Posts from the ‘Monthly Challenge’ Category

August Challenge–Use up your pantry stash, revisited

It’s the beginning of a new month as well as a new era in my life. There will be many challenges going forward, but to start things off I’ll begin with a new Monthly Challenge.

Now that I’ve got some time on my hands, I’ve decided it’s time to address the burgeoning state of my pantry and freezer. My first pantry stash monthly challenge about a year ago was a great success, but I have been a bit busy since then and entropy has a way of taking over, especially when you’re not looking. This is a great time for this challenge for a few reasons. First, as I said, I have plenty of time now to focus my attentions on the problem and to be creative in my meal planning (I have to spend more time on Pinterest? Well, if you insist…). Second, I am, after all, not working at the moment, and while we are financially prepared for a short-term reduced income, saving money is always a great thing to do. Plus, if I do happen to take a job out of town and have to move, I’ve at least reduced the amount of food sitting around so we won’t have to toss it or awkwardly try to pack it.

I spent an hour or so yesterday afternoon going through the pantry and freezer and writing down what I had and making note of things I would like to use up. I’ve already got some ideas, and I’m going to get started by making a stash-busting dinner tonight and probably tomorrow, too. At least I’m off to a great start!

A successful finale

Given the mixed results for my first three attempts, for my final July Challenge recipe I decided to try something yummy that I knew would be a hit, assuming the preparation went well. Of course, I did choose a recipe notorious for a very technical preparation. However, while risotto is usually labor intensive and tempermental, requiring constant stirring, I found a recipe for “almost-hands-free” risotto a few weeks ago and decided it would be a delicious way to cap off the month.

It was definitely a success, with both DH and I going back for seconds. It did require a fair amount of prep but came together simply, so the recipe lives up to its claim of being “almost hands free” as far as risotto goes. I have enough arborio rice left for another half batch, so I’ll probably do that in the not-too-distant future. But since it did take some time to cook up, it’s probably not going to be a weekly staple or anything.

I will make a confession–and I might get reamed by a foodie for it–but I substituted more broth for the dry white wine. I assume some would consider that a sacrilege, but quite honestly I just do not have the palate to enjoy wine. Sorry. I just don’t. We’ve had risotto with wine before and it was not a joy for us to eat. Therefore, I had no qualms making my own substitution and did not regret it one bit!

So that’s a wrap on July. I’ll have to come up with a good August challenge, which might be interesting since I will be officially unemployed. Maybe my challenge will be getting a job? :p

One week and an update

One week from today…that’s all I have left at my current job. It’s amazing how fast and yet how slow the last couple of months have gone. I finally have gotten most of my measurements done; I plan on going over my results with my colleagues tomorrow, and I really, really hope they don’t have any other major things I need to measure to wrap things up. Though, even if they do I guess it’s okay since everything is up and running at the moment. I want to be done, but I also want it to be complete before I move on.

I’m still waiting to hear back from the two jobs I’ve been interviewing for, though at this point dragging out the process and delaying actually having to make life-changing decisions is just fine with me! I also just submitted another job application today. The job announcement was forwarded to me as a group email yesterday, and I thought about it overnight. When I came to work today, I found that my boss had independently printed it out and put it on my desk for my consideration. I took that as a sign to just go ahead, so I filled out all that stuff today. We’ll see how that goes, especially as those other two opportunities simmer on the back burner until time to deal with them.

I’ve also been working on the July challenge of trying four new recipes this month to spice up my inspiration in the kitchen. Challenge aside, I’ve been more motivated about cooking in general, which is a relief, though I am still struggling to stay as organized as I used to be. I imagine that once next week rolls around and I’m unemployed, I’ll actually have more time to be creative, too.

The challenge so far has been interesting in that, of the three recipes I have tried so far, all three of them I have approached with a significant amount of skepticism. For all of them, I have experienced the exact same sensation when sitting down to eat it–an odd expression comes over my face as I wonder how on earth this is gong to turn out, and I do not look forward to trying it at all. It’s very strange how I have managed to pick recipes that all elicit this sort of response.

If you recall, I recounted my experience with Recipe #1, chicken tikka masala, in the original post. It was okay at first and I wasn’t really sure how I would rate the dish, but I have to say it was one of those dishes that did improve as leftovers; I guess the spices really had time to mingle and incorporate. So it ultimately turned out to be a success and there was no hesitant facial expression when eating it again!

I also said that I intended to try sweet potato and black bean tacos for Recipe #2. Same facial expression, similar response upon first taste. It’s okay…nothing wrong with it, but I was just inherently skeptical about sweet potato and black beans together inside of a tortilla. DH said it was good, and it certainly was fine, but for leftovers I just ate the potatoes and beans alone instead of done up taco style. I can’t say the combination was one I will repeat in the future.

I decided that for Recipe #3 I would take advantage of the abundance of Swiss chard I have in my garden. I’ve heard so many people say they love sauteed greens, so I thought I should give it a try. Now, despite the irony that I have a green smoothie and a salad for breakfast and lunch every single day, I really don’t like greens that much, especially not on their own. But since sauteed chard comes so highly recommended, I decided I needed to give it a try. Same facial expression when I sat down yesterday, and this time I seriously for real didn’t like it. For one, I had used too much garlic and onion to season it and it was overwhelming to me. Moreover, I just didn’t care for the flavor of the greens (what little I could taste through the seasoning!). DH said it was fine, but in the end I was glad I didn’t make more than two servings of it.

I’ve decided that for my final recipe, I need to try something that I’m actually looking forward to trying. This might require being slightly less healthy than these other three dishes. Maybe more carbs and fat and less veggies? 😉 I did see a risotto recipe a few weeks ago that looked so creamy and delectable…

July Challenge–Mixing It Up In The kitchen

I am sad to report that, as of this writing, I was not the winner of any exciting sweepstakes that I entered during my June monthly challenge. I quickly discovered why I don’t do more of the “take a survey to win” opportunities at the bottom of my receipts. First, I evidently make too many trips to the grocery store, creating a back-log of possible entries; second, the surveys get really long and repetitive, especially when there is the aforementioned large backlog of them. So I confess that I kind of stopped those after a couple of weeks. However, I did enter some other contests on Facebook and on company websites, though I have not reaped any rewards of those efforts yet. Who knows; maybe my lucky day is still in the works. 🙂

Time to move on to July already (egads). This month’s challenge takes me into the kitchen, a place I have oft enjoyed being, but of late has been a little uninspired. Maybe it’s the summer heat, maybe it’s working a bit later these days. Either way, I’ve been in a bit of a cooking (or possibly even lack-of-cooking) rut lately. I think it’s time to spice things up a bit. Therefore, I propose that in the next month I will try four new recipes. Not only that, I hope that all four will be something quite different than my usual repertoire, not just one more way to marinate chicken before I grill it. The good thing is that I’ve already got a few ideas, and I’ve even already accomplished one!

Sunday, I ventured into a brave new world of Indian cuisine. I attempted this recipe for chicken tikka masala by Pastor Ryan from The Pioneer Woman. I made a few modifications based on what I had on hand, but I largely followed the whole thing. It turned out just fine, but it lacked a little somethin’-somethin’ that other tomatoey-chicken dishes I’ve had at Indian restaurants have. Unfortunately, I’m a little new to the blends of spices used in this cuisine, so it was hard to tell exactly what was missing. Maybe the garam masala blend lacked a few spices, or maybe I had too many onions (not a huge fan of onions to begin with), or maybe the tomatoes were a little too chunky or acidic. Anyway, it was still just fine, and DH and I liked it. I suppose it’s worth trying this dish, or the similar butter chicken (chicken makhani), again from a slightly different recipe, but I think once is enough to count toward the July challenge.

One other recipe I have on my list for sure is sweet potato and black bean tacos from the Simply Sugar and Gluten Free cookbook (something I did actually win by entering a contest on a blog! ;)). I’ve only just gotten into sweet potatoes, since I learned that it is indeed possible to eat them in ways other than smothered in marshmallows and brown sugar and caramel sauce at Thanksgiving (not my favorite :p), and I’ve seen similar recipes get rave reviews, though it’s a flavor combo I never would have imagined. I’ve got my tubers ready to go for sometime, maybe later this week.

I still need two more ideas! If you have any suggestions or unique recipes of your own, let me know! (I know some of my readers are also food bloggers, and be sure I am prowling your sites for ideas, too) ;).

June Monthly Challenge: Win all the prizes!

It is, inexplicably, already June. Since I already reinstated goal-of-the-week as a way to keep me pumped up during this transitional time, I am reintroducing a monthly challenge for myself as well.

For the month of June, I am going to enter all the sweepstakes and drawings and contests I come across, and hopefully with an increase in participation I will statistically increase my odds of actually winning something! Of course, I really don’t like statistics, so I’m not going to calculate the chi-squared variance of this or anything.

Anyways, this is actually something I’ve considered doing many times before. Just about every time I go to a store or a restaurant, a survey invitation pops up at the bottom of a receipt promising either a percentage off a future visit or entry into a drawing for cash or gift card.  And with Facebook, contests with retailers are even more prevalent, where you can enter to win free stuff, gift cards, or even trips. I have to confess that the latter is possibly the most compelling prize to me at the moment, but even if I don’t win a cruise or a trip to the Olympic games (this is a popular give-away right now), I still might come up with something neat!

While my intention is to enter just about everything I come across, there are a few guidelines I will follow in regards to which contests I might choose to decline. If I have to give too much information or if the whole thing is a little sketchy, I absolutely reserve the right to opt out. Also, if the prize is something I am less interested in, then I’ll pass so that someone who might really appreciate it can have a better chance at it. However, if for example I win a free a free kitchen appliance that I already have, I could always sell one and keep the other. 😉 Regardless, I do reserve some right to not participate if I deem in appropriate.

DH and I sometimes complain that we don’t really win a lot of stuff. Some people just seem to have a knack for it; for instance, DH claims his sister is one of those people who always won stuff when they were growing up, whereas he felt like he never won squat. However, I will say that we did win a $50 cash card from the bank once. We entered their little weekly drawing and got a call a few days later that we were selected….of course, we were, like, fifth in line after four people they contacted before us didn’t answer. :p But it was a “win” just the same, right?

When telling DH about my plan, he thought it sounded like a fun challenge. He also pointed out that he’d seen part of a show once about people who do this for a living. I suppose if you knew which sweepstakes to enter and you were diligent to enter as many as possible, as many times as possible, you would inevitably win something. However, I cannot conceive of it being lucrative enough to replace my day job. However, I am looking for work, so…. Ok, maybe not.

Occasionally I get phone calls saying that “I’ve won!” something or the other that I don’t remember entering. Worse, I get spammy texts practically every week claiming the same thing. Those irritate me to no end, so I just completely ignore them. I hope that if I actually win something, I will find their contact method legitimate enough that I don’t hang up on them if it’s the real deal (like a real person instead of a recorded message). Oops…

What about you? Have you ever won a contest or sweepstakes? What did you win? I’d be excited to hear your success stories!