I’m back.

December 28, 2009

Oh, hey.

I could make a lot of excuses about why I haven’t been blogging but, instead, I’m going to be honest. Which is actually way more interesting because the truth is that back in November the power supply on our laptop caught on fire. Fortunately, Matt was there, and he saved the day. I don’t know what I would have done if we had lost the 4 million pictures of food on the laptop AND all of our earthly belongings all in one day.

Speaking of our earthly belongings, I’ve also been a little bit distracted by the fact that we moved ourselves and all of said belongings across the country last week. And moving from the Midwest in the middle of December is a world of stress all its own. Because, well, have you ever seen that show Ice Road Truckers? Because now I have. In real life.

I’m totally kidding. The drive, while excruciatingly long, was fine. We managed to hit a window between snowstorms that really couldn’t have worked out better. Plus, we paid someone else to move about 99% of our stuff for us, so that was a bonus.

Which is a long way to say, I’m back!

With the holidays and everything happening right after we moved, we’ve really only spent a few days in our new place, and I’ve only cooked two dinners here. I wish I had taken a picture of the first one, a sweet potato risotto that was truly awesome. My mom gave us two big bags of sweet potatoes, so I’m sure I’ll be making it again. So don’t you worry.

Tonight’s dinner was probably more along the lines of what we’ll be eating on a regular basis, as we’re watching our pennies these days in the wake of the move.

super easy split pea soup

super easy split pea soup

A few things I’d like to point out about this picture:

  1. My favorite North Carolina beer in the top right, purchased at the neighborhood grocery store
  2. The fact that we ate dinner at a table, which is something we haven’t been able to do in our own home for over 2 years

It’s the simple things, really

Super Easy Split Pea Soup (serves 3ish)

you need:

  • olive oil for the pot
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced small
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup of split peas, rinsed and picked over (these were green but I’ve also made a really good one with yellow split peas)
  • 2 cups of vegetable broth and 2 cups of water (or another combination adding up to 4 cups of liquid)
  • bay leaf
  • more water, as needed

To do:

  1. Cook carrots, celery, and onions in a soup pot over medium heat with garlic and olive oil until the onions are almost translucent, about 8 or 10 minutes, adding water as needed
  2. Add split peas, water, broth, salt, pepper, and a bay leaf
  3. Bring everything to a boil and give it a good stir
  4. Cover and reduce heat to low, simmering for about 45 minutes until the soup is thick and the peas fall apart (if you use yellow split peas, this takes about an hour)
  5. Serve and enjoy

I thought about giving you the shockingly low cost of this meal for us, but my mom actually gave us a bag of split peas, so it wouldn’t really be a true representation, as it was basically free. If you buy your own split peas, you can add about 50 cents to that.


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.

IMG_2624

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.

IMG_2627

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.


Piece of cake

September 28, 2009

I spent the majority of my Sunday in and out of the kitchen – cleaning a little, but mostly freezing fresh tomatoes and some chickpeas I cooked on Saturday, simmering enough stock to use for dinner with some left for the freezer, cooking dinner, and even making some dessert. Sometimes you build up that kitchen momentum and it would be dangerous to stop. Plus, I learned today that freezers run more efficiently when nearly full, so the fact that I added all of the above mentioned things to ours makes me feel like I did a good thing.

Even though it was still in the 80s when we sat down to dinner last night, I was dead-set on having soup. This soup in particular caught my eye after buying my first leeks ever at the farmer’s market on Saturday. My version was quite similar but with olive oil instead of butter (we’re out) and, sadly, there was no dill to be found at my usual markets. It was still lovely and warming and hearty and I know it will be perfect in about two months when I’m coming home with frozen hair.

I hope you click over to the recipe because her picture is quite impressive and my picture is, well, I don’t have a picture. What I do have is four different shots of blinding white light that might be bowls of soup. Now that it’s getting dark earlier and we use those low watt cfl bulbs (hides the dirt – try it!), it’s almost impossible for me to get a decent picture. I really don’t know how to use the camera, to be honest, and it’s not actually mine.

I did get a shot or two of this:

what's more comforting than cake?

what's more comforting than cake?

I baked a cake! All by myself! People who know me in real life might be aware that, while I’m obviously an accomplished home cook, I’m not much of a baker. And, aside from the occasional batch of cookies, I try to stick to what I know. But, when I was visiting my family a few months back, my mother patiently stood with me while I made my first zucchini bread and “helped” me make a pound cake. Since then I baked 2 loaves of zucchini bread before I put my hand mixer back in the bottom drawer where it belongs. With all of the other stuff I don’t use.

But this? This was easy. I stumbled on this recipe last week and when I bought a pint of raspberries at the farmer’s market this weekend, I knew I wanted to try it. While the soup was cooking, I bravely preheated the oven and got to work. The batter was thicker than I expected but other than that, it went off without a hitch.

I’m glad I had the foresight to take that picture before I “plated it” because I did a truly horrifying job removing the cake from the pan, and it fell apart in about 25 different pieces. Oh well. Easier for snack-size servings. It tasted great, and the raspberries were a good counter to the sweetness of that 3/4 cup of sugar. I’d like to reduce the sugar next time, but I’m not sure what would happen if I did. Do you know? This is why baking makes me nervous. Because of science.

I just had another piece, and I can’t help but think how nice it would be to have a homemade cake on hand all the time.


S(o)uper Easy

September 22, 2009

I’m sorry about that. I really am. Titles are just not my strong suit.

But soup is!

quesadilla soup

quesadilla soup

I set out to make a basic tortilla soup to use up a few things – a few cups of black beans from Sunday’s batch, some frozen corn just taking up valuable freezer space, 1/3 of a red pepper left over from the chickpea croquettes I loved so much, and a few spoonfuls of salsa. Matt had the brilliant idea of adding cheese to the soup itself IN ADDITION to putting some on top with the tortilla chips.

Whoa.

So the extra cheese made it quesadilla soup (clever!) and also made it extra good. Bonus: it disguised the “extra charred” flavor of the tortilla chips I completely burned. I mean the rustic tortilla chips. Rustic because I couldn’t be bothered to cut them so I just ripped them into pieces and they ended up looking really kind of sad. But extra crispy!

Quesadilla soup

You need:

  • 1 flour or 2 corn tortillas
  • a little olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced (or to taste – I used more)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper (a whole one would also be great), diced
  • 1.5 – 2 cups of cooked black beans (or about 1 can, rinsed and drained)
  • 1 cup of corn
  • cumin, chili powder, and cayenne to taste
  • 1/3 cup salsa
  • 1-2 oz cheese, grated

And then you:

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium.
  2. Add garlic, the add diced pepper when fragrant. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425.
  4. Cut or rip tortilla(s) into roughly even pieces. Lay on on a baking sheet and spray lightly with oil.
  5. Add 4 cups of water (or broth) to pot.
  6. Add corn and beans, as well as seasoning. Bring to a boil.
  7. Reduce heat to medium. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  8. When the soup has been simmering for 5 minutes, put pan with tortillas in oven. About 5 minutes later, flip them, reducing heat if they get too dark (obviously I missed this step). Then 5 more minutes later (a total of 10 for the chips), take them out.
  9. When soup is simmered, add salsa and cheese. Increase heat to medium and heat through forĀ  a minute or two.
  10. Spoon into bowls.
  11. Serve with tortilla chips and cheese on top. And more salsa if you’re lucky enough to have some.

This makes about four servings. I had mine with unpictured okra. Unpictured because it’s really becoming a daily habit.


Taking stock and making stock (or, the longest post ever).

July 28, 2009

I’ve been MIA. Last week was unusually busy, which meant that I didn’t really make any interesting food. By the time Friday rolled around, I panicked about all of the vegetables we had lying around that weren’t going to make it much longer, especially since we were going out of town for the weekend. I panicked so much, in fact, that I broke my own rules about cold soup (namely, that I don’t eat it) and made gazpacho. And I actually liked it. It was like a vegetable smoothie in a bowl. With bread!

gazpacho + croutons

gazpacho + croutons

This set in motion a whole “use it or lose it” theme for the upcoming weeks. We have so much food in the cupboards, the freezer, the eight giant mouse-proof storage boxes, the refrigerator, etc. So, when we got back to town Sunday night, I made a list of everything we had, and there was so much stuff that I decided we could only buy groceries in the following categories until all that stuff gets gone: lunch supplies, produce, and spices. So far, I’ve stuck to it, but it’s only been two days, so we’ll see.

I knew I was going to make risotto tonight, so I decided this would be a good week to experiment with making my own stock. I used my friend Dayna’s method (found here), and it turned out pretty awesome. A little on the carroty side, but next time I’ll know to balance things out a bit more. Although there’s nothing wrong with carroty.

The best part was that it was basically free. I only used stuff I would usually throw away, plus some spices that amount to maybe three cents, and it made about 5 cups of broth that tastes strikingly similar to the kind I buy (USED TO BUY) for $3.99 for a 32 ounce container.

stock success

stock success

In keeping with the liquids theme, I used up some giant local zucchini to make curried zucchini soup, based on this recipe. The verdict?

delicious!

delicious.

More bread, because we’re trying to use that up, too.

There’s nothing I like quite as much as crossing something off a list, so I can’t wait.


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.


Tortellini soup

April 30, 2009
where have you been all my life?

where have you been all my life?

Apparently I have a number of repressed food-related memories. For instance, I have no recollection of what I ate during the four years I spent in college. I have one vague memory of burning a pot of Mahatma yellow rice from one of those foil packets and setting off the smoke detector in one of my apartments. I also sort of remember using the waffle iron in the dining hall to make a waffle ice cream sandwich for breakfast. Maybe every single day (but who can remember?). And there were maybe some Pokey Stix from Gumby’s Pizza but I only remember those making me sick.

I have also apparently glossed over in my mind an entire period of our lives during which we lived off of tortellini. As I was making tonight’s dinner, I had some kind of body memory of pulling down a box of dried DaVinci tortellini from the cabinet in an apartment we lived in a few years ago, probably when I was in grad school. I’m putting the pieces together – I now know that we ate chili, chimichangas, cheesy rice casserole, and tortellini for the two years I spent in graduate school. Oh wait, another one’s coming to me… Those Voila frozen dinners. Can’t forget those. They’re amazing because, despite the careful flavor selection you make, standing in the freezer section, overwhelmed by your options, they all end up tasting like water.

Anyway, this was a little more substantial and interesting and – dare I say? – sophisticated than the dump store brand jarred pasta sauce over cooked tortellini and call it dinner three nights in a row method I used to employ.

This was another recipe that my mom sent me. We’re two for two on these, with both the quinoa burritos and the tortellini soup being winners. I have to say, though, Matt was a little disappointed when he realized that I wasn’t just mispronouncing tortilla soup when I told him what we were having for dinner. The final product didn’t disappoint, and the whole thing ended up tasting really rich and pretty amazing for something so simple. You really just bring some vegetable broth and water to a boil, throw in some tortellini, simmer, add chopped vegetables (carrots and celery), simmer more, add some tomatoes (I used a can of diced tomatoes with their juices and I think it added more dimension to the broth), and add some spinach. I threw some goat cheese on at the end and stirred it in to thicken things up. And to be delicious.

A word about vegetable broth: my favorite grocery store splurge (besides soy cream) is Imagine brand No-Chicken Broth. At Dillon’s, it costs $3.99 for 32 ounces, which would not be in my price range if it wasn’t so delightful. Most vegetable broths are a little too in your face, flavor-wise, for my liking. This vegetarian version of chicken broth, however, is mild and subtle and pretty amazing. I try to stock up when it goes on sale, but that’s kind of rare, so I’m looking for alternatives. I’ve seen no-chicken broth base at the natural foods store, but it’s a little pricey as well (though cheaper in the long run), so I’m kind of afraid to try it and be stuck with a whole bottle. Any ideas? I’m trying to stretch the grocery budget these days, so maybe making my own vegetable stock would be the best way? But how would I get the lovely flavor without making it too bold?

I have so many questions.

Okay, I have to leave the room now. Apparently my being in here is causing some kind of phenomenon that leads already too long NBA games to go on for about a million years and forever prevent me from watching my stories on the DVR.