Saturday, November 27, 2010

Failure to Thrive

My pretty little delicata and butternut squash plants started off so lovely. And now, they are shriveling. Why??


And TODAY, my biggest butternut was missing! A critter took it! Hmmph.

Friday, November 26, 2010


For the first time ever, we had a small Thanksgiving. Just the three of us. And it was nice. We pulled out the fine china and crystal. Cooked a small meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, salad, and homemade rolls. Hung around the house, went to the park, and cleaned out the master bedroom closet. Here comes freecycle!

First, a gorgeous salad with beets, blue cheese, toasted walnuts, avocado, pomegranate seeds, and a delicious raspberry balsamic vinegar I got from the winery.

Next, the turkey and homemade rolls.

The table:

We also made coconut lime snowballs, from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. I won't post the recipe here (you'll have to buy the book, or if you are an online member, the recipe is here). The recipe is also here (without a reference to the original, but who knows how she got it, maybe it was written on a 3x5 passed down by a relative):

I could have saved some money by buying butter in bulk and flour on sale, but I try to stick to unbleached flour, and couldn't find that on sale.

Coconut lime snowballs:
2.5 c. flour: $0.51
3/4 c. sugar: 0.20
2 sticks butter: 1.75 (yeah, I know, not exactly "healthy", but better than storebought anyway)
2 tsp vanilla: 0.30
1 c. shredded coconut
juice of 2 limes: 0.38
3 Tbsp cream cheese: 0.23
1 c. powdered sugar: 0.50
Total: $4.37

This makes about 38 cookies. Or $0.12 per cookie.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving on a budget

If you are here to find out how to cook a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people for 20 bucks, look no further.

No really, look no further. I can't help ya. You might want to check out The Complete Tightwad Gazette. Or the Economides family's newsletter. Or a number of frugal blogs out there, that show you how to hunt down the $2, $5, $8, or $0.29/lb turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas and describe how to store them in your deep freezer to eat them all year.

You see, this year, I took the leap. Last year, we didn't even make a turkey (we had a few not-so-successful turkeys in a row). This year the leap was made to local, organic, free range turkey, based on the recommendations of TWO friends. (Michelle and Kelly, you know who you are.)

The local farm was Healthy Family Farms, and their turkey is a pretty reasonable $4 a pound. Reasonable for local and free-range, that is. It also means that even a small 13+ lb turkey is $56.

Does it matter that the 10-lb bag of potatoes was only $1? Green beans for $0.69/lb? No, not organic this year, but you have to pick your poison, as it were. With a $56 turkey, there wasn't a whole lot of room for the sides.

There have been quite the sales this week on canned vegetables and fruit also. Now, while I tend to be a bit of a vegetable "snob" (living in So Cal with daily access to farmer's markets and farm stands can do that), I am also a working mom. So the occasional can of green beans in the pantry is very useful for those days when you are out of the fresh stuff and can't stomach a trip to the store.

On the menu:
Turkey (brined and cooked in a bag)
red leaf salad with beets, pomegranates, radish, walnuts, blue cheese
garlic and buttermilk mashed potatoes
homemade rolls, if we get around to making them.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tacos, Pasta, Soup

This was the camping weekend. We were going to drive about 30 minutes north and camp out over the weekend. Unfortunately, I looked at the weather. Possible rain. So we canceled. Ate the $15 cancellation feed. Good thing. We got dumped on, and we had thunder and lightening. And my son came down with a fever. I can't imagine sleeping in a wet 3-person tent in the rain, with a sick kid. Well, at least we would have been close to home.

So Saturday night was taco night. Now, tacos are pretty easy, but still a lot of work:
homemade corn tortillas
cooked fresh tongue-of-fire beans (shelling beans)
shredded radish (they're pink!)
shredded cheese
salsa and sour cream
diced avocado

and I sauteed up some fresh green beans (for only $0.69 a pound!!)
and roasted potatoes ($1.00 for 10 lbs!)

Lots of little things to cook. With only a little bit of leftovers.

Sunday was the day that I was going to make soup for dinner. But my child was feeling sick, so I made the soup for lunch instead. The stock was homemade chicken stock (that I made in the crockpot on Saturday). I added a bunch of vegetables - onions, celery, summer squash, frozen mixed vegetables, barley. Herbs and pesto. There was a ton of leftovers and my son ate a whole bowl.

Dinner then was egg noodles with mushrooms, onions, canned salmon, in a homemade nonfat cream soup mix-type thing. And salad. This dinner - I winged it. And we have a ton of leftovers for lunch this week. It was pretty good. Needs more salt though.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Roast chicken, succotash, and pasta

Not all on the same night. This is what happens when you don't have time for regular posts.

We had some friends over for dinner on Saturday. I was going to make my standard "roast chicken parts" from organic, free-range chicken. But, the store was out. So I bought a whole organic free-range chicken, and roasted that. I say "my standard" because I really don't cook meat a lot. I've managed to figure out how to not ruin chicken (baking/roasting), salmon when I get it from the neighbor (pan-frying) and beef (in stews). I generally pull out this expertise when friends visit. Because normally? I'm happy with beans, rice, and vegetables. Which we ate a lot of this week.

My favorite roasted chicken recipe is here, and it's cooked on a bed of veggies. Now, the veggies usually get very cooked (aka, almost burned). And this day, well, I wanted to cook some more pumpkin muffins, which required a lower oven temp, so I went with that. This meant the chicken took 10 mins longer, but still was tasty. I had two small butternut squash, so we cooked the chicken on a bed of squash and onion. Boy, was that squash good. My friends liked it too "it's tasty - oh wait, it was the bed of the chicken". Yep, you got it, soaked in chicken juices. When you buy whole organic chicken at the farmer's market or the stores here, you get the giblets too, which is awesome for me. My friend loves the neck and I'm a big fan of the liver. I saved the carcass for stock. I mean, if I'm going to eat an animal, I don't want to waste anything.

Remaining food for the week includes a homemade succotash of a sort. The lima beans, green onions, carrots, and zucchini were all from our CSA. We ate a lot of pinto beans, then I made a pasta on Wednesday. I used whole grain pasta and frozen veggies, and the PMS told me to make a cream sauce. So I dug out my weight watchers cookbook and made a slightly more-waist friendly alfredo sauce than the traditional drenched-in-butter type.

The last week of the CSA was today. We got kale, lettuce, radishes, pumpkin, garlic, zucchini, cucumber, oranges, and tongue of fire beans. Don't feel sorry for me though, because the new season starts in 6 weeks. Yep, a 46 week CSA. I love California.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Vegan Pumpkin Muffins and Work-Life Balance

So, as most working moms know, we tend to have issues from time to time with work-life balance. Truly, it's not just moms. It's dads, and non-parents as well. Whenever you are deciding how much time to spend...working, sleeping, exercising, cooking, being with family and friends, there is going to be some push-pull going on. In my case, always the pull from work as I push them back.

My work hours have gotten steadily longer over the last year. Where once I left at 4 pm, now it is 4:30 pm. And the pull gets worse. I've had folks ask why I don't work after 5. I've been asked to work weekends (on a regular basis, from home. I'm not talking about the "emergency" stuff.) I've been asked at 4:30 pm to do "just this one more thing". Of course I say no because I have to pick up my kid. My explanation, of late, has been of the "it's $1 per minute for every minute that I am late picking up my son from school" variety. Now, my girlfriends get offended by that answer and think that I should just say "no, I'm a mom, my kid comes first." Well, duh. That's the real answer. I'd rather spend more time with my kid. Yeah yeah. While that is the truth, I have to face facts here.

I am an anomaly. I am the only full-time working mom in my company (with a young child). Out of 70 people. I am a woman in a man's world, and I have to speak the language that they will understand. Sure, the dads get it (especially those with working wives!) But the men without kids...they don't. They may try. But they really don't get it. However, they do speak the language of money, and they all understand that $1 per minute is $60 per hour, and by the way, I don't make $60 an hour.

I'm in a job where working longer hours is encouraged and praised. However, I don't enjoy being penalized for being efficient (using my friend Kelly's terminology). If I can get the same work done in 40 hrs that it takes someone else 50 to do, that does not mean I need to be working 50 hrs. While I have no problems coming in on weekends during emergencies, I simply will not be working late every day. I'm okay being the person to constantly fight the pressure to work long days, because I'm confident in the quality and quantity of my work. (And truly, when the sh*t hits the fan on the weekend, who is the first one to come in and fix stuff? Yeah, that's right, it's usually my boss, but if he's out of town, it's me.) I am definitely a "do what it takes" employee, but I simply don't have the luxury (or the desire) to spend 60 hours at work and never see my kid. I already outsource the cleaning. If I try to outsource the cooking (by eating out, buying convenience food), or cut back on exercise, I'll just get fat, and sick. I know this because I used to weigh 182 lbs. And my blood pressure was through the roof.

The upshot of all of this is that no matter what I do at work, at home, I have to start job #2. I generally get home at 5:15 pm, and have to cook dinner. Even with the bulk-cooking that I do on the weekend, I have to put at least 20-30 minutes into cooking. So I get home with a little boy who wants to PLAY PLAY PLAY. His second choice is to watch TV. But I prefer to limit his TV to 1/2 hr per day. Which he often gets to watch in the morning while we shower. So, that means I have to PLAY. Or distract him. That's where the pumpkin muffins come in.

I am finding that while it's not "playing", having him help me cook is a great way to have fun, interact, keep him busy, and teach him skills, all at the same time. He's been so excited to make muffins. They made them at school. I needed a recipe, so I dug out my favorite Isa cookbooks. Vegan Brunch had a pumpkin muffin recipe with wheat bran and whole wheat pastry flour. Don't have either of those. So I moved on to VWAV. The PERFECT recipe according to the book.

Except for one tiny thing. The recipe makes 12 muffins, and has 1.25 cups of sugar. Let's do the math, shall we? 1 cup has 16 tablespoons. So 1.25 cups of sugar has 20 tablespoons, or 1.67 tablespoons (5 teaspoons) of sugar PER MUFFIN. Holy camoly!

I cut the sugar to 2/3 cup and they were still very sweet. Next time, I will cut to even less. When I think about it, a small muffin should probably have a tsp or less of sugar. 1 tsp x 12 muffins = 12 tsp = 4 TBSP = 1/4 cup. I think I'll cut the recipe to 1/3 cup next time.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Salmon with a white wine lemon pan sauce

So, the plan tonight was salmon patties. You know, salmon-in-a-can. Not sexy, but you get your omega 3's, it's cheap, and it's not full of mercury or PCBs.

Then my great neighbor stopped by. He's got a "fish guy". A couple of pounds of fresh salmon later...we had some tonight, some for leftovers tomorrow (on top of a salad), and the rest goes in the freezer for later this month.

I had some lemon. I knew I wanted to make a pan sauce. So I googled. "lemon white wine salmon".

And I found this recipe. It's a 5-star recipe!

And I followed it. To a T. Just kidding. I left out one tiny ingredient. That ingredient would be...can you guess?? 3/4 stick of butter. Geez. Really, there was enough oil from the cooking spray (that I used instead of olive oil) and the actual fish that made a good pan sauce. I also added a clove of garlic when making the sauce.

DELICIOUS, though my son thought the basil leaves looked like "ants". Whatever.

I also made a lima bean puree that we served on toast. Fresh limas, cooked, with roasted garlic, lemon juice, a little tahini, salt, pepper, and enough cooking water to make a good consistency.

Believe it or not, the 4 year old ate everything, including the salad which had lettuce, olives, blue cheese, and avocado. He's a good eater. He helped me shell the limas too.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Baked Falafel and Beans and Rice

I love beans. Falafel is basically beans. My fave recipe (truly, only one I've tried) is from Vegan with a Vengeance. This week I decided to bake them instead of fry them, and they turned out great!

Last night was beans and rice. Last week's "bean of the week" was garbanzo (hence the falafel. and hummus. and stew with chickpeas). This week is black beans. I cooked up a pound. And some of them are destined to be bean burgers. Eventually.

As I've decided to try and lose those 8 lbs I've gained since I've stopped running (dang 40 year old knee!!), I've been measuring out...everything. Ya know? That takes about 20-30 minutes a day. It's a good deal of work, almost like a part time job. Especially at first.

Anyway, this pretty picture has 1/2 cup of mexican-inspired brown rice (cooked brown rice, stir-fried with onion, garlic, peas, cumin, parsley, oregano, and tomato), 1/2 cup black beans, diced tomatoes, diced avocado, low-fat cheddar, light sour cream, TJ's garlic chipotle salsa, and some chopped cooked frozen veggies (broccoli, carrot, cauliflower). It was a huge plate for not a lot of calories. Which is good.

And the ingredients are all pretty cheap. For example, I prepared all of this:
6 cups cooked black beans: $1.29 (one lb dried)
3 cups cooked brown rice: $0.47 (one cup uncooked)
1 tomato: 0.50
1 avocado: 1.00
2 oz lowfat cheddar: 0.75
6 tbsp sour cream: 0.32
1/2 c. salsa: 0.75
onion: 0.30 for one
garlic: 0.15 for 3 cloves
frozen veggies: 1.02 per lb
frozen peas: 1.09 per lb

And we've got a bunch of leftovers.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Applesauce. Pressure cooker stew

Boy, have I been using my kitchen tools. Blender for smoothies. Rice cooker for quinoa. Food processor for shredding and chopping. Immersion blender for applesauce. Pressure cooker for beans and stew. Slow cooker for applesauce. I mean, I don't *need* all these tools, but they make cooking easier for sure!

Monday, I arrived at my desk to find a bag of apples, with a note "Can Frugal Healthy Simple do something with these baking apples?" Why, of course Lori, I can. So that evening, I googled "slow cooker applesauce", and then winged it.

Slow cooker applesauce:
9-10 small to medium apples, unpeeled, diced (I like the peel, it's got fiber): free
1/2 cup water: 0
2 Tbsp brown sugar (didn't need it): 0.05
1 tsp cinnamon: 0.05
pinch nutmeg
juice of 1/2 lemon (which wasn't enough to prevent browning, so it was wasted): 0.10

Total: $0.20 for probably 5 cups of applesauce. And it's tasty. I've been eating it with my morning oatmeal. I will probably freeze some.

Put in slow cooker. Cook overnight or all day on low. Use immersion blender to blend.

I also found some pork in the freezer, and looked up a recipe in America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. But I was missing a bunch of stuff. So. I improvised. It was a mid-week meal, which is why I tried out the pressure cooker. Last minute, I realized they recommended serving it with white rice (which I don't buy), so I used quinoa instead. The original recipe called for 3 lbs pork and 1 lb chorizo. I used 1 lb pork, plus chickpeas, plus potatoes. I subbed mild enchilada sauce for diced tomatoes. You see where I am going here. The recipe called for browning the meat, then browning the onions, then...and I wanted a one pot meal. So I changed that too.

Pressure cooker stew:
1 lb pork loin, diced into 1 inch cubes: 1.99
1 T. canola oil: 0.04
2 onions, diced: 0.40
6 cloves garlic, pressed: 0.30
3 Tbsp flour: 0.01
1.5 cups water
1 Tbsp brown sugar: 0.02
2 cups cooked chickpeas: 0.37
1 vegetable bouillon cube: 0.37
1.5 cups mild enchilada sauce: 0.75
3/4 lb potatoes, peeled and diced: 0.38
salt/pepper to taste

Total: $4.63 for 6 servings.
Quinoa: 1 cup dry quinoa, cooked (makes about 3 cups): $0.55
$0.86 per serving, including quinoa

Brown the onion and pork in oil in pressure cooker. Add garlic and cook 1 min.

Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute.

Add water and bouillon and stir, stirring to get up the brown bits on the bottom. Add the enchilada sauce and brown sugar. Cover, bring to pressure, and reduce heat enough to maintain high pressure. Cook 13 min at high pressure.

Use quick release to lower pressure. Add diced potatoes and chickpeas. Return to heat. Cover, bring to pressure. Cook 8 min at high pressure. Let pressure reduce naturally.

Serve over quinoa.
And I made a salad with some pumpkin seeds that we roasted on top.