Well, the season of summer, while not officially over, is certainly coming to a close as we celebrate Labor Day and send all the kids back to school. There are a few great things that come with the new season and a new school year, like new habits and new routines that keep life running smoothly. Much like starting a brand-new calendar year, we get the chance to start fresh.

May I make one suggestion? Why not try going Meatless on Mondays this month? You don’t have to commit to a whole year, but what could one month hurt? Not counting today, there are only 4 Mondays in September, which means you only have to give up meat 4 days in the entire month? Doesn’t that seem doable? What if I told you we have over 120 meals and over 380 individual recipes that are meat-free? You could easily find something on Cooking Planit that would keep you well fed on those days, don’t you think? Who knows, you might even discover that living meat-free on Mondays would save a few bucks and make you feel more healthy. Won’t know if you don’t try it!

Wondering why you would ever bother giving up meat? Read all kinds of great reasons here. Then, once you’ve read that and feel inspired to try it out yourself, check out these three easy tips for sticking to a Meatless Monday lifestyle.

The ABC’s of Going Meatless

A – Action – Luckily, Mondays come every 7 days, so don’t let them catch you by surprise. Take an active role in living meatless by planning your Monday menu well in advance and giving yourself plenty of time to hit the grocery store. That way, come Monday, you are prepared and ready to go.

B – Backup – For the first few meals you might know exactly what to make, but as time goes by you may start to lack inspiration. Have no fear because that’s where Cooking Planit comes in. We have over 30 meals that are meat-free and can be ready in less than 45 minutes, so with us in your corner you’ll find inspiration all month long.

C – Community – Find people to share your challenge with. Whether it be your immediate family members, a friend, or someone else who already practices some form of meat-free living, having someone to help you stay focused and motivated will keep the challenge fun and engaging. We love to stay in community too, so follow along and share your experiences with us over on Facebook, Instagram or just by commenting on our blog.

So, consider yourself officially challenged to give up meat on Mondays. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you uninspired. Try this meal, for starters – Garden Fresh Soup and Salad. Tomato soup is the perfect segue from summer produce to chillier temperatures, and a kale salad is so hearty and filling, you won’t go hungry. Make a big batch and call on it for lunch later in the week, as well.

meal_GardenFreshSoupAndSalad

Honestly, giving up meat one day a week is not even really that big of a deal. You can eat anything else! You can over-eat on donuts, macaroni and cheese, or french fries for all anyone cares, as long as you don’t eat meat. (Of course that’s sort of missing the point, but if it helps you adjust in the short term, so be it). It’s not a diet, it’s just a way of recalibrating our eating mindset. Shifting from the notion that meat must be the main ingredient in every meal to the realization that we really don’t need that much meat in our daily diets. It’s better for our hearts, our wallets and our world!

Hopefully you are convinced! If you do decide to join our mini Meatless Monday challenge, remember to follow along here for weekly inspiration, or click here to search all our meat-free options.

Happy Cooking!

Emily

 

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Cooking Planit is a great tool no matter your cooking experience.  If you are already a seasoned homecook, but you simply run out of time in the week to put much effort into new recipe ideas and don’t dare risk dinner by making something new, we can help with that. On the other hand, if you are totally UN-seasoned and completely intimidated by your kitchen, we can help with that too.

Take my friend Erica, for example. Erica has been a working mom and wife, dedicated and passionate about her family and also her job, which took up a lot of her time. Now, she has the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom, so she has decided she finally wants to learn how to cook. Erica realizes that the convenience, boxed foods she has relied on over the years aren’t really the healthiest options for her family. Admittedly, she wants to be a mom who cooks delicious tasting food for her loved-ones and  friends.

As part of Erica’s curriculum, she has started using Cooking Planit. With (now 4) meals under her belt, Erica is cooking up a storm and her family is loving it. I stopped by her place this weekend to see for myself how well she is getting along with Cooking Planit, and Erica was happy to share some of her story with us. Take a look to find out just a few of the ways Cooking Planit can help you put great tasting food on the table and learn a new thing or two along the way.

Here is a link to the meal Erica made in the video.  Plus, I’ve included a link of the three other recipes/meals Erica has made with Cooking Planit. If she can do it, you can too!

1. Erica’s Video-Shoot Dinner – Four Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms, Korean Style Skirt Steak, Almond Rice

ericasvideodinner

2. Erica’s Meal from August 26th – Panko Parmesan Chicken, Roasted Asparagus, Buttery Rice

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3. Erica’s First Ever Custom Meal – Pork Chops with Creamy Mushrooms, Roasted Green Beans

4. Erica’s First Cooking Planit Recipe – Panko Chicken Bites

Happy Cooking!

Emily

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I was cooking dinner last night with my wife and 4-year-old daughter and had a realization. Cooking Planit is truly amazing!  Yes, it was partly my idea and so why should anyone take my word for it? Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Planning is simple – we put together complete meal combinations to help inspire even the most discriminating tastes. Our search filters even let you search for meals based on ingredients you already have on hand, and you can search for all of them at the same time.
  • Shopping is a breeze – everything is organized by grocery store aisle and we truly aggregate like ingredients so that you will only see Onions in your list once, no matter how many recipes in your list require them.
  • Scheduling like no other – want to have dinner on the table by 6:30? Cooking Planit will remind you when you need to start so that it is.
  • Cooking like a champ – this is the coolest part. We break up the steps of all of the dishes in your meal and handle the organization so that everything is ready to serve at the same time. No matter the distractions happening around you.

I have been cooking for 30+ years. I love to cook. I know my way around my kitchen and am pretty darn efficient in it too. I pretty much despise everything else about the process though (shopping/planning/etc). When we set out to build Cooking Planit, we did so to try and ease all of those other challenges around the process itself, and you know what? It really works! Now, my family and I cook with Cooking Planit 2-3 times per week for all of the reasons I listed above, and the process of putting a great meal on the table has never been more enjoyable.

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So when we were cooking last night, it really hit me. I was cooking dinner with my wife and daughter. We were all participating and carrying on conversation at the same time. There was no stress at all and dinner came out exactly as it should be, hot and on time. Here’s the kicker. We were making three new dishes that we had never made before. Neither my wife nor I had previously looked at any of the recipes, apart from the pictures. We just hit the cook button and went to work. For all of the seasoned cooks out there…. when was the last time you cooked three brand new recipes at the same time without some previous planning? You know, like reading the recipes in advance to get the timing lined out in your head? I have never tried it, but am pretty sure it would be a little stressful and am certain I wouldn’t be able to participate in conversation at the same time.

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I am certain that I could now make all three recipes together without guidance. They are just part of my repertoire, now. But what I got to do the first time around is share the experience with other people and enjoy cooking at the same time. Every time I use Cooking Planit, I find something else that it has changed for me and my love for cooking. We set out from the beginning with the primary goal of improving people’s lives and I am proud to say that I am now a result of our success. Happy Birthday to Cooking Planit!

 

 

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When I first started cooking, I followed recipes to the letter. No surprise really since I didn’t know what was what or what I was doing. As a new cook, I just didn’t feel comfortable going rogue and risking an entire meal on some inexperienced decision-making.

After many years of cooking and a trip to culinary school, I’m completely the opposite now. In fact, part of the reason I love to cook is because it really is so forgiving. And let’s face it, we’ve all been there. You have everything a recipe calls for except one ingredient, or you went to the store only to forget an ingredient. [Drat!] Or, maybe you don’t like an ingredient called for in the recipe, or perhaps you want to try a healthier version of a recipe you already love. Whatever the reason, sometimes you just need (or want) to make modifications. Here are a few easy food substitutions you can experiment with confidently.

Top 5 Easiest Food Substitutions

1. Stock vs. Water

If you don’t have stock, water can oftentimes work all the same. It won’t add as much flavor, but with other ingredients like seasonings, herbs and olive oil, lack of flavor shouldn’t be an issue, so consider it an option when there are a lot of other flavors contributing to the recipe.

The same is true for swapping stock for stock. If a recipe calls for chicken stock, vegetable will work instead, or vice versa. Beef stock tends to be heartier and well, more meaty, so it’s not always a good substitution for the others, but if you don’t have beef stock, chicken or vegetable are a better alternative than water.

Here are a few example recipes where swapping stocks and/or water would be totally appropriate:

Creamy Chicken Pasta Soup
Creamy Polenta
Hash Brown Casserole
Stewed Black Beans
Spinach Mushroom and Artichoke Casserole
Vegetable Barley Soup with Mini Meatballs

2. Dried Herbs vs. Fresh Herbs

Dried herbs don’t add the same pop of freshness to a dish as fresh herbs. However, they last longer (up to 6 months) and cost a lot less, so they are easier to keep on hand. Since dried herbs are dehydrated the flavor is concentrated, thereby packing more punch than the fresh counterpart. Use about 1/3 as much of a dried version as you do the fresh. So, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh, use 1 teaspoon of dried instead.

Let’s say you have the fresh variety on hand and want to use it in place of dried, keep in mind the cooking time. Dried herbs are usually added earlier in a recipe to allow their flavors to develop, or be drawn out, during the cooking process. Whereas many fresh herbs are so delicate that they need only be added right at the end. Here is a quick cheat sheet:

Fresh Herbs that stand up best to cooking: Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, Sage, Marjoram

Fresh Herbs that do best when added at the end of cooking: Basil, Parsley, Cilantro, Chives, Mint, Dill, Tarragon

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3. Chicken or Beef

Swapping chicken or turkey for red meat is one of the easiest ways you can trim fat and calories off your meals. Tacos, lasagna, meatballs, meatloaf, stir-fry, chili, soup, salad or simply baking or searing are all candidates for meat-swapping. Ground meat is the most interchangeable as the techniques doesn’t change either way. Check out these perfect candidates:

Beef and Bean Chili
Beef Sauce Rigatoni
Beef Chimichangas
Asian Chicken Lettuce Cups

If you don’t make the swap for health purposes, it might simply save you a trip to the store (have steaks on hand from the weekend? Or, a few frozen chicken breasts in the freezer?) Take a sauce from a steak recipe you like and serve it with chicken instead, for example. It’s a simple way to reinvent your favorite dishes. Steak with Chimichurri? How about Chicken Chimichurri? Salmon with Herb Butter?  How about Steak and Herb Butter instead?

Here are a few recipes with great finishing sauces or purees that are perfect for mixing and matching:

Salmon with Herbed Avocado Sauce
Steak with Chimichurri
Seared Salmon with Herb Butter
Roasted Cod with Romesco Sauce

4. Frozen or Fresh

If a recipe calls for broccoli, carrots, corn or peas, chances are the frozen variety will work just as well as fresh. You can defrost the vegetable in the microwave first, or depending on the recipe, you may be able to add them while frozen and let them defrost as they cook. For example, I often toss frozen vegetables into a pot of boiling pasta for the last 3 minutes of cooking so they defrost with the pasta, then strain them all together. It’s a super easy way to add a nutritional boost to a pasta dinner, and minimizing clean up!

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5. Pasta

Speaking of pasta, different shapes and sizes of pasta exist for different reasons, but when it comes to dinner time I’m not going to run to the store for orecchiette if I already have penne. Although cooking times may vary, they are usually listed right on the package, making it easy to adapt a recipe to accommodate different varieties. Same is true for different grains of pasta – white, whole wheat, spelt, gluten-free (etc.). Whether long, short, round, tubular or gluten-free, use what you have on hand when you have it.

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Recipes are great as a guide, but the more often you cook the more comfortable you will feel making adjustments here and there. Hopefully these tips help you feel a little more confident in changing things up, if for no other reason than to make your life a little less hectic.

Happy Cooking!

Emily

 

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Did the title of this blog post catch your attention? Well, I’m super excited to share this guest post with you from one of our favorite food-blogger friends, Becky Tarala. I’ve recently taken an interest in couponing and just like Becky says, I’m finding this new way (for me!) of saving money nearly addictive. I’ve followed pretty much all of Becky’s advice and already saved myself over 20% on two separate trips to target, (nearly $80!).

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I’ve also gotten back $15 in gift cards and shopped-smarter (see her tips on doubling-up and buy-one-get-one offers) to get things I use all the time, like paper towels, storage baggies and kleenex, for free! Read on to find out how to get started and you could be saving money as soon as this afternoon, too!  Thanks for sharing all your wisdom with us, Becky!

HOW TO COUPON
by Becky Tarala of The Two Bite Club

about meHey there, everyone! My name is Becky and I write a food blog called The Two Bite Club. Just like my friends at Cooking Planit, I’m passionate about all things food. I love collecting recipes and cooking, I love to grow my own vegetables, and I love saving money on my groceries.

With the end of summer quickly approaching, families around the country are gearing up for back-to-school. Stocking up on school supplies, shopping for school clothes, picking out the perfect backpack and lunchbox, and stocking the fridge with lunchbox-­friendly foods are all on the to-­do list.

With all of the added expenses this time of year, saving money wherever and whenever I can is one of my top priorities. My top saving money strategy? Couponing! If you’re not already couponing, now is the perfect time to get started to help you save a ton of money!

Here are some tips to help you get started!

● Find some coupons!

○ You have to have coupons in hand to start saving. Remember that coupons are everywhere, including inserts found in the newspaper, online via printables and in coupon booklets that you can get in-­store. To check out my full list and favorite places to find coupons, check out my Where to Find Coupons list here.

○ While you might be tempted to cut out every coupon you see, it’s best to start by only clipping the coupons for products you’ll use.

● Organize your coupons.

○ You can start as simple as an envelope. Once you clip or print your coupon, it needs somewhere to go so you’re not scrambling through a sea of paper trying to find the coupons you need. You can sort your coupons by aisle, by type of product or by expiration date. The point is to find a system that works for you. I use a 3-­ring binder with clear baseball card inserts (the perfect size for coupons!) that are sorted by area of the store.

Here’s a picture of Emily’s new binder, organized by type of product:

couponbinder

● Get familiar with your store’s coupon policy.

○ Start with one store…your favorite place to shop. I suggest sticking with one store at first so you’re not overwhelmed (seeing as every store’s policy is different). Once you get to know how it works at your favorite store you can move on to multiple stores and start saving all over town!

○ Stop by the customer service desk or visit the store’s website to find out what their policy is on couponing. Some stores will let you use more than one coupon on a single item, some will allow coupons to be used on buy one, get one free items and some stores even have special days where they will double or even triple the value of your coupon. You won’t know until you ask!

● Plan your shopping trip.

○ Don’t go to the store without a list! The best way to make sure you are saving the most that you can is to match your coupons with what is on sale that week. That way you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck. There are tons of websites out there that are solely dedicated to matching available coupons with weekly ads. They do the legwork for you, so take advantage of it! My favorite match­up sites can be found here.

● Have fun!

○ Don’t let couponing stress you out! There’s no need to fret if you don’t get the deal you had hoped for due to the store being out of stock or simply because you can’t find the coupon that you want. Everything will go on sale again, so you’ll have plenty more opportunities to save on the products that you want.

○ If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start small. Find a few deals that you’re interested in, clip the coupons you need, and head to the store. There’s no need to try to use 50 coupons on your first couponing venture. Attempt just a few deals on your first trip, present your coupons, and high five the cashier on your way out to celebrate your money-­saving success.

You won’t help but become addicted to the feeling you get when you walk out of the store paying way less than retail! As I’ve said on my blog, I’ve yet to find someone who doesn’t like to save money, and couponing is a great way to keep your hard earned cash in your pocket. Practice makes perfect, so get out there and start saving some money! Anyone, even you, can become a super savvy couponer.

For more in depth look at Couponing including The 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Couponing, stop by my blog anytime! And don’t forget to start searching for some quick and easy recipes on Cooking Planit and The Two Bite Club to use your coupons on and to help take the stress out of back­-to-­school meal time!

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A few weeks ago, I did a non-alcholic sangria recipe for my bestie, who’s currently pregnant. That was good, but I have very fond memories of sipping real sangria in Barcelona while backpacking after college, so I’ve always enjoyed “real” Red Sangria – the good stuff! Traditional sangria is more than just wine and fruit, which is why this recipe includes triple sec, brandy and a little sugar. It’s also why sangria always packs a surprising punch. Drink responsibly!

REdSangria

Red Sangria
Makes 4 Drinks

Ingredients
1 Bottle Red Wine (I like to use a Spanish variety)
1/2 Cup Brandy (Or Cognac)
2 Tablespoons Triple Sec
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/2 Red Apple
1/2 Green Apple
1 Medium Orange

Instructions

Combine triple sec and brandy in a pitcher. Add sugar and stir until dissolved, then pour in the red wine.

Cut apples and orange into small diced pieces, then add to the sangria mixture. Chill before serving, at least 30 minutes.

I prefer not to serve sangria over ice because the ice cubes get in the way of the fruit, but if you don’t have time to chill, ice works too.

Best served cold, with a spoon!

Enjoy!

Emily

 

 

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