Posts filed under ‘food’

Local Farms, CSAs and a Few Favorite New Recipes

raspberries

A few weeks ago I packed my little guy into the car and headed out to a local farm that allows customers to pick their own produce. There are a couple of farms that are closer to our house, but they primarily grow apples and pumpkins. The farm I chose isn’t exactly around the corner, (thanks to an unexpected detour it took us just over an hour to reach the fields), but they have a huge variety of produce available. We picked spinach, beets, apples, raspberries and swiss chard. I should’ve stopped at the broccoli patch too, but by the time we picked the raspberries, (which was a little more labor intensive then the other fruits and veggies), the little guy was itching for a nap.

Unfortunately I lost track of just how much money I spent. I paid primarily in cash in order to save the farm unnecessary credit card fees and I didn’t keep track of all of the receipts I was handed. I can tell you that I came home with a giant bag of spinach for only $5. It was nearly the height of my son and my two year old is in the 99th percentile for height!

There were a lot of people picking pounds and pounds of apples. My son and I just picked a handful. I went more for the experience then the produce. I wanted my son to physically pull an apple from a tree or pull spinach out of the ground. I think he liked picking beets the best. You look down and see nothing but green stems, but then yank just a bit and out pops that beautiful wine colored beet. He kept shouting “more bee”, “more bee”.

I used the beets, spinach and swiss chard in my morning juice and we ate the raspberries and apples for snacks. I’ve never savored a raspberry as much as I did after spending thirty minutes picking them. That’s for sure!

As luck would have it my mother-in-law has also been providing us with a variety of fruits and veggies from a local CSA. We received broccoli, carrots, assorted peppers, tomatoes and escarole. I now see the value in CSAs. Not only do you get the satisfaction of purchasing from local farmers, but you also get a chance to tickle your culinary senses.

Each time I receive a bundle of veggies I search the Internet for delicious recipes. Yesterday I made a ridiculously tasty broccoli and cheese soup. It is quite possibly one of the most delicious recipes I’ve ever prepared. I also used the tomatoes in this fresh tomato soup. (For the record I used a very small amount of black pepper. The recipe calls for quite a bit.) I’m a bit stumped on the escarole, but I’m contemplating this dish and plan to substitute it for spinach. If anyone has recommendations for escarole feel free to leave me a comment below!

I tried a couple of new recipes last week and wanted to include them in this post. This chipotle cashew chicken was such a hit in our house my husband asked me to add it to our recipe book. That book, which he made by hand for me one Christmas, includes only the most beloved dishes. I also prepared this tortilla soup a few nights after, which was pretty tasty.

My son has been taking two hour naps, which gives me plenty of time to chop, cook and stir while he sleeps. The house smells so unbelievably aromatic and inviting and sometimes when I take the food off the stove I can’t believe how good it tastes. I guess I still don’t trust my cooking instincts.

October 14, 2013 at 4:31 PM Leave a comment

How Decadent Chocolates Are Helping Me

Chocolate

Photo Credit: Godiva.com

I lost all of my baby weight after my son was born, but over time an extra five to ten pounds has crept back onto my body. According to the height-weight projections I could easily stand to lose at least fifteen pounds, possibly twenty. It turns out I had a little extra junk in the trunk before I got pregnant.

I’ve been focusing on removing needless calories from my diet. I started juicing in the morning and fixing myself some form of protein, typically scrambled eggs. I also place vegetables on the top shelf of the refrigerator and clean all of my produce when I come home. That way it’s staring at me, clean and ready to be eaten. I literally have to move them out of the way to get through the rest of the fridge.

Overall I think I’m eating really well. I’ve cleared the cupboards of processed, packaged foods. I don’t feed these to my son so I decided not to feed them to myself either. I’m not perfect. I indulged in a bag of chips at Subway this weekend and still cook recipes on occasion that require heavy cream. It’s all about moderation not deprivation anyway.

My biggest downfall right now is my love of sweets. I think I inherited that trait from my mom who can’t seem to make a bag of candy last longer than a couple of days. I crave those tasty, sweet morsels of pleasure. My favorite indulgence is a bowl of dutch chocolate ice-cream smothered in chocolate syrup, whipped cream and sprinkled with M&Ms. Oh yeah that’s where that extra ten pounds probably came from.

In an effort to cut back on sweets I did something quite counter-intuitive. I bought an expensive bag of dark chocolate covered cashews. At first I was worried that I would eat the entire bag in one sitting, but for some reason I’m able to eat just one or two and feel completely satisfied. Okay, if they are really tiny nuts I might need three or four. The deeper grade of chocolate makes the experience seem much more rich and decadent. I savor the pieces because I know they are expensive, but they are also so tasty they make me want to savor them more.

I can’t say whether or not this technique will work in the long run, but for now it’s helping to fulfill the need for something sweet. I’m not foregoing ice-cream all together but I am limiting the number of times per week that I allow myself a bowl.

I’m also spending a lot less money on sweets. While the organic, dark chocolate covered cashews are expensive I’m eating very few of them. In fact, this bag has lasted me three weeks already.

Do you have tricks for avoiding the foods you shouldn’t eat but love?

September 24, 2013 at 6:42 PM 4 comments

A Little Upfront Preparation Makes Cooking So Much Faster

Chicken

(Bags of sliced and chopped chicken ready for the freezer)

These days I purchase a lot of organic ingredients. I don’t know if it’ll make a difference in our health in the long run, but it’s one area of our finances I’m not willing to cut back on. I typically purchase meat and poultry from antibiotic-free, growth-hormone free animals that have been fed a vegetarian diet. At our local grocery store these items cost $2 to $3 more per pound than the alternative.

In order to save a little money I typically stock up on meat and poultry whenever they are on sale. This often means purchasing 10 to 12 packs of chicken and storing it in our upright freezer in the basement.

Of course, we don’t eat 10 to 12 packs of chicken quickly. I can often stretch one pack out for two meals and we don’t eat poultry every night for dinner. That means some of the chicken sits in the freezer for a bit and from time to time I’ve noticed that the edges begin to suffer from freezer burn.

In an effort to save our chicken from damage I decided to pull out my trusty FoodSaver. A device my mom every so kindly purchased for me for Christmas a few years ago. At first I just planned to transfer the contents of each package into a freezer bag, but then I realized it would be easier in the long run if I cut off any excess skin and sliced or chopped the chicken.

On a good day my husband will help me cut, bag and seal and in a little over 30 minutes we can process all of the chicken. The best part of this upfront preparation is that the chicken is all ready to go when I make dinner.

If the chicken is chopped I can easily throw it into the pan to make curry, tikka masala, orange chicken or any number of other recipes that I typically make and serve over rice. If the chicken is sliced I can use it to make chicken sandwiches, throw in a quick marinade or make any number of other meals that require a full chicken breast. The best part of pre-slicing, is that the chicken takes a lot less time to cook, which means my son and I can spend more time at the playground and less time in the kitchen.

I’m always looking for ways to speed up meal preparation. While my little guy is an exceptionally well behaved child, (I credit genetics more than parenting), it’s still hard to cook a meal with him underfoot. One of the toughest parts of cooking is keeping my hands clean so I can help him when the need arises. Of course, he inevitably seems to need me every time I begin the process of cutting up chicken. With this new technique I don’t have to cut up chicken on the night I prepare it.

Freezing this way also diminishes the overall time for thawing. After we seal the bags with the FoodSaver we flatten the contents. The thinner the bag the less time it takes to thaw, which is an added bonus of cutting it up so far in advance.

Over the years I’ve learned quite a few techniques to help speed up the process of making dinner, but I think this new technique may well be my favorite. I hate the smell of raw chicken and I love the idea of cutting it well in advance of cooking it.

Do you have any tricks for making meal preparation faster or easier?

September 22, 2013 at 5:25 PM 4 comments

Juicing, Is It Worth It?

Juice

For my birthday I asked for a juicer. So far there are parts of juicing I like and parts I don’t.

Let’s start with the good. I typically use fruit that is somewhat past it’s prime. If I have a bunch of spinach in the produce drawer that is too wilted to eat, I throw it in the juicer. Instead of throwing away that core of a pineapple, I toss it in. Strawberry tops, peaches with lots of bruises, cantaloupe that’s turned a bit sour, all go into the machine. I feel like I’m wasting less of over-ripened fruit and vegetables when I juice. A lot of these things would naturally end up in the garbage, but thanks to the juicer I get to enjoy them.

I’m also ingesting a lot more vegetables. Spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, carrots and beets all go into the juicer. Mix them with a few sweet fruits and you end up with a drink that is surprisingly tasty.

My son, who is just shy of two years old, loves when I juice. He stands on a stool at the counter and shouts “apple, apple, apple” and tries to say the words for all of the other fruits and vegetables that make our morning drink. The first few times I made a new concoction he showed little interesting in drinking it, but nowadays I have to wrestle him for a sip.

Now for the not so good. Every time I use fresh produce I feel like I’m wasting quite a lot of it. The apple skins are shredded by the machine and discarded along with the fiber from healthy fruits and vegetables. I scoop out at least a cup’s worth of pulp every morning. It would be a whole lot healthier to eat more whole fruits and vegetables, but of course it wouldn’t be as convenient. I’ve read about people who use the pulp in muffins and other baked goods, but if I’m not particularly interested in doing that.

It’s also quite expensive to make juice. It takes quite a few fruits and vegetables to make one glass. I buy all organic produce, which is typically quite a bit more expensive than the non-organic variety. I haven’t added up my costs for a week’s worth of juice, but I plan to take careful note at the grocery store next week. Just how much produce does it take and how much is each glass costing me?

Also, it takes at least five minutes to clean the juicer after making juice. I asked for a low end model, a pricier one might be easier, but it’s certainly not a five minute task. By the time I wash the produce, cut it to fit into the juicer and clean the machine I’m probably looking at ten minutes worth of time. That’s not a significant amount, and my son loves watching and helping, but it’s sure not quick either.

I’d love to hear from anyone who uses a juicer or anyone who has considered using one. What do you think of it?

September 17, 2013 at 4:58 PM 6 comments

The Biggest Grocery Bill of My Life

Grilling

We’re on vacation this week and trying something a little different. Rather than preparing grilled chicken and burgers almost every night for dinner I’ve picked out a bunch of favorite recipes. By the end of the night we all want to hang out, drink beer and relax, so rather than standing around grilling we’ve decided to take a casserole based approach. We’ll try to make a few meals in advance and throw them in the oven just before dinner time.

The goal is to to enjoy our time together as a family and to keep our toddler happy. Standing around while daddy’s grilling isn’t usually high on the list of activities our son enjoys. We tried something similar back in July and enjoyed a bunch of delicious meals.

I expected our grocery bill to be higher than normal. It’s inevitable to pay more when you’re feeding eight people rather than two and a toddler. Our bills at the beach are always the highest of the year, but as we filled the cart with fruits, vegetables and lots of staples we didn’t already have on hand like chicken stock, butter and cheese I knew we would top the scales.

When we literally ran out of room in the cart I knew we were in for a big bill. At home I stock up on staples like poultry, ground beef, butter, sour cream, chicken stock and spices when they go on sale, so a typical trip to the grocery store consists primarily of picking up dairy and vegetables.

Of course since we don’t have any of those staples on hand we needed to buy each and every ingredient needed for our recipes. And of course that meant that most of the ingredients on our list were not on sale.

If I had a little more foresight I could have foraged our pantry for a bunch of these ingredients before I ever left home. There are so many tricks for saving money on food while on vacation and somehow or another I ignored all of my own best advice.

We purchase more expensive ingredients these days as I tend to buy organic whenever possible. In the standard grocery store these products can cost double to triple the price of the non-organic version. The issue of buying organic used to be a big question for me, but it’s now my standard operating procedure to buy it. Especially if it’s food my son will consume.

As I listened to the register beep and the food move down the line I didn’t look at the monitor. My husband guessed that a $400 bill was in our future. We had almost no coupons for the food we purchased and almost nothing we bought was on sale.

By the time all was said and done we filled two carts and paid over $430. I shouted ‘holy mackral’ when the total flashed on the monitor. The kind cashier pointed out that $400 would typically pay for only one or two dinners at a restaurant for the same number of people, which did make me feel slightly better.

We bought enough food to prepare about a week’s worth of meals and to feed eight people and a toddler. Here’s to hoping this is some tasty grub!

August 27, 2013 at 8:57 AM 4 comments

What’s for Dinner? Finding Inspiration.

Red Pepper Pasta

Photo Credit: Pioneer Woman

I seem to go in waves with cooking. One week I find a ton of recipes that inspire me to buy vegetables and defrost meats and poultry and the next I’m ready to call for a pizza.

I was in desperate need of a trip to the grocery store earlier this week, but couldn’t seem to find the time between play dates and nap schedules to make it happen. On Tuesday I searched through the fruit and vegetable bin and created an unbelievably tasty mango curry dish from a hodge-podge of random ingredients.

I’m feeling a bit more confident about my ability to whip up dinner without a recipe. I added a pinch of cayenne and a tablespoon or two of curry. Salted and peppered along the way and added a bit of pineapple preserves for sweetness. I don’t think it was the best thing I’ve ever made, but my husband said it was delicious. To be honest I think he was happy I wasn’t feeding him buffalo chicken (my default dinner) or leftovers.

Yesterday I had the brilliant idea of asking our fourteen year old neighbor to watch my son while I ran out for groceries. It’s the first time I’ve ever left him with anyone other than family, but the truth is it needed to be done sometime, and yesterday was as good a day as any other.

Before heading out I searched the internet for inspiration and found the following recipes:

Since I wanted to minimize my time out of the house I created a list broken down by aisle. I swear I’ve never moved through the store with such purpose before. Of course, my son was perfectly happy when I arrived home an hour later.

I gathered up my ingredients and plan to prepare my first recipe this evening. I’m looking forward to trying something new.

Do you get bored with cooking? Where do you search for inspiration?

August 1, 2013 at 4:51 PM Leave a comment

Do You Tip for Takeout?

money

My parents came over on Saturday to hang out with us for a bit. When dinner time approached we decided to order from a chain restaurant that is just a few minutes away from my home.

I logged onto the restaurant’s website and placed my order, which included a meal for each of us, four in total. The meals were relatively straight forward, no ridiculous instructions or special details.

When I arrived at the restaurant the spaces for carry out were all occupied so I parked a few spaces away and walked inside. My order wasn’t ready yet, so I waited in a cramped little space until it was complete.

While I was waiting the cashier offered to let me pay in advance. I handed over a $5 coupon and two gift cards, which my parents generally used to pay for our meal.

As the cashier handed me the receipt she said, “make sure you fill out all three lines.” The three lines included tip, total and signature. I crossed out the line for tip, wrote in the total and signed it. When I handed it back the cashier was visibly disgruntled.

Had I called in my order or waited in my car for someone to bring it out to me I would have tipped, but given the fact that I ordered online and went inside to pick up my food I didn’t think a tip was necessary. The cashier clearly thought otherwise.

I know someone had to cook my order and bag it, but is that really worthy of requiring a tip? As I stood there waiting for my food I wondered if most people would tip in this circumstance.

Do you tip when ordering carry out? If you placed your order online and went inside to pick it up do you think you should be expected to tip?

July 21, 2013 at 8:23 PM 10 comments

Hits & Misses – Cooking While on Vacation

My husband and I spent a week at the beach and only ordered dinner out one time. We had subs and chicken wings delivered on the very first night of our vacation. We were extremely tired from driving and unpacking and settled for delivery, but the food was definitely not worth the $40 price tag.The chicken wings were so terrible we both ate one and threw the rest in the garbage. The subs were cold and subpar.

From that moment on I decided to prepare the rest of our meals. I enjoy cooking and I find that most of the time my meals taste just as good if not better than the stuff I order when we go out. Plus, with an active 20 month old running around it’s difficult to enjoy a quiet evening in a restaurant.

I searched for a few recipes and went to the store in search of ingredients. The grocery bill totaled $250, but that included food for breakfast, lunch and dinner for seven days.

The best meal of the week was crunchy coconut chicken fingers with mango dipping sauce. The sauce was blended until smooth and consisted of the following ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 1 fresh mango chopped
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • pinch of curry powder
  • 8 drops of Sriracha sauce
  • Juice from 1/2 of a large lemon (probably a tablespoon’s worth)

I also prepared these curry chicken wraps earlier in the week. I’ve prepared these a couple of times, because my son absolutely loves the flavor. He’s not a meat or poultry fan, (he tends to prefer fruits and veggies), but for some reason he gobbles this down.

One night my husband and I prepared pizza using canned sauce and pizza dough purchased from Harris Teeter. We weren’t the best at figuring out how to flatten out the dough, (I definitely need to watch some YouTube videos), but in the end we managed to make it work. I had a good time making the pies despite our lack of talent. We covered them with a combination of provolone and mozzarella and experimented with three pizzas by making crusts of different thicknesses and various amounts of sauce and cheese. When we were finished my husband decided he liked the less crispy pizza while I preferred the one with almost no sauce and lots of cheese.

One night we prepared Harris Teeter prepared burgers. I bought the sweet onion and cheese version which is always delicious. We boiled sweet corn and cooked a few leftover potatoes from the night before.

I also enjoyed the chicken fajitas we prepared on the very last night of vacation. This may have been my favorite night, since my husband actually chopped the chicken and all of the vegetables.

My only miss was a new recipe I tried for sloppy joes. These were edible, but definitely not something I would make again. I’m not really a fan of sloppy joes, but thought this spin on them, might change my mind. I was wrong. No matter how you dress them up I really don’t like them!

I really do enjoy cooking and didn’t mind making meals while we were on vacation. One day I did miss the sun, as I stayed inside to cook, and it rained the minute I finished and walked outside, but otherwise it was actually quite nice way to wind down the evening.

How about you? Do you ever stay home and cook when you are on vacation?

July 15, 2013 at 3:56 PM 1 comment

A Little Bit of This a Little Bit of That

This is one of those random hodge-podge posts. You know the kind where you start writing about one thing and quickly find yourself thinking about another, so rather than breaking them up you toss them all into the same post and call it a day.

It seems 2013 has continued right where 2012 left off. In the year of let’s see if every appliance in our house can unexpectedly break. We started off last week with a broken garbage disposal. An $89 fix, which took the plumber all of two minutes to fix and a broken laptop display on my MacBook Pro. We also need an entirely new air conditioning unit and exchanger at our beach house in North Carolina. That will add a hefty $9000 to this year’s maintenance bills.

After dealing with power outages over the last few years my husband decided to throw in the towel and order a generator. I was already to move to a new house with underground power lines, but alas that doesn’t appear to be in the cards for me. In order to install a generator we required a new meter from Washington Gas, a new pipe that can support the pressure required by the generator and, of course, a new generator. We had three quarters of the work completed last week. My son managed to sleep through the sound of men drilling holes into cement, but somehow wakes when he hears the floorboards outside of his bedroom creak. I’ll never understand how that’s possible.

This weekend my husband and I spent a good two or three hours in the kitchen cooking up new recipes. I’m always hesitant to try new meals because you never know if you’ll like the flavors once everything melds together. I always tweak the recipes ever so slightly based on ingredients we have on hand, for example I skipped the mint in the wrap recipe because I didn’t have any. I’m happy to say that everything we prepared turned out pretty tasty.

Here are links to the three recipes we tried:

—-

Lastly my husband and I are hiring a babysitter for the very first time. Up until now a family member has always been available to watch my son. I have absolutely no idea how much to pay a 14 year old. If it makes any difference my son will be asleep the entire time.

January 21, 2013 at 6:45 PM Leave a comment

The Legacy We Leave Behind

A few weeks ago The Frugal Girl wrote a whole post describing the new ladle she purchased. Now if you are really into kitchen gear you might be excited to read about soup ladles. That wasn’t the case for me. It wasn’t the soup ladle that interested me, it was the thought process she went through when deciding which one to buy.

It seems The Frugal Girl is now focusing on purchasing heirloom quality goods. As I read her post I wondered, “how many times do I buy a quality item over a cheaper alternative and how often do I think about one of my purchases lasting beyond me?” I have to admit that I’ve never thought much about it before. In fact, I often comment that my grandmother is lucky to have so many quality items to pass down. Toys from her youth that still function and cut glass that is as beautiful today as the day it was made. Our generation seems to have nothing to show for it. Our stuff all seems to land in a heap at the junk yard.

So when I wrote my birthday list this year I created it with heirloom quality products in mind. I want to buy things that my son can continue to use long after I’m gone. Things that his children, (if he chooses to have children), can use well beyond him.

For my birthday, instead of asking for a bunch of things of lesser quality I asked for one beautiful, ocean blue, 8 quart Le Creuset dutch oven.  While the pot retails for as much as $500 I found a great sale at Bloomingdale’s that offered it for nearly half that price. I would rather have everyone pull their money together for one legacy gift than to receive a bunch of gifts that will end up in the landfill.


Over the years my husband and I have grown to love cooking together and I know that unbelievable aromas and delicious meals will be cooked in this pot for years and years to come. Right now my son plays in his highchair while my husband and I chop vegetables and simmer sauces, but eventually he will join us in measuring and stirring ingredients. One day he may even use this pot to cook his favorite meals.

I love the idea that this pot will last for generations and that one day it may sit on the stove in his own home.  He can sing songs, dance around the kitchen and make meals with his family. Just like my husband and I do with him.

Here is a picture of my pot. Beautiful, isn’t she?

Now the minute I told my mom my idea for buying legacy products she said, “I don’t know. I think you’ll worry a lot more about breaking things along the way. What if you place the wrong burner on and burn the bottom of the pot? What if you chip it as you move it in and out of storage? Maybe it’s best that things are more disposable these days, then you don’t have to worry about them.”

It’s an interesting point. So what do you think? Do you try to purchase legacy items and if so do you find yourself worried about taking care of them?

September 16, 2012 at 9:00 PM 7 comments

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