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Aloo Gobi Success June 4, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in cooking, food.
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I love it when a recipe finally works.

When I have the chance to eat Indian food, one of the things I always look for is Aloo Gobi – Cauliflower with potatoes. I’m pretty sure it’s one of those every-family-makes-this-a-little-bit-differently kind of recipes, much like the generic “spaghetti dinner” will be a little different depending at whose table you’re sitting. It can even vary from day to day when made by the same cook or the same restaurant. I think it’s one of those “a little bit of this and a little bit of that” type of recipes and will vary depending on how much of each ingredient the cook has on hand.

I’ve tried to follow a recipe with limited success. It was acceptable but not wonderful. Now that has changed because I tried a mix. I tend to avoid mixes and see them as cheating but someone gave me this one and I couldn’t waste it, right? Besides, I had a cauliflower in my fridge begging to be turned into Aloo Gobi. I had to buy a couple of potatoes and fresh tomatoes to fill out the recipe, although I suppose I could have used some canned tomatoes from my pantry. (There was a time I could never keep enough potatoes on hand to satisfy my family. Now that it’s just me at home, even the small bags of potatoes tend to go bad before I can eat them all.)

I call this success:

Aloo GobiThe color is good, the balance of spices is perfect, the heat was just right (I added a half of a Serrano pepper)… it was delicious! It could have used a little more potato so I suppose it wasn’t 100% successful, but I’d give it a 98%.

If you want to give this mix a whirl, the brand name is Arora Creations. I’m definitely looking for more of their mixes.

Who buys food because it’s cute? March 12, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in cooking, Finances.
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Apparently, that would be me. Tell me, could you resist these adorable, petite beans?

AdzukiAdzuki Beans look like miniature Kidney Beans. They are about the same color and shape, just half or less the size. Here they are next to some Small White Beans (honest, that’s what the bag says “Small White Beans”).

Adzuki 2I was out with my son enjoying some Indian food and we decided to visit the grocery next door. The store was both wonderful and overwhelming. So many things on the shelves that I had no idea how to use. The smells. The colors. The crowds. The store was pretty busy for a Saturday night, full of families with full carts. I was trying my best not to look like a gawking tourist but I don’t think I succeeded. I was tempted to buy lots of things but used restraint. I came out with a bag of these cute, little Adzuki beans, a box of Cardamom Chai (heavenly!), a jar of Tikka Masala simmering sauce, and some fresh cashew/pistachio candy (meh – I just can’t get used to rose flavoring in food). I want to go back but before I go, I’ll do my homework so I can 1) not look like such a dumb tourist and 2) know that I’ll actually use whatever I buy.

When I got home I went searching for recipes for Adzuki beans and found this recipe for Butternut Adzuki Soup. The soup has been simmering delightfully this afternoon and smells delicious. My plan was to make a half batch since I’ll be the only one eating it but I ended up making a full pot. The Adzuki beans grew much more than I expected when cooked — a scant two cups of dry beans expanded to well over six cups cooked — so I went for a full recipe. Hopefully this will freeze well (a test container going in the freezer tonight and will go to work with me tomorrow) or I’ll be eating nothing but soup for a few days.

I love shopping in ethnic groceries even though I invariably look like a tourist. Prices are generally lower (only $2.49 for two pounds of Adzuki beans) and the variety can’t be beat. Sometimes it can be a challenge to figure out how to fit the new food into my menu. I’m very pleased to have found at least one recipe to use the Adzuki beans. Next time I plan to buy some Fenugreek, but first I need to figure out how I’ll use it. Anyone have a good recipe to share?

Sunday in the Kitchen February 10, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in cooking, Gluten Free, Groceries, Monthly Challenge.
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I did my monthly grocery shopping yesterday. I’ve decided that’s how I need to think about it — that I grocery shop once a month only. I might make a quick dash into the store to replenish milk or produce, but anything else will wait for my big shopping trip. I was pretty good about sticking to my list. There were a couple things I remembered while I was in the store and one or two impulse buys (a big jar of pickled cauliflower for only a dollar, for one). Mostly I bought a LOT of produce and I’ll be making that the star of my meals for the next couple weeks.

Today I’ve been doing some of the prep work so I actually use the produce. I hate to admit that too often I buy the stuff, then I’m too tired or rushed or let’s face it, just too lazy to prep it and cook it. So today I roasted some beets (will be cut up for salads or as a side dish), sauteed mushrooms (add to salad, and use as a base for soup), enjoyed some fresh guacamole* and will be putting together some jars of salad. My plan is to eat one of these salad jars daily for either lunch or dinner. I’ll also be making a batch of this celery salad with Feta cheese.

Around Thanksgiving I bought a crate of butternut squash and split it with my daughter. I have only a few squashes left and I’ve been experimenting with this recipe for Butternut Fries. I think the picture in the link might be real potato french fries because they look nothing like how mine have turned out. I did a couple batches this past week with the squash cut think like the link shows. As they are baked and not deep-fried, they don’t really crisp up. The thin fries were very floppy. Tasty dipped into a little ranch dressing laced with Frank’s Buffalo Sauce but floppy. I tried again today cutting them about a half-inch thick and was pleased with the results. Still not crispy, but they browned nicely and had enough substance that they weren’t floppy. I don’t see these as an alternative to french fries made from potatoes, but for a healthy snack, they fit the bill. (I didn’t use the non-stick spray on the squash but instead used about a teaspoon or so olive oil.)

Butternut Fries

Guacamole

* Guacamole – Smash an avocado in a bowl, add some chopped tomatoes, diced onion (I prefer red), fresh cilantro and some type of spicy ingredient (I used a spoonful of adobo sauce from a can of chipotle in adobo). Squeeze on juice from half a lime, salt and pepper to taste and enjoy with tortilla chips.

 

No Spendy Week Two January 14, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in cooking, Finances, Groceries, Uncategorized.
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I checked the calendar and this past week only had seven days, just like normal, but boy howdy, did it feel longer. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me there were a couple extra days crammed in there somehow. I think it felt so long because I was ambushed by a sinus infection. I wonder if my Adventures with Wheat compromised my sinuses enough to make me vulnerable to the abundant germs floating around this time of year. Thursday and Friday I was miserable and slept as much as possible. My days of soldiering through an illness and simply waiting to get well are long gone and I went to Urgent Care on Friday for antibiotics. I’m still dragging but I no longer wonder if I’m going to survive.

I have quite a bit to report about my money adventures this week…

Tuesday I made a great pot of Sausage Lentil Soup*, maybe my best ever. This soup is generally successful and this batch was better than most. After dinner I turned a burner on to heat water for tea. Or so I thought. What I really did was turn the burner under the soup on high instead of the one under the tea kettle. I didn’t realize my mistake until the soup was burnt long past saving. That will teach me to pay better attention!

Storage containers always seem to go on sale in January and I’ve been planning for months to buy some. My Christmas storage boxes are starting to fall apart, plus I want to better organize my yarn and fabric stash. When I went to Target to buy the containers, I found some on clearance! I paid $3.84 for the “Christmas” storage containers instead of $6.99 for the regular sale ones. The only thing really Christmassy about the ones I bought were the red lids on the clear tubs. Finding a bargain makes planned spending less painful.

I’m still working my way through my freezer and cupboards but I did buy some produce this week. I loaded up on oranges and grapefruit along with some cauliflower and broccoli. I wish I would have remembered to buy some jalapenos because I want to make some spicy black beans. Looks like I’ll have to find something spicy in my spice cabinet instead because I’m not going back to the store for at least a week.

Monday I picked up Downton Abbey Season 2 from the library. Downton Abbey is a great thing to watch when sick. I’ll admit, I’m tempted to buy the DVDs, but it would definitely fall under the Wants column. It is a much better decision financially to borrow the DVDs from the library… as long as I remember to return them on time to avoid the fine!

*Sausage Lentil Soup

Crumble some Italian Sausage in your soup pot and cook it up (I used a little over a half pound). When it’s done, scoop it out and set aside. Throw in some chopped onions, carrots and celery and let them ‘sweat’ a bit. You don’t need to really cook them through, just brown a little to let the flavor develop. If your sausage was very lean and your vegetables are sticking, add a little olive oil. (I used one large onion, 5 carrots and 4 stalks celery.) Add the sausage back to the pot, water (or broth) to cover generously (I used 6 cups water and 3 Knorr chicken bullion cubes) and a cup or so of dried lentils. Bring to a simmer, cover and turn the heat to low. Let it go until the lentils are soft, maybe 30 minutes, minimum. Taste to see if it needs any additional seasoning. Maybe salt and pepper. That’s it! Enjoy your soup!

January Challenge January 1, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in cooking, Finances, Groceries, Monthly Challenge, Spending Diet.
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Each month I want to challenge myself to save money in new and different ways. My challenge for January is to eat out of my pantry and freezer. The only groceries I’m allowed to buy in January are fresh fruits and vegetables and milk. Everything else must come from my pantry or freezer. In all honesty, I think I can extend this past January but for now the challenge will last one month.

I have more than enough protein foods to feed me for the month. On my last grocery shopping trip in 2012 I cruised by the discounted meat bin right after it was stocked and picked up some treasures. I had Italian Sausage on my list because I planned to make Sausage Lentil Soup sometime this month. I found some Organic Chicken Italian Sausage for only $2.99 a pound and picked up two pounds. I separated the links and froze them separately so they would be easier to access. Now I can pull out ‘just enough’ from my freezer to flavor a small batch of soup. I also found a family pack of boneless, skinless chicken thighs for $6.33. Those were also frozen individually so there are 15 portions in a bag in my freezer. Add to that at least a pound each of at least six different dried beans and I’m more than set.

I think I have enough fruits and vegetables on hand to last a couple of weeks, possibly more. In the refrigerator vegetable bin there are about two pounds of carrots, two heads of cauliflower, some mini sweet peppers (that might need to be tossed as they’ve seen better days), a full head of celery and a few limes. I also have some sliced, sautéed mushrooms (that will be turned into soup today) and a bit of cooked cauliflower (seasoned with a bit of butter and lemon) from our big family dinner on Sunday. In the freezer there is a bag and a half of broccoli, maybe some frozen peas (or maybe not) and some frozen blueberries. Oh, and about a cup and a half of frozen Classico spaghetti sauce — I’ll probably use that as a soup base rather than for pasta. Add to that a few cans of assorted tomato products in my cupboard — crushed, sauce, diced, paste.

Milk is on the buy list because I need it for coffee (ok, do I really need it? probably not. I could learn to drink coffee without milk but I prefer it that way) and to make yogurt. My typical breakfast is a bowl of Greek yogurt with fruit and homemade granola. A couple of months ago I dug out my dusty yogurt maker and perfected a Greek yogurt recipe, saving a TON of money. Good Greek yogurt goes for $5-7 dollars a quart. I can make a bit more than a quart for the price of a half-gallon of milk. Well worth the (decidedly minimal) effort.

My son once told me “Mom, you don’t keep food in the house, you keep ingredients.” I’m looking forward to seeing just how true that may be. I like to cook and most of my experiments are at least edible and generally pretty tasty. My biggest downfall lately has been taking the easy way out (which is just a nice way of saying I’ve been lazy). It is easier to pick up something instead of cooking from scratch, or to treat myself to dinner out at my favorite Mexican place. I need to break those habits for good. Takeout and eating out need to be treats rather than habit.

Anyone want to join me? Adapt my challenge to meet your needs and let’s encourage each other!

Cooking Dinner September 21, 2007

Posted by phoenixhopes in cooking, food, Uncategorized.
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Maybe if I did my grocery shopping Fridays on the way home from work, the week between paydays I would be more realistic. Those nights find me exhausted, mentally spent, brain dead, and cash poor. Timing shopping then might mean that I’d bring something home that would actually get cooked and eaten during the week instead of food that languishes in my fridge longing for attention.

Instead I tend to shop Saturday morning the day after payday. I’m feeling, well, not rich exactly, but maybe a little spendy. Creative. Ambitious. Hungry. I buy things that actually need cooking rather than heating up. I imagine that I’ll make muffins or banana bread or maybe even an apple pie. I picture real meals with a vegetable, starch and meat and a dessert even. I imagine that we’ll sit around the table, enjoying good food and great conversation. Of course the children will love everything I cook even if it includes mushrooms.

Then the week happens. Up too early and out the door for a too long day. Home 12 hours later and I try to remember what I had planned to do what that lovely food. Meatloaf? Marinated chicken breasts? Cauliflour? I can’t fathom any of it.

I make pancakes (a mix, just add water), eggs and toast, ramen (if I’m creative, maybe add a chicken breast), mac and cheese (I’m not sure there’s a way to make that adult friendly but I keep trying), tuna sandwiches, tacos. The only requirement seems to be how quickly I can get it on the table with the least amount of effort on my part.

I’d like to think that a day will come when I have the time and energy to remember how to cook. In the meantime, I hope the kids can taste the love.