Black Bean Fajitas, Sans Tortillas

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As I mentioned last week, I’m down to the wire for my March budget ($6 left!) so I knew this week I’d be keeping it simple.  I did come in $4 over (spent about $10 on groceries this week).  But given that I’ll be eating this delicious meal for the rest of the week, along with a roasted veggie & chickpea Mediterranean couscous salad that I’m whipping up tonight, I’m feeling okay about dipping a few dollars into my April budget.



(It also helped that I got to use my Groupon last night to try out Hana sushi up on Alberta, and that Jesse treated us to the difference, after four super complex specialty rolls, miso soup, wakame salad, and two IPAs.)


So given that I knew my meager allowance for this week would be spent 100% on produce, I knew that meant beans were destined to be my protein.  And hey, it’s been awhile since black beans and I had dinner together.


I love to cook my black beans down into a thick, syrupy sauce, so after soaking them for a few hours, I boiled them in a pot of water, along with some sundried tomatoes, cumin, salt, diced fresh jalapeno, and a few spoonfuls of molasses.





Towards the end, once the beans are nice and soft, I add some corn starch and salt to taste, and then let them cool a little until they thicken up.  


I didn’t have any tortillas on hand, but to be honest, tacos and fajitas kind of stress me out, so I was just as happy eating this dinner bowl-style, with some brown and red rice.





On the side?  A smorgasbord of sliced red onion, cheddar cheese, and diced tomatoes.





And a green bell pepper (my splurge of the day!) sauteed along with a not-so-fresh leek that’s been sitting in my fridge for awhile, but is still acceptable for this purpose.





Oh, and some buttermilk poppyseed cabbage slaw.





I also have had a recent compulsion to roast entire poblano peppers in the oven, coated with olive oil and salt and then wrapped in tinfoil, at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, and then eat them while they’re steaming hot.  





That seemed an appropriate accompaniment to tonight’s dinner, and since a long loaf of whole wheat buttermilk nigella bread had just come out of the oven, I also threw a few cloves of garlic into the package so that I could layer the two on and make this delicious appetizer.





As planned: cheap and delicious!



Grocery time.


Fred Meyer 3/27
cabbage: $1.14
eggplant: $1.00
zucchini: $0.57
green bell pepper: $0.79
jalapeno pepper: $0.08
avocado: $1.25
vine tomatoes: $0.89
red onion: $0.58
poblano pepper: $0.39
deli turkey meat: $3.00
neufchatel cheese brick: $0.99
TOTAL: $10.68
REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: -$4.18 – Taking this out of April’s budget :(



How did my fellow Project: Food Budget-ers do?



Tofu Broccoli Yakisoba

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This is one of those weeks where there needs to be a variety of ready-to-eat food at the forefront of my fridge, so I don’t have to even make any food choices once my Monday/Tuesday is over and my work week begins.  

Not only am I still making up for having taken last weekend off to go up to Seattle for a family weekend, but I had Knit Night after work last night until 9:30, am teaching a Continental Knitting class after work tonight, and am manning the shop all on my own this weekend while my employee is out of town (which means getting there early and staying late so I can still get all my work done while juggling customers).



Plus, I’ve spent the past couple of weeks trying out Crossfit, which I bought a Groupon for last fall that’s about to expire.  Crossfit actually takes the least amount of elapsed time than any workout I’ve ever pursued, so this shouldn’t be such a hardship on my schedule, but just adds another element of advanced planning, given that I bike to work and everything I have to carry for a workout is now just additional weight to juggle on my ride along with whatever food and layers I’m bringing with me for the day.  Sometimes when I leave the house I feel like I should be sporting a frame pack and heading out into the woods for all the supplies I have packed on hand.


BTW, the outcome of dabbling in Crossfit is that it’s had the unintended (and ironic) consequence of making me want to join a gym.  More on that later.


So as a result, my lunches this week feature hard boiled eggs (on bagels left over from family weekend) and soft cheeses, a tofu broccoli yakisoba, a chickpea salad, and a huge pot of the easiest and yummiest soup ever — this time adding little slices of sweet apple chicken sausage.


Also, given that this past weekend was also a faux birthday celebration, I got to bring this home with me, for a little afternoon treat before this week’s classes (or dessert to eat in bed while I watch Parks & Recreation before passing out from exhaustion, whichever the case may be).


 

Key lime pie from The Hardware Store on Vashon Island

I also treated myself to this, which I will chop up and bring to work in Tupperwares once it ripens.  


 

I usually stick to a pretty strict rule of “my produce can only come from the west coast corridor,” but make an exception for tropical fruits.  It’s one thing to buy bagged spinach from Mexico when you can grow it bountifully in your own back yard; it’s another to appreciate an explosively delicious fruit that could never make it through the New Seasons door without transport.  I’m not wholeheartedly against commercial transport, I just like to keep it logical.


So, for the winning trifecta of volume + protein + veggies, I whipped up a quick and easy yakisoba.


A chopped brick of tofu, browned in the wok with salt to draw out the liquid, and a little bit of vegetable oil…


 

a huge head of broccoli sauteed in coconut oil…


 

and some Chinese egg noodles (not technically soba, but I was craving the ramen-like texture of these for some reason).  I tossed this all with a simple dressing of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and sweet chili sauce, topped with some sesame seeds, and finish it off with Sriracha whenever I’m ready to eat it.  Delicious hot or cold.


 

Oh, totally unrelated, but you know when you buy beans in bulk and bring them home to fill a jar you randomly grab from the shelf, and then sometimes the bag you’ve randomly filled with whatever amount of beans fills that jar just perfectly to the top?


 

Yeah, it’s like the universe is in order.




On to this week’s groceries…


New Seasons 3/20
split peas: $2.38
1 brick firm tofu: $1.99
dozen eggs: $2.89
pint whipping cream: $3.69 – for making butter next week
bunch of kale: $2.49
1 pineapple: $3.78
celery stalk: $0.92
head of broccoli: $2.71
large sweet potato: $2.20
grapefruit: $1.97
bunch of parsley: $1.49
sharp cheddar cheese: $2.05
TOTAL: $28.56
REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: -$0.48 — bummer!  Half a dollar over for the month.  Okay, I can live with that.  I came out $7 ahead in February, so let’s see if I can make it on just $6.50 worth of veggies next week to last me through the rest of the month!



How did the rest of my Project: Food Budget-ers do?


Fresh Salad Rolls with Peanut Sauce & Tom Kah Cocktails

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You know how there are certain dishes you always order, every time you go out for Thai food?  They are the control variables by which you can judge a new restaurant, leaving only ambiance, service, and price up for judgment.  Typically when Jesse and I go out for Thai food, we never even open the menus.  Pad kee mao for me, beef massaman curry for him, and tom kah soup and salad rolls to share.

 

So when I got an email last month about our monthly rotating “family dinner” that we do with our group of friends, announcing that the theme for February would be “Asian,” our contribution seemed like a no-brainer.





Salad rolls, when equipped with the proper fresh ingredients, really don’t require too much talent or planning.  The accompanying peanut sauce, on the other hand, would be the focus of our evening prep. 



When I’m looking for a good recipe, I often will let the Internet do the dirty work for me, and Google something like “best alfredo sauce I’ve ever had,” or “the most incredible mushroom soup of my life.”  Via this strategy, I discovered a recipe for “The best fucking peanut sauce you’ll ever eat.”  And decided to give it a go.
 
 

I won’t rehash the recipe for you here, because in very un-Lindsey style I followed it precisely, so I’ll let you follow that link and help cut down on Internet clutter.


 

 
Unfortunately, this was not the best fucking peanut sauce I’d ever eaten, and required a bit of doctoring up to get to dinner party presentable form.  


 

I added some toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic powder, and ginger powder until it tasted more like the tangy dipping sauce I was going for; this made enough to almost fill an entire large Adam’s peanut butter jar.


 

Rumor has it that Jesse used the leftovers a few days later to make Pad Thai with his bowling league buddies and it was just as fantastic in that form.


Okay, part two of this post is where the serendipity comes in.  So I mentioned above that Tom Kah Soup is one of my go-tos.  What I did not mention is that it is also among my top five favorite foods, along with olives, popcorn, and cereal.  It is in fact the only one of my favorite foods that has more than 2 ingredients.


One day back in January, soon after I’d received this email announcing the Asian theme, I had biked to work with a full carton of leftover Tom Kah Soup in my bag; I had woken up that morning thinking of nothing but how excited I was for lunch.  Lo and behold, that had to be the day that my Tupperware exploded and I arrived at work with soup all over the inside of my bag.


I was so devastated about this, I was still talking about it that night at dinner, while we were waiting for a table on a busy Friday night at The Observatory.  After being seated, I opened up the cocktail menu to find this:

Do you see what I see?  

I knew immediately that not only was this a token cosmic reimbursement for my earlier lunch debacle, but clearly the cocktail we’d be making rounds of at the dinner party.  I even bought a shaker for the occasion.


 

All right.  Chili infused vodka?  Check.



Lemongrass cilantro simple syrup?  Check.  We brought along a can of coconut cream and a few fresh limes, set up shop on Josh and Sarah’s kitchen counter, teamed up with one of our genius friends who had brought starfruit, and these were the hit of the party.




Okay, how are we doing over in budget-land?  

New Seasons 3/13
shredded wheat: $3.49
jug of V8: $3.99
lemon juice: $3.99
2 boxes Pacific almond milk: $5.38
huge jar Adams peanut butter: $7.99
Braggs apple cider vinegar: $3.99
can tomato sauce: $0.69
red quinoa: $4.07
white quinoa: $2.15
Israeli couscous: $2.60
red lentils: $2.99
half & half: $2.59
yams: $2.94
collard greens: $2.49
yellow onion: $1.15
grapefruit: $1.75
garlic: $0.84
braising greens: $3.00
aged cheddar: $4.23
ground turkey: $5.50 – if you guessed slow cooker cabbage (collard) rolls with ground turkey, Asiago, and Israeli couscous cooked in tomato broth, you’re right!!
TOTAL: $65.82
REMAINING FOR MONTH: $28.08


How did the rest of my Project: Food Budget-ers do??


Mole Pulled Pork Tacos with Buttermilk Cilantro Slaw

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I don’t quite know how I’ve made it 30 years without ever using a crock pot, but it’s true.  I feel like most of the meals I make are fairly quick and simple as it is, so I never latched on to the true romanticism of throwing all the ingredients together in the morning and coming home to a ready-made meal.   



Especially because, I’m now realizing, even if it’s just chopping and measuring, doesn’t that require you to do all the work either after you’ve cooked your regular dinner the night before, or in the morning while you’re drinking coffee and the idea of chopping onions and garlic is sort of nauseating?  I’m a die-hard breakfast traditionalist though, so maybe that’s just me.


In any case, practical or not, I was still curious.  So last week, I asked Jesse if I could borrow his slow cooker for the occasion, and did some online research.  I didn’t want to do a soup or a stew, because I feel like I already do that on the stovetop like every week, probably just using a lot more water as I let it all cook down, evaporate, and then add more to continue the process.  New appliance should equal a new style of food, right?!





Well, I’ve certainly never bought pork in this form before, but I stumbled upon this recipe and decided to try it out.


So true to legend, I really just chopped all this up and threw it in the pot:


A whole yellow onion, a few cloves of garlic, a handful of raisins, and a dried ancho chile pepper…





Some anise stars…





And a whole bunch of other stuff, including:

  • a few pinches of red chili flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • a whole cinnamon stick
  • 14-oz of canned diced tomatoes
  • a 6-oz can of tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 2T each mole powder and veggie bullion




It looked pretty unappealing at first, but…





Pretty awesome after 4 hours on low and 4 hours on high in the slow cooker.


My idea was to make little tacos, so I heated up some corn tortillas I had in the freezer, made a big pot of wild brown rice pilaf, and this slaw from Smitten Kitchen that I’ve been eyeing forever, replacing the napa cabbage with some regular green cabbage and sliced (rather than diced) radishes.


For the dressing, I shook all these together in a jar and poured it over the top of the salad:

  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2T mayonnaise
  • 2T apple cider vinegar
  • 3T minced shallot
  • 1T sugar
  • A few chopped green onions

Okay, I could get used to this crockpot thing.



The Perfect Snack

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I had a plan this week to tell you about my very first foray into the world of crockpot-tery, because this week Jesse borrowed me (OMG did I just write that?  That is some serious Midwest rubbing off on my subconscious…) his to experiment with, and for dinner on Tuesday, I made us mole pulled pork tacos, wild rice pilaf, and buttermilk cilantro slaw.


And while I will tell you about that at some point, I realized this week is no time for deep blogging.  It’s one of the busiest work weeks of my entire year, and I already have my plate full.  


But, I wanted to take a moment and tell you about how good it feels to listen to your body.  I spent most of Tuesday, which is technically my day off, at the shop prepping for this weekend.  By the time I was on my way back home, a slow, rainy drive that included a detour to downtown Portland to pick up our incredible raffle basketI was ravenous.  


I started plotting my snack attack at stop lights so I’d be 100% prepared when I got home.  It was 4:00, too late for a serious snack, but too far from dinner to just have a handful of salt & pepper potato chips.  I was contemplating peanut butter on toast, but as soon as I had that thought, I felt my stomach frown from the inside, and remembered that for some reason, Gluten & I haven’t been getting along lately.





I wouldn’t even go so far as to call myself gluten intolerant, but every once in awhile, I just need to take a break; even the wheatiest, grainiest of whole grain isn’t doing me any favors, and my body reminds me of this as soon as I even have a thought about it (with the exception of pasta salads, for some bizarre reason.  I could eat these every meal of every day and still be psyched).  





But the peanut butter…now we’re getting somewhere.  I suddenly had a flashback to String Summit last summer, when my friend Andrea broke out a bunch of celery and started making ants on a log for everyone, just because.





In case you’ve forgotten, ants on a log are the perfect balance of goopy, crunchy, sweet, salty, satiating, and refreshing.


I’d better stock up on celery until my body decides to let Gluten back in the house, because in a snack world devoid of satisfying crunch, this is kinda perfection.



Did I just blog about ants on a log?  Yep, I went there.


How are we doing on groceries this month?  Well, I had to do this week’s shopping on Monday, as per the usual, so technically that was still in February, but I’m counting it as part of March.  So in February, thanks to some serious frugality, I came out about $7 ahead!


Here’s where we’re at now:


New Seasons 2/27
Thompson raisins: $0.99
Dried ancho chiles: $0.68
Dozen eggs: $2.89
Red leaf lettuce: $1.50
Green cabbage: $2.83
Yellow onions: $1.03
1 lb. strawberries: $3.99 – how are these coming from Cali in February??! No arguments here.
Baby red potatoes: $2.89
Shallots: $1.35
Garlic: $1.26
Bunch radishes: $1.49
Collard greens: $2.49
Pork stew meat: $9.02
TOTAL: $32.36
REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: $117.64


Trader Joe’s 2/27
Raisin Bran: $2.79
Cottage cheese: $1.99
Sundried tomatoes: $1.99
Olive oil: $5.99
TOTAL: $12.76
REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: $104.88


Fred Meyer 2/27
1/2 gallon milk: $2.99
Chicken sausage: $4.99
Cucumber: $0.50
Deli turkey meat: $2.50
TOTAL: $10.98
REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: $93.90





Check out my fellow Project: Food Budget-ers: