Monday, February 28, 2011

An Open Letter to My Neighbor With the Car Alarm. Plus, Tomato and Bread Soup with Rosemary.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I do not know your identity. You may be a candystriping Girl Scout, or a grandmother who volunteers 20 hours a week at the Red Cross. You may work to save endangered species, and your dedication to social equity and human rights might make Mother Theresa look like Jeffrey Dahmer on a bad hair day. You may be kind to children, fair to animals, and a patron saint to environmental causes the world over.

I do know that you have a car alarm, and that it's gone off twice in the last week, at 3am, for 30 minutes each time. And that makes me hate you.

What is it with car alarms? They seem like leftovers from the '80s, the pride of hyper-vigilant teens and twentysomethings with shiny new Iroc-Zs to protect, presumably from menacing threats like wind and rain. (I do not know what else sets off car alarms.) Yet, especially in the Tri-State area, they are as prominent as Applebees and lower back tattoos. Why they haven't been relegated to the dustbin of history, along with stonewashed jackets and Ratt posters, is beyond me.

In fact, I have it good on authority (meaning: my own delusion) that, throughout the course of automotive history, car alarms have deterred exactly two burglars. The first was Borden P. Titmouse, a hapless petty thief doomed by his particularly sensitive hearing and lack of arms below the elbow. The second was a cat who mistook a Chrysler for a hunk of steak. Cats are dumb, see.

The number of people awoken, annoyed, and otherwise driven apoplectic by car alarms, however, numbers in the millions. The billions, even. McDonald's would kill for that kind of demo.

Someday, I may be a mother. And if your car alarm wakes my child - who I presume will have spent the whole day alternately being adorable and vomiting into my open mouth, if Facebook is any indication – I will key it into oblivion, then pound the remaining atoms into a pretty purple paperweight. I don't care if you are the Chairperson of Greenpeace, the head of Habitat for Humanity, and the potential broker of peace in the Middle East combined. You will be upset. Neighboring cars will weep. Charlie Sheen will question my destructive tendencies.

In closing, no one wants to steal your Honda. For the love of god, turn off the alarm.

The rest of Brooklyn

Oh yeah – the food. About two years ago, we ran a Jamie Oliver recipe for Pappa al Pomodoro, or Tomato and Bread Soup. It was pretty simple, involving some roasted cherry tomatoes, a few handfuls of basil, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Well, brace yourself, Waldo, because this one is even easier, tastes just as lovely, and can be made (almost) entirely from ingredients sitting around your pantry. Except rosemary. You have to buy that. The fresh stuff is worth it.

But, mmmm. So good. Make it now! And don't buy a car alarm.


If this looks real purty, you’ll be like, “Yeah, y’all!” to these:

Tomato and Bread Soup with Rosemary
Serves 3
Inspired by Jamie Oliver.

Without cheese
 2 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
1 tablespoon fresh minced rosemary
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
28 ounces whole canned tomatoes, undrained
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth (veggie broth for vegetarians)
About 1/3 large loaf Italian bread, chopped or torn into chunks:
Grated Parmesan, for serving

1) In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add rosemary and garlic. Sauté 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and broth. Turn heat to high. While mixture is coming to a boil, break tomatoes up with a wooden spoon or good set of kitchen shears. Once it starts boiling, drop heat to a healthy, rolling simmer and cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2) Kill heat. Add bread. Gently stir so bread soaks, but doesn’t fall apart. Serve with Parmesan, if desired.

With cheese (avec frommage).
Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
183 calories, 5.9 g fat, 3.6 g fiber, 6.9 g protein, $1.05

2 cloves of garlic, sliced thin: 9 calories, 0 g fat, 0.1 g fiber, 0.4 g protein $0.10
1 tablespoon fresh minced rosemary: 2 calories, 0.1 g fat, 0.2 g fiber, 0.1 g protein, $0.50
1 tablespoons olive oil: 119 calories, 13.5 g fat, 0 g fiber, 0 g protein, $0.10
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.02
28 ounces canned tomatoes: 151 calories, 0.8 g fat, 7.9 g fiber, 7.3 g protein, $1.25
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth: 25 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, 4.9 g protein, $0.57
About 1/3 large loaf Italian bread, chopped or torn into chunks: 244 calories, 3.2 g fat, 2.4 g fiber, 7.9 g protein, $0.60
TOTAL: 550 calories, 17.6 g fat, 10.7 g fiber, 20.6 protein, $3.14
PER SERVING (TOTAL/3): 183 calories, 5.9 g fat, 3.6 g fiber, 6.9 g protein, $1.05

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Throwback: Recession Chic, Party Planning, and Me

Every Saturday, we post a piece from our archives. This article, from one of Jaime's bi-weekly columns, comes from December 2008. It seemed like good timing, with the Oscars and all. (P.S. Go Toy Story!)

A few days ago, Gawker posted on how the headline “Party Like It’s 1929” needs to be retired. They easily found six examples from recent months, arguing – convincingly! – that the phrase has gone from clever to entirely overdone.

But maybe worse than that played-out headline is the played-out and downright troubling trend of “recession chic," a.k.a. richer folks playing poor, seemingly getting a kick out of making fiscal sacrifices. Because to the seriously cash-strapped, this can sometimes feel like a slap in the face .

In yesterday’s megalinks, Kris pointed out the latest offender, a New York Times Style Section piece chronicling a chi chi party planner’s quest to throw a shindig on a shoestring, for a mere $30 a head (which, naturally, was titled, “We’re Going to Party Like It’s 1929”).

$30 being my shoestring weekly budget, but I digress.

The problem is the idea that a $240 dinner party is a way of coping with the recession, as opposed to a luxury. And when you look at the writing of the piece, there’s some serious exotification going on. We see the chic party planner slumming it at K-Mart, or mingling with the unwashed hordes at a 99-cent store: “Politely nudging through the clogged aisles of the deep-discount emporium, the dapper Mr. Monn reminded me of a late-model Bentley stuck in rush hour on the B.Q.E.” Meaning that the other discount shoppers are what, exhaust-belching trucks and used cars?

There’s this novelty to “playing recession,” the Ooh, look how austere I’m being, but that wears off. Yes, the economic troubles are affecting everyone, and lifestyle change hurts no matter how it hits, but aside from ending up with an awfully condescending approach to cheap living, this article highlights a really trivial way to cut corners. And there are lots of people cutting a lot more deeply, way past 99-cent store Christmas ornaments and office paper snowflakes.

At Jezebel, they get things right:
I'm sure that Williams meant well, but the point is this: for many people across the country, a trip to the dollar store or Kmart isn't some amazing sociological experiment: it's everyday life. And to continue to publish crap like this shows, once again, that the Times, while reporting unemployment rates and layoffs on the front page, still doesn't quite get the plight of the average American when it comes to trends and styles. I suppose this simply speaks to a target demographic, which is understandable, but every "recession chic" article that goes up just reinforces the divide between those who feel that a $238.40 party is a steal and those who have to live on $238.40 on a weekly basis.
On a related note: this December, almost a year and a half at a new apartment, I’m getting my place in shape and inviting folks to my apartment. It’s not a dinner party, as chronicled in The Times, but aside from inviting guests to bring a bottle of booze, I’m on the look-out for ways to make a home inviting and a party fun, without going (even farther) into debt in the process.

Way #1 I’d diverge from the Times plan is not spending $80 on decorations. Way #2 might be shopping somewhere a little cheaper than grocery-delivery service Fresh Direct. Way #3 might be saving money (and my guests’ health) by baking my own cake, so that my main course wouldn’t have to be baked potatoes. The Prime Directive of frugal eating is, I believe, MAKE IT FROM SCRATCH, and yet, as an alternative to the hip, pricey, and honestly not-too-delish Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, the party guru... buys an angel food cake at Food Emporium? For $5? And that’s before the store-bought icing and coconut flakes...

Okay, I’d do just about everything differently, except for the dim lighting. (The brilliant folks at The Kitchn have come up with an alternative plan that stays super-cheap but drastically ratchets up the food.) But, maybe my priorities are in a different place. Maybe I would rather decorate with a string of Christmas lights and spend effort rather than cash to make good food. My disagreements with how the budget was allocated are not the heart of the problem.

But The New York Times is a newspaper, and it’s telling us that this is the way people are dealing with the recession... what do you think?

(Photo courtesy of A Different Voice.)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Top Ten Links of the Week: 2/18/11 - 2/24/11

Much like this season of American Idol, this week’s link roundup could be our strongest ever. Unlike this season of American Idol, J-Lo had very little to do with it. Well, she did do the html, so, y’know – credit where credit is due. (P.S. Have you ever seen someone who looks that good in high def? If that's what being from the block does to your skin, I'm moving to the Bronx.)

1) stonesoup: The Simplest Method for Menu Planning
Whoa. Ten ingredients. Four pantry items. Five days of dinners. Winner: Jules.

2) Money Saving Mom: Can You Buy Natural and Organic Foods on a Budget?
You know, I feel like we’ve seen this question a bazillion times before, but these clearly written, simple-to-employ strategies make this post worth a visit or ten. Seriously. Not kidding. It is awesome and for winners, much like the ocean. (30 Rock, holla!)

3) Huffington Post: The Politics of Food – How U.S. Farm Policy Impacts People Worldwide
A wonderful primer on U.S. farming subsidies, and how they affect agriculture and hunger on a global scale, from super chef and fellow Swede Marcus Samuelsson. Simply explained, urgently worded, very effective. Read and learn.

4) Food Politics: Why the White House is soft on Wal-Mart - afterthoughts
This is some hardcore lefty hippie reasoning with strong parental undertones (I don’t know what that means, either), and I love every minute of it. Corporate profits and the Let’s Move! agenda are at odds with each other, so MObama has to make some concessions for the greater good. How will it be moving forward? Only we can decide.

5) Money Saving Mom: How Living Abroad Taught Me to Simplify Life
Love this quick, insightful guest post on the profound and frequently lifelong benefits of travel. Perhaps the best part of getting out of your comfort zone is how it changes your behavior in your comfort zone.

6) The Epi-Log: Host a Baby Food Swap
I’ve heard of soup and dinner swaps, but baby food is a new one, and maybe the best idea of them all. You get variety, no preservatives, freshness, and friendship all in one. The interview with author Karen Solomon reveals even more.

7) New York Times: Cooking with Dexter – Busy Signal
In his last Cooking with Dexter column, Pete Wells has a message: Lay off working parents. They’re trying, and if they can’t cook every night, it’s not the end of the world. Also, eat spaghetti.

8) Serious Eats: Why We’re Paying More for Coffee
Erin Meister explains the many reasons you’re seeing Folgers prices shoot up at the grocery store, including: More people worldwide are drinking java, which raises demand without necessarily increasing production. But wait, there’s more!

9) The Kitchn: What Are Your Recipe Deal Breakers?
Whoa! Good question. 57 comments later, the big ones are: hated ingredients (big winner), long ingredient lists, recipe takes more than a day, unfamiliar with cooking technique, and time. How about you guys?

10) The Guardian UK: Is Homemade Always Better?
Whoa! You guys! So much more about our Ask the Internet from last week.


Chow: 7 Easy, Healthy Risotto Recipes
Commence drooling.

Moneycrashers: Festival of Frugality – Back to School Edition
We’re in this! Sweet.

Nation’s Restaurant News: Consumers Craving More Ethnic Cuisine
Caribbean, Thai, and Japanese. They’re so hot right now.

New York Post: Soaring cost of food forces you to eat out
Fellow Noo Yawkuhs, check it: “The cost of eating at home in the New York area [soared] in January at an annual rate of 18 percent -- eight times faster than escalating menu prices here.” Woo hoo! Put it on my bill.

Ohdeedoh: Meet Debbie Koenig of Words to Eat By
Yay, Deb!

Serious Eats: Should Food Blogs Cater to the Foodie? (Pun Intended)
Well, should they? Or should they be more populist? (We try to strike a balance here.)


YouTube: Casey
Speaking of American Idol, I’m pulling for Naima (the pretty rasta lady) or this guy, Casey Abrams. Listen to that voice and tell me he’s only 19. Nuts.

Thank you so much for visiting Cheap Healthy Good! (We appreciate it muchly). If you’d like to further support CHG, subscribe to our RSS feed! Or become a Facebook friend! Or check out our Twitter! Or buy something inexpensive, yet fulfilling via that Amazon store (on the left)! Bookmarking sites and links are nice, too. Viva la France!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Veggie Might: From Eleganza to Everyday - Vegetable Pie Two Ways

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

When I was a teenager, I daydreamed of the bohemian artist's life I would lead some day. I pictured my lover and I dining and drinking with friends in a Greenwich Village flat, speaking passionately of film and music and politics and theater and Art with a capital A. Smoke from our clove cigarettes swirled up to the sky light; sounds of laughter and genius tumbled out onto the sparkling city street.

My grown-up life is not quite the beatnik fantasy I'd imagined, but it's not as far off as I realized. Last week, CB and I shared a delicious meal with our friends M and R and their friends J and G. We spoke passionately of zombie movies and intellectual property law and world travel and SpiderMan: Turn Off the Dark. Beer swirled in glasses; the food was as brilliant as the company.

Our party was evenly split down food lines: three omnivores and three vegetarians. M prepared a meatstravaganza for the omnivores - Mario Batali's proscuitto-wrapped skirt steak flanked by pancetta. She also set out a delicious array of salads and vegetarian side dishes that could have fed twice as many.

I was tasked with the vegetarian entree, but something about my assignment made me nervous. It's rare that I cook for strangers, or that I make an "entree." I'm more of a grain/bean/green vegetarian: one pot, three ingredients, one full belly. I wanted my dish to be special, so I knew I should make something I'd made before.

I turned to Mark Bittman's Parsnip and Wheatberry Pie with Phyllo Crust, a variation of which I'd vowed to never make again. Phyllo and I didn't get along very well that one time, but oh, it's tasty and damn impressive. I would give it another go.

Against my better judgment, I stopped at the grocery on my way to M's for ingredients: frozen phyllo dough, wheatberries, etc. Planning ahead is not my strong suit. Turns out wheatberries need an overnight soak and three hours to cook before edibility, so I made a last-minute adjustment: kasha.

In the vegetable aisle, I was seduced by the sweet potatoes and right to believe they would add a delightful sweetness to the nutty kasha and peppery parsnips.

Phyllo dough is labor intensive and decadent, by virtue of just how much butter (or oil) it takes to make it work. But oh Man Ray, it's certainly worth the splurge on occasion. Frozen phyllo dough needs to be defrosted overnight in the refrigerator (trust me). Those thin sheets of dough will tear if not fully thawed before handling.

And Mark Bittman's not kidding when he tells you you'll need 1/2 cup of melted butter to lubricate 8 to 12 layers of pastry. I thought I could cut back on the fat, but my frugality just kept me running back and forth to the microwave.

But oh, those two hours of preparation and sweating over paper-thin sheets of dough were worth it. The pie was a smashing success. J and G were thrilled with our extravagant entree, and the omnis were just as impressed. M shared that she and R savored the lonely leftover slice the next day.

Light, buttery, and flaky, the delicate crust highlighted the earthy flavors of the filling, and the provolone cheese gave a pungent kick. Just a hint of thyme balanced the scales.

The filling was so delicious, I wanted to make the pie again immediately; but phyllo pie seems a bit out of reach for a Monday night supper. A couple of frozen whole wheat pie crusts saved the day, cutting prep time nearly in half. What took me two hours to prepare in phyllo took less than one episode of RuPaul's Drag Race (45 minutes) with frozen pie crust from the market (or homemade, if you've got the energy or extra few minutes). I still had to defrost the suckers, but only enough to make a top crust out of a bottom, and that can be done while the rest of the prep is happening.

The work-a-day version came out looking a little more like a succubus than its light and flaky phyllo counterpart, but it tasted just as delicious, even sans butter and cheese. There was no savings in the calorie or fat departments, but this savory pie makes for a delicious departure from the quotidian. The sweet and nutty filling pairs beautifully with a hearty whole wheat crust and makes a terrific pot pie alternative.

Whether you wax philosophic with friends over layers of phyllo or catch up on your reality TV with pie dough, Sweet Potato, Parsnip and Kasha Pie will make you grateful for the dream you're living.


If this recipe tips your canoe, swim on over to:

Sweet Potato, Parsnip and Kasha Pie
adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
Serves 6

1/2 cup kasha
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 tablespoon butter or extra virgin olive oil
2 cups grated parsnips (about 8 ounces)
2 cups grated sweet potatoes (about 8 ounces)
1 shallot, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped or 2 teaspoons dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup provolone, grated (optional)

Phyllo Crust:
8 to 12 sheets phyllo dough, thawed overnight
7 tablespoons butter, melted or 1/2 cup (less 1 tablespoon) extra virgin olive oil

Traditional Pie Crust:
2 whole wheat pie crusts, thawed

Wash, peel, and grate sweet potatoes and parsnips. Chop garlic, shallot, and fresh thyme. For phyllo variation, lightly coat pie pan with oil, butter, or cooking spray.

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) In a medium saucepan, bring vegetable stock to a boil. Stir in kasha, reduce heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until water is absorbed and grains are fluffy. Set aside.

3) Heat oil or butter in a large heavy-bottomed skillet. Add grated vegetables, shallot, garlic, salt, and pepper and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often. Add a few splashes of water if mixture sticks to bottom of pan.

4) Combine kasha, cooked vegetables, thyme, and optional cheese.

Eleganza Phyllo Dough Variation
5) Dampen clean tea towels or paper towels, enough to cover unrolled phyllo dough. Ring out so that they are just damp, not dripping wet. Unroll phyllo dough.

6) Peel up one sheet and place in greased pie plate. Cover unrolled sheets with damp toweling to keep from drying out. Baste phyllo pastry you've placed in pie plate with melted butter using a soft-bristled brush. Repeat four to five times, basting each layer and turning the sheets slightly as you go around.

7) Add filling to phyllo crust. Repeat step six with four to six sheets of phyllo dough to form the top crust. Fold up the edges and basted to seal.

8) Score top and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting. Serve with a green salad or sauteed greens and sparkling conversation.

Everyday Whole Wheat Crust Variation
5. Add filling to defrosted pie crust. Place second crust on top of filling, trim away excess, pinch edges together, and score top.

6. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting. Serve with a green salad or sauteed greens and biting political discourse.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
Phyllo/Dairy Variation: 418 calories, 25g fat, 4.6g fiber, 11g protein, $.97
Whole Wheat Crust/Dairy-free Variation: 418 calories, 23g fat, 9.6g fiber, 8.5g protein, $.97

1/2 cup kasha: 283.5 calories, 2g fat, 8.5g fiber, 9.5g protein, $0.46
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock: 15 calories, 1.5g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.16
1/2 tablespoon butter: 70 calories, 7.5g fat, 0g fiber, 0.5g protein, $0.08
2 cups grated parsnips: 100 calories, 0g fat, 6g fiber, 3g protein, $0.36
2 cups grated sweet potatoes: 224 calories, 0g fat, 8g fiber, 4g protein, $0.68
1 shallot: 30 calories, 0g fat, 3g fiber, 2g protein, $0.20
6 cloves garlic: 24 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.07
1 tablespoon fresh thyme: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
salt: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
pepper: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
1/2 cup provolone: 392 calories, 28g fat, 0g fiber, 28g protein, $1.48
8 sheets phyllo dough: 392 calories, 4g fat, 2g fiber, 12g protein, $1.84
7 tablespoons butter: 980 calories, 105g fat, 0g fiber, 7g protein, $1.05
2 whole wheat pie crusts: 1760 calories, 128g fat, 32g fiber, 32g protein, $4.39
TOTALS (Phyllo/Cheese Variation): 2510.5 calories, 148g fat, 27.5g fiber, 66g protein, $5.82
TOTALS (Whole Wheat Crust/Dairy-free Variation): 2506.5 calories, 139g fat, 57.5g fiber, 51g protein, $5.84
PER SERVING (TOTALS/6): 418 calories, 25g fat, 4.6g fiber, 11g protein, $.97
PER SERVING (TOTALS/6): 418 calories, 23g fat, 9.6g fiber, 8.5g protein, $.97

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Navigating the Reboot: Getting Back on Track After Falling Off of It. (The Track, I Mean.)

(Note to readers: This post is a tad self-indulgent. [On a blog! Go figure.] But hopefully, it'll help some folks who have been sidetracked on their financial and foodie journeys.)

Between September and early January, I was adopted by a cat, got married, went on my honeymoon, traveled to another wedding, got a new job, traveled for Thanksgiving, moved to a new apartment, blew through Christmas, traveled for New Year, broke my toe, and was buried in snow up to my cerebellum. Except for the prolonged limping, it was fantastic. I loved every minute with family, co-workers, and various strangers at the airport.


You know all those good intentions you have stored in the back of your mind? And those behaviors you honed and practiced until they became habits? And those years and years of good financial, nutritional, and organizational practices, which you blog about almost every day, to the point where your husband asks with some regularity when you’re coming to bed?


Not to say I’ve spent the last few months buying Lexuses and cleaning out Chipotle. But I’m ludicrously out of shape, and my financial discipline has fallen way off. Part of this is (see above reasons). Another part is that I’m cooking for three different websites, all of which require an array of totally unrelated groceries. As far as the third part, I have no excuse. Spreadsheets made me sneezy? Yeah, that's the ticket.

Yet, my undies are not in bundles. It’s been a wonderful few months, which I wouldn’t trade for all 30 Rock reruns in the world. And, though it's not often mentioned in the frugality blogosphere, it's thoroughly possible to temporarily neglect budgeting and still feel okay about yourself.

But now, it's time to shape up, ship out (?), and get back on the horse. (You know the horse. It’s big and made out of money and noodles.) So here's my plan. Maybe it's applicable to your situation, too, and we can track our progress together. That would be neat.

1) Set some measureable goals, both long and short term. There's no better way to spark action and drive than having a quantifiable objective. For the short term, I'd like to get in shape, at least to the point where I'm not winded by subway stairs. For the long term, HOTUS and I would like to buy an abode before the apocalypse. So it's time to start saving.

2) Forecast necessities. First, the Commodore 64 from which I write this blog will soon be incompatible with … anything remotely technological (though it will make an incredible paperweight). Second, I'm running out of contact lenses. Actually having none would not only impair my ability to see, but impair my ability to get fuzzies caught between my contact and my eye. And last, but not least, my iPod, which I love like a child, has a big ol' line running through the screen. Is this a necessity? That's like asking, "Can I live without daily infusions of Weezer's Pinkerton?" Which – duh. No.

3) Create spreadsheets/tangible records. (*Sigh*) As it turns out, procuring a new job and a new husband kind of blows your former budgeting process to tiny pieces. Getting a handle on our spending, plus our combined financial powers, will go a long way towards accomplishing #1. Hello, Excel. Be nice to me.

4) Work out. For real, now. While dreams of being the first woman to play Major League Baseball have long been quashed by the sad acceptance of my A) total physical incompetence, and B) gender, it doesn't mean I should forgo exercise entirely. A 33-year-old shouldn't be stiff arising from bed in the morning. So, walking (and perhaps the dreaded jogging) will soon be in order.

And those are it for now. Readers, have you ever fallen off the horse? How did you get back on? Tips are sweet.


If this prolonged navel gazing appealed to you, you might also enjoy these:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Green Kitchen: Five Delicious Ways To Eat Broccoli Stalks

Green Kitchen is a bi-weekly column about nutritious, inexpensive, and ethical food and cooking. It's penned by the lovely Jaime Green.

Okay, so, for how long am I allowed to open my column with some reference to my continuing, undiminished excitement to have a working oven? Because I'm still grateful and a little surprised every time I hear that tick-tick-tick-whoosh of the flame igniting, and I may never lose my renewed appreciation for oven cooking. Mainly the part where I put something in the oven and, as I never could with a pan on a hot plate, walk away. 45 minutes later I have food, and that is glorious.

From El_Matador
More times than not, what I'm pulling out of the oven is a sheet of roasted broccoli. I might be addicted. Broccoli's not the cheapest vegetable around – I can eat three or four dollars worth in one sitting – but the recipe is super easy and delicious, and since when is eating a pound of dark green vegetables a bad thing?

The only problem is all the stalks left behind. They're good enough sliced into discs and roasted along with the florets, but they're not amazing that way, and I'd rather devote baking sheet space to more delectable florets. And so all too often the broccoli stems end up with my eggshells and banana peels, going to compost.

Compost is a very silly – and wasteful, and lazy – fate for perfectly good, edible, healthy vegetable parts. Of course, “edible” isn't exactly high praise, or high incentive for the expenditure of kitchen effort, especially when the couch is so comfy. So here – for you and for me – are five recipes and ideas to keep our broccoli stalks out of the trash, and in our happy mouths and bellies. (They're happy because of the broccoli stalks.

1) Fridge pickles. You can make your own pickling brine, or go even more frugal and reuse the brine from a jar of tasty store-bought pickles. Once in a while I splurge on a jar of Rick's Picks, a delicious NYC brand. (Pickling is very chic among Brooklyn hipsters.) When the pickles are gone there is still plenty of goodness left behind in the brine. Peel your broccoli stalks and slice into spears. Pour the brine into a saucepan and bring to a boil, and wash out the pickle jar. Put the broccoli stalks in the jar, then pour in the brine. (Add some white vinegar and water if there's not enough liquid.) Screw on the lid, and pop that jar in the fridge. After two or three days: pickles!

From Cookthink
2) Crudite. Peel and slice into spears and use along with carrots, peppers, and any other raw veggies you like to dip into hummus, dressing, or your spread of choice. You get all the broccoli flavor without the awkward mouthful (and teeth full) of floret.

3) Slaw. Use a mandoline, grater, food processor with a grater wheel, or careful hands and a sharp knife to shred broccoli stems. Add some shredded carrot and mix with your favorite cole slaw dressing.

4) Stir fry. I think part of the reason I love roasting broccoli is that I can never get stir fried broccoli quite right – it's always either underdone or mushy, never as delicious as at a Chinese restaurant or my mom's house. (Mom! What is your secret!) But broccoli stalks – being flatter and more uniform than florets – are a cinch. They make a delicious stir-fry with Chinese flavors – soy sauce, garlic, and five-spice powder are a favorite combination of mine – and cook to a delicious combination of golden exteriors with creamy insides.

5. Soup. Once your favorite cream of broccoli soup (vegan or dairy) is pureed, no one will know if it started as tiny trees or trunks. Ditto chopped up in a quiche or casserole.

That's what I've got so far. (I've also heard that some cats love broccoli, and so also broccoli stalks, but unfortunately my creature isn't inclined to any such adorable predilections.) Do you use – and enjoy – your broccoli stalks? Are there any other often discarded parts of vegetables (or animals) you've got a great use for?

Ask the Internet: Would Calorie Labeling Change What You Order?

Today's question is ripped from the headlines. (Woo hoo! Timeliness!)

Q: A recent study on calorie labeling in fast food restaurants showed that it didn't affect what kids ordered. Though the research was only conducted in New York City and Newark, the results still kinda surprised me.

Readers of CHG tend to be pretty aware of nutritional guidelines. Would calorie labeling affect what you ordered from a chain?

A: On the rare occasions I visit fast food restaurants (mostly on the road), definitely. Some of those salads, man - why not just have the burger?

Readers, how about you?

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Happy Presidents Day!

In honor of POTUS, we're taking today to reflect on the legislative branch.

We'll return tomorrow. In the meantime, please enjoy Drunk History: Volume 5, with Will Ferrell, Don Cheadle, and Zooey Deschanel.

(Warning: Three or four bad words within.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Top Ten Links of the Week: 2/11/11 - 2/17/11

Lots of good little stories today, along with a chicken saga of near-epic proportions. It will beak you out.

1) Politics of the Plate: Co-opting an Unsustainable Food System - Student-Run Collectives Replace Junk Food Franchises on College Campuses
With a headline like that, this had to be about UC Berkeley. Fortunately, those crazy hippie kids have the smarts and drive to back up their freewheeling ideas, like a healthy food co-op to replace a planned fast food chain. Hooray for the future! It's looking bright, and somewhat jam bandy.

2) New York Times: Chicken Vanishes, Heartbreak Ensues
A diverse Brooklyn neighborhood comes together for a stolen chicken. It's like Steel Magnolias, minus the accents, characters, armadillo cake, and diabetic shock, but with a chicken.

3) Donna Freedman: I Have “Frugal Fatigue” Fatigue
Sing it, sister. To paraphrase Livia Soprano, “Oh, poor us.” (Um. I don’t know if it’s possible to convey Nancy Marchand’s vocal inflections in three words of text, but trust me: She said that really, really sarcastically.)

4) The Simple Dollar: Does Cutting Meat, Eggs, or Dairy from Your Diet Save Money?
Yes, but it also costs you time. Are you willing to sacrifice one for the other? Trent explores the Triangle of Compromise.

5) Money Saving Mom: Free Downloadable Recipe Cost Calculator Spreadsheet
Man, this could be really, really handy. Check it out, and if you’re having problems with the Excel Doc, check the comments for troubleshooting tips.

6) Wall Street Journal: Fiber-Rich Diet Linked to Longevity
It begins with this: “People who consumed higher amounts of fiber, particularly from grains, had a significantly lower risk of dying over a nine-year period compared to those who consumed lower amounts of fiber,” and just gets better. Best pack the quinoa.

7) Obama Foodorama: One Study Finds that Posted Calories Don’t Keep Kids From Choosing Junky Fast Food
Call me crazy, but could it be because they’re children? Who have almost no conception what a calorie, gram of fat, or milligram of protein could possibly mean in the grand scheme of their diets? Great. Now I feel like Andy Rooney.

8) More: The 5 Nutrients You’re Not Getting.
A breakdown of potassium, fiber, calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, plus where to find ‘em

9) Frugal Dad: A Grocery Shopping Hiatus – How Long Can You Eat from the Pantry?
Guest poster Laurel Gray wants to see how many days she can go without hitting the supermarket. She’ll write back with updates. I’m guessing 22, before the lack of dairy and fresh produce force her into a Kroger. Anyone taking bets?

10) 344 Pounds: Ten Small Benefits of Losing 100 Pounds
You knew that clothes would fit better, and walking up stairs wouldn’t be as difficult, but how about less sweating, better posture, and the ability to sit in restaurant booths? Quick and interesting.


Lifehacker: The Best Foods and Strategies for Eating at Your Computer
Not that I do this. Hey! Look over there! It’s zombie Cary Grant! (*runs away*) (*sits at computer*) (*eats*)

New York Times: For Actresses, is Appetite a Big Part of the Show?
You know how the skinniest of Hollywood ladies always have to front, like they're constantly scarfing mile-high stacks of pancakes for breakfast? Why is that?

The Simple Dollar: Inspiring Others to Financial Responsibility Without Being Preachy
There’s a fine line between clever and annoying.


Urban Edge: Honest Real Estate Broker?
This is a shockingly accurate portrait of apartment hunting in New York City.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Veggie Might: Cooking for Survival Eaters

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about all things Vegetarian.

Survival eaters are the opposite of foodies. They eat because, as humans, our bodies require calories to function. When they are not hungry, food doesn't enter a survival eater's mind.

I've known a few survival eaters in my time, folks who can subsist on bits of fruit and bread and don't get excited about steaming plate of enchiladas or a decadent apple pie a la mode. My friend C will eat five M&Ms, fold the packet-top down, and put the rest away for later. It could take her days to eat a single-serving size.

It's not that survival eaters don't like food; they just don't think about food before they need it. By then it's too late to go to the store and, perhaps obviously, nothing has been prepared in advance. The solution is eating out, convenience food, or repeat appearances of PB&J or cereal for dinner. There's nothing wrong with any of those things on occasion, but these can get expensive and unhealthy over time.

Perhaps its telling that most of the survival eaters I know work in the food service industry and get fed by their jobs. However, my charming boyfriend, CB, is a survival eater and not a waiter. He recently asked me to give him the basics of grocery shopping and cooking. He wants to be able to make healthy and delicious meals without too much advanced preparation, but he's willing to put in some effort.

I think the results of our first few lessons apply to survival eaters and anyone who is planning-challenged. It's easier to plan meals when you're constantly thinking about food, like I am. But what if you only think about food when your stomach tells your brain you're hungry?

The secret is keeping a well-stocked kitchen. Buy these items any time you see them on sale to save money as well as time.

1. Stockpile staple items.
Grains, pasta, and beans are a survival eater's friend. Canned beans are okay if you are time-crunched and really can't get a handle on dried beans. Dried beans will save you money, and if you have a crock pot, can cook while you sleep. Grains like rice, quinoa, and bulgar, cook up quickly and add fiber, protein, and heft to veggie-laden meals. Pasta, especially whole-grain varieties, fill the same void, in your diet and your belly.

Other pantry items that will make your life easier include vegetable oils like canola, safflower, and extra virgin olive oil; kosher salt or sea salt; black pepper; red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar; and low-sodium vegetable bullion cubes.

2. Fill up on frozen vegetables and fruits.
If you're concerned about rotting vegetables and fruit, go frozen! Frozen vegetables and fruit are often fresher than fresh, depending on where you buy your produce, and will keep for months. Keep your favorites on hand and you'll never miss your 5-a-day.

3. Keep a supply of canned tomatoes.
Canned tomatoes can become pasta sauce or salsa, flavor vegetable dishes and soups, and anchor chili and pizza. Canned tomatoes, whether they be crushed, diced, whole or sauce, will keep you cooking all week long.

4. Rock the root vegetables.
Potatoes, yams, turnips, carrots, and other root vegetables have a nearly eternal shelf life. Pick up a few tubers at the market, and chances are, they'll be there when you're ready.

5. Have a few fresh items.
Garlic, onions, and lemons will rarely go bad in a well-used kitchen. These items are inexpensive, long-lasting, and essential in nearly every type of cuisine. Keep a few of each on hand.

6. Update your spices every now and then.
Spices are the spice of cooking. If your spices predate moving into your current dwelling and you don't remember when that was, it's time for a change. Experts say spices have a one-year shelf life, but we both know that turmeric has been there for at least six, amirite?! A few staples to have on hand: thyme, oregano, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and red pepper flakes.

Once you have your ingredients, it's just a matter of putting them together. Think about foods you like to eat and seek out recipes for those foods. Ask your friends and family, look at the Interwebs, or check out cookbooks from the library to get started. Having a few go-to recipes in your arsenal will keep survival eaters, like CB, from eating cereal and PB&J for dinner every night—or their loved ones for bearing the meal-prep burden alone.

Before our first cooking lesson, I gave CB a shopping list for my Easy Tomato Sauce. (Since it's winter, we made it with canned tomatoes.) He did all the work while I coached and we had a delicious meal, complete with a fresh salad, and bread. The next time I came over, the sauce was simmering when I arrived. Within a few minutes, dinner was on the table* and we were eating well before 10 p.m. I cried a little tear of joy and pride. (*laps on the couch)

For the next lesson, I showed CB a few variations by adding white beans to the sauce, tossing in some frozen spinach, and using the sauce on bread to make bruschetta. Everyone was happy; hunger was quickly satiated.

CB requested rice and beans for lesson three. We've made them several ways over the last few weeks, since they're a favorite for both of us. Rice and beans are a vegetarian staple customizable to every taste: spicy, smoky, mild; mashed or whole; over grains, with vegetables, as a dip, in a wrap, or on toast. Whatever your tummy desires.

Below is the simplest of beans and rice recipes. Alone it is a clean and flavorful dish that can easily become a favorite. Add chilies and spices and it becomes a canvas for more creative culinary adventures. You can use any type of bean, and I recommend brown rice as a stick-to-your-ribs base. For a change of pace, try quinoa or millet in place of rice.

With a well-stocked pantry, you need never eat cereal for dinner again. Unless you just want to.


If you dug this article, point your shovel toward:

Simple Black Beans and Rice
Serves 4

1 cup dried black beans, washed and picked over
8 cups water
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
3 cloves garlic, crushed
salt to taste
black pepper to taste

1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
1 tsp salt

1) Wash and pick rocks from beans and place in a slow cooker with 6 cups of cold water. Set on low and cook for eight hours. Rinse well and place in a large sauce pan with 2 cups of water over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium.

2) Add to the beans the two onion halves, crushed garlic, salt, and pepper. Stir, cover, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until beans are tender, but not mushy. (Cooking times depend on the type of bean you use.) Remove cover, remove from heat, and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

3) In the meantime, bring to boil 2 cups of salted water. Stir in rice. Bring to a boil again, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 20 minutes.

4) Whether beans are served over the rice, side-by-side, or mixed together is a matter of taste and cultural preference. Eat as your heart guides you, garnished with cilantro or a squeeze of lime juice.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
358.5 calories, 2g fat, 14.5g fiber, 12.75g protein, $.53

1 cup dried black beans: 662 calories, 2g fat, 46g fiber, 39g protein, $0.73
1 medium onion: 40 calories, 0.2g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.44
3 cloves garlic: 12 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.04
1 cup brown rice: 720 calories, 6g fat, 12g fiber, 12g protein, $0.90
salt: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
black pepper: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02

TOTALS: 1434 calories, 8.2g fat, 58g fiber, 51g protein, $2.15
PER SERVING (TOTALS/4): 358.5 calories, 2g fat, 14.5g fiber, 12.75g protein, $.53

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How to Buy the USDA Recommended 4.5 Cups of Fruits and Vegetables for $2.50 Per Day

As part of its 2010 dietary guidelines released on January 31, the USDA recommended that the average American eat approximately 4.5 cups of produce per day. Broken down a bit more, that’s 2.5 cups of vegetables, and 2 cups of fruit. In a study released days later by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, researchers concluded all 4.5 cups could be purchased for between $2 and $2.50 per day.

Reactions on one major food blog ranged from supportive (“[I] like that they are promoting the fact that eating healthy doesn't have to expensive.”) to skeptical (“Where the hell are they shopping?”) to outright critical (“God, the USDA is full of such bull****”).

While I think the ERS researchers are correct with their $2.50 number (more on that in a minute), some of the skepticism is merited, for three big reasons:
  1. They used food prices from 2008. A certain economic meltdown makes those numbers highly suspect today.
  2. Among the vegetables counted towards the $2.50 total are white potatoes and corn, starchy foods not exactly known for their vitamins and minerals. Also included is iceberg lettuce, which has the rough nutritional value of licking a rock.
  3. Juice is counted as produce, though the USDA itself admits, “Although 100% fruit juice can be part of a healthful diet, it lacks dietary fiber and when consumed in excess can contribute extra calories.”
With that in mind, for the huge majority of us who don’t live in food deserts, is it still feasible to pay $2.50 for 4.5 cups of produce per day? How? And going one step further, is it possible to purchase a variety thereof? Because anyone can buy seven bananas for $2, but cramming in spinach, yams, berries, and pluots gets a little harder.

My answer to each question is a resounding, “Heck yeah, but you have to do some legwork, first.” To that end, here are some suggestions to keep costs down, and nutrition way, way up.

Buy in season and on sale. These two occurrences frequently coincide, since supermarkets have to move surpluses of in-season fruits and vegetables before they rot. So, pay attention to produce calendars, hunt for bargains at farmer’s markets, and look out for circular sales in larger grocery stores. To wit: I recently scored a 5-lb. bag of gigantic navel oranges (13 in all) for $4.97 at my local Foodtown. That’s $0.38 per orange, which comes out to more than 1 cup of fruit.

Buy whole. Not cut up, drenched in cheese, or (sorry) pulped into juice. Whole fruits and vegetables are almost always cheaper and higher in nutrients than those that have been doctored. The perfect example? The humble carrot. A pound of whole carrots at my old supermarket was $0.89. ($0.66 on sale.) A pound of baby carrots, which are actually regular-sized carrots run through a peeling/whacking machine, cost $1.50. Prep them anyway you like once you’re home, but buy ‘em big before then.

Buy generic, or with coupons if you can nail a better price. While this might not apply to fresh fruits and vegetables, generic frozen and canned produce is generally a big bargain. In studies, many shoppers can't tell the difference between house and name brands, and frequently, the foods are cut and packaged in the same buildings. HOWEVER: if you have dynamite coupons, or can pair coupons with sales, name brands could be the bigger bargain. Do the math and see where you end up.

Buy fresh or frozen first, then canned. Then juice, I guess. While the USDA claims there’s no consistent price advantage of one over the other, I find A) (tomatoes excepted) fresh and frozen produce tastes better than canned, B) fresh and frozen produce is often sold/frozen at the height of growing season, giving it a bigger nutritional impact, and C) canned mushrooms are the devil. (Seriously. You can tell a good pizza joint by whether or not their mushrooms are fresh.) As for dried fruits, try purchasing them in a bulk food store or ethnic market, since they're ludicrously expensive in many big chains. If juice is a necessity (you have children, for example), buying 100% fruit juice is best, and even then, not if you have to sacrifice other means of packing in the produce.

Find a happy medium between big nutrition and big savings. Though tasty and inexpensive, potatoes are somewhat lacking in the nutrient department. On the flip side, berries are powerhouses of vitamins and minerals, but often prohibitively pricey. Don’t forgo either extreme entirely (since a world without blueberries isn’t a world worth living in), but concentrate most of your cash on the guys in the middle. Cruciferae, leafy greens, root vegetables, citrus fruits, stone fruits, and melons are among the many options, and compromise is the name of the game.

Buy from the secret bin. Shoppers will often shy away from lightly bruised fruit, slightly limp broccoli, or salad close to its sell-by date. Their loss becomes your gain, since supermarkets will sell these products at a steep discount. Hidden at the back of many grocery stores is that shelf, which can be summed up thusly: Looks Iffy, Tastes Fine.  Go to it. Learn it. Love it. (Of course, don't buy rotted produce from it. That's silly.)

Buy from multiple markets if you can swing it. Supermarkets within the same general area will frequently offer competing deals to lure customers in the door. In my old neighborhood ("Back in St. Olaf…"), one store would offer a 3/$5 deal on berries, while the place down the street promoted stone fruit for $0.99/lb. Purchasing from both promised variety, as well as big savings. Even if there's not a second market near you, the occasional trip to Trader Joe's or CostCo. (which rarely have sales, but keep their prices consistently reasonable), can mean more produce at a lesser cost.

Before you finish up this article with a, “Harrumph! I knew all this already, and I still can’t afford 4.5 cups of produce on $2.50 per day,” check out the edible cup equivalents in the ERS study. These numbers, averaged across the nation, probably figure more importantly than retail price per pound, since they don’t include inedible parts of produce (corn husks, plum pits, etc.). Here are some examples - mean costs per cup, according to their 2/11 study:

Carrots - $0.25
Navel oranges - $0.34
Pears – $0.42
Sweet potatoes - $0.43
Kale - $0.60
Broccoli - $0.63
Tomatoes - $0.75

So, 4.5 cups - a cup each of kale, sweet potatoes, navel orange, and pears, plus a half-cup of tomatoes – can be purchased for a grand total of $2.16. As mentioned, these prices have probably gone up since 2008, but A) please note we still saved $0.34, and B) some careful shopping should net you much better deals.

Honestly, everything I just wrote/everything you need to know can be found in two documents, both of which merit further study:
Readers, did I miss anything? Do you think it's possible to get 4.5 cups of produce for $2.50 a day? Any tips? Let 'er rip.


If this article interested you, you might also enjoy:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Guest Post: Sweet Potato Soup with Chipotle

Erin joins us from Hot Dinner Happy Home, where she chronicles her adventures feeding a hungry husband and a hungry self.

As (relatively) intelligent beings, we take the advice of those around us who are wiser and more experienced in order to avoid undesirable consequences. We wear seatbelts. We say “No!” to drugs. We steer clear of young children at the mall wearing Heelys. But sometimes we just need to learn lessons for ourselves.

For me, pureeing hot soup in a blender was a life lesson that fell squarely in the second category.

The husband and I crowded into our postage stamp kitchen with a few friends to whip up a batch of Sweet Potato and Chipotle Soup. Everything was going swimmingly. The soup was nearing completion, and everyone was laughing and joking. More importantly, all our digits were still attached and no one had sustained major burns.

Then I read this step in the recipe, “Let soup cool slightly. Working in batches, transfer soup to a blender and puree until smooth. (Use caution when blending hot liquids).”

Well, did I mention I was starving? Overconfident? And also impatient?

I loaded that blender to the tippy-top, slammed on the lid, and switched it on with a flick of my wrist and a cocky gleam in my eye.

And sweet potato soup exploded all over my kitchen.

So, when you make this soup (because you really ought to; it’s delicious), I implore you, take caution. When the recipe says to puree in batches, it ain’t kidding. Cover the lid of your blender with a towel and hold on for dear life.

Or, just do what I did and put an immersion blender on your birthday list. Because I’m still starving, overconfident, and impatient. I guess I’ll never learn…


If this looks good, imagine the following:

Sweet Potato and Chipotle Soup
Serves 8.
Adapted from Everyday Food.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 medium sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds total), peeled and cut into 1” chunks
1 chipotle chile in adobo, chopped, plus 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
7 cups low-sodium chicken broth (feel free to use a bit more or less until the soup is the desired consistency)
Sour cream, for serving

1) In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion to pot and season with salt and pepper. Cook onion, stirring as needed, until softened and golden brown at the edges, about 7 minutes. Add cumin and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2) Stir in sweet potatoes, 6 cups chicken broth, chipotle chile, and adobo sauce. Bring liquid to a boil. Reduce heat to low, partially cover, and simmer until sweet potatoes are very tender, about 25 minutes.

3) Allow soup to cool slightly. Transfer soup to your blender in batches, being cautious not to fill blender to the top, and holding lid on tightly, and puree until smooth. Return pureed soup to Dutch oven. (Alternatively, puree using an immersion blender.) If the soup is too thick, add last 1 cup chicken broth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. At medium-low temperature, heat soup until it is warmed through. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

NOTE (from Kris): For a vegan/vegetarian version of this soup, simply replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth, and leave out the sour cream.

Ask the Internet: What's Not Worth Doing Home-made?

Today's question comes from Laura and Karen L., who brought it up in the comment section of last Wednesday's Triangle of Compromise post. It's a really solid one.

Q: There are something that are just *not* worth the time. For me, that includes homemade noodles and gnocchi. Homemade bread is a treat. Perhaps and interesting ask-the-audience: What is not worth doing home-made?

From Cyclone Bill
A: Loooove this one. Here's what I do:

Worth it: marinades, rubs, spice mixes, salad dressings and vinaigrette, all baked goods, most dips, soup, gnocchi. (That last one is subjective, but I love the stuff, you can make a ton at once, and it keeps forever in the fridge.)

Not worth it: pasta, crackers, bread (We don't eat bread fast enough, and crackers and pasta take soooo long.)

Up for grabs: pasta sauce, chicken stock, salsa (I make them all from scratch when I can, but we use them so frequently, I usually just buy pre-assembled.)

Readers, what about you? What do you make from scratch? What just isn't worth the effort?

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A 14-Carrot Valentine's Day Recipe: Marinated Celery and Carrots, Chinese Style

For Valentine's Day, my cat bit me in the face. I like to think he was going for, like, a weirdo human-kitty show of affection, and got overzealous. Or maybe that my face is actually quite delicious, and its secrets should be marketed to professional flavorers as some kind of replacement for corn syrup. More likely, he's a psychopath with a brain the size of a walnut, and my face got in the way of his biteyness.

(Note: It wasn't bad at all, and he barely broke skin. It's just weird to be injured in the face if you're not in a vampire movie or shooting birds with Dick Cheney.)

(Ha! My cultural references are the timeliest!)

Anyway, HOTUS made me feel better with a lovely Middle Eastern-style dinner, as well as my very own label maker. I never thought the day would come when I'd be all, "Sweet Bea Arthur, a LABEL MAKER! WOOOOO!" as if it was front-row tickets to a U2 concert. But it's here. And I am going to label the everloving hell out of my house. (Cat included.)

I bestowed upon HOTUS a Kindle cover, as well as these Chinese-Style Marinated Celery and Carrots from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. It's an Asian-style twist on veggie sticks, and a nice changeup to regular ol' ranch dressing. After one bite, I was all, "Hm. Okay." Ten sticks later, I would have bitten a cat's face off for another bowlful.

The one negative: The marinade begins to funkify after 48 hours, meaning the dish doesn’t keep for more than two or three days. So serve it quickly, carrot lovers!


If this looks tasty, you’ll quite like:

Marinated Celery and Carrots, Chinese Style
Serves 4
From Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.

1/2 pound carrots
1/2 pound celery stalks
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil (not toasted)
2 teaspoons rice vinegar or cider vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced

1) Chop carrots and celery into 2-inch sticks. They should be bigger than a julienne, but smaller than the average crudité dipper. Stick them in a bowl and mix with salt. Let stand at least 10 minutes, and up to 1 hour. Rinse thoroughly, drain, and dry.

2) Meanwhile, mix sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, and garlic in a large bowl with a pretty flat bottom. (You can use a regular bowl. It just works better this way.) Add carrots and celery and stir thoroughly. You can eat immediately, or let marinate for at least 1 hour. I prefer to let it marinate. Store for up to 2 days in the fridge. (After that, it starts getting weird.)

Note: For a more salad-like side dish, chop the veggies into 1-inch sticks.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price Per Serving
108 calories, 7.1 g fat, 2.6 g fiber, 1.5 g protein, $0.62

1/2 pound carrots: 93 calories, 0.5 g fat, 6.4 g fiber, 2.1 g protein, $0.44
1/2 pound celery stalks: 32 calories, 0.5 g fat, 3.6 g fiber, 1.6 g protein, $0.84
1 teaspoon salt: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.01
1 tablespoon sugar: 46 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, 0 g protein, $0.01
2 tablespoons soy sauce: 17 calories, 0 g fat, 0.3 g fiber, 2 g protein, $0.19
2 tablespoons sesame oil (not toasted): 239 calories, 27 g fat, 0 g fiber, 0 g protein, $0.81
2 teaspoons rice vinegar or cider vinegar: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.15
1 garlic clove, minced: 4 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, 0.2 g protein, $0.04
TOTALS: 431 calories, 28.3 g fat, 10.3 g fiber, 5.9 g protein, $2.49
PER SERVING (TOTALS/4): 108 calories, 7.1 g fat, 2.6 g fiber, 1.5 g protein, $0.62

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saturday Throwback: On Splurging

Every week, we post a piece from the CHG archives (located in our nation's capitol, right next to the Ark of the Covenant). This comes from February 2009.

My Pa is my idol. He’s a funny guy, with the patience of Gandhi and the work ethic of an Iditarod sled dog. Even on bad days, he makes Atticus Finch look like an angry slacker. And last week, he turned 60. This is significant for many reasons:
  1. Senior discounts galore. (Hello, IHOP!)
  2. He’s halfway through his quest to become the world’s oldest man.
  3. Sandals! Over black socks! No one gives a damn anymore!
  4. He’s the same age as Sean Connery in Hunt for Red October, Katharine Hepburn in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and, er, Harrison Ford in K-19: The Widowmaker. Barring that last one, that’s pretty cool.
  5. I wasn’t around to celebrate. Instead (with his blessing, but still), I was oogling mountains in the Pacific Northwest.
To make up for my absence, I needed an extraordinarily special gift: something better than anything he’d ever received, or could even dream up. For obvious reasons, gold-plated golf clubs were out of the question, as was a warm, fuzzy hug from Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, who once sparked this conversation between the two of us:

PA: Did you see Jeter's catch last night? It was just like Willie Mays. He ran 50 feet into the outfield and caught it with his back turned. And THEN he nails the guy at second. It was great. Great catch.

ME: If you ever left Mom for a man, I'm pretty sure it would be Jeter.

PA: (thoughtful pause) … You think he'd have me?

That left one other option: Le Bernardin.

You need to know: Pa is a seafood fanatic. He inhales shrimp, and once, I witnessed him down two-dozen Maryland blue crabs in a single sitting. (To compare, I had four. Ma had eight.) Le Bernardin seemed like a good choice.

LB is Eric Ripert’s phenomenal seafood restaurant on the north end of Midtown Manhattan. It’s has four stars from the New York Times since 1986, and is one of only a trio of Big Apple eateries to boast three Michelin stars. Calling it a good place for fish is like saying the Pope only kind of digs Jesus. It’s a TEMPLE to fish, and Pa and I were eager to pay our respects. So, we chose a random Wednesday (coincidentally, the same night Ripert appeared on Top Chef), donned our best snow boots, and got subway-ing.

(SIDE NOTE #1: I worked in Midtown for nine years, on the SAME EXACT STREET as the restaurant, and never knew it was there. This is partially because the whole gorgeous, warm, wooden room is tucked modestly away in the first floor of a ginormous skyscraper. There’s a sign outside, but it’s easy to miss among Times Square’s shiny bustle. Also, I’m not very observant.)

Once we arrived and our coats were checked, the host ushered us to a neat, crisp table with more silverware than I've ever seen for two people. We settled in, and the meal began with an amuse-bouche, a tiny pre-appetizer that psyches your palette up for the rest of dinner. In this case, it was lobster cappuccino. Lobster. Cappuccino. Oh, it sounds bizarre and gross, but understand this: if God had come down from heaven and offered to rub my mouth with diamonds, I still would have opted for the shellfish coffee.

Next up was a choice between 14,000 different types of bread, served to us by one of our 17,000 suited waiters. On the side: butter, presumably churned from a cow they kept behind the bar. I’d never had fresher dairy, and Pa practically spread it on his tongue. So far, so good.

(SIDE NOTE #2: It was around this time we spilled a drop of … something [I forget what] … on the tablecloth. Like quicksilver, a waiter was over to brush it away, smooth the offending wrinkles, and hide the faint remaining stain with a snow-white linen napkin. Pa and I looked wide-eyed at each other: “Well, this beats the crap out of Olive Garden.”)

Soon enough, our sommelier (a lady!) visited the table, bearing our half-bottle of German white wine. She taste-tested the vino before pouring it, and finding it unpoisoned, gave us generous sloshes for the meals to come.

Which? Holla!

What followed were three courses of fish prepared in a variety of heart-stopping, face-melting ways. Organic raw salmon with green apple? Check. White tuna lightly poached in olive oil with dime-sized potato chips adorning each piece? Check. Crispy bass that dismantled our taste buds, rearranged them, and then built them back up into newer, better taste buds? Oh god, check.

And to top everything off, dessert. I had an architecturally stunning dark chocolate ganache with sweet potato sorbet. Pa had a hazelnut and banana combination that … I just openly drooled on my chest. Who discovered the hazelnut, and how can I give him my life’s savings? If anyone can answer this, please call me. Collect.

(SIDE NOTE #3: In the bathroom? Free tampons. Pa was not as impressed at this as me.)

In the end, we walked out full, dazzled, and with the understanding that this was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. Calories didn’t matter. Time didn’t matter. Money didn’t matter.

Oh, and about that bill.

Woof. It was big. A good portion of my monthly rent.

But it was also for Pa, and that made every cent worth it. Yeah, I save and scrimp and regularly frugalize my pants off, but I’d do Le Bernardin again tomorrow if I could. We value good food. We love trying new restaurants. We both knew we probably wouldn’t have that kind of opportunity again. And hell, you only turn 60 once.

And that’s when splurging is okay.

(Photos courtesy of Confessions of a She-Fan.)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Top Ten Links of the Week: 2/4/11 - 2/10/11

It’s a rough week for working moms, a good week for buying food cheaply, and a terrible week for heavy wine bottles and weak shelving. Read on for the magic.

1) Wise Bread
5 Things Other Grocery Stores Should Steal from Trader Joe's
Best Money Tips - Eat Healthy for Under $5 a Day
Best Money Tips – How to Get Groceries for Free
Sex Up Your Sandwich – Ideas for Budget Conscious Brown Baggers
Not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR way relevant posts from the fine folks at Wise Bread this week. Read ‘em and … well, don’t weep. But enjoy them thoroughly. That’s what they’re there for.

2) The Kitchn
How to Cook Moist and Tender Chicken Breasts
How to Start a Food Storage Plan on $10 a Week
On Cooking Through Your Pantry – Using Up Odds and Ends
Coming in a close second, this trio of super-useful Kitchn posts.

3) Culinate: Eating like monsters - 12 ways to get kids to eat well
Ooo! Dig these creative suggestions for feeding kids, which are so much more constructive than, “Puree vegetables and stick 'em in tastier foods.” I want to live in Laura Grace Weldon’s house at dinnertime.

4) Squawkfox: 1 Chicken, 22 Meals, 49 Bucks
Loved this post, which uses a humanely-raised, all-natural chicken for an experiment similar to CHG’s 1 Chicken, 17 Healthy Meals, $26 Bucks, No Mayo. It can be done healthfully! Includes pictures and a grocery list.

5) Serious Eats: New USDA Report Says You Can Eat Right for $2.50 a Day
While it’s definitely possible to get enough USDA-recommended produce for $2.50 per day, author Leah Douglas raises good points on some missing details in the recent nutrition report. One thing is clear: While progress is being made on what the government considers to be a healthy diet, there’s still a ways to go.

6) Hunter Angler Gardener Cook: Why Salt Matters
Excellent tutorial on artisanal salts accompanied by gorgeous pictures of the same. Read it, then print it out and staple it to your wall.

7) Businessweek: The More Mom Works, the Heavier Her Kids Get - Study
Let’s ignore the fact that men weren’t mentioned until the very end of this article, as if they have little obligation to feed their children. (ANGRY LATENT FEMINIST HULK SMASH!) Instead, we will say that the weight gain coincided with hours worked, as opposed to employment itself, which is somewhat comforting. I guess.

8) Time: Toddlers Junk Food Diet May Lead to Lower IQ
Bad foods consumed at age three can have an adverse effect on intelligence by age eight, a new study finds. The IQ drop isn’t gigantic, but why take the risk? After all, an apple a day keeps your brain ... uh ... very ... yay?

9) Consumerist: Should Restaurant Refund Me For Edamame Appetizer With Free Giant Worm?
Yes. But wait! There’s more!

10) Epicurious: Budget Boosters – 35 Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollars
There is a slim possibility I’ve linked to this before, but I can’t seem to find it, and it’s good enough to deserve a double-mention anyway. It’s a great primer and not a slideshow, so – bonus.


Kalyn’s Kitchen: Five Fun Things on a Friday and My Family Rocks
Love the first craft idea.

Salon: Charting anti-obesity progress
A look back at the year in MObama’s food initiatives.

Salon: Regrets of a Stay-at-Home Mom
Well, this doesn’t terrify me at all. (*enrolls in medical school*)


Urlesque: Watch 100 Wine Bottles Crash to the Floor

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