Use What You Have Cooking

this is a picture of self made pesto in a mortar.

Image via Wikipedia

Inspired by this post from Carrot’s ‘N’ Cake’s helpful “Grocery 101” series, one of my goals is to get back into meal planning (more on why I stopped another time).  I want to focus more on using items that I already have on hand, rather than choosing recipes for which I have to purchase all-new ingredients (my usual modus operandi).  As I recently posted on Tumblr,  I started by going through my pantry and making a list of on hand items that might be used for recipes.  The items were:

Pesto

Tomato Sauce

Chocolate Syrup

Sundried Tomatoes

Artichocke Hearts

Canned Pumpkin

Various Pastas

Rice

Mini-Cheese Tortellini

Orzo

Oatmeal

Dates

Nutella

This afternoon I purchased some boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  I was planning to bake them but wasn’t sure exactly how.  I think in the back of my mind I was thinking of using the artichoke hearts in a recipe that calls for baking chicken breasts & artichoke hearts in balsamic vinaigrette dressing.  However, I didn’t have, nor did I purchase, the dressing (go figure?!).

I visited my favorite online recipe source, FoodNetwork.com.  The site has a feature where you can type in (an) ingredient(s) and it will suggest recipes.  I wasn’t sure how many ingredients you could put in, so I figured I’d start with several and shorten if necessary.  First I typed: “chicken pesto sundried tomato artichoke” and it took me to a recipe for crab cakes (?).  Next I tried “chicken pesto sundried tomato” and it gave me the previous recipe plus two more, neither of which contained chicken.  “Chicken pesto” provided a better list of results (so, I’ll be sure to just input one or two ingredients in the future). 

One recipe that caught my eye was “Gordon and Gary’s Pesto Chicken Quesadillas.”  I remembered that I had a pack of whole-wheat tortillas in the fridge, and I also had finely shredded parmesan cheese.  Since it was getting late and it was eleventy-billion degrees outside, I didn’t want us to have to grill the chicken.  BUT, I had some leftover chicken that was already cooked, seasoned, and cut into bite-sized pieces. 

I thought the quesadillas turned out really nicely.  The pesto, chicken and cheese tasted good together and the quesadilla added some textural interest.  The children didn’t seem to care for the quesadillas/pesto but they ate the chicken.  Muggle Man LOVED them and even Tweeted “Awesome dinner tonight” to me.  WIN!

My First Visit to ALDI

Technically, it was my second visit.  Because on my first visit, I didn’t realize that ALDI was “different.”  I showed up without any cash, including no quarter for a cart, so I didn’t even make it into the store (which thankfully had a sign in the window stating cash only).  It scared me and it’s taken me several years to go back.  Finally, curiosity (people seem to either love it or hate it, which would I be?) and the yearning for a good deal got the best of me, so I recently (Easter weekend) tried again.

Before getting in the car, I visited the ALDI web site http://www.aldi.com, which I found to be helpful.  Here is what I learned:

* Carts are kept outside the store.  In order to get one, I need to bring a quarter to insert.  When I am finished shopping, when I rechain my cart to the other carts, my quarter will be returned.

* The stores are smaller in size than most grocery stores.  They do not carry all the products I am used to seeing, but I should be able to do 90% of my usual shopping there. 

*Most items are the company’s own brand, although nationally recognized brand names are sometimes carried.

* There are no baggers.  If I want my groceries bagged, I need to either bring my own bags or be prepared to purchase bags at the store. 

* I cannot use a credit card or write a check, but I can pay with cash or a debit card that uses a PIN number.

Armed with this knowledge and a quarter, I headed for ALDI.  My shopping experience was underwhelming.  I know that the store has it’s own “healthier” brands of products, but I did not see many of these, and felt that a lot of the products were processed foods that I am trying to avoid.  I wouldn’t say the store was dirty, but, it didn’t feel sparkling clean, either.  Borderline grubby.  The prices didn’t totally blow me away, but I did think that overall they seemed good and in many cases less than what I usually pay at the grocery store.   Since there were less products on display, there was less opportunity for impulse purchases, which helped my wallet.

I did find one impulse buy (below!).  Seriously, how adorable is this and of course perfect for Easter.  I had the feeling it was one of those things that looks a lot better than it tastes, so we never did eat it, just used it for decoration. 

My impulse buy, adorable lamb cake!

I was nervous about checkout.  What if the online information was wrong and they only took cash?  I made a couple of sweeps past the checkout area trying to see how people were paying but couldn’t see much.  Finally, I took a deep breath and went for it.  As the person in front of me was rung up, I saw that there was a point-of-purchase machine for a debit card.  *Whew*

I also noticed that the cashier scanned each item and placed it directly into the cart. I had brought two reusable shopping totes with me, and I opened them up in my cart.  I figured either she could place the items into the bags, or she would place them in the cart and then I could put them in the bags.  However, “the system” is that the cart of the person in front of you is pulled up next to the cashier and she loads the items directly into that cart (So, the items of the person in front of me were placed into a cart that was already there, and then that person’s cart was pulled up next to the cashier when I got there).  After paying for my purchase, I removed the bags from my cart, pulled the empty cart up for the next person’s items, then pulled the cart with my items over to a nearby ledge (which seemed to be just for this purpose) where I was able to load my shopping totes.

I put the totes into my cart and headed out for the last step – returning the cart and getting my quarter back!  As I was approaching the cart area, I saw a customer approaching from the parking lot.  I figured proper etiquette was probably for me to offer her my cart.  Next time, I’ll do that.  However, today I was determined to see the process through from start to finish, see how the gadget on the carts actually works, and to get my quarter back!  So, pretending not to notice the oncoming person, I hurriedly pushed my cart up to the other carts.  There is a little grey box on the end of each cart handle.  The quarter is inserted into the box.  Attached to the box is a chain with a red plastic piece on the end.  When you push two carts together, you take the red plastic piece from the cart next to yours and snap it into the grey plastic box on your cart.  This attaches your cart to the others, and pushes your quarter back out to you.  Voila! 

I put my quarter in my pocket, grabbed my shopping totes, said “excuse me” to the person eyeing me for being so rude, and hurried to my car.  I had survived my first ALDI shopping experience!  I’ll go back again, but, probably not very soon, and it’s not going to become my “go to” store.