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.

Tex-Mex Calzones, and The Best Pizza Dough Ever

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Okay, so I didn’t exactly stick to my $5 grocery rule for this week.  This was due to an insane craving for some homemade calzones, fresh salad to offset a Hawaiian barbecue binge I had last Friday night with Jesse and Nate at Noho’s, and an impromptu decision to make some peanut ginger soba noodles with fried tofu, red bell peppers, and bok choy for dinner last night.  BUT, it’s all good, because next week/end is the Urban Craft Uprising summer show, and I guarantee you I will not be cooking next week.  It will instead be a week of calling in the saved-up Groupons, eating take-out, and most likely, the frozen-and-reheated remains of this here meal.  So basically what I’m saying is, by the time the UCU Summer Show is over, it will already be almost mid-July, I’ll have a freezer full of new leftover pizza and bagels from the staff room, and I’ll be back on track.

I haven’t been doing my weekly bread-baking thing lately.  In fact, ever since my cleanse this spring, I’ve been a little disenchanted with bread.  I definitely can’t say I’m “not doing gluten” or anything like that, but it’s been less of a major player in my life.  But, I do still crave foods that fill that bready role — something that I can use to wrap, support, or otherwise encase my food with.  Plus, sometimes I really just want pizza every day for a week, and this somehow feels like a healthier version of that.

And waaaaay easier.  I’ve never really been into homemade pizza — it seems like so much work for something that I ultimately consider to be a junk food that it always feels like a waste to me.  But calzones…calzones are as easy as–nay, easeir than–pie.

So, first let’s talk about the dough.  This meal was one of about six different things I had on my agenda for the evening, so I didn’t want to spend a whole lot of time making a labor-intensive dough.  I turned to my online cooking bible, and lo and behold, she’s got a fantastic recipe for the best pizza dough ever.

I doubled her recipe, and then made a few little tweaks so that I ended up with the following ingredients sharing a mixing bowl:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp yeast
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
(After forming the dough, I then rolled it around in a handful of cornmeal, and the last of the rosemary I had lying around)

My favorite thing about this recipe is that it uses exactly the right amount of everything.  It’s not one of those dough recipes where you have to keep adding flour to dough it up…and the more water because it’s too dry…and them more flour because it’s too wet.  Nope, these ingredients are in this magical proportions so that, seriously, you just mix them all together with a fork, and then your hands, and you end up with a perfectly clean bowl, perfectly clean hands, and a perfect little ball of delicious dough, that you can wrap pretty much anything in and be stoked about it.  In fact, keep this on the DL, but I already have fantasies of pre-assembling dozens of breakfast calzones for festivals this summer, with eggs and sausage and veggies and cheese, to heat up on Jesse’s camp stove and eat with Kate’s infamous bloody marys in the morning.

So to make the calzone, I ripped off a little chunk of dough after letting it rise for about an hour, and rolled it out into a nice little round.

So then…the filling.

My original plan was actually to just do something super simple — a basic store-bought tomato sauce, some sauteed mushrooms and zucchini, fresh spinach, and mozarella.  Which I totally did.

But then I came home from the grocery to realize that I had already set a pot of pinto beans out soaking earlier, thinking I’d make some bean salad for lunches this week.

Knowing these couldn’t go to waste, I thought, there’s got to be some way to turn this into another awesome filling.  Enter the Tex-Mex Calzone.  I went ahead and cooked those beans, and then sauteed them in a hefty amount of olive oil and fresh chopped garlic.

Added some green bell peppers and diced up the last of a jalapeno I had in the fridge…

Added some V8 juice and taco seasoning and let this all reduce…

Stirred in some raw red onion, and decide with satisfaction that I had just created this delicious pinto-bean-veggie-enchilada stew.  Which is exactly what I spooned onto my little round of dough after letting it rise for an hour, tearing off a little chunk, and rolling it out as thin as I could with a rolling pin.

Full disclosure: those are not my hands.

(I like to stretch my calzone dough super thin.  I hate those calzones you get at restaurants that have like an inch-wide layer of dough, totally upstaging whatever it’s been filled with.  This gives it more of a thin, flaky crust, which perhaps would technically throw these more in the realm of the empanada, but I’m not going to get too technical here.)

But that’s not all.  Who knows why or how this occurred to me, but I remembered that I had a bag of Trader Joe’s tater tots in the freezer, and threw a couple of those on there as well.

Some shredded pepper jack cheese on top…

and then pinched all the edges of the dough together, sealing this puppy up, and put it in the oven on a baking sheet for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  Oh.  My.  God.


This Week’s Groceries

Fred Meyer 6/27

  • Crimini mushrooms: $3.32
  • Head of lettuce: $1.00
  • Bok choy: $0.94
  • Zucchini: $0.78
  • Brick of tofu: $2.19
  • Pepper jack cheese: $3.00
  • Half and half: $1.59
  • Mozzarella cheese: $2.48
  • Fresh spinach: $0.99
  • Radishes: $.50
  • Pasta sauce: $1.37
  • Green bell pepper: $0.69
  • Red bell pepper: $1.50
  • Walla Walla onion: $0.58
  • Red onion: $1.02
  • Cucumber: $0.59
  • Cilantro: $0.49
  • Ginger root: $0.84
  • Garlic: $0.60

TOTAL: $24.37

REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: -$36.63 — to be remedied next month!!

Next week might be too crazy for cooking or blogging, so wish me luck at the show and I’ll see ya the following week!

Black Bean, Corn, & Pineapple Pasta Salad

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I’m in serious clean out the pantry mode right now.  The same way that I’m sure I’m going to challenge myself to a serious closet sifting process once I do end up moving (which may not be in the too distant future — I made an offer on a house yesterday!), just the thought of packing up my house and transporting it is making me want to completely evacuate my freezer and pantry.  Which, if you’ll recall, is no small feat.

So I’m challenging myself with this weird game of taking one item each week out of both the freezer and pantry, and playing my own little version of Iron Chef with it.

This week yielded a yogurt container full of corn that I froze from last summer, and a can of pineapple.

What could possibly marry these two items?  Black beans, FTW.

Luckily this thought occurred to me early enough in the day to get these puppies soaking for a few hours, so that all I had to do when I got home from a crazy day of errands and appointments and house-hunting was boil them up and toss them around with a few other ingredients.

Understandably, the eight-month-old corn was looking a little sad, so I sauteed it in my new skillet until it was a little caramelized, and then supplemented it with some fresh kernels off of an early summer ear of corn that I incidentally had drifting around in my veggie drawer.

This salad really can’t get much simpler.  I cooked up a cup of elbow macaroni, opened the can of pineapple, and tossed this all together with some olive oil, red wine vinegar, nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, and the last little bit of jalapeno that I saved from some chili vodka I’ve been infusing this week for a fancy-pants cocktail party my friend Kate is throwing on Saturday.

Oh, and then threw in a handful of soy Bacos at the end for a little bit of a smokey flavor.

A quick dinner before biking back down to the Southeast for an evening campfire at a friend’s house, plus lunches for the rest of the week!

This Week’s Groceries

New Seasons 5/28 (on June’s grocery bill)

  • Jalapeno kettle chips: $2.00
  • Mango juice: $3.99
  • 2 dozen eggs: $5.78 — I’m in charge of the breakfast casseroles for Kate’s cocktail/sleepover party this weekend
  • Hazelnut half & half: $2.99
  • Cottage cheese: $2.69
  • Kale: $2.49
  • Carrots: $2.06
  • Red cabbage: $4.87
  • Green cabbage: $1.96
  • Red onion: $1.04
  • Free range roaster chicken: $15.33
  • Yellow onions: $1.99
  • Jalapenos: $2.50 — All of the following were destined infusing chili vodka for spicy mango-cucumber martinis on Saturday!
  • Red chiles: $1.90
  • Habanero chiles: $0.90
  • Horseradish root: $0.45

TOTAL: $52.94






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

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


Simple Lentil Stew with Couscous and Sauteed Asparagus

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I think the coming months will involve a lot of beans.  Why, you ask? Well, here’s the thing. I want to buy a house. Like a real, actual house. And it’s not going to be a total fixer-upper, and I’m going to do it all by myself. So even though my grocery budget it obviously one of the facets of my life that’s already super frugal and monitored by a watchful eye, I feel like I’m on a mission now, with this semi-arbitrary timeline I’ve concocted, of having a new house to move into by the end of the summer. (Yay for arbitrary timlines! Remember Yarnia’s grand opening?! Totally arbitrary.)

So even though I don’t actually plan on paring my food budget down below six dollars a day, I do feel like I’m entering into this more extreme version of frugality in the rest of my life — curbing the blase Amazon Prime purchases (free shipping can turn a rational person insane), really buttoning down going out (i.e. burritos instead of brewery sandwiches, cashing in on all my Groupons, and making better use of my flask when we go out to shows) — which just sort of makes me feel like I should also be eating beans and rice for most of my meals, so that I can eke out enough money within the next five months for a serious down payment.

Lucky for me, beans are awesome and I know how to cook them. I didn’t even really have to buy that many groceries this week — most of my haul was replacing staples that I’d run out of and needed to wait for my monthly budget to replenish, like an expensive jar of tahini, grains and spices from the bulk aisle, and coconut oil, as air popped popcorn with this magical ingredient has become somehwat of a nightly ritual for me.

In fact, this entire meal was concocted out of what I already had in my fridge, starting with a chopped onion, a few sliced carrots, and some minced garlic.

That got sauteed up over medium-high heat (in my new cast iron skillet!  LOVE!).  After about ten minutes, when everything was nice and shiny and translucent, I added a cup of dried grey lentils, a cup of homemade chicken broth, a few teaspoons of curry powder, two teaspoons of salt, and a few big glugs of V8 juice.

This is my new favorite way to make tomato broth.  I used to try to keep tomato paste on hand, but could never make use of it (or remember it was there, since tomato paste is packaged in ludicrously small quantities that allow it to get nestled in the back of my fridge), before it got moldy.  Canned diced tomatoes can be awesome when you want some texture in your dish, but sometimes the aluminum taste of canned food makes me nauseous.

But a few weeks ago when I was making some crock pot collard green rolls, I found a recipe that called for the rolls to be submerged in V8, which led me to purchase my very first bottle of the stuff — a huge, 2-liter bottle that seems to keep in the fridge for (so far) at least a month, and is comprised of nothing but yummy tomato-and-other-veggie juices.  I think I’ve found my perfect solution to the tomato base problem.

The lentil stew now gets covered, and simmers for about 45 minutes, while you make the couscous.  And then do whatever you want for 43 minutes, because couscous is the easiest grain you could choose to accompany a stew.

I wanted to have some leftovers, so I poured two cups of water into the pot, along with two teaspoons of my Penzeys Tandoori seasoning, a teaspoon of salt, a handful of raisins, and some pine nuts, and brought this all to a boil.  As soon as it had reached a boil, I added two cups of whole wheat couscous, gave it a stir, removed it from the heat, and let it sit with the lid on for five minutes before fluffing with a fork.

While I was doing all this, Jesse was busy making some stuffed mushrooms that we were prepping ahead of time for a dinner party at our friend’s house this Thursday night (and of course, a bunch of extra ones that we got to eat ourselves tonight, so we wouldn’t be anxiously hoarding them at the party).

These stuffed mushrooms — which I’m warning you, will disappear instantly — feature a perfect harmony of spinach, feta, and onion.

Leave it to a carpenter to be able to dice an onion smaller than I'd ever have patience for. What can I say? The man has precision.


Oh…and bacon.

And what’s great about these stuffed mushrooms is that you actually don’t chop up the stems and add them to the stuffing, they’re just discarded…which in our case meant halved, and sauteed up with some fresh, local, on-sale asparagus in garlic butter and fresh ground salt and pepper.

Quite a meal, if I do say so myself.  I’ve been doing yummy, crunchy vegetable salads at work all week, with hard boiled eggs and alfalfa sprouts, all wrapped up in some multigrain tortillas.  So that means I get to save my leftovers for at least 2 dinners this week.  So between that, our dinner party on Thursday, and a memorial for our friend on Friday (in which there will be copious amounts of food as usual, if I know anything about this crew of friends, as well as rumors of 100 delicious wings donated by what was our friend’s favorite restaurant, Fire On The Mountain), I think I’m pretty well set for this week.  T minus five months.  Let the games begin!

This Week’s Groceries

New Seasons 5/1

  • Coconut oil: $6.99
  • Tahini: $8.99
  • Yellow popcorn: $2.51
  • Whole allspice: $2.10
  • Cardamom cinnamon tea: $4.84
  • Mango Ceylon tea: $2.50
  • Nutritional yeast (small flake): $2.97
  • Almond flour: $4.15 — I’m still not done trying to make gluten-free crackers!
  • Soy Bacos: $0.88 — I love putting these in my salad dressings
  • Neufchatel cheese: $2.39 — For the stuffed mushrooms
  • Half gallon milk: $3.39
  • Half & Half: $2.29
  • Plain yogurt: $2.99
  • Mixed greens: $3.50
  • Cucumber: $0.99
  • Asparagus: $3.10
  • Bunch radishes: $1.49
  • Yellow onion: $0.94
  • Shallots: $1.20
  • Garlic: $0.96
  • Ginger: $0.63

TOTAL: $59.80


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

Black Bean Fajitas, Sans Tortillas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and some buttermilk poppyseed cabbage slaw.

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

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

As planned: cheap and delicious!

Grocery time.

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

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

Split Pea Soup

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Well, as intended, I’m sticking to a pretty strict budget till the end of the month.  With only $14 left as of a week ago, I knew the rest of the month would be produce-only shopping…and would rely heavily on beans.

My grocery shopping this week was very strategic: filling, nutritious, and on sale.  I knew I already had a good size bag of carrots in my fridge, so veggies to round out a nice soup, like celery and onions and potatoes, seemed likely candidates.

New Seasons
collard greens: $1.50 — on sale this week!  A heavily seasoned saute of this and come roasted chicken from the freezer and a wild rice pilaf will easily make 2+ dinners for me this week…
red potatoes: $2.56
yellow onions: $1.16
celery: $1.73
TOTAL: $6.95

It really doesn’t get much easier than split pea soup.  Start by chopping a whole onion, and sauteeing it in a healthy amount of butter with a few stalks of chopped celery and carrots.

Add 1.5 cups of dried split peas, add water, and bring to a boil.  I discovered during my annual pantry inventory that I have some powdered veggie bullion that needs to get used up, so rather than go with my regular Better Than Bullion chicken base, I decided to make this soup entirely veggie, and used the powdered stuff instead, supplementing with some necessary spices like fresh ground coriander, salt, boquet garni, and even a little garam masala at the end.

I let this boil down for over an hour, adding water as it reduced, waiting for those cute little peas to split open and puree themselves.  Towards the end, I diced a few red potatoes and threw them in to bulk it up some more.  

With a loaf of homemade bread to accompany (this week: orange rye caraway), a hearty soup like this one can easily be my lunch for a week; I heat it up at work with a few slices of bread that I toast that morning, a light spread of mayo and some cheese and maybe some lettuce or a collard leaf if I’m lucky enough to remember to pack it in the morning, and this’ll keep me going until the last customer leaves beaming with their cone of yarn at 6:00.

Other fellow Project: Food Budget-ers

Flageolet Bean Salad

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Okay, here we go.  New year, new shot at staying up to date with the blog!  It’s been forever since I have been consistent about talking about groceries, and how I strategize with my weekly shopping time to stick to my $6-a-day budget, so let’s start there.

3 grocery trips so far this month:

1-pound loaf of Tilamook cheddar: $6.99
1 box rigatoni pasta: $1.25 — I made a super awesome mac’n’cheese on a cold, rainy night, making use of some leftover heavy cream I had in the fridge
bell pepper: $2.00
mixed greens: $3.09
brick cream cheese $1.34
big box of basil $4.99
1 head green cabbage $1.76 — This turned into a refreshing mayo-free cole slaw to accompany the mac’n’cheese
1 jalapeno pepper: $0.48 — I’ve gotten into the strange habit of roasting these in the oven and eating them while my dinner cooks…?
TOTAL: $21.90
Remaining for the month: $128.10

New Seasons
can diced tomatoes: $2.50 — I’ve been into making gargantuan pots of vegetable-lentil soup at the beginning of the week and bringing it to work for lunches.  That’s where these tomatoes, and most of the veggies on this list, went this week.
bulk chickpeas: $2.89 — also stocking up on a lot of my bulk legumes apparently!
nutritional yeast: $2.52 — a necessary staple for me; I put it on EVERYTHING
dried tortellini: $2.64 — I made the mistake of shopping hungry, and made a quick lunch of this + Classico pesto + a chopped up chicken sausage before even unpacking anything else when I got home
bulk corona beans: $5.29
wild rice: $9.49 — wild rice is so damn expensive!!
bulk flageolet beans: $2.25
bulk green lentils: $1.97
dozen eggs: $3.19
half & half $2.59
cottage cheese: $3.69
collard greens: $2.49 — I’ve been craving this recently; wrapping up anything I can find in flash-boiled collard leaves and eating it like a burrito
fresh spinach: $2.52
yellow onions: $2.26
sunburst squash: $1.47
zucchini: $1.27
red onion: $1.13
ginger root: $0.21
1 Haas avocado: $0.79
caracara oranges: $1.87
ground turkey: $3.21 — sauteed up with some curry-spiced rice and stuffed into the aforementioned collard leaves
1 spinach-feta chicken sausage: $1.92
TOTAL: $58.16
Remaining for the month: $69.94

Fred Meyer
Freschetta frozen pizza: $4.99 — on Sunday night I hosted our rotating Ladies’ Wine Night at my house, and for some snacks I made smoked salmon toastettes, a flatbread pizza, and put out some pretzels.  Already had some wine on hand from a party a few months ago.  Score!
cream cheese: $2.99
fresh lox: $4.00
fresh dill: $1.99
1 lb. bag of pretzels: $2.99

baguette: $2.49

bell peppers: $1.50 — can’t seem to get enough of these lately
orange juice: $3.00
sprouts: $1.79
cucumbers $2.99
poblano pepper: $0.39
imitation crab meat: $2.99 — I’m a little embarrassed about this.  Again, shopping hungry, I got a weird craving for a fake crab louie salad with sprouts, sunflower seeds, and homemade buttermilk dressing
bartlett pear: $0.65
salmon burgers: $3.00 — Threw one of these on the George Foreman while I was getting ready for work in the morning and brought it for lunch to accompany the bean salad you’re about to read about
vanilla yogurt: $2.79 — for emergency breakfasts at work when oatmeal just won’t cut it
TOTAL: $38.55
Remaining for the month: $31.39

Okay, let’s talk about beans.  Even though I’m a totally avid meat eater these days, I’ve been an off-and-on vegetarian for about 15 years, so am totally comfortable using beans as a primary source of protein.  I love them in everything — soups, salads, boiled down with yummy spices…I could even do away with tofu and all the soy substitutes and still be a happy veg.  

But the other day, roaming the bulk aisles at New Seasons, I realized I’m totally selling myself short.  There is so much more to explore.  I bought a small baggie of a few new-to-me beans and decided to do some experimenting.  So on Monday, I threw the huge handful of flageolet beans (a.k.a. the most huge-ass beans you’ve ever seen) into a pot to soak — I had no idea for how long, but given their size, I banked on them taking at least overnight.

These beans are so gigantic, I figured there’s no option but to make them the main character in this salad.  And they’re so creamy white, they needed some color accompaniment.

For this super-simple salad, I chopped up some red and yellow bell pepper (1 each), and about half a cucumber.  Once the beans had soaked for about a day, I boiled them for a good 45 minutes, until they tasted good biting into them on their own.  

I drained the water, and tossed them in a bowl with the fresh veggies, a small bit of leftover crumbled feta that I had in the fridge, and a dressing of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast.  Like I said, super simple.  

Oh, and I couldn’t resist a cute little can of these to toss in. Already sliced and the perfect serving size for a multi-day salad, they’re worth the $0.79.  

So far, this salad — paired with some open-faced tuna or egg sandwiches on my homemade bread — has lasted me over three lunches!

Roasted Red Pepper & White Bean Dip

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Last week was my friend Andrea’s birthday, and in an effort to jumpstart our monthly First Thursday family dinners for the year, she sent out an email to our whole gang, announcing the theme would be tapas.

I knew I’d have to keep it pretty simple, since I’d be coming straight from a seven hour workday followed by a two hour Granny Square class, and something that would still be tasty at fridge temperature.

Also, after Christmas in Wisconsin, I’ve been taking the last few weeks off of meat, so I also wanted it to be totally veg. Thus, a vegetable-y, bean-y dip seemed like just the ticket.

First, I roasted two big red bell peppers with olive oil and salt, until they were nice and charred.

A half cup of dried white beans, which had been soaking while I was at work, boiled for about 30 minutes and started the party in the Cuisinart, along with two cloves of garlic.

Then in went the peppers…

And a third of a brick of this.

I pureed it with a few squirts of lemon juice, until it was still just barely granular.

I wanted to give this one a nice, earthy flavor, so instead of regular paprika, I added berbere, which is a yummy Ethiopian take on the spice.  

Then I finished it off with some dried harissa, and gave it a final blend!

Red Lentil Dahl, Fragrant Rice, Fresh Green Salad

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About four months ago I bought a Groupon for an Ethiopian cooking class.  It was way more than I usually spend on a Groupon (or on a cooking class).
So I was doubly disappointed when, last week, the date I had signed up for finally rolled around and I discovered that it was a total bomb — not only one of the most disappointing purchases I’ve made in awhile, but also among the most uninspiring cooking experiences I’ve ever had.  

This bummed me out on many levels — the first of which being that I think the inevitable downhill trend of Groupon has finally arrived, and that I can no longer think of it as a trustworthy showcase of verified, cool local businesses offering me awesome deals, but instead a total gamble on the part of merchants and customers alike.

I feel bad for being so rough on this particular company, because they were very cheerful throughout the whole evening, but I’m a pretty frugal person and cheerful doesn’t always cut it.  My goal isn’t to slander them, so I won’t go into details about why it was such a disappointment, but I’ll just say that the embarrassing level of disorganization, lack of preparation, and lack of any specialized, traditional, or culinarily skillful knowledge on the part of the instructor made the fact that this was a $100 class, sold for $50 on Groupon, appalling.

But, it did totally make me want to cook some dahl this week, and I did learn the names of a few spices I want to check out at the Ethiopian market on MLK and play around with.  

My only explanation for the fact that I want to boil lentils in my kitchen until they explode is that — yesterday’s summer solstice being the exception — Portland has felt like November since…well, pretty much November.
I had half a yellow onion in my fridge so I chopped that up, along with a few cloves of garlic.
I sauteed this up in some oil, along with some fresh ground cumin, paprika, and curry powder, adding 1 cup of dried red lentils after the onions had cooked a bit.
I added water until the lentils were submerged, and kept this at a nearly-rolling boil for about half an hour, until the lentils had all “popped.”  
Fortunately, a more positive recent Groupon experience landed me with some new spices from Spicely, so I got to break open my new package of harissa and add a tablespoon of this to the mix as well.
To accompany the dahl I made a cup of jasmine rice, flavored with 3/4T of my new rice seasoning, and added in a handful of Thompson raisins, and about a cup of frozen peas once it was nearly done cooking.  Oh, and about a quarter of a red onion, finely chopped.
But really, what made this meal was the tupperware of fresh greens that I left Jesse’s house with Monday morning, picked fresh from his garden which is now overgrown with flourishing heads of red leaf lettuce, mustard greens, arugula, romaine…we picked a bounty on Sunday night to accompany our homemade Reubens.
And so, I got to savor the leftovers as a side dish to this meal.  
Trust me, when you have greens this tasty, you don’t want to put anything on them besides olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and salt, garnished with a handful of sunflower seeds and red onion slivers.
***UPDATED 6/24/12***
I just made another delicious version of this, adding some slivered carrots to the dahl along with a hefty portion of berbere spice, and some V8 juice.  And, to give a little variety in choices for what one could scoop up with their homemade enjera, I made good use of some bok choy I had in the fridge that was on its last legs by sauteeing that together with some frozen spinach, in coconut oil.  Once the greens started to wilt I added some chopped garlic, homemade chicken stock, coriander, harissa, and ras el hanout to make a spicy, salty dish of greens that balances the dahl perfectly.