Monday, May 3, 2010

Rachel is the new Julia Child....time to make Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs!

Ok. So Rachel is obviously outdoing me here! I've gotta step it up! :)

The truth is I haven't been much in the mood to write lately and I'm not sure why. But one of the great things I love about food is being able to share it with others - and not just the eating part...the cooking too! A few months ago, my friend Tricia came over to watch the Oscars. I thought, "Hey! What a great excuse to cook dinner!" Now, Tricia does not cook but I wanted to show her how easy and delicious a meal can be so off to Trader Joe's we went. On the menu for the night? Whole wheat spaghetti, homemade marinara sauce, turkey meatballs, and garlic naan. Now really, the only actual cooking was making the marinara sauce. Easy enough, right? This is the recipe I used:

Marinara Sauce by Giada De Laurentiis of the Food Network:

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 small onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

2 dried bay leaves

In a large casserole pot, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon of each salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper, to taste. (The sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium heat before using.)

Now, I read in the user comments on the Food Network website that you should really blend or "process" the vegetables so that your sauce doesn't turn out super chunky. So that's what we did. And you know what? They were right and the sauce was super good! Once we had that going and the pasta was boiling in some olive oil, we threw the awesome frozen turkey meatballs from Trader Joe's (which are SUPER good, healthy, and easy!) into the sauce. All that was left was to take some whole wheat Naan, spread some crushed garlic on it with some spices and toss that into the toaster oven. Within minutes we were ready to eat. And boy, was it delicious. I even had enough left over for another couple of meals, including a meatball sandwich! Yum, yum, yum. TaaDaah!

Tofu Stir-Fry

So I know I've been kinda bad and haven't posted each of my meals with my cost analysis. The truth is that sometimes I figure people must get really bored looking at food. The other truth is that I got lazy, especially with all the calculating! Plus, my dinners last Sunday through Tuesday were all pretty similar to other meals I've posted. Here's a little recap:

Sunday Night I made another awesome whole wheat pasta dish. This one was whole wheat angel hair, and it had 1 can of tomatoes, spinach (super good!), onion, mushrooms, garlic and Italian parsley. Since we only had 1 small can of tomatoes, I added some extra olive oil, red wine vinegar, a couple splashes of Tempranillo, plus salt and pepper. Jeremy added more of his Jamaican sweet sausages to his plate. We ate it with some red leaf salad, and a side of Desperate Housewives and the Pacific.  
Cost: $5.73 for two (not including Jeremy's sausages)

Monday Night I pulled out all the stops and made another roasted chicken with vegetables. (The chicken was pasture raised of course!) For the vegetables, I had carrots, celery, onion, turnips, and potatoes. This time, I roasted the potatoes in a second pan since there was so little room in the pan with a chicken. They took a little longer and didn't have the poultry fat-juice on them, but the were still quite good.
Cost: $10.79 for two

Tuesday Night Jeremy took over the kitchen for me, which was awesome since I was tired. He made the other two catfish fillets we had stored in the freezer, plus some sauteed carrots, snow peas and mushrooms with white rice. I told Jeremy to set aside raw carrots for me because I hate cooked carrots unless they are roasted or stewed in something. (My whole family does, so I think it's genetics not pickiness!) But later, I polished off the remaining cooked veggies as a second helping and the cooked carrots were great! I don't know if it was Jeremy's magical culinary touch or if it's because we got the carrots at the Farmer's Market (stems and all--the kind Bugs Bunny would eat), but they were just fine sauteed. Jeremy also cooked the fish really well. He put just the right amount of seasoning and the texture was nice and soft...hmm I think I might have to commission him for all future fish dishes.
Cost: $8.92 for two

Wednesday Night we went simple and made a tofu stir-fry. I sauteed some organic firm tofu, the remainder of the snow peas and the last orange bell pepper. We also had some lovely organic roasted potatoes (again, courtesy of the Farmer's Market) and red leaf salad. I was really satisfied with this simple dinner. Here's my plate, minus the salad:

Cost: $6.62 for two (I don't know how much the potatoes cost; I conservatively estimated $3.00.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Weekend Pizza!

On Saturday, I decided to try to create a pizza from some Trader Joe's pizza dough that I bought two months ago (seriously). Don't worry, it was in the freezer and I defrosted it in the fridge the night before. I split the whole wheat pizza dough in half because I didn't have a baking sheet large enough to hold a full-size pizza. This worked out, though, because Jeremy decided to add sausage to his pizza. So we each had our own little pizza.

First, I chopped up the veggies: mushrooms, a bell pepper and spinach.

Then I sliced into small pieces both Spicy Pepper Jack Cheese and New York Chedder. (Jeremy defrosted his Sweet Jamacian sausages, which he got at the Farmer's Market. Yay for local, organic, and free range meat! I'm proud...)
While I was doing this, the dough was resting on the counter with some flour.
I couldn't take a photo of myself tossing the dough for obvious reasons. The first half came out pretty well--it was more of a roundish rectangle than a circle. The second half of the dough was a little trickier. I think I put too much olive oil on it while I was shaping it, which caused it form lots of holes. I managed to get it into a decent shape though. I topped each dough with half a can of diced tomatoes and the toppings. I baked them for 15 minutes at 450 degrees and this is what came out:
my pizza

half of Jeremy's pizza

The pizza turned out really well. The only problem was that the dough in the middle wasn't as baked thoroughly as the rest of the crust. Next time, I'll take Ashley's advice and bake the dough a bit before adding the rest of the toppings. I can't wait to make another--homemade pizza is cheaper and healthier!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fish, Curry, Fish

Hello everyone (or the only two people who read this blog)!

I'm continuing on my plan to make delicious, inexpensive dinners from the foods listed on that fabulously long receipt. In other words, my goal is not to waste any food, while also enjoying scrumptious dinners.

Wednesday Night's Dinner
was more fish. The menu: Baked dover sole, sauteed long choy, and white rice with soy sauce. I forgot to take a photo, but I think I've already posted quite few photos of the fish-bok choy-rice combo, since it is a favorite standard of mine. The cost was $5.34 for the sole and $1.49 for the bok choy. We bought a massive bag of rice from Costco, so I really don't know how much the rice costs. Similarly, our soy sauce bottle is one of those supersized containers that really should only be bought by people with 20 kids to feed. So dinner came to about $7.00 total for two people ($3.50 each, in case you can't divide by 2 right now).

Friday Night
, we enjoyed even more fish. This time we had catfish--another A list fish according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Guide. We seasoned this fish with the Pike Place Seasoning that Jeremy got in Seattle. That stuff is good and a little spicy! I think a little goes a long way, although we still put a lot on, haha. This time we had potatoes and organic red leaf salad as our sides. See how much salad is in that bowl? That doesn't include the first servings on our plates.

Simple leaf salad is one of the easiest ways to get your greens!

This fish dinner was about $8.75 for two. Jeremy and I shared a catfish fillet since they were so big. We did get a little hungry later and snacked on some mixed nuts.

Now I'm going to backtrack to Thursday's Dinner, which involves a bit more storytelling. I had planned to make omelets, roasted potatoes and salad for dinner. However, when I revealed this menu to Jeremy, he informed me that he has an issue with eggs. The issue? He doesn't like them. WTF? Who doesn't like eggs? I eyed him suspiciously for awhile because I could recall a few situations where he consumed a couple sunny-side ups. But I don't believe in force feeding anyone, so I decided to make a vegetarian chickpea curry. I had diligently bought curry powder, coriander and canned tomatoes in order to make a curry during the week, but I had forgotten coconut milk. I decided to wing it without the milk anyway.

I decided to create my own recipe based upon these two different recipes: and

My recipe ended up something like this...

2 medium red potatoes
3/4 an onion (I happened to have 3/4 in the fridge.)
1/2 an orange cauliflower
2 carrots
2 1/2 celery stalks
1 small orange bell pepper
A few broccoli flowerettes (I had them in the freezer and needed to get rid of them somehow.)
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1 can chickpeas
1/2 cup of light coconut milk (more on this later...)
4 small cloves of garlic (or 3 large)
2 Tablespoons ground cumin
2 Tablespoons ground coriander
2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons tumeric
1 1/2 Tablespoons curry powder
1 Tablespoon red chili flakes (I had saved mine from pizza deliveries. I used about half of the little container.)
Olive oil

1. Chop up the potatoes into small cubes. Microwave until soft.
2. Chop up the other vegetables. (Note, the smaller you chop them, the faster they cook.)

I noticed that my vegetables were the colors of Ireland's flag. Here's orange (gold).


and white

3. Heat some olive oil in a pot. I also added a slice of butter since I didn't have coconut milk.
4. Add the cumin, coriander, cinnamon and onion. Saute until the onions are soft and become translucent.
5. Add the tumeric, curry powder, chili flakes, and garlic. Stir in with the onion.
6. Add the canned tomatoes and stir up.
7. Add in the vegetables--I added the carrots, cauliflower and celery first since I knew they would take longer to cook.

About this time I started to panic about the texture and taste of the curry and decided I needed coconut milk. It probably would have been fine (albeit different) without the milk, but I really didn't want to f*** things up too much in this experiment, so I ended up running out to buy some.

When I got back, I discovered that the veggies were way cooked aka almost burnt! I left Jeremy in charge of stirring and checking the temperature, but I don't think I was very clear in my directions. Oops. Anyway, I added half of the can of coconut milk, which definitely helped. I then added the can of chickpeas (drained), potatoes and broccoli. (The broccoli was frozen and I had nuked it for a minute to get it soft.) After some good stirring and simmering, the curry really came together. I had only used about half the amount of the spices listed above. In other words, I had used 1 Tablespoon of cumin instead of 2. But after some tasting, I decided to amp up the flavor and added another measure of each of the spices. Note, though, I don't actually have measuring spoons. This is my idea of a tablespoon:

Finally, the curry was done. Add some white rice and here's what you get:

Plus Jeremy's plate, plus leftovers in the pot:

I have to say I was surprised at how good it was. I think I used just the right amount of spices. It was spicy but not too hot. I'm definitely glad I microwaved the potatoes to cook them a bit before adding them to the pot, otherwise they wouldn't have cooked all the way. In the future, I think I will also try to cook the carrots a bit beforehand, as they were a little crunchy. I love raw carrots, but when all the other veggies are soft, I prefer them to be soft too. The chickpeas were a good and different source of protein--but feel free to use tofu, beans, or a meat if you prefer. The light coconut milk brought the dish together.

I'll have to calculate the cost of this on my next post. I think this novel, I mean post, is long enough.

Tuesday Dinner: Veggie Pasta (money continued...)

Here is a continuation of my meal-planning this week. I'm trying to put all these Berkeley Bowl goodies to an economical yet delicious use. I decided to freeze some fish and a whole chicken for future use, so that we wouldn't have to use them up quickly in the first few days. Freezing fish, meat, and tofu is a great way to preserve your protein. The texture of the fish and meat do not change when you defrost them. The tofu's texture does change a bit, but the new texture actually allows the tofu to hold together more firmly and absorb sauces better.

So instead of fish two nights in a row, I decided to make a vegetarian pasta. I made my own sauce, since I didn't want to spend $3.50+ on a jar of premade pasta sauce. Plus, this gave me an excuse to get creative with plain ol' pasta.

I made just over a pound of whole wheat penne pasta ($2.44 from the bulk section). I added a lot of canned tomatoes ($1.45 + $0.85 + $0.89 for 1 large can and 2 small), because Jeremy and I really like them. I sauteed half of a defrosted package of organic tofu ($0.75) and chopped up a bunch of mushrooms (about $1.35), throwing them into the pot. I also added some Italian parsley (probably less than $0.10) and fresh rosemary (free!). Finally, I added 3 cloves of garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, with salt, pepper and grated cheese to add on top. I guess you can calculate $0.50 for all of those.

Total: $6.98 and a yummy tummy

I would say this comes to $3.49 per person, but the reality is that this could have fed like six people. Jeremy had two plates the first night, and there are still leftovers. I ate some for lunch today and will probably polish it off for lunch tomorrow. So that's really like 6 helpings of pasta--or $1.13 a plate.

Furthermore, not to toot my own horn, but it was delicious! Whole wheat penne is the way to go--it filled me up more quickly than white pasta and I like its slightly nutty and grainy flavor. Plus the shape of the penne helps hold the mushrooms and tomatoes. The defrosted, sauteed tofu came out (surprisingly) really well! Jeremy said that the texture was so good, it could be mistaken for fish. Ok, now I am tooting my own horn. But hey I don't have a car, so I like to honk when I get the chance :)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Money, Money, Money...MONEY!

On Monday, I went a little nuts at the grocery store. I usually shop at a co-op store called Berkeley Bowl, where produce is cheap and abundant. Seriously, major newspapers have even done articles about the store. I don't know if I suddenly felt the need to buy the entire store because I was realizing just how much I'll miss this place when I'm in graduate school. That might have been it. Sometimes, though, I'll take it as a personal challenge to buy as much as I possibly can and port it back home without a car. So that might have been it. But more likely, I had been reading lots of other food blogs and seeing delicious looking dishes left and right. So, I decided to up my game and ended up spending $109.65 at the store! Gah! First time I've reached triple digits on a grocery receipt (not including at Costco).

However, considering how much I got, I think it might end up being a steal, or at least economical. The trick is I must not let food go bad! So, in order to avoid wasting, I'm going to try to plan my dinners. This way I'll know what food to use up more quickly and what to store/freeze for future use. I don't actually like being so rigid with my cooking and eating. However, I really want to save money. And truth be told, I kind of want to put my energies into this instead of stressing out about work, graduate school, and the future, which I tend to do.

Furthermore, it's the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and cooking at home is better for the environment (provided you don't waste your food)!

Here is what I made Monday night from my groceries galore. I've tried also to calculate an average of how much the meal costs:

Monday Night
Baked trout with shallots and Pike Place fish seasoning
Organic green leaf salad with Mom's secret homemade dressing
Roasted potatoes with olive oil, Lawry's seasoning, salt and pepper

Trout - $5.88
Potatoes - $0.65
Shallots - $0.25
Organic green leaf lettuce - $1.79
Plus $0.25 to account for the costs of olive oil, seasonings, and ingredients in salad dressing, which probably isn't even this much.
Total: $8.82 for two people or $4.41 each. Not bad. Plus doesn't it look good?

For the record, there was a massive bowl of salad next to this plate, so I had a lot more leaves than what this shows. I also had to surrender some delicious potatoes to Jeremy since I was so full.

I'll keep you posted on how the future meal-planning goes. If anyone has any tips about storing and preserving food or cheap recipe suggestions, let me know!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Baking with beau!

Hello food lovers--

Last night, I did something I hadn't done in a long time--bake! I rarely bake for a couple reasons. One is that I started cooking because it was required. In college, I needed to feed myself and cooking was the cheapest way. Baking, though, isn't really required. I don't need cookies or cakes or pies. Another reason why I rarely bake is that you can't usually "wing it" or not follow a recipe or directions, which is what I tend to do when I cook. Many of my cooking skills have been learned through experimenting, not something you can really do with baking.

But some time ago, Jeremy suggested that we bake chocolate chip cookies together. Now, something you all need to know is that Jeremy was born without a sweet-tooth. In fact, he's basically a salt-tooth. Not only does he prefer the savory to sweet, he will shun any dessert offered and instead go through a gallon of soy sauce. Seriously, here is a photo of our respective desserts on Valentine's Day:

But Jeremy can go for a good chocolate chip cookie now and then, so I was happy that we could make and enjoy one dessert-type food together. Plus, I kinda love doing anything with Jer Bear, even if chocolate or cookies aren't involved. :)

Anyway, back to the baking. I tried to find the most basic chocolate chip cookie recipe, since I'm bad at following too many directions. I ended up using this recipe from (minus the nuts):

Instead of white sugar, I used only brown sugar. And when I realized that the recipe made about 4 dozen cookies, I decided to halve it. (Jeremy and I don't quite need 48 cookies.) I also didn't have a measuring cup or measuring spoons. I know this is blasphemy when it comes to baking (another reason why I hardly bake), but I decided to just be as standard as I could by using the same small mug to measure cups and two different size spoons to measure teaspoons and tablespoons.

I started off by softening the butter in the microwave and then creaming it with the brown sugar. (I actually had to look up what "creaming" is exactly.) I was proud of myself that I managed to do it the old fashioned way with a wooden spoon.

No electric mixers here!

Then I beat in the egg and vanilla extract. I separately mixed the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Then Jeremy used his manpower to stir these dry ingredients into the mixture, plus the chocolate chips. After that, we rolled the dough into balls and put them in well butter-greased pans.

Here's one pan. We had three pans, for a total of 18 cookies. The recipe calls for baking it at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. However, our cookies ended up needing about 12-14 minutes. I found that the cookies baked more quickly in our medal pan (rather than the sheet pan shown here), and those need no more than 10 minutes.

Here are all of the cookies cooling on a plate (no cooling rack needed either!).

We didn't have milk on hand, but the cookies were still delicious with a cup of lemon rose tea. I thought they were so good and I was a little bit proud of us. ;) They were great to have after a spicy Indian dinner, and they were rich enough that I only needed two. Mr. Salt Tooth ended up eating six cookies! I thought that was quite the sign of success.

Now, I have to get all mushy and dedicate this post to Jeremy. Even though he doesn't have a sweet tooth, he is one of the sweetest people I know. When we began dating, "sweet" was the word that summed him up. I know this is a public forum, but I will admit that we have had some hard times lately and have had to deal with pressures and difficult decisions. Sometimes I haven't been the sweetest person myself. However, every day I look forward to making dinner with Jeremy. It's always the highlight of my night, even when I'm tired and don't feel like cooking or cleaning. One thing I love about Jeremy is that we've grown to be each other's sous-chef. He's never left me to do the cooking and cleaning just because I'm a female. He's always been a willing participant (even when he's tired too). Although he's mentioned before that I taught him how to cook, the truth is that we've both taught each other through experimenting together. (He officially makes the best potatoes!) I love our routine of having dinner together throughout the week (we're sort of homebodies I might add), but I also love doing any little new thing with Jeremy too. Baking chocolate chip cookies was something new, and now it's a sweet memory I can cherish (yes, I'm going to keep punning on "sweet"). I know that when he goes to law school and I to graduate school, we won't necessarily have our dinners together. But I know we'll find a way to start new traditions and there will be different things I look forward to doing, besides simply making dinner. But for now, I can take comfort in the fact that I'll at least be able to mail him a care package of chocolate chip goodness. (I know you'll need the sugar rush in law school, my love!)