Homemade Ginger Ale

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So, this happened.

It’s not technically a SodaStream…but it pretty much is.  It’s a knockoff brand that was a featured deal on LivingSocial a few weeks ago, and while I’ve been holding out to buy the real deal until I could justify spending the $80, this was only $30, and way more palatable.

Okay guys, I think between this and my ice maker at work, I’m finally going to succeed at keeping myself hydrated this winter.  I’ve been drinking at least 4 extra bottles of this stuff a day, and am loving always having room-temperature, super-carbonated water on the kitchen counter.  Sometimes the commercial stuff just isn’t bubbly enough, except the second after you open it!  This seems to hold its charge, even up to a day later.

Obviously, the other reason I’m stoked about having this in the house is that we’re going to make some crazy-awesome cocktails.  And when your go-to drink is whiskey ginger, well, then the obvious first step is to make some serious homemade ginger ale.  Like with cardamom.  And anise.  And allspice.

Inspired by this recipe, I bought a pound of fresh ginger, and set to work.  The only part of this process that requires even a modicum of effort is peeling the ginger.  I had found a pretty huge root, so there weren’t too many knobs to navigate around, but 4 oz. of peeled ginger is a lot more than you’d expect.

I sliced this up and added it to a pot of water on the stove, boiling it together with 1 cup each of white and brown sugars.

I know we’re making simple syrup here, but this felt like a lot to me and the end result was too sweet for my taste relative to all the other spices, so next time I’m going to take it down a notch.

Next, I toasted the spices.

In this pan resides:

  • 2t cardamom (whole)
  • 1t allspice
  • 1t peppercorns
  • a few anise stars (mine are all broken up at this point but I tried to aim for about 3 total)

These got toasted on medium-high until they started to brown, and then were thrown in the simmering mixture for about 15 minutes.  After that I turned off the heat, and let the mixture cool together, before straining it into a jar and discarding the spices.

Tonight after work, Jesse and I (and Dory, who’s visiting for the weekend!) are going to hop on our bikes and head over to our friends’ house for some drinks before one of our favorite bluegrass bands plays at the Tabor — an early Halloween celebration since true Halloween falls on a Wednesday next week.

My plan: 2T homemade ginger syrup, 1 cup soda water, fresh muddled ginger, 1 shot Bulleit Bourbon, and some ice.

I’m into it.

This Week’s Groceries

Fred Meyer 10/22

  • Radishes: $0.50
  • Beets: $1.99
  • Roasted chicken: $5.99
  • Spring mix: $2.28

TOTAL: $10.76



Portland Fruit Company 10/23

  • Onions
  • Collard Greens
  • Roma tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Brussels sprouts

TOTAL: $8.19



Fred Meyer 10/25

  • Chocolate hazelnut bar: $2.69
  • Dark chocolate: $2.69
  • Cubed ham: $4.79

TOTAL: $10.17



Grocery Outlet 10/25

  • Ginger root: $1.49
  • Half and half: $1.99
  • Coffee: $5.99

TOTAL: $9.47



Hungarian Mushroom Soup

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We have a new addition to our household.

It’s a smoker.

This was a fantastic, much-drooled-over housewarming gift from our friend Tyler, whose promise of Jesse’s dream grill, months ago, finally came to fruition last week, and just in the nick of time.  We had a chili cook-off slated for just two days later, and you’d better believe what we did to our meat.

Yup, mesquite-smoked tri tip steak, and a delicately scientific combination of many other secret ingredients that kept us up until 1:00 a.m. last Friday night, perfecting our entry.

So pretty much, everything this week has been smoked.

From left: trout, lamb leg, pork, chicken, tri-tip steak, rib-eye steak, lamb something-or-other, wheat berry salad, harvest slaw, kale salad, edamame carrot salad, whole baby red potatoes, and blue cheese stuffed smoked pears.

It’s soup season, folks, and we’re kicking it off with some rich homemade mushroom soup, the kind that puts Campbell’s to shame.

I bought a mix of criminis and shitakes for this purpose, and started off by sauteeing about two pounds of them, chopped, in some homemade chicken stock, along with a chopped yellow onion.

To this, I added some fresh chopped dill, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, another cup or so of sauce, and a tablespoon of paprika.

I covered this and let it simmer for a few minutes, waiting for the mushrooms to release their liquid, while I made some side dishes: green beans with masala and coconut milk, and some brown and wild rice with frozen peas, carrots, and some Indian seasonings.

After that, I made a little roux, to thicken up the soup — not as much as I’d make for my cheese sauce, but enough to fill a little saucepan and pour into the soup as it finished cooking — this is just a simple mixture of butter, flour, and milk, cooked down into a smooth paste.

You can see how this thickens and lightens the soup just a bit.  I also chopped up a few stalks of celery and added those in at this point, so that they’d still have a hearty texture when the soup was finished.

I let this all simmer together a little longer, and just before serving, added some salt, lemon juice, more fresh dill, and cracked black pepper, to taste.

This Week’s Groceries

Fred Meyer 10/12
  • Chili powder: $1.96 — Guess what we were making!
  • Tomato paste: $1.29
  • Cumin: $0.99
  • Tomato sauce: $1.59
  • Green chiles: $1.59 

TOTAL: $7.42

Portland Fruit Company 10/16
  • Bell peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Roma tomatoes
  • Yellow onions
  • Fresh dill
  • Crimini and shitake mushrooms
  • Cucumber
  • Green beans
TOTAL: $15.19
Grocery Outlet 10/17
  • Ground espresso: $3.99
  • Hummus: $2.99
  • Pumpkin seeds: $2.99
  • Frozen peas and carrots: $1.29
  • Shredded asiago cheese: $1.99
  • Orange juice: $1.99
  • 1% milk: $1.99
  • Sourdough bread: $2.49
TOTAL: $19.72

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



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



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


Bell Peppers Stuffed with Oyster Mushrooms, Sweet Potato, and Cheesy Red Rice

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Can I tell you how much I love the Portland Fruit Company?  Sooooo much.  It has become a permanent part of my Tuesday afternoons, swinging by after whatever other errands or appointments I’ve lined up on my “day off.”  It’s not even that it’s got sucha  gigantic selection, or that all the produce is super organic (but I think it’s mostly all local?), but they have just the right amount of everything, enough new stuff each week to give me a suggestive nod at a new dish, and are crazy, crazy cheap.  Like I walk away with a bag full of fruits and veggies that would cost me probably $28 at New Seasons, for only $16.93.  And there’s always something yummy near the register like fresh peaches or plums that I can grab one or two of, for the bike ride home, for like $0.38.

This week, I was wooed by the mushrooms.  I usually go for crimini, because they’re the cheapest, but this time I was like, you know, it’s the beginning of the month, I have a little wiggle room now that Jesse’s grocery budget is combined with mine, and seriously, the oysters are not that expensive.

So that’s how this meal started.  Wednesday night, I had the house to myself while Jesse went out on a bike ride with his friend.  It was also a chicken-roasting night, prepping some meat and stock to have on hand for the rest of the night, so I decided to whip up some stuffing for roasted peppers while that sat in the oven.

First: a few stalks of celery, some jalapeno, and half a yellow onion.

Then, I added in the cubed yam, and let that sautee and soften up, adding a bit of chicken stock when the pan got too dry, and added about half a pound of chopped oyster and shitake mushrooms.

Meanwhile, I had started 1 cup of red rice cooking, with just a bit of salt and nothing else.  Red rice takes a little longer than white rice — but not quite as long as brown rice — to cook, so it was done right as this skillet was done cooking.

In it goes…

And finally, some shredded cheddar cheese to get it all sticking together.  And tasting delicious.  I bought an amazing cheese grater from Ikea that lets you grate the cheese directly into a seal-able Tupperware, so I’ve started doing this to a 1-lb brick of Tillamook every few weeks and just keeping it in our cheese drawer.  This is genius.  Way to go, Ikea.

I had bought two beautiful orange bell peppers, just for this occasion.

These got stuffed, and placed directly into the roasting pan with my chicken for its last 20 minutes in the oven at 400 degrees.

Oh, and of course, there are TONS of leftovers of the stuffing, so I’ve been eating that for lunches this week with a few slices of the chicken breast and red cabbage slaw.  Also, I just have to say, I still have not gotten over the novelty of having a kitchen sink.  Guys, it is SO MUCH EASIER to clean up while you cook and always have an uncluttered, everything-in-its-place kitchen with sparkling countertops when you can do dishes as you go and wipe everything down with a sponge!!  Seriously, I hope this never gets old.

This Week’s (and last week’s) Groceries

Grocery Outlet 9/22

  • Spring mix: $4.99
  • Coffee beans: $6.49
  • Granola: $0.99
  • Cucumber: $0.79
  • Cherry tomatoes: $0.99

TOTAL: $14.25



Portland Fruit Company 10/2

  • Shitake mushrooms: $3.01
  • Cucumbers: $0.80
  • Kale: $1.29
  • Carrots: $1.11
  • Sweet onion: $0.61
  • Red onion: $0.47
  • Ginger: $0.28
  • Sweet potatoes: $0.68
  • Cantaloupe: $1.95
  • Celery: $0.99
  • Asian pear: $0.72
  • Bartlett pear: $0.23
  • Roma tomatoes: $0.83
  • Random produce (not specified on receipt): $3.96

TOTAL: $16.93



New Seasons 10/2

  • Sea salt: $2.34
  • Himalayan salt: $2.99
  • Dozen eggs: $2.99
  • Dave’s Killer Seed Bread: $4.99 — I think this is the first time I’ve bought a loaf of bread in 5 years!  I’ve been off the breadbaking wagon lately, but do crave some dank toast in the morning sometimes with a fried egg or some cottage cheese and roma tomatoes.  This loaf stays in the freezer for those occasions.
  • Cottage cheese: $4.49
  • Milk: $3.39
  • Whole roasting chicken: $10.71
  • Olives: $3.80

TOTAL: $35.28

REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: $247.79 — So far this seems like $300 a month for the two of us will be a piece of cake.  Granted, Jesse hasn’t been around as much for dinners this week and definitely doesn’t make all his breakfasts and lunches like I do, so we’ll see if his contributing an equal share is really realistic for the time being…