Meal Plan Monday: Week One of the Aldi Test

Meal Plan Monday

Okay, now that you are scratching your head confused wondering “What the heck is the Aldi test?” I will feel free to enlighten you.

For the past few months, on alternating Saturdays, I have trekked (sometimes with Josh…only twice with Muffin and almost not survived the experience) an hour away to Longview to our nearest Aldi.  I had been a few times before in Houston and Dallas, and, of course, had been enchanted with the stories of individuals in the Pinteresting Blogosphere who have saved a ton of money at Aldi in the past.

…And, now, I’m hooked!

However, I will wax poetic about Aldi in tomorrow’s Tip Tuesday post.

But, now, for details about the Aldi test.  Since I go to Aldi every other week, I’m going to try, for the next two weeks (this week and next week) to plan out my meals and shopping for the next two weeks and plan meals around what is in the house and what I can mostly buy at Aldi.  Now, there are a few outlying supplies that I will buy at Kroger, but my goal is to not shop at all at a grocery store in the intervening week.

How is that possible?

I plan to buy bread and long storage veggies that will last into the second week.  Salads and perishable stuff will be used in the first week, but frozen veg will be used the second half of the shopping cycle along with canned veg.

We will see how this works.  Fingers crossed!

I know there are people who shop every month and every two weeks, but this is new for me.  It will require strict adherence to the meal plan and a ton of foresight.  Of course, the following week is Thanksgiving (American), and that only requires the foresight to know what I’m bringing to my mom’s.

So, what’s up for the first week?  Well, here we go!

Saturday:  Dr. Pepper Pork Chops (Debbiedoo’s), rice, green veg (canned)

Sunday:  Easy Pepperoni Pizza Lasagna (Kraft Recipes), green salad, garlic bread

Monday:  breakfast for dinner (Josh is home, so he gets to cook!)

Tuesday:  Slow Cooker Creamy White Chicken Chili (The Chunky Chef–a recipe that arrived in my inbox just the other day!), cornbread

Wednesday:  anniversary dinner out (Happy 9th anniversary to the most wonderful man in the world!)

Thursday:  leftovers or hot dogs

Friday:  pizza

Saturday:  Bacon Cheeseburger Casserole (Kraft) with some form of green veg

Sunday:  Meatloaf and mashed potatoes, green veg (canned)

What is your week looking like?

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Meal Plan Monday: Happy Anniversary!

Meal Plan Monday

Happy 8th anniversary to the most wonderful man on the planet!  It’s impossible to believe that its been eight years already.  I couldn’t imagine my life without you in it!

This week is a busy week.

I am making one dish I’ve never before shared with you, Italian Sausage Spinach Cannelloni.

This dish is special to me for many reasons.  It was from one of those little Land O’Lakes cookbooks (the kind you get at the grocery store checkout) (Land O’Lakes Recipe Collection Pasta published in 1992).  My mom made this when I was younger, and my sister and I requested it simply for the tomato sauce on pasta.

To avoid having to boil the manicotti tubes, simply double the bechamel and tomato sauces.  I’ve made it that way, and it works perfectly.

Otherwise, the noodles tend to stick together closed, making filling them impossible.  This recipe is completely worth the time and effort.

This is also the recipe I made (and froze) for Josh and I to eat on our wedding night in our new apartment.  And, it’s the recipe I’m making tonight for our anniversary, 8 years later.

Italian Sausage Spinach Cannelloni

Source:  Land O’Lakes Recipe Collection Pasta (1992) and stored on Food.com

14 uncooked dry manicotti tubes

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 (28-ounce) can chopped Italian tomatoes, reserve juice

1 can tomato paste

2 T chopped fresh basil leaves (or 2 t dried)

1 t sugar

1/2 t salt

1/4 t coarsely ground black pepper (fresh ground!)

1 lb bulk Italian sausage

additional 1/4 cup chopped onion

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh garlic

2 cups chopped fresh spinach (or 10 ounces frozen, defrosted and drained)

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 eggs

1 t dried oregano

1/4 t freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup milk

1 cup whipping cream

1/4 cup ground white (or not) pepper

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

(Note:  Some of the ingredients are in multiple parts of the recipe, so I mentioned them separately.)

  1. Cook manicotti according to package directions; drain. Set aside. (Or don’t and increase the sauce measurements. If increasing the sauce measurements you may want to use a roaster or a deeper pan.).
  2. To prepare tomato sauce: In Dutch oven (or large heavy saucepan) add olive oil and 1 cup onions. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until onions are soft (5-8 minutes). Add tomatoes, reserved juice, and all remaining sauce ingredients (tomato paste, basil, sugar, 1/2 t salt, and 1/4 t pepper). Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until sauce just comes to a boil (2-4 minutes). Cover; reduce heat to low. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, 35 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, to prepare filling: in 10-inch skillet add sausage, 1/4 cup onion and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sausage is browned (10-12 minutes). Drain off fat. Add spinach. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until spinach is soft (2-3 minutes). Place sausage mixture in large bowl. Cool 10 minutes. Stir in 1/3 cup Parmesan, eggs, oregano, and 1/4 t pepper. Set aside.
  4. To prepare bechamel sauce: in 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour until smooth and bubbly (1 minute). Add milk, whipping cream, and pepper. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens (5-8 minutes).
  5. Heat oven to 375. Divide filling between manicotti tubes using a small spoon to fill each tube with about 2 T of filling (I use my clean hands–think stuffing a roll of coins). Place 1/4 cup tomato sauce on bottom of 13x9x2-inch baking pan (more if you don’t boil the noodles and in a deeper pan). Place filled tubes on top of tomato sauce. Pour bechamel sauce over tubes. Top with remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until bubbly and cheese is melted.
  6. **This is a great OAMC recipe. Before cooking/prep day, I would prepare the tomato sauce and sausage/spinach filling mixture and chill (I would prepare the tomato sauce anyway to serve as a pasta sauce–I could literally drink the stuff!). Make the bechamel sauce the day of your big session. Fill the tubes and prep the pans. Cook 45 minutes (Covered!), wrap in foil and freeze. On “eating day,” cook at 375 until tubes are al dente (they probably already will be) and bubbly and cheese is melted. I would keep it covered for most of the cooking time. This is a very very rich recipe, so I would serve with a salad of bitter greens tossed in a sharp vinaigrette. It says it serves 8, but, as I said, the sauces are so rich that I can’t really eat more than one tube, so I would say it serves 14.

What am I serving the rest of the week?  Look below to find out!

Saturday:  dinner out at Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro (for anniversary)

Sunday:  snacky dinner/cheese tray with spinach-artichoke bread

Monday:  canneloni, garlic bread, salad, cupcakes

Tuesday:  pulled pork sandwiches

Wednesday: potato bar with leftover pulled pork

Thursday:  leftovers or hot dogs

Friday:  pizza and corn

Saturday:  burgers

Sunday:  King Ranch Chicken

Whats on your plan for this week?

Our Seventh Anniversary: The Recap

A week ago, Josh and I celebrated our seventh anniversary.  That’s the copper anniversary, by the way.  Josh and I try to theme our gifts by the traditions for each anniversary.  Copper is a difficult one.  Finally, I asked my techie hubs in desperation, “Isn’t copper in all electronics?”

His response:  “Uh…yeah.”

Score!

(By the way:  the eighth is worse…bronze)

In keeping with tradition, we decided to stay (with Muffin) at the site of our honeymoon (and where we have stayed several of our anniversaries…or just after…):  Dallas.  More specifically, the Westin Galleria Dallas, using points+cash (but that’s a story for Cent Saving Saturday).

The efficacy of our anniversary coinciding with the whirl of the holiday season is great for many reasons.  We can go shopping for Christmas gifts.  Certain locations are already sporting Christmas decorations (which makes Muffin…and his mama…and his dad…very excited and hopeful for the wintry months ahead).  We can go shopping for ingredients used to make Christmas goodies and gifts.  We can get out of town and take a deep breath before plunging back headlong into the holiday season chaos.

We also strive to make this a very Muffin-friendly trip.

We started out getting donuts at the local donut shop as we left the house just after 5 a.m. last Saturday.  Yes.  Five a.m.  By my choice.  Muffin may have been still asleep.

Then, we stopped at a great truck stop between Gladewater and Tyler, Texas.  They have “Canadian candy bars,” or rather exports of some of Josh’s favorite candy bars that he likes to stock up on when we pass through.  They have all sorts of sodas and beverages that are difficult to find anywhere else.  One that I tried there on this trip was on my “soda bucket list”…the holy grail of difficult-to-find sodas:  Moxie.  To put it as politely and succinctly as possible, I can now cross it off of my bucket list.  (as in…thankfully I never have to taste it again…It wasn’t kale jerky bad…just not something I would willingly reach for unless dying of thirst)

After that, just down the road in Lindale, we stopped at Collin Street Bakery.  Previously, they gave out free cookies to children.  Muffin had to pay for his this time.  Note:  these are the people who make the fabled Collin Street Bakery Deluxe Fruitcake (with the deluxe price of $27 dollars…32 if you want it sliced).  I’m going to attempt to make my own fruitcake.

Our first major stop in Dallas (other than the stop-go on I-635 for construction) was actually in Frisco…at IKEA.  This was a special trip to IKEA because it was the first time Muffin could go in the play place there called Smaland (because last time he was still in diapers).  Dropping him off did not bode well because this was the first time I had left him alone with someone who was not family (or not known to family).  There were tears…not Muffin tears…but Mama tears.

No, my independent son soon forgot that anything existed outside of Smaland…such as his mama or dad.

He was a bit disappointed when his hour was up…until I told him that there were more surprises in store.

We then went to lunch at Rainforest Cafe…which is kind of pricey.  The one saving grace, though, was that it had buy one, get one free coupons for Legoland Discovery Center…the next location on the trip.

Muffin really liked Legoland Discovery Center.  Last year, when we came to Dallas on the great anniversary trip (one week late), we went to the “store” part of Legoland…but we didn’t go to the Discovery Center part.  The line was way…too…long…at that point.

Then came the hotel.  Muffin loves staying in hotels.  When I first told him a week before that we were staying in a hotel, we had to count down from that day on the number of sleeps until we would be staying in a hotel.  Seriously.

There are many reasons I love this hotel.  The people who work their are fabulous…as in…call you to let you know that your debit card fell out of your pocket fabulous (and don’t tell your husband that you accidentally left his anniversary card for the next day at the table, as well).  Yes.  I did that.  Both of those actually.

And how can you not love a place that has a decorate your own cupcake bar at check-in on Fridays and Saturdays?

And we all love the beds.  Seriously.  Love.

And the window seat that, until shortly before our honeymoon seven years ago, would have been a locked balcony.

And…keep in mind that this hotel opens out into a mall.  Note:  If you did not realize when you booked your room that the Westin Galleria Dallas was attached to the Galleria Dallas and have issues with it…you might not want to be in front of me in line at the check-in desk.  Because a year later I will still be spreading that story.

But…if you are staying at the hotel (or visiting the mall) during the latter half of November or during December…you will be witness to this sight:

I think, for Muffin, the best part of staying at this particular hotel is that he gets to go to the play area on the third floor before the mall opens (when it isn’t crazy busy with kids):

In that same spot, fourteen hours earlier, you couldn’t walk without running over someone or being run over.

Sunday, after shopping at Central Market for our anniversary dinner (at home) of a cheese board as well as a few other items for making Christmas goodies and gifts, we ate lunch at La Mad before heading home.  This was Muffin’s first La Mad experience…and I was frankly worried.  Here is the shot with the food still on his plate.

And then the food disappeared.  I asked Josh what was in Muffin’s fruit cup because, when I looked up the next time, it was empty.  Josh said…”grapes.”

“Just grapes?”

“Well…there was other fruit.”

“What kind of fruit?
To which Josh replied…”Well…I couldn’t really tell.  It was gone too fast.”

The sandwich also went the way of the dodo bird…in this case in Muffin’s stomach.  Note:  Josh’s and my lunch consisted of tomato basil soup (a bowl for him and a cup for me) and the complimentary bread.

The trip was a great family vacation/bonding/anniversary trip experience.  One that we will doubtless do again.