Tomato Chicken Stew with Israeli Couscous

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All right, we’re getting down to the wire here.  I’m clearly already over-budget for the month, and so trying to keep the shopping as skimpy as possible for these last few days of August.  Spending last weekend in the woods certainly helped — after a super cheap trip to Grocery Outlet ($37, two people, five meals!), we spent a lazy Saturday along the Salmon River eating pepper-egg-provolone-pesto wraps, fresh plums and carrots, TastyBites Indian meals, spicy chicken sausages, and jalapeno-watermelon cocktails.  Not too shabby.

So cooking this week, I’m really trying to just use what I’ve already got on hand.  Which never really takes too much effort, given what an apocalyptic-ready stockpile I have in my pantry, but it’s the fresh veggies that always provide a challenge.

Fortunately for me, I had some serious peppers on hand — still a ton of jalapenos from my last Fubonn run.

And also some leftover bell peppers from camping (one of the few fresh vegetables I’ll pack, even when backpacking.  So sturdy, hearty, and refreshing, with very little waste to pack out!).

So these got sauteed with a small yellow onion while I browned some chicken I had in the freezer…

And once those were all softened, I added some homemade chicken stock to make things a little richer.

In contemplating what grain would go along with this the best, I was itching for something in between rice and pasta.  Which, scanning my pantry shelves, inevitably led me to…

Israeli couscous.  I really think this is just plain old pasta in a novel shape, but it does the trick.  And, while you can totally cook it separately, in a dish like this, I figure why not just throw it directly into the skillet and turn it into a one-pot meal??

So once some liquid had melted off of my chicken stock brick, I added 1 cup of Israeli couscous, and enough V8 juice to submerge all the ingredients, to turn this into a nice tomato sauce.

I covered this all to let the couscous absorb most of the broth, after adding some salt, pepper, and green herbs (in the family of Italian seasoning).

20 minutes later, this dish was ready for the final ingredient — the remainder of my bag of fresh spinach.

I did also make a pit-stop at Fred Meyer the other night, after a 4.5-hour Ikea marathon (I think Jesse and I may have set a historic precedent for being the first couple to emerge form 4+ hours at Ikea together, not fighting or crying), to get some crucial ingredients to get me through the rest of my week: some fresh salad veggies and a roasted chicken.

Between this for lunches and dinners, a visit from my dad taking us out to the Sunshine Tavern for dinner last night, and some yogurt, cottage cheese, and fruit that I still had in my fridge for breakfasts, I can make it to Saturday, no problem.  And then the month resets and I can get back on track with my budget!  Jesse officially moves in in October: last month of single livin’!

This Week’s Groceries

Fred Meyer 8/28

  • Mixed greens: $2.28
  • Radish bunch: $0.50
  • Cucumber: $0.50
  • Red onion: $0.65
  • Roasted chicken: $6.99 Truth be told, this is one of my favorite “take-out” meals.  Some shredded roasted chicken atop mixed greens and crunchy vegetables, some blue cheese crumbles or whatever other cheese I have in my drawer, flax or sunflower seeds, and a yummy dressing.  It’s perfect post-workout, or when I’m craving a satisfying, fresh-tasting meal and want to skip right over the gluten altogether.  I prefer when I can dip into my stash of home-roasted chicken that I keep in my freezer, but in a pinch, a whole roasted and seasoned chicken from Freddy’s for seven bucks is a pretty sweet deal.

TOTAL: $10.92

REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: -$57.21 — Yikes!  This leaves me with only about $100 to spend in September…




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This was not a huge cooking week.  Between having my fridge full of leftovers after my mom’s visit last weekend, being cooked a delicious dinner (below) by two of our friends Tuesday evening, barbecuing with more friends on Wednesday for dinner, and wanting to clean out the fridge for the coming weekend, when we’re gonna head out to the Salmon River for Kate’s 3rd Annual B-Day in the Woods, I haven’t been too focused on coming up with elaborate meals.

But Elizabeth has been! This is the meal she whipped up for the four of us on a lovely summer Tuesday evening in their backyard.

So, last night was kind of a leftovers night.  I came home from work starving, and before I could even run around the corner to Grocery Outlet to stock up on camping food for the weekend, I threw on some rigatoni pasta to boil.

Jesse has been moving in slowly, bringing over the most absurd odds and ends to gradually mark his territory in the new house: his backgammon board and travel Yahtzee, his bike (that was a biggie), and most recently, a half gallon of whole milk (Jesse is the only person I’ve ever met who unabashedly purchases milk “in the red carton”), some Raisin Bran, two packages of cheapo looking cookies, and a jar of pasta sauce that he had doctored up last week with a bunch of veggies and meat.

I knew this sauce must be on its last legs by now and he wouldn’t be getting to it before this weekend, so once the remainder of that box of pasta had been all cooked up and drained…

I heated up the sauce, throwing in nearly half a bag of spinach leaves to give it a little more veggie power.

These obviously shrunk down to invisibility instantly, so I also made a little nest in my bowl with another handful, over which I ladled the pasta and sauce, mixed together.  (Oh, and I also threw in the last of some sliced gouda that is still delicious, but probably not soft enough anymore to use on sandwiches.)

Next?  I knew I’d probably cry if I came back from camping and that entire gargantuan bag of baby bok choy that’s been sitting in my crisper since my venture to Fubonn had gone bad.  Here, I kept it simple.  I chopped off the stems, rinsed off the leaves, and sauteed the entire bag of bok choy in some coconut oil.  I threw in the last of a package of TJ’s chicken nuggets too, going along with the theme of using up odds and ends to turn this meal into something a little more interesting.

Once that had all cooked down a little, I poured in the remainder of an Asian dressing I had made the other night when we had Matt and Erika over — I had made a soba noodle salad with my go-to peanut sauce, but reduced the amount of peanut butter by about half so it wouldn’t be as thick and creamy as I’ve made for the last two festivals…I was getting kind of sick of that version.  But, I ended up with the perfect amount left over to give this dish a little flavor and kick.  And then of course, I topped it off with the last of my Thai chili peanuts from TJ’s.

This Week’s Groceries

Note: I have been doing woefully bad at sticking to a budget this month.  I think it’s a weird combination of every single weekend being a festival that we’re prepping like 13 meals’ worth of food for at once, adjusting to Jesse being around and the fact that he eats about 3x as much as me but we haven’t really had a conversation about how the next phase of our life together is going to mesh with this blog, and that I now live 3 blocks away from the Grocery Outlet, which is so insanely cheap, but also imparts a scarcity complex of buy-this-now-because-it-may-never-be-as-cheap-again-ever-in-the-world.  Thus, I end up coming home with muffin-flavored oatmeal and 1-gallon jars of pickles when I was really just trying to pick up some tortillas and cheese.  I need to rein this back in.

Grocery Outlet 8/24

  • Triple chocolate trail mix: $3.99
  • Spinach tortillas: $2.99
  • Sliced provolone cheese: $1.99
  • Bag of plums: $2.99
  • TastyBites rice biryani (x2): $2.18
  • TastyBites aloo mutter (x2): $2.18
  • TastyBites chana masala (x2): $2.18 — best camping food ever!!
  • Albacore tuna: $1.49 — in a packet instead of a can.  Looks like twice as much in volume but easier to deal with the garbage out on the trail, I think.
  • Bag of carrots: $1.49
  • Bell peppers (x4): $2.00
  • Watermelon: $4.99 — we’re going to make an amazing adaptation of Sunset Magazine’s watermelon jalapeno salad for Kate’s birthday cocktail this weekend!  It involves hiking out to camp with an entire watermelon in our frame pack.
  • Maple streusel instant oatmeal: $0.99
  • Sweet pepper pesto: $1.29 — the perfect condiment to put on tortillas with cheese and hard boiled eggs and sliced peppers for a camping lunch, no?
  • Artichoke pasta sauce: $1.99 — No plan for this, but I couldn’t resist.  So crazy cheap!!
  • Avocado: $0.99
  • 4 limes: $0.80

TOTAL: $37.70

REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: -$46.29 — uh oh.  I really went over this month.  Okay, let’s work from the pantry, Linds!



Tilapia Yakisoba

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I came home on Monday from 5 days out in the woods, living out of a cooler (though a very methodically-stocked gourmet cooler, if I do say so myself), and the only errand I could come up with that seemed appealing on my 89-degree day off was a trip to Fubonn.  Oh man, do I love Fubonn.

Even though at this point I like to think I have a handle on it — which items I’m looking for, their approximate location in the store, I prove myself wrong every time, and even if I think I’m just going to pick up a gigantic $3 bottle of sesame oil, I end up wandering the aisles in a daze for at least 2 hours, comparing brands of coconut milk ounce-for-ounce, wondering whether it’s worth it to get the bamboo shoots in the glass jar rather than the can, and marveling over how the Indian curry paste is clear across the warehouse-size store from the Thai curry paste!  And then, just when you think you’ve wrapped your head around it all…here comes a whole new aisle of soy sauce.  It looks just like the first aisle from 75 minutes ago, but here it is again!  Why?!

I always begin with a Vietnamese iced coffee from the deli counter-esque area right at the entrance which is served over the most finely crushed ice you can imagine, and with a vacuum-sealed plastic cover.  How do they do that?  I ponder this while I snake up and down the aisles with a gigantic shopping cart and just let it take me where it will.  This usually lands me in the checkout line with the most random assortment of foods you can imagine, and an absurdly low total bill.  I regret not having taken a picture of my loot, because truly, it carpeted the entire register area and somehow came to only $50-something.

And it is also how Tilapia Yakisoba became a thing.  I didn’t think I wanted to actually end up cooking anything Tuesday night, on what had been a swelteringly hot day.  But you never know…after the sun goes down in Portland, the temperature really plummets — enough where I was even able to go for an evening run, shower, change into pajamas and decide I was done sweating for the night.  And then cook a meal on the stovetop.

This was definitely a “get rid of all the veggies that are about to go bad” kind of meal, especially the ones we’d chopped up for the weekend and brought in the cooler but had never used in the chicken masala Sunday night.  And, I was curious what dirt-cheap tilapia from an undisclosed location tasted like.  It was already frozen, and not going to be the main star of the show, so I fried it up in the skillet, letting it defrost as it cooked.

These mushrooms and green onions had already been sliced and stored — ready to go, there was no clearer option than to toss them in with a little salt and chili flakes and let them sautee up with the fish.  I also sliced up a red bell pepper and added this into the mix.

Then, of course, my favorite green to throw in the mix when I don’t have anything fresh is some wakame seaweed, perfectly salty and chewy once it gets a little dose of whatever juices it’s cooking in.

Maybe this is a misnomer, because I didn’t actually use soba noodles for this, but rather those wonderfully light Asian noodles that come curled up in these little balls and loosen up into wavy kinks like ramen once you cook them for just a minute or two.

I didn’t even use a colander to strain these, since I wanted a little extra water to loosen it all up, so I just drained them using the lid and then added them to the skillet with everything else.

I already had some sauce on hand that I’d made a few nights ago when I had made a delicious garlicky Asian green bean salad, comprised of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, honey, and garlic, which I added to this skillet-of-everything, and then augmented by adding a little more of the soy, vinegar, and oil.

By this point, the fish had broken up and distributed throughout the dish, so a few quick little stirs was all I needed to mix the sauce in, let it rest for five minutes, and then dish it up with a handful of bean sprouts on top to give it a refreshing crunch.  It was, after all, still 80 degrees outside by the time I took this out to my (new!) back porch to enjoy in my camping chair.  Someday soon I’ll have to get an actual table to eat at.

This Week’s Groceries

Grocery Outlet 8/4

  • Chopped walnuts: $3.99
  • Bagged cole slaw: $1.19
  • Tortillas: $2.09
  • Eggplant: $1.29
  • Bacos: $0.99
  • Ground turkey: $1.99
  • Almond milk: $1.49
  • Onion: $1.00
  • Tomatoes: $2.99

TOTAL: $17.02



Trader Joe’s 4/7

  • Fruit leather bits & pieces: $2.49
  • Bombay simmer curry sauce: $2.49
  • Turkey bacon: $2.99
  • Red pepper spread: $2.49 — my favorite condiment in the world!!
  • Cottage cheese: $1.99
  • Sliced black olives (x3): $3.57
  • Crumbled feta: $2.79
  • Orange peach mango juice: $2.99
  • Firm tofu (x2): $2.58
  • Tricolor radiatore pasta: $3.98
  • Salt & pepper potato chips: $2.99
  • Light champagne salad dressing: $1.99
  • Basil in a pot: $2.99 — I don’t live in a basement anymore so now I can plant this in my kitchen!!

TOTAL: $36.33 (split with Jesse, as these were ingredients to prep for camping, so really $18.17)



Fred Meyer 8/7

  • Red onion: $0.95
  • Green lettuce: $1.50
  • Cucumbers: $1.00
  • Crimini mushrooms: $4.19
  • Spinach: $0.99
  • Cheez-Its: $2.50
  • Garlic: $0.34
  • Collard greens: $1.39
  • Coffee beans: $6.63
  • Bell peppers: $4.18
  • Deli ham: $6.09
  • Deli turkey: $5.82
  • Deli salami: $2.75
  • Shredded cheese: $2.29
  • Pork sausage: $3.99
  • Limeade: $1.25
  • Grapefruit juice: $3.29
  • 1% milk: $2.99
  • Half & half: $2.49
  • Sliced provolone cheese: $3.00
  • Sliced gouda cheese: $3.00
  • Dozen eggs: $2.99

TOTAL: $63.57 (split with Jesse for camping supplies, so really $32.29)



Grocery Outlet 8/7

  • Spring greens mix: $4.99
  • Strawberries: $1.50
  • Eggplant: $1.29
  • Avocado: $0.99
  • Blue cheese crumbles: $2.49

TOTAL: $11.26



Fubonn 8/13 (detailed list coming soon)

TOTAL: $57.31

REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: -$8.59 — Okay, a little bit over for this month, but just you wait.  I’m going to be making yakisoba till the end of time.

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