I’ve decided to start sharing more random information here. Things become part of our daily lives and no longer seem special or noteworthy. I suppose this could apply to almost anything, but today I’m talking about cooking and rural grocery shopping. Cooking comes fairly easily to me, so I too often assume that it comes easily to everyone. I’ve lived separate from my parents since I was 15 (maybe I’ll share that story some day, it’s not a traumatic negative issue at all) so I learned to cook at an early age. Sometimes I wonder if Mister married me for my cooking. Even if he did, I won’t take it as an insult because Mister takes his food very seriously.
Since moving to Wyoming, things have evolved a bit further because we’re dealing with some location specific issues. Food is very expensive here. We also have access issues, especially when it comes to meat, fresh produce, and very specific brand name or ethnic foods. There’s a grocery store in town that we visit often, mostly because we firmly believe that the more money we spend in town, the more those in town will support our small business, but it’s both too expensive and the selection is too limited to really meet our full-time needs. The “real” shopping (Walmart and Safeway, y’all) is ninety minutes away. To combat these issues, we end up unintentionally eating a bit ”seasonally” and purchasing a lot of things in bulk. Bulk shopping, Mister’s bulk appetite, and the time constraints of running a small business also means that I’ve become a pro at quick meals. Mister and I went to the big town yesterday to drop our puppy off for some lady surgery, so we stocked up on groceries and I thought I’d break it down for you.
The boneless skinless chicken breast is a bit of a unicorn in our area. Some weeks I can’t find any chicken at all. Some weeks they only have bone-in drumsticks or thighs, or skin-on, bone-in breasts. Some weeks chicken is $4.99 a lb or more. If I find boneless, skinless chicken breasts for $2.99/lb, I buy them. All. We also no longer eat 97/3 ground beef. Or even 90/10. This breaks my heart. Sooooometimes I can find 85/15 for a reasonable price, but 99% of the time we buy 80/20 and I, honestly, truly, get very upset about it, but so is life. First world problems. Ground beef is usually $3.99 or $4.99/lb. If it’s below $3.99/lb, I buy it. All. Many pounds. We also exclusively purchase meat in bulk sizes for a variety of reasons. Ground beef is usually portioned into 1lb packs. Mister will easily eat 1lb of ground beef himself at dinner, leaving none for me. (He doesn’t literally leave none for me, he’s not an asshole. But he could if he wanted to.) Instead, I buy large packages looking only at the price per pound, not the package size or cost. Large packages are also often discounted. This week, bulk 80/20 was $3.49/lb while the 1lb packages were $3.99. That $0.50 is very important to me and I wish I were joking.
Bottom line, if it’s not on sale, we don’t buy it. We absolutely positively no longer buy anything in bags. Lettuce is a head of lettuce, not those awesome pre-shredded bags that we love for tacos. Sigh. Produce goes bad really quickly here, I’m guessing based on the long shipping times, so buying the full item instead of something already chopped means it will last at least an extra few days. If I buy mushrooms, I know we have approximately two days to eat them. Cauliflower will last at least a week though. Add that to the list of reasons cauliflower is amazing.
Fresh produce usually includes: Bag of yellow onions, 2-3 heads of cauliflower, head of lettuce, 2 bunches of really green bananas (so they last longer), a few sweet potatoes or yams (how they are different, I still don’t understand), apples when in season, baby carrots, white potatoes if Mister wants them
Things we can no longer buy that I really miss: herbs (insanely expensive), berries, peppers of any sort, most fresh fruit
I also quickly discovered which produce is still delicious when purchased frozen. A green pepper sells for $0.99 at the absolute cheapest. They’re usually 2 for $4. Meanwhile, I can get a bag of frozen, chopped green peppers for $0.99 at my local grocery – a hidden gem! These usually get added to Jambalaya, Chilli or Sloppy Joes so there’s no need for fresh peppers. Unfortunately, this means I can no longer dip fresh red peppers into hummus, one of my favorite lunches in a previous life. These are the adjustments we have to make. Again, of course, frozen veggies are always purchased in bulk bags. We always buy store brand. Green Giant is no better than store brand. I promise. “Steamer” bags have got to be one of the greatest shams in modern groceries. Dump frozen veggies into a bowl, cover the bowl, microwave for ~3min. There’s no need to pay $3 for a steamer bag to get what amounts to approximately $0.80 of frozen corn.
Excellent frozen veggies: yellow sweet corn, baby peas, broccoli (I hate to admit it, but Walmart has exceptional frozen broccoli in huge bags. Safeway broccoli is a lot of cut stems and very little tops. We eat a lot of broccoli which is why I know these things), chopped green peppers, edamame, stir fry mix bags (rarely, but they’re ok)
Frozen fruit is also exceptionally expensive here. I can easily pay 4x what I used to pay in Michigan. Walmart is the only location I’ve found for semi-affordable frozen fruit. I buy frozen strawberries, frozen peaches, and frozen mixed fruit in very large bags.
Mister’s metabolism allows him to eat whatever he wants, in whatever quantities he wants, without weight gain. He can also stay in great physical shape and do pretty much anything he wants with his body, even if he’s eating packaged junk all day. So we buy some. A lot less than he used to eat, that’s for sure. We buy exclusively based on sales. If Tombstone pizzas are 3 for $10, that’s his junk food for the week. Some weeks he makes out like a bandit, some weeks there’s nothing. Some evenings I want to just eat a head of roasted cauliflower for dinner, so I appreciate that he can just throw a pizza in the oven and we’re both set.
Because I work more effectively in spurts of energy followed by profound laziness, as soon as I get home I like to deal with “processing” our purchases. If I found berries, peppers, or already ripe bananas on sale, I get them in the freezer. Bananas are peeled and broken into 4-5 pieces, then put in baggies. This way, they’re already prepped for morning smoothies. Peppers also get cleaned and chopped and go into the freezer. Berries too. Remember, fresh produce goes bad in ~2 days here. If I don’t immediately chop and freeze, they’ll inevitably go rotten in our fridge. On the plus side, the prep work means that our meals come together that much quicker.
Bulk packages of ground beef are separated into bags for freezing. I always measure the bags to 1lb 4oz of meat. This is enough for me and Mister, some days it will leave leftovers for lunch the next day. A kitchen scale is invaluable when buying bulk or, incidentally, when doing Weight Watchers, which is the real reason we have one. It took me a stupid long time to figure this out, but mush your beef flat in the bag then seal. It makes them easier to stack in the freezer and they defrost much more evenly.
Raw beef is gross to look at, I know. I’m trying to be informative here.
For chicken, I fill the crockpot with raw chicken then cover with water. Cook on low. How long… I don’t exactly know. Six to eight hours should be enough, all day is fine as well. You can’t really overdo things with the crockpot. When they’re done, I let the breasts cool then put them into baggies which go into the freezer. I skim the fat off the top of the broth and freeze it as well. It makes exceptional soups, stews, or can be thrown into chili. I usually divide the broth evenly into two containers. It’s easier to defrost both than defrost one and have to refreeze half. Cooking chicken this way makes for moist meat that shreds really well. That whole cook chicken then shred with a fork thing really baffles me. I’ve never been able to do it easily. When you cook chicken this way, it all but falls apart. I just defrost a bag or two for a few minutes in the microwave then we have chicken to add to meals or throw on top of a salad. Not having to deal with raw chicken while making dinner personally takes a lot of the emotional drain out of prepping a whole meal. I like being a few steps ahead before I’ve even started.
Raw chicken, also gross. Shredded chicken, tasty and awesome! This particular shredded chicken was for the previously mentioned post-surgery puppy. Therefore, ignore the dirty bowl.
A note on where we shop and what we buy
I hate going to Walmart. Detest. I avoid it as much as we possibly can, but certain things we cannot get elsewhere. Could we afford to buy frozen peaches for 4x the price at another store? Maybe. Honestly, probably not right now. We took a huge pay cut to run our own businesses and the cost of living in Wyoming is unexpectedly high. I buy the absolute minimum I can at Walmart, but sometimes we cave.
We’re very interested in getting our meat from local sources. With so many ranchers as our customers, we’ve discussed the idea of getting a 1/2 or 1/4 cow from a local farmer. The upfront cost is very high, but the per pound price comes out to be quite reasonable. We also love the idea of supporting our customers in their businesses, having a stockpile of meat so we don’t have to make trips to town or hold out for sales, and while I’m not the most diehard environmentalist, I’d like knowing how our cow was raised and slaughtered.
For produce, I had great success with container gardening in Michigan. I hate that we have to buy so many frozen and canned veggies. Canned tomatoes routinely appear on THE WORST FOODS TO EAT lists, but what’s a person to do? Canned it is… for now. We’re hoping to set up some raised beds and start gardening in Wyoming. Wildlife, proper dirt, and access to water are all concerns, but I’ll definitely update the process if we ever get it going. I’m also curious to see if we can really produce a sustainable quantity of food. We will easily eat an entire head of cauliflower for dinner. If our garden only produces a dozen heads, is it worth our time and money? We’ll see. For now, we’re at the mercy of our budget and resource and time availability.
What do we really eat?
Now that I’ve laid out some background, I fully intend to start sharing recipes and menus. We eat a lot of home cooked food here, but are also no strangers to the “semi-homemade” way of making dinner. We eat out more than we should and, as I’ve said a million times, it’s a battle to balance my way of eating with Mister’s way of eating. With the exception of my chicken cooking method shown above, I really detest crockpots. I think they make for flavorless, mushy food and honestly don’t understand the appeal (Pinterest just collectively groaned.) In the meantime, here’s a quick rundown of our regular eats:
Breakfast: smoothies (fruit for me, protein/weight gain for Mister), breakfast burritos, baked oatmeal, regular oatmeal, Cliff bars. On non-work days, we sometimes have what is affectionately referred to as Big Breakfast, usually bacon, scrambled eggs, and biscuits with sausage gravy
Lunch: I don’t mind leftovers at all. Mister will eat sandwiches that we prep at work, leftovers, or we grab food from some place in town. We really need to improve our lunches.
Dinner: You can expect all these recipes at some point – Chili (soon!), Chicken Corn Chowder, Bourbon Chicken with rice and veggies, Chicken and Dumplings, Chicken Pot Pie, Jambalaya, Meatloaf, Taco Night, Sloppy Joes, BBQ Chicken Salad, Taco Salad, Carnitas, Pulled Pork, Slow roasted beef with carrots, Lasagna, Bacon White Cheddar stuffed mushrooms with Crab Legs (our fancy indulgent dinner for special occasions. Remind me to take pics when the seafood guy comes to town!) any veggie that can be roasted – broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes. I also have a lot of favorites from my single days that Mister wouldn’t dare eat, but that doesn’t mean I can’t share them with youuuuuuuu
So there we are. It’s a lot of words to talk about something only mildly interesting but it will get better from here. We have chili cooking on the stove as we speak, so stay tuned for the recipe.