Planning Ahead

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Sometimes, leaving the house for a day at work is like preparing for a backpacking trip, and coordinating the logistics is like one of those logic problems where you are trying to get 3 people across a river with nothing but a horse, a sandwich, and a raft.

Example:

My car is out of commission and being fixed up on Burnside, I have to be at work by 11, Jesse needs to be at work by 9:30, and we both have plans after work.  Which means, the pup needs to come to work with me, because that’s way too long to leave him at home by himself.  Luckily, my plans are pet-flexible (meeting an old friend for drinks at the Landmark Saloon, just down the street from Yarnia, and with a wonderful outdoor patio that I plan on taking advantage of, as it’s supposed to remarkably hit 85 degrees this afternoon).  And no, Tucker and I can’t just score a ride to work with Jesse, because his departure time of 9:00 a.m. is far too early for me to pull off my morning work AND a 6 mile run, which wouldn’t be so anal about if I weren’t training for a half marathon and feeling very serious at this point about sticking to my schedule.

There’s nothing I love more than a good logic problem!

Solution:

I leave my Yarnia key for Jesse and go for a run.  Jesse leaves for work, stopping at Yarnia on the way to drop off Tucker, gets him all cozy in his bed, locks him in from the outside,  hides the key for me in a predetermined location, then continues on to work.  I come home from my run, get ready for work, and walk to the bus which gets me to Yarnia right at 11:00 when we open.  I locate the key, Tucker’s here waiting for me, happily snoozing, and we spend the day at work together.  At 6, I close up shop, Tucker and I walk down the street to the Landmark where he joins me for his first patio beer (hello, summer!) and I get to catch up with my long lost friend.  Then, whenever we decide we’re done, Tucker and I walk the 3 miles home, and we call it a day.

This is just a day in the life, but here’s what it requires me remembering to pack in my trusty messenger bag before I walk out the door:

  • A vest for later (even if it’s going to hit 85 today, that means nothing when the sun goes down, and if Tucker’s with me, there’s no option of going inside when it cools down)
  • Phone & headphones (long walk home = podcast time!)
  • Lunch (leftover kebabs and Greek salad from grilling last night + brown rice that I thought ahead to make earlier this morning while I was doing my pre-run work)
  • Breakfast = The base to my single-serving smoothie blender — remembering that I still have a smoothie in my work fridge from last week that I never drank, and all it needs to perk back up is a handful of ice from my trusty ice machine at work (yes, most worthwhile investment of my life), and a few spins in the blender
  • Patio puppy amenities: portable Kevlar water dish, a meaty bone to keep him occupied if he gets restless, a squirt bottle in case he gets barky, and treats galore
  • Exact change for the bus, so I can get myself to work and execute this grand plan

We have good teamwork, me and Jesse, and I owe half of our well-adjusted, happy puppy to his compliance with my carefully scheduled plans.  But I also love the times when we barely have to plan at all, and it just comes together.  Like yesterday, when I got this text mid-day while working from home.

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That’s a picture of some delicious looking kebabs, in case you can’t tell, that Jesse spotted while checking out a new meat market for lunch.  True to his word, he arrived home with a delicious selection (teriyaki beef, and spicy pork!), I whipped up some easy drop biscuits in the Cuisinart and threw together a salad with Greek dressing I had made last week and already had sitting on the counter, he oiled and seasoned some asparagus and threw it on the grill with the meat, and without even trying, we had collaborated an insanely delicious Tuesday evening summertime meal.

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Pasta Carbonara with Garlic Asparagus

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I remember the first time I ever made carbonara.  I was living in Montreal, and my boyfriend at the time had invited me over for dinner.  The menu was his inspiration, and this was in the early days of Internet recipes.  (He also insisted on pronouncing béchamel as “bockamell” for the duration of our relationship, so I was already a little suspect.)  I have a vague memory of an open laptop on the table, a bit of erotic panic at the idea that we were about to mix raw eggs into our meal, and a frenzied moment where it all came together and we stirred like there was no tomorrow to prevent the threatened scrambling.  And, I remember both of us taking a few token bites, congratulating ourselves for thinking outside of the box of the typical college-age go-tos of quesedillas and tofu curries, and then admitting that we were totally disgusted, no doubt moving on to an equally exciting dinner down the street at any of the 24-hour eateries that surrounded both of our glamorously bohemian apartments.  Le sigh.

My relationship with raw eggs has come a long way since then.  I still won’t order eggs sunnyside-up for brunch, or drink an egg white cocktail, but I WILL make an over-easy egg at home and enjoy how a runny yolk with salt and pepper can be the perfect complement to some fluffy artisan toast; I will slowly beat an egg into hot Asian noodle soup and watch the wispy strands curdle with delight; and I will poach an egg and put it over nearly-any-vegetable-and-brown-rice and call it a meal.

I have 12 more years of experience watching ingredients transform since that night on Boulevard René Lévesque, and now, I feel fully supportive of pasta carbonara being a legit meal, and serving it to my family for dinner.  It’s good, guys.  Don’t worry about the eggs.  If you eat pho — and everyone should eat pho — then you can make and eat this meal.

So, let’s go.  Pasta carbonara.  Even though it sounds (and tastes!) fancy, it’s a supremely simple dish — the crux of which is some really delicious bacon.

So first things first, I chopped up 8 oz. of some applewood smoked bacon I’d bought earlier, and fried it up in my smaller cast iron skillet.  I poured the extra fat into a dish to use for future cooking oil, drained the bacon chips on a paper towel, and then cooked up 2 handfuls of frozen peas in the same skillet, transferring them to another bowl once they were cooked.

pasta carbonara

In a separate mixing bowl, I beat together 4 eggs and 1 cup of shredded cheeses (Romano, and garlic pepper jack that was on sale at Grocery Outlet this week), and chose a bag of pasta from the pasta shelf in our pantry.  I didn’t even plan this, but we had a full pound of Campanelle in there, which is a totally wonderful pasta to use for carbonara.

While I boiled a big pot of water for the pasta, I split a bunch of skinny asparagus in half — saving the rest for another meal — and put it in that same skillet, along with 3 pressed cloves of garlic and some salt.  I sauteed this in the remaining bacon fat for just a minute or two, enough to coat all the spears, and then popped the whole skillet into a 350-degree oven to finish them off.  I adore any piece of kitchenware that can double as a stovetop champion, and then weather a hot oven unscathed.
pasta carbonara

So the water boils, pasta is added, and once it’s done cooking, I reserved some of the pasta water before draining it.  Once it was drained, it went back into the pot with some of the reserved water to loosen it, the peas and bacon were stirred in, and then came the egg/cheese mixture — poured in with one hand while the other hand vigorously mixed it all together to prevent the eggs from scrambling while the hot pasta cooked them.

The result — and the beauty of carbonara — is a deliciously silky, creamy texture that tastes cheesy without all the rigamarole and heaviness of a roux-based cheese sauce.

A little more salt and cracked pepper on top, pull the asparagus out of the oven (this could be any vegetable you enjoy, obviously), and you’ve got a perfect meal, with only two dishes to clean.


pasta carbonara


Crispy Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Marsala Sauce and Domino Potatoes

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This was a meal that was born out of my perusing my Pinterest to-cook list and choosing two seemingly unrelated dishes, but once I cooked them on the same night, realized they form a perfect symbiosis, and that these two dishes must always be made at the same time, from hereon out.  Here’s why:

I started by dredging the chicken breasts in a simple mixture of flour, salt, and herbs on a big plate.  (I went with bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts instead of thighs because we’ve been doing a lot of the drums-and-thighs lately and Jesse’s not so into picking meat off of bones), and browning them in coconut oil in the skillet.  Once both sides had been nicely browned, I transferred the breasts to a separate skillet, leaving the drippings in the original skillet, off the heat.

In the meantime, I prepped the domino potatoes, which — beautifully complicated as they look — really only require about two steps.  First, I made some clarified butter by melting a stick of butter in a small saucepan, and cooking it down until it had turned a nice rich brown and the milk solids had separated, at which point I strained it into a little dish for brushing on the potatoes later.  Then, our mandoline finally got to make its debut appearance!

Crusty Chicken Breasts and Domino Potatoes

I have always been wary of the mandoline; it inevitably feels like so much more effort to set up, take apart, and clean than it is ever worth, and when faced with this task, I always find myself willing to settle for uneven matchstick carrots.  But, for the record, this mandoline is super easy to both set up and clean, and really made this dish what it was.  In no other universe could I have done this by hand in only five minutes:

Crusty Chicken Breasts and Domino Potatoes

All you have to do is slice off the round ends of 4 Russet potatoes so that they’re rectangular, then slice them into these perfectly thin little “dominoes” which you then fan out on a baking sheet, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and then baste with the clarified butter and sprinkle with salt — in this case, Magic Unicorn salt — before popping them in to bake for 40 minutes.

Crusty Chicken Breasts and Domino Potatoes

Here’s what Tucker thinks about Magic Unicorn salt:

Crusty Chicken Breasts and Domino Potatoes

Okay, so those guys are baking in the oven, and if you’re more efficient than I was on this evening you’ll pop that waiting skillet of browned chicken in there at the same time so it will finish cooking (if you used thighs you may not need to do this?  It definitely took the large chicken breasts at least another 30 minutes to cook all the way through, which I hadn’t considered until the potatoes were just about done).

While the oven is taking care of both of those, I reheated the skillet that had the leftover chicken fat from earlier, and sauteed half an onion, a few cloves of minced garlic, and a few giant handfuls of chopped mushrooms with some salt.  On a whim, I also threw in the leftover flour/salt/spice mixture that I had used for the chicken, coating the veggies so that once I added the liquid, this gravy would be nice and thick.

Once everything started to sizzle I poured in some white wine to deglaze the pan, let that simmer for a bit, and then added a few splashes of this, which had played a starring role in some scalloped potatoes I made last week.

Crusty Chicken Breasts and Domino Potatoes

According to my slapdash label — milk, dijon, spice, and salt — this seemed like a perfectly complementary savory liquid to add to the mushroom gravy while the chicken continued to cook.  And trust me, it was.  (This is why our fridge is half-full with random jars and tubs of marinades and sauces; if it’s already been used to infuse one fantastic meal, chances are it can only be better the second time around.  I can only guess that the starch from the scalloped potatoes had something to do with the wonderful finished texture of this sauce…)

Be patient, use a meat thermometer, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have just enough time left to throw together a quick salad, so that everything comes out of the oven and off of the stove looking like this.

Crusty Chicken Breasts and Domino Potatoes


Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

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This meal was born out of good fortune.  Monday afternoon, my friend-and-interior-designer Claire and I were having coffee at Little T Bakery, discussing design plans for Yarnia‘s new location.  When we got up to leave, the barista asked if we wanted to take any bread home, since they were closing up for the end of the day.  I said sure (now that I’m running a half marathon, I’m guiltlessly back on the gluten bandwagon) and he loaded us up with gigantic shopping bags full of artisan loaves.

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One of two large Tupperwares full

I had a whole plan for a more elaborate dinner for that night, but with so much fresh, delicious bread now taking up counter space in my kitchen, and the fact that Jesse was still getting over being sick, grilled cheese and homemade tomato soup (mostly based off of this recipe) seemed like the only logical option.

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But, to be fair, I also made this wild rice casserole that I’d had in the back of my mind as a good way to use up the head of broccoli that had been dwelling in our crisper for almost-too-long; those potatoes you see dotting the top are the tail end of the scalloped potatoes I’d made last week, and with almost the exact same sauce holding this dish together, they seemed like the perfect layer to spread on top.  Delish, to be sure, but would have benefited greatly from the addition of sauteed mushrooms.

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Ambiance augmented by beautiful flowers that Jesse brought home last Friday afternoon.  Just ‘cuz.

 


Pancakes!

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I got the most intense craving on Monday night — sitting on the couch around dinnertime with my laptop, on Round 3 of 3 of my work for that day (with the Yarn Crawl coming up and big things in the works for my businesses, my days tend to consist of work-before-work, work-during-work, and work-after-work) — for pancakes.  Not, like, I want to eat pancakes in the morning and I can’t wait, but I want to eat pancakes right now, for dinner.

You probably know by now that I am a slave to my cravings, and so, that’s what I had for dinner on Monday night.  So weird!  I didn’t even want anything else…just pancakes.  So, I whipped up my go-to recipe, adapted from Alice Waters’ Art of Simple Cooking (adapted mostly meaning that I don’t do any extra steps like separating eggs, mixing ingredients separately…it just all goes into the same bowl, whisked together.  They still turn out great).

  • 3/4c white flour
  • 3/4c brown rice flour
  • 1t baking powder
  • 1t baking soda
  • 1t salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1c buttermilk
  • 3/4c yogurt (I just happened to have some lemon-honey Greek yogurt on hand that I got last week on super sale at Grocery Outlet…there could not have been a better ingredient on my fridge to use here)

pancakes

This obviously makes enough batter for tons and tons of pancakes, and I only wanted, like, three.  So I funneled the rest into an old Santa Cruz juice jar, which as it turns out is the perfect vessel for pouring perfect little pancakes out of without any mess at all.

pancakes

This is now nestled in our fridge and I’ve been eating delicious, nearly-instant pancakes all week long — with eggs and bacon (indulgent weekend breakfast), with cottage cheese (healthy weekday breakfast), and with homemade lemon curd and more of that honey-lemon Greek yogurt (dessert)!

pancakes


Gnocchi with Mushroom Ragu and Stuffed Chickpea Crepes

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I set out this week to make this recipe for gnocchi with mushroom ragu — the meal was actually inspired by a package of gnocchi I got a killer deal on last week, so I used store-bought instead of the homemade version in that recipe.  Homemade gnocchi always seems like an unnecessary pain.  If I’m going to waste some calories on empty potato starch, it had better be becasue it makes for an easy weeknight meal and only takes 5 minutes to cook!  I’ll save labor-intensive for if I ever decide to make my own fettucine.chickpea crepes and gnocchi with mushroom ragu

The recipe for the mushroom ragu is so dang simple I don’t really know what I can say about it.  I bought a pound of delicious mushrooms at the Portland Fruit Company, sauteed them with butter and garlic and a teaspoon of homemade rub that was a Christmas gift from one of our friends this year, then added wine and stock (didn’t have any thyme), and a few teaspoons of corn starch to thicken it up.  Then topped it off with some fresh lemon juice and cream!

A pound of mushrooms really doesn’t make a whole lot of sauce once it cooks down — just enough to liberally cover two small servings of gnocchi, which was only about half the package — the rest will get turned into something else later in the week!  Oh, but after cooking the gnocchi in boiling water and straining them, I did fry them up in some coconut oil on the stovetop so they were nice and toothy.

This would never have been enough food for Jesse “I’m a growing boy” Hanson’s dinner, so fortunately I had pulled this recipe for chickpea crepes from my Pinterest to try out for this week.  I would never think of crepes as being particularly filling, but since these are made entirely with chickpea flour, they actually packed a pretty filling punch and made for great little handheld shells in which to make mini DIY salad tacos.

The crepes are super easy.  You just mix up all the following ingredients in a bowl, and let it sit while you prep the rest of the meal:

  • 1 1/3c chickpea flour
  • 1c water (I added more so that the pancakes would be thinner)
  • 1/2 jalapeno
  • 1 inch ginger, grated
  • 1c chopped cilantro
  • 2t salt
  • 1t cayenne

After whisking those together and letting it sit, I added more water until it was the consistency I wanted — like pancake batter.  I heated up some coconut oil in our skillet and made these pancakes one ladle-ful at a time, letting them cook most of the way through on one side, then flipping them momentarily to finish them off.  Our skillet has a pretty nice patina at this point so I didn’t have to re-oil the pan more than once or twice.

By the end, I had a big plate full of these protein-y, filling, spicy, savory crepes, which were served DIY-style, each of us adding our own ratio of salad greens, leftover black beans, green onions, and dressing (choices were lemon-tahini-yogurt, or garlic-dijon-vinaigrette) as the filling and eating them taco-style with our hands.  Delish!

chickpea crepes and gnocchi with mushroom ragu


Cheesy Polenta, Black Beans, Garlic Spinach, and a Poached Egg

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This was a perfect Monday night meal, inspired by this post on the Kitchn.  I love how, despite the four multiple components to this meal (which totally goes against my propensity for one-pot dinners!), everything cooks in the right order and gives you time to prep the next thing while you leave the current one to boil/simmer/saute, and it really does come together perfectly at the end.

The real shining star that made this meal so healthy and delish was the black beans, which I subbed in for the chicken sausage.  I had a long meeting on Monday morning and came home afterwards to finish up my work for the day at home, which meant I was home early enough to get this started — a luxury that most probably don’t have, but that’s the small biz owner tradeoff for late nights, early mornings, and unbridled stress.

Jesse had dutifully cleaned up after a little Super Bowl party that he threw here the day before, so our Dutch oven was sparkling clean and in perfect shape for the job.  I started by sauteeing an entire chopped onion in some leftover bacon fat in the bottom of the Dutch oven, along with 4 cloves of smashed garlic.  After a few minutes I added 2 cups of dried black beans, covered with water, and brought that all to a boil with a bay leaf, a teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder, and some chopped up leftover charred poblano peppers that I had in the fridge from last week when I made us cheesy shrimp-stuffed peppers for dinner.  After bringing this all to a boil, I then turned everything off and let it all sit on the stove for the rest of the afternoon, not touching it again until later that night when I came home from a long run, when I brought it back to a boil and then let it simmer for about 40 minutes, with the lid slightly ajar.  (The sitting all afternoon effectively was me soaking the beans, just in a more complicated water.)

Cheesy Polenta Bowl

While the beans were simmering, I started the polenta, bringing 3 cups of water and 1 cup of milk to a boil together in a pot on the stove.  Once it started boiling, I whisked in 1 cup of polenta and 1 teaspoon of salt, covered, and simmered — whisking every few minutes to prevent clumping.  Once it had thickened, I added a big handful of shredded cheddar to the pot and stirred it in until it had incorporated.  I usually save polenta for nights like these, when Jesse does his own thing for dinner and I can experiment with foods I don’t think he’ll particularly like.  But after making polenta like this, I kind of feel like I need to force him to give it another go.  When you make polenta with this much cheese and milk, I kind of feel like anyone who loves macaroni and cheese, has to love this, too.

Cheesy Polenta Bowl

While that polenta was in its last stages of thickening, I got started on the spinach — but we also had a yam that’s been sitting around for awhile, so I chopped half of that up into little cubes and pan fried them first.  Once the yam was pretty well cooked, I added a chopped shallot, 3 cloves of pressed garlic, and a giant bunch of fresh spinach, chopped, to the skillet.  Once the spinach was perfectly wilted, I removed it from the heat.

Cheesy Polenta Bowl

Right about when I threw in the spinach, shallot and garlic, I also brought a small little saucepan of water toa boil on the adjacent burner with a spoonful of vinegar, to poach this egg.  Once the water was at a low simmering boil, I cracked the egg into the water, careful not to break the yolk, and set my timer for 4 minutes.  I think 4.5 minutes is perfect for a poached egg, so once I hear the timer go off, this gives me just enough time to find a spoon to fish it out with, assemble my bowl with all the components (polenta, beans, and spinach), and head back to the stove to place the egg on top as the crowning jewel.

Cheesy Polenta Bowl

I’m into it.


Corn Pasta with Broccoli Pesto, Button Mushrooms, and Lemon Chicken

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Here’s a super easy weeknight meal, inspired by this dish from Smitten Kitchen!

I’ve spent the past year dabbling in the gluten free world, which lately has sort of gone by the wayside because I decided to run a half marathon in May (yes, really!), and now that I’m running 4+ times a week, my body doesn’t seem to care whether I eat bread, pasta, or even pizza.  It’s pretty awesome, and honestly, worth all the miles I’m putting on my shoes.  I made a breakfast sandwich the other day…on an English muffin!  After 13 months of corn tortillas and chickpea-flour pancakes, that was pretty revolutionary.  Not to say I don’t still love brown rice (and let’s face it, I’d eat a corn tortilla quesadilla for lunch every single day if I weren’t such a stickler for variety), so a ton of meals I cook still happen to be gluten-free, but I can be a little less strict about it these days and still feel healthy and clear-headed.

Which is all meant to say, we still have a lot of corn and brown rice pasta in our pantry.  Which is why this meal happened.

Corn pasta with broccoli pesto

I started by quartering some mushrooms and sauteeing them in my skillet.  We made slow cooker collard greens for a dinner party last weekend that used an entire pound of bacon — that fat of which I saved and have been cooking pretty much everything in this week, including these mushrooms.

Corn pasta with broccoli pesto

I chopped up some frozen chicken tenders for protein, but wanted a little extra texture to go in there so after defrosting them, I coated them in a simple batter of flour and dried herbs.  Then I fried them up next in the skillet, and set both them and the mushrooms aside on a plate.

Corn pasta with broccoli pesto

Meanwhile, I had been steaming an entire bunch of broccoli in my fancy bamboo steamer (using the pot of pasta-water-to-be as the steaming liquid), which I now removed from the heat (and added the corn pasta to the water to begin cooking it.  Corn pasta — at least this brand — takes about twice as long as regular pasta to cook, so get started on it before you think you’ll need to.

Corn pasta with broccoli pesto

While all that sauteeing had been going on, I’d chopped up a couple shallots and a few cloves of garlic, which I sauteed in the empty-again skillet for a few minutes before adding the steamed broccoli, some red pepper flakes and salt, and a bit of half and half.  This made a nice mushy mess, but looks aren’t important here, because it’s all about to go into the Cuisinart anyway.

Corn pasta with broccoli pesto

Here’s where the true improvising begins.  After a few pulses in the Cuisinart, it looked like super thick cream of broccoli soup, but then I started adding odds and ends from the fridge to make it creamier — some random soft cheese wedges that were left over from said dinner party, a little more cream, spices and salt to taste, and then to thin it out and turn it into more of a sauce, I took a dips into the pasta water with a measuring cup (though I can’t tell you at all how much!).  Regular water probably would have worked fine here, but pasta cooking water gets nice and starchy, especially from corn pasta, so this helped to give the sauce some body.

Corn pasta with broccoli pesto

Once I was satisfied with the taste and consistency, I drained the pasta, mixed in the sauce, and then topped it with the mushrooms and chicken.

Easy and healthy (minus the bacon fat) one-dish meal!


Sausage Sweet Potato Hash, Asian Style Green Beans, & Brown Rice

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sausage sweet potato hash

Well hello there!  Yes, it’s been awhile, I know.  I sort of slipped into a funk there about what this blog is about, and I’ll tell you why: Living by myself, keeping up with what I was buying, cooking, and eating was super simple.  I did all my own grocery shopping, cooked nearly every meal for myself, and always knew what was in my cupboards, freezer, and fridge.  And, sticking to my $6 a day budget really was a challenge.  There were some months there where I had $6 left in the last week of the month and had to invest it in greens, making brown-rice-black-bean-collard bowls for the rest of the month.  (Which, honestly, is not a bad way to go.  It’s actually one of my favorite weeknight meals!  Especially if you have some good hot sauce on hand.)

But, moving in with Jesse has been a whole different ballgame.  I still do almost all of the grocery shopping, kitchen organizing, and cooking, which I certainly can’t complain about.  If that’s the way our division of labor shakes out and I get to sit back and knit while he fixes an emergency leak in the upstairs shower, or cleans the gutters on Saturday morning, I’m a lucky girl.  But, it does complicate things for the purpose of this blog.  For instance:

  • Jesse is a fantabulous cook, but he goes about it waaaaay differently than I do.  He simply wakes up in the morning, decides he wants to eat beef stroganoff for dinner, and then goes to Fred Meyer on his way home and buys every single ingredient, including most of the spices and pantry items we already have.  I’m grateful to have a delicious meal waiting for me when I come home from work, so this is not the battle I pick, but while that’s still part of our shared grocery expenses, it’s certainly not the way I roll!
  • I can scrupulously save receipts from every purchase and catalog them at the end of the week, but asking that of Jesse is a losing battle, so my weekly tally of grocery spending never felt totally accurate, and that bugged me so much!
  • Jesse eats at home way less than I do.  Whether it’s picking up a sandwich from Subway for his work lunch, or Mexican takeout after a late night of bowling, or just the fact that he doesn’t eat breakfast OR leftovers, the fact of the matter is, our household consumption is pretty skewed.  I eat 3 different meals at home (or bring them with me wherever I’m going) most days out of the week, and while they’re inexpensive and made using simple ingredients, the fact of the matter is I’m consuming about 70 percent of our groceries these days, which makes it really hard to really figure out the math of whether we’re truly supporting two grown adults (one of whom can put down three burritos in one sitting…and it’s not me!) on six dollars a day.

So, while I certainly haven’t stopped cooking, shopping frugally, or getting creative with my leftovers, I did stop blogging about it for about eight months!  But, recent requests from certain friends and customers have convinced me to get back into it, realizing that maybe this blog will just have to revamp its purpose.

So, I probably won’t be taking snapshots of all my receipts, keeping a running total, or showing you the breakdown of what each ingredient costs.  But, I will keep taking pictures of meals that I’m proud of, and telling you how I made them!  And you’ll just have to trust that I’m still scouting out the best deals at the grocery store, buying for the future, and getting creative with what’s already taking up space in our freezer/pantry/fridge/cupboards.

This one was a wonderfully collaborative meal, totally by surprise, and was actually precipitated by an argument about Point #3 above.  Every once in awhile, when it comes time to reconcile the monthly bills (which includes all the groceries we put on our shared credit card), Jesse gets all grumpy-pants about it, huffing that he pays for half the groceries, even though he barely eats any of them.  Which, I believe, is really not my problem.  Whether or not you choose to partake, you have a healthy, home-cooked meal waiting for you every night, plenty of leftovers for us both to take to work, and I even make most of our dinners with you in mind (i.e. usually featuring meat and/or cheese, Wisco-style!)

Being able to to share fridge space, grocery costs, cooking, and mealtimes is supremely important to me — and a requirement for me even with a regular old roommate, let alone a life partner.  Even in college, I entered every roommate situation making it clear that I did not want to have the kind of fridge where we each have our own shelf, shop independently, and label our own milk with our names in Sharpie.  Being able to share in each other’s nourishment is one of the most loving things we can do together, and I have been adamant since day one that if we are going to split the mortgage, water bills, and 50-lb. bags of food for our pup, then we should be splitting groceries too, because they are (and should be) part of our life together.

For me, part of sharing groceries also welcomes open conversations about what we’re eating, what we’re spending, what we want to cook together — whether it’s a savory midweek crockpot meal or a gigantic smoked brisket for a party.  It means that if our grocery bill is too high one month, let’s talk about it and figure out why and decide ways together to pare it down.  It means that even though you may not ever eat any of the cottage cheese that I make my morning Israeli salads with, you also get that entire package of Oreos to yourself, or if you want to eat a frozen pizza for dinner one night, go for it!  I’ll split that with you too even if I’m not having any.

I came home from work that day armed with all these arguments in mind, ready to make my case, only to find Jesse had already worked all this out in his own head over the course of the day, and was agreeing with all my points before they even finished coming out of my mouth — the best kind of frustrating.

And, on that note, I dug some random veggies out of the drawer that I thought would complement each other — zucchini, onion, and sweet potato — and a package of chicken sausage out of the freezer where I like to keep random protein on hand just for occasions like this, pointed to the pile and said, “Okay, why don’t you make a hash out of that.”

This is one thing I love about cooking with Jesse: he is refreshingly compliant and capable.  Sometimes I’ll have a vision for dinner, and instead of trying to handle all the components I’ll pull up a recipe for one of my ideas, set up his tablet on the kitchen counter, and tell him to “make that.”  He’s really good at following directions.  The other side of this is that I can trust him to chop up whatever I put before him, add it to a skillet, and season it well by improvisation.  I honestly can’t even tell you what he put in this hash, but I do know he cooked the diced sweet potatoes first since he knew they’d take the longest, then added the onion and sausage, and cooked the sliced zucchini separately so it wouldn’t get too mushy.  Swoon.

In the meantime, I trimmed the ends off of a big bag of green beans I bought last week, heated up some peanut oil in the smaller skillet over medium heat, and tossed them in.  After they’d sauteed for about two minutes, I added some store-bought stir fry sauce — nothing fancy, just some Vietnamese-style bottle of something-or-other that’s been in our fridge for awhile.  While I probably could have whipped up a homemade version of this blend, I get antsy when there isn’t regular condiment turnover, and I’m sure I bought this at Grocery Outlet some time back because it was on crazy-super-sale, so I went for it.  This added some liquid to the skillet as well, which sped along the cooking process by adding the element of steam.  I ground up some peanuts (yes!  I have  nut grinder!  It’s one of my favorite appliances, probably because I love cooking Asian food and about 60% of my meals involve chopped peanuts), and added them to the pan, causing them to get nice and toasty and also caramelize in the sauce.

I almost always have a batch of cooked brown rice already on hand in the fridge, so we just nuked some of that, spooned Jesse’s hash over top, and ate the green beans on the side.


Sushi!

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So, a few months back, I was at my favorite Asian superstore, Fubonn, and decided to purchase a gigantic bag of sticky rice.  I’m not really sure why, I just sort of wanted to experiment with it.

Turns out, it really fails in most contexts, except for mango sticky rice (dessert AND breakfast!), and sushi.

Now, I’m not going to get terribly fancy with my sushi.  If I want some edible-grade raw fish and fancy garnishes and tempura involved, I’ll happily trek over to our favorite restaurant and lay down $15 for a wonderfully satisfying meal.

This is more about utility and function.  I’m on the gluten-free train these days, and have been pretty content lately making myself lunches comprised of corn tortillas and yummy cheeses, which I heat up at work, some deli turkey, and greens or a lightly dressed salad to tuck inside.  That to me is a perfect lunch taco.

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Easy Asian slaw for the week

But, I do get bored eating the same thing every day, so this seemed like a good way to switch it up.  We always have nori on hand — I buy it in massive bulk at Fubonn and honestly can just rip pieces of the sheet off and eat them I love it so much, particularly during certain times of the month when my body is craving iron.  It just seems like the right thing to do.

So I consulted the Internet about what sticky rice is actually supposed to be used for — rather than failed side projects to my various stir-frys — and realized that it’s super easy to make sushi rice.  Cooked on the stovetop just like any other regular white rice, you just add some rice vinegar, salt, and sugar, and call it a day.  Well actually, the methods I spotted involved cooking the dressing separately, stirring it in after the rice was cooked, blah blah blah.  But I am a lazy cook, and my way worked just fine.

And the filling?  I wanted this to be a fridge excavation project, so the only ingredient I bought to sushify things up was some imitation crab meat from Safeway, and other than that just filled the rolls with sliced up cucumber and avocado that we already had on hand.

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And voila!  I did have a little dish of soy for dipping, but honestly, as untraditional as it sound, Fire on the Mountain‘s spicy peanut sauce really does the trick, too.

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This Week’s Groceries

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Roasted a chicken so I’d have some easy shredded meat on hand in the freezer, (and stock!), and a handful of sushi ingredients

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Brunch party at our house!