Pasta Carbonara with Turkey Bacon and Snow Peas

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Wow, I am so loving having another cook in the kitchen — especially one who wakes up in the morning already ruminating on an idea of what he wants to make for dinner.  I’ve had an especially spoiled week, with my work schedule ramping up to its usual fall frenzy, both UCU and Yarnia in full fall swing, and Jesse finding himself with a sleep-in, do-stuff-around-the-house kind of schedule while he waits on an electrician for his current project, I got not one but two evenings this week where I got to come home after a 12-hour work day to find him in the kitchen finishing the last of the dishes with dinner already made and ready to go.

For years all the grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning up afterwards has been 100% on me!  I hadn’t even considered this bonus perk of living with someone, especially when my evenings often are merely phase three of my work day; after a few hours of transcription in the mornings before work, and then seven hours of plowing through my to-do list at work, I often come home to a few more hours of screen time, whatever I couldn’t finish at the shop — albeit in my favorite little nook of the couch, in pajamas, and with a glass of wine or mug of tea at my side.

The best part is, taking a few days off made me so excited to come home on Thursday evening, with a little more lax of a to-do list that night, and unload the contents of our veggie drawers and try to get creative.  I’m sure it won’t always work out this beautifully, but it happened to be an afternoon where Jesse had gone out to take advantage of what was rumored to be the last sun we’ll see until next April, and got home from disc golf to find me browning turkey bacon and whisking together the sauce for a carbonara, and I think he was equally as delighted.

I had bought this package of turkey bacon on a whim at GO this week, and it seemed like the perfect light protein to throw into some campanelle pasta, along with some equally sized chards of the snow peas that had been lingering in our fridge for almost too long.

This got browned in the skillet along with the peas, and after that, half of a finely diced white onion and a few cloves of garlic for just a few minutes, until they had barely started to soften; all this I set aside while I worked on the rest of the meal.

Now squash, to be honest, is one of those vegetables that I have tried to like for years, unwilling to accept the fact that I just really don’t, but always on the lookout for ways to make it work.  So local and hearty and cheap and plentiful!  How can I not like squash?  Well, I recently discovered, while at my friend Hollis’ house for dinner, that perhaps some Delicata squash, sliced super thin, is just the disguise I was looking for.

So tonight, I tried it out her way: slicing the squash in half lengthwise, I cored out all the seeds, and then cut the squash into thin half moon slices.

These were tossed in a bowl with melted coconut oil, salt, pepper, and my Balti seasoning from Penzey’s, and baked at 375 for about 25 minutes.  And wouldn’t you know it, they came out perfect and delicious enough to eat, skin and all.

Meanwhile, to give us some greens on the side, I whipped up a super quick-and-easy salad of Napa cabbage and red onion, dressed with Smitten’s buttermilk dressing.

I’ve never made a carbonara sauce before, but I have to say, I may be sold on it.  I do love a good cheese sauce, but this one is sooooo much less work than my usual bechamel-inspired one, so much lighter, and really, if you wanted to cheese it up, you could add any soft or grated cheese at the end and it would probably work just as well.

Essentially, while the pasta is cooking (I used campanelle, which I think I had lying around in my pantry from way back this summer when I got overzealous about the festival pasta salads), I whisked together 3 eggs, half a cup of cream (half & half), some salt, pepper, and Italian seasonings.  Then, as soon as I had drained the pasta, while it was still steaming hot, I stirred the sauce in so that it cooked the eggs just enough, but stirring continuously so they wouldn’t scramble.  It’s still a rich, creamy sauce, but not such a gut bomb, and takes about a tenth as long to prepare.  Sold!


This Week’s Groceries

Portland Fruit Company 10/9

  • Bananas: $1.06
  • Honeydew melon: $2.88
  • Red potatoes: $1.66
  • Miscellaneous produce: $8.72 – bummer that they don’t itemize everything, but I know this included a head of Napa cabbage, yellow onions, avocados, roma tomatoes, plums, and nectarines

TOTAL: $14.32

REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: $233.47

 

Grocery Outlet 10/11

  • 2 lbs. shredded sharp cheddar: $5.99 – this was cheaper than the brick that I was planning on grating myself for some reason!
  • Turkey bacon: $2.49
  • Chicken strips: $3.99 – guilty pleasure freezer snacks
  • Peppermint Chai tea concentrate: $1.49
  • Tuna: $1.78

TOTAL: $15.74

REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: $217.73

 

Grocery Outlet 10/7 (This was Jesse — it shows up on the credit card but I’m still working on him to keep the itemized receipts!  I think this was stuff for the Italian sausage pasta with vodka sauce that he made last Sunday.  Like I said, he’s a meal-based shopper.)

TOTAL: $26.02

REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: $191.71


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The First Week

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Things are finally getting back on track here.  In one short week, my brand new kitchen has gone from this…

to this:

This is how we were doing Tuesday night, before about eight of my girlfriends came over for an impromptu ladies’ wine night while the boys played poker, doubling as a rough, rough draft of a housewarming party.  It was, however, the best way I could have ever hoped to ring in the first night in the house alone (after Jesse had, as promised, spent the full first week there together with me — immensely helpful and fun).

Oh yes, and I did in fact get the fridge of my dreams.


French door fridge access, bottom drawer freezer, automatic (crushed!) ice and water dispenser — stainless steel, and 78,000 cubic inches of pure refrigerated goodness.  Plus, I got it at a killer price, at the Standard TV and Appliance Outlet Store (who knew?!) for $1,000 less than its original list price!

Yup, I got me a fridge.  And a kitchen sink.

The first non-take-out meal in the new house??  Baked potatoes.  I’m not sure why I got an insane craving for baked potatoes earlier this week, when I probably haven’t eaten one in 4+ years, but I did, and then when I walked the FOUR BLOCKS around the corner to my newly-discovered Grocery Outlet (don’t worry, you’ll hear more about this.  It warrants an entirely separate blog post), I found they had 10-lb. bags of russets on sale, so that sealed the deal.

Plus, I’ve only found about 10% of my dishes and utensils so far, so a DIY potato bar seemed to be the way to go, adorned with some seitan that I scored for $0.99, and then fried up in the skillet with some jerk seasoning, and topped with various chopped veggies, shredded cheese, and the last little bowlful of Greek yogurt that actually did make the cut and came with me in the cooler from the old house.

With Portland’s version of a heat wave upon us, and a kitchen that’s finally not in a basement, I’m loving the easy-dinner lifestyle of making do with whatever’s in the fridge, and turning it into some sort of creative cold salad.  Last night, I swung by the GO on the way home and, though their produce section is not the most impressive part of the store, I did find a good looking eggplant and a bag of cole slaw for super cheap, and turned it into dinner.

First I roasted the eggplant in little spears, coated with olive oil, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast.

I made a spicier version of my go-to pizza dough, adding some tandoori seasoning that gave it a nice saffron flavor.  But instead of baking it, I rolled it into a little patty disc and lightly fried it in the skillet, giving it a wonderful naan flatbread quality.

I found some leftover ranch dressing in the fridge that I used to dress the cole slaw, and layered this on the flatbread with the eggplant spears for an awesome main dish.  I had a handful of beets in my fridge that I had already roasted a few days earlier, when my friend Hollis (now a Portlander!!!) brought over a bunch from her garden to the Tuesday soiree.  I sliced these up and tossed them with some red onion, olive oil, balsamic, candied walnuts, and Bacos.  Fantastic.


All right.  I think I’m back on the wagon.


This Week’s Groceries

Fred Meyer 7/27

  • Cucumbers: $1.18
  • Green pepper: $0.59
  • Orange pepper: $1.50
  • Roma tomato: $0.64
  • Roasted chicken: $5.99

TOTAL: $9.90

REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: $146.75 (carried over $6.65 unused from last month)

 

Grocery Outlet 7/31

  • Cottage cheese: $2.39
  • Chocolate milk: $1.69
  • Pico de gallo: $2.99
  • Pepper jack cheese: $3.17
  • Cubed seitan: $0.99 
  • Green onion: $0.50
  • Red bell pepper: $0.59
  • Bag of russet potatoes: $2.99
  • Avocado: $0.99
  • Green grapes: $2.99

TOTAL: $19.29

REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: $127.46

 


Chicken Soft Tacos with Buttermilk Cilantro Slaw

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Tuesday I had one of those days where I feel like I’m living someone else’s life.  I spent all day doing things that my schedule doesn’t usually consist of — things like going to yoga, and meeting with an SEO consultant, and then driving to Beaverton to meet my real estate agent for the first time(!).

 

All these things have been creeping into my life slowly, like a few weeks ago when my friend Erika texted me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to join her at this yoga class she goes to every week at the gym we share, but never cross paths at.  It was my first time ever doing yoga (am I the last person on the planet?  Or at least in Portland?), and admittedly, it does feel pretty zen.  I don’t think it’s zen in the way that yoga is supposed to make you feel zen though, because I’d much rather bask in the 1,000 things zooming through my mind than clear it, and I’m pretty bad at remembering to breathe in my daily life as it is, so it’s not the meditative aspect of it that appeals to me.  Honestly, I just really love being sore the next day, which I have been all three weeks that I’ve gone.  No, the zen I get from it is the weird kick in the pants of, for the rest of the day, thinking, I am one of those people who goes to yoga at 10:15 on Tuesday mornings.  I ordered my own mat yesterday on Amazon, NBD.

And the SEO thing, that’s been in the works for awhile.  It’s one of the perks (or in my opinion, most awesomely exciting aspect) of this 8-month business class series that I landed a scholarship for through the SBDC, which essentially grants me free access to all of these rad consultants through the organization, everything from accountants to inventory management specialists to all sorts of other helpful one-on-one consulting for my business.  But still, it feels really exciting to have a totally free hour-long meeting right in the middle of my Tuesday afternoon to breeze in and work on some exciting projects we have in the works for the online shop and migrating the Yarnia blog over to CustomYarn.com.

And then — a real estate agent!  Because I’m buying a house!  This was the cherry on top that really made me have to stop and be like…WTF, who am I?  How did I end up in this person’s sunny, 70-degree Tuesday?  We talked about what I’m looking for in a dream house, all the factors that need to be there from the get-go, and what can be amended after the fact, and then I drove back to Portland in horrible Tuesday afternoon traffic (is this what everyone’s been talking about?) while I finished my iced Americano and listened to hard rock really loud.

And in between all that, I found the perfect little window to swing by New Seasons and pick up groceries for the week.  I had these shrimp tacos on the brain — an easy, leftover-friendly dinner that I could whip up for me and Jesse without much effort, since my “day off” of appointments and errands left me working on that day’s transcription until almost 7:00 p.m. once I got home.

I didn’t actually go for the shrimp — they had some at New Seasons, but I also had a few portions worth of roasted shredded chicken in the freezer, and I’m in super-frugal mode these days, saving up for a down payment, and the shrimp seemed like an unnecessary luxury this week.

I threw these into the skillet and defosted them on medium-high heat with about a cup of homemade chicken stock.  Once the stock had melted and the chicken had started to break apart, I added some cayenne pepper, salt, cumin seeds, and about a cup of V8 to the mix, and let it all simmer for about 45 minutes, adding more V8 as the stock cooked down and absorbed.

I wanted to bulk up the protein part of this meal so I’d have a couple days of lunches left over, so I also made some of my favorite black beans; I’d started a cup of these soaking earlier that morning.

These get fresh water, and boil on medium-high heat for a good hour, along with a big dried ancho chile, cumin seeds, salt, nutritional yeast, and a bit of brown sugar.

Once the beans are soft enough to eat, I start thickening the broth with some corn starch.  Here’s what I do to avoid the gross clumps that form when you just sprinkle corn starch or flour in: take a little cupful of the broth, and mix a spoonful of corn starch into just that small amount, using a fork against the sides to work out any of the clumps that may form.

This will make a pretty thick, creamed-up-coffee-colored concoction.  Then pour that back into the pot, give it a stir, and it will work its thickening magic evenly and without clumps!

I like doing this way more than straining the beans, because as the sauce continues to reduce and thicken, you’ll be left with a delicious, flavorful, syrupy pot of black beans with the consistency of Boston baked beans, but waaaaay healthier!  These are so yummy I could eat them just by themselves with some brown rice and pico de gallo and be perfectly content.

But, I also like to outdo myself.

So in addition to this, I whipped up a delicious multicolored buttermilk slaw to accompany the tacos with a fresh, spicy crunch.

I bought not one but two heads of cabbage for the occasion (and hey, cabbage is cheap and lasts forever in the fridge), and chopped up enough to fill the bowl.

I shook up a little buttermilk dressing in a jar, consisting of mayo, buttermilk, cayenne pepper, white vinegar, a little white sugar, and salt, and tossed it all together.

Then I added half a chopped jalapeno, and about half a bunch of chopped cilantro, and stuck it back in the fridge to mingle for a bit until dinner was ready — this also included warmed corn tortillas, some red-and-brown rice, sliced avocado with lime, and fresh pico de gallo.

Dinner was so delicious, in fact, that I completely spaced on taking pictures, but here’s the lunch I’ve been enjoying these past few sunny days at work as leftovers — heated up in my makeshift double-boiler, and wrapped up in warm corn tortillas.  Delish.


This Week’s Groceries

New Seasons 5/8

  • Corn tortillas: $1.49
  • Cayenne pepper: $0.90
  • Buttermilk: $1.79
  • Dozen eggs: $2.89
  • Pico de gallo: $2.99
  • Spinach: $3.50
  • Green cabbage: $2.07
  • Red cabbage: $3.74
  • Cauliflower: $4.67 — for cauliflower leek soup later this week!
  • Limes: $0.38
  • Avocado: $1.50
  • Bunch cilantro: $1.49
  • Leeks: $3.23
  • Jalapeno: $0.35

TOTAL: $30.94

REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: $59.26


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.



Curried Ginger Carrot Soup, Black-Eyed Pea Salad, and Tangy Citrus Cabbage Salad

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 This is what a fantastic Monday looks like:
  • Waking up as the little spoon
  • Having someone else make you a supremely rich and flavorful cup of coffee, out of hand-ground, French-pressed beans
  • Catching up on the weekend’s email and blogosphere news
  • Getting a looming dentist appointment out of the way
  • Scoring a new pair of cute Mary Janes for $10
  • Figuring out how to hook your iPod up to your car stereo so you can catch up on phone calls while you drive around town doing errands
  • Finding a cool shelf for the super exciting new pattern station(!) you’re installing at work this week
  • Buying like 100 pounds of vegetables for the next week for only $35
  • Getting all your laundry, dishes, and cleaning out of the way in the early afternoon
  • Cranking out an hour of transcription in 90 minutes
  • The thrill of watching UCU applications come pouring in at the speed of about one every five minutes during the last 24 hour rush of summer apps before tomorrow’s deadline
  • Spending the evening listening to Democracy Now and WTF while you cook up a storm.

Let me elaborate.  I cooked a lot tonight.  I was kind of on a roll with being productive and didn’t want to stop.  And, this way, all I have to do tomorrow during my (faux) day off is some morning transcription, go for a run, and then my favorite: parking it at a cafe on a (hopefully sunny) Tuesday afternoon with some iced coffee, cranking out 4+ hours of UCU and Yarnia work so the rest of my week is a little more manageable.  Especially because this week holds a lot of fun things in store, including one of my favorite bluegrass shows, dinner with friends, and a trip up to Seattle.

So.  I did the obvious.  You know, roasted a chicken, baked some bread.

Sundried tomato / fresh dill / half whole wheat bread

But then I also made curried ginger carrot soup, tangy shredded cabbage salad, and black eyed pea salad.  Oh, and soaked and boiled chickpeas for some hummus that I’ll be making tomorrow, and homemade chicken stock is boiling on the stove as I write this (in the same pot I used to make the soup, after transferring the latter to tupperwares for the week.  Genius!)

So first, the soup.  Not sure where I stumbled upon this recipe from, but as soon as I saw it, I couldn’t get it out of my head and even though I really shouldn’t be this excited about soups in April, it’s still like 40 degrees and raining in Portland, so even though I try to defy the weather by incorporating sockless shoes and vests into my wardrobe, it’s still a welcome warming meal.

This soup began by melting 3/4 of a stick of butter in my big soup pot, and sauteeing half a yellow onion (chopped), and a good sized chunk of ginger (minced).  
I accidentally stumbled upon a great trick for the ginger, BTW.  I have this part of my fridge that is supposed to “chill” things, but it’s so close to the icebox it really just half-freezes them.  I’ve started putting things like ginger and jalapenos and lemons in there — little flavor punches that I like to buy without clear intention, and that sadly go bad when left in the regular part of the fridge.  And apparently ginger, in this half-frozen state, flakes off like crystal, beautifully and effortlessly, when you pretend to try to slice it really thin.   

Then I chopped this gargantuan bundle of carrots that I bought today.  I love how cheap carrots are.  Seriously, this entire pile of carrots cost $1.90 and they are sooo bright and crisp and sweet.
After cooking the onions and ginger in the butter over medium heat for about 10 minutes, I added in the carrots and stirred so they were coated in the butter.  Five minutes later, I added three cups of my homemade chicken stock, 
and 2 tablespoons of my favorite curry powder (“Muchi” curry powder, in the bulk section at New Seasons).

I let this boil together for 30 minutes, and then pureed it in the blender in batches, leaving a cup or two un-pureed so that there are still some carrot slices in there for texture.  Not a fan of the 100% pureed soups.  I returned all the soup to the pot and added a cup of milk and salt to taste.  


Okay, while this was all happening I’d been cooking some black eyed peas that I started soaking this morning.  Bean salads are one of my favorite make-ahead meals for the workweek.  They just get better the longer they sit in their marinade, they’re super easy to transport, proteinalicious, and can be made with whatever leftover crunchy vegetables you have lying around.

For instance, celery that never got used from last week.  I chopped up the rest of that bunch and added it to the big salad bowl with the cooked beans (I had started with 1/2 cup of dried beans this morning, if you’re concerned about quantity).
I also added half a red onion, 1/3 of a jalapeno pepper, and half a bunch of parsley, all finely chopped.  I also had some leftover mint that was left at my house left weekend when I hosted a ladies’ afternoon clothing swap.  There were Mojitos aplenty, but not enough to eat up two packages of fresh mint, so that got chopped up and added to this salad, too.  
Then, a super simple dressing:
  • olive oil
  • red wine vinegar (about half as much as the oil)
  • smoked paprika
  • fresh oregano, chopped
  • salt & pepper

And then, still on the salad kick, I whipped up this salad, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen.


I know this is weird, but cabbage is pretty much my favorite vegetable (nudged out only by kale.  But come on…you can’t compete with kale!), so rather than the 2 cups she recommends I just went ahead and chopped up the whole head.  I have no patience for grating cabbage with a cheese grater, nor do I have a Cuisinart, so I took a chef’s knife to it instead.
I actually did buy a serrano chile just for this purpose, in a rare fit of recipe adherence, but I have to say, that and the toasted mustard seeds totally give this salad the perfect flavor, and just different enough from my go-to cole slaw recipe to make me feel like maybe a new season is finally in the air.  

So in addition to the minced chile, I added to the mix:
6 tablespoons lemon juice
1.5 teaspoons salt
1.5 teaspoons sugar

And then I toasted 1.5 teaspons of whole mustard seeds in some canola oil and, once the seeds started giving their satisfying pop, poured the fragrant topping straight into the bowl.  I can’t wait to see what this tastes like tomorrow after it’s had a night to mellow out in the fridge.

Oh, and since I was roasting that chicken for future lunches, and never know what to do with the wings within my grand scheme of roast-and-freeze-in-meal-size-portions-for-work-night-dinners, they seemed like the perfect way to round out tonight’s dinner.


Okay, now I get to reward myself with some pajamas and serious veg-out knitting.