Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Shop Smart

I always have Wednesdays off right now, so that is when I do my big grocery shopping trips. I do plan these out in order to be as efficient and economical as possible. Getting good meals on the table during the rest of the week begins with a well-planned grocery trip. The ingredients you need for recipes do not just magically appear in the pantry (though I wish they would! Actually, right now, I just wish I had a pantry).

Right now, I have three kinds of grocery shopping events: the weekly trip to the farmer's market for produce, quick runs to the grocery store for things that need frequent refilling (milk, eggs, yogurt, that occasional last-minute ingredient, things on sale at Reasor's), and major multi-store expeditions. Let me break down the latter according to last week's grand tour:

At Sam's Club I stock up on things we use a lot of (you'd be surprised how fast two people can go through 36 eggs) and that last a long time (canned and frozen food and paper goods).This trip I got a case of IBC root beer, some chicken bouillon, a big thing of garlic powder (really this is for the dogs, actually), a case of hot dogs (for dog treats), frozen mango chunks, and frozen green beans. I also gave in and got the Fall Entertaining issue of Cook's Illustrated. Altogehter: $40.22. Unfortunately, someone forgot to mention he had used all the sugar, so I had to run back for some ($5.90), which brings the total up to $46.12.

The WalMart grocery store is where I go for most items I need in smaller amounts or that aren't available at Sam's Club. For instance, I have nowhere to put fifty pounds of flour even if I could use it in a reasonable amount of time, so that comes from WalMart, where it's cheapest. Sometimes I'll also go to Reasor's, one of the area grocery chains. They have a bigger selection than WalMart, and some items (namely popcorn for my air popper and my favorite tea) are cheaper. I'll also get stuff on sale here when I find a good deal. If I'm just picking up some things I need, there's a Reasor's right by my gym, so I go there to be quicker.

This time I just hit WalMart, where I snagged some pork chops on clearance (use of freeze by the next day), beef liver for dog treats, ginger snaps for a recipe I'm planning on making soon, three pounds of yellow onions, and some ginger root for a total of $16.34.

Whole Foods is a dangerous stop, because I tend to end up buying more fancy cheese, sweet potato chips, and random bulk items than I need. I can get things here I can't find elsewhere, though, and some items are actually cheaper here than at the other grocery stores. Greek yogurt is about 20 cents cheaper than at Reasor's (WalMart doesn't carry it), and the bulk spices are a super great deal, especially if you're looking for something more exotic, like cardamom pods, and/or only want a small amount. This time I got some Greek yogurts, pumpkin seeds for the Darling Devoted Husband, cardamom pods, garam masala, thick cut oats, sweet potato tortilla chips, and a block of chocolate for a grand total of $20.41.

The final store in my repertoire is Braum's, because they have Chocolate Malt Ball ice cream. Two of these and a carton of vanilla set me back $9.77.

The trick is to limit things that are just snacks and resist impulse buys. The DDH and I have agreed to keeping root beer and ice cream around as regular treats; then, on a big grocery run, I'll get maybe one other treat for each of us--this time, sweet potato chips and pumpkin seeds. The pork was an impulse buy, but I tend to buy meat that way--when I see it on sale or otherwise really cheap (some chicken and hamburger were snagged at Reasor's yesterday for the same reasons). We ate some of the chops that evening and I froze the rest for later use. Other than that, only the magazine wasn't on my list, so I was pretty successful this time.

The other shopping rule I use is only buying things (as much as possible) that I can get multiple uses for. This doesn't work for everything (one cup of yogurt can either be eaten or used in a smoothie, but either way it's just one serving), but is true of most things on the list. Oatmeal, for instance, I use for eating and baking; I have several recipes that call for the spices I bought. This rule requires direct coordination with the quantity vs. longevity rule. I will eventually use the ginormous bag of frozen green beans--and, frozen, they'll last long enough for me to use them. I bought the cardamom pods and garam masala in bulk so that I could only take a little, since I'm unlikely to use an entire large bottle before it goes stale (also, they were cheaper per ounce that way). I could have bought ten pounds of onions at Sam's Club instead of three pounds at WalMart, but I don't use enough onion for two people to be sure some wouldn't go bad.

It can be a lot of work at first to juggle all these considerations, but it's worth it. Otherwise, you end up with shopping trips like those of the DDH. Sent to the store for eggs, he comes home with: eggs, as requested, a twelve-pack of giant muffins, a big summer sausage stick, and five books of stamps. The eggs were $2.85 plus tax. He spent $62.30. I'm not saying I didn't eat the muffins, and admittedly we won't need to buy stamps for a year, but obviously one can't do this every time. Managing a kitchen on a budget first means shopping smart.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Amish Friendship Bread

At an Alpha Phi Omega staff retreat a few weeks ago, the Darling Devoted Husband received a starter for Amish Friendship Bread. Since then, we've made two batches, with another due to be made today. I'm sure one could figure out what it's actually made of without too much trouble; probably pretty much yeast, flour, sugar, and milk. The DDH loves it, though, and the first one came due to be baked while I was out of town, so it's something he can do on his own, which always makes him proud.

Here's what we do:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees:

You start with the bag of starter: 

which you mush every day and feed every five days. On the tenth day, you follow the instructions to make more starters and bake some bread. In a large mixing bowl, add to the starter:
equal parts flour:
and milk:
Stir until combined (it says not to use metal spoons or metal mixing bowls, I'm not sure why):
Make your new starters by scooping one cup of batter into each of four gallon-size ziploc bags:
Three are to give away and one is to keep for the next batch:
To the remaining batter in the bowl, add three eggs:
more milk:
cinnamon, baking soda, and baking powder:
more flour:
Then stir until combined:
Butter two loaf pans:
 Mix together some cinnamon and sugar and coat the loaf pans with it, turning and shaking so it coats all sides and the bottom:
Put half the batter in each pan:
And sprinkle more cinnamon sugar on top:
Then bake. Obviously, it's really sweet bread and sort of more appropriate for dessert than anything else, but we eat it with breakfast. The DDH just loves it, and he's giving out all the starters to his friends and coworkers, which is cute. Eventually we will be overrun, however. Luckily, the starter can be frozen for future use when we (and our friends) get too sick of it. Also, Wikipedia claims the starter can be used to make other sorts of breads, too, which I need to investigate. For now, though, it's just for fun!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chicken Breakfast Quesadilla

Sometime I'll post about one of the Darling Devoted Husband's and my favorite quick, lazy meals: chicken quesadillas. Suffice it to say, it's pretty much like this only without the eggs.

Heat a can of chicken in a skillet, seasoning with cumin, cayenne, and a dash of cinnamon:

Add two eggs:
Add vegetables to taste. I like tomatoes, jalapenos are also good; whatever you like:
Butter one side each of two tortillas:
When the egg of the filling is completely cooked, remove from skillet and set aside (or you can do the next steps in a separate skillet). Place one tortilla, butter side down, in the skillet. Add grated cheese to taste (cheddar and colby jack are both good; I suppose if you like it, pepper jack cheese would also work):
 Add filling:
 Add more cheese, if desired:
Place second tortilla, butter side up, on top:
Let cook until browned, two or three minutes, then flip:
 Let second side browned, then remove and serve:
 So delicious! It doesn't remotely qualify as a healthy meal, but it's fast, cheap, easy, and delightfully delectable. The DDH made this for breakfast the other day; if he's in charge of dinner, we're likely to get nachos or the egg-less version of this. I buy packs of cans of chicken at Sam's Club so we normally have it on hand; tortillas, eggs, and cheese are staples in our house, and I toss in whatever reasonable vegetables I have on hand, so it's a good emergency meal for us.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Green Beans With Almonds

This is something I do to add substance to one of my go-to sides: green beans. It doesn't take any longer than heating them up plain. Sometimes I'll eat just these for lunch, if I'm in a green sort of mood.
You can use fresh or frozen green beans; I usually do this when I have fresh, though, because they tend to have a better texture against the almonds. If using fresh, rinse them off:
cut off the ends, and chop into roughly 1-inch pieces (so they look like the frozen ones you get):
Stick them in the microwave and cook, stirring every 3 minutes or so, until hot all the way through and tender (tenderish, if they're fresh, or to taste, I suppose). For doing a large bunch like this I stick them in a Tupperware microwave thing that's basically a colander with a lid that nests with a bowl, to which I add water. A smaller amount of frozen ones will steam in their own ice melt; to a larger bunch of fresh or frozen you can add water directly to the covered microwaveable container you heat them in.
Meanwhile, heat some butter in a skillet:
 Add slivered or sliced or chopped or whatever you have lying around almonds:
 And cook until browned:
Add almonds to green beans, toss, and serve:
Delicious! Fast, easy, cheap, healthy, goes with practically anything: everything you could want from a side dish--and so much more. ^_~

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Chocolate Bavarian Cream, or, the DDH Cooks

As promised, here is the recipe for the chocolate Bavarian cream the Darling Devoted Husband was inspired to make on Sunday. We took this recipe we found online and added chocolate to it. Luckily, it turned out ok!
In a small bowl, stir together 2 Tbs. unflavored gelatin (you can find this near the Jell-O at the supermarket) and 1/2 cup cold water. Set aside to soften:

Separate four egg yolks from the whites. The DDH was intimidated by this idea, but it's really very simple. Over a bowl or the sink, crack an egg and pour it into your hand:
Part of the white will fall away; pass the yolk carefully back and forth from hand to hand and the rest of the white will slip off. You'll feel it detach from the yolk and fall away. It's pretty cool. If the recipe calls for yolks and not whites, I save the egg whites to cook and eat for breakfast. Egg whites are high in protein, but the yolk of the egg contains pretty much all the cholesterol, so it's a somewhat healthier way to eat eggs. Of course, the yolk also contains pretty much all the flavor, so you may wish to season your whites differently than a whole egg.

Whisk together your 4 egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar, and a pinch salt until smooth:
At this point, we added some cocoa powder (I don't remember how much; a teaspoon or so):

In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups of milk to a boil:

While the milk was heating up, the DDH chopped up about a cup of chocolate chips:
Obviously using better chocolate would improve the taste, but these worked. Stir the chocolate into the egg yolk misture:
Once the milk boils:
stir a small amount into the egg yolk mixture:
then stir the egg yolk mixture into the hot milk until well blended:
Whisk in the softened gelatin and 1 tsp. vanilla:

Run through a strainer:

And allow to cool:
When the mixture has cooled almost to room temperature, whip 2 cups heavy cream:
to medium stiffness:
and fold the chocolate mixture into it:
Refrigerate until ready to use. It will eventually stiffen into sort of the texture of Jell-O pudding. It tastes delicious on a warm brownie, which the DDH made the next day (from a mix, but a delicious Trader Joe's Chocolate Truffle Brownie mix I imported from New Mexico). 
We brought the brownies and chocolate cream to his mother's house on Monday for Labor Day dinner, and everyone kept thanking me for the lovely dessert, which rather irritated the DDH, as he actually had made it all himself (except separating the egg yolks and being told what "fold into" means). I'm so proud! ^_^

For some reason he hasn't taken over making dinner, though...^_~


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