile. Except why do we love to stand outside in front of the hot grill on a hot day? I don't know, but I do it and so we'll just make that exception. My big issue right now is my grill has seen better days. I can't recall how old it is, I think maybe just 3 years but it looks much older. I'm debating about a new one, although I think I should look at cleaning out around the heating element and scrubbing the grill racks. The poor thing has just been used so much. Most of the year, except when it's rainy, I use the grill. Well, I do go a long spell during the winter without using it. I think it's the sitting unused that contributes to it's worn out looks. But grilled meats and veggies are a staple in our house throughout the summer and fall. Plus I seem to have 2 or 3 parties a year where I'll grill tons of food. The point is, my grill gets heavy use and so I am trying to justify a need for a new one. But, to be resourceful (and more financially responsible) I should see what can be done to get more life out of it.
I will leave you with this recipe that I happened to submit to All Recipes quite a few years ago and was excited to have it accepted. I also just noticed that it's been reviewed a lot more recently.
Easy Grilled Tri Tip

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What is

I have become so anxious to get rolling with the business, but I am trying to reign it in and not get ahead of myself. It's important to take things one step at a time and roll out the business properly. I've been writing a business plan, a market research survey and doing research on advertising options. But I thought I would share some details regarding the concept and basic services. It's important that I start getting the word out and I'm interested in finding a few guinea pigs to try out the services. :-)

Here is the basic description- is a full service weekly meal/menu planning service. Primarily web-based, offering three service plan options. The mission of is to become the premier website for meal and menu planning as well as an information portal to all the quality cooking and recipe resources on the web. The three service options. The first level is a low-cost weekly e-mail subscription newsletter that will include a list of meals complete with recipes and shopping list. There will be more than 7 meals so that the subscriber can have some choice and from there create their upcoming week's meals based on their schedule and what recipes look good to them. The newsletter will be informative with tips and resource information. The second level service will cost a little more but it will be a customized weekly meal plan based on personal consultations to discuss factors like schedule, food likes/dislikes, allergies, cooking ability, etc. It will also include constant contact to ensure the meal plans are working out. The third level of service will mostly work within my local area as it will be the weekly custom meal plans plus a monthly in-home visit to cook together. This would include helping to organize the kitchen and create several make-ahead meals for the month.
I don’t plan to create a whole new recipe website. There are many quality recipe websites already. I want to make weekly meal planning easy for those who don’t care to do it themselves. This may also include shopping research such as sales and where to find the best prices for items. Plus, the web has grown so large that even though you can Google a topic, you then have to wade through the results to find what you want. I want to lighten the load of the busy person who wants to save money and time.
I have been working on tracking my own family’s grocery and food spending habits so that I have a baseline figure for a family of four. April seems pretty good, except it turned out to not be typical since we had spring break and we ended up taking a trip. I will have to subtract that from the spending and see if it still seems reasonable or look to use May as a better gauge. It's important that I my services can provide value to someone. I don't want to be a luxury item that is solely just for convenience.

The website is going to take more time to plan and build out, but I will have something temporary up soon.

I read this article in a recent issue of Time Magazine and it made me feel good about taking this leap of faith. The New Internet Start Up Boom: Get Rich Slow

Monday, April 6, 2009

Joined a CSA

Today I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery service and will receive organic produce every other week. I'm really excited for this. I've wanted to do this for awhile but never took the time to really look into a service but when a friend told me about the one she uses and sent me the link I read their info and signed up! Farm Fresh To You may be familiar to you if you have visited the San Francisco Ferry Buiding in recent years as they operate a fresh produce store there. I like that you can customize your order by creating a list of items to exclude. This way anytime any of your exclued items happen to be on the menu for the coming week, they will just substitute that with more of something else. My fear with a CSA had been that we would be wasting money receiving fruits or vegetables that we would not care to eat. I also started our service with just recieving an order every other week, this way I can get an idea of how much it will be (although their website gives you the count or weight for each item for the upcoming week) and determine if we can consume it all in enough time or if it's actually not enough for us. I chose the regular mixed (meaning fruits and vegetables) shipment. For $31.50 two times a month I find that to be pretty resonable for organic produce.

Tomorrow I will have my first conversation with the company I am working with to create the website. I've got a basic idea for the layout I want and the needs I have for the site, so this will be just an initial conversation to give them the overview of what I want.
I have been writing a marketing survey and I need to get that finished. I would like send that out soon so I can obtain feedback on my service options and pricing.

I have also been scouring my cookbooks, magazines and the web to create my arsenal of recipes for the menus. What I plan to do is try them out and also enlist some friends to try and rate recipes for me. I try to do all this in between trying to run the household, parent a VERY precocious 3 year old and keep up with a busy 10 year old who plays every sport there is.

I am equal parts excited and terrified to be starting a business. Excited because after a year of floundering about what to do with my life, I finally have a plan and it feels like a good one. Plus every person I talk with has positive feedback and great suggestions. But terrified because what if everyone else outside of my inner circle doesn't like the idea and no one buys my service? It's definitely a leap of faith.
Here's to cliff diving!

Friday, April 3, 2009

First Post

My very first post. A blank slate. What to say...well, I am sure this blog will evolve over time, but I thought it would be nice to journal my adventure in starting my own web-based business and then later be a supplement to the business. It's my foray into becoming a dot com mogul. Today I have purchased and I will soon move ahead to become my own brand. Rachel Ray look out! Notice I didn't choose Martha. As much as I admire Martha Stewart for the empire she has created, I'm not really cut from the same cloth as her. I am not a big Rachel Ray fan, but I get why people love her and I see myself as a regular gal, like many others who has some ideas to share and along the way...take over the world. :-)

So who am I? I'm Erika, mother of 2, a stay at home mom made possible by the downturn in the economy. It's fitting that I begin blogging now as this week marks one year since my last day of employment. To be quite honest, I have thought about my old job every day since then. I mourned it's loss for quite awhile. Sure, I searched for a new one and I had some interviews for positions that seemed interesting. It's a big blow to the ego when you are not hired. Especially if you get the second interview. I always found myself wondering, "why would you not want ME?" To go from feeling very valued, a person of credibility, a rock star (if I say so myself) within you field, to being no longer needed is HARD. I do give myself props for not shedding too many actual tears and getting up and out of bed each day. I guess I mourned the loss in a wistful way. As the saying goes, "all good things must come to an end."

So after a year of sporatic job hunting, settling into a stay-at-home routine and soul searching, I was struck by an idea. An idea that came from a friend's Facebook status update. She was complaining about what to fix for dinner and wished someone would do it for her. Many people hate to figure out what to fix for dinner. They hate the grocery store, they're always short on time and they can't seem to ever figure out what to make. Well, I love all that! I always did it when I worked and I do it now. So I'm taking what I know and what I do for my family, plus my experience as a web marketer and content manager, to create a website and a service for weekly meal planning--

Stay tuned...