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There’s No Such Thing as a Cheap Lunch

Posted by flsquared on February 6, 2010

Today I made a big mistake.

On Saturdays, I have started swapping language lessons in the hopes of reviving my dormant French knowledge.  My instructor is awesome–a Parisian artist full of life and spirit and the patience of a saint!

After the lesson, I typically take advantage of the fact that I’m out of the house and go grocery shopping.  If you don’t live in Manhattan, you may not understand why I need to go shopping alone, but suffice it to say that Whole Foods and Trader Joes are “cheap” supermarkets, so much so that there are often crowds that would rival Black Friday sales at Walmart.

Today, we got together from 11am-1:30pm and I was starving as I left.  I hopped on the subway down to Union Square, but knew I would not make it through the hoards of Trader Joe’s groupies without a snack.  Right in front of TJ’s was a hot dog vendor.  Score!  Quick and cheap.  After all, I had to get back home to relieve hubby from babysitting duty.

(If my friend D. is reading this, I am sure to get a lecture.  Yes, I know, you have warned me time and time again about eating from the street carts!)

It was not a good sign when the guy cleaned out the mustard with a toothpick and then put the toothpick back in the box.  Ewww!

But the hot dog had already been paid for so I scarfed it down and ran inside to do my shopping.

As I waited in the 45 minute line to pay for the groceries, I grabbed a hot wing sample.  Spicy but good.

I was even counting my blessings as I got to the bus stop just as the 103 was pulling in.  Yoo hoo!

However, as the driver swerved through traffic and slammed on the brakes over and over again, my stomach began to turn.  I’m not really sure if it was the hot dog, the sole buffalo wing, or the 30 minute roller coaster bus ride, but I seriously didn’t know if I was going to make it home before I lost my lunch.

I actually got out of the bus 2 stops early and started walking.  I stumbled into the apartment and downed two hot chamomile teas with honey.  I laid down on the bed.  The room slowly stopped spinning and I was able to go out and play with the kids.

Sometimes I am so stupid.  I will spend double to buy hormone free milk or free range eggs, but I buy whatever crap they sell on the street corner.  Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson and the next time I need a quick snack I’ll either bring one with me or grab something at the fruit stand.

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Meat as a Side Dish Recipe: Slow-Cooked Moroccan Spiced Chicken with Apricots

Posted by flsquared on January 25, 2010

This is a super yummy recipe that my mom picked up while staying with my Aunt in her convent (Yes, my aunt is a nun).  It’s perfect on a cool day and freezes well.  Oh, and P.S., I know it says “spiced” but it’s not spice-y at all.

Enjoy!

Slow-Cooked Moroccan Spiced Chicken with Apricots

Ingredients:

  • 6 chicken breasts or 12 thighs (can sub less meat + more beans)
  • 2 or 3, 16oz cans (or equivalent) garbanzo beans
  • 2 tbs oil
  • 2 med onions, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • 1 ½ tsp hot paprika (can sub sweet paprika and ¼ tsp cayenne pepper)
  • ½ tsp cardamom
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup dried apricots, cut in bite-sized pieces (can sub prunes or raisins)
  • 1 cinnamon stick (can sub ½ tsp cinnamon)
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup fresh minced cilantro (optional)
  • Juice of 1 lemon (~2 tbsp)
  • OPTIONAL:  1 can diced tomatoes, ¼ – ½ tsp ginger

Directions:

Dry the chicken with paper towels, season with salt and pepper.  In large pressure cooker pot, heat the oil over medium/high heat.  Brown the chicken about 10 min and remove from pot. (remove any chicken grease).

Add 2 tsp oil to empty pot over medium heat.  Add onions, paprika, cardamom, salt and ginger.  Cook until onions soften (about 5 min).  Stir in garlic and cook ~15 sec.  Stir in 2 ¼ cups broth, apricots, and cinnamon.  Scrape up browned bits of chicken.  Bring to a simmer.  Add chicken.

Cover and bring to pressure, lower heat and cook for ~20 min.  (If not using pressure cooker, cook 3 hours).

Turn off heat and wait until pressure goes away (about 15-20 min).

Add garbanzos (and tomatoes) and cover.  Bring to pressure, lower heat and cook about 5-10 min.  Turn off heat and wait until pressure goes away. (If not using pressure cooker, cook 1 hour).

Remove chicken and discard cinnamon stick.  In ½ cup cold chicken broth, add ¼ flour.  Whisk until smooth.  Add to liquid in pot and stir.  Cover and cook about 15-30 min more or until thick.  Stir in cilantro and lemon juice.

Add chicken back to pot and heat up.

Tastes even better the next day!

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Meat as a Side Dish Recipe #5: Almost-Vegan Butternut Squash Soup (a footnote)

Posted by flsquared on November 14, 2009

I will add a link to this post, but I wanted to let you know that I made the soup again and it did not turn out so well. Since I had forgotten to take photos (and because it was so yummy), I decided to make another pot this week.

It was absolutely delicious.

But it wasn’t as “pretty”.

The first soup was orange and just looked like the inside of a pumpkin.  Absolutely beautiful.

This soup was brown like apple butter.

I racked my brain and realized my failure and then I realized–I forgot to add the lemon!  (and, worse yet, I forgot to add it into the recipe!!!)

Whenever you cut up apples, they oxidize and turn brown.  But a splash of lemon helps prevent this.  Here’s an interesting article from the Washington Post that explains this phenomenon.

So lesson learned:  add a half lemon worth of juice into the pot along with the apples and you will have a beautiful soup!

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Meat as a Side Dish Recipe #5: Almost-Vegan Butternut Squash Soup

Posted by flsquared on October 26, 2009

First of all, let me explain the “Almost-Vegan” in the title.  I think that, as a life choice, being Vegan is terrific.  I will never choose to be one as I love my meat and dairy.  I also find cooking for Vegans a bit stressful (please don’t flame! I love you guys!) as I tend to improvise during my cooking and I freak out thinking that I will throw in the wrong ingredient and de-veganize the dish.

With this soup, for example, I did throw in (without thinking) about a cup of chicken broth.  So it’s obviously not vegan or even vegetarian anymore.  Normally, I would also finish it off with a dollop of plain yogurt on top.

Anyway, the soup turned out delish–so yummy and sweet that it could almost be a dessert.  Okay, not quite, but it was awesome!

The recipe was adapted from The Angelica Home Kitchen (it is called “Squash Potage”)

Ingredients:
* 2 tbsp olive oil (I used extra virgin)
* 1 large onion, coursely chopped
* 1 tsp sea salt
* 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
* 2 tsp cinnamon (the recipe asks for a stick)
* I added in a tsp of nutmeg (the recipe also asks for fresh sage, but I didn’t have any on hand so I skipped it)
* 3 cloves garlic, chopped
* 2 apples, chopped (the recipe asks for apple cider but I have a bunch of apples on hand)
* juice of 1/2 lemon
* large, already roasted butternut squash, probably about 4 or 5 lbs (recipe asks for a raw winter squash, chopped, but I already roasted mine)
* 2 or 3 chopped carrots
* 4 cups water or veggie stock (I used the chicken stock–oops!)

Directions:

Warm the oil over medium heat, add the onions and stir for about 10 min.  Add ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and garlic for about 5 min.  Stir in apples, lemon juice, and carrots and the water/stock.  Bring to a boil.  At this point, I popped on the lid of the pressure cooker and let go until she hit full steam.  Then I turned off the heat and let it sit for about 10 min. (If you don’t have a pressure cooker, I would cook about 40 min – 1 hour.  You would also want to add your raw squash at this point).

After the pressure was released, I threw in the cooked squash, cooked it for about 5 min, and pureed it using a handheld mixer.

Soup-er easy (ha-ha, sorry).  Enjoy!

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Grocery Update: We’re On the Right Track!

Posted by flsquared on March 18, 2009

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we were concerned that we were spending too much money on groceries–up to $20-25/day!  The scariest thing about it was that it just creeped up out of nowhere.  My husband and I are very responsible with money and have never used a budget.  We only noticed since we were earning a lot of “free” gasoline!

(Note to Self:  Remember to review your spending every few months, just to make sure it’s under control!)

I am happy to report that since I have taken back over the shopping we have been saving money!  I don’t think that I am doing anything “earth-shattering” or anything my husband couldn’t/wouldn’t have done, but I am just shopping consciously.

Here are the numbers (yea!)

  • January:  $18.71/day
  • February:  $15.11/day
  • March (so far):  $10.87/day

And this is without doing without!  I’m including in here our daily glass of wine with dinner.  I am not including our take out pizza or dining out.  Funny thing, though–since I started shopping this way, we have actually stopped ordering pizza (we now get it about every 3 weeks) and we eat out much less.  Hmm…. that wasn’t part of the plan!

So what have I been doing?  Here are some things that have worked for me:

  • Take inventory of what you have at home already.  We had a ton of red and black beans that we had actually moved up here from Atlanta.  Crazy!  And it wasn’t that we don’t like them, we do.  We had just gotten into a “lentils and garbanzos” frame of mind.
  • Shop alone (or with your partner) and when you have time.  Especially on the first couple of shopping trips when you need to stock the cupboard.  My first few trips were big ones and I used coupons to get a lot of the basics.  It would have been too hard to shop this way with the kids.
  • Get a paper and clip coupons once every month or two.  It’s amazing how much money you can save on toiletries, baby products and even some “real food” like yogurts and cheeses.  Try to go through them with the supermarket sales circular to match up brands for big savings.  Even if you just use one or two coupons, you are saving money over the cost of the paper!
  • Eat less meat and more fruits and veggies.  I’ve already posted on this, but I have actually found that we feel better and have more energy after 6 weeks of eating this way.  Yea!  We also found an area of town (called “The Strip District”) that has very reasonable prices on fruits, veggies, and legumes.  Double yea!
  • Make one day a week a “cooking day”.  I’m not sure if this saves money, but it sure helps us.  Every Sunday (or every other Sunday) I try to cook for about 5 or 6 hours.  I roast 2 chickens, make 2 casseroles, cook up lots of rice and beans for the week, etc.  With 2 small children and a super-busy husband it’s great to be able to freeze meal-sized portions that we can defrost and heat up later that week or month.  Come to think of it, maybe this is why we’re ordering less pizzas!
  • Make it a game!  Have fun with saving money on groceries and try out new recipes with less expensive ingredients.  Our “reward”?  I funded our new double stroller with our grocery shopping savings.

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Meat as a Side Dish Recipe #4: Chili

Posted by flsquared on March 16, 2009

My college boyfriend used to make a fantastic chili several times a year.  Thank goodness I grabbed his recipe as a “parting gift”. 🙂

I did change it this time to add a few veggies.  It was awesome!  In fact, hubby even suggested that we add more veggies next time and use about half the meat.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

“Billfred’s”* Chili:

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 16 oz beans (kidney, pinto) — next time I will add an extra 8 oz
  • 1 lb ground turkey — next time, 1/2 lb
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 3-4 chopped garlic cloves
  • 2-4 tbsp chili powder to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp cumin to taste
  • I also added 2 ribs of celery, 1 package of sliced baby bellas.
  • grated cheddar cheese and chopped red onion as topping
  • potatoes cut into bite sized pieces

Directions:

  1. Brown meat, onion, garlic, celery, mushrooms.
  2. Stir in all except potatoes.  cook 1 hour + (the longer the better).  In a separate pot, boil the potatoes.
  3. Put it all together in bowl–potatoes, then chili, topped with cheddar cheese and red onion.

chili

MMMMMMM!

PS.  if you have leftover chili, it tastes even better the next day!

*not his real name

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Meat as a Side Dish Recipe #3: Homemade Pizza!

Posted by flsquared on March 13, 2009

Just about once a week, when I have a loooooong day with the kids, we get a pizza.  We’ve tried the supermarket pizzas, but they just aren’t the same.  It’s a little luxury that we’ve allowed ourselves, guilt free.

Since I’ve taken back over the grocery shopping, I have started going to the “Strip District” here in Pittsburgh which is comprised of about 10 blocks of small “mom and pop” grocery-type shops.  Love it!

Well, my first weekend there, I stepped into a teeny bread shop, but didn’t buy anything as the line was long and I needed to get back home.  I did grab a menu, and saw that they sold pizza dough.

**IDEA!**

Why not make our own pizza?

So for the first attempt, I purchased pizza crust at the supermarket next to our house, and dove into the veggies that we had at home:  baby ‘bellas, roma tomatoes, red onion and fresh parsley.  Topped with a little mozzarella, I popped it into the oven for 10 minutes and …

Pizza

Soooo yummy!  Half the price of the take out and I’m sure much more healthy.  We’ll definitely be doing this again!

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Toddler Tip: The Juice Box Dilemma (Resolved!)

Posted by flsquared on March 10, 2009

At some point last summer, Oscar and I started to worry that Victor was not getting enough liquid.  As we weaned him off the bottle, he began drinking less milk than before.  To make matters worse, he must have inherited my blah attitude toward water as he wouldn’t touch the stuff.

I tried giving him more milk….  Let’s just say that the diapers told me that was a bad idea.

I tried “sneaking” water into his diet by giving him soups, but he started to refuse to eat them.

And liquid fortified grapes could only go so far.

My mother suggested juice or Pedialyte.  Heck, it was better than having a dehydrated baby.  I reluctantly gave him a juice box and he drank it so quickly I thought his little tummy would explode.  But was juice the solution?  Everywhere I read, I was told that I should hold off on juice as it is filled with “empty calories” and could lead to obesity and tooth decay.

(Yes, I know, I’m overreacting, but I’m a mom.  That’s my prerogative!)

The compromise? :

We bought a bottle of juice and started putting 50% juice, 50% water.  Success!

Slowly, we started diluting more and more until we were at a tablespoon of juice per sippy.  Both Victor and his parents were happy.

Yet as the days progressed, and the bottle remained full, I started to worry that the juice would go bad before we finished it.  And, I still had 10 remaining juice boxes left over from Victor’s first birthday party.  

What to do, what to do….

The solution?  You guessed it:  

We use juice box juice to add to his sippy water!  One box usually lasts about a week so we always know the juice in Victor’s cup is fresh.  And he drinks his water like a champ.  Added bonus:  we can always grab one “to go” if we’re going to be out and about for a while.

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Less is More: Citron Presse

Posted by flsquared on March 9, 2009

I’m not big on drinking water in the winter.  I prefer coffee, tea, milk, whatever.  

Living in Pittsburgh during the winter,where the air is cold and dry, and nursing a very hungry 4 month old has changed this practice.

This weekend, we went to “The Strip” and I picked up a bag of ten lemons for $2 (!!) to use in cooking and to make Citron Presses:

lemon

Eh? What’s a citron presse?

A couple of years ago, I skimmed through French Women Don’t Get Fat….for the recipes, of course.  (If you do read this book, get ready for some American bashing, which I did not appreciate and skipped over the best I could).  One of my discoveries was the “Citron Presse”:  hot water with a slice of lemon.

I know it sounds too simple to be earth shattering, but you have to try it!  It’s a great alternative to herbal tea or hot chocolate on a cold winter afternoon.  

Simply put a slice of lemon (or squeeze a wedge) into a cup and pour hot water on top of it.  I add a liitle honey as well.  Let it sit for about a minute, and you’re good to go.

As proof to how easy and yummy they are, check out the photo above.  I said I bought 10 lemons, right?

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Meat as a Side Dish Recipe #2: Red Beans With Cabbage

Posted by flsquared on March 8, 2009

This recipe is adapted (by me again!) from the Fagor Pressure Cooker recipe book. Oscar and I really enjoyed it, although it did take a while to prepare. The book says that you can substitute chick peas or white beans for the red beans–I’m definitely going to try that!

We made this a couple of weeks ago in the pressure cooker.  Adjust the recipe for your needs, similar to the last recipe I posted.

I was a bit unsure about this recipe, as it was very different to any way I had tried red beans, but I loved it!  (next time I will take a picture, I promise) Added bonus:  it froze very well.  I just froze the bean part and cooked the cabbage fresh.  To change it up one evening, I added rice and bits of leftover chicken and it was fantastic!

Ingredients:

(bean portion):

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion and 1 medium onion, cut in half
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 lb dried red beans (or garbanzos, or white beans)
  • 2-3 carrots, cut in half
  • 1 leek, chopped (white part only)
  • 4-5 pieces of bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces

(cabbage portion):

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 head of cabbage, coarsely chopped

Directions:

  1. Soak beans in water overnight.  (See tip from previous recipe about soaking beans in hot water.)
  2. Heat oil in pressure cooker and saute onion and garlic until it is clear.  Add paprika.  Remove mixture from cooker and set aside.
  3. Combine the beans in the cooker with remaining veggies and bacon.  Cover with water, close lid and bring to pressure.  Cook for about 15 minutes and release pressure.  Remove lid and add the sauted onion and garlic and bring to pressure, cooking this time for about 20 min.  Either release pressure or just turn off the stove and let it slowly release itself.
  4. While doing #3, heat oil in skillet and add onion and garlic, sauteing until clear.  Add cabbage and fry for about 10 min (until it is “wilted” as you like it).
  5. Lay a bed of cabbage on a plate/bowl, with the beans on top.  You can also do as I did and mix in some rice.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Enjoy!

       Yield:  about 4 servings

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