Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Crab Alfredo

This looks like slop in the photo. I swear in real-life it looked appetizing. I guess I'll call this crab alfredo. Primarily, it's my way of using up the excess cheese sauce leftover when I made Broccoli with Cheetos the other day.

I started with olive oil, butter, a few slices of garlic and some fresh ground pepper from my peppercorn medley. I let that cook for a minute and then threw in a can of Bumblebee 'Premium' Fancy Crab Meat. It's my first time buying crab-in-a-can (or crab for that matter) and I think I've seen bigger chunks in grated parmesan. But it did give the sauce a nice 'sweet crab flavor' as my husband said.

After the crab, I added about a cup of milk (two percent, so I also added flour to compensate for the lack of thickness in the milk) and the leftover cheese sauce. When that all blended, I added about two cups of peas. And a hefty amount of garlic pepper. And about 2 tablespoons of Maille honey mustard. Then about 3/4 cup shredded extra sharp texture.

I cooked some whole wheat penne rigate, poured the sauce on, and sprinkled on some parmesan. Voilà, Crab Alfredo.

Morning snacks: Cottage cheese with apple butter

In this house, breakfast usually comes around two or three times a day. My daughter starts her day with about 4 ounces of chocolate soy milk (more if it's one of those Horizon organic milk boxes) and a small meal, today a New York gala apple. (Which while leaving me relieved that it wasn't shipped from outside the country, I still had to ponder the relativity of shopping local.)

Then, at 8 a.m. she made "blueberry muffins" in her Easy Bake oven (which did not include blueberry just imitation blueberry). Around 9 a.m., I needed to eat and I didn't feel like it so I had a couple fig newtons. Yeah, bad Mommy. But then it became apparent that I needed real food and at 10 a.m., I had apple butter and cottage cheese.

Now, apple butter is a very Pennsylvania Dutch condiment. I've only seen it used for two things, even in my Pennsylvania Dutch in-law's house: cottage cheese and scrapple. I find scrapple unappealing. But apple butter and cottage cheese is a nice mix of carbs and protein to keep me stable from a food perspective. And the calcium benefits me too.

My daughter and I both had a serving (hers with more apple butter than mine). Then, my inlaws showed up with watermelon. She ate that too.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fancy Dinner: Chicken Français

As I sit here typing, my house is filled with ricanant (giggling) as my husband gets my exhausted and overstuffed four-and-a-half year old to bed. We had "fancy dinner" tonight, as we call it.

I'm usually happiest on these nights. It means I'm putting an effort forth to do our favorite and our most elaborate foods. It means we're using the linens, the silver, the china... Even my pre-schooler gets a champagne flute, usually of apple juice but today we had Orangina.

I initially planned chicken for dinner, but I hadn't given much thought to exactly what recipe. I wanted chicken with grape nuts, but without the cereal I could not. I knew it would end up being chicken français or chicken with rosemary and pepper (both French style cuisine). Then I thought about adding a simple sautéed broccoli. And I noticed the Vouvray, all alone in my wine rack, the quality $10 a bottle Vouvray I can afford these days. If you're breaking out the table wine, might as well call an impromptu "fancy dinner."

And so it goes.

Now before you criticize my table setting, keep in mind, my kid did it. She set the table, selected the table cloth and even the napkins. We use cloth napkins every meal, so we've got quite the collection. The point of fancy dinner is to use the "good stuff" because my stepmother has instilled in me a sense of "what's-the-good-of-having-it-if-you're-not-going-to-use-it." That applies to everything except her living room rug. Family legend still tells of the day my husband spilled Coke on the sacred rug and my dad thought my stepmom would go get his gun(s).

Fancy dinner also reminds us all of our manners, makes us all slow down and enjoy the process of our food, and hopefully gives my daughter a sense of occasion, which should not be reserved for days labeled special.

I started this endeavor with about 1.25 pounds of chicken breast tenders, boneless and skinless. Yeah, I know that's not the cheap way to do it but meat is gross to me and the only way I can cook it is to pretend I'm a French chef.

Chicken Français from
1.5 pounds chicken;
2 eggs, lightly beaten;
3/4 cup flour;
salt and pepper;
2 TB oil;
2 TB butter plus TB more butter
Juice of one lemon

1. pound chicken cutlets until thin
2. dip in egg and dredge in flour, salt and pepper. (I skipped the egg and sprinkled fresh ground sea salt on one side, then ground peppercorn medley on the other, then dredged in flour.)
3. In large skillet, heat 2 TB butter and 2 TB oil. Cook chicken on both sides. Remove to platter and keep warm in oven.
4. Add TB butter and lemon juice to skillet. Combine and pour over chicken. Garnish with parsley if desired.

Now, I reserved some of the sauce. I tossed in about 1/2 a clove of sliced garlic, sautéed for a minute, and then added blanched broccoli. It tasted incredible.

Five Alarm Chili

Yesterday, my family ate leftovers and string beans with ham (blech) from my inlaws. I worked crazy hours so cooking did not happen. For lunch, I thawed a container of my infamous five alarm chili. It was meant to be mild, but I used Indian Chili Powder instead of McCormick. Oops.

I adapt my batches of chili from three recipes. I've listed them below.
Wegmans Slow-Cooked Pineapple Chili
1 lb ground beef (I omit);
8 ounces diced peppers;
8 ounces diced onions;
1.5 cups matchstick or grated carrots;
8 ounces sliced mushrooms;
28 ounces crushed tomatoes with herbs;
31 ounces dark kidney beans, drained;
8 ounces crushed pineapple, drained;
2 tablespoons chili powder;

1. Brown ground beef and remove drippings. (Or skip! Really, this recipe does not need the meat.)

2. Combine everything in a slow cooker and set to high for four hours or low for eight.

Now I present the another classic chili recipe. This came from my vegan cooking course with Eileen Breslin and my husband adores the dumplings.

Chili with cornbread dumplings
2 cans kidney beans;
2 cups corn;
2 cans stewed tomatoes;
2 tablespoons chili powder.
Combine and simmer.

Then, for the dumplings:
1.5 cups cornmeal;
1 teaspoon salt;
1.5 cups flour;
3.5 teaspoons baking powder;
2 tablespoons sugar;
1.5 cups (soy) milk;
1/3 cup oil

Mix dry ingredients. Then add wet. After chili has cooked at least 30 minutes, turn up heat and spoon batter in like dumplings (plop). Do not cover entire surface. Cover chili, reduce heat, and cook another 15 minutes.

But for plain old chili, I make Betty Crocker's recipe vegetarian, mix up the beans with some black beans and I simply add carrots and pineapple. Then I add dumplings if so inclined.

Betty Crocker's Chili Con Carne
1 pound ground beef (I substitute black beans. My family like different colors in their food);
1 cup chopped onion;
2 cloves crushed garlic;
1 tablespoon chili powder;
1/2 teaspoon salt;
1 teaspoon ground cumin;
1 teaspoon dried oregano;
1 teaspoon cocoa;
1/2 teaspoon red pepper sauce;
16 ounces diced tomatoes, undrained;
15.5 ounces kidney beans, undrained

1. Cook ground beef, onion and garlic in 3-quart saucepan, stirring occasionally, until meat is brown. Drain.
2. Stir in remaining ingredients except beans. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat.
3. Cover and simmer one hour, stirring occasionally.
4. Stir in beans. Heat to boiling, reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, at least twenty minutes, stirring occasionally.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Broccoli with Cheetos

For those who may be watching my grocery budget, my husband spent an additional $33 yesterday getting food for the covered dish at work, soda for a guest, and baking soda. Good news is I asked him to get double the ingredients for ugly bean dip when in reality, I didn't need any, so 90% of the items purchased when straight into the pantry.

We have not eaten well today, having used Christmas cookies as a breakfast.

To make up for this, I served bananas, ugly bean dip and a cheaped-down version of Broccoli with cheetos. Lots of fruits, veggies, beans and even calcium! The original broccoli with Cheetos recipe I saw in NY magazine, attributed to Chef Craig Koketsu. He can be found at Park Avenue Autumn. The recipe turned out to be much more complex and high class than I anticipated, so I did what I could with what I had on hand.

Broccoli and Cheetos
Serves 6 to 8
For the broccoli:
3 large heads of broccoli, florets cut into small pieces, stem peeled and cut (yeah, right, I'm not peeling and cooking a broccoli stem);
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil;
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped;
1 teaspoon red chili flakes (I have red pepper flakes, will that do?);
3 tablespoons butter;

For the cheese sauce:
1 quart heavy cream (um, I had light cream, and the carton wasn't full);
2 tablespoons chopped shallots (I had diced red onion leftover from the ugly bean dip);
2 tablespoons garlic chopped;
10 black peppercorns (I used four-color peppercorn that I had in a grinder, and I ground them);
1 bay leaf (I didn't have any);
2 cups aged gouda shredded (I *shamefully* used monterey jack. I wish I had gouda);
1 cup grated parmesan

1/2 9-ounce bag Cheetos crushed to pebbles

For the broccoli: Blanch broccoli in salt water for three minutes, remove and shock with cold water. Cool and drain. Place large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add olive oil, garlic, chili flakes, until it sweats, being careful not to brown the garlic. Add butter and melt thoroughly into oil. When butter and oil begins to bubble, sauté broccoli until hot. Reserve broccoli on paper towel lined plate. Keep warm. (Note: I think the broccoli at this stage tastes AWESOME.)

For the cheese sauce: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, reduce cream with shallots, bay leaf, garlic, and peppercorn until it thickly coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and whisk in cheese until melted. Strain sauce through fine mesh strainer. (I skipped this since I didn't use whole peppercorns or a bay leaf.) Pour warm sauce into large serving dish. Arrange broccoli on top of sauce. Coat with cheetos. Serve.

We ended up with way more cheese sauce than we needed, so I reserved some for a pizza or pasta sauce.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ugly Bean Dip

My mom made this bean dip yesterday and gave it to us with some Fritos scoops. It looked nasty, but as you can see we demolished it. I don't like most of the ingredients, but together... it was fantastic. As a matter-of-fact, we skipped dinner because we ate so much throughout the day.

My mom made the comment that she usually hates anything good for you, but she actually requested the recipe for this. She had it at a work party. The top photo is the dip once I put it on china and tried to pretty it up. The bottom is how in looked in the original storage container. Same food. Big difference.

Nancy's Bean Dip
1/2 cup sugar (my mom uses less);
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar;
1/2 cup grapeseed oil (can substitute vegetable);
Bring this mixture to a boil, stir and cool.
Chop one green pepper and one red onion very finely.
Drain one can of diced tomato, one can of pinto beans (I swear my mom used white beans), one can black beans and one can white corn (my mom used yellow). Mix together.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Grocery Shopping: A trip to Wegmans

My mother gave me a $100 wegmans gift card, so today my husband and I went to use it. We also had a coupon for $5 off a $50 purchase and another for $1 off veg stock. I ended up spending a total of $121.08 (minus the coupons, before that it was $127.) I had the gift card and $20 so the $1.08 was irritating, especially since I treated myself to a $5 hair product for my curls. I had to use my charge card, and if I hadn't splurged I would have stayed on budget.

I think these purchases get us in good shape for January, and the December grocery budget still remains around $250 total, plus $35 for dining out. I did not get much for the money I spent this trip. But here goes:

In the natural food aisle: Three cartons of Silk Soy Milk (chocolate for my daughter, unsweetened for general household use, and Very Vanilla for the child and I since the doctor reminded me to get my calcium.); two Amy's tofu scramble pockets, two Health is Wealth spinach munchees (like pizza rolls but spinach), Pacific foods tomato roasted red pepper soup, Bob's 8 grain cereal, steak and vegetable soup, vegetable soup, veggie dogs, veggie sausage patties,

From the dairy aisle: light sour cream, large curd cottage cheese, jar of yeast, Coffeemate creamer Chocolate Raspberry flavor,

For the bathroom: Nature's Gate Toothpaste (if I use regular toothpaste when I'm stressed out or eating too many acidic foods, I get a mouth ulcer and it's not fun), Wegmans double rolls of toilet paper, 12 pack; cotton swabs, Degree antiperspirant, shaving cream, two bottles shampoo, curl cream,

Pantry supplies: Two cartons of Wegmans vegetable stock, white flour, wheat flour, funky Chinese noodles, four boxes of Wegmans macaroni and cheese spirals, two big cans of pears in juice (for poire tarte tartin), coffee mate powdered creamer (for emergencies), mango salsa, Nayonaise, campbell's broccoli and cheese soup, canned apricots in pear sauce, canned peaches, Orangina, Kikkoman lite soy sauce, canned crab meat, tuna, sliced black olives,

From the meat row: hamburger, chicken, beef stew meat.

From the produce section: bananas, three broccoli crowns, and organic bulk spring mix for the tortoise.

Holiday recovery

Yesterday, we survived on egg sandwiches and Christmas cookies until my mom unexpectedly brought cheese-filled piggies in the blanket still hot from the oven. Those became lunch. Then appetizers at my Dad's had the usual meats, cheeses, crackers and Carole's famous Cheese Apple. Which has me hungry to make MY famous cheese ball. Dinner at Dad's was catered, with very simple food we could have made ourselves, which confused me. And Mrs. Smith's Pies for dessert.

My mother gave me a $100 gift card for Wegmans,so that's where I'm off to next. With my husband. That will probably provide most of our food for January. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Fish Sugar Cookies à la Husband

My husband wanted to make roll-out cookies for his sister, Beth, who breeds tropical fish. I have to admit that I have never made a successful batch of roll-outs. But I haven't tried in years. My mother-in-law and grandmothers-in-law make incredible cookies so I have had no reason to try.

My husband dug this recipe out of the Betty Crocker cookbook. He prepared the batter by himself and something didn't seem right. So he called me in. The batter resembled pebbles. I asked him if he remembered all the liquid. He nodded. I washed my hands, removed my wedding ring and dumped the pebbles on the dishwasher. I began working the dough. It was sticking, but still seemed brittle. There was no way this would roll. Especially once chilled. If there's one thing I've learned from my bread making is what dough should feel like.

"Get me butter."

He does.

"Two-and-a-half tablespoons, soft, not melted."

He prepares it. I flour my hands and smear the butter onto the top of the dough, just like folding butter into brioche dough. It's wet, and I'm nervous. I keep my hands dry with flour and keep working. As I get the butter incorporated, the dough takes a nice shape. I dump the last tablespoon of granulated sugar from the sugar bowl onto the dishwasher and roll the ball over it to keep it from sticking to the bowl while it chills. Now we wait.

The recipe.
Sugar Cookies from the Betty Crocker 25th anniversary cookbook
1.5 cups powdered sugar;
1 cup butter, softened;
1 teaspoon vanilla;
1/2 teaspoon almond extract;
1 egg;
2.5 cups flour;
1 teaspoon baking soda;
1 teaspoon cream of tartar;
granulated sugar.

Mix powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, almond extract and egg. Stir in other ingredients except granulated sugar. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours.

Heat oven to 375. Grease cookie sheet lightly. Divide dough in half. Roll each half 1/4 inch thick. Cut into desired shape. Sprinkle with sugar. (Decorate?) Bake seven to eight minutes until edges brown.

Now the question becomes: Will I make colored icing? Or will we just use sugar?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Homemade Hummus

My daughter had another huge bowl of cream of wheat for breakfast, followed with some of my homemade granola at 9 a.m. We stopped by her daddy's office and got invited to share the leftover covered dish items from the luncheon yesterday, which included my spinach dip. Primarily, my family enjoyed ham and spinach dip (though I didn't touch the ham). My daughter ate at least a cup, if not two, of spinach without dipping it in anything.

My original plan for lunch had been peanut butter and jelly on the potato wheat bread my father-in-law gave us last week and carrot sticks with blue cheese dressing and fruit juice to drink. But the surprise lunch out got me thinking... I want hummus for dinner.

My husband bought sesame bagels over the weekend at the grocery store so hummus would be perfect. The carrot sticks will also go well. And the green pepper I bought a while ago will be a nice addition.

I discovered my hummus recipe online about ten or so years ago. A guy had made a chart of hummus and its variations. The basic recipe is as follows:

In the food processor, blend:

Three cloves garlic, minced;
16 ounces chick peas;
1/2 cup lemon juice or juice of 1/2 a lemon (I used all);
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds (fry briefly in skillet until aromatic) and/or tahini (I forgot the exact volume of tahini but I would say at least a tablespoon or two);
1 teaspoon salt;
1 teaspoon olive oil;
1/4 teaspoon cayenne;
cumin if desired;
parsley if desired.

Chill thoroughly before serving to allow flavors to blend.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Flea Shampoo Potatoes and Egg Rolls

Tonight my husband has another Christmas party that didn't include spouses or families so the preschooler and I are on our own. I made pineapple fried in equal parts soy sauce, olive oil and canola oil, and the mini egg rolls I mentioned earlier in December.

I also made what is known in this house as "flea shampoo potatoes." I forget the real name, but it's a vegan recipe that can feature either dill or parsley. If you use dill, the smell is oddly reminiscent of flea shampoo. We love dill, and if I have fresh dill I load it on. Simply put, for flea shampoo potatoes you fry the potatoes in olive oil, soy sauce and lots and lots of dill. I like my potatoes salty, so I use 50/50 on the oil and soy sauce but you can adjust to taste. My daughter ate a portion like this and just asked for two more mini egg rolls. AND more potatoes.

Another easy secret to fun convenience food is to use funky sauces. I served these egg rolls with a plum dipping sauce. The 7 oz. bottle was $3.59, which is steep, but it jazzes up a cop-out meal and is used sparingly. I got mine at Wegmans.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Family Movie Day

Last night, my husband went Christmas shopping and I allowed a splurge, a very unhealthy one at that. Cheesesteaks! This morning my daughter had leftover cream of wheat for breakfast while we had toast. My husband went shopping again for gifts and spent another $30 on groceries, though about $5 was really for Christmas gifts and another $4 for supplies for a holiday party at his office tomorrow. So that means we've spent about $140 on groceries so far this month and $35 on dining out.

The grocery shopping was really a ruse to get him out of the house to get a present for our daughter. He went to get a fun lunch for before family movie day. She picked Cats. As in the musical. So, my husband brought home crunchy cheese curls for her (and not the organic real cheese kind I would buy) and Starbucks in a can for us. Our lunch, pictured, was sweet potato fries made from the potatoes I bought last week that were getting mushy. (Cook at 450 and flip regularly until the texture seems right.) And Morningstar fake chicken nuggets, plain for the rest of the family and buffalo wings for me. Dippings included blue cheese dressing, Frank's Red Hot sauce (mix the two together and I'm in HEAVEN) and ketchup.

If the weather holds out tonight, the whole family has a dinner party.

The bulk of the groceries my husband bought: eggs, cheese, chocolate soy milk, sesame bagels.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Time for Nachos!

After a very busy morning of playing outside in the snow, we had nachos for lunch. When my daughter was a toddler, she adored three meals that she never seemed to tire of: nachos, salad and yogurt. And we're not talking plain old processed cheese and chips as nachos. We made nachos piled high with real cheese, refried beans, black olives, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and salsa- regular and mango!

Daddy makes nachos for dinner or lunch. We use canned vegetarian refried beans (though I bought beans to make my own and never got around to doing it.) We grate our own cheese. The organic mango salsa from Wegmans is the key. In two tablespoons of salsa (and we tend to eat 1/4 to 1/2 cup each instead of 2 TBSP), there's 15% of your RDA of vitamin C and 15% vitamin A, gotta love that mango!

So even though nachos traditionally seem like junk food, in my book, they are not. Real cheese for lots of calcium, tomatoes and lettuce for vegetable matter, beans for protein and fiber, and the salsa for the vitamin content.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Peppermint Iced Tea

I made peppermint iced tea today. I really want my famous bittersweet hot chocolate, but I only have skim milk and that would be sacreligious. So I brewed this tea with two plain tea bags and three peppermint.

More bread

With all the baking that I do, and all the cooking that goes on in this house, you wouldn't think bread would become a major event. I made a single batch of "baguettes" today and LOOK-- one resembles a baguette.


The one in the middle is for a party Monday. The one with the baguette shape I'm saving for a beef burgundy night. It had the right color! It "looks" real. The one in the foreground we chomped into right away, and the way the bread snapped when  cut into it, it had the perfect crust. We smeared it with butter and ate it while still warm. Mmmm... 

What amazes me about this process is how I do nothing noticeably different from time to time and the bread keeps getting better. Have my hands learned? Does practice really make perfect?

Cream of Wheat Morning

We're supposed to get a winter storm today. My office has already called a snow day, their cautiousness is in part due to the fact that we have an adult day care center. It's nice for me, because I don't get paid holidays, but I do get snow days. Anyway. You know those people who go to the store and buy bread, milk and eggs on threat of snow? I'm not one of them. Bread, milk and eggs are far from my list of necessities. I'd be more likely to head to the liquor store for wine, Wegmans (or Antoinette Chocolatier) for some quality chocolate, and some fruit. Yep, then I'm ready to weather a storm.

We are once again running out of food. This month's grocery tab is around $125 so it's no surprise that the pantry is near-bare. But it is the 19th! So that's $6.58 a day. For a hearty winter breakfast, we opted for Cream of Wheat today. The cream of wheat dilemma always floors us. How much to make? We end up making "about" four servings according to the directions and end up with enough for an army.

This box of Cream of Wheat came from Aldi. Per one cup of prepared cereal, there's 20% RDA of calcium plus 50% iron. I up the nutritional content by using powdered milk instead of water to make it. Then for flavor, I stir in a teaspoon of jelly. In this case, blueberry Trappist jelly.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Garlic Veggie French Bread Pizzas

Today we had some nutty food choices. For breakfast, my daughter had the last homemade blueberry pancake from the freezer (which I naughtily topped with vanilla ice cream) and 8 oz. of Horizon Organic Chocolate milk.

For lunch, we had graham crack
ers with peanut butter, sliced apples and carrot sticks. Then after lunch, we watched a movie (The Muppet Christmas Carol) with popcorn and a couple Christmas cookies.

For dinner, I prepared one of my favorites. I took my last homemade baguette from the freezer. It thawed all afternoon. 
I cooked some olive oil, butter and fresh sliced garlic in a skillet. I cut the bread into four hearty chunks. I spread most of the sauce onto the bread (as the broiler preheated) and left the remainder in the skillet. I sprinkled each slice with parmesan cheese. I heated the bread and toasted it under the broiler. Meanwhile, I mixed fresh carrot ribbons, fresh broccoli, and some frozen California vegetables (more carrots and broccoli, some cauliflower) into the remaining sauce in the skillet. I sprinkled them liberally with garlic pepper, basil and Italian seasoning. I cooked them until they started to brown.

When the bread had toasted, I spread this mixture on top of each slice. Then I sprinkled with parmesan and asiago and covered the vegetables with shredded Italian cheese blend leftover from last week's pizza. Back under the broiler it went. And voilà.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Spinach Rigatoni

I buy these frozen spinach rigatoni at Aldi. Tonight we served them not with the prepackaged seasoning sauce but with red sauce and extra sprinkle cheese, asiago and parmesan. Breakfast was cinnamon toast. I took my daughter for Chinese after we got shoes for her Christmas dress. She got the shrimp and broccoli and I got curry. That cost me $14. My husband packed my ginger cookies with peanut butter and banana for lunch, a tad strange but... He wanted something different. Off to enjoy my coffee. I have no idea what I'll feed my tribe tomorrow. And I need some cookies from those Christmas tins.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Giant Ginger Cookies

Quick note: Food today consists primarily of leftovers. Homemade blueberry pancakes from the freezer for breakfast. Quiche planned for lunch. My husband has a dinner with colleagues tonight, so we had planned to go to dinner at my dad's but the weather may pre-empt that. Now the cookies... No one else I know makes these, so I do because I love them! 

The original recipe is from Better Homes and Gardens, November 1998. I usually make a vegan version because I run out of eggs by the time I get to them. Timing is everything. Underbake and they don't firm up. Too long and they burn and get too crunchy.

And I forgot the baking soda. So they look like hockey pucks. Oops. They taste good. I swear! And I left the oven on 300, instead of 350 which didn't help either.

Giant Ginger Cookies

1.5 cups shortening;
2 cups sugar;
2 eggs (or 4 ounces applesauce, that's about eight tablespoons);
1/2 cup molasses (I use blackstrap);
4.5 cups flour;
2 teaspoons baking soda (which I forgot this time);
1.5 teaspoons cinnamon;
1 teaspoon ground cloves;
1/4 teaspoon salt; 

Preheat oven to 350. Cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs (or applesauce) and molasses. Add half the flour and remaining dry ingredients. Then stir in remaining flour with wooden spoon. Dough is very stiff. Shape dough into 2 inch balls using an ice cream scoop as a guide. Place on ungreased cookie sheets about 2.5 inches apart. Bake 12-14 minutes. Makes 25 four-inch cookies.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Crustless Broccoli Cheese Quiche

My house smells incredible right now because I have a quiche in the oven. I have to work until seven tonight, so I opted to make a quiche this morning for my family to reheat for dinner. The original recipe is for Quiche Lorraine and comes from my Betty Crocker cookbook. I adapted it, as always. I don't use the crust, simply for ease. It's not necessary and I don't often go through the effort of making a pie crust. I sometimes buy pre-made crusts for pot-pies or quiche. But lately, it didn't seem worth the extra calories or carbohydrates.

My daughter had an apple, chocolate soy milk and a gingerbread cookie for breakfast. I had a piece of pumpkin waffle with peanut butter and Nutella. I'm not sure what we'll have for lunch... It's just the two of us today.

Crustless Broccoli Cheese Quiche

Grease deep dish pie pan. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
1.5 cups half and half (it's supposed to be 2 cups heavy whipping cream, but I didn't have any);
About 1.5 cups fresh broccoli;
garlic pepper;
1 cup shredded cheese (I used leftover Italian blend and some asiago);
5 medium eggs

In pie dish, dump broccoli, sprinkle garlic pepper and cover with cheese. Mix eggs and cream in separate bowl. Pour over broccoli. Cook at 425 for 15 minutes then lower heat to 300 and cook another 30 minutes until texture firms. Stand about ten minutes before serving.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tuna sandwiches with carrots and mashed potatoes

I poured myself a hearty glass of chartreuse this afternoon. That meant by the time my husband started dinner (two hours later) I had imbibed close to three ounces and was in no shape to make dinner.

My husband used the last of the leftovers from his mother's dinner Friday (carrots and mashed potatoes, with the potato bread) and made tuna sandwiches. Also on the table, between the snowmen, you can see some of the cookies our daughter made yesterday. I think we've all had too many cookies since then. Gayle makes the BEST jelly thumbprints ever.

Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas

 After a long weekend working on my take-home final (I spent 15 hours at the computer), I recycled that store-bought chicken my mother-in-law presented as dinner Friday. Yesterday, my daughter spent the day with a friend (meals included) and more or less lived on Christmas cookies and then we had Taco Bell for dinner when she arrived home early and unexpected. 

For breakfast, we had gingerbread man (nothing healthy there) and gave the daughter some apple juice and cheddar cheese. By lunch, I had the final complete and emailed off to my French professor so I thought I'd treat the family to a real meal.

My husband bought cream cheese while Christmas shopping yesterday so that's the only item for this recipe that came from outside the house. They turned out a tad saucy but that's because I put in too much liquid. (I'll explain as I progress here.) It was so yummy my daughter asked for seconds and we didn't have any more burrito shells thawed so we poured the sauce over tortilla chips for her. That suited her just fine. The leftovers I will use as sauce for spaghetti, since it's so juicy and protein rich.

This recipe is adapted from a free Kraft cookbook I picked up at the grocery store during the 1992 Olympics. Their recipe is from the Champion Chicken chapter. Creamy Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas. Now, as usual, I veered greatly. I don't think I can post the original recipe without confusing what I made. So, I'm posting mine.

Use Up that Gross Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas
1 clove garlic, sliced; 
1 tablespoon butter; 
1 teaspoon olive oil; 
leftover chicken; 
1/4 cup half-and-half; 
1 can petite diced tomatoes (and the liquid);
1 teaspoon spicy Indian chili powder; 
1 teaspoon ground cumin; 
1 teaspoon basil; 
8 oz cream cheese; 
3 oz mild cheddar; 
3 oz extra sharp cheddar; 
about 1 cup fresh broccoli; 

In a fairly large saucepan, heat oil, butter and sliced garlic over medium-low. After a minute or two, when the aroma begins, add the half and half and spices. Cook for a couple minutes. Add tomatoes (if you don't want it as juicy as mine, pour off the liquid first). Add broccoli, chopped as small as possible. Add cream cheese and cook over medium for about five minutes. After the cream cheese melted, I added my chicken into the pot, but you can leave the chicken plain and pour the sauce over it. I like giving the chicken a chance to absorb the flavors. After a few minutes, add the cheese. When cheese melts, dish onto tortillas and serve. 

Friday, December 12, 2008

Standard American Diet, SAD indeed

Once upon a time, I liked my mother-in-law's hot bacon dressing. She's very Pennsylvania Dutch, and she makes a nice hot bacon dressing. But since she knows I like it, she makes it EVERY time she cooks dinner. Which is about once a month. I can tolerate hot bacon dressing once every six months. Or, say Thanksgiving and Easter. And I'm not a fan of meat, so to come home to a meaty smelling house is gross. 

My mother-in-law babysat my daughter from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in my house. They made cupcakes. And apparently, my mother-in-law cannot be bothered cooking for my daughter. Because she brought Martin's Wheat Potato bread, yeah, that's whole grain, and I'm sure she brought the cheapest possible cold cuts, pickles and chips for lunch. (That's why I pumped my kid full of broccoli before I left. AND a banana.) And this is dinner.

A pre-cooked chicken from Sam's Club yesterday. Mashed potatoes. And carrots drowned in butter. And iceburg lettuce with hot bacon dressing. Iceberg lettuce, empty calories. Nothing green. Plain potatoes, with nothing to jazz them up. Overcooked carrots. And that chicken. Also bland. Now, I might have been able to eat it had I not seen the leftover plate which my husband informs me she ripped to shreds with her bare hands. (WTF am I supposed to do with a plate of shredded chicken? Don't tell me soup. I HATE chicken broth. Maybe broccoli-chicken-cheddar pot pie. But I didn't buy the ingredients for pot pie.) It just looks gross.

So my husband obviously picked the nicest piece to offer to me, but I still can't bring myself to eat it. I'm tempted to take a flute of chartreuse instead. My husband says the liquor might make the dinner palatable.  

Today's entry

This may be the only entry today. I'm sipping coffee with hazelnut creamer, still enraptured by a dream of Dunkin Donuts cappucino. We're having breakfast of leftover pumpkin waffles with peanut butter. My husband has a holiday luncheon at the office today. His mother is making dinner tonight since I won't be home from work until around seven. I'll be eating the leftover pork with apples (maybe with a few noodles) for lunch and a late dinner when I finally get home. No elaborate meal plans today. No recipes. And certainly no fun stories.

Since she'll be with my inlaws for a good portion of the day, I'll feed my daughter some raw veggies with lunch. And a banana mid-morning. Lord knows they'll feed her garbage a good portion of the day. The last time my mother-in-law made dinner, she made meat, potatoes, corn, and squash. THREE starchy vegetables, nothing green in sight and everything drowned in butter.

Tomorrow my daughter is having breakfast with Santa (at Wegmans) and visiting a friend. My husband has to work until three. So, I don't have to cook until meal until dinner tomorrow.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Another Daddy dinner

Daddy made cheese quesadillas (with salsa) and raw veggies (broccoli, carrots and green peppers) with dip (blue cheese dressing). Since we had a big meal with lunch, this sounded like a nice dinner. Throughout the day, my daughter drank chocolate soy milk and juice. She hardly touched her water.

Pork with Apples

Since I've worked so late all week, and I have a house full of groceries, I opted to make the family a nice hot lunch. This is one of those rare occasions when we use the big plates. I scrubbed and baked the sweet potatoes, with plans to serve with butter and cinnamon sugar.

Now I will post the recipe for Pork with Apples as I copied it from recipeZaar, but I'll note how I changed it.

Glazed Pork with Apples

8 servings
2 tablespoons oil;
8 boneless pork chops 1/2 inch thick (I used two, but sliced them into stir fry type pieces);
1 cup apple juice;
1/2 cup brown mustard (I used 1/4 cup imported French honey dijon and 1/4 cup brown);
1/2 cup brown sugar;
1/4 teaspoon fresh rosemary, crushed (I forgot the rosemary this time);
2 apples sliced;
I also add raisins.

Heat oil in skillet over medium-high. Cook pork jobs about five minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to boil and reduce heat to medium. Simmer, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes, until sauce thickens and pork finishes cooking. 

Groceries from Aldi

This is my haul from Aldi. I did not stick to the budget. I could have, but I chose not to. I spent a total of $56.89. Meat took up about $4 of that. Yes, meat. Figured some of you might want to see what I do with meat. So I bought the cheapest package of four pork chops I saw. ($3.91)

And I forgot cooking spray.

  • Flour tortillas (0.99) that I put in the freezer.
  • Egg noodles (0.99)
  • Elbow macaroni (0.99)
  • 34.5 ounces of regular coffee (4.99)
  • Olive oil (3.69)
  • 5 lbs flour (1.69)
  • Three broccoli crowns (1.79)
  • Two green peppers (1.49)
  • Four sweet potatoes (1.29)
  • 2 lbs carrots (1.19... Half the cost of the grocery store!)
  • Four tiny cans of tomato sauce (0.25/each)
  • 4-pack of cheap toilet paper (0.89, each roll will last ten minutes in this house, but I'm terrified I might run out.)
  • Two hefty cans of chunk pineapple (0.89/each)
  • 2 15-oz cans pumpkin (0.79/each)
  • 2 cans frozen apple juice concentrate (0.95/each)
  • 1 can from white grape/raspberry juice concentrate (1.14)
  • Parmesan/romano grated cheese (2.39)
  • Frozen broccoli cuts (0.99)
  • Spinach rigatoni (2.99)
  • frozen peas (0.95)
  • California medley frozen vegetables (1.19)
  • fresh garlic (0.69)
  • one quart chocolate soymilk (1.39)
  • one quart hazlenut non-dairy creamer (1.95)
  • about five pounds small gala apples (2.69)
  • big bag of Cajun trail mix (3.99)
  • slivered almonds (1.99)
  • hot wheat cereal (1.49)
  • jalapeno cheddar kettle-style potato chips (1.99)

A few notes. The trail mix is one of my high protein snacks. 26 servings in that $4 bag. And yes, I do measure out the suggested serving size. The almonds make a great addition to my winter salads, gives the salad some protein. The chocolate soy milk is not a good deal, a half-gallon at the grocery store would be cheaper over-all. But I was there. And I knew my daughter would drink it. 

On French cookbooks and grocery budgets

My poire tarte tatin was a resounding success yesterday. The original recipe, as I mentioned in my post, came from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris. (In the photo, on the left.) Most of my French recipes come from this book or The Paris Cookbook by Patricia Wells. Everything else comes from random hits on the Internet. The Paris Cookbook has my brioche recipe, which is an all-day process. Garten has a brioche loaf that takes less time and is tasty, but brioche in a loaf is less fun.

Garten includes a variety of essays that talk about her experiences cooking and gathering recipes in France, all of which are very enjoyable. I lust after the cookware she mentions from E. Dehillerin (which does have a web presence).

After my class yesterday, I met with the professor and we had a conversation that I thought deserved to be recorded here. I had sparked the conversation with discussion of how my French exchange student considered everything in the U.S. "big" and I thought it an apt description of American culture. He's French, and he mentioned that Americans have no sense of aesthetics. He directly associated this with food.

"Have you ever noticed," he said, "when you go to someone's house to eat... It's never 'Did you eat well?' or 'How did it taste?'"

And I cackled, because I sensed his upcoming question.

"It's always, 'Did you have enough?'" I finished.

And he nodded.

"It doesn't matter what it looks like, or how it tastes, just how much there is," he said.

Something to think about. Supersize that.

I have no meal plan for today, yet. My husband took off of work today because I have to go to the office around the same time the furnace maintenance is scheduled. I have cash because I used my credit card to buy a Christmas gift for my mother-in-law that my father-in-law paid for. I'm hoping to spend about $50 at Aldi and round out some missing supplies. Then, I can take the other $50 bill and head to Wegmans for some specialty items. (Whole wheat flour, soy milk, Wegmans Mac N cheese in the box, and imported chocolate for a business meeting, but that's another post.) That left $38 for an office Christmas dinner my husband has to attend Tuesday. Isn't budgeting fun... The $66.67 I spent on groceries thus far this month represents 4.5 percent of our projected income for December. And I did stop at CVS yesterday and spent $12 on some bathroom items that normally would have fallen in with the groceries, except I needed them ASAP.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Don't Expect Much Today

Today will be a "fend" day, where we end up fending for our meals... My daughter had half a pear, a banana, a hearty serving of leftover spicy spinach dip, carrot sticks and milk for breakfast. My husband and I will finish the spinach dip and homemade bread for our work lunches. Tonight will probably be leftover pizza and pasta. So I have no intention of plotting out today's meals, with a breakfast like that, my daughter's day should work out fine. She hit at least three, if not four, servings of fruits and veggies already today. I'm having poire tatin for breakfast, but I may need a snack of granola to tide me.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Breadcrumbs, part two

Gayle has sent the instructions for the breadcrumbs. Apparently, crusts go uneaten in her house most of the time. Here's a lesson for those crust-cutting moms: make them into breadcrumbs. Gayle says she lets her crusts sit out a day or two before she whizzes them through the food processor. Then she lets them sit another day or two before putting them in Tupperware. If not completely dry, they mold. Some people bake the bread, which probably could be done before or after putting them through the food processor, which would alleviate the mold issue.

Gayle also said she got a BRICK, yes a BRICK, of yeast and put it in the freezer. I need one of those!

Poire Tatin

Before I went to bed last night, I had the plan worked out in my head. In the morning, the morning of my last French class, which has filled a void in my life that desperately needed plugging, I will construct a poire tatin and get it in the oven before I drive my husband to work. My hope, though it is not practical, is that it might still be warm when I get to class at 10 a.m. Hardly likely, in this winter weather. 

I got the permission of the professor to make this lovely "cake." I'm adapting the recipe, because I'm such a slave to recipes using them so exactly, from the Barefoot in Paris Cookbook by Ina Garten. First off, the recipe is a plum tatin. But I do pears. Because the last time I visited my former college roommate, she took me to a little French restaurant in historic Ellicott City where we had desser
t. I ordered the poire tatin. And I nearly died. In my brief time in Paris, I survived on bread and pastry... but this... this exploded on my tastebuds and melted in my mouth.

Here's an approximation of my adaption of Ina Garten's Plum Cake "Tatin." She says it serves six, and I'm a glutton, but I think it's so rich and buttery it should serve more than that.

Poire Tatin

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, plus some for greasing the pan;
One large can or two normal cans sliced pears in juice (or fresh equivalent);
1/3 cup granulated sugar, another 3/4 cup sugar;
1/3 cup juice reserved from the can of pears;
3 medium eggs (room temperature, if possible);
1/3 sour cream (now, I can't  remember if I substitute this--I don't usually have sour cream, so do I use half-and-half with a few drops of apple cider vinegar? That's what I used today. It's too early in the morning for this); 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla;
1 cup plus two tablespoons flour;
1/2 teaspoon baking powder;
1/2 teaspoon salt;

Preheat oven to 350. Generously butter a deep-dish pie pan, and arrange the pears artfully in the bottom.  In a small pan, combine the water/pear juice and 1 cup sugar. Heat over high until it turns "warm amber" (or pretty brown). Swirl pan to keep from burning. DO NOT STIR. (But honestly, I forgot and stirred once). Pour evenly over fruit.

Cream butter and remaining sugar until light and fluffy. Lower beater speed and add eggs one at a time. Add sour cream and vanilla. Mix until combined. In separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. With mixer on low, add to butter. Mix only until combined.

Pour batter evenly over fruit and bake 30-40 until toothpick comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes, then invert on flat serving plate. Cake should pop out. Juice may ooze. Serve warm or at room temperature.


My friend Gayle sent me an email today, suggesting that I discuss breadcrumbs in my blog.

"Can you believe people buy them?" she typed.

And I hang my head in shame and admit that I buy them. It never occurred to me to make breadcrumbs. I've made croutons. But breadcrumbs?

She specifically mentioned garlic cheese bread she had ground into crumbs and stashed in the freezer for a future Italian extravaganza. But she said she keeps all her bread this way... stale odds and ends, I imagine. And she said she often guts some of her rolls when making a sandwich since they give you too much anyway. She said pitas don't work. But bagels do. I always knew saltines and Ritz crackers substitute for breadcrumbs in a pinch... But saving stale bread... This house doesn't have stale bread.

But if it does, I'll make breadcrumbs. But what do I do then? Lay out the bread to get staler? When do I grind? How do I grind? I have emailed an SOS to Gayle. We'll see.

Winter Salad

Another slacker dinner day... Though this one worked out impressively delicious. I made my "winter salads" with red wine Wish Bone spritzer dressing (one of my rare coupon purchases, because the concept is amazing), raisins, red leaf lettuce and carrots peeled into ribbons.

Meanwhile, my husband made the last two boxes of Annie's Organic Mac N Cheese (the one in the purple box). Wegmans had a case of it on sale for $10 not too long ago, during another of our poor months. Twelve boxes for $10. Consider the cheap-o stuff costs 35 to 50 cents, getting the organic for less than a $1/box was an incredible find. Everyone needs a few convenience foods for hard times or bad moods, and this is one of mine. I favor boxed or convenience foods from the organic or health food aisles for one factor; I can read the ingredient label. If you haven't noticed, I try to feed my kid real foods and I strive to serve nothing that I can't pronounce the ingredients.

Pizza for Lunch

So by the time I returned from taking my daughter to the library, I opted for pizza for lunch with a winter salad. Except now that I'm 75% through the preparation, my blood sugar is out of whack making it near impossible to prepare a nice winter salad. Hopefully, we can have that for dinner maybe to accompany a quick boxed mac n cheese. I'm  working late again.

With my preschooler's help, I made a hybrid Quick Pizza Dough, combining a quick recipe with a more standard recipe, both from Veglist, a veg*n recipe email list I used to belong to years ago when I was learning to cook.

A note about yeast. If you plan to make a lot of bread products forget the individual packets. Get the jar. It's in the refrigerator/dairy aisle. Even if it says it's for bread machines or whatever... it works. And if your house is cold and drafty and your bread won't rise, place it on top of a warm oven or preheat your oven to about 150 degrees, turn it off, let some of the heat out and stick the dough in there for a while. Not too hot or it will cook, not rise.

Note on pizza sauce: I do use pre-jarred. Specifically Wegmans. And there's a reason why. I read labels, and Wegmans Chunky Pizza sauce offers 15 % RDA vitamin A and some calcium and some iron in every serving. Nothing in a can had nutritional value. (Plus it tastes good.)

Note on cheese: This is one of those items that I will keep some preshredded pizza blend cheese in the house. I usually get it at Aldi's, and I make sure the cost is pretty darn close to what I pay for the block. I say it's so I can make a quick easy meal, but I could grate my own cheese quick while the dough rises for the crust.

On to the recipes...

This is what I made today:
Today's Pizza Crust

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
1 cup hot tap water;
1 teaspoon yeast;
1 teaspoon honey;
1 teaspoon olive oil;

3 cups flour (only because I accidently used TWICE the water I was supposed to; if you're into wheat, substitute up to half with wheat flour);
1 teaspoon salt;
italian seasoning;
garlic pepper;
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (I get mind at the mediterranean deli);

Combine, knead, adding flour as needed so it doesn't get sticky. Let rest about 15 minutes (I put mine in a towel on top of the preheating oven). Grease pan lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle on some cornmeal and some sesame seeds. (I one heard the cornmeal helps get the bottom of the crust that genuine texture.) When dough is ready, spread in pan. Top as desired. Bake 15-20 minutes. My daughter's favorite toppings-- broccoli and black olives. Neither of which we used today.

PS-- it ain't pretty, but my daughter was in charge of the sauce. When you have a four-year-old cooking, pretty isn't on the menu.

Contemplations of Meals to Come

As soon as my daughter woke this morning, she ate a nice big banana. Now after her bath, I am ready for my breakfast. She normally eats breakfast #1, often a small meal, around 7 a.m. with a more significant meal around 9:30 or 10 a.m. when I get around to eating. But today she says to me: "That granola we made. It must be getting stale."

To which I reply, "No. Not even remotely."

And she says, "Well, maybe we should eat some to make sure it doesn't get stale."

So, she ends up with a small serving of granola, about 1/3 cup max, and a few ounces of milk. I dole out the milk in small portions to prevent spills and waste. I always add, "Drink this and you can have more."

That left me. Eternal mother's dilemma. Why cook a meal just for me? So I slice a piece of my homemade bread, which with my lack of cutting skills this morning becomes about the size of half a traditional store-bought sandwich slice. Although I want Nutella, I opt for the peanut butter since it has more nutritional value. And I'm trying to talk myself into a banana and a glass of water. But it's too bloody cold to drink cold water. Maybe tea...

And lunch. We will be heading to the library as soon as I see if I can get those tickets for my father-in-law, then lunch, then work. Another ice cream party. I was almost thinking leftover spinach dip and bread (or pasta) but it was so spicy for my daughter... Maybe I should reserve that for my husband and I for a packed lunch tomorrow.

Another option, as we're low on vegetables again, is to whip up one of my typical winter salads of red leaf lettuce, raisins, carrot peels and berry vinaigrette dressing... And have some sort of entree to accompany it...

After my daughter finished the granola and milk, someone was still hungry. This didn't surprise me as she hadn't had any significant protein source yet. So I offered another of my famous snacks: peanut butter and raisins on pretzels. Of course, she does all the dipping and arranging.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Shopping tips...

Periodically, I'll try to share my shopping tips. Remember, every family is different and my techniques might not work for you, but maybe they will.

1. Never clip a coupon for something you normally wouldn't be tempted to buy. Most coupons are for convenience foods, foods that try to gain our children's loyalty or brands that remain expensive even after you save that dollar. I only clip coupons for items that would typically end up in my cart. 

2. If you primarily use lemons and limes for their juice, buy a bunch when they're cheap in the summer and freeze. It will destroy the texture of the fruit, but if you plan on using only the juice anyway... what's the difference? Hummus, lemon bars, guacamole, etc. Just need juice. Right?

3. On the topic of French wine... My French professor in college always said, "You can never go wrong with a Beaujolais" (for its price and flavor) as a basic table wine. I also adore Vouvray when the occasion calls for a white.

4. Know where you shop. One local supermarket near me has a breakfast cereal sale every few months. The cereal was priced something like 4 boxes/$10, I would save my cereal coupons for that sale. Also, there's a CVS within three blocks of my house. Every six weeks or so, they would put their generic diapers on sale (and I swear those things were just like Huggies) buy two get one free. I bought my diapers then (and enlisted relatives as needed when my customer limit was reached). On top of that, CVS had an additional deal with the bonus card that if you bought four packs of diapers, you got a coupon for a free pack. Granted, they didn't 'count' free ones toward the total, but even I'm not that greedy.

5. Know what you buy, why you buy it, and how much you really use. Conventional wisdom says "Buy in bulk." I don't buy into that. I buy bulk where it makes sense for me: cheese, toilet paper, toothbrushes, soap. But sometimes the big bottle of juice, or the pre-cut broccoli florets in the bag the size of potato chips, will spoil before you use it. I can't buy the cheap-o tub of organic spring mix at the warehouse store. Yeah, it costs as much as the one half its size at my supermarket, but it starts to rot the second I put it in my fridge. We use about 1/4 of it by the time it goes bad. Therefore, it's cheaper to use the smaller one. We don't waste any. How many things do we buy out of habit? Snack foods often fit in this category, as do expensive drinks. In many cases, there is a cheaper alternative that still pleases the palate.

6. Track what you buy, how you use it, and what items seem to serve the family best and which ones are splurges.

7. Determine what you use most and see if you can save money on these particular items. Like when I wait for the cheese sale...

8. The take-out trap. We all love take-out. Today I really wanted take-out. But as I'm broke... I managed to talk myself out of it. Sometimes, when I want take out, I indulge in a different kind of treat. Let's say I want Chinese. Instead of spending $30 on a restaurant, I go to the grocery store and allow myself a $15 budget (see, I'm still saving money). I check the frozen food aisle for a General Tso's Chicken or Sweet and Sour Chicken frozen entree or I get a big bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables and some chicken or I splurge on some funky sauces for the eggrolls I have in the freezer and make my own fried rice or egg drop soup. 

9. Avoid pre-packaged anything. Pre-chopped apples are the latest rage and this floors me. I like apples in their skins. It's like a handy carrying case. String cheese? Is this necessary? I have never seen someone refuse cheese because of its shape or because it wasn't fun enough. Little individual cups of yogurt? Get the 32 oz. Single serving drinks? Buy a thermos.

10. Cleaning chemicals. Other than my father-in-law's FANTASTIC homemade Windex, I clean 90% of my house with some combination of the following: vinegar, baking soda, and isoporyl alcohol. And forget expensive pretreaters for the laundry. I use a $1 bar of Fels Naptha soap. The same bar I bought around the time my daughter was born. 

There's my first ten tips. Let me know what you think. ;.)

Slacker food day: Rotini with pine nuts and creamy buttered veggies

So, my husband honored my daughter's request for a sandwich for breakfast in a totally different way that I would have. He made an egg sandwich with cheese and bacon on a deli bagel. We each got half a bagel. He took the leftover sausage and peppers for lunch. I got peanut butter on graham crackers and some homemade granola. My daughter stayed with her grandparents today, so she had grilled cheese, peanut butter and jelly, pickles and chips. I am not a proponent of the sandwich, pickles and chips lunch but... Because of the sheer volume of cheese we've had recently, I have vetoed cheese as an ingredient in tonight's dinner. My husband is whipping up some sort of whole wheat pasta and vegetables... and if I ever get my shoe off I will help him and toast some pine nuts... I know whatever he puts in dinner won't be enough protein for me. Especially since I'm starved.

Once I got into the kitchen, I mixed up some olive oil, butter, half and half, milk, basil, four colors of pepper, garlic pepper, It's a dilly (The perfect herb mix for cucumber sandwiches... Mmmmm), in the skillet and tossed in the california blend vegetables. When that was good and hot, I mixed in some italian breadcrumbs to change the texture. I served with the last of the fresh pineapple.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mommy's famous hot spinach dip

When Mimi indulged my request for a crock pot two years ago, I never would have imagined that it's primary use would be for hot spinach dip. Mimi found the recipe in a crock pot cookbook she bought for me to accompany the new crock pot, but she fell in love with it and never gave it to me.

My daughter loves it. She will spoon it into her mouth by the tablespoon full. I like it because its spinach. If there's a list of miracle foods, spinach would be on it. With blueberries. Another favorite in this house. But we all love spinach dip: with crackers, homemade bread, even carrots. On the day after spinach dip, we spoon it onto bread and make sandwiches out of it to take to work. If enough remains, we reheat it and  add some milk to make it into pasta sauce. It's also a great party food. Which is why I'm making it today. Gayle is coming to force me to trim the tree (I hate Christmas). So, instead of dinner, we'll have an afternoon of spinach dip, homemade bread, raspberry jam, carrot sticks, and the remaining fresh pineapple.


Mommy's Hot Spinach Dip
(Seriously adapted from a crockpot cookbook)
In the bottom of the crockpot, combine:
A tablespoon butter and seasoning of your choice (not all of the following) such as up to two cups onion, a clove of minced garlic, salt, bacon bits, pepper, salt, sundried tomatoes, dill, basil, ranch dressing... 
add 1- 10 oz package chopped frozen spinach, thawed with liquid reserved.

Cook for about an hour and a half on high. Then, add about 10 oz cheese (cubed). The original recipe called for a Velveeta style cheese with jalapenos. I usually mix cheddar and other cheeses I have laying around. Today I'll probably use about five ounces of pepper jack, five ounces of cheddar, and maybe a few spoonfuls of blue cheese dressing. Cook about 30 minutes until the cheese melts. 

Sausage and Peppers

It's been a lazy food day. For breakfast, our daughter tested one of those new Horizon chocolate milk boxes and had a quarter of a blueberry deli bagel with melted cheddar cheese. My husband and I had coffee and half a bagel with cheese. I had suggested peanut butter instead of cheese (partially because we're probably having warm spinach-cheese dip and homemade bread for dinner). The first thing I did this morning was slice the fresh pineapple, which the family enjoyed, though the four-year-old ate it almost as fast as I could cut it.

My mother, Mimi, brought us some of her sausage and peppers she made yesterday. She brought three approximately six-inch links of sausage in sauce and peppers. I chopped the sausages smaller and tossed everything on to the stove to warm. I cooked up some spaghetti. Then I dished it out onto the plates and added some asiago. There was a small serving leftover which I packed into a container for my husband's lunch tomorrow.


I'm dreaming of the next time I can do a real shopping trip and make some nice meals... Dreaming of beef stew, soup, baked potatoes... Mmmmm....

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The chocolate milk dilemma

The total grocery expense so far for December is $66.67, thanks to the trip to the warehouse club we just made. My daughter ate her way through the samples, as usual. We went primarily for dishwasher liquid ($8.86 for almost ten pounds of liquid Cascade, 155 oz.) We also needed cat food. We have two cats, so we get cat food and litter there. The Meow Mix (21.6 lbs) cost $10.74, which I'm including that in the grocery figures event though I would normally put that in the budget as "pets." We bought the "60 count" box of Nut Lovers Nature Valley granola bars for $8.10. I use the quotations because the granola bars have two bars in each wrapper, but it's still one serving size. This works to my benefit around the house, because my daughter and I often split a pack when we're hungry a little too close to meal time. We also bought a quart of half-n-half ($1.46) and Stonyfield Farms Organic 2% milk (half gallon, $3.12). Then we bought a pack of bananas (3 lbs/$1.32) and a whole pineapple ($2.88).

Remember my earlier brie-related tangent? Well, at the store they had several varieties of real French brie between $6 and $11. The $6 hunk was about twice the size of what I'd normally pay $6 for (when splurging on brie). The $11 package got you an entire wheel of brie. I did not buy any, but I made a mental note.

I was also shocked to see that tuna (StarKist solid white, packed in water) had increased in price to about 80 cents a can. I passed. I think I can get it cheaper elsewhere.

The final and biggest dilemma came with a red box of Horizon Organic Chocolate Milk juice boxes. No refrigeration required (which scares me, what do they do to it to make it nonperishable?). 18-8 oz. servings for $10.58. That's 59 cents each serving. Or seven cents an oz. Now, in the store, I couldn't do this math in my head. But I did know that the milk in my cart cost $3.12, and that the chocolate soy milk I normally buy costs between $2.75 and $3.70 depending where I buy it. Somehow in the store, in seemed like a close call about whether it was a good deal or not. Now, of course, with a calculator, I know that the chocolate soy milk, using $3.25 as an average cost for a half gallon, costs a nickel an ounce or 40 cents per serving. If I got the half gallons instead of the individual cartons, I would have saved about $3.50, or the cost of another half gallon. So, it wasn't a horrendous miscalculation. And considering my daughter probably wastes that many ounces on a regular basis when I misjudge how much I pour and give her too much... Maybe I will break even. It's hard to tell.

We paid for everything with the credit card. And for the record, 99.9 percent of the time, I pay the bill in full every month. This month is no exception.

Unplanned snack time

 Lunch was a success (on the Superman plate). We each ate the equivalent of one carrot and about twice what is on the plate in muffin. But we were trying to use them up. I almost served cheese cubes with this, and I probably should have. By three p.m. I was starving. So, the family and I decided on snack (striped plate). Daddy made cocoa (Swiss Miss, some bittersweet shavings, a hearty dose of powdered milk someone gave me). To up the protein count in the snack (preschooler requested granola), I added a slice of homemade bread with peanut butter and nutella. 

I aced it: $18.43

I aced the grocery challenge!!!!!!

It was hairy, because I thought I'd gone over budget several times and I thought there was no way I could get toilet paper AND everything else. But the final bill, no coupons. I rarely do coupons. $18.43. And the photo shows everything I got.

I started in the produce aisle. Typically, I can spend $20 here without going to any other aisle. But the budget necessitates better shopping that that. So I can't have the avocado. I can't have those cute, fresh baby peas. I grab a 10 oz bag of Dole Italian Mix for the tortoise. She's very picky. The bagged salad is on sale for $2.50. But then I notice the leaf lettuce is $1.99 a pound. Bag lettuce goes back. The head of red leaf lettuce ends up being less than a pound. $1.65. Chances are the tortoise will turn up her nose at it, but that would probably happen with the Dole, too. We have gorgeous dirt. I have a fabulous compost pile. I feed kid, leftovers go to tortoise, then to compost.

But back to the store... The carrots are the same price whether you get regular or organic. So I bought one pound of organic carrots. $.99

Next I did an impulse buy. Bag of tortilla chips for nachos. On sale. $1.67. The discount store would be about $1.50 but...

Cooking spray, the generic, was $1.89 and I know I can get that for about $1.29 at the discount store. So I skipped it. I can always put a drop of oil on a paper towel and lubricate my pan that way.

But the toilet paper... I'm a Cottonelle Triple Roll girl, and I just didn't have the money. And this only has to last a week (I hope). So I got the cheap-o thousand sheeter. Two. One for each bathroom. Honestly, I'm hoping the ones we have hold out until we have more money. Cost for two rolls: $1.24.

Canned goods. Need sliced pears in juice. They don't have a big can. Grab one small can. Almost get sucked into 10/$10 sale on Dole Pineapple. All varieties. I need pineapple... But then I notice the generic is always $1.09. I don't have any immediate need for pineapple, why save $0.09? One can store-brand sliced pears for Dr. Lalande's poire tartin: $1.13

Also in that aisle, I grabbed a can of black beans, good for nachos or chili, at $0.63. And a rare purchase: one can of sliced new potatoes. $0.77.

I'm walking toward the dairy aisle for the cheese. I'm thinking I need one pack of frozen chopped spinach. Pasta sauce, dip, pizza, quesadillas, omelettes... All could use spinach. I grab the store brand chopped spinach. It's on sale. 5 for $4. How much is it normally? $1.25. Is it worth the impact on the budget? I ponder. That's basically getting the fifth one free. Do I need FIVE packs of spinach? We easily could eat a pack a week. To save $1. I take the bait. Five packs spinach: $4.

I should have $5 left for cheese, I tell myself, as I've been rounding and counting in my head the whole time. People are looking at me like I'm nuts, but that's okay with me. I select NY extra sharp cheddar, sharp cheddar, and pepper jack. The pepper jack will taste fabulous in some of my crockpot spinach dip, which with my homemade bread, crackers and carrots is a favorite in my house. 3/8 oz. blocks of cheese: $5
Then I realize a flaw in my logic. Eggs. My poire tartin might require eggs. I can bake just about any cake or brownie vegan-style, but French cooking... I'm frightened. I grab the eggs. I can't risk it. When I get to the counter, I apologize to the cashier that I have to put the tortilla chips back. But then the total is $17. So I tell her I will take them. I wish I would have gotten my daughter some milk or yogurt. I could have gotten the cooking spray. Or orange juice concentrate. My mind is reeling. The grand total is $18.43!!!

My meal plan for today:

My daughter had a Quaker Oatmeal Bar for breakfast. I keep a shelf in the pantry of snacks she can eat on her own at any time. It has two areas: breakfast and snack. Breakfast is for when she wakes up ungodly early on the weekends (like today). She pitter-patters into my room and says "Mommy, I'm hungry" and I mutter "Go get something to eat." And she does. It's fabulous! The snacks include my granola, raisins, dried fruit, goldfish crackers, graham crackers, etc. Stuff that even if it fills her little belly, it has some value for the calorie content.

So for lunch, I'll peel some of my organic carrots and serve with Litehouse blue cheese dressing (one of my brand loyalties, but yeah for the warehouse club). Thank goodness most preschoolers thrive on repetition, because I'm getting sick of all these carrots. But at a buck an organic pound, I'll have to quit my b*tching. Then, since I have a three day rule on leftovers (for food safety reasons, we eat within three days or freeze immediately) I'll cut the corn muffins in half, fry in the skillet with a little butter and serve with a drizzle of maple syrup. Drink will be Nature's Nectar white grape raspberry juice, which I buy the frozen concentrate at the discount store for $1. It's 100% juice, no sugar added. 120% RDA vitamin C (though I don't use the amount of water suggested. I throw in an extra can. The kid doesn't notice.) In the middle of the day, my daughter only drinks water, BTW. Juice, milk, or chocolate soy milk at meals. (Soy because EVERY chocolate milk or chocolate syrup in the store has HFCS.)

Dinner tonight will be the last of the tuna-spinach casserole and man, am I getting sick of that, too.

The $20 challenge

I have never purchased a block of Cracker Barrel cheese. While my family uses a LOT of cheddar, my cheese snobbery focuses less on brands and more on type. Offer me a nice smoked gouda or a medium brie (my American palette has not adjusted for the intense bries yet, and forget the Camembert. My husband can eat it, but as much as I want to eat it, I can't) and I'm a sucker. So I'll never fork out the dough for Cracker Barrel, but a $6 hunk of cheese in a rind about the same size? Yes, please.

But back to cheddar. I stick to cheddar for its versatility. I throw in the occasional lump of monterey jack, but primarily stick to cheddar. Unless I'm making my homemade mac n cheese. The dish in the photo contained four cheeses if I remember correctly... Base of extra sharp cheddar and colby-jack, with added parmesan and asiago. The parmesan is the cheap-o store brand in the canister in the spaghetti aisle. The asiago is from the discount store where the pre-shredded little tub costs me about $2.50 and lasts about a month or more (because a few sprinkles go a long way for flavor). The base cheeses are the two-pound blocks from the warehouse club. And yes, I throw in fresh broccoli. I chop it as small as I can so it absorbs the sauce (which is so rich and bad for you but I make this about three times a year) and no one complains about the presence of green vegetables.

But, back to the cheese. At the warehouse club, I think the price of a 2 lb block of cheese is up to $8 or $8.50. The trick is to wrap that sucker really well between uses so it doesn't dry out. And if you plan on making any sort of cheese sauce, you can carve the amount you need off and freeze it until you're ready because the change in texture that happens to cheese when you freeze it disappears when you melt it. (Another trick: if you're worried the cheese might be in danger of getting stale or moldy, shred and freeze for use in soups, chili, nachos or pizza.)

At the discount store, the 8 oz block of cheese is about $2. So the cost is about the same. So if I don't have tons of cheese recipes on the menu, the small blocks will suffice. That same size of store brand at the traditional grocery store is about $2.50. BUT today is the last day of one of those sales at my local Giant (which I noticed because I had to go for work yesterday) of the 3/8 oz./$5 sale. That's $1.67. I'm drooling here. So, as soon as I finish this entry, I'm off to Giant.

My husband and I don't get paid this week, and my bank account shows I can safely spend $20. The musts include toilet paper, greens for our pet tortoise, pears, no stick spray, produce and cheese. Can I do it?

And the pears... Somehow, I promised my French professor (who is not only teaching French but is French) a poire tartin for the last day of class Wednesday. I'm not sure I have enough on hand.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dinner tonight: Scrambled Egg Wraps

I can't eat a meal like this without thinking of Vito Caiati at the Phillipsburg Mercantile. The man made wonderful food. But owning your own business is hard and in the long run, his quaint restaurant/shop didn't make it. A shame, because I loved it. One of my favorites was Heuvos Diablo. After Vito closed, I had no choice but to try and knock off this classic. I worked late tonight, so my husband made this dinner (photo before the final roll of the tortilla shell). Again, the recipe was adapted for what we had in the house. (Like he scrambled our two eggs left and split them into three servings.) Daddy was cooking and didn't bother with fruits or veggies.

Step one: spray a skillet with no stick spray and season with garlic pepper or cajun seasoning or other favorite spice. Turn on heat. Toss tortilla in. Spray and season other side. Flip when it seems to be getting crispy.

Step two: cook scrambled eggs.

Step three: while eggs firm to desired consistency, heat one slice of vegetarian bacon for each tortilla in the microwave. (Two may be used, but one really is enough for the flavor. You can skip the bacon entirely. )

Step four: sprinkle cheddar on eggs, let melt. Spoon on top of bacon slice in tortilla.

Step five: mix the sauce. I don't know what my husband did tonight, because we didn't have the ingredients... But this is the ideal Heuvos Diablo sauce, or as close to Vito's as I can get:

1 part mustard (preferable something with some zing to it, a sweet hot or a fancy French imported honey mustard) to 1 part sour cream and some dill, if you've got it.

Great for any meal.

The Meal that Started it All: Parmesan Crusted Ravioli with Primavera Vegetables

I believe it was Monday when I came up with this dinner... out of desperation to get some veggies into my daughter who had spent the day with her grandparents.

In case you haven't noticed, much of my cooking resembles alchemy. In this case, I wanted to combine the frozen carrots, cauliflower and broccoli I had with some ravioli... always a kid fav. Note about ravioli: These big boys were cheese, though I usually try to find ones with spinach and cheese for the extra vegetable matter. Some of those raviolis offer a nutritional punch.

This photo actually shows the leftovers that I packed for lunch the next day. Let's see, preparation... I cooked the ravioli and the veggies. Started a sauce of Italian seasonings, garlic pepper (often the secret ingredient in this house), butter and olive oil. Then I sprinkled grated parmesan on the veggies. Dumped the raviolis in the pan, sprinkled more parmesan on everything, and sautéed the whole mess. Sprinkled Asiago on top when finished.  

Last night, the preschooler and I made a GIANT spinach-tuna casserole (which started as a way to use the leftover rice from eggroll night) and well be eating that for lunch today when Daddy gets home. I have an event at work today, so dinner will be a mystery...  

I haven't been to a grocery store yet in December (and ironically I have to go for work today), and I hope to find $20 to go to Aldi tomorrow. I have $9 in my purse, so $20 more should get me through another week. I'm thinking some cheese, milk, eggs, no-stick spray, and fruits and veggies. The furnace broke Sunday, and the repair cost $220. Paying that left NOTHING for groceries, and I'm not ready to use the credit cards yet.

It's a granola day!

For breakfast, my family had some leftover blueberry pancakes that my husband made recently. I couldn't handle anything as heavy as that at 7 a.m. so I nursed my coffee. When my husband left for work, my daughter and I started making granola.

Why granola?

Because I opened a fresh canister of oats yesterday and my daughter asked for plain old Cheerios at the grocery store and, in preschooler fashion, decided she hated them. Plus, we're low on trail mix so granola would make a nice substitute.

The base for my granola is a recipe from The Imus Ranch cookbook. My stepmother is a huge Imus fan so she bought it, but she doesn't cook. Plus it's primarily vegan so she's certainly not going to do that. Deirdre Imus, while calling herself vegan, does use honey and eggs. She uses eggs because she has her own chickens. So technically, she's ovo-vegetarian.

Basically, I take the Imus recipe for Rio Grande Granola and adapt it for my family's needs. Deirdre Imus combines about 3 cups of oats and dried fruit with spices and about 1/4 cup safflower oil. She flattens it on a sheet and bakes it at 300 degrees for about a half hour, flipping it once at the midpoint.
Now, I double that and in addition to oil I use about 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses for the iron content... Today I had no dried fruit other than raisins and no nuts other than chopped walnut topping so that's what I used. The small nuts are easier for my daughter to chew anyway. Lots of nuts. 1/4 cup in the original recipe. I double that for extra protein... but you'll see.

My plain granola

In a bowl combine: 
2 cups rolled oats;
2 cups Cheerios or other cereal that's been hanging around the house too long;
1/4 cup sugar (I use brown);
1/2 cup raisins or other dried fruit (craisins, dehydrated fruit, etc.);
1/2 cup nuts;
1 tablespoon cinnamon;
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger;

Separately (I use my glass measuring cup) combine: 
1/4 cup oil;
@ 4 tablespoons honey;
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses;
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I only use pure, no imitation in this house)

Pour liquid over dry ingredients and stir until dry ingredients are moist. Spread on large jelly roll pan (Is that what you call the cookie sheets with the lip?) as flat as possible. Bake about 15 minutes at 300. Remove from oven and "flip." I do this by stirring all the granola into the center and flattening it out again. Cook another 15 minutes. Remove from oven. If you want some extra sweetness, sprinkle a couple tablespoons of chocolate sprinkles across the top and let cool slightly before removing from the pan.

Good for a snack. Add to yogurt for a yummy breakfast.