Tag Archives: Budget eats

Homemade > Store-Bought, the Chicken Stock Edition

8 Dec

late.oct.nov2012 066

Yes, Virginia, there IS real food somewhere in there! This lovely little display of ooey-gooey chicken guts-ness, veggies and aromatics will eventually become one of my favorite cooking items in the world — chicken stock. Simple, versatile, and capable of enriching even the simplest of recipes, chicken stock (or turkey stock, or heck, even veggie stock, which is just as easy to make and totally vegetarian / vegan) is the backbone of that “Mmmm, this tastes like something my Grandma made” flavor. If you’re looking for homey nostalgia in a dish, this is your (no longer a big) secret weapon.

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Budget Eats: If You Grill It, They Will Eat (On the Cheap!)

14 Oct

My favorite sound in the kitchen? The “hissssss” when something delicious hits a griddle pan. Chicken cutlet, chopped onion, a marinated mushroom — whatever it is, there’s something powerful and sensory about that sound. Food meets grill, a love story that ends with my full belly and awakened senses of smell, taste, sight, touch and sound.

The best way to awaken this sound and sensation, I think, is a humble one — the basic grilled sandwich. Some call it panini. Some call it grilled cheese. Some call it lunch. (That would include myself.) But in the end, it’s called delicious, and you can make one in myriad ways. Most versatile budget meal ever? It’s definitely in the running. Continue reading

Kitchen Tips and Budget Eats: Making a Menu and Using a Grocery List

6 Oct

Image sourced from themetapicture.com

This weekend, I — like many of you — will be heading to that mecca of munchies, that forum of food, that headquarters of hunger-quenching, the grocery store. (Did you like that one? I did, too. Hehe.) And while I love to head to my local Giant Grocery to stock my kitchen, pantry and fridge, I don’t love a recent trend: the steady, upward crawl of grocery prices.

Have you noticed this, too? Due to circumstances like the recent Midwestern drought, increased costs of shipping and/or production, and that pesky little inflation thing, food costs are continuing to rise in the U.S. (Granted, they’re still often lower than costs elsewhere in the world — Europe, I’m looking at you — but for us American consumers, it’s still noticeable.) Less rain = fewer harvested veggies = animal feed becomes more expensive = meat & dairy, inevitably, become more expensive. All this adds up to a bigger and bigger impact on your wallet every time you step through that produce section or frozen foods aisle.

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Budget Eats: All Your Salad Base Are Belong to Us.

30 Aug

I’m going to nerd myself out a little bit and link here to explain that ridiculous post title. Enjoy. Or just shake your head with a smile on your face. (Please?)

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There’s a rumor going around that fresh fruits and veggies are way too expensive for the average budget chef to afford. As a result, those of us with tighter wallets are preconditioned to believe that produce is out of our proverbial price range. (How’s that for alliteration? English teacher FTW.) Huge sad, indeed.

However! There’s always a balance to strike. First, frozen veggies are frozen at the height of their freshness, resulting in a solid alternative that’s slightly friendlier to one’s budget. Second, if you balance fresh and frozen produce, as well as focus on buying what’s in season (fun fact: apples are WAY more expensive if you feel like buying them in February), you can fill out your diet with the nutrients your body needs.

Note: For some quick info about which veggies are prime during which seasons, check out this link from the wise folks at Fruit & Veggies: More Matters.

With that in mind, I was inspired to write this Budget Eats post about one of my favorite meals: A great big, veggie-laden salad. The reasoning for that title, however, is two-fold: First, this IS a wallet-friendly way to nosh upon nutritional goodness in salad form. Second, this is a “base” recipe — a simple, tasty and aesthetically pleasing salad that you can top with any sort of protein and other fixins that you choose. I’ll have recommendations and tips posted below the recipe.

Simple Salad Base — Serves 1-2. (Easily multiplied for 3, 4, or more!)

You’ll need:

  • 1 cucumber
  • 5-10 baby carrots, or 1-2 large carrots, peeled
  • 2-3 roma tomatoes, or 1 large tomato
  • 1 “wild card” veggie of your choosing (green peppers, red onion, mushrooms), sliced or diced according to your preference
  • 1/4 a head of lettuce — I recommend Bibb, Romaine or Red Leaf.
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Chopped fresh herbs to garnish, if desired (basil and chives are muy delicioso)

Here’s what you do:

  • Prep your cucumbers: Peel if they’re waxed. Split the cucumber in half length-wise. Cut each length into half moon shapes, about 1/4 inch thick. (You can decoratively peel these, or run a fork down the sides of a peeled cuke for extra texture.)
  • Slice carrots on the diagonal, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
  • Slice tomatoes — if roma tomatoes, slice into small rounds (between 5 and 8 per tomato); if a larger tomato, cut into wedges.
  • Slice or dice additional veggies according to taste and preference. Add ALL veggies to your serving bowl, along with a sprinkling of salt, pepper & fresh herbs, if desired. Toss gently and set aside.
  • Wash lettuce leaves; dry using a paper towel or clean kitchen towel. (Wet greens + dressing = no dressing on your greens. Oil and vinegar are not friends.) Tear or chop gently into bite-size pieces. Add on TOP of your other veggies and refrigerate until ready to serve.

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  • When serving, toss the entire salad gently. Dress and top with additional toppings as desired. Nosh upon the veggie goodness.

Why place the lettuce on top and wait to toss? It keeps the lettuce from wilting under the weight and moisture of other veggies.

Fun toppings for Salads — Vegetarian:

  • Chick peas, crumbled feta, and Greek dressing
  • Grilled marinated tofu (see this post on tofu scrambles for tips on how to prepare the tofu), crispy wontons or Asian noodles, sliced oranges and Sesame or Ginger dressing.
  • Black beans, salsa, grilled corn, a sprinkle of cumin and chili powder, and Ranch dressing that’s been spiked with taco seasoning.
  • Ricotta Salata cheese (thicker, grate-able ricotta), vegetarian pepperoni (such as Smart Deli), pepperoncini peppers, and thick, crusty croutons.
  • Hard boiled eggs for a bacon-free cobb salad taste.

Fun Toppings for Salads — Meat Included

  • Grilled chicken, marinated with balsamic vinegar, lemon and rosemary; parmesan cheese; and a simple oil & vinegar dressing.
  • Thinly sliced grilled steak, grilled corn on the cob (sliced off the cob), and bleu cheese crumbles.
  • Canned salmon or tuna, mixed with mayo, dill & a drizzle of lemon juice to make salmon or tuna salad. (Add a few squirts of Sriracha chili sauce for extra oomph!)
  • Indian-inspired  Chicken salad — 1 diced cooked chicken breast, 1-2 tbsp mayo or Miracle Whip, chopped cashews, golden raisins, and curry powder to taste. Add sliced apples for extra crunch, and serve with grilled Naan bread.
  • Antipasto-style: cooked tortellini (spinach or cheese are great), sliced salami and prosciutto, small chunks or balls of melon, mozzarella cheese (shredded or cut into chunks), and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Serve with breadsticks and a lovely glass of Chianti.

Next time on Budget Eats (for real this time): How to make a big ol’ pot of stew, soup or chili and save / freeze individual portions. Happy eating!

Budget Eats: Scrambled Eggs Master Recipe with 3 Variations

27 Aug

You WILL make this! Scrambled Egg Fried Rice? Mmm!

One of my best friends from college is starting a new graduate program at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. (Shout-out to Laura, the woman who first introduced me to the wonders of kimchi. You are amazing – miss you so much!) She and I were chatting recently about the big move – how a Minnesota girl like her was going to adapt to a slower, Southern pace of life in Tennessee.

As we were chatting, she posed a question to me and to my blog: How can a grad student – or, really, any young professional who’s just starting out on a somewhat limited budget – afford to feed herself semi-nutritious food, using some prepared items (frozen foodstuffs, canned and dried goods, etc.) and some fresh ingredients? Are there tasty, filling recipes that suit this kind of budget and lifestyle? What’s a food-loving girl to do?

Determined to rise to the challenge, I’ve started writing and testing a Budget Meals series. I’ll post meal ideas with average pricing based on my market research, including tips for stretching a dollar, basic nutrition advice (hey, a girl’s gotta get those vitamins) and ideas for multipurpose cooking. (I.e. how can I creatively twist one recipe into 3 or 4 different dishes?)

Today’s topic: Scrambled Eggs, an easy master recipe that we’ll be converting into 3 different budget meals: Egg Panini, DIY Fried Rice, and Breakfast Burritos. How yummy does that sound?

Grocery List (prices according to Peapod.com)

  • 1 dozen eggs –  $1.93
  • 1 quart skim milk – $1.49
  • 1 loaf of wheat bread – $2.50
  • 1 pkg tortillas – $2.09
  • 1 pkg sliced deli cheese – $3.59
  • 1 jar salsa – $3.00
  • Produce (tomatoes, frozen veggies, carrots, 1 bag spinach) – $8.20

Total Cost (excluding condiments, oil/butter and spices): $22.28

How doable is that? 3 meals and then some, using these ingredients in 4 different recipes listed below. Check ‘em out. Happy eating and happy shopping, my budget-friendly friends!

Scrambled Eggs Master Recipe – serves 1 (easily doubled, tripled, quadrupled, etc.)

You’ll need:

  • 1 tsp oil or butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp milk
  • Salt, pepper & spices to taste

Here’s what you do:

  • In a small bowl, lightly beat together eggs, milk & spices. I recommend garlic powder, dill, or even some cumin.

Leggo my egg-o! Heh heh heh, I kill myself.

  • Heat oil or butter in a small sauté pan over medium-ish heat (4 or 5 on your stovetop). When the oil is hot, add the beaten egg mixture. Using a rubber spatula, stir egg mixture constantly, folding it over onto itself and “scrambling” the contents. Cook egg mixture this way until completely cooked through, about 1-2 minutes (Max.)

This will all happen …

… very, VERY quickly. I think about 1 minute elapsed between the previous pic and this one.

  • Use your rubber spatula to additional “chop up” or “scramble” the egg contents if any pieces are too large or chunky for your taste.

Variation One: Egg Panini – serves 1. This sandwich is a delicious way to use those scrambled eggs for lunch or dinner. Dried herbs – great to stock your budget pantry – really take this to the next level.

You’ll need:

  • 1 Master Scrambled Eggs Recipe
  • 2 slices Swiss, Cheddar or Provolone Cheese
  • 2-3 slices tomato
  • 3-5 basil leaves or baby spinach leaves (optional)
  • 1-2 tsp butter or margarine
  • 1 tsp dried oregano or basil
  • 2 slices bread (whole grain is great, but buy what you can afford)

Here’s what you do:

  • Butter both slices on one side; sprinkle the buttered slices with dried herbs. On one slice’s unbuttered side, stack one slice of cheese; basil or spinach leaves; scrambled eggs (spoon gently onto bread); tomatoes; and your final slice of cheese. Top with 2nd bread slice, buttered side out.
  • Heat 1 tsp oil in a small skillet over medium heat. When pan is hot, add sandwich. Cook until pan side is golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. Flip, and cook until other side is also golden brown. Remove from pan, slice along the diagonal, and serve.

Variation Two: DIY Fried Rice – This is great for using leftovers lurking in your fridge. It can also be as gourmet or as simple as you like.

This is you, adding soy sauce LIKE A BOSS.

You’ll need:

  • 1 Master Scrambled Eggs recipe
  • 1 cup cooked rice (type and grain are totally your choice)
  • ½ to 1 cup frozen or fresh veggies (I like broccoli, peas, and carrots)
  • ½ cup cooked meat (chicken, pork, beef), if desired. (Leftover pork chop or steak, perhaps?)
  • 1 tsp vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • Additional spices to taste (salt, pepper, garlic powder, red pepper flakes)

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat 1 tsp oil in a medium-sized sauté pan over medium-high heat (7-ish on your stove dial). When hot, add the rice and frozen vegetables. (If your veggies are fresh, cook them first for 5-7 minutes, or until cooked through to your liking.) Stir the mixture frequently for 3-5 minutes, or until all frozen veggies are warm and rice is heated and starting to brown.
  • Add scrambled eggs, cooked meat, and additional spices as desired. Continue stirring the fried rice frequently with rubber spatula; drizzle with 1 tbsp soy sauce, and continue cooking for another 3-5 minutes. Scoop the mixture into a large bowl, and enjoy.

Variation Three: Breakfast Burritos – This is as easy as it gets. Take a tortilla; fill it with scrambled eggs, deli cheese, salsa, and anything else you feel like adding (whatever’s in the fridge). Give it a quick nuke in the microwave to melt the cheese / reheat the eggs, roll it up Chipotle-style, and you’re off!

Next time in Budget Eats, we’ll talk about making a big batch of something economical – like vegetarian or turkey chili – and storing / freezing individual portions to eat throughout the week. Nom nom nom!

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Spaghetti Limone Parmeggiano

13 Jul

In an effort to keep learning and stay fresh with all things culinary, I’ve been trying out recipes from Gwyneth Paltrow’s semi-new cookbook, My Father’s Daughter. Gwyneth’s become something of a self-taught chef over the years, learning from her parents, her Spanish “mama” (she studied abroad there as a youngster), and her own explorations of good, healthful food. Many of the recipes are vegetarian or vegan, but others are comfortably adapted to a more traditional diet. (Though she does use duck bacon, which I’ve never tried … any of you?)

image sourced from wgu.edu.

[And yes, by using her first name, I can pretend we’re friends. I’m also babysitting Moses and Apple after school next week while Gwynnie’s at a bikram yoga class. Tee hee. In my defense, I saw her at a movie premiere in London once! Check out my not-so-clear shot below.]

This might have been a banquet for The Prince’s Trust. Either way, this is, by far, the closest I have ever been to an actual, real live “famous person.”

 While the book is filled with fun and healthy recipes, my FAVORITE is her Spaghetti Limone Parmeggiano. It’s simple, elegant, and oh-so delicious. For those of us in the “learning” process of cooking, this is an easy recipe to master.

Note: All credit here goes to Ms. Paltrow, her book and her impeccable taste. I’ve tried to rewrite the directions in my own words, but the method is the same. If I’ve changed anything ingredients-wise, it’s noted in parentheses below.

Spaghetti Limone Parmeggiano – serves 4

You’ll need:

  • 1 lb spaghetti (Up from Gwyneth’s ¾ lb; I’ve also used shells, penne or other types of pasta)
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 ½ cups grated Parmesan cheese (or a mixture of Parmesan and Romano; that extra bite is nice!)
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • A pinch of salt
  • 2 ½ tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-5 tbsp pasta water (easily eyeballed)
  • A handful of fresh basil leaves (or 1-2 tsp dried, crushed to release essential oils)

Here’s what you do:

  1. Fill a pasta pot with water, and heat on high until boiling. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, grate the lemon zest into a serving bowl. Then, cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the same bowl. Add your Parmesan, pepper, and salt, mixing together with your olive oil to form something of a lemony “pesto.”
  3. When the spaghetti is cooked through, add some of the pasta water to your “sauce.” Add the pasta and toss thoroughly until everything is well-coated. If needed, add a bit more pasta water to keep things from getting too sticky. Tear your basil leaves by hand, stirring them into your pasta.
  4. As Gwyneth says, “serve each portion with a sprinkle of coarse salt, a fresh grind of black pepper, and a few gratings of extra Parmesan.”

So. Hilariously. Easy. And so, SO good. If you’re looking for some additional protein, this dish is delicious when served with grilled or sautéed chicken, particularly if said chicken has something of a lemon-based or Italian-style marinade. Add a green salad and some crusty bread, and you’re well on your way to being besties with Gwyneth – or, at least, imagining you are.

I also highly recommend My Father’s Daughter – I’m slowly cooking my way through (more recipes on the way), and it’s a great resource for all of us self-taught chefs. Enjoy!

Here, Chickie Chickie: Rotisserie Chicken 101

22 Jun

What a beaut.

Yes, I recently had a conversation with my rotisserie chicken. No, it didn’t involve hallucinogenics (other than the trance I was in after smelling its tasty, chickeny goodness after returning from the store. Hot dang, that scent is to die for).

Instead, it involved me drooling over the possibilities of using a $7.50 rotisserie chicken for four meals.

Yup, you read that right — we’re going to get four different meals (granted, that’s for two people) out of one chicken. That puts, arguably, the cost per meal per person at approximately $0.93. Well, in terms of protein. I think my budget can handle that!

Today’s post will focus on how to break up your rotisserie chicken into meat (and bones!) that you can use for multiple meals, as well as (eventually) a delicious pot of chicken stock for soups, flavorings and more. Some easy steps to follow:

  1. Cut the string tying your chicken’s wings / legs back, and dispose of it. You can also easily use the container’s plastic lid to hold your chicken pieces. (I recommend tucking the bare bones straight into a heavy-duty, freezer-friendly Ziploc, where you can store them until you’re ready to make stock.)
  2. Cut the breast pieces first — this is similar to carving a turkey. Simply slice down the center bone, then make a deep perpendicular cut along the side of the breast. Afterward, you can remove the whole breast, or easily shred it into strips / pieces.

Slicing along the center bone.

Perpendicular slice along the side of the breast.

Removing the breast from the carcass. Noshy goodness ensues.

3.  Begin shredding / tearing the pieces by hand. Keep collecting your strips of shredded chicken in the plastic rotisserie lid, and shred,         baby, shred. You should end up with meat for cooking at least 3-4 dinners for two. I usually discard the skin (the meat’s got the flavor, and skin adds unnecessary fat), but have no qualms with as much dark meat as I can possibly get. As you attack each bone and section, add the bones to your “Stock-to-Be” bag.

Shredding — and not with an electric guitar.

From this point on, you can choose to either freeze the entire bag of meat, or freeze the meat in individual, meal-size portions. That way, you’ll only thaw as much as you need, and your chicken doesn’t have to through a Han Solo cycle of freeze-unfreeze-freeze-unfreeze. (A surefire way to get semi-nasty gray-ish chicken. If you’re into that inside-of-a-McNugget sort of thing, then by all means, play Frankenstein as often as possible.)

I’ll continue with a series of posts on meals using the rotisserie chicken meat. A sneak preview: A Chef’s Salad, Chipotle-Lime Chicken Quesadillas, and Seriously-From-Scratch Chicken and Mushroom Pizza. (And, eventually, Homemade Soup Stock.) Get excited!