Use it or lose it

January 6, 2010

I started 2010 off with the best intentions, just as I start every year. But you know what they say about the pavement on the road to hell, etc. I was going to start eating fruits and vegetables again! And use what we have instead of going out and spending money! And drinking lots of water!

Well, I guess there were vegetables on my pizza Monday night. And the sandwich I got last night when we went out AGAIN had sweet potato chips on the side.

Before that, though, I was doing a really solid job.

Exhibit A

day 2 stew

You like that rhyming, right? This is what we made with our New Year’s leftovers. There was quinoa and then the braised beans and collards, plus some broth, some fresh collards, and more black-eyed peas. I feel like we should get extra prosperity points for making the ingredients for our lucky New Year’s dinner stretch over two days.

Exhibit B

black-eyed pea hummus wraps

I had black-eyed pea hummus sometime last year at The Dish and it was  really good. Like regular hummus but… I don’t know, Southern? With mounds of black-eyed peas left, even after the stew, I decided to give it a shot. And it was awesome.

Black-eyed pea hummus (makes ~4 servings)

You need:

  • 1 cup cooked black-eyed peas
  • a few T lemon juice
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1T olive oil
  • salt + pepper
  • crushed red pepper

To do:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender, or by hand.

So easy. I’d like to experiment with other flavors in the future, but this time I kept it simple to get a solid foundation.

Also: we ate at home tonight! And there were vegetables in it!

rigatoni with white bean and kale marinara

It has been at least almost nearly a week since we had some other version of this exact meal, so it was obviously time for a new variation.


Taking it easy

November 1, 2009

Last week was sort of a blur, which is mostly to do with the thin film of fatigue that settles over me whenever we move from one season to another. It’s been particularly strange this year, with the “it’s fall, it’s winter, it’s fall, it’s summer, it’s winter, it’s fall, now it’s summer again” thing we’ve had going on here in Kansas, and my body has been protesting any kind of activity beyond work and non-negotiable errand-running. But, hey, we got an extra hour today. Which means that now it’s going to be dark when I leave work, more or less without fail. So that should help.

Anyway, I try to push through these quirky seasonal changes in my energy levels so that I can actually cook decent food, which theoretically should be helping. And it does. Kind of.

I go on auto-pilot, really, and cook the things that I am halfway done making before I realize that I have put 0 seconds worth of thought or mental effort into them. Vegetable soup is good, what with the methodical chopping and the various “exciting” spice blends I can use to take it from one cuisine to another. This was an Indian-inspired one, with a little rice thrown in. For fun. Just because I’m in cruise control mode doesn’t mean I can’t be a little crazy, right?

curried vegetable soup with rice

curried vegetable soup with rice

And the most automatic meal of all is some version of pasta with beans and greens and something red. This time it was french lentils, spinach, and a ridiculously overpriced (but shrewdly unlabeled) red pepper, with a quick lemon-garlic sauce.


go-to pasta

Tonight, though, in a sudden burst of energy (the extra hour, perhaps?), I set out to try something new. I grabbed two pie pumpkins at the last farmer’s market of the year yesterday, and tonight I baked one and pureed the flesh to use in another pumpkin bread, and to try in something savory: pumpkin and black bean soup. I started with the smitten kitchen recipe but diverged quite a bit. Maybe that’s why my soup looks approximately 0% like hers.


vegetarian black bean pumpkin soup

I’m going to work on this recipe more before I post it, but for now I’ll say it was certainly passable, and even good, if not what I was actually going for. See, the pumpkins I’m getting are just not orange inside. Maybe they’re past their prime, or haven’t even reached it yet. I have no idea. I have yet to farm pumpkins. They taste just fine, but aren’t terribly pumpkiny, which seems, well, strange. While I did tweak the proportions here, I think the pumpkin I used just blended in, both taste and color-wise. It did add a little body to the soup, as well as a bit of creaminess, both of which I appreciated. Plus, I put the bowl of soup on a orange plate so that makes up for the lack of color in the soup itself.

I was going to roast some pumpkin seeds but I decided to use my energy to bake bread instead. I thought cornbread would be a great fit for this soup, but apparently Matt is some kind of cornbread-hater. Instead, I found an easy recipe in How to Cook Everything for whole wheat quick bread. I’m afraid of real bread baking, what with the yeast and the 110* water and all of the other nerve-wracking elements of it, including kneading and “turning out on a floured surface.” I’ll get there. Eventually. But for now, I’ll stick with this one, which was quick and easy and hearty and doughy with a little hint of sweetness from molasses. That Mark Bittman and his cooking of everything. It never ceases to amaze me.

Saucy baked eggplant

September 30, 2009

We’ve been really giving eggplant a lot of love these days, which is something so new and so delicate I’m almost afraid to talk about it in case that curses us to a slew of bad eggplants whose bitterness can neither be salted nor pounded away.

But, what the hell. I’ve been really wanting eggplant parmesan, but I am about 98% spent by dinnertime on a given weekday, so there’s none of this salting, then pounding, then dredging in eggwhites and breadcrumbs, then frying or baking, and so on. This hit the same general notes with maybe a quarter of the effort, which is a win. Plus, during the lengthier segments of prep, I was able to take naps.

saucy baked eggplant

saucy baked eggplant

This was so easy, it’s barely a recipe. I washed a medium white eggplant, sliced it into ~1/4 inch rounds, salted them in a colander over the sink for an hour, took a nap, preheated the oven to 375*, rinsed the eggplant and beat the bitterness out between paper towels, layered tomato sauce and eggplant in a baking dish, topped with some fresh mozzarella, covered with foil, and baked for 40 minutes, taking another nap in the process. While I slept, Matt cooked some macaroni and we served up a delightful meal.

I’ve got ideas for eggplant that extend beyond the pasta realm – homemade baigan bharta, stir fry with eggplant, maybe some baba ganoush. But, for tonight, this was perfect.

Comfort food

September 26, 2009

The temperatures have dropped a bit, and I don’t know if it’s that or the exhaustion I’ve been fighting, but I’ve been heading straight for my comfort foods this week.

I don’t know what it says about the person I’ve become that I’d rather have a giant bowl of roasted vegetables than a piece of cheesecake when I’m tired or in a bad mood, but roasted eggplant is just so good now that I’ve finally developed an effective method to reduce the bitterness (slice, salt over a colander for an hour, then rinse and lay out in a layer between two paper towels and beat the slices to near death with an empty beer bottle. I assume other bottles would work but I’m just going from my own experience here). I guess I just need to embrace it because this pasta with eggplant, zucchini, mini-romas, and garlic was a near-perfect meal.

emotional eating that I can get behind

emotional eating that I can get behind

The pictures in this post are going to be even worse than normal, just to warn you. See above re: exhaustion.

The eggplant and zucchini that we had in the crisper were both huge, so the pan of vegetables I roasted (375* for 45 minutes) was actually full to overflowing. So we had a whole glass dish of leftovers to complement another comforting favorite: barley risotto. Just plain this time, as the mushrooms we were going to use were green-tinged and slimy. Awesome!

I was going to put the picture in, but I just can’t. I respect you too much. It’s terrible. If you want to see some barley risotto, here’s one I don’t find completely embarrassing. I’ve also made it about 28 other times if you’re looking for recipes. I was getting into arborio rice but we’re on a grocery budget again and barley is less than 1/2 the price, pound for pound, so it’s back in our lives.

Today, we finally opened this jar of tomatillo salsa that we’ve been trying to open for literally weeks and had some black bean chilaquiles to celebrate.



These were easy and warm and comforting – a perfect Saturday night meal. I just cut up two tortillas and burned them again on 450* for 10 minutes. I turned the oven down to 350* and cooked a diced green pepper and a small diced onion in a skillet with some olive oil on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. I turned the heat down and added about a cup and half of black beans, just to heat them up for a minute or two because I didn’t defrost them. Then, I layered the chips, beans/peppers/onions, and about a cup and a half of roasted salsa verde into a baking dish and baked for about 25 minutes, until the chips were really soft. Chilaquiles aren’t traditionally baked but I needed my one large burner to cook some chickpeas and so in the oven it went. On the side, some tomatoes from my favorite kid at the farmer’s market who keeps a really careful tally of how many pints of his tomatoes have been sold so that his dad knows how much he’s going to have to pay him out later.

And now, for more comfort, there’s TV on DVD waiting for me. Between Netflix and Hulu, I think I actually watch more TV now than I did when we had cable. Today, I even made Matt go to the video store to rent two discs of 24 because I’m completely addicted to it (I know – is it 2001 already??) and even though we already pay 20 dollars a month for Netflix I was somehow able to justify it because we walked to the video store so we were saving money on gas.

Back on the wagon

June 10, 2009

Last night, I was so tired and so hungry when I got home that I caved. We went to La Fiesta and I got my greasy Mexican food and a mix and match six pack and I came home and went to sleep. I got the vegetarian #3 which was a burrito, some rice, and a stuffed poblano pepper, which is my new #1 cheese vehicle. I mean, it was amazing. So there was the pepper, which was just kind of an afterthought, really, filled with cheese, rice, maybe some spinach, and something the menu referred to as “butter egg.” Which is either a buttered egg, or butter formed in the shape of an egg. Either way, frighteningly delicious. With emphasis on the frightening.

Tonight, I was equally tired, but I forced myself to go to power yoga to get a little energy and sweat out some of that stuffed pepper. Seriously, nothing makes you feel like a pansy quite so much as having every single muscle in your body shake during Warrior One. I guess I’m not the finely tuned machine I think I am.

What better way to refuel after such an intense experience than with… beans.

I know! I eat beans every day. But at least it wasn’t a salad.

pasta with lentils over lemon-garlic spinach

pasta with lentils over lemon-garlic spinach

This obviously isn’t my first pasta with legumes dish, and I’ve even made pasta with lentils before, but I liked this iteration a lot better than the last time I tried it. It was super garlicky, which I love, and the acidity of the tomatoes and a little red wine vinegar balanced out the earthiness of the lentils. I’ll try to add in the recipe later, WHEN CARLA STOPS CRYING on this rerun of last season’s Top Chef finale. She’s making me cry. AGAIN. Unless that’s still sweat from the yoga.

Let’s get to the important stuff.

the breakdown

1/2 bag spinach = $.99
8 oz random pasta = $1.00 (estimate)
1 cup green lentils = $.31
1 can stewed tomatoes = $.63
1/4 cup diced onion = $.10
a few shavings of Parmesan = $.25
and some pantry staples (garlic, vinegar, oregano, olive oil

grand total = $3.28

Lentils are so cheap. And, luckily, I’ve got a freezer full of them, filed between bags of chickpeas, white beans, black beans. So, this serves 4, for a per-serving price of $.82. That helps to make up for last night’s relative extravagance.

And did I mention the lentils only cost 31 cents?

Patriot pasta salad

June 1, 2009

I’m thinking of June as “recover our finances” month. Also known as “live on the cheap” month. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is that we’re celebrating our anniversary and both of our birthdays over the next five weeks, which means three dinners out, and I guess some presents or something. I also refuse to carry a credit card balance, especially since they jacked up my interest rates. So, I’ve set us up a complicated system of envelopes for receipts and a grocery budget of $40 a week. I wanted to cut it to $30, which represents a more than 50% reduction from our typical $75 or so a week, but Matt made a compelling argument that we had to live that way in college and when I was in graduate school and really shouldn’t have to now that we’re both gainfully employed. So, $40 it is.

The first meal of this experiment was a financial and gustatory success. Matt jokingly came up with the name when I was putting it together and pointed out that that it had the colors of the Italian flag. Okay, if I’m being honest, I had to confirm that with him. I’m just not good with flags. Plus, he lived in southern Switzerland for 5 years, so I defer to him on most things European.

red, white, and green

red, white, and green

Patriot Pasta Salad (serves 4)

you need:

  • 1.5 cups of cannellini or other white beans, cooked from dried (or 1 can, rinsed and drained)
  • 3/4 lb of asparagus, cut diagonally into 3 inch slices
  • 1 serving of dried tomatoes (about 5 tomatoes), chopped
  • 9-10 oz pasta (farfalle, penne, rotini, etc)
  • olive oil
  • oregano
  • red wine vinegar

and then you:

  1. Bring a big pot of salted water to boil.
  2. Add dried tomatoes and pasta to water.
  3. When the pasta is almost done, add the asparagus. You want it to be bright green and crisp, so don’t overcook it. Rubbery asparagus has no place in this pasta salad.
  4. Drain the pasta/tomatoes/asparagus. Fill the pot with cold water to stop the cooking process, and drain again.
  5. Put pasta in a serving dish. Add beans. Season with oregano to taste. Add a little olive oil and red wine vinegar, just a glug of each.
  6. Toss and serve.

I’m no stranger to pasta with white beans, though I usually add spinach and stewed tomatoes when I’m serving it hot. These flavors made the whole thing feel more late spring/early summer, and it makes for a great weeknight meal for a hot day. It takes less than 15 minutes of stovetop cooking, it’s light, and you eat it cold.

All that for…

1.5 c white beans @ .75
2/3 box of whole wheat penne @ 1.50/box = 1.00
1/5 bag of dried tomatoes @ 2.99/bag = .60
3/4 lb asparagus @ 2.99/lb = 2.24
and some pantry staples (red wine vinegar, olive oil, oregano)

grand total = $4.59

That’s $1.15 a serving. And more math than I’ve done in months.

BAM. Welcome to lean-living June.

I guess Thursday night is pasta night, too.

May 14, 2009

I mean, even I get tired of beans sometimes.

I actually exercised tonight, even though I really kind of feel like the lower left quadrant of my back is going to explode at any moment. It’s swollen and sore and, I don’t know, maybe it’s because I just watched Aliens, but I really think there might be something growing back there.

I thought exercising might help, and it sort of did, but I felt kind of gross the whole time. Let this be a lesson: three cookies and a brownie, however small, do not a pre-workout snack make.

Afterwards, I really wanted something fast to cook, so I went with pasta. I also wanted to make a sauce that was different from my usual, and I really wanted to use the food processor again because Matt gets super annoyed about cleaning it. I did a chunky, spicy roasted red pepper -based sauce, pretty much this one with a lot of extra crushed red pepper. Ignore the rest of the recipe, because, while I do love a good lasagna roll-up, those involve things I don’t have to offer, like time and effort. So, you can feel free to mentally replace that whole first section with: “Cook boxed linguine according to package directions.” You could technically use something other than linguine, but I’d go with penne or something tough enough to handle a thicker sauce.

pasta is my #1 cheese vehicle

pasta is my #1 cheese vehicle

The sauce was really good and fresh-tasting, if a little bright for me. I think I might add some tomato paste next time, just for kicks. But the whole meal took about 15 minutes from start to finish, including the boiling of the pasta water, and that’s something I can get behind. The sauce itself takes about 15 seconds once you open up the required cans and dump their contents into a food processor. All I did was process until it was just slightly chunky and then pour into a sauce pan to heat.

Done and done.