Hue-faux rancheros

June 29, 2009

One of the gifts I got in my birthday package from my in-laws was an issue of Eating Well magazine, which had a “fast weeknight dinners” section. I’m a sucker for a fast weeknight dinner, and I had a bag of pinto beans to cook, so their recipe for huevos rancheros caught my eye. The only issue for me with huevos rancheros is that I hate hate hate fried eggs. They gross me out beyond explanation. But, I’m good with eggs in many other forms, so I subbed in scrambled. An abomination? Maybe. Delicious? Yes.

the colors in this picture are kind of insane

the colors in this picture are kind of insane

Besides the different style of eggs and the use of red salsa in place of green, I didn’t do much to modify their recipe. I even dutifully served it with rice and avocado, as suggested.

the breakdown

1.5 cups of pinto beans (@ .99/lb dried) = $.25
8 sprouted corn tortillas = $2.46
1/2 jar salsa = $1.35
4 large eggs = $.83
sharp cheddar cheese = $.20
cilantro = $.10
1 cup rice = $.74
1/2 avocado = $.65

grand total= $6.58

A semi-respectable $1.65 for each of the four servings. Interestingly, more than they indicate it should be. It must be those sprouted corn tortillas. On the pricey side, but they just crisp up so nicely.


Gratuitous birthday post.

June 28, 2009

I started a round of prednisone last week to take care of some lingering inflammation that I’ve been fighting with for a few months. I hate prednisone, but I haven’t had to take it in years, so I steeled myself for the gross taste and the general feelings of awful that come with it, but this time I only had two days of serious discomfort and since then it’s been like I’m Wonder Woman. I haven’t slept much at night but I also haven’t needed to take naps. And I stayed out until 11 or something on Friday night. Socially. Because I wanted to. It’s been kind of a mixed blessing for a birthday weekend, is what I’m saying. It’s also given me the energy to eat a lot of cupcakes. Or maybe that’s my true power source.

My birthday was perfect, and I followed through on the promise I made to myself to do only things I wanted to do. Also, bonus: I got to actually spend it with Matt. Last year, I went to a conference and spent my birthday getting leadership training, giving a presentation, and having a room full of 120 virtual strangers sing happy birthday to me. This year, I actually got to see my husband, who knows me well enough to have given me a purse with sharks on it, among other excellent presents. I also got to open packages from my in-laws, who are professional flat rate box packers the likes of which I’ve only seen from my mom.

All that, and pancakes, too.

that's supposed to be a 26

that's supposed to be a 26

Matt made the pancakes at my special request, as this is one of the many culinary skills I simply don’t possess. He used the Joy of Cooking recipe and I used my birthday powers to convince him to sub in part whole-wheat flour and then I was full of pancakes for something like six hours. I made a strawberry coulis with strawberries, lemon juice, honey, and tried really hard to put a 26 on my plate. Unfortunately, due to my selection of the worlds largest spoon, it looks like 2C. I know what it means.

We’d planned to go to Rowhouse again for dinner, because I loved it so much last time that I considered crying on the drive home, but then we got on the interstate and the car was trying to pull up its landing gear or something and we couldn’t even hear each other speak and it was wobbling a little, so we had to turn around. On the bright side, I am now mentally prepared for my flights to North Carolina next week. We ended up eating at my favorite place in town, which was excellent and included a dessert with pecan brittle and rum ice cream, so there’s pretty much nothing bad to say about that change of plans.

In order to save room for dessert, I brought home the rest of my trout and braised spinach and green beans with toasted almonds and had that tonight, along with that Corn and Edamame-Sesame salad that I was supposed to eat on Sunday. That’s a fine (and cheap) salad, and I think that “marinating” in the sesame dressing for two additional days probably just improved it.

I kept it light, to make room for more cupcakes.

I kept it light, to make room for more dessert.

And now, I’m off to round out my birthday weekend by addressing the critical question of second dessert. A coconut cupcake? A lemonade cupcake? A peanut butter and chocolate truffle? A peanut butter and chocolate truffle on a cupcake?

Ahead of the game.

June 25, 2009

This afternoon, one of my co-workers offered to cover my evening shift and I thought about it for about negative point five seconds before I said yes.

That meant that I came home to an already prepared dinner and I got to sit around reading for an hour before the NBA draft, luxuriating in the fact that I didn’t have to cook anything. This must be what it feels like to be prepared.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I couldn’t handle all that excess time, so I filled it by cooking dinner for tomorrow. It’s kind of a sickness. In my defense, though, I’ll only have about 20 minutes to prepare and consume dinner tomorrow, so it’s good that I got it off my plate. Now I can use that entire time to savor the Corn and Edamame-Sesame Salad from Veganomicon.

Anyway, the Smitten Kitchen-inspired peanut sesame noodles turned out well, except that I forgot to toast the sesame noodles and toss them in. Oh well. I toasted some extra for tomorrow’s dinner, just to make up for it.

soba + veggies + tofu + peanut sauce over spinach

soba + veggies + tofu + peanut sauce over spinach

The love I have for peanut butter cannot be described. I like other nut and seed butters – almond, cashew, pecan, sunflower, what have you – but peanut butter is my desert island food. Still, I was a little nervous about how thick the sauce would get with as much peanut butter as the recipe indicated, so I cut it down a good bit, to about 3T. I’ll have a few spoonfuls from the jar later to make up for the deficit.

the breakdown

8 oz soba noodles = $2.79
1 red bell pepper = $.99
2 carrots = $.15
3T peanut butter = $.32
1T sesame oil = $.40
and some pantry staples (crushed red pepper, rice vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ground ginger)

grand total = $4.65

Four servings at $1.16 a serving. I’m kicking myself for paying $10+ for various versions of this dish at restaurants. Curses! I had mine over spinach again (it’s still really hot out and it was on the verge of wilting. Actually, so am I).

On this side: my new favorite summer treat.

any day over 95 calls for a shandy

any day over 95 calls for a shandy

Our recipe: mix equal parts beer and lemonade in a pitcher. Chill. Enjoy. We used High Life and Country Tyme, but you might not be as classy. That’s fine. Just make sure it’s a beer that’s lighter in color, like a wheat beer or some kind of lager-style beer. I could have the lemonade myself but that’s like 3 extra steps, and I’ve had a long week.

Double dinners

June 24, 2009

By some scheduling accidents of my own doing, I am working from 8am to 8pm tomorrow. Which means that tonight I made two dinners. I wanted to make some peanut sesame noodles that we could eat both tonight and tomorrow, but I misjudged my supply of soba noodles and it turns out that I was wrong. So I was left with a fully prepared meal that I didn’t want to eat yet and half a block of tofu.

Ever since we thawed out our wedding cake (which was, miraculously, still delicious; that’s the beauty of peanut butter and jelly cake with buttercream frosting), I have been feeling this compulsion to clean out the rest of the freezer. Since I had this half block of tofu, I rooted around and found a bag of frozen “stir fry vegetables” that we were going to use for pasta salad or something, but I made the executive decision to actually use them as they were intended: in stir fry. For frozen vegetables, they actually turned out fairly well, although the picture on the bag was a total lie. It looked like a balanced mix of green things and carrots, red peppers, and mushrooms. There were literally two mushrooms in there, and I only saw one pepper. But, whatever, if you stir fry anything in sesame oil and douse it with a soy sauce/rice vingegar/ginger/garlic/crushed red pepper sauce, it tastes fine.

do you see any red peppers? no. i didn't think so.

do you see any red peppers? no. i didn't think so.

This was cheap, too. Cheap cheap. Especially compared to those frozen bags of “stir fry” that are supposed to be a complete meal so they cost $5.99 or something. If I’d been really smart I would have added the half bag of “peppers and onions mix” that I have taking up space in the freezer. More peppers in the meal and more space in there for beans and chocolate. But I guess I’m not really smart.

the breakdown

1 bag of “stir fry vegetables” = $1.00
1/2 block extra firm tofu at $2.69/block = $1.35
1 cup short grain brown rice = $1.00
1T sesame oil= $.40 (this is really a pantry staple but it’s much more expensive that oils I usually use, so I feel like I should count it separately)
and some pantry staples (crushed red pepper, rice vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ground ginger)

grand total = $3.75

That’s $.94 a serving. Which is cheap. Also, did I mention that I can actually see the bottom of one of the shelves in the freezer. That’s worth something.

It’s too hot for a title.

June 23, 2009

It is so hot here. We’re under some kind of “it is so hot you might die or you might prefer dying to living” warning until Thursday night, but yesterday was the worst. I came home all lightheaded and pounded glasses of water until I kind of felt like I was swimming. Usually when it’s over 105 I require that we go out to eat, but last night it was hot enough outside that even staying in our little oven of an apartment seemed like a better solution than getting back in the car.

Still, I have various heat-related cooking restrictions, so I had to make something for dinner that required less than 15 minutes of stovetop cooking. I revisited Heidi Swanson’s Lemon-Scented Quinoa, and it was really a perfect summer dinner. Even with a heat index hovering near 110.

acceptable hot weather dinner

acceptable hot weather dinner

My main modification to the recipe was the dressing. We didn’t have tahini and I wasn’t going to pay 10 dollars for a jar of it that would eventually get shoved to the back of the refrigerator and expire before I remembered that we had some, so I just did yogurt/lemon juice/salt/minced garlic. Creamy, tangy, light. Almost sweet. I think I like it even better than the real one.

the breakdown

1 cup of quinoa @ $4.43/lb = $2.22 (it’s an expensive habit)
1 cup of chickpeas (cooked from dried @ $2.68/lb) = $.45
1/2 red onion @ $.99/lb = $.38
2oz plain yogurt @ $2.09/32oz = $.13
lemon juice = $.10

grand total = $3.28

At 4 servings, that’s $.82 per serving. Let’s add $.50 to mine, since I had it over spinach. I just can’t get enough of food with high water content during this heat wave. I actually feel kind of sick from all the fruit I’ve had over the last few days.

So, only one more week left in June, which means only one more week left of kitchen math. We’ve actually saved a surprising amount of money this month, even with a few unplanned dinners out (like tonight’s pizza and beer outing that was overpriced but oh so necessary) and the money we’ve budgeted for our birthday meals. And cutting down to $40 a week on groceries hasn’t hurt as much as I expected it to, though we do tend to go over, so it’s really more like $50. Still, it makes me less likely to be distracted by shiny things at the grocery store, like “family size” bags of peppermint patties. And, hey, we aren’t in the red anymore.

Although some peppermint patties do sound pretty refreshing right now.

A gallery of cheap eats

June 19, 2009

I am seriously exhausted, but I also have anxiety issues, and these pictures piling up, plus all that math that isn’t going to do itself, well. It’s getting to me.

pesto vegetable soup, or, a rare moment of foresight

pesto vegetable soup, or, a rare moment of foresight

This seems a little pricey at $10.06 for the whole recipe, but it actually made 10-12 servings, which makes it around $1.01 per serving. And also very handy to have around when you’re too tired to cook.

matt's request: spring rolls

matt's request: spring rolls

Because the stupid organic shrimp that is so delicious we can’t quit it costs $8.75 for a half pound, these were on the pricey side. The total was about $11.39 for 14 spring rolls, which I’d call at least 4 servings, but, in the interest of full disclosure, I ate 3 and Matt ate 11. So I don’t know if I can call it 4 servings in good conscience. Although later, he did say something about them expanding in his stomach, so maybe that was a little much, even for him.

couscous/lentils/chickpeas/delicious things

couscous/lentils/chickpeas/delicious things

This one wins the cheap contest. I used this recipe and it came out to a total of $4.09 for 4 servings, for a total of $1.02 per serving. Also, I loved it, but Matt found it bland. I think maybe those spring rolls were still expanding in his stomach.

looks can be deceiving

looks can be deceiving

I know this looks like someone already ate it, but seriously. It was really good. I’ve never cooked with garam masala and it made everything smell good and taste even better. Plus, there are apples in there. I used a version of this recipe, which is an adaptation of another one. Also, they did the math for me. Which is great, because I lost some receipts and I also bought those red lentils about 6 months ago.

Tomorrow marks a year since we legitimized our union in the eyes of the state of Kansas, which is a great reason to go out for dinner and split a bottle of prosecco if there ever was one. After that, and some cake that I’m crossing my fingers isn’t too freezer-burned, it’s back to the frugal gourmet.

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blogging.

June 17, 2009

I’m taking a brief break to deal with my life/work/health. I plan to be back soon with more cheap eats. And, as usual, to drop some math.