Saturday, April 30, 2011

Chard Pizza

I used the recipe here as an inspiration.  I found it because I got chard this week, but felt like pizza and googled "chard pizza", and...voila!

I made my standard pizza dough in the bread machine the night before.  Even bread machine crusts take about 1 hr 45 min with the mixing, rising, resting, shaping, par-baking...which is not do-able after work and before dinner.  I wish it were, but not so much.  But I planned ahead, which is uncommon these days mid-week.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Yet another stir-fry

The Costco stir-fry frozen vegetables are a working mother's best friend.  Paired with cooked brown rice, and either sauteed tofu, fried eggs, or leftover meat, it's perfect and easy.  But can use 3 pots (for the rice, the stir-fry, and the eggs).  This day, I sliced up two large kohlrabis and added those to the mix.  I also added diced oranges from our tree, and the sauce included some homemade orange marmalade.  Give it a little tang.

The only problem I have is that to get it to cook just right, you have to use just the right amount of veggies.  Which is perfect for dinner, but leaves no leftovers.  So, if I want leftovers for lunch, I have to cook more veggies after dinner.  Which only takes about 5 minutes.  But still.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Beer Bread

We bought a case of beer for my son's 5th birthday party.  There's a lot of beer left.  (Yes, I understand that it might seem weird to buy beer for a kid's birthday party, but the beer is for the adults and the cake is for the kids.  Have to lure the parents there somehow.)

In any event, we bought a "mix" of the local beer, and it came with a fair amount of IPA.  I don't really like IPA.  I've tried to, and some of them aren't bad, but it's really not a drinking beer for me.  So I can get through about half of it, and lose interest.

So I decided to try and make beer bread in the bread machine.  Well, my machine did not come with a recipe.  So I googled, found recipes, and decided to adjust them to fit my machine's ratios.  Which just means...I substituted beer for most of the water.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Camping Food

This weekend we celebrated Easter holiday by going camping in Joshua Tree with our friends and neighbors.  Not the best way to spend the weekend after I started watching my diet again, but hey.

Joshua Tree is between 4 and 7 hours from where we live.  Through Los Angeles, in 0 traffic, 4 hours.   Yeah.  We've never tried that.  In traffic through Los Angeles, 7 hours.  We've never experienced that either.  We've been on this trip twice now, and one trip to Big Bear Lake, which is similar in distance.  Every time we've driven there, we've gone the "back way" or "northern route" (thanks to my friend Bob for the suggestion).  This means the Pearblossom highway.  Which, if you google, is considered a death trap highway.  I guess a lot of people are very impatient and try to pass on the double yellow.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gas Prices

So, we've all seen gas prices, right?  Hereabouts, the cheap gas is about $4.25 per gallon - ouch!  That's certainly not very frugal.  As I went to the Earth Day celebration, I started thinking about alternatives to driving.  So I did some math.  I like math.  See below for the results.

I did not look into the feasibility of going down to one car.  And when I calculated the trip cost, I did not count wear and tear, or insurance, or any of that, simply because I'm going to have the car anyway, and I'm lazy.  I believe the government reimbursement rate right now is about $0.55 per mile, so you could always use that.

Now, I live 10 miles from work.  My husband and I actually work one block from each other.  The ideal way to be green, and frugal, and simple, would be to carpool.  But we don't.  Why is this, you ask?  Well, school.  Our son is in school.  School goes from 8 to 5 pm (preschool).  So the drop-off guy (spouse) gets to work at 8:30 am, and the pick-up gal (me) has to leave work at 4:30 pm.  That's an 8 hour time difference, which drops to 7.5 if you insist on eating lunch.  Now, we both have flexible ENOUGH jobs that in reality, we could likely work 8:30 am to 4:30 pm on most days, and make up the extra by working at home.

But we don't.  It's so easy to work at home with a kid though! (kidding) Truthfully, in our industries, it would be hard to do that day in and day out.  I do that very schedule when my spouse travels.  But for every day he's out, that's 1/2 hour I have to make up the following week.  Consider that I work 40-42 hrs/week, when my coworkers are generally doing 50+.  Then again, I don't sit and BS in the lunchroom or in my cube.  I work.  And so many times my work folks want to have a meeting at 5 pm.  I always miss those.  But I digress.

Now that  you know why we don't are the other options that I explored:

1.  Driving separate.
2.  Taking the bus.
3.  Biking.

Here's the summary:
Driving: 30 min R/T, $3.25
Bus: 102 min R/T, $3.50
Biking: 90 min R/T, $0

You can see that the bus is about the same price as driving my car, but takes a LOT longer.  Truth be told, the bus involves a 26 min walk to the bus station (we are not near a very good bus line), a 21 min bus ride, then a 4 min walk to work.  If I did that round trip, I would be losing 72 minutes.  And it would not be practical considering the school schedule.

Whereas the bike ride is 45 min one-way.  50 if I'm really dogging it.  I have a mountain bike with slicks.  If I had a road bike and clip shoes, I could go faster, but then I'd be patching more flats.

Instead, what we do when we can is this:
I bike to work in the morning.  Spouse drives with his bike on the back.  I drive home with my bike on the back.  Spouse bikes home.  This saves one round trip in my car, and $3.27 per day in gas.  We each get a 45 min workout, and it's better for the environment.  It does take some planning though (must bring a bigger lunch!)

We like to do this 1-2x a week.  But bad weather and business trips do mess us up.  We did do Tues/Thurs this week, most we've done in awhile.  And we both have to be VERY careful.  Despite bike lines, we don't have the best drivers around here.  I will admit that in the afternoons, when I drive I am tired and not very attentive.  When biking, we have to be extra vigilant.

So y'all, what do you do?  Bike, walk, drive, carpool, take a taxi, do you get to work/school?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Baked Chicken Legs and Salad

These days, Tuesdays are tough to plan for.  We've run out of last week's CSA veggies and don't know what we're getting this Tuesday.  So today, I planned for chicken and "side".  We ended up with mixed greens and some arugula, so the side was clear.  It was also pretty easy to make a salad (washing the greens first).  Today we rode our bikes to work (10 miles).  I ride to work, spouse rides home (more on this at a later post).  Our bikes ride on the back of the car the other direction.

I buy organic free range chicken legs for $1.99 /lb at Trader Joe's.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Falafel and sauteed chard

I love greens. Particularly kale. I can tolerate collard greens if cooked long enough. But chard...I really want to like chard, but have had a hard time falling in love with it. Until this recipe. It was the first recipe that came up when I googled "chard recipes". Gotta leave it to

I did, of course, slightly healthify it, as I normally do. I cut the butter and oil in half (I mean...1/4 c. of fat? Really?) Maybe even cut it a little more. It was easy and delicious, and my son who yelled "I don't like it" ate it right up after he actually tasted it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Single Parent Food

Bean tacos (yes, that is sliced American cheese, didn't feel like shredding) and steamed veggies.

Stir-fry tofu and frozen veggies with quinoa.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Skillet Pasta

You can go to the recipes tab to find this recipe. It's so darned good. I used some meatballs I made from the free range local beef we had for dinner on Saturday (burgers...mmmm...). And steamed asparagus. 0.99/lb. I love spring! Delish!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Asparagus Risotto and Roasted Beet Salad

Well, today was another take on risotto. I had asparagus (on sale for $0.99/lb!), garden parsley (the gopher has been going after it though), onion, green onions, lemon juice and zest, and parmesan and goat cheese. Plus leftover vegetable broth.

You can go here for the method I use to cook risotto (pressure cooker method). Hey, I have a full time job. I know that it's Sunday, but still. I used this beet recipe. I cut the dressing down, and used red wine vinegar because that's what I had. I got this recipe from my neighbor, who has a produce delivery service. I googled the recipe and found it online. Amazing.

Asparagus Risotto 1.5 cup arborio rice: $2.25
1 bunch asparagus: 0.99
2 oz goat cheese: 1.00
parsley 1 "cube" lemon juice/zest: free from the neighbor
1.5 c water
2 c. vegetable stock: 0.75
4 green onions, sliced: 0.30
1/4 of a red onion, chopped: 0.10
2 cloves garlic, pressed: 0.10
2 Tbsp parmesan cheese: 0.16
2 T canola oil: 0.06
salt and pepper to taste
Total: $5.71 for 6 1-cup servings, $0.95 each.

1. Boil 1.5 c water in pressure cooker, add asparagus (tough stems removed), cover and steam 3 minutes. Remove asparagus and let cool. Cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Pour the cooking water into a measuring cup.

2. Saute red onion in oil until soft. Add risotto and garlic and cook, stirring, one minute (until risotto is coated). Add cooking water and vegetable broth, for a total of 3.5 c. liquid. Bring to a boil. Cover and bring to pressure. Cook 5 min at pressure.

3. Reduce pressure using quick release method. Add lemon juice, asparagus, parmesan, parsley, green onions, goat cheese, salt and pepper. Stir well. Enjoy.
Yeah, and it turns into gum for leftovers. Still tastes yummy.

My kid must have been hungry. He MOWED through this dinner.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Peanut Lime Dragon Dressing

Recipe #2 from Appetite for Reduction. Another winner. In the back of the book, Isa brings up the suggestion of a "bowl". A grain, a sauce/ protein, and a vegetable. One of the "bowls" mentioned was quinoa, steamed broccoli, sauteed tempeh, and peanut lime dragon dressing. I boiled the tempeh in water and vegetable broth, then sauteed it in a bit of canola oil. I steamed the broccoli and carrots. I made the dressing, though I decreased the spice/ sriracha in half (concerned about my 5 year old), but it wasn't spicy, so I shouldn't have worried too much. I also subbed maple syrup for the agave and red onion for the shallot. And I didn't use quinoa. No grain at all. My son LOVED it and actually begged for leftovers. There are some for tomorrow's dinner!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cooking in a hotel room - the result

Well, we tried it. It didn't go too badly. Here are the results:

First off, we got free breakfast, and it was a big one. We stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa on the Big Island, and booked through Costco Travel. I can highly recommend them. We purchased travel insurance also (for the first time ever) and it came in handy. We missed a flight due to weather. The airline does nothing in that case, so the insurance paid for a night in a hotel near LAX, plus dinner and breakfast. AND it reimbursed us for the missed night in Hawaii.

The booking included breakfast for two adults (kids under 5 are free, but Nick was so small they let him be free too) and the "Aloha pass" which included two drinks a day, access to the fitness center for 2, internet, reduced rentals on snorkel/kayak gear, and a free round of golf for 2 on the putting course per day. We used the drinks, and the internet, and I went to the fitness center once (I preferred that most of my exercise be hiking, walking, swimming). These things are generally "extra" at many hotels, so they ended up being worth money. Especially the internet and drinks. One drink per day per person is PLENTY.

Breakfast, when you travel, is key. It can help you save money and get through the day. It's something I consider when booking a hotel. You can eat a large breakfast and then get by with a small lunch, or just fruit and nuts. (Now, we did not actually do this, evidenced by coming back 5 lbs heavier.) Alternately, it's pretty easy to eat breakfast in your room if you have a fridge or not. Instant (or not instant) oatmeal can be made with a hot pot or hot water from the coffee pot. Fruit and yogurt are pretty easy too, with the oatmeal or without.

We ate lunches and dinners in the room too. I took a certain amount of food, and when it ran out, we ate out. We did supplement with outrageously priced food from the grocery store. Unless you are shopping at Costco, prices are insane in Hawaii. And you are only shopping at Costco if you have a full-sized fridge.

Here's what he ate in the room:
Costco roasted Chicken
Teriyaki, Miso, and Udon noodle bowls (Annie Chun's). Spouse did NOT like the Udon, but we all loved the Teriyaki and my son liked the miso.
Mixed fruit bowl, and some steamed edamame, both purchased at the grocery store yogurt
Macaroni and cheese from Trader Joe's, with mixed frozen veggies and chicken.
Cereal and milk (the only time my kid ever gets froot loops is on vacation)
TJ's coconut lime rice
TJ's indian packets of lentils, vegetables, and eggplant
TJ's curry tuna curry and green curry.

You see a lot of foil packets up there. And the rice was in a plastic package with no paper on the wrapping. Since there was no microwave, it was key to find things that you can make by either ADDING hot water or SOAKING in hot water. Many of the pre-cooked rice packages require the microwave or have paper labels, which precludes the soaking part. I took a hot pot with us ($19), and my handy microwave steamer. I boiled water in 2 minutes, poured it in the steamer, added a couple of packets, closed the lid, and came back 5 min later. I boiled more water, and then put the next packet right in the hot pot. I did not use the coffee pot for this, because I didn't have a coffee pot, it was a one-or 2-cup maker that puts the coffee directly into the mug. I didn't know that before I went.

The mac and cheese was pretty good and easy. I boiled the mac right in the hot pot, then added the frozen veggies at the end. I poured it all into the micro-steamer (which has holes in the lid), drained it, and then added the flavor packet and milk.

As I mentioned before, a couple of the noodle bowls were good, one was not. The Indian packets and rice worked well, because we've eaten them before and knew they were good. And the curry tuna - I really liked the spicier red one. The milder green was not as good. The green sauce was mild and tasty, but the tuna tasted too tuna-y.

What I would change next time:

In general, we prefer staying at condos to hotels. We are "do it yourselfers" on vacation, and like to be able to cook many of our own meals, and plan our own days. That said, the advantage to this hotel was its amenities, which makes it GREAT for kids. Four pools, water slides, a lagoon for snorkeling, a dolphin pool, a boat and train ride (you need it to get from one side of the hotel to the's that large...though we walked 80% of the time).

There was a lot of artwork along the way if you walk it. There's a camp for kids over 5. We did not use the golfing or the discount rentals (because they went from being "oh my god, you want $14 for 1/2 hour!!" to "oh my god, you want $7 for 1/2 hour!!") If we return to this island, it will be a tossup between staying at this hotel or getting a condo. Maybe we'll do 1/2 and 1/2 - spend part of the time on the Hilo side, which is way closer to the volcano. I would definitely take a hot pot, and mac and cheese, and the teriyaki bowls, and the indian packets. I would still buy a chicken. We would probably buy bread and eat a lot of sandwiches instead of eating as much hot food.

The thing that I feel like I really missed out on was vegetables, because they are atrociously expensive. When we did eat out, I searched for salads. At the nicer restaurants, that was pretty easy, but some of the other restaurants, it was very hard to find vegetables (which is pretty typical for the US).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Red Velvet Mole

So, I know I made it a goal to make at least one recipe from every cookbook I have for the year. am I doing? Not great. Especially since I went out and bought Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. You see, I am a member of a Yahoo group called Healthy Cheap Cooking. And the leader, Pat, never steers me wrong on a cookbook. We have similar eating styles. She highly recommended this book (and Martha Rose Shulman's book, which I have yet to purchase). In any event, Isa's books have never been a disappointment, though I have to admit that Veganomicon is intimidating. I have cooked a couple of things from it however!

This is recipe # 1 from this book, and it was delicious. I decreased the cocoa (hubby hates chocolate). He said it tasted good, but when he first walked in the door after work said "what smells like chocolate?" And I decreased the spice (chili powder) by half. I am a bit leery of the spice in vegan cooking, because my son can't handle it. I needn't have worried. Cutting the spice in half meant it wasn't spicy at all. Next time, I'll try 3/4. I used pinto beans instead of black beans, and I served it over brown rice. Isa recommends sweet potatoes, steamed plantains...something sweet. Though it was fine over brown rice, I agree that a bit of sweetness would have helped (that and the extra spice).

I'm not posting the recipe here. Probably illegal, certainly unethical, since the only thing I did is decrease 2 ingredients and sub sugar for agave syrup. I recommend buying/ checking out the book from the library though! I'll let you know how other recipes come out.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

More thoughts on frugal cooking

Frugality is pretty hip these days. So is blogging. So it's no surprise that you'll find more and more blogs that talk about how to eat frugally. When I started blogging a few years ago, there were only a few. I did most of my own "research" by reading books, not reading blogs. Oh, what a difference a couple of years can make.

You can find some of my best posts on the subject under "best posts". Some of my very favorite frugal/ food blogs are listed under "Frugal Food Resources". But as usual, what works for you might be different than what works for someone else. This is why it's good to research several different bloggers/ eating styles/ shopping styles/ food plans. For example, some people save money on food by bulk-buying. This works great for larger families. And organized smaller families can reap big savings too. Organization is key to avoid spoilage. Some people can garden, while others shop loss leaders. Coupons vs. no coupons. You get the picture.

A couple of recent bloggers that have spoken to my heart are HEAB and Love Veggies and Yoga. It's probably the "mom thing". As you become a new mom (or continue to be a working mom), you have to ... streamline ... everything. This includes cooking and exercise. These ladies often fit my profile to a T. You learn that it's just easier to throw something together in 20-30 minutes than it is to get the baby/child dressed, into the car, to the store, find parking, fight the 5 or 5:30 pm shopping crowd... HEAB points out that one way to save money on groceries is to shop less. Use what you have. This often precludes trying new recipes. Or at least requires creative substitution. This is a skill that you can develop. Or you can search for new recipes that only require one new item, and plan it for shopping day.

Casual Kitchen is a good resource for "laughably cheap" recipes that are made from staples.

When I was on maternity leave, I actually did shop every day. I combined my daily walk with the grocery trip. But I was sure to only buy what I could carry the 1.3 miles home with a baby on my chest. We still saved money (and my husband ate like a king).

Coming soon (by the weekend, surely!): a recap of my cooking adventures in a hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii with a hot pot, a big bowl, and a really mini-fridge. What worked, what didn't, what we would do differently next time.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Do I have to go back to work??

Saturday, April 2, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons

and you are about to leave on a week-long vacation to Hawaii, what do you do?

Spend 30 mins zesting and juicing, and then freeze in ice cube trays for future use.

Last time I did this, I separated the zest and juice. That was unwieldy for the zest. This time, I mixed them together. I had a bag of lemons from my neighbor, and got about a cup of zest and juice, which made 9 ice cubes. Approx 2 Tbsp each cube.