Tag Archives: budget

Foraging-Pantry Style

16 Feb

Holidays were so busy this year. I had house guests throughout the season. I dearly love a bustling holiday crowd, but let’s face it-it’s work. Now the holidays have passed with warm happy memories lingering, warming even the coldest of winter days. But I am tired. Which is why I foraged in the kitchen for dinner tonight. It was an epic win. Why? No trip to the store. Created from items on hand. It was easy. And delicious.

It began as a late afternoon (post catnap…isn’t that what weekends are for?) scattered thought-what sounds good for dinner tonight? So I meandered off of the couch and went to the freezer. Score! There was some ravioli that was fresh but had been tossed into the freezer. I pulled it out. It was the starting point. On to the pantry.

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It is a time saver to get fresh pasta. It cooks much more quickly than dried. Don’t have time to cook it? Toss it in the freezer for later!

After flipping the pantry light on and gazing somewhat absentmindedly (my brain may still have been in nap mode!) at the shelves, I silently willed inspiration to come. The ravioli was my center of the plate star, but it needed sauce. Something interesting, fun, different. And above all, quick and easy.

I found a can of artichoke hearts, diced tomatoes, olive oil, and a couple of garlic cloves. The fridge had some fresh celery, butter, half and half, and some leftover chicken stock. I could work with this. So (a lazy) dinner prep got underway.

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This is what I foraged from the pantry and fridge.

I took out a sauce pan, put it on a medium heat, and added about 1 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. While the butter melted into the oil I roughly chopped some celery stalks and leaves. Listen y’all, there is no reason not to use the entire celery stalk for a sauce. I chopped the garlic as well.

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Start with extra virgin olive oil and good quality butter.

When the butter and oil were hot, the celery garlic mixture went into the pan to sizzle for a couple of minutes. I stirred and kept it on a medium low heat-garlic can burn quickly so it must be watched and stirred.

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The garlic and celery filled the kitchen with delicious aromas. Don’t forget to use the celery leaves!

In between stirs, I drained the artichoke hearts. They were packed in water so after they were drained I squeezed them upside-down over the sink to remove excess liquid between the leaves. After a rough chop I added them to the sizzling garlic and celery. Mmmmmm. The kitchen smelled wonderful.

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Drain your artichoke hearts to control the seasoning in the sauce.

Next in went a can of diced tomatoes, juice and all. Mindful to layer flavors, I added salt and pepper. I keep a salt cellar of a high quality salt and pepper mixture next to my stove. This makes it easy to layer in seasonings as I cook.

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Keeping a salt cellar on the counter is an easy way to layer flavor as you cook.

If adding salty ingredients such as capers to a sauce, I go directly for the pepper and leave the salt out until the last minute, adding if necessary. No capers here, so salt and pepper were a must.

The juice in the tomatoes needed a fresh minutes to reduce and thickness slightly. The heat was still on medium and it took about 8 minutes for this lovely sauce to thicken up. Time to layer some more flavor. A few splashes of chicken stock was sounded yummy.

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Any kind of broth will do for this easy recipe!

After adding the broth, I added a few red pepper flakes as well.  I just can’t stop myself from adding a heat layer. Since this was a recipe for two and Denis is not as fond of heat in a sauce as I am, I went light with just s few flakes. A good stir incorporated all of these lovely flavors.

The sauce was simmering beautifully. Time for the creamy. I added about 1/2 cup of half and half. If you are lactose intolerant you can leave this out. The sauce will still be thick and lovely.

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Oh the creaminess of half and half!

With a good stir and the heat lowered to medium low, this fragrant sauce needed only a few minutes to heat through. I had put a pot of water for the ravioli on, and it was boiling. Time to get the ravioli cooking. It had defrosted and was a fresh pasta. It cooked up in a snap.

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Add a heaping Tablespoon of salt to your pasta water. This not only helps add a bit of flavor to the pasta, the starchy water will thicken any pasta sauce.

Before draining the pasta, I gently removed about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and slowly stirred it into the pasta sauce. A little cooking hint for you-starchy pasta water helps sauce thicken and cling to the pasta. It is a step that is worthwhile to incorporate.

Time to plate this up.  I had opened a can of green beans to cook up quick as a side dish. I chopped up 2 small peppers I’d found in the fridge and added those to the green beans.  Goat cheese crumbles were on hand, so those were lightly sprinkled onto the green beans. Again, this was all foraged from the pantry and fridge. No trip to the grocery store tonight!

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I use my Christmas plates long past the holiday. They just make me happy, so it is usually mid January (okay truth be told maybe even a little later than that) by the time they get put up. Here is the finished super easy dinner. Look at how that sauce clings to the pasta perfectly.

There was just a few ravioli left, so into the fridge they went. My daughter nabbed them the following morning after a long run. Dare I say they were better the next day? Pasta always is! What can you make from your pantry? Send me a postcard and let me know. I love hearing from you!

Artichoke Tomato Sauce

  • 1 Tablespoon each olive oil and butter
  • small stalk celery, roughly chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 14 ounce can Artichoke hearts in water
  • 1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 4 ounces chicken stock (can substitute vegetable stock for vegetarian option)
  • 4 ounces half and half (may omit for vegetarian option
  • Cooked pasta of choice-enough for 2 people
  • 4 ounces pasta cooking water
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Add butter and olive oil to pan and heat on medium. When sizzling add celery and garlic and turn heat to medium low.  Stir and let cook for about 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, drain and roughly chop artichoke hearts. Add to the pan and stir. After 4 minutes, add tomatoes with the juice. Add salt and pepper. Stir and simmer for 8-10 minutes until slightly reduced and thickened. Gently stir in the stock. After well incorporated, add the half and half, if using.

Let the sauce simmer. Add to pasta and enjoy.

NOTE-If a keto or gluten free diet is your thing, this sauce is also wonderful spooned over a piece of chicken or fish instead of pasta. If this needs to be a vegetarian sauce, leave out the half and half and use vegetable broth. For the dairy intolerant, omit the butter and the half and half. How is that for a flexible sauce? Gotta love that!  Let your imagination run wild with this sauce and let me know what you create!

 

 

 

Time for soup!

12 Oct

Ah yes.  The calendar says its October.  We may still be having some warm days, but make no mistake.  It is fall.  Soup is on!

Let’s have a brief history of soup.  Many historians believe that soup is as old as the history of cooking.  Soup is an ancient food.  It was the perfect food for rich and poor, all cultures, healthy people and invalids.  In other words, it was an ideal food for everybody.  Most everyone had access to a pot and fire  Not only that, anything can go into soup.  So it is easy to understand how it dates back hundreds of years.

The art of tossing things into a pot for a one dish meal started out as a rustic meal, and has come a long way.  Soup is nutritious, flexible with ingredients, warm and nourishing.  It can be as simple or as sophisticated as desired.   My number one reason for loving soup, though, is that it can be made on any budget.  Another bonus…soup can easily feed a crowd.

I am not the only one craving comfort food at the moment.   I went out to lunch with some folks from the office.  They invited me to “go out for soup”.  Sure, I thought.  When I inquired as to where we were going for soup, the answer confused me.  Donna, a coworker,  said “Oh, to a Mexican restaurant down the street”. Umm, what?  A mexican place?  But always one for a culinary adventure, off I went with the office crowd.  I need not have questioned the rationale.

The soup and quesadilla lunch special was about 6 bucks.  It was easy on the budget, but more than that, it was fantastic!  Who knew that you could get delicious soup at a place that I relate more closely with a cheesy, spicy, rice and tortilla meal.   This lunch outing really got me jazzed yet again for soup season.  Its time for some fun.   After all, it is fall!

The soup and quesadilla lunch special.  Delish!

The soup and quesadilla lunch special. Delish!

Just look at that chunky soup filled with veggies, avocado, and chicken.

Just look at that chunky soup filled with veggies, avocado (a favorite superfood of mine), and chicken.

Crock pot tacos

15 Oct

I have been of the mindset that crock pot meals are:

a) SO 70’s, and not in a good way

b) SO boring

c)  SO bland, like beige food

d) decidedly and completely unsexy food

In other words, no F-U-N!

But…..I was short on time the other morning (as usual), and wanted to get a fairly decent meal on the table for my family that night.  So I took a minute before leaving for work and grabbed a couple of things to toss into the (time for true confessions…) crock pot.  My intention was to have flavorful and somewhat healthy tacos by suppertime.  So this is what i tossed into the crock pot:

4 frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 can corn, drained

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can diced tomatoes, with juice

1 can diced green chilis

4 ounces salsa

4 ounces salsa verde (green salsa)

1 envelope of low sodium taco seasoning

1 T. chili powder

1 T. cumin

salt and pepper to taste (you can always adjust this upward, so be conservative to begin with)

I put the chicken in the bottom, then just dumped everything else on top.  I was in a hurry,  the chicken breasts were individual, not in a big block, but still frozen solid.  The seasonings went on the top.  I didn’t even stir it.  I just threw it together, covered the crock pot, turned it on and ran out the door.

When I came home in the late afternoon, I opened the lid of the crock pot and gave the mixture a good stir.  I used two forks to shred the chicken while it was still in the crock pot, which was so tender it easily broke apart.  I had a quick taste, adjusted my seasonings a bit, then put the lid back on.

When dinner time came, I made some spanish rice, shredded some lettuce and cheese, pulled the tortillas out, and dinner was served!  The tacos were kind of an all in one because of the vegetables  added to the mixture.  The dinner was nutritious and relatively low in fat.

This recipe really stretched my ingredients so it was budget friendly, and it served a crowd.  It was an easy weeknight dinner.  True it wasn’t sexy, but it wasn’t boring either.  With all of the added vegetables, it was colorful, flavorful, and quite satisfying.  What will you add to your crock pot tacos?

Repurposing

13 Feb

Okay.  So I had some leftovers from the Superbowl.  I will come out right now by saying that I deviated from my usual healthy fare and made bar food.  And since I am mindful of my food budget, I like to repurpose my leftovers.   It’s a little yucky to say that I “recycle” my leftovers.  That makes it sound like I picked through garbage.   I didn’t.  I promise.

I made a batch of cheese fondue for the super bowl.  Cheese fondue is traditionally made with swiss cheese and white wine, as it has its culinary roots in Switzerland.  And that is how I made mine for the get together.  I had ham chunks and sour dough bread as the dippers for the fondue.  It was delicious.  But I had some leftovers.

So I made some cheese soup a few nights later.  I simply tossed the leftover ham in the soup, as well as some other vegetables I had sitting around.  I used a potato, some diced onion, and a tiny bit of celery.  It was a warm and yummy comfort food dish!

I started by putting some olive oil in a large soup pot, and added some celery, garlic, and onions.  I let that sizzle for about 3-4 minutes.  Then I gently added the leftover fondue and stirred it to break it up.  I had it on a medium heat so the cheese would heat gently.  (Burning any dairy product in a pan is a super nasty clean up.  I learned that lesson once!)  I keep chicken and vegetable stock on hand, and grabbed some chicken stock out of the pantry.  I slowly added about 2 cups of that to smooth out the fondue into a soup like consistency.

After this was good and hot, I tossed the leftover ham chunks in.  And some diced a potato and tossed that in as well.  This made a good hearty soup.  And I used up the leftovers beautifully for another meal.  I love making meals from food I already have on hand.  Repurposing leftovers is a great way to use up food in the fridge as well as stretch those dollars!  Yay!  Try it and let me know what you make!

Egg off!

10 Jun

At the farmers market the other day, my darling significant other Denis and I got some free range eggs and some quail eggs.  The quail eggs were a novelty, not really necessary, but we just had to try them.   The farm fresh free range eggs were from the most charming farmer, a lovely shade of brown, and they were  not the least bit uniform in size.  Just like nature intended!

We decided that a taste test was in order!  We had to see if there was a taste difference between the eggs.  Organic versus store bought (aka factory eggs in my book).  We had already prepared the quail eggs, so it was just between the white store bought and the free range eggs.

It was a weekend so we could have a leisurely breakfast.  The next morning Denis came over for breakfast.  We sat on the screen porch sipping coffee and perusing a couple of newspapers.  We also chatted about the best way to prepare the eggs for a pure taste.  The decision was made.  Fried, over easy, in really good butter.   But please don’t judge the methodology!   It was in the name of science!  Really it was!!

I got my cast iron skillet out and melted the butter in it.  Whole grain bread was toasting.  Fresh berries were glistening from being freshly washed.  The eggs sat on the counter.  When the butter was just right, a wee bit browned and bubbling, we tossed 2 brown eggs and 2 grocery store eggs into the pan.  Delicately.  Because every one knows that fried eggs are about the perfect yolk.  Heaven forbid a yolk break!  We took a deep breath in and let the aroma of the eggs sizzling twang our buds!

The whites of the eggs were firm, the yolks delightfully jiggly.  Time to get them out of the pan and onto our plates!  Toast and summer fresh berries accompanied our eggs.  We dug into the eggs with robust curiosity.  There was a clear front runner in my opinion, but I waited for my sweet Denis to voice his opinion.  It took one bite from each egg for a clear winner to emerge.  The satisfied moaning from a bite of the brown egg spoke volumes!

The brown free range egg had an amazing flavor all its own.   The white store egg was flat with the butter taste being more dominant than the egg itself.  Yup, the brown egg was fantastic!  And no one was more surprised than me to discover the taste difference.  I am now a convert.

For the record, I didn’t even finish the white egg.  As a budget minded single mother, I am always conscious of my food dollars.  And if I am baking, the white store bought eggs will be fine.  But from now on, when I want to splurge on an egg featured in a meal, I will definitely spend the extra money on the brown farm fresh eggs.  Hands down!

 

Lovely poached quail eggs!