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Penny Pinching Epicure: November 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

Foil Packet Fish

I eat a lot of fish--salmon, tuna, snapper, tilapia--because it's nutrient rich, not too expensive and super easy to cook a single portion. Just drizzle the fish with a little oil, throw in some fresh herbs or citrus, wrap it all up in a foil packet then pop it in the oven to steam (15ish minutes at 400 degrees, give or take).

My fave fish flavor combos (okay that was a bit much with the alliteration, even for me):
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon slices; after baking finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper, whole chives or chopped scallions
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper, orange slices, dash of chili powder; after baking finish with a squeeze of fresh orange juice
  • Sesame oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dash of soy sauce, sprinkle of brown sugar; finish with a sprinkle of sesame seeds
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper, chopped dill, lemon slices
Serve over rice or quinoa with a side of steamed veggies.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Spicy Cajun Salmon w/ Caramelized Leeks

I'm in Dallas for the Thanksgiving holiday visiting my sister and her family, and very much enjoying the sunny weather as well as my sister's cooking. As you may have read in a previous post, my sister is an unbelievably good cook (although I made my cholent this week and her husband couldn't stop raving, so at least I know I got some of the good chef genes :)). She made this salmon for dinner, which is similar to a recipe I have made except she does a savory rather than my sweet version (stay tuned for my version in the near future).

Note: Fresh salmon is always better than frozen, but frozen can work just as well (make sure to thaw completely in cold water before baking). You can use just one filet, or multiple small filets, but make sure to reduce the cooking time accordingly if you are using smaller pieces.

Spicy Cajun Salmon w/ Caramelized Leeks

1 tsp vegetable oil
2 leeks, cleaned & chopped
1 lb salmon, deboned
1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Heat oil in saute pan and cook leeks over medium flame until soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Place salmon on greased cooking sheet. Rub seasoning all over salmon, then pour leeks over top, spreading evenly to cover fish.
  4. Bake in oven 15-20 minutes or until fish is flaky, interior is pink and cooked, and leeks have caramelized (if leeks are getting very brown and fish is not yet cooked all the way through, cover with foil to avoid burning).
  5. Finish with a splash of lemon juice just before serving.
The cost:
leeks: 2.00
salmon: 6.99

Grand total: 8.99; serves 4-6 as an appetizer, 3-4 as a main.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

A Light Post-Thanksgiving Recipe

We all know what it is. That post-Thanksgiving "oh my, I probably should not have eaten so much, I just won't eat today" feeling. Bad idea. Never detox from overeating by fasting, just eat light--salad, fruit, lean proteins.

Here is a great low-calorie recipe that goes well with sliced apples--it is by no means my recipe as you can find it all over the internet, but I'll share it anyway with that caveat. I have improved upon the original just a bit for the holiday season--enjoy!

Pumpkin Fluff


1 container Cool Whip Free, defrosted
1 (12-14 oz) can plain pumpkin
1 tsp pumpkin pie seasoning
1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 package fat free, sugar free pudding mix (I like butterscotch or vanilla)

  1. Mix Cool Whip, pumpkin and spices until combined.
  2. Add pudding mix and stir until smooth.
Note: I put the pudding mix in last or else sometimes it sets and clumps.

The cost:
cool whip: 1.00 (on sale)
pumpkin: 1.29
pudding: 1.00

Grand total: 3.29; serve with sliced apples, pita chips, pretzels or other snack items

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Celebration of Global Gratitude

You may have read my post about #TweetsGiving last week; I'm participating in this global gratitude celebration, and I encourage you to do the same! Feel free to leave a comment here, or share your gratitude through your own blog, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or any other way you'd like.

Gratitude Au Gratin

  • 1 Mom who loves and supports me no matter what
  • 1 Dad who never passes up an opportunity to tell me (and everyone he knows) that I make him proud
  • 1 brother who constantly challenges me to rethink my preconceived notions
  • 1 sister who reminds me that stopping to smell the roses isn't a waste of time
  • 2 nephews who provide me with an endless source of unconditional love and hours of entertainment with their antics
  • 1 grandmother who continually inspires me to strive to new heights
  • zest of 1 lemon (because zest makes everything taste better; HT:GG)
  1. Mix all of the above ingredients.
  2. Add a job that not only puts a roof over my head and food on my table, but that I genuinely enjoy and allows me to learn and grow.
  3. Stir in opportunities to be involved in my community that (although they sometimes cause me stress and annoyance) help me to feel like I make a difference in this world.
  4. Sprinkle in my wonderful friends who make life fun and interesting (you know who you are), who are there when I laugh and when I cry, who support and encourage me, and who aren't afraid to take me down a peg or two when I need it.
I'm grateful for my life; I'm in a very different place than I thought I would be, but then, who can tell the future anyway? I wouldn't trade a minute of it.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Crock Pot Curry Chicken

Crock pots are amazing (I neglected to mention them in my post about kitchen gadgets, they are definitely well worth the investment, plus they are on sale this time of year). My friends SK & JT recently bought one, and JT has been wanting to experiment with cooking chicken in it. JT, this recipe is for you!

Crock Pot Curry Chicken

6 baby yukon or small white potatoes
2 onions
1/2 lb peeled baby carrots
1/2 cup white wine
chicken or vegetable soup stock
1 whole chicken (2-3 lbs)
2 Tbsp light olive or vegetable oil
2 Tbsp curry powder (less if you don't like it too spicy)
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

  1. Wash and slice potatoes into thick rounds; peel and slice onions into thick rings.
  2. Layer potatoes, onions and carrots to cover the bottom of the crockpot. Add white wine and soup stock until veggies are just covered.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together oil and spices.
  4. Rinse out cavity of chicken to ensure there are no leftover innards. Remove skin if you like (although the skin helps keep it moist while it roasts).
  5. Rub spice mixture all over chicken, both over and under skin.
  6. Place chicken on top of veggies in crockpot. Cook on high 4-6 hours or on low 8-10.
Fun variations:
  • Use a bag of peeled cippolini onions in place of regular onions.
  • Make it spicy & sweet: Add 1 Tbsp apricot preserves or honey to the spice rub mixture.
The cost:
potatoes: .35
onions: .25
carrots: .99
chicken: 8.99
stock: 1.99

Grand total: $12.57; serves 4-8, depending on size of chicken; serve with my potluck rice pilaf!

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Monday, November 23, 2009

The Penny Pincher's Dilemma

I am not independently wealthy, I work for a non-profit and I live in an expensive city, so I stick to a pretty strict food budget. I am in constant struggle with my frugal side that really wants to buy things as cheap as possible, and my eco- & ethical-conscious side that really wants to buy organic, sustainable, home-grown and humanely harvested products.

Unfortunately, the words "organic," "sustainable," "home-grown," and "humane" and the like usually add a significant amount to the price tag. In fact, if I only bought items that fell into those categories I could easily double (if not triple) my food expenditures.

So what to do? I haven't yet come up with a good answer. In a perfect world, I would have enough resources to spend on food that matches my consciousness to sustainability and ethical treatment of animals, but right now that just isn't a reality for me. Yes, people do make it work when things are a priority, it just happens that I have other priorities that take precedence right now. Does that make me a bad person?


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Penny Pinching Tip #5: Buying in Bulk + Online Shopping

While reading a recent copy of the Food Network Magazine, I found an article about this online restaurant wholesaler. Now, some things come in quantities much too large for me, but almost everything on this site is significantly cheaper than you can find at any store (even places like Costco).

Penny Pinching Tip #5: For non-perishable and consumable items, shopping online can lead to amazing deals.

My recent purchases include:

Plastic deli containers: If you're like me and cook a lot, you go through food storage containers pretty quickly; they start to smell, crack or get stained and then they go in the garbage. I bought 50 deli containers and lids for about $12 total, which is about how much I spend on 1/5 that amount.

Foil pans: I cook a lot of Shabbat meals, so I go through foil pans pretty quickly too. If you buy them in bulk here, they are only about 20 cents a piece!

Other items that are super cheap if you buy them here: plastic cutlery, foil, mixing bowls and other kitchen implements, parchment paper, etc.

Even with shipping, it's well worth it to buy these types of items online (if you have room to store them), as you can get incredible deals, sales and so on. Buying online can also be good for specialty items like spices, gluten free flour, etc.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Penny Pinching Tip #4: Fun (& Worthwhile) Kitchen Gadgets

I'm sometimes skeptical about kitchen gadgets. For example, an egg separator is (in my opinion) a ridiculous waste of money when your hand can do the same job for free. In addition, it literally only does one thing, and I prefer to spend money on kitchen gadgets that can multi-task so I can get my money's worth.

Penny Pinching Tip #4: Unless you will use it regularly (at least weekly), avoid kitchen tools that are restricted to a single task. If you use it that infrequently, you can probably substitute another tool you already own.

What kitchen gadgets do I think are worthwhile purchases?

You may have already recognized my love affair with my immersion blender. I have a pretty small kitchen, so I don't have room for a mixer or food processor, and my immersion blender can do the job of both. From blending soups to pureeing bananas for muffins to creating super-smooth and fluffy mashed potatoes--I don't know what I ever did without it. It is probably my most versatile kitchen tool, and the one I use most frequently (outside of the usual can opener, knives and such). Note: It's worth the money to invest in stainless steel rather than plastic, it will last much longer and you can use it with hot items.

I expanded my kitchen toolbox recently with the purchase of a mandolin, a super fun kitchen gadget that allows you to cut fruits and vegetables into uniform pieces (although watch your fingers!). Thus far, I have mostly used mine for slicing, but you can also julienne and chop. While I think I have pretty good knife skills, it still cuts faster and more uniformly than I can (yet). I bought a pretty cheap one ($7 on sale a BBB), but plan to invest in a higher quality version.

Another recent purchase: A micro plane ($9 on sale at BBB), which is basically a one-sided fine grater with a handle so you can grate ginger or spices, zest a lemon or shave cheese directly over your other ingredients, instead of having to first grate into a bowl or onto a cutting board. I've been experimenting with grating fresh spices like nutmeg and cinnamon (and yes, there is a HUGE difference between dried and freshly grated).

Other kitchen implements I use regularly: Tongs, wooden spoons, good quality knives, spatula, whisk, sieve.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Food for Thought (& a Shameless Plug)

Thanksgiving is a time to look around and be thankful for all that we have. It's also a time to look and see where the gaps are, and how we can help fill them.

My friend AK is involved in a fantastic organization called Epic Change. Last Thanksgiving, Epic Change launched a program called TweetsGiving, a 48-hour celebration of gratitude and giving that successfully raised over $10,000 to build a classroom in Arusha, Tanzania.

This year, proceeds of TweetsGiving will help raise funds to build a dormitory/orphanage, library, school cafeteria and additional classrooms. And those children who learn in the classroom built from the funds of last year's TweetsGiving--they'll be participating in full force using the new technology lab Epic Change helped them set up this Fall.

There are TweetsGiving celebrations happening all over the world, and hopefully in an area near you! Check out the locations here; if you already have Thanksgiving plans or can't find an event in your area, take a minute to donate to this wonderful cause.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Baked BBQ Tofu

Yesterday was an unbelievably long day at work, so when I got home I knew I wanted to cook dinner but didn't want to put in too much effort. I had a block of tofu in my fridge so I decided on one of my fave tofu dishes that I actually hadn't made in quite a while. I couldn't exactly remember what I used to put in the marinade but it was still good :)

I like my sauce tangy, but if you prefer more sweetness than the ketchup provides, add 1 tsp of honey or brown sugar.

Note: I make my own bbq style sauce, but if you are caught in a time crunch you can definitely just use the bottled kind.

Warning: These baked tofu quadrangles are addictive; I'd eat the entire batch in one sitting if I let myself!

Baked BBQ Tofu


1 block extra firm tofu
2 Tbsp ketchup
1 Tbsp vinegar (I like rice wine)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp pepper
3 splashes hot sauce

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Cut tofu into 3 flat sheets and press between paper towels to drain some of the internal liquid. Cut each sheet into 6 equal pieces.
  3. Whisk all ingredients but tofu together; pour marinade over tofu and let sit 5-10 minutes, or longer if you like. Flip pieces to coat all over.
  4. Remove tofu pieces, shaking lightly to remove excess sauce. Lay tofu on a baking sheet and bake 10-15 minutes or until edges are crispy, flipping halfway through cook time.
The cost:
tofu: 1.99
other ingredients: <.99

Grant total: 2.98, give or take; serves 3-4 over rice or quinoa with a side of steamed veggies

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Magical Properties of Zest

I recently saw a Food Network segment on how citrus zest can take a great dish to the next level (yes, that is why my recent recipes have utilized the ingredient :)). I was skeptical that a little bit of shaved lemon peel could really make that big a difference, so I decided to try it out.

(cue music)

I have to say, I'm a believer. I've tried it in dressings, and this weekend I baked it into a batch of sweet potato muffins. It doesn't take much, and the effects are sublime.

P.S. Big shout out to my colleague AY: I took a batch of muffins into work and she was the only one able to discern the secret ingredient :)

Note 1: These muffins are dense, crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. If you prefer a more crumby texture, increase the amount of flour.

 Note 2: Don't waste the lemon after you zest it; try this recipe, which requires the zest of one lemon but the juice of 2!

Sweet Potato Muffins

2 large sweet potatoes
2 eggs
1/2 cup applesauce
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (I prefer fresh)
pinch of ground clove
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup flour (a bit less if you are using a gluten free baking mix)
chopped pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Peel and cube sweet potatoes. Heat a pot of water to a boil and cook until tender. Drain and cool in cold water, then mash or puree with an immersion blender.
  3. Add eggs, applesauce, sugar, vanilla, zest and spices. Stir to combine.
  4. With a whisk, stir in baking soda, baking powder and flour until just combined. Do not overmix.
  5. Divide mixture evenly between 12 muffin tins and sprinkle pecans over the tops. Bake at 350 12-15 minutes or until edges are crispy and muffin tops are golden brown and firm.
Fun variations:
  • Play with the spice proportions, or try orange or lime zest in place of the lemon zest.
  • Sprinkle chopped candied or spicy candied pecans.
  • Add a splash of whisky or bourbon in place of the vanilla.
The cost:
sweet potatoes: .98
eggs: .33
applesauce: .35
lemon: .20
sugar: .45
flour: .25
nuts: .30

Grand total: $2.86; makes 12 muffins

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Cucumber & Radish Salad w/ Ginger-Lime Dressing

This is a play off of the fennel salad I made a few weeks ago. I haven't really used radish until recently, but now that I've started I can't seem to stop! It's crisp and fresh, and just bitter enough to wake your taste buds up. I've paired it here with a sweet & sour dressing to cut the bitterness just a bit.

Note: Radish can be very bitter; I like to buy ones that have been packaged rather than those still attached to the root because they have a milder flavor.

Cucumber & Radish Salad w/ Ginger-Lime Dressing


12 radishes, cleaned
2 cucumbers, washed
2 scallions, chopped
zest of 1 lime
juice of 2 limes
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp honey
1 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted (optional)

  1. Slice radishes and cucumbers thinly (I use my mandolin). Place in bowl with the scallions.
  2. Blend remaining ingredients and pour over vegetables.
  3. Sprinkle toasted walnuts over salad just before serving.
Tip: Jazz up your cucumber by sticking the tines of a fork in a few centimeters, and then dragging the fork down the length of the cucumber. When you cut slices, you'll get pretty little flowers!

The cost:
radishes: 1.29
cucumber (on sale .77 each): 1.54
scallions: .20
limes: .34
ginger: .15
nuts: .45

Grand total: $3.97; serves 4-6

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Crockpot London Broil w/ Red Wine & Fennel

I participated in a professional development program this past Spring, and I've stayed in touch with a number of other people from my cohort, especially those who live in my area. A fellow cohort member was in town from the West Coast for a conference, so I invited a small group over to my place for dinner.

It ended up being just myself and JK, but we had a great time regardless (although we missed you SG, JM and NK!). I was very happy with the dishes I made: London broil with fennel and red wine in the crockpot, curried spinach & lentils, cucumber and radish salad with ginger-lime dressing and sweet potato muffins.

Here's the recipe I made up for my crockpot London broil (and here you thought you were going to get a super-sized post with all of the dishes I made today--you'll just have to wait for the rest!). I was exceedingly happy with the flavor profile; the red wine, fennel and thyme melded together beautifully and the meat was succulent and tender.

Note: I had leftover red wine from Shabbat, but you could also use beer if you have that on hand, although it will have a bit of a different flavor profile.

Crockpot London Broil w/ Red Wine & Fennel


2 onions
2 fennel bulbs
1 box cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, cleaned
2 cups vegetable stock
1 lb london broil
1 cup red wine
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp chopped fennel fronds
6 sprigs thyme

  1. Slice onions and fennel (white part only) into rounds and layer with mushrooms in the bottom of a crockpot. Pour soup stock over mixture.
  2. Lay meat on top of veggie mixture. Pour red wine and sprinkle salt, pepper and brown sugar over contents of crockpot. Lay chopped fennel fronds and thyme sprigs on top of meat.
  3. Cook on high 4-6 hours or low 10-12 hours.
The cost:
onions: .50
fennel: 2.85
mushrooms: 1.99
veggie broth: .99
london broil: 9.49
thyme: 1.69

Grand total: $17.51; serves 4-6

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Baby Lettuce & Endive Salad w/ Spicy Lemon-Garlic Dressing

My friends BL and JK had a fantastically fun Friday night dinner for Shabbat this week. All of the food was amazing (BL, I still want that meatball recipe!), the wine was superb, and a good time was had by all.

I brought a salad to this meal--I wanted something classic with a bit of an edge (I wasn't sure who else was going to be at the meal so I didn't want to make something too out-of-the-box). I think I came up with a good combination :)

Baby Lettuce & Endive Salad w/ Spicy Lemon-Garlic Dressing


10 oz baby lettuce mix
3 endives, sliced into strips
1 cucumber, sliced
1 pear, sliced thinly
3 scallions, chopped
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 2 lemons
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp honey
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp chili powder
1/2 clove garlic, minced


  1. Toss lettuce, endive, cucumber and pear in a large salad bowl.
  2. Blend remaining ingredients. Pour over salad and serve immediately.
Fun additions:
  • Toss in some candied pecans or walnuts.
  • Instead of adding garlic to the dressing, slice a few garlic cloves very thinly, then fry in oil until crispy and toss into salad before serving.
The cost:
lettuce: 1.99
endive: 2.99
cucumber: 1.99
pear: .59
scallions: .30
lemons: .50

Grand total: $8.36; serves 6-8

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Salad Craze

I am continually shocked to see the lines for salad restaurants out the door and around the block. I understand there is a salad craze on right now--however, I think there is also a rather erroneous idea that salads are by definition healthier than a sandwich or some other lunch item. In fact, salads can often have higher fat and calorie counts (dressing, croutons and other salad accoutrement add much more than you actually get out of them), and don't keep you full as long so you end up eating more, sooner.

I eat salads for lunch frequently, and they can be filling and healthy if you make sure you have the right combination of fiber, protein, starch and a bit of fat. Here are the ingredients I like to use, broken out by category; you can do an awful lot of mixing and matching so you don't have to worry about getting bored!

baby lettuce
spring mix

yellow squash


chickpeas or other beans
grilled chicken breast, salmon or tuna
canned salmon or tuna
feta or goat cheese
cubed tofu


additions: (in moderation)
dried cranberries
slivered almonds
candied nuts (pecans, walnuts)
toasted pine nuts
crunchy asian noodles

drizzle of olive oil
drizzle of sesame oil
balsamic vinegar
red wine vinegar
rice vinegar

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pantry Raid: Ratatouille

My friend RSC has a sick baby and no husband for a few days, so I went over last night to help her out. While the baby was sleeping we decided to make dinner from whatever was on hand. We ended up with an eggplant, some mini peppers and tomatoes, half an onion and some sriracha. At first I suggested we make a frittata (baked omlett) with all of the veggies, but then got the idea to do a ratatouille. We served it over quinoa and finished it with a sprinkle of salty feta which totally brought the whole dish together. It came out a bit too spicy for RSC's liking, but all in all it was a pretty successful pantry raid :)

Note: We made this with a cast iron frying pan. Cast iron adds a rich flavor to any dish; I have yet to purchase one but am definitely thinking about making the investment.


2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced fine
1 eggplant, cubed
1 cup chopped peppers sliced
3 vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 tsp sriracha (or another spicy sauce)
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp feta cheese

  1. Heat oil in pan and saute onions until soft and translucent, 5 min. Add garlic and cook 3-4 minutes more.
  2. Add eggplant and peppers and cook 8-9 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally.
  3. Stir in chopped tomatoes, canned tomatoes, sriracha and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Bring to a boil and cook down until juices from canned tomatoes have evaporated.
The cost:
onion: .25
garlic: .15
eggplant: 1.39
peppers: 2.19
fresh tomatoes: 1.29
canned tomatoes: 1.19

Grand total: $6.46; serves 4-6 over quinoa, rice or pasta

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Penny Pinching Tip #3: Meet the Munchies

I'm a snacker. Instead of eating large meals three times a day, I try and eat smaller meals and then a healthy snack or two in between. I usually try to have snacks that are filling and soothe any current cravings--sweet, salty, savory, etc.

Penny Pinching Tip #3: Prepare for the mid-afternoon munchies.

Everyone gets the mid-afternoon (and frequently mid-morning) munchies, but don't give into the urge to run across the street and pick something up (little purchases like $2 cookies and $4 fruit cups can really add up).

I keep an assortment of snack-worthy items at my desk and in the fridge at work: Fruit, cheese sticks, granola bars, dried fruit and nuts, rice cakes, PB&J, yogurt, cottage cheese, chumus, fresh veggies. This way, I ensure I always have what to munch on that's heathly (and much cheaper) [although there are definitely days that call for a little snack splurge].

In case you are looking to become a healthier and cheaper snacker, here are my usual go-tos:

cottage cheese + chopped pear
broccoli + chumus
carrots + chumus
rice cake + PB&J
rice cake + chumus
rice cake + PB + sliced banana
sliced apple + peanut butter
slice apple/pear + small handful almonds
3 pieces dried mango + small handful pecans

There are really an infinite number of snack combinations if you keep the right things at work (kind of like keeping a well-stocked pantry).

If you have other cheap go-to snacks you keep around, please feel free to share!

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Crockpot Deliciousness

Cooking with crockpots (also called slow cookers) is amazing. You throw in a bunch of ingredients, turn it on, and a delicious meal is ready for you when you get home from work. It's almost like it cooks itself! Oh does :)

Since a bunch of us didn't have plans for Friday night dinner this week we threw together a potluck. I was in charge of making a main dish, and since I Shabbat is so early now I knew I wouldn't have too much time to cook. Hence, I decided to use my crockpot.

This is a dump recipe--throw everything in, stir it up, then let the crockpot work its magic. I wanted something hearty and hot (cold weather and all), but also wanted there to be substantial meat so I threw a London broil in on top of my stew. It cooked up beautifully, succulent and juicy (you can also just use stewing beef).

Crockpot Lentil Stew


1 lb lentils, sorted and rinsed
1 can chickpeas
28 oz can diced tomatoes (I like fire roasted)
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
4 cups beef stock
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 lb London broil  or stewing beef

  1. Pour all ingredients except meat into crockpot and stir to mix.
  2. Lay meat on top of stew mix and push down until just submerged (if using stewing beef, stir into crockpot mixture).
  3. Cook on high 4-6 hours or on low 8-10 hours.
The cost:
lentils: 1.00
onion: .45
carrots: .20
celery: .20
stock: 2.39
meat: 10.99

Grand total: $15.23; serves 6-8

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cooking with Quinoa

Although I didn't know quinoa existed until about 4 years ago, it has become a staple in my diet and I can't remember what I ever did without it. It is versatile and super simple to make (you can even use the microwave, although I prefer to stove-top method), and it goes well with pretty much everything. I like to use a 2-1 liquid-quinoa ratio (just like when cooking rice). I also like to use vegetable stock or chicken broth to give it some flavor (although quinoa's inherent lack of flavor makes it the perfect candidate for almost any flavor profile).

This is one of my fave quinoa recipes. The melding of spicy curry and juicy mango really does it for me (I love spicy-sweet combos). [Yes, I realize this is two curry recipes in a row, what can I say, I like curry.]

Interesting quinoa fact: When the Spanish invaded Peru (quinoa's native land), they forbid its growing because the Inca used it as part of religious ceremony. Too bad conquistadors, you don't know what you missed out on!

Curried Quinoa w/ Mango


2 cups vegetable stock
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp curry powder
1/8 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp allspice
dash of white pepper
1 cup quinoa
1 ripe mango, cubed
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 scallion, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts or almonds, toasted

  1. Combine stock and spices in a small stockpot. Stir in quinoa, bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer 12-15 minutes or until quinoa is tender and liquid is absorbed.
  2. Stir in mango, chickpeas, scallions and nuts.
The cost:
stock: .98
quinoa: .99
mango: 1.29
chickpeas: .79
scallion: .08
nuts: .45

Grand total: $4.29; serves 4-6 as a side dish

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Curried Spinach & Lentils

I took a trip to Costco with a friend this weekend; it really is amazing how things are so much cheaper when you buy them in bulk. I bought a 2.5 lb bag of fresh spinach for 4.99--that's 50% cheaper per ounce than usual. However, that left me needing to find something to do with 2.5 lbs of spinach :)

I wanted something filling and nutritious so I paired the spinach with lentils and a sweet potato I had lying around. A little curry to spice things up, freshly grated ginger to brighten the whole dish, and voila! A pot of fragrant scrumptiousness.

Note: I use red lentils here, which require less liquid than green or brown lentils, so you may need to add more liquid if you see it has been absorbed but the lentils are not yet tender.


1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 large sweet potato, sliced thinly
1 lb spinach, cleaned
2 cups lentils, picked over and rinsed
2-1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp curry powder (less if you don't like it too spicy)
2 Tbsp fresh grated ginger (or 1 Tbsp dried)
salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a large saucepan, heat oil and saute onions over low heat until soft and browned, 10 minutes. Add sweet potato and cook 5 minutes.
  2. Add spinach to fill saucepan; stir occasionally until wilted. Add spinach and repeat until it has all been added to the pan.
  3. Add lentils, water and spices. Bring to a boil then turn down and simmer until lentils and sweet potatoes are tender.
Fun additions:
  • 1 tsp allspice and a can of chickpeas.
  • Cubed tofu, baked in the oven until crispy.
  • 1 can diced tomatoes.
The cost:
onions: .55
sweet potato: .35
spinach: 1.99
lentils: 1.32
ginger: .45

Grand total: $4.66; serves 6-8

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fennel Salad with Zesty Lemon Dressing

Sometimes I get bored with conventional salads, so for Shabbat lunch this week I got a little adventurous and made a salad with fennel, radishes, cucumber and pear, and tied everything together with a zesty lemon dressing. It was, in a word, divine, and much more fun than a regular salad.

A note about fennel: When buying fennel, you want to make sure it isn't dried out, because then it loses its beautiful licorice flavor. As with most vegetables, make sure the white bulb isn't turning brown or pulling away from the center, and check to make sure the fronds aren't getting dried out or moldy.

Fennel Salad with Zesty Lemon Dressing


2 fennel bulbs
8 radishes
1 cucumber
1 pear
2 scallions, cleaned and chopped
zest of one lemon
juice of 2 lemons
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp white pepper
2 fennel fronds
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted

  1. Remove the celery-like stalks from the white fennel bulb and discard, reserving two fronds (dill-looking fluffy stuff on top).
  2. Slice fennel, radishes and cucumber into thin rounds (I used a mandolin but you can also just use a knife). Cut the pear flesh away from the core and slice thinly. Place everything in a large bowl and add scallions.
  3. In a small bowl, blend lemon zest, lemon juice, vinegar, oil, salt, garlic powder, pepper and fennel fronds.
  4. Dress salad and sprinkle in nuts just before serving.
The cost:
fennel: 3.62
radishes: .88
cucumber: 1.00
pear: .49
scallions: .15
lemons: 1.18
walnuts: .40

Grand total: $7.72; serves 6-8

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