Monday, January 31, 2011

Cheap Eat Challenge: January--How'd We Do

Where should I start? With the sum total? With the confessions? With the blabberings on about what I've learned and what we could do better. With the exact breakdown of the numbers: how much was spend on meat, produce, dairy, etc.

You know I want to start with the ramblings... Must. Resist. Urge.

Sum total:

$260.98. After adjusting for our $20 vitamin credit, that figured up to $7.77/day.

Are you disappointed? I was. A little. Although I knew over a week ago that we weren't going to make it. I hoped that we would stay at least close enough to our goal, so as to have this not be a complete embarrassment. And I feel like we did. And I feel good about that. For the record, $7.77 (besides seeming an incredibly lucky number) is certainly within my original concept of eating on a pack a day. Have a look over here if you've no idea what I'm talking about. Also, even though we made several sacrifices and even had a bunch of free food given to us in December, I felt like there were things I learned about how we could have done it better and maybe gotten closer to our goal. In fact, I've sort of discovered a new goal in the process: Figuring out how to get our family of 6 to be able to eat on $6/day.

What I've learned:

1. What we eat. Seriously. This is one of the best things that came from this challenge. I thought I knew what we ate. I thought I took a lot of that into account. But keeping close track made me aware of exactly what we eat and how very much of it. To site a simple example, I had a sort of vague idea that my kids ate about 2 bottles of applesauce a month. Not so--they eat at least 3/month. And a lot more of other things too. Since they're small and kind of birdlike at the dinner table, I made the assumption that my kids don't eat. Oh--they eat alright. They eat.
2. How much, exactly, what we eat costs. You know you have these vague numbers in your head. I found that sometimes they were not that close to reality. It's easy to think that 4 pounds of oranges sounds like an awfully lot, but it's usually just about 6 oranges.
3. How much of what foods we eat/spend the most on. I already said I missed my produce. And that Kip needed a bit more meat in his life.
4. Where our weak spots are. Some of them can be improved. Heck, I'm sure all of them could be improved. Do we need to eat dessert? No, we don't. Really ever. We probably don't need meat ever either for that matter. But we want to eat those things. At least sometimes. We enjoy them and in some ways they're part of the culture of our family. I don't believe there's anything wrong with that. However. Do we need chocolate every day (well, maybe one of us does). But do we need it in handful-of-chocolate-chip form, or are there better, cheaper ways to get it? I believe there are. I believe if I'd planned a wee bit better, there could have been healthy breakfast cookies and other cheap things to snack on. If a person is hungry, he/she is more likely to grab whatever. I saw that happening a lot at the end of the month. And also, there are just things we could have done without. I just don't think we need dessert every day. Or as much cereal as we eat. Could we eat more rice and beans? Yes, I think we could if it's well planned. And, yes, that planning can be hard. But I believe it can still be done.

What could we have done better?

1. First of all, I failed to accept a few inalienble truths: like that man cannot live on bread alone. My man, at least, needed a little more meat; and more chocolate. I kind of just assumed/pretended that he would be fine and dandy and didn't figure his needs in well enough at the beginning of the month. And therefore didn't plan well enough to have it work out.  Instead I found us throwing in extra meat and extra cost halfway through the month. I kind of did a similar thing with the kids, although I swear they ate at least double the peanut butter they usually do.
2. I think the meals need to be more exactly planned. Out of the 20 meals I planned, we ate only 12. That's not a huge deal, but I think that to live so lean, I'll have to be more careful. I'll have to plan meals more along the lines of--Okay, so we're having a chicken and potatoes for Sunday dinner. That means we'll have some leftovers and can use them in A,B, and C meals and then we'll have waffles one night and soup another night, and finish it up with a leftover night.
3. You can't entertain on $6/day. I suppose that you could feed others--in a pot-of-beans-with-rice kind of a way. People wouldn't starve. But I don't want to invite our friends over for that. We had a few kid friends over here and there and once fed the missionaries from our church. That's it. And we still didn't make our money goal. For next month I'm going to allow us 1-3 nights to have friends over for dinner or dessert and give it to us free and clear. Because I'm the mommy. And I said so.
4. Okay, so I'm not quite sure how to do this one better, but I missed having more fruits and veggies--not even more variety, as I like to eat somewhat seasonally anyway. But just more volume. I tried very hard to keep myself at 5 fruits and veggies a day and usually succeeded. But I'm in the habit of eating more than that--and I missed my extra produce. Furthermore, I didn't like the feeling I had towards my children eating fruits and vegetables. Normally, I'd be thrilled to go through a bunch of bananas or applesauce or carrots a week, but I caught myself thinking, "How many bananas can those kids eat? We're never going to make it." And we all know that's a bad thing. Especially with my kids, who aren't exactly the fruit and vegetable eating monsters of the world.

Weird things I noticed:

1. I ate more sweets than usual. I know this sounds odd. I didn't make more sweets than usual. But I ate more. Why? Because in our culture, they're just around--at your church party or your friend's house or as a sample at the store. In recent years, I haven't been one to pass dessert by, but I usually didn't eat a whole bunch of it, and I would pass it by if I didn't much like it. This month I noticed that not only did I have dessert, but I found myself eating more of it than usual because I kept thinking, "Oh, I won't be getting any more treats this week, so I better take advantage of these." But then, two days later, there was another treat and there I was thinking the same thing.
2. At first I thought I was spending less time cooking. Perhaps to a small extent I was since I wasn't experimenting as much and we weren't eating anything fancy-schmancy. But I was making bread, and I made several foods to give as gifts, which took quite a bit of time. This made me realize that I just don't ever spend that much time cooking. Not having enough time is one of the primary reasons people give for not cooking their meals--for using processed foods or for eating out. You'll notice from Jean's Food Jounal that I rarely spent more than an hour a day cooking--usually less. Almost every meal on this site is a 30 minute or less meal. Almost. On the days I spent more time, I was usually making bread or a birthday cake. And at least some of the time I spent "cooking" was passive time when something was in the oven. Keeping a record of how much time I spent cooking surprised and pleased me. If you can make breakfast, lunch, and dinner in 45 minutes, there's no reason not to cook your meals, because it's just as easy to spend that much time at the drive thru. Yes, the cooking takes a bit of planning. And you have to clean up afterwards. But besides the cost, there are environmental and health benefits to be gained. (And mabye next month I'll start keeping track of my cleaning up time as well.)
3. It didn't kill my husband, and my kids didn't even notice (though they were missing some cold cereal at the end of the month). My husband even expressed appreciation on several occasions that we were doing it.
4. And of course this isn't weird, but we wasted very very little. The kids didn't eat their bread crusts, which they don't. And, yes, that is crazy making in case you're wondering. And they wasted a bit of milk and cereal here and there. I wasted a few egg whites. But otherwise, we really ate what we had. It feels kind of good.


1. We ate more boxed mac and cheese than usual. I'm not proud of this fact, but we did.
2. My kids have spend the last 2 days sick and I'm not counting our Gatorade costs. This morning my son called it medicine. I think we'll got with that. But otherwise, I've tried hard not to cheat. If you want to have a look at specific numbers you can hop on over to costs. There's been some estimating. It occurred to me partway through the month that I do have a food scale. This next month I'll try to use it at the beginning of the month so that I can get more accurate numbers on those partially used foods like olive oil.
3. Next month Kip will buy some food at work again. This was always part of my deal with Kip, but I didn't share it with you. This month I wanted to have a really good idea of what we needed to spend to eat and not be hungry, which meant no supplementing with meals out or treats at Kip's job, so Kip agreed to go with that. But he misses it sometimes. It's not like he eats dinner there (usually), but he works nights and can get hungry or snacky on the job, and occasionally there's some social let's-go-to-KFC stuff, which he enjoys. I hope that in February we can still do some cheaper things like sending him with breakfast cookies so he doesn't go out and buy a pint of Ben and Jerry's to meet his snack needs. But the restriction of nothing at all is officially off. 
4. If I have to, I'll give us more of a vitamin credit. Maybe that's cheating, but I admit that it wasn't worth it to me not to eat as many fruits and vegetables as I wanted. The last few days I was craving--craving--salad.
5. I haven't got menus or shopping lists up yet for February. My kids have been sick. It's been a haze of puking, fevers, poop, and mid-night wakings where I run in wondering if someone is sick again, only to hear, "I can't sleep." I try to be sweet; I do. "Well, honey, (teeth gritting), I'm sorry you can't sleep, but if Mommy doesn't get some sleep she won't be able to take care of you tomorrow because she'll be too tired (and she'll poke her eyes out and be at the ER).

Specific Breakdown of Numbers:

Fruits/Vegetables: $65.11
Dairy: $56.47
Grains: $47.53
Chocolate/Sugars/Sweets: $26.65 (oh dear--I feel a bit embarrassed this cashes in at #4)
Nuts/ Beans: $23.13
Meat/Eggs: $19.63
Oils/fats/condiments: $13.76
Actual vitamins: $7.5
Yeast: $1.20

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Chocolate Sauce Smackdown: Hershey's Syrup vs. Kip's Hot Fudge Sauce

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch or join us as our family of 6 eats, or tries to, on $6/day.

Kip has brought a lot of great things to this marriage: dark brown eyes, handyman skills, and chocolate. Real chocolate. Homemade chocolate brownies, homemade chocolate pudding (I didn't even know there was such a thing), homemade chocolate sauce, truffles and treats of all sorts, and of course the motivation to perfect my chocolate cake. Ironically, Kip is still willing to scoot by with a processed replacement when in a chocolate-y pinch, while I have become snobby enough to (usually) insist on the real thing.

Yesterday I posted Kip's Hot Fudge Sauce. You should all try it as it is divine. But is it divine enough for the work. It's not particularly difficult or time consuming, but it does involve standing by a stove for several minutes and stirring a cocoa-perfumed elixer (obviously, I think there are worse fates, but still).

I compared it to the lovely IGA Chocolate flavored Syrup (this is just how it appears on the bottle) given to us by our friends when they (weeping) moved (Lest I sound like an ungrateful jerk about the chocolate sauce, let me point out that this chocolate sauce has been lovingly appreciated in this month of much less by my husband as it would have been by my children had they been made aware of its existance). Both of these chocolate sauces can be used for the same purposes: over ice cream, on desserts, and in milk. (Though ours might have to go in warm milk; I haven't honestly tried it in cold.)


HERSHEY'S/IGA: A little corn-syrup-y--actually a lot corn-syrup-y. Definitely what the bottle says it is--a 'chocolate flavored syrup.' (P.S. For the record, the Hershey's bottle does not read "Chocolate flavored Syrup". It reads "Hershey's Syrup, Genuine Chocolate Flavor." Is there a difference between the two brands? Maybe, but the semantics certainly make it a little sketchy-->Is it genuinely chocolate? Or merely genuine flavor? Or is it flavor that is sincerely felt to be much like chocolate? If it had read 'genuine chocolate' we could have been sure; as it is, we are left to lie awake at night pondering.)
KIP'S: Chocolate perfection. There is really no contest here; in fact, I'm sort of embarrassed to have even brought it up.


HERSHEY'S/IGA: I'm not quite sure what the IGA (a generic brand) is, but I saw some at Aldi for $1.15 this week. To buy Hershey's it's going to cost you about double or $2.30.
KIP'S HOT FUDGE SAUCE: $1.30 if you use regular milk, $1.89 if you use evaporated milk


KIP'S: About 32 oz. (which, in case your math skills have been asleep since the 7th grade, makes Kip's even cheaper than it originally appears)


IGA (Didn't have Hershey's on hand, so couldn't compare it): high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup (in case you didn't get enough of the high fructose variety), water (yum--that's worth the extra cost), sugar, cocoa, potassium sorbate, salt, mono- and di-glycerides (these are a personal favorite of mine--do you think McCormick sells an extract?), polysorbate 60, xanthan gum, and vanillin (an artificial flavor in case you thought I'd misspelled vanilla). Well, that sounds tasty. Now on to Kip's.
KIP'S: sugar, milk, butter, cocoa, flour, vanilla


HERSHEY'S/IGA: This is a little quicker, but you must wander down a fairly naughtly aisle at Walmart (or the less offensive store of your choice). If you are at Walmart you must also stand in the check-out line for approximately 12 hours or until your toddler reaches puberty and endure that extent of begging, crying, or whining from your children. Because of this, you will also be forced to purchase three extra candy bars and some gum to keep them silenced so you do not abuse them in public and thereby besmatter the already besmattered name of Walmart-shopping housewives even further. I have not figured this cost into the above equation, but you should be aware that it exists. You must also promise the minions chocolate milk for lunch. And dinner. For the rest of their lives. This, too, will add to your costs.
KIP'S: After the kids are in bed you and your husband can make this while talking about the day. It will take 10-15 minutes. You can then cuddle in front of the fire and eat the chocolate sauce on ice cream or with spoons out of the pot and no one will whine or fuss at all. In fact, the minions need not know it existed.

In short, Kip's hot fudge sauce is cheaper, larger, more natural, much much 10 trillion times tastier, more convenient to acquire, and also handsomer (not that I'm biased or anything). There is, it must be admitted, one advantage (should you be the type to view it as such) to HERSHEY'S/IGA chocolate sauce. It is fat free. Which--I feel compelled to point out--shows just how little cocoa was used in its creation, as cocoa is not a fat-free product.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Kip's Hot Fudge Sauce

Cheap Eat Challenge: Join or watch as our family of 6 eats, or tries to, on $6/day.

January gets a bad rap. It has the misfortune to fall between Christmas and Valentine's Day. Additionally, it occurs in what we like to call 'winter'--otherwise known as the season lots of people hate. And not only does January fall in post and pre-holiday winter, it also takes place in the worst part of the winter--that bit where snow and cold and hot soup just aren't that novel anymore, that part when people are starting to wish for sassy old spring to come along and bloom their troubles away. And don't get me wrong, I like spring as much as the next guy, but January with its ice and snow days, with its gray and white, it's always been kind of a nice pause for me (and by 'always' I mean since I got old enough to appreciate such things, so, like, the last 3 years or so). A time to breathe and reflect after Christmas and the old year have passed. A time to rest before the rigors of spring and summer are upon us. Additionally, I had the good sense/fortune to have a baby in the month of January. And if that's not reason enough to enjoy it, my littlest sister and two dear friends also have birthdays in January. Which means, to put it bluntly, that January finds us still making lots of good food. And having people with whom to share it.

So, since man cannot live on bread alone (even if it is cinnamon swirl bread), I give you more chocolate. Because that seems to be what we need to live on in this house. Especially in January. (Just don't forget to share it.)

Kip's Hot Fudge Sauce
This recipe belongs to one of Kip's old roommates--a guy I never knew named John--so, John, if you're out there, can I please post your recipe on my blog? Thank you.
Makes about 4 cups
Prep time: 2 minutes
Cook time: 15-20 minutes
Cost: $1.89 or $1.30 depending on type of milk used
(sugar: .32, cocoa: .25, butter: .50, evaporated milk--.79 on sale, (or regular milk: .20), other stuff: .03)

Note on evaporated milk: The original recipe called for evaporated milk. However, once when I was out of it I used regular milk--1 1/2 C and it worked just fine. (Also, I don't know how it would work with skim and therefore can't vouch for that.) I boiled the regular milk a bit longer, just to be safe and the sauce came out tasting the same. Using regular milk will knock $.50 off of the cost of this. However, today I had some evaporated milk getting close to its expiration in the pantry, so that's what I used.

2 C sugar
1/2 C cocoa
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 C (1 stick) butter
1 can evaporated milk
2 tsp vanilla

Put butter in saucepan and begin to melt.

In the meantime, sift together dry ingredients in separate bowl.

When butter is melted or close, add the evaporated (or regular) milk. Whisk together. Add dry ingredients and whisk together. Bring all ingredients to a gentle boil. Boil for 5 minutes (gently--this shouldn't be a crazy rollicking boil.) Remove from heat. This is perfect on ice cream or in dessert crepes or, frankly, eaten out of the container with the spoon. Not that we would do such a thing.

Serve warm (unless eating straight out of the fridge, in which case, cold is fine). Leftovers can be kept refrigerated for a couple weeks.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch or join us as our family of 6 eats, or tries to, on $6/day.

So, uh, it's the end of the month and we'll be eating a lot of bread. Good thing I like bread.  Today I wanted to dress it up a bit. Oh, it was still wholesome and all, but we put some lipstick on, and a little perfume (trying to be metaphorical here--we actually put on extra butter, sugar, and cinnamon; please do not ever put make-up on your bread; thank you). Because, you know, Valentine's Day is just around the corner.

This bread was adapted from my sister's roll recipe. I made it almost entirely whole wheat, but I thought that the richer dough with the egg and milk would make for a richer bread to match the cinnamon swirly-ness. Perhaps it did. Though upon eating, I decided that this would probably work with any bread or roll dough that happens to be your favorite, so if you want to make it healthier (all whole wheat) or less so (bring on the white flour, baby), or cheaper by using a dough that doesn't require eggs or milk like this one--well, knock yourself out.

Should you have enough bread for leftovers, this makes for amazing toast or french toast, or--wow--how would it be in a bread pudding. We'll have to test that out. Except that I'm not sure we'll have over-many leftovers. Because that is the way with cinnamon swirl bread.

Cinnamon Swirl Bread
Makes 2 loafs
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Wait time: 2 hours
Cost: $1.03/loaf
(whole wheat flour: .85, white flour: .14, eggs: .20, butter: .50, milk: .13, yeast: .10, sugar: .08, sugar/cinnamon mixture: .06)

Note on filling: I kept these fairly virtuous (as you may notice in the picture). I wanted to eat mine for lunch, not dessert or brunch. If you want yours more gooey melty swirly sweet, I certainly will not stop you. I might even applaud you, especially if I am invited to your brunch. Anyway, just add a lot more butter and a lot more sugar/cinnamon--I'm going to estimate that you'll want 8-10 tablespoons butter (that's 4-5 Tbsp per loaf) and 1 to 1 1/2 C of the cinnamon sugar mixture (1/2 to 3/4 C per loaf). Yes, it sounds like a lot. That's why I couldn't bring myself to do it for my lunch. A regular health nut, I am.

1 C warm water
1 C milk, warmed (not hot)
2 Tbsp yeast
1/4 C butter (you can use oil if you'd like to cheapen it a bit)
2 tsp salt
1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
4-5 C whole wheat flour
2-3 C white flour
4 Tbsp butter
6 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp cinnamon

Add yeast to water and milk. Add butter, salt, sugar, and eggs. Mix it up. Add 2 C whole wheat flour and mix. Add 2 more cups and mix. At this point, I let my dough rest for about 20 minutes. It will rise a bit and will, I like to believe, give you a more perfect loaf. However, if you haven't the time, you haven't the time, and all will still be well. Continue to add flour by the 1/2 C until you can't stir it anymore. Turn it out on the counter and knead, adding flour continually as it gets too sticky. (Of course, if you have a Kitchenaid or Bosch, just dump the stuff in and let it go with the dough hook for 4-6 minutes.) If you want some tips for getting your bread dough perfect, have a look over here.

Once you've got it all kneaded (it should be lovely and soft, but super tight and not too sticky to handle), put it in a bowl, cover it and let it rise till doubled (about an hour). If you want it to go slower, add less yeast at the beginning (1 Tbsp) or put it in the refrigerator. Once doubled, punch it down and separate it into two even lumps.

Using your fingers or a rolling pin, flatten the first blob into a rectangle (approximately 7 inches x 10 inches). Rub 2 Tbsp of soft butter over it and then sprinkle on your half of your sugar and cinnamon. Roll it up the short way (meaning that you want to roll it so it's 7 inches long, not 10 inches long). Pinch the dough together to seal it and pinch or tuck the ends of the dough. Repeat with the other loaf. Put them in greased bread pans (I used a 7x3 inch pan) to rise again until doubled (another 30-60 minutes).

Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes. I did mine for 35 minutes and regretted it. Oh--it was still great, but the crust was too brown and it wasn't as perfectly perfect in every way as it would have been if I'd taken it out sooner. If you have an instant read thermometer, you want to take it out when it's 180-185 degrees.

Let sit for 10 minutes in pan and then turn it out to cool completely. Or slice it up hot and give it some more butter love and eat it baby.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Simple Chocolates with Coconut Oil

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch or join us as our family of 6 eats, or tries to on $6/day.

I like a little sweet after my kids go to bed. Sometimes a piece of fruit will do. Or a breakfast cookie. But at other times, I want something either really chocolate-y or just really intense--something that a nice cold orange--no matter how juicy and perfect--just isn't going to satisfy. But I usually don't need a whole lot of something intense. Just a little something that can be savored a bit, loved. And I find it easiest to stop at a little sweet if there is, in fact, a small sweet waiting for me (perhaps with a nice mug of herbal tea). The whole grabbing a few chocolate chips thing has never worked for me. I find it incredibly unsatisfying for whatever reason, which means--ironically--that I end up eating more and more in the vain hope that at some point it will become satisfying. It never does. Because of this, I often expend a little effort to make a few chocolates for the times when a chocolately craving calls.

The chocolates I make are usually almost stupidly simple. Sometimes I cover nuts or coconut or dried fruit (on wax paper) to make little chocolate clusters. But recently, I have become acquainted with coconut oil. (Thanks, Vanessa!) It is solid below 72 degrees and liquid above that. It is purported to have all kinds of health benefits--it's supposed to boost your immune system, be good for your hair and skin, and even aid in weight loss. If you'd like to read more on that, have a look here. I like an oil that claims health benefits because it makes me feel better about my evening sweet. And coconut oil is perfect, because not only are you eating healthfully (go on, tell it to yourself), it also lends a bit of coconut-y exotic-ness to your otherwise stupidly simple chocolates. My oil, by the way, is from Mountain Rose Herbs.

Simple Chocolates with Coconut Oil
Makes 10-12
Prep time: 3-4 minutes
Chill time: 15-60 minutes
Cost: .70
(chocolate: .50, coconut oil: I'm not entirely sure--mine was gifted to me, but from looking online and estimated for just a couple tablespoons, I'm guessing about .20)

Note on molds: These can be purchased online or at stores like Michael's for a couple bucks. Or, if your lucky, at a yard sale or thrift shop. They come in handy for dressing lots of simple things up.

Note on chocolate: I use Ghiradelli 60% chocolate chips. I like them. They're a decent chocolate for fairly cheap. If you want to go fancier, knock yourself out. I'm certainly not opposed to the use of higher-quality chocolate. However, although Hershey's and Nestle are fine, I won't recommend them like I do the Ghiradelli.

Note on melting: I melt my stuff in the microwave. Otherwise you should use a double boiler or a bowl that is put over the top of a pan with water simmering in it (the lip of the bowl should be bigger than the lip of the pan so it's suspended above the simmering water in the pan).

Note on tempering: If you are very fussy about how your chocolates look, I must tell you that when you heat and then cool ordinary chocolate chips, the chocolate can get spotty. I did not have this problem when I made it with the coconut oil. (See, more coconut oil magic). However, if spottiness proves to be a problem for you and if it bothers you (it affects appearance, not taste), you can buy tempered chocolate or learn to temper (cool at a rate where the spottiness won't happen) your own chocolate by looking online.

1/2 C Ghiradelli chocolate chips
1-2 Tbsp coconut oil
1 Tbsp shredded coconut for sprinkling

Put chocolate chips and coconut oil in microwave safe bowl and nuke them for about 20-30 seconds. Stir. Repeat this at 20 second intervals until chocolate is mostly melted. (My coconut oil was in solid form when I started, so I had a few chunks of that still hanging about as well.) Take it out and stir it until the chocolate melts (I've found that leaving a few chunks and stirring them until melted kind of sort of tempers your chocolate.) Pour the liquid into molds. If desired drop a pinch of shredded coconut on the bottom of the mold. Cool on counter; or refrigerate if you're impatient like me.

When they've hardened, tap them out onto a clean counter, seal in an air-tight container and refrigerate.

Note: If you house is warm, you'll need to keep these refrigerated; if you don't the coconut oil will make them soft and melty.


P.S If you're digging the whole homemade chocolates thing, give these homemade peanut butter cups a try (though if you plan to have one a night for any amount of time, you should hide them from your husband and kids). 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Coconut Almond (or Oat) Breakfast Cookies (Low Sugar)

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch or join us as our family of 6 eats, or tries to, on $6/day.

Tonight I was going to post about hashbrowns--my mother-in-law's hashbrowns. Because she makes them perfectly. And the last time she was here she showed me how and gave me pointers and all that stuff. And tonight when I made hashbrowns, that definitely helped. But mine still weren't as good as hers. And if you're going to post about something basic like hashbrowns on a food blog, you better have some heavenly hashbrowns to brag about. So, I'll need to do a little more practice in order to get mine as good as hers and to lead you as well to hashbrown perfection.

In the meantime you're going to have to deal with another breakfast cookie. Because I promised Savannah some for lunch today. And I had a hankering for coconut and chocolate. And there was this recipe that had caught my eye. And I had some slivered almonds in the freezer that I'd bought super cheap the day before they expired last year. I'm not sure it's a good idea to buy nuts the day before they expire. I won't advocate it. But that's what I did and I'm glad because they were cheap enough not to blow the cheap eat budget (too much) and I could experiment with these cookies. Which, for the record, would have been better with fresher almonds. Que sela sela.

Note on nut substitution: If you don't like almonds or are allergic to nuts, there's a fairly simple substitution that I believe will work (it's below with the recipe), so don't run off my nut-sensitive friends.

Note on fat content: These cookies, my dears, they are not low-fat. They are not even kind of low-fat. But they have lots of good fats. In fact, they are intentionally loaded with good fats. Good fats, for those of us raised in the '80s, are fats that come from whole foods and fats that tend to have certain good qualities, like they're high in omega-3's or they're low in bad cholesterol, or they aren't oxidized. They can help your skin, hair, immune system, hormone production, provide vitamin E, and lots of other stuff. That's not the greatest explanation on the planet. I'll work on that. But, like I said, I was going to post on hashbrowns tonight.

Also, as a further note, because these are higher in fat and high in fiber, I found these more filling than the other breakfast cookies on this site. Which may be a good thing because with coconut and nuts they cost slightly more to make.

Coconut Almond Breakfast Cookies
Adapted from The Good Fat Cookbook
Makes 12
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 8 minutes
Cost: $1.60
(Coconut: .35, almonds: .40 if bought very cheaply, flour: .08, butter: .25, sugar: .15, egg: .10, chocolate (opt): .25)

Note: To grind your own almonds, put them in a blender or food processor. This is easiest with slivered almonds, but will work with any. I used my mini blender and it worked great on my mini portion.

Note on nut substitution: If you are allergic to nuts or hate nuts or were raised in the '80s and want to lower the fat content just a bit pretty please because the low-fat advocates were brutal, people, brutal in the '80s, you can substitute the ground nuts for ground oats or for another 1/2 C whole wheat flour.

1/4 C butter, melted
1/4 C light brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 medium egg
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 C whole wheat flour
1/2 C ground almonds
1 C grated coconut
1/4 C bittersweet chocolate (optional, but recommended)

Mix together butter and sugar. Add salt and vanill. Add egg and baking soda and mix until nice and smooth. Add flour and almonds, mixing till just combined. Stir in coconut and chocolate chips.

Drop onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (lightly greased might work too, but I used parchment paper). Bake at 375 degrees for 8-9 minutes.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Irish Soda Bread

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch or join us as our family of 6 eats on $6/day.

I like bread. I like to eat bread. I even like to make bread. But I don't always think about making bread in time to have bread when I want the bread. Sometimes it gets to be lunchtime or an hour before dinner time, and I want bread--warm homemade bread--perhaps even a lovely crusty bread that butter will drip into. On those occasions I whip out my mixing bowl, trade a mere 5 minutes of my life, and make Irish soda bread. Forty minutes later, your butter can be dripping.

At its most basic and traditional, soda bread contains flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. I like it with a bit of sugar added. And in my America's Test Kitchen cookbook, there's an slightly fancier all white flour version with butter and cream of tartar. We'll save that one for St. Patrick's Day. Because I believe that every day bread should have a bit of whole wheat. You don't have to believe that, but I do. In the recipe below I use 3 out of 4 cups of whole wheat (though I think it's my favorite at 2 C whole wheat and 2 C white flour). Feel free to alter it as you wish. Whether you use all whole wheat or none, it'll still be tasty and simple. And, of course, cheap.

Note on buttermilk: I rarely have it on hand. Thus I substitute: 1 scant C milk plus 1 T vinegar = 1 C buttermilk. You can also use sour milk, which is very cheap indeed.

Note on cook times: I divide the dough in half to make 2 smaller loaves. These take 40 minutes to cook. You can leave it all as one loaf, but it will take longer to cook (about an hour) and you'll get a darker, harder crust and possibly a gooier center.

Note on mixing: Though it pains me to admit it, this bread comes out more perfectly with a mixer. Sorry purists. The dough is quite wet and doesn't lend itself to kneading, but is difficult (nearly impossible) to mix a lot with a spoon. So the mixer is perfect and will give you a smoother loaf and crumb (more gluten able to be released or something like that). My littlest sister makes hers in a Kitchenaid and its the best I've ever had. However, let me emphasize that even without a Kitchenaid, it's very very good. I make it with a wooden spoon and a couple messy hands and mine turns out yummy too--not perfect, but still very good. I mix it as much as possible with a spoon and then turn it out and smash it about a bit and then glob it together into a round loaf with my hands. (It will kind of knead; it's just that a whole lot will stick to your hands.) I've been doing it this way since high school (yes, there were a few foods I was not too stubborn to learn to make in high school) and it works fine. But the other day when I made this--after I made this--it occurred to me that if the dough was cold, you could work it well even when it was wetter. The problem is that I'm always making this bread because I want bread NOW. So I don't want to let it rest in the refrigerator for an extra 1/2 hour. However, I think that if you did, you might end up with a smoother, more perfect loaf, even without a mixer. I will try to exercise some restraint next time I make this bread and do this and let you know how it turns out. If you try it, please report back.

Irish Soda Bread
Serves 8-12
Prep time: 5-10 minutes
Cook time: 40-60 minutes
Cost: $.93
(whole wheat flour: .51, white flour: .07, milk: .30, sugar: .04, soda and salt: .01 if that)

4 C flour (I used 3 C whole wheat and 1 C all purpose)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 C buttermilk (see note for subsitution above)
1/2 C raisins (optionall--I love this, but nobody else in my family does, so we go without)

In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking soda. Stir in buttermilk. Mix as well as possible with a spoon. "Knead" (mash about a bit) with hands as much as possible. It should not be so wet that it can't form itself into a ball. If it is, add another 1/2 C flour. Pat into 2 rounds and place them on a greased baking sheet. Make a cross across the top with a knife. Your rounds should look like this:

Bake 35-45 minutes at 375 degrees.

Cut yourself a slice (I always start with a middle piece because I'm greedy that way) and add a pat of butter or a bit of honey. (Or slather it with butter and drench it with honey; I won't tell.)

This bread also makes really amazing French toast and really amazing grilled cheese sandwiches.


Four Favorite Breakfast Cookies

Breakfast cookies are one of our favorite things. From the stats, it seems like you guys like them pretty well too.

Here are my four favorite--two have peanut butter, but two are free and clear if you and yourn have allergies.

Chocolate Oat Breakfast Cookie

Peanut Butter Breakfast Cookie

Oatmeal Raisin Breakfast Cookie

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Breakfast Cookie

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Chicken in Every Pot: Chicken 4 Ways with a recipe for Fried Rice

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch, join us, doubt or believe (not sure which side I'm on some days) as our family of 6 eats on $6/day.

1. Roast Chicken

2. Fried Rice

3. Chicken Soup (or fish stew with chicken broth)

4. Ranch Chicken Pizza

Around about the Great Depression--a time when the banks failed along with people's fortunes and farms, a time of uncertainty, joblessness, and hunger, a time which was sandwiched between 2 world wars, President Herbert Hoover promised the American people a chicken in every pot--a promise that he was largely criticized for not fulfilling. I know this from the musical "Annie"--'not only don't we have the chicken; we ain't got the pot' (the stage version, not the movie version), but my mom (who probably learned this historical tidbit in history class) reminded me of it in a recent phone conversation.

It got me thinking. Really thinking. Until a little over a year ago, I had never purchased or roasted or slow cooked a full chicken in my life. Nor had I seen my mother do so. I did not even know how. The only reason I even decided to give it a whirl was that I decided I wanted to buy humanely raised meats. Which are more expensive. But if I bought a whole fryer (which were much cheaper per pound) and learned to use the whole thing and make a broth I could make up for the extra money we would be spending. Which has proved to be quite true. It's opened my eyes to many things--like how awesome and fairly easy roasting a chicken can be. But it's also made me see that in my and my mother's generation there has been an interesting cultural shift. When I asked my mom why she'd never roasted a chicken, she said that when you roast a chicken you end up with all the fatty parts. In my family and I think in many/most families in that low-fat craze of the '80s and '90s, there was a push--maybe we should call it a shove--from the health industry and perhaps the food industry. People were told/taught/brainwashed to eat the lower fat white meats. Additionally, it was much easier to buy a boneless, skinless breast, or any chicken cut into parts. Or so we were told/taught/brainwashed. Which of course has paved the way for those freakishly breasted chickens and all that sort of thing that I will leave Michael Pollen and others to tell you all about. But at least we have our national health. Oh wait, we don't.

So maybe we should re-examine the humble roast chicken and all the freaking awesome foods that can be made therefrom.

1. First we're going to start with The Best Roast Chicken I Have Ever Made or Had. It's from smittenkitchen, and it, like Mary Poppins, is practically perfect in every way. It's also a breeze to make. Except that you have to think in advance. Which I admit can be a challenge. I didn't quite think of it enough in advance so instead of doing the salt rub for 1-3 days, I brined my frozen bird overnight with 1/4 C salt and 1/4 C sugar and then rinsed it and then dried it and then did the salt rub for about 4 hours before I cooked it Sunday afternoon. I cannot stress how perfectly amazing it, its drippings, and its broth has been. Perfection.

The next day we had leftovers plain and simple. After that I pulled off as much chicken as possible, which was still quite a lot (probably about 1 1/2 C) and put that in the fridge. From the bones, skin, and whatever bits I missed, I made a stock. Go here for instructions on how to do so. It takes 30-60 minutes, but is mostly just the stuff simmering. You'll be actually doing something for about 5-10 minutes.

2. From that stock I made the fish stew you met earlier this week. You could have omitted the fish and used 1/2 C of the saved chicken bits instead to make a chicken soup.

3. Ranch Chicken Pizza. We plan to make this on Monday using abot 1/2 -1 C shredded chicken that remains. It is super yum.

4. Fried Rice. We made this yesterday. Using leftover shredded chicken, it is cheap eatery at its best. If you've got some leftover rice and vegetables, it's also one of the fastest meals you can make. We had a bit of leftover rice and no vegetables. It still took less than 30 minutes from start to finish.

Chicken Fried Rice
Serves 4-6
Prep time: 10 minutes (vegetable chopping)
Cook time: 30 minutes (the rice must cook and then you need to add it to the veggie stuff and fry it)
Cost: $1.30
(chicken: .25, rice: .25, vegetables: .30, soy sauce/spices: .25, oil: .05, eggs: .20)

1-2 C dry rice (2-4 C cooked rice)--we used half brown (leftovers) and half white (which I cooked)
1/2 C shredded chicken
1 C chopped vegetables (we used broccoli from the stalk and 2 large carrots, but peas, asparagus, leeks, onions, celery, spinach, bok choy, and lots of other vegetables will work too)
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder, or 1 clove
1/4 C soy sauce
1 Tbsp plum sauce or oyster sauce (plum for sweeter, oyster for savory)
2-4 Tbsp oil
2 eggs

Note: If your chicken isn't cooked, cube a piece of it and cook it in 1 Tbsp oil, a dash of ginger, dash pepper, dash garlic powder, dash onion powder.

Heat oil in large skillet or wok. Add ginger, onion powder, and garlic and cook about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add vegetables with about 1 Tbsp soy sauce. Cook to desired tenderness.

Remove vegetables and set aside. Fry 2 eggs in a bit of oil with some soy sauce. Remove eggs and set aside.

Heat remaining oil in skillet. Add rice and fry for 3-4 minutes, tossing it around in the oil and letting it sizzle. Add remaining soy sauce (start with 1 Tbsp and add the other 1-2 Tbsp if you feel you need them). Add plum or oyster sauce. Throw in chicken, vegetables, and eggs and mix in. If you need more soy sauce or other seasonings, add them. Serve nice and warm.


And the next time you're trying to eat really cheap and your husband says he needs more meat, get yourself a humanely treated chicken and roast that lovely up. Just don't forget to use it all.

Is Instapot your thing? Check out these recipes

Friday, January 21, 2011

Chocolate Oat Muffins

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch or join us as our family of 6 eats, or tries to, on $6/day.

After looking at my list of dinners on our menu, one of my friends commented that we have our days backwards--we start them with dessert (hello, breakfast cookies) and we often end them with eggs or pancakes and some type of friend potato. Um, I couldn't really argue with that. Eggs and I don't go well in the mornings. In fact, one of these days my kids are going to grow up and meet someone who eats eggs and perhaps bacon for breakfast and wonder what planet they came from. You know, the planet of normal people with normal eating patterns. That's definitely not the planet our family lives on.

So, when I found this recipe for chocolate muffins (a dessert-seeming breakfast if ever there was one) a few years ago in Shape magazine, I was willing to give it a go. Even if it did have a little more sugar than I like in my breakfast foods. And even if it did call for 1 C of applesauce and only 1 teaspoon of oil. Which did give me pause. Because I usually don't go for applesauce replacing the oil thing. In my opinion it usually makes food taste so, well, healthy. Or more precisely--it makes them taste like something that has been altered to be made healthy. Or what magazines like Shape consider healthy. "Oh well," I thought, "I can fix that."

After all, it had plenty of good things going for it. It was whole grain, using all oat flour. (And I do love whole grains--they are not made to taste healthy--they just are healthy and they taste good on their own--at least unless you were raised constantly being told to eat them because they're healthy. I was not, and can therefore enjoy them for the nutty complex flavored carbohydrates that they are). It also had no eggs, which meant I and my children could lick as much batter as we wished from the bowl without worrying. I mean, which meant I could give the muffins to people with egg allergies. And it was chocolate.

So I figured I'd just have to fix it. The thing is I didn't even try the original recipe. Instead I started altering it immediately. I used 1/2 C oil and 1/2 C applesauce. That was okay, but not great. At the time, I had a baby, and thus several purees hanging about in our freezer. So I tried it with sweet potato puree, pumpkin puree, banana, blueberry, carrot, and perhaps a couple others. They were not great, except for the banana, which was good, but made it most definitely into a variety of banana muffin. And then, as I was about to throw up my hands in health-rebel despair, I figured that as the scientist that I was (um, not really, but go with me, I do love to experiment with food), I ought to at least try the original recipe. So I did. And it was awesome. I liked it. The kids liked it. Kip loved it. And we all lived happily ever after.

So for health food cynics and non-cynics alike. For those with allergies and for those without. Here you go.

Chocolate Oat Muffins
Makes 9 muffins or about 18 mini muffins
Adapted from Shape magazine
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10-12 minutes for mini muffins, 15-20 minutes for full muffins
Cost: $.80
(applesauce: .40, sugar: .08, extracts: .05, oat flour: .10, cocoa: .16, other stuff: .01)

Note: There is one problem with these. They tend to sink in the middle. I suppose if I knew more about leavening I could fix this. But I don't. So, after several years of making them large and enjoying them just fine even if they were a bit sunken, I took a tip from my littlest sister and I make them into mini-muffins, which took care of the sinking problem by giving them less sinking area. So there you go--food science at its finest.

1 C applesauce
1 tsp oil
1/2 C sugar (I like brown best, but used white today because of cost)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
3/4 C oat flour*
1/3 C cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4-1/2 C chocolate chips (opt)

Mix wet ingredients together. In separate bowl (or not if you're lazy like me), mix dry ingredients. Add dry to wet. Add chocolate chips if using.

Bake 10-12 minutes at 350 for mini muffins. Bake 15-20 minutes for regular sized muffins.

Variation for banana chocolate muffins:
As I said above, these were good with banana if you like banana bread and that sort of thing.

In place of 1 C applesauce, use 1/2 C applesauce and 1/2 C mashed banana (about 1 banana).

*To make your own oat flour: Dump a bunch of rolled oats in the blender and blend till flour-y.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fish Stew: Stone Soup Style

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch, join us, or mock as our family of 6 eats, or tries to, on $6/day.

If you're like my husband, the first 2 words of the title of this post have already turned you off, and the next three are just long nails in the coffin. But, seriously, if you've made it this far, past the first one and a half long-ish sentences, you've got to stay with me because this was just so so good.

Of course you all know the story of stone soup--a traveler came to town when times were tough and people didn't have much food. No one wanted to share with him. No matter, he told them, he had a magical stone that made lovely soup. Well that got their hungry attention and soon people were contributing bits of onion and potato and that soup was smelling better and better and then everybody shared the soup and lived happily ever after, and all that.

Well, I didn't technically add a stone to my soup. But we did have a lot of odds and ends in our refrigerator. And I'd been wanted to try a fish stew ever since that free tilapia entered our house. And tonight was leftover night. Coincidence, I think not.

I used, to be precise: 1/2 carrot, 2 nubs of potatoes--one that was just in the bottom of the bag and one that had been half bad and that I was going to throw out till I got this brilliant idea, 1 fat slice from a red onion, 1 clove garlic, and part of the fat stalk of broccoli, chopped up. We usually throw the fat bottom part of the stalks away (sorry, cheapskate confession there) so I was extra proud of that bit.

Oh, but it just gets better (if you're my husband you're surely rolling your eyes right now; just stop it, okay). I used the chicken stock I made from the best roasted chicken ever (more on that in a few days). And I--are you ready for this--even used fat that was rendered (which in this case means: simply poured off of the drippings) from that same chicken. Have you fallen out of your chair yet in utter impressedness? Well, of course you have. Or, again, if you are like my husband, this fact has not really impressed you, except perhaps to impress upon you that I am a weirdo (which may very well be perfectly true). But if you're super nerdy like me, then you might think it's kind of cool. (Right--you do think it's kind of cool, don't you?) Anyway, I've never saved the fat before, and I don't know why I did this time. The chicken was just so good that I thought the fat might be good to fry some potatoes in or something (which I still think it would be). Anyway, so I used that fat to make the roux (flour and usually butter or oil combined and used to thicken the soup).

And then, because I know that you're dying for this slightly gross detail, I used leftover fish from the browned butter tilapia. But not just any leftover fish. I used the outside parts that my 6-year-old had scraped off her fish the night before. She only liked the perfectly white insides, so she had scraped off the tasty browned butter outside. It left quite a lot and that annoyed me, so I saved it, thinking of this stew. And I'm glad I did. Because it was super flavorful. You don't have to use your daughter's discards. I promise. You can just flake off some regular leftovers. The point here is that I was so cheap it was slightly gross, and I guess I'm kind of proud of that. (She hadn't licked them or anything, just scraped them off her fish, just, you know, for clarity.) But the more important point is that one of the beauties of stone soup, or leftover whatever you make, is that sometimes it can be extra delicious because you're using the leftovers that were really flavorful the first time around--you're not just using a bland filet that you cooked up in some oil just for the soup. You're using the really good filet with the browned butter crispy outside, which you wouldn't have taken the time to make for a lowly soup. And you're using a perfect and flavorful stock and maybe even some flavored fat. Because you have them around, and you can. It's kind of empowering (if you're a nerdy cook type at least). I'm a little giddy with the wonderfulness of it all.

Below I'll give you a recipe with full vegetables, instead of little bits, should you wish to reproduce this recipe, which was truly delicious. However I'd like to encourage you (though I won't insist) to use leftovers instead of frying up a fish just for this purpose (not that that's a bad thing and really won't take long; it's just that the leftovers will make it easier and maybe a little more flavorful too). I'd also like to encourage you to be brave in your vegetables. Do you have leftover corn, peas, green beans, tomatoes, sweet potatoes? Go ahead and throw them in in addition to or in place of the vegetables here. If you used those veggies for another meal and they're seasoned, all the better. You'll get something different than what I got in taste, but not in spirit (aren't we profound people, yes?). And it will be good. (Unless it was gross to begin with. And, yes, I've been there too.)

Note on The International Pantry Cookbook, from whence this recipe was adapted. You'll note that the link for this book is a whopping $.06. That is well worth the price if I may say so. This book is a great one if you're learning to cook, or if you're learning to cook a bit more off the cuff, and especially if you want to take a basic recipe and jimmy it up in all kinds of different ways, particularly international ways. (Please diagram that sentence.) This book will give you a basic recipe for, say, chowder. And then it will give you several ways to adapt it so that it is potato or carribean or clam or whatever. Or it will give you a basic recipe for potato salad and then tell you have you can make it German or Peruvian or whatever. It also has lots of basic sauces (like BBQ sauce, yum) that can be made in a delicious basic way or jazzed up with some kind of special or international flair. The basic recipes are great and can certainly stand very well on their own. And the adaptations are also great (or look great--my family isn't super brave in the international department in case that hasn't yet been deduced--but I have done a bit of adapting--this stew included.) At any rate, it is a very handy cookbook to have around.

Fish Stew: Stone Soup Style
Serves 4
Adapted from The International Pantry Cookbook
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10-20 minutes, depending on whether or not you need to cook your fish
Cost: Shall we call it free because this soup was made with all things that normally would have been thrown out. If you don't wish to call it free, here's an estimated cost: $2.70 (1 small filet: .50, potato: .20, carrot: .05, 1/2 C broccoli: .30, 1/2 small onion: .10, 2 cans chicken stock: 1.25--ouch--maybe the buillion cubes are cheaper, clove garlic: .01, butter: .12, flour: .02, milk: .15)

Note: If you need to cook your fish, heat some oil or butter in a skillet. Add the filet and cook for 4-6 minutes on either side. Sprinkle on some dill and pepper and you're done.

3 Tbsp butter, oil, or fat from a yummy chicken
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 small onion
1-2 cloves garlic
1 large potato (probably about 10-16 oz.)
1/2 C broccoli
1 large-ish carrot
4 C chicken stock or about 2 cans broth
1 C milk or cream (we just used milk, but cream or half and half would have been transcendent)
1 fish filet, cooked and flaked
pepper to taste

Melt butter or fat in soup pot or Dutch oven. Whisk in flour and cook for 1 minute. Add onions and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic, potato, broccoli, and carrot and cook for another minutes. Pour in stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 6-10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add milk and flaked fish. Heat more if necessary. Add pepper to taste.

Serve and delight in your utter coolness and resourcefulness.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Browned Butter Tilapia with Lemon Dill Sauce

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch or join us as our family of 6 eats, or tries to, on $6/day.

The title sounds better than this picture looks. (Trust the title.) This is very good and so easy you'll want to cry. We served it with Perfect Home Fries and carrot sticks.

Browning the butter gives the fish an almost sweet nutty flavor. It's really all you need to do. The lemon dill sauce is just extra special-ness.

Browned Butter Tilapia with Lemon Dill Sauce
Serves 4-6
Prep time:  0
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cost: $5.50
(Tilapia: $5.00 if you find a sale, $.50 for the butter and sauce)

1/4 C butter (you could probably get away with 2-3 Tbsp depending on the non-stickiness of your pan)
4-6 tilapia filets
pepper (optional)
dill (optional)

Put the butter in a skillet, melt it and then cook it until it starts to turn golden brown and smell nutty. If you wish, sprinkle the pepper and dill on the filets. Add the filets and cook on each side for 4-6 minutes.

Lemon Dill Sauce:

1/4 C mayonnaise
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp dried dill

Combine well and serve with tilapia. (Or with perfect home fries. Or as a dip for your carrot sticks. Apparently, I like to eat the sauces for my fish on everything else as well.)


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tilapia with Ginger Soy Glaze

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch or join us as our family of 6 eats, or tries to, on $6/day.

You don't expect picky people to like fish. Kip and I were married before I knew that he was not only willing to consume fish, but also perfectly happy to do so (at least in most cases). Go figure. And tonight, when we sat down to eat with our 4 children who pretty much can't agree to all like the same meal even if it's something as non-threatening as spaghetti, they ALL--did you get that--ALL ate at least some of the rice and fish, although Mark did slather his small bite of fish in BBQ sauce. Elizabeth and Savannah asked for more. Again, go figure.

So, even if you're not a fish person. Or you don't think you're a fish person because you're picky and how could a picky person also be a fish person (don't ask me), well, this is a great recipe to start out with. The white fish is mild, the glaze is sweet and savory all at once. Oh, and the glaze/sauce also makes for a great warm vinegarette on your spinach salad if you're that kind of girl. I, my friends, am that kind of girl. Omega 3's, anitoxidants, here we come.

And if that's not good enough, this meal takes all of 15 minutes to make. If you have it with rice, that'll add another 15, but it's still very solidly within the last minute meal range. Enjoy.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, how we're managing to eat fish on a mere $6/day....Well, someone at Kip's work brought in a bunch of thawed tilapia the other day. Kip's co-worker couldn't use it all before it went bad, and we were happy to help the poor guy out by taking some of it off his hands. Free food (and the people who give it), how I love thee, let me count the ways.

Tilapia with Ginger Soy Sauce
Serves 4
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Cost: $5.50
(1 lb tilapia: $5 if you find a sale, soy, ginger and other seasonings: .30-.50)

A note on the fish: This recipe should work with any mild white fish. Tilapia, however, is our favorite.

3 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp balsalmic vinegar (to cheapen it, I expect you could get away with 1 Tbsp balsalmic, and 2 Tbsp cheap distilled, but I thought about trying it too late--sorry)
1 scant tsp ground ginger
1 clove garlic, chopped
4 tilapia filets
1-2 Tbsp olive or vegetable oil

On plate or in bowl, combine sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, and garlic. Mix it together and place the filets in the mixture to marinate. You can do this for up to 20 minutes, but I always just put it in for a few while I warm up the pan and put my ingredients away. (Sometimes if my fish is frozen, I even just put it in the marinade to de-thaw and marinade at the same time for 20 minutes. Because I am a multi-tasking genius, and apparently not a thinking ahead genius.)

Heat oil in skillet over medium to medium high heat. Take filets out of marinade and place them in oil. Cook on each side for 4-6 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

Remove the filets to a plate. Try not to let them break up like crazy, but you can see from the pictures that I'm no expert in this realm.

Pour reserved marinade into skillet and heat over medium heat until mixture reduces to a glaze (about half as much liquid as there was before, and it'll be thicker). This usually takes about 2-3 minutes. Spoon glaze over fish (and over your spinach salad if you wish--yum), and serve immediately.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Wacky Cake

Cheap Eat Challenge: Join or watch as our family of 6 eats, or tries to, on $6/day.
Have a look at Jean's Food Journal for a daily accounting of what I eat, plus some thoughts on the bumps as we go along our way.

(Photo update: I wanted to get some prettier pictures than I had, although we eat this way too fast and I have trouble getting a good pic before we do. Here's to trying.)

And for old time's sake, here's the previous picture: 

I consider myself a moderate eater. I enjoy a variety of foods. I generally stop eating when I'm full. I try to listen to my body and eat how much and the types of foods it's telling me it needs and even wants. I can usually have one cookie, or just a few chips, or a piece of really good chocolate and feel satisfied. But there are a few foods that are, well, let's call them achilles heels. And, yes, I have more than one. And probably more than two. Maybe we should call them achilles toe joints. Anyway, chocolate cake is one of them. And wacky cake is one of the best chocolate cakes there is. My only salvation is that, in the chocolate department, my husband has a more voracious appetite than even I. And a faster metabolism to go with. So he usually gets to enough of it so that I don't end up gaining 700 pounds. Not yet anyway.

And what's so special, so wacky about this here wacky cake? I'm glad you asked. For starters, it's cheap. The lore goes that this was a depression cake (as in a cake of the Great Depression era, not a cake that could cause or cure depression, though used in the right doses, it can certainly do either of those things as well). It required no eggs, no milk, no butter. Sound like your pantry sometimes, well then, there you go.

Secondly, you make it all in the pan. Did you hear that? Do you understand the implications. There is no bowl. If you grew up in a house with no dishwasher, you will understand the sheer and beautiful meaning of that. No wonder we made it a lot when I was growing up.

Thirdly, since it contains no eggs, butter, or milk, it's allergen friendly and can be made vegan with the right kind of sugar.

Fourthly, fifthly, sixthly, and seventhly, it's really moist, really delicious, really chocolate-y, and really really hard to mess up (possible, but difficult), as opposed to other cakes that can be a bit particular (thus the boxed cake craze--bah).

So...make this cake. Just don't forget to feed a lot of it to your husband and kids. Otherwise you might be unable to stop in your sheer consumption of it. (Yes, I did just tell you to sacrifice the health and wellness of those you love most in the name of your own vain self interests. Trust me, they won't mind.)

Wacky Cake
Serves, well, it should serve at least 24
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Cost: $.88
(flour: .16, sugar: .32, oil: .12, cocoa: .18, other stuff about .10)

A note on layering: This makes one 9x13. It is too moist to make layers. I like it that way. Should you wish, however, to make a very lovely layer cake that is still intensely good and moist, add 1 C more flour and line your layer pans with wax or parchment paper. We've done this before and it turns out wonderfully.

A note on frosting: Traditionally, this is made with a flour-based wacky cake frosting. We love this frosting, but we often make it with Kip's chocolate frosting. Because we are sick-o's in the chocolate department. If you use the chocolate frosting, it will be intensely chocolate everything. That works for some people, but not for everyone. Both frosting recipes will be included below.

For a mint cake: Substitue the vanilla extract for 1/2 tsp of mint extract. It's really really good. Then you can make a chocolate frosting and put crushed Andes mints on top. Yes, we are apparently over-the-top people in this realm--that's what I was trying to tell you in the first paragraph; weren't you listening?

2 C flour
2 C sugar
6 Tbsp cocoa
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 C warm water
2/3 C oil
2 Tbsp vinegar
2 tsp vanilla (or 1/2 tsp mint) extract

In a 9x13 inch pan, mix dry ingredients.

Add wet ingredients.

(Note: We like to make wells for the different wet ingredients--so a little hole for the water, a hole for the oil and a hole for the vinegar and vanilla. Then we make rivers and then mix it all together and the baking soda reacts with the vinegar and fizzes a bit and I don't know why we do this, but we both did when we made versions of this cake as children. It's fun for some reason. But I won't make you make it this way--you can just throw it all in if you want. But it's fun. It fizzes...)

A few smallish lumps in the batter are no big deal.

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick (knife, fork, whatever) comes out clean. Note: It is possible that if you bake this in an aluminum pan, vinegar/baking soda will react and cause it to taste like metal, so use glass or a non-reactive metal.

Wacky Cake Frosting

Note on butter: I will give you the original recipe as it is most in keeping with the Great Depression Era Cake theme. However, I must tell you that we prefer this frosting made with all butter. It makes for a firmer frosting, but we don't mind one bit because the buttery-ness is tastier. To us. Some would disagree and find the frosting too firm when it hardens to room temperature.

A note about using flour in frosting: I know it sounds weird. You just must trust me. It totally works. Yes, it seems like you're making paper mache at first, but you are not. You are going to add sugar and butter and vanilla. I ask you, does paper mache have sugar and butter and vanilla. I think not. So trust me. It will be good. Very very good. Trust. Me.

4 Tbsp flour
1 C milk
1 C sugar
1/2 C (1 stick) butter, softened considerably
1/2 C (1 stick) margarine
2 tsp vanilla

Mix milk and flour in a saucepan, and cook until thickened. Let it get thick. Don't fear it's weirdness. When it's thick, take it off the heat.

Make paper mache if you will and create a pinata using newspaper. If you do not, at this juncture, wish to make a pinata, then beat butter and margarine (or all butter) together. Slowly add sugar to butter mixture. Beat well. Add milk mixture (i.e. paper mache stuff). Beat very well until there are no (or almost no) lumps. It will take a few minutes. Add vanilla and beat. Taste it. See that your faith has been rewarded.

Kip's Chocolate Frosting
(There will be extra. Serve on graham crackers after you've consumed all the cake.)

One Confession: Kip's recipe is a little hard to pin down. He throws general stuff in and tastes it. Sunday, however, he made the best frosting that he has possibly ever made and I tried to make him remember how much of everything he used. This is what I got.

3/4 C (1 1/2 sticks) butter, somewhat melted (halfway melted, in Kip's words)
1/2 C cocoa
1/3-1/2 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
dash salt
nearly 2 lb powdered sugar (probably 2 C shy of 2 lb--this is the sketchiest part of this recipe--start with less--you can always add more if it's way too runny or thin)

Mix butter, cocoa, and 1/3 C milk. Add other ingredients and beat well. If it's too stiff, add more milk.

(Didn't get a good picture of Kip's frosting; we must have licked the beaters off too quickly, so how about another one of that ooey, gooey cake. It makes me want to go lick the bottoms off the remaining 2 pieces--that's right, only 2, even though we just made this on Sunday. I will refrain. Or that is what I will tell you. And Kip.)



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...