Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Butternut Squash Macaroni & Cheese

As you know, I heart cheese. Mostly all kinds. Mostly all ways. Monday, like most days, I was thinking of various cheese to stomach delivery options. I'd heard about butternut squash macaroni and cheese, but I was skeptical at best. I looked at some recipes on the internets and decided to wing it alone in the kitchen, opting for a squash/cheddar puree method on the off chance Minicrat would be fooled into eating it.

It turned out kind of amazing, and now I too have joined the cult of butternut squash macaroni enthusiasts. My version is Gluten-Free. Here's how I did it:

1 Organic Butternut Squash, Roasted, Peeled and Cubed - $1.98 @ $.99/lb
1/2 onion shredded - $.33
4 cups shredded cheddar - $2
1 cup Vegetable broth - $1
1/2 cup lowfat milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 16 ounce package of Brown Rice Pasta $1.99

Total: $7.30

Preheat oven to 400. Boil pot of water for pasta.

Melt butter in a sauce pan. Saute your shredded onion until soft. Add your squash, broth, salt, pepper and milk. Cook until the liquid is absorbed. Puree.

Return to saucepan.

Add three cups of shredded cheddar, saving one cup for the top of the baked mac. (Gluten-eaters could also top with breadcrumbs.) Continue cooking the sauce until it's your desired thick consistency.

When your pasta and sauce are done, mix them together and pour them into a greased casserole dish. Top with rest of cheese. Bake for 20 minutes. I also broiled mine for a few minutes at the end to make the top really brown. Enjoy!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sunday Dinner: Heaven Scent Chicken, Yams & Chard, Roasted Beets

Man alive, I was spiritually en fuego in the kitchen yesterday. I made crepes for breakfast, attempted Rice Flour Roti for lunch, and finished with an amazing dinner designed to use up all the vegetables I'd neglected to eat the week prior.

You can thank my mother for "Heaven Scent" Chicken's wonderfully cheeky - and accurate - name.


4 Organic Chicken Breasts - $16 (Seriously, OUCH. You can use $2 organic tofu instead for a low-cost healthy alternative)
3/4 Cup Organic Tamari Sauce - $2.39 - @$7.99/20 ounces
1 Cup Orange Juice - $.25 - @$2/half gallon
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
Healthy Pinches of dried Sage, Rosemary & Thyme

Preheat oven to 350. Mix Soy Sauce, Orange Juice and Olive Oil. Pour over chicken in a glass baking pan. Crush herbs and sprinkle over chicken breasts. Baste every fifteen minutes until cooked through.

Total: $18.64
Serves Four
(With Tofu instead: $4.64 - Good meat is expensive. Sigh.)


Yams & Chard

4 Small/Medium Organic Yams or Sweet Potatoes $1.64 - @$3.29/ 5lb bag)
1 Bunch Organic Rainbow Chard - $2.49
1/2 Onion - $.33 - @$.66/onion
1 tablespoon olive oil.
Salt to taste

The Yams were AWESOME - even the ever-skeptical Daddycrat was won over by their charm. Simply dice and saute your onion in a little olive oil. Wash and dice your chard, mix into the onions when the onions are clear. I ran my sweet potatoes through a mandolin to make them super thin, then tossed them into the pan. I lowered the heat and covered, stirring occasionally until the yams were soft and tender.

Total: $4.46


Roasted Beets & Lemon Mustard Vinagrette

I originally put these on a bed of lettuce, but honestly, the lettuce just got in the way. So.

Bunch Organic Beets - $3.99

Cut off the beet top and slow roast the bulbs in the oven on 325 for 2 hours. Once finished, let them cool before peeling. The flesh of the beet will contract and separate from the skin, making it really easy (albeit colorful and messy) to remove the skin.

Vinagrette (made entirely with pantry staples):
1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest plus juice of quarter lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
1/2 teaspoon mustard (I used regular but dijon would be good too)
A shake or two of garlic salt or garlic powder.

Mix ingredients and pour over sliced, roasted beets. Mmmmm.....

Total: $3.99

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Blueberry Crepes

Victory! After a few days out of the kitchen, I needed a big win. These delicate crepes are like buttery lace doilies you wrap around fruit and cream instead of your arm chair. They look elegant, they taste dreamy, and they cost almost nothing to make. I made mine gluten-free and they STILL tasted ridiculously good.

Blueberry Crepes with Cream Cheese Topping

You'll need:


2 cups Organic Wheat Flour (Gluten-Free: 1 Cup Rice flour, 1/2 cup tapioca, 1/2 corn flour)
1 egg - $.20 (@ $2.50/dozen)
1.25 cups milk $.38 (@ $4.99/gallon)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 - 2 tablespoons butter
2 cups Fresh or Frozen Organic Blueberries $1.99 - @3.99/package
Sprinkle of sugar

Pre-heat your frying pan to a low/medium. Heat the blueberries and a sprinkle of sugar in a saucepan. As they heat up, they'll release their juice and form a syrup by the time you're done with the crepes. p.s. Blueberries are on our list of foods we should be eating!

Mix the flour, powdered sugar and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the bottom of the flour bowl and break the egg into it. Using a whisk, slowly scramble the egg in a tiny circle, letting it pick up flour from the edge of the well. DON'T try to mix all the flour into the egg at once - when you have a smooth flour/egg paste in the middle of your bowl, start adding milk as you whisk. Just keep whisking in small circles, picking up the flour around the edge of the bowl as you add milk. A crepe batter is flat and runny, it doesn't bubble like pancake mix or puff up on the stove.

When your batter is ready, run your butter over the heated frying pan so it covers the bottom, but then take the excess butter out and save it for the next crepe. Don't let the butter burn or your crepes will be gross. You want to quickly pour your batter right after melting the butter.

Pouring the right amount of batter depends on the size of your pan. What I do is pour a good amount into the pan, then roll the pan around so the runny batter covers the entire bottom of the pan. If I haven't poured enough to go all the way out to the edges, I just quickly add some more. These crepes are sturdy even though they are thin. I was skeptical that mine would hold together, but they did and they were delicious.

Cream Dollop:

Whip these ingredients together with an electric whisk or mixer:

4 ounces cream cheese $1 (@$2 per 8 ounce package)
1/2 cup sour cream $.56 (@$2.25 per 16 ounce container)
3 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup sugar

To serve, spoon the blueberries onto a flat crepe, roll and finish with a dollop of your cream mixture. Mmmmmmm......

Total Cost (not including staples like flour, sugar, salt) $4.14
Serves four.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sweet Saffron Rice in Acorn Squash Bowl

I didn't start out with plans to make this. I had my eye on a zucchini masterpiece instead. You see, around 4 pm Pacific, Daddycrat issued a grave challenge. He pulled a bag of zucchini out of the fridge and said callously, "Bleech. Zucchini. Gross". "I'll show you, my pretty", I crowed to myself, then set about to make a zucchini au gratin with an unopened brie wheel we had left over from the holidays. Vegetables? Brie? In a white wine sauce?

WHat could go wrong? Um........ liquid. Lots of it. Like the ancient Aztec City of Tenochtitlan, this beautiful bed of baked brie and zucchini rests like a lily-pad on a sea of watery white wine sauce.

So, desperate to recover my mojo and cook something edible, I turned to two innocent looking acorn squash, took a peak in my freezer and came up with this pretty tasty end product:

Sweet Saffron Rice in Acorn Squash Bowl

You'll need:

2 Organic Acorn Squash $5.98 - @$2.99 each
2 Cups uncooked rice $2
4 cups water
A healthy pinch each of Cinnamon, Ground Cloves and Cardamon
1/2 cup sugar *optional
1/2 tablespoon salt
Pinch Saffron $1 - @$11/gram
2 cups Frozen Soy Bean and Corn Mix $1.99 (@3.99 per bag)
1/2 cup organic bulk raisins $.50 @ $1.99/pound
Honey or brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter or drizzles of olive oil

Total: $11.47 (not including staples you should have on hand)

Preheat oven to 350. Split and seed the acorn squash. Place flesh side down into a baking dish with 1 inch of water, this helps steam the squash and keep it from drying out. Bake for 40 minutes, remove and pat dry.

Bring two cups rice and four cups water to a boil. Add 1/2 cup sugar, salt, saffron, Cinnamon, Ground Cloves and Cardamon. Reduce heat to simmer and cover for ten minutes. After ten minutes, add frozen vegetables and raisins, recover and heat for another five minutes or until vegetables are desired tenderness. Remove from heat and mix rice and vegetables together.

Spoon Rice mixture into squash bowls. Drizzle honey over both the rice and squash. I topped them with a thin pat of butter, but you may use olive oil if you wish.

I popped the squash into the oven until the butter melted and the squash got that lovely roasted sheen. I served them by themselves with a little salt.

New Week - New Shopping List

After a few days of socializing and eating out with friends late last week, I was ready to get back in the kitchen and make some yummies - but my body wasn't. By Saturday night, it was clear I was fighting off yet another of the germs brought home from kindergarten by our little petri dish. By noon Sunday, Daddycrat, tired of subsisting on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, announced that he would be going to the store whether I liked it or not and that I could give him a list if I so wished.

Here's what I asked him to get:

Organic Vegetables
Organic Meat if available
Milk & Cheese
A few staples like onions, broth and flour

He did an excellent job, picking up Acorn squash, butternut squash, beets, apples, oranges, tomatoes, tofu, chicken, pork loin, beans, lentils, Lemons, Limes, Jack Cheese, Plain Yogurt, raisins, peanuts and more. Although he didn't keep receipts, we spent about $150 for almost two weeks worth of food, not including snacks and take-out we may buy here and there.

We bought a LOT of vegetables this week, including some like squash that I've only recently started cooking with. I think it will be a challenge to use them all, so stay tuned. Vegetable madness may ensue.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bonus Recipe: Pork Loin in a Cherry Wine Sauce

My mother is the reason I cook. When I was eight or nine, she let me experiment (make a huge mess) in the kitchen of our tiny L.A. condo, making pancake, after flat pancake, after burned pancake. I'm fairly certain my first attempts were terrible, but she encouraged me relentlessly and never let me know how bad it really tasted. These days, we cook together. Mom is no longer shy about telling me if a recipe sucks, and I'm not afraid to elbow my way in and change the way she's done things for 50 years. It's a good balance.

A few years ago, we made a pork loin stuffed with boozy fruit that was incredible but time consuming. Dried fruit has to soak overnight in Whiskey, there's lots of complicated rubbing of pork and stuffing and string. Basically, too much kitchen for us on a sunny day.

This weekend, we stuck to the spirit of fruit and booze, but made this deliciousness instead:

Slow Roasted Pork Loin in a Cherry Wine Sauce

1 package frozen dark cherries - $3
2 cups red table wine - $2 (@$6/bottle - you don't need quality for this recipe)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pork Loin $6 (@4.99/lb)
Coarse Salt and Ground Pepper

Total: $11

Preheat Oven to 350. In a roasting pan, rub loin with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Cover with tin foil and bake for 1 hour. The meat will poach itself in its own juices.

In the meantime, prepare your sauce. It's quite difficult to do. You have to open the bag of cherries. Open the wine. Pour yourself a glass. Pour the cherries into a saucepan, Pour two cups of wine over the cherries and let simmer for 1 hour.

At the one hour mark, we poured the cherries and wine over the pork and continued to cook it covered for another half hour, then uncovered for another half hour (Two hours total cooking time for maximum tenderness). This gave us a very broth-y, fragrant, not too sweet sauce, rather than a syrupy sauce. If I had to do it again, I might let it bake uncovered the last hour and see if I could get a thicker sauce without adding sugar or another thickener.

No matter the viscosity of the sauce, the taste and smell was heavenly. We served with mashed potatoes, no room at the inn for green vegetables this time.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

USDA Searchable Recipe Database With Costs!

I've never been a nutrition hobbyist. I'm not up on the latest recommended servings of whatever, I don't count my fruit and vegetable intakes, and I'm morally opposed to low-fat sour cream or weird dairy-ish substances - I think most people eat more of them to compensate for the fact that they taste like poop. And until my doctor says something other than "Wow, your blood pressure is perfectly low," I'm going to continue in my ways. Call me crazy (my husband does), but I think my body knows what it does and doesn't need.

But despite my lack of interest/full-on loathing of things like the Food Pyramid (now called "My Pyramid") I was intrigued to discover that the United States Department of Agriculture has developed four different food plans which estimate the amount of money you'll need to spend to get the nutrition you need: The Thrifty (food stamps), The Low-Cost, The Moderate and The Liberal. The Liberal Plan is, of course, the wildly expensive and excessive one, because everyone knows wickedly rich Liberals are the ones who bought worthless mortgage paper and collapsed the stock market. And we eat puppies.

Accompanying the food plans is a searchable database of recipes AND their associated cost. I'm not entirely sure how they calculated the totals because the prices seemed a little low to me. But low or not, flawed or not, I'm so glad someone, somewhere is trying to calculate the cost of eating well. As Depression Fever sets in, few of us can afford to ignore it anymore.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

NYTimes: Foods for your Shopping List

The NYT's food blog has re-posted a June 2008 list of "the best foods you aren't eating" . Eh. No real surprises, but a nice reminder before my shopping trip. No sardines for me, though. Bleeeechhhh.

le list:

"Beets: Think of beets as red spinach, Dr. Bowden said, because they are a rich source of folate as well as natural red pigments that may be cancer fighters.

How to eat: Fresh, raw and grated to make a salad. Heating decreases the antioxidant power.

Cabbage: Loaded with nutrients like sulforaphane, a chemical said to boost cancer-fighting enzymes.

How to eat: Asian-style slaw or as a crunchy topping on burgers and sandwiches.

Swiss chard: A leafy green vegetable packed with carotenoids that protect aging eyes.

How to eat it: Chop and saute in olive oil.

Cinnamon: May help control blood sugar and cholesterol.

How to eat it: Sprinkle on coffee or oatmeal.

Pomegranate juice: Appears to lower blood pressure and loaded with antioxidants.

How to eat: Just drink it.

Dried plums: Okay, so they are really prunes, but they are packed with antioxidants.

How to eat: Wrapped in prosciutto and baked.

Pumpkin seeds: The most nutritious part of the pumpkin and packed with magnesium; high levels of the mineral are associated with lower risk for early death.

How to eat: Roasted as a snack, or sprinkled on salad.

Sardines: Dr. Bowden calls them “health food in a can.” They are high in omega-3’s, contain virtually no mercury and are loaded with calcium. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese as well as a full complement of B vitamins.

How to eat: Choose sardines packed in olive or sardine oil. Eat plain, mixed with salad, on toast, or mashed with dijon mustard and onions as a spread.

Turmeric: The “superstar of spices,” it may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

How to eat: Mix with scrambled eggs or in any vegetable dish.

Frozen blueberries: Even though freezing can degrade some of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables, frozen blueberries are available year-round and don’t spoil; associated with better memory in animal studies.

How to eat: Blended with yogurt or chocolate soy milk and sprinkled with crushed almonds.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Quick Pasta w/ Chunky Tomato Sauce

We're getting down to the last of the ingredients I bought on my big shopping trip almost two weeks ago. My cupboards are nearly empty and I don't have any fresh veggies left, but I feel triumphant. I used up almost everything I bought and then some, wasting little and eating well. This weekend I'll post my new shopping list and begin exploring another set of recipes for cheap and healthy green eats.

BUT, before we shop again, we need to eat! Last night, as my fridge (and five-year old) screamed "Feed Me!" Daddycrat took the reigns and started a simple pasta sauce for me while I drove home. I love him. And the sauce was delicious.

For a Pasta with Chunky Tomato Sauce we used:

1 Package Trader Joe's Organic Brown Rice Pasta $1.99/16 OZ bag (The best price and taste you'll find for gluten-free pasta)
2 Cans Organic Tomato Sauce $1.98 - @ $.99/can
1 Can Organic Diced Tomatoes with juice $1.89
Sprinkle Parmesan Cheese $.50 - @ $5/wedge or $2.69 grated Trader Joe's Parmesan/Romano
1 Diced Onion $.69
2 Cloves Garlic
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon dried Basil
Optional - Splash or two or three of red wine $3.99 - $infinity/ bottle

Total Price: $7.05

Start boiling your water now. Half way through your sauce assembly it will be ready for your pasta.

Using a saucepan, saute diced onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Splash, splash, pour your red wine into the onions and saute for a minute or two until the alcohol burns off. Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and basil. Let simmer on a low heat for about 45 minutes.

Salt and pepper to taste. Serve over hot pasta with cheese, cheese, cheese!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Main Street's Bailout: Pasilla Chilequiles

When the financial crisis first hit the fan in October, I asked my dad, a retired banker, how bad the economy might get. His answer: "It's a good thing you know how to grow potatoes." To that I would now add, "and make chilequiles". Like a saucy quesadilla that you dice, mix and bake into a casserole, my chilequiles are a cheap, delicious and welcome deviation from the taco, burrito, enchilada, etc., etc.

This recipe uses a dark tomato and Pasilla Chile sauce that my family and friends love. I use the best fresh salsa I can find for its base instead of a canned tomato sauce. It also two-fers as the perfect huevos ranchero sauce, so if you make a little extra, you can have some for breakfast tomorrow. Traditional chilequile recipes fry the tortillas first. Aqui, we toast them because it's better for us. If you were industrious (and I'm not saying you aren't) you could also add vegetables like squash or zucchini.

You'll need:

15 Corn Tortillas $2
1 Jar canned or fresh organic Red Salsa $3
1/2 cup broth $.25 @ $2/quart
1-2 Dried Pasilla Chiles $1 - @$2/package of 5 or 6
1/2 cup shredded jack cheese $1
Olive Oil

Total Cost: $8.25

Preheat Oven to 350. In a saucepan, heat the salsa and broth to simmering.

Remove the seeds and stems from your chiles (the seeds and inner membranes are where the heat lives). Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan. Drop your chiles into the oil and toast them until you can smell the chile oil (30 seconds to 1 minute depending on how hot your pan is - you will know when this is, trust me).

Be very careful not to burn the flesh of the chiles. The smoke from burning chiles can burn your eyes and make it difficult to breathe if inhaled.

Transfer the toasted chiles to the simmering salsa and continue to cook until the dried chiles are soft - usually about twenty minutes.

In the meantime, cut your corn tortillas into 1-inch slices. Using the same frying pan you used to toast the chiles, toast the tortilla pieces until they look like this:

Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of casserole dish and arrange the toasted tortillas on the bottom. Grate your Monterrey Jack and sprinkle it into the tortillas. By this time your sauce should be almost done.

Check your sauce first to make sure your chiles are soft. Then, using a hand held blender (or your regular one), blend the sauce until smooth. This is when the sauce will take on its beautiful dark color. Put the sauce back on the stove for about five minutes, just simmering. When it's done, pour the sauce over the tortillas. I like to create little pockets of extra sauce here and there.

As it bakes, the tortillas will absorb the excess liquid, making them delicious, delicious, delicious. I had a little extra cheese this time so I threw it on top and baked for about twenty minutes until the tortilla pieces poking up were almost dry and toasted. Here is the final product, served with organic black beans and leftover cotija:

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Presenting: Paella...ish

Today, my fabulously talented friend Minty Jeffrey, co-founder of Colors NW magazine, gamely suggested I attempt to make Paella. As a Mexican, I felt it my duty to bastardize the authentic Spanish recipe as best I could. But a quick google revealed that the Spanish themselves can't agree on what an authentic paella is. It can have seafood, chicken, sausage. The cook decides what vegetables to use based on the direction of the wind and the seasonally available produce.

The only common threads seemed to be: Rice. Onion. Meat. Saffron. Vegetables. They claimed one must use an open fire, blah, blah blah. And I'm sure it's very good that way. But it is Portland, Oregon in January. Inside it is.


2 Cups Jasmine Rice $2 (@ $3.99/2 lb bag)
4 small pieces frozen Organic Chicken $8
1 package frozen Asparagus $2.99
1 Diced Onion $.69
2 cloves Chopped Garlic
1 healthy pinch Saffron $1 ($11/gram)
4 cups broth or water and Bouillon
1/2 cup diced Cilantro $.34
1 Lemon $.50
1 cup Diced tomatoes $.94 (@ 1.89/12 ounce can)
2 tablespoons Olive Oil

Don't have a paella pot? Use a deep, wide saucepan with a lid instead. Brown the chicken quickly in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Set aside. In the same pan, cook the onions, garlic, cilantro and tomatoes until clear and caramelized. Mix in two cups of uncooked rice, then the broth.

Bring the mixture to a simmer, then add the cooked chicken, saffron and asparagus. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and the rice has fluffed up around the chicken and vegetables. Be careful to keep the heat on a medium/low, otherwise, the long cooking time will scorch your rice.

Here's what mine looked like when I added the chicken and Asparagus:

Here's what it looked like on my plate, garnished with a lemon twist:

Total Price: $16.46

Friday, January 9, 2009

"STOP, or I'll shoot!" Recipe #1: Fresh Mozzarella & Tomato

Feeling cranky? Losing your mind? Long surpressed alternate personalities threatening to come out? Yeah. Me too. Here's what I made Thursday night when I just had nothing left:

Fresh sliced mozzarella with sliced tomatoes and olive oil. The Italians call this Insalata Caprese. When I was in France it was simply salade de tomate e mozzarella. I fondly call it "cheese and tomatoes". I'm not a huge fan of basil, so sometimes I use it, sometimes I don't. What I really love is the salty simplicity of this combination - and it's two minute preparation time.

Because I'm using fresh mozzarella, I'll address the outRAGeous price you'll pay for it at Fred Meyer or Safeway or Albertons. It can range from five to seven dollars for one small ball of cheese. Frankly, though I love it, principle prevents me from knowingly purchasing this cheese at that price. Luckily, I live near a Trader Joe's. They sell fresh mozzarella of all shapes and sizes for $2.99. Well worth it.

You'll need:

Fresh mozzarella - $2.99
Two fresh, ripe tomatoes - $2.49/lb
Olive oil to drizzle on top
Coarse Salt
Pepper (to taste)
Basil (maybe)

Slice cheese and tomatoes into 1/4 inch thick pieces. Arrange on a flat plate, alternating cheese and tomato. If you're using basil, place the leaves around the plate. Drizzle olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper. Eat.

Total: $5.48
without basil. (basil can run anywhere from $1 to $3 per bunch depending on the store and season)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Eggplant & Tofu Stir-fry

When I'm being a nice wife, I make broccoli stir-fries because that's what Daddycrat loves. But yesterday, two beautiful, gleaming eggplants were making moon eyes at me from the fridge. What's a mommycrat to do? Cruelly shrug and suggest, "You can always pick the eggplant out. Purple vegetables are good for you."

I mean, look at this pretty thing, can you really blame me?

For this recipe you'll need:

1-2 organic eggplants, diced into 1 inch squares - $3.99
1 package firm organic tofu, drained and diced into 1 inch squares - $1.69
2 cloves garlic (or more, depending on your tastes)
1/4 cup organic tamari (wheat-free soy sauce) $.50 (@ $5/bottle)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
optional - 1/8 cup sugar

1 cup uncooked rice - $1.20 (@ $3.99/2 lb bag)

Total: $7.38 not including small amounts of olive oil and sugar.

Before you start chopping or wok-ing, put your rice on the stove according to the directions on the package - usually 1 cup rice to 2 cups water. Bring it to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low for 15 minutes. Your stir-fry will be done about the time your rice is.

Chop your tofu and eggplant into one-inch pieces. In a wok or large frying pan, heat a 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a medium/hot temp. Just when the oil starts to smoke, add your tofu and let it sear off on a few sides. If you add the eggplant too soon, its moisture will make your tofu soggy.

When your tofu is a golden brown or really - the texture you like it - add the garlic, eggplant, soy sauce and sugar. I add the sugar because I prefer a sweeter, teriyaki-ish sauce. If you prefer salty, just leave it out. The heat needs to be high enough to quickly sear and brown your eggplant. As the liquid soy sauce cooks off, the tofu and eggplant will caramelize. Mmmmm.... Take it off the stove when it looks good to you. That is really the secret to all cooking. If a recipe is tells you something that doesn't feel right, use your gut! The best cooks do.

This is what I like mine to look like when I'm done:

This recipe makes enough that I'll be able to eat this for lunch for a few days. Some people hate leftovers, I love having a lunch that I don't have to think about. It's cheaper, better and healthier than bento I could get down the street from my office.

What vegetables would you like to see in your dream stir-fry?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Squash & Mole Tacos w/ Cotija Cheese

Whew. I for one am soooo glad this Mother of all Mondays is over. I had to get a blood test (eww), some creepy dude was talking to me on the train (eeeeeewww, eew, eww.)...just the kind of day that calls for some rad Mexican comfort food: Butternut Squash Tacos w/ Mole Poblano. I have pictures, but blogspot is tweaking and won't take them. Boo!

This recipe is a variation on some delicious squash and mole enchiladas I made with the lovely Sarah Rich and this dude over Christmas break. Same ingredients, way less time, and you'll have enough to eat for days and days. I used leftover mole my mom and I made from scratch this weekend, but the mole I've eaten and loved my whole life comes from a little abuelita named Dona Maria.

Here's what you need for the sauce:

1 jar Dona Maria Mole Paste - $4.25
1-2 cups chicken broth (less broth = thicker sauce) - $1 - (@ $2/quart)
1 round Mexican chocolate $.66 - (@ $3.99/package of 6)

Carefully open the jar. The oil in the paste often separates and it does NOT come out of clothes or cooking utensils. Gently heat the paste in a medium saucepan with about 1 cup of broth. Once liquified, break the chocolate into pieces and stir them into the sauce until they've melted. Add more broth if you want a thinner mole.'re done. It's that easy. It is NOT, however, vegetarian. For that, I'm afraid you'll have to make it from scratch. Diane Kennedy has a nice recipe that can be modified if you're a masochist like me and want to make it straight from the chilies themselves.

Here's what you need for the filling a la Sarah Rich:

2 butternut squash, cooked and cubed - $4.90 - (@ $2.45 each)
1 small bunch chard, washed and diced - $2.49
1/2 onion, diced - $.33 - (@ $.66 each)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup broth - $.50 - (@ $2/quart)

Saute the onions until soft and clear. Mix in the squash and broth. The squash will absorb the broth and its flavor. Once the liquid evaporates, gently mash the squash, leaving some nice chunks. Finally, stir in the chard and keep the heat on until it cooks down into the squash.

On the stove or microwave, heat only as many corn tortillas ($2) as you're willing to eat right away. There is nothing sadder in this cold, cold world of ours than a corn tortilla that has been warmed then left uneaten.

Fill warm, soft tortillas with squash filling, drizzle with mole sauce and finish with a sprinkling of cotija ($3-$4) cheese. Sour cream and a little salt is a good alternative if you don't want to spring for cotija. I personally don't know how to live without it.


Mole Sauce - $5.91 (Cheap Delicious Alternative: Sour Cream & Valentina Hot Sauce)
Squash & Chard Filling & Tortillas- $10.22 (cooking for two, not four? reduce the squash and save $2.45)
Optional: Cotija - $4 per package (Or shredded Jack Cheese)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Weekend Eats - Pancakes & Albondigas Soup

Every Saturday morning, my daughter and I leave my husband sipping coffee on the couch and head north to our spectacular country estate - a.k.a. My parents' house. After seven years of Saturday visits, we have a good system down. Grandma and Grandpa get to see their adorable grandchild, and I get to re-live my twenties by drinking their coffee, eating their food and doing the occasional load of laundry.

Lucky for me, it also made my Saturday Menu ridiculously easy:

- 1/2 container Vanana (Vanilla/Banana) Yogurt - $1.40

Lunch & Dinner -
EPIC cheat - take advantage of unsuspecting senior citizens by eating their snacks and using them for Chicken and Mole for dinner. Cost = Priceless

Today, Sunday, I was forced to slip the thirties back on, wear my crows feet like an old nubby sweater and feed a little bird who woke up with breakfast on her mind. As I often do on lazy Sunday mornings, I agreed to make pancakes. In this recipe, you can substitute 2.5 cups of organic wheat flour for my gluten-free mix.

Simple Pancakes

You'll need:

2.5 Cups Flour (or my gluten-free mix detailed below)
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 eggs - $.40 (@ $2.50/dozen)
1.5 cups milk $.47 (@ $4.99/gallon)
(optional - 1/2 teaspoon vanilla)

GF Flour mix (See Master Staple List for ingredient prices):

1 cup sweet rice flour (My supermarket has this in the Asian section next to potato starch)
3/4 corn flour (Bob's Red Mill Organic)
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Mix flour with a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon of baking powder. Make a well in the bottom of the dry ingredient bowl for the eggs. Drop the eggs in the well (sometimes I scramble them first, sometimes I don't - depends on how many dishes I want to wash). Slowly add the milk while you stir in the eggs. Depending on the humidity or the alignment of the planets, too much liquid can make your pancake batter too runny and therefore your pancakes un-fluffy when cooked. If your batter looks good, but there's still milk left, STOP. It's cool.

Here's what my batter looked like this morning:

The other trick to pancakes is flipping them over at the right time. Make sure your skillet is heated to just shy of medium. It needs to be hot enough to quickly seal the batter off, but not hot enough to burn it before it's cooked in the middle. Flip your pancakes when there are little bubbles covering their entire surface, like this:

If you do this right, the second side will seal off and your pancakes will begin to fluff up. When your pancakes are springy and you can push down on them without denting them, you're done!

Minicrat ate hers with sprinkles and I melted a little butter on mine. Daddycrat ate his plain, like the manly man he is. About maple syrup....this is hard to admit...we all love it, but at $8 or more for a small container, we find that powdered sugar or frozen berries cooked with a little sugar are more delicious and affordable.

- Albondigas Soup

Because we had a big, late breakfast, I decided to skip a formal lunch and go for an early dinner of Albondigas Soup. Albondigas are meatballs in Spanish, and this soup was one of my favorites as a kid. I'll also have enough leftovers to take some to work for lunch tomorrow.

In Mexican cooking, "authentic" depends on what region of Mexico you're from, so my version is a light, savory broth with onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes and diced red potatoes. I use cilantro in my meatballs instead of mint and in this case, I ditched the cumin my recipe called for because I didn't have any. Still turned out delicious, trust me. This recipe can also be made with ground turkey instead of beef, or with loose rice in the broth if you're vegetarian or don't want to buy meat.

Albondigas Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 or 3 stalks celery, diced - $.40 (@ $.79/bunch)
1 yellow onion, diced - $.66
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds - $.66 (@ $1.99/bunch)
3 small red potatoes, diced - $.75 (@ $3.69/5 lb bag)
1/2 can diced tomatoes w/ juice - $.94 (@ 1.89/12 ounce can)
1 clove garlic, minced
6 cups broth - $3 (@ $2/quart) OR bouillon & water - $.50
1 package natural 4% lean ground beef - $4.80
1/3 cup uncooked organic rice - $.40 (@ $3.99/2 lb bag)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro - $.34 (@ $.69/bunch)
1 fresh lime, cut into wedges - $1
Salt and Pepper to taste

Grand Total: $12.95
For the meatless option, even cheaper: $8.15

In a large soup pot, fry the onion, garlic and celery in a little olive oil until the onions become translucent. Add broth and tomatoes w/ juice, cover and simmer while you make the meatballs.

In a bowl, mix meat, rice, egg, salt, pepper and 3/4 of your chopped cilantro (the rest will be used for garnish when you serve the soup). Form the meat into one inch balls and drop them into the soup with the diced potatoes and carrots. Cover and simmer for 35 minutes. When it's done, it will look like this:

Serve in a bowl with cilantro garnish and (this is CRITICAL) a squeeze of fresh lime. If I had had a little more time I would have fried up some tortilla strips to sink in, but I'll save that trick for a future Tortilla Soup post.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Master Staple List

I don't know about you, but when I was younger and more single, I didn't maintain a whole lot in my pantry. For a few years, I pretty much only had basic condiments and beer in my fridge. I don't like beer, but I'd had a party and it lived in my fridge for a while (ahem, a year or few). Anyhoo, once I had a child, and it wasn't as easy to live on Pirate's Booty and deli meats, I started to amass a basic arsenal of staples for cooking.

I've found that it's cheaper and better if I buy simple, high quality basics and mix them as I need them (olive oil and fresh meyer lemons vs. expensive lemon infused olive oil pressed between virgin thighs). Here is my list of must haves that I'll be using in my recipes. You probably have a lot of these in your kitchen already, but if you don't, here's what I recommend to get started:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil - This is pretty much the only oil I use, so I buy a big bottle to get a better per unit price. It will run you between $8 and $12 depending on where you find it. Trader Joe's has a quart for about $8, Costco has 4(!) quarts for ~$22, Buy it at Safeway, Alberton's or Fred Meyer and your wallet will be dripping blood all over their shiny tile floors unless it's on sale. That's the other thing - if something I use all the time is on sale, I stock up. It really does save money.

Good Salt - Salt is one of those things that can be inexpensive, even for the good stuff. A box of flakey kosher salt is less than $3, Sea Salt slightly more. Forget Morton's, a little good salt goes a long way. Actually, I think I might be drooling right now just thinking about it.

Pepper - My husband likes plain black pepper, and I love that about him. I get the generic tin in the spice section because he goes through a lot. But, I've seen some more interesting options in the bulk spice section that you should try out if you are feeling adventurous. My mother likes to use freshly ground white pepper, which is also very good, but different - so taste it first.

Fresh Garlic
- It's maybe a dollar for a bulb and it lasts a good while on the shelf. Again, a little goes a long way. Definitely worth having around.

Fresh Lemons - I use the juice and the rind to give my food a little tang. In fact, I try to keep some kind of citrus (oranges, tangerines, limes) around for flavor and little hungry mouths. Sauces, stir-fries, all better with citrus. Whatever you do, don't buy the little plastic lemons with liquid inside. It's not lemon juice. I don't know what it is, but what they've done to the lemons inside is a crime against nature.

Basil, Rosemary, Thyme, Sage - whether dried or fresh, I always have these in my kitchen.

Rice - You can get high quality rice for a relatively small increase in price. I recommend ditching the short/medium/long grain bags by the dried beans, and instead picking up some sticky Japanese Rice or fluffy Basmati or Jasmine rice in the ethnic section (aka the AWEsome aisle).

Bouillon - this is an item my guilty conscience struggles with. My mother has cooked my whole life with Mexico's Knorr Suiza chicken buillion cubes. There is a difference between these - found in the Latin foods section - and those by all the American soup mixes. Things that need broth don't taste right to me unless I use these cubes. There are plenty of other options out there for you, but you should have some kind of stock (veggie, chicken, beef, whatev) in the kitchen at all times. Lucky for you, the organic versions of these taste better and are barely more expensive than the conventional ones.

Good Vinegar - I keep Seasoned Rice Vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar, and cider vinegar on hand. I buy the mid-range stuff, not the best, but not the worst. Should you require more, the lovely and talented LeLo in Nopo has a great primer on infusing your own vinegar.

Onions - One yellow, one red. Yellow for cooking with heat, red for sandwiches, salads and salsa. I find it's hard to find organic onions where I live, but maybe you'll have better luck.

Tortillas - I'm a gluten-free Mexican girl, so my preferred mode of moving cheese, sauce, and salsa into the mouth is the humble, simple, corn tortilla. Sometimes I make my own, which is a real money saver and super delicious, but most of the time I buy a big package that keeps in the fridge for a few weeks. At three or four bucks, one package can fuel several quick meals.

Flour - A basic, all purpose flour is a must for thickening sauces, quick pancakes and waffles, muffins, etc. But alas, I haven't eaten wheat or gluten for the last two years. What I keep in my pantry instead is an array of starches and flours: sweet rice flour, tapioca flour, corn flour, brown rice flour, corn starch, potato starch, etc. When I post recipes using flour, I'll post both the gluten-y and gluten-free versions. Five pound bags of regular flour will run between $5 and $8. Starting from scratch, a gluten-free weapon bag will cost more like $20. Tip: Many bulk food sections carry flours, even the weird ones, at slightly lower prices than the packaged versions.

*Optional Items

Eggs - Cheap, delicious eggs are an easy protein for grown-ups and kids. Cage-free, organic eggs are widely available and you'll definitely be able to sport the extra dollar or two they cost with all the money you're saving from not buying boxed foods.

So what will it cost you to get yourself the Master Staple List? Here's a tally using average prices:

Olive Oil (1 Quart) $12
Delicious Salt (1 box) $3
Organic Pepper (1 smallish tin) $5
Organic Garlic (2 bulbs) $2
Organic Lemons (2) $2
Onions (2) $1.50
Broth (2 quarts) $4
Balsamic Vinegar $5
Apple Cider Vinegar $3
Seasoned Rice Vinegar $4
Organic All-Purpose Flour - $6
Tortillas - $3

Grand Total: $50 (Keep in mind that the big ticket items - Oil, Vinegar, Salt, Pepper - will last you for months. This initial investment in high quality is well worth it.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien - Voltaire

Psst. We should get something out of the way right now. I'm not a purist. I like Cheetos and Milky Way Candy bars. I grew up on a mixture of New England fare and Mexican food. I like to use (gasp!) a boullion cube once in a while instead of the tasteless carrot water that passes for broth in the natural foods section. The best corn tortillas are NOT the organic "handmade" ones at Trader Joe's and I don't have a compost heap (even though I know I probably should).

That said, when I shop, I like to shop well. I like my basket to look like I've been gathering special treats from little street shops in Paris - beautiful fluffy bread, green leafy vegetables and freshly wrapped brown packages of meat and cheese. Too many boxes with gaudy lettering and I start to hyperventilate.

This morning I set out with a simple mission: Buy groceries for two weeks with about $150 bucks. That's about $75 a week, $25 per person. Difficult, but not impossible. As I took stock of what was left in my pantry after Christmas, I was happy to discover that most of my staples (olive oil, spices, canned goods - I'll do a separate post on how to gather these cheaply) were well represented and I really just needed to get the fresh, vitamin-y stuff like fruits, vegetables and my boyfriend, Dairy.

When I shop, I try to take Michael Pollan's advice and shop around the edges of the store to avoid the less healthy and more expensive packaged foods. The outer walls in the supermarket are your friends. Stick to them and you'll end up with fresh produce, meat, cheese that takes a little more time to prepare but is better (and CHEAPER) for you than freeze-dried and boxed food-like stuff.

Here's the list I started with:

And here are my receipts:

I felt a little like I was cheating on my first shopping post by going to Trader Joe's because they have a huge selection of affordable organics. But, lucky for you readers, every last sucker in Portland had gone or was going to our Trader Joe's this afternoon and many of the things I'd normally pick up were gone OR only one or two tattered packages were left strewn carelessly on the floor.

I picked up organic apples, potatoes, sweet potatoes and lettuce. Gave the evil eye to an oblivious woman in a black hat who squeezed every Anjou pear while I waited patiently to get some onions. Yogurt, preservative-free hot Italian sausages for spaghetti (yum!) and cheese, glorious, fabulous cheese! The rest of the meat section was picked over and the crazy post-snowpocalypse vibe was too much for me so I hopped over to Fred Meyer for meat and more veggies.

All in all, I spent about $130, leaving me $20 for extra milk, bread or produce when we run out next week. I bought organic when I could afford to. I bought a few things I love like Fresh Mozzarella for a bargain basement price at TJ's (2.99 vs. 5.99 @ Fred Meyer). A few things for easy, kid friendly dinners like Annie's Microwaveable Organic Mac & Cheese - three minutes worth my sanity every time. I couldn't find everything I wanted, but I remained calm and shut down my inner control freak by substituting with other affordable, pretty-looking items.

Now that you know what I buy and what I love (Trader Joe's Buried Treasure Cheddar Cheese Corn Puffs, Boo-ya!), you can follow along as I use these ingredients to make tasty, affordable meals for my family. I'll post recipes and itemized cost for each meal so you can create your own affordable and green(ish) grocery lists at home.

Until next time,


Is it possible to eat green on the cheap?

I love food and the people who make it. I live in Portland, Oregon, a foodie mecca where people are more than willing to pay a premium for fresh, local and organic foods. I heart organic too, but when you're on a budget, it's not about love - it's about feeding your family well without spending your rent money.

At one point a few years ago, when my husband was in school and I was managing my first campaign, we spent about $50 bucks a week on food for ourselves and our baby girl. I breastfed for two years, saving the cost of formula, but trips to the grocery store were stressful, panic inducing experiences. Forget a leisurely stroll down the supermarket aisle. Every item that went in my basket increased my paralyzing anxiety. Natural dish soap or organic milk?
Cage-free eggs? (going to heaven) Or regular eggs? (definitely burning in hell)

I would watch with envy as parents in front of me piled their purchases on the conveyor belt, building beautiful, towering piles of organic vegetables, milk, gourmet cheese and meats. They all swiped their debit cards without a care in the world, while I stood white-knuckling the shopping cart, hoping I had added up my list properly and wasn't in danger of over-drawing my account.

Luckily, my current position pays well and I'm often one of those carefree shoppers at the supermarket. But I haven't forgotten what it was like to want the best food for my family and not know if I could afford it. Not only have I not forgotten, the dearth of blogs and books and cooking shows using ingredients the average family can afford makes me angry. Revolution angry. We the People angry. So to all you wonderful parents and singles out there who want to eat well on a tight budget, this blog is for you. I'll share my tricks and recipes for eating green on the cheap and you let me know what you think.