Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Our Mostly-Meatless Adventures (pt 1)

About a month ago, I wrote {this blog post} about our decision as a family to try and "eat meat sparingly."
Although we're planning on cutting meat out (almost) entirely during the summer, we decided to wean ourselves off of meat during the spring by eating vegetarian (or fish) at least every other day. That way, after we have a dissatisfying and pathetic dinner of scrambled eggs, we can have a hearty and always-excellent meal of rare, red meat.
Although, admittedly, I haven't noticed too much of a difference in the health of our family, we have noticed some significant and almost immediate differences since we started eating less meat and learned a few things, too.
And, even though it's still harder for me to find or think up meatless meals, I am sure that the first week of our Mostly Meatless Adventure was the hardest. That was the week that I spent hours scouring Pinterest looking up recipes for things like black-bean burgers and then crying when I had to eat that garbage.  (Seriously. Don't eat black bean burgers if you've ever had meat-burgers. Meat burgers are better and you'll feel sad.)

1. We immediately starting saving money. Even though fish is kind of expensive (especially good fish or shrimp), it turns out that we can afford to eat good seafood once or twice a week if we're not going through 3 chicken breasts a day. Travis would deny this, but I think we're spending about $30 less each time we visit the grocery store. I used to spend about $70 a week on groceries (excluding most produce, because we get fruits and veggies from Bountiful Baskets, which I highly recommend!) but now I usually leave Sprouts having spent $30-40. That puts our grocery budget right around $350 a month. Still a lot, I know! But it's down like $100. It's a good start.

2. I have actually lost weight. Which is craziness, since I wasn't doing any additional exercise (although to be fair, my kids are gaining weight and I still have to carry around their growing, lazy butts all day, so maybe that counts as increased exercise?)  And we're eating a lot more bread, pasta, and potatoes, so apparently my body really appreciates the lessening of meat.

3. I can do this! I can be meatless if I need to be. And I can count fish as meat. I wasn't counting "fish days" as "meat days", mainly because I didn't think I could come up with enough totally vegetarian meals every week. I needed fish to count as vegetarian. But after only a few weeks, I'm happy to eat completely vegetarian meals every other day and alternate fish and meat between them. Even less meat in the Pitcher house!

4. My view of dinner has changed. Before we started doing this, I thought of dinner as consisting of many parts: meat-part, veggie-part, starch-part, bread-part, etc. The problem this created was, I thought of meat as the main part of the meal, and every thing else as a "side." It made it hard to be satisfied with a meal that was all sides and no main meat!  Now I tend to think of the meal as a single dish, even though I might have additional vegetables or bread with it. Gnocchi is a "dish" not a side to meat! And many other things are "dishes" as well.

5. Getting dinner on the table is easier. I think this has been true for two reasons. First, because I am unused to making vegetarian meals, I have making a vague meal plan at the beginning of every week. For example, the "meal plan" this week looks like this:
Sun: Roast Chicken
Mon: Pesto Gnocchi
Tues: Steak fajitas
Wed: Tomato/basil pasta of some kind
Thurs: Meat something (maybe meatballs? Or bbq chicken?)
Fri: Out for sushi
Sat: Homemade Pizza

I've got most of the meals mostly figured out. Meals that contain meat are now so easy to put together I can't believe it. All I have to do is pull it out of the freezer and then cook it. Seriously. Then once or twice a week, I plan a meal that is new or time consuming. This week, the time-consuming meal was the gnocchi. But I knew I was going to make it on Monday, so I put the potatoes in to bake and breakfast and  could make noodles during naptime, which means that at dinner time, I only have like 10 minutes of effort. (That sounds like a pain, but it's everyone's favorite meal and I actually love cooking them.)
The other reason that meals are so easy, is that vegetarian meals are relatively fast and simple! Fritattas are my new favorite last-minute weekday dinner. They're like a baked omelet  or a crustless quiche. We've made it three times, even though I was hesitant at first. I mean, eggs? Are eggs a satisfactory dinner? But even if our small family eats an entire dozen, and even if we're buying expensive eggs from a farm - it's still only a four dollar dinner!  And the dinner becomes more satisfactory as different herbs and veggies are mixed in. Travis' favorite fritatta contained eggs, tomatoes, onions and basil. The boys favorite (which they dipped in salsa) was crumbled baked potatoes, chopped green onions and chives. I'm planning on experimenting with a more "Mexican-themed" frittata soon, because the boys love salsa. Like, they drink it.
I can also make easy and delicious black bean burritos and cilantro rice in 20 minutes, and if you use those uncooked tortillas from Costco, then it will be an impressive and delicious meal, with no preparation at all. Then you can mash up the left over beans and have hot black-bean and cheese quesadillas every day for lunch that week. So, because you don't have long, slow-roasted meat, dinner is fast.

6. Eat what you like, but don't change up old favorites. I really dislike every meatless meal that we make based on a meaty-version. Does that make sense? Spaghetti is the worst, because at every bite I think, "this needs some meatballs."
Just start over. Build up a repertoire of new recipes that taste delicious without meat. It's slow. So far, we've got less than 10. But we really like them, and we can rotate through them in two weeks and then try a few new things here and there. Slowly adding to the list.

Since my last post, which included our meatless meals, here are some new ones we've added into our menu.

Spaghetti Squash and Alfredo Sauce (maybe I'll post my own version of this recipe, soon.): I did not use a "skinny" alfredo sauce, because that's dumb. Use cream and butter. It will make you feel happy. And it would be especially delicious with some sun-dried tomatoes in it. And actually, some slices of italian sausage. But then it wouldn't be meatless, would it?

Homemade Gnocchi: I posted this {Baked Version} recently. But I also like to make and cook the gnocchi, and then serve it with homemade basil pesto and a handful of pinenuts.

Pasta Primavera: I actually haven't made this, but our neighbor made it for us and it was so tasty! She posted the recipe on her blog, she served it to us with broccoli, tomatos, artichokes, and um... I forget. But it was good!

Maybe you're noticing that we're eating lots of pasta? Yep. We love pasta.

Black bean burritos and cilantro lime rice: I used a "Cafe Rio" knock-off recipe for each, and it' tastes great! The black beans are so yummy, and we make them a couple times a week, even just for lunch. It calls for tomato juice, but since I usually don't have that, I just strain some of the watery part from a jar of salsa into the beans. It works great!

And we've also started making lots of Spring rolls, using {this tutorial}. They are a little time-consuming, but totally easy and worth it! I even made a version with sautéed bok-choy in it, and it thickened the rolls up and made them "meatier." We always add rice noodles to our rolls, to make them heartier, and usually eat them with Mango Sticky Rice. It's kind of a treat of a meal, but who doesn't love treats?

Homemade Pizza: This blog has the yummiest sauce I've ever had! The dough here is also very good, and they several different pizza posts with different topping suggestions. Our favorite pizza actually has a piece or two of bacon crumbled over it, and then we sauté all the veggies in the grease before adding it to the pizza. Divine! (And I did say mostly meatless, right?)

And lots of Fritattas - which I'll post soon, too, probably.

As always, I would love any and all recipe suggestions - especially recipes for the grill!

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Krystle said...

$350 on groceries?? That's like pennies!!! Is that just food or soap and foil and stuff like that?

Unknown said...

I happen to LOVE black bean burgers. There are so many different recipes for them though so maybe you just made a bad one? You can also make them with sweet potatoes mixed in them or there are also chic pea patty recipes. But I haven't tried those.

amberly said...

Could you post your recipe for homemade pesto? I'm in love with pesto. I've already made your baked gnocchi, and I would love to try out just the noodles with pesto.

Aimee @ Like Mother Like Daughter said...

I think I suggested a few things last time, but as for grilled varieties, I love kebabs. I love kebabs with chicken or pork, but really I just love grilled food in teriyaki sauce so I think that just veggies would be great as a meal! Over rice maybe? Make sure you have some really yummy veggies, peppers, onion, squash, oh and don't forget the pineapple!

And I really want to try grilling a pizza, cause I've never done that successfully before so again do any pizza veggie style, alfredo, red sauce, even bbq on the grill.

Lastly, do you like mushrooms? I hate the texture, but they would be great grilled if you like them, with a little cheese or veggies chopped up and put in the top (or bottom)

Zaralex said...

Please do your spaghetti squash recipe with the sundried tomatoes because I am too lazy to read the one you have up there... if you're going to post yours anyway :) I don't care for meat... at all... and I also don't cook much because I am such a boring eater (I eat ramen and macaroni and bean soup atleast 12 times a week and yes I have a husband and child) So I think what you're making sounds FABULOUS!

I mean, if you want to post your weekly dinner list on here.. I will just copy off of you lolol. I read daily... and we've spoken on instagram... so we're basically friends...

Jessica and colby said...

I took a five part class taught by chef Brad. He's from mesa AZ but he does stuff on the byu channel all the time. He teaches how to cook with super grains as your protein. You should check it out. Maybe watch him on YouTube if you're not familiar cooking with grains. One recipe u thought was great was Brown rice, quinoa Brown Sugar etc to make oatmeal type breakfast. Way better for you and tastes amazing. His pizza dough coOKs in like 6 minutes and is delicious.