Monday, January 30, 2012

Mushroom Weekend

What do you do when your brother in law shows up with giant haul of brown oyster mushrooms? You eat mushrooms for every meal until you can't stand them anymore. Then dry some for later and share the rest with friends. Here's a few highlights:

Tomato, basil and mushroom pizza with three-grain homemade crust
Vegetable, mushroom and barley soup

Mushroom fettucini based on this great recipe

Fill the house with hot steamy mushroom smell as they dry! The things my wife puts up with.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Brown Oyster Mushroom

My brother in law stopped by this evening bearing a gift.

That is an enormous clump of brown oyster mushrooms he found growing near downtown. The brown oyster likes cool damp weather like we've had recently. Needless to say, we'll be eating mushrooms with every meal for the next week. They're great for you and will be good in soup and on pizza.

It measures over 12 inches across. I wish I had a kitchen scale to weigh it, I'm sure it's several pounds. We'll eat what we can, share some, and then dry the rest. Thanks Leo!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

They Sow. You Reap.

The past several months Tiffany and I have been eating a plant-based diet. We're not vegetarians and definitely not vegan, but we have cut way back on animal-based products such as meat, eggs and dairy. This has helped us drastically increase our consumption of plant-based products like rice, beans, whole grains, vegetables and fruit.

This year, for the first time we've decided to try a local CSA program. For a fixed price, we get to share in the weekly harvest from a nearby farm. We've purchased from Greenbrier Farms before at the Greenville Saturday Market. They have an outstanding reputation and a great product, so we've opted to try their program this summer.

In the past I've been reluctant to try something like this because I've been concerned we would waste so much. But the past few months we've had a blast learning to cook things we like with fresh produce. Participating in a CSA makes so much sense. You get the benefit of fresh, seasonal, local, organic produce. It benefits a local farmer which is good for our local food economy. It's good for the world because it isn't sprayed with petroleum-based pesticides and then shipped across continents. Everybody wins.

I'm sure there are other good CSA programs out there, let me know if you have one you like.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January Challenge: Week 3

Our January Challenge is moving right along. As of last Saturday, we had spent about $125 on groceries for the month, so we're in good shape to finish on target. This past week we've been enjoying stir-fry, rice and beans, soup, fruit and fresh salad, and homemade granola with dried fruit. Not too shabby.

One of the biggest things this experiment has taught us is how much food we waste. In the past our refrigerator has been half full of leftovers and half used ingredients that we had no honest intention of using. I hate having the same thing three days in a row. So we've learned if we cook more than two meals worth of something, immediately freeze the extra for lunches and meals down the road. When we plan meals, we've also learned to begin with assessing what we have already. A lot less food goes to waste.

Our fearsome guard dog keeping watch

This is also helping as assess realistically what should we preserve during the growing season. This past year, we didn't freeze much, so we're getting low on frozen vegetables. Our peppers and green beans are gone. At this rate we'll be out of peas, broccoli and corn in the next month or so. I'm already plotting and scheming my garden and plans to put food aside this summer. In the weeks to come, i'll share some of my ideas and look forward to hearing yours.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Homemade Hot Cocoa

This is why I eat healthy the rest of the week. Homemade hot cocoa. We modified this recipe by using soy instead of milk (be careful not to burn), using a 1/4 cup of sugar instead of 3/4 (can you imagine that much sugar!), and in additional to the vanilla, I added just a touch of almond extract. So nice on a cold evening.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tofu Stir-Fry with Vegetables and Rice

Today was "make something with leftover ingredients day," so I put together a stir-fry. This is my very favorite tofu stir-fry recipe. Unfortunately I didn't have any asian vegetables on hand, but cooked what we had with the same method. I'm not a big tofu guy, but browning the tofu and coating with the rice vinegar, sesame oil and soy sauce is pretty good.

We had half a block of tofu leftover in the fridge, so I browned that. Then added what was left of a bag of carrots, and from the freezer added broccoli and peas. Serve over rice and you have a pretty nice cheap and healthy meal. 

The part to watch out for is the soy sauce. I love soy sauce. I've been known to dip my sushi in a measuring cup of soy sauce. Unfortunately, one serving (1 tablespoon) is 1/3 the amount of sodium you should have in a day. So this meal could easily be enough sodium for a day or two or three if you're not careful. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Roasted Sweet Potato, Quinoa, and Avocado

When I arrived at work this morning, an avocado had magically appeared on my desk. Actually it was a gift from Sandra at work who had bought a bunch and they all ripened at the same time! Not wanting to waste a delicious avocado, Tiffany made us roasted sweet potato, quinoa and avocado for dinner. It's super cheep and easy.

First just peel and chop a few sweet potatoes, roll in olive oil, sprinkle with some herbs, put on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven for about an hour. They should be tender with a crunchy caramelly texture on the edges. Sweet potatoes are loaded with Vitamin C, fiber and iron.

Prepare quinoa just like you would make rice. We use a rice cooker, makes rice or quinoa super easy. It's a perfect protein and gluten-free.

Avocados contain 25 essential nutrients. We like them on the side, just cut one in half longways, remove the pit, cut it into slices and scoop the slices out with a spoon. Thanks Sandra!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Eat a Salad

Salad, what a novel idea! Salad's never been very exciting to me but then I discovered balsamic vinaigrette. Here in Greenville, Palmetto Olive Oil Company has an assortment of delicious vinaigrettes, I highly recommend. They come in different fruity flavors like raspberry, etc, but I have a bottle of regular flavor and it's one of my favorites. It's a little pricey, but a bottle lasts a few months. And if that's what it takes for me to eat salad, it's well worth it.

We love the fresh, local greens from Swamp Rabbit, but in a pinch Publix has good organic greens for a nice price as well. Spinach and greens are some of the best things you can eat. Tasty and simple.

Monday, January 16, 2012

New to the Kitchen

After years of using cheap knives, this holiday we finally moved up to some legit cutting instruments.

We were given the coolest little kitchen knife, the Kuhn Rikon Ergo paring knife. It comes with a non-stick coating and plastic sheath for protection.

Also, we invested in a nice Kyocera Revolution 8" ceramic chef's knife. My old chef's knife crushed tomatoes about as much as it cut through them. This knife is seriously sharp. It stays wrapped in a towel to protect our fingers from the knife and to protect it's delicate ceramic blade from other knives.

Both are available at Cook's Station downtown Greenville, SC. The paring knife is pretty affordable costing about $10. The chef's knife is a bit of an investment at $50, but looks to be worth every penny. Definitely cheaper than reattaching digits due to a dull knife.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

January Challenge: Week 2

We've completed the second week of our January challenge. The first week was easier, this week was more like reality. But we did pretty good. We spent about $50 this week to add to our $30 from last week so we're in good shape. Our big purchases have been soy milk, tofu, almonds, cheese, fruit and vegetables, pasta, and a little meat.

Our food has been quite healthy, all natural, but not always organic. I'm learning that to eat all-natural, you have to plan a few hours ahead. To eat organic (and not spend more), you have to plan many months ahead and freeze, can or dry during the growing season. Needless to say, this is helping us plan for this coming summer as we assess what to purchase in bulk to preserve.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Beef, Barley and Shiitake Soup

It's been cold cold cold here in Greenville which is the perfect weather for a good hearty soup. We made this beef, barley and shiitake soup recipe with a few modifications. 

We used a cheap top cut of meat, about 3/4 pound. Added the garlic and leeks first, got them sweating and then just added the steak.

Then added an extra 1/4 cup of barley, water, fresh chopped tomato, carrots instead of parsnips, celery, shiitakes from our local asian market and a sprig of rosemary. Also added a bit of beef bouillon, salt and pepper to taste.

Yum, chunky goodness. A great way to incorporate the health benefits of barley and shiitake mushrooms.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Eating Healthier is More Expensive...

A lot of people might say that eating healthy is too expensive and that's why they don't do it. Well, we're trying to eat healthy AND slash our grocery budget at the same time. We've found we actually save money when we eat healthier--especially when we eat vegetarian. 

I stumbled across the other day and thought I'd share: 

These graphics go along with an interesting article from the New York Times called "Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?"

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tea leaves

Growing up in Michigan, our family acquired a mint plant. It loved the fertile soil so much that it took off into the lawn and into the farmer's lot beside ours. Perhaps my love for mint was acquired as I regularly hit the mint plant with the lawn mower trimming back it's domain and sending up the nicest scent. As a child I made my grandma "mint tea" by boiling water and placing a few fresh mint leaves in it. She'd tell me it was wonderful and take a sip.

The other day, I purchased some dried spearmint leaves with the thought to make my own mint tea. With big expectations, I crumbled them into a tin and prepared a cup. The results were underwhelming. The tea was minty with a nice garden quality. A second cup made twice as strong (two big teaspoons) and steeped for longer (five minutes) was better. The water acquired a little tint to it, but still lacked a full flavor. So the question is, is it worth it?

The dried spearmint cost $3. It yielded about 1/3 the amount in a typical store bought container of tea. In my opinion, it wasn't as high of quality as your typical Amanzi tea. Perhaps it needs to be blended with another leaf to produce a fuller flavor. I would try it again if: 1. it was peppermint (my favorite), 2. the leaves were picked at the right time, and 3. the leaves were free (from my garden). So this spring, peppermint might go on my garden list and we'll try this again. But I'll otherwise stick with store bought teas.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

More burritos

We made another batch of breakfast burritos this time modifying our Mexican burrito recipe to include black beans, fresh tomato, onion, garlic and cilantro. I put them in the freezer, looking forward to yummy goodness this week when I don't have time to prepare food.

January challenge: Week 1

Living off the leftovers of the holidays has made the first week of our January challenge pretty easy. We've enjoyed frozen Mexican burritos, leftover lentil soup, pizza, fajitas, delicious roasted sweet potatoes with quinoa, and homemade granola. Most of the ingredients we had on hand so we only spent about $30 for the week and ate well. We're running out of some staples (almonds, soy milk, rice, fruit and vegetables) so this next week will be more interesting.

This past week, the biggest things I've realized are my particular food cravings throughout the day. And previously I'd be going to the grocery store most days to purchase that food item I craved. Now that I'm being very deliberate in what we eat and what we spend, I have to deny many of those food cravings. There's probably deeper lessons here, but I'll save those for later.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Thin crust pizza dough

Making your own pizza crust is super easy. I tried several recipes to make my own healthy thin crust, and this is my favorite.

I tried mixing the ingredients with a KitchenAid mixer and also by hand. It really doesn't take much to mix and doing it by hand wasn't difficult. I found the key to kneading and rolling dough is to not skimp on the flour. As a precaution, I like to cover every flat surface in the kitchen with flour. Because it makes such a mess, it only makes sense to do several batches, one after the other and then freeze the extra. Pizza dough freezes well, just cover it in flour and put it in a large zip lock bag. Just take it out of the freezer a couple hours before you need it, or put it in the fridge the morning of.

I usually substitute 1/2 cup of wheat flour just to add some whole grain. Too much wheat flour and the crust is just too dry for my taste. Here's some other modifications I tried:

For five-grain crust:
Substitute the 1 cup of wheat flour suggested in the recipe.
Add 1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup whole oats, 1/8 cup flax seed, 1/8 cup millet.
I found it's easiest to add these ingredients in the middle of adding the flour.

For garlic crust:
Add 1 tablespoon minced garlic while you're adding the flour. Yum.

For Italian crust:
Add some Sicilian, Italian, or whatever seasoning you like while adding the flour.

After rolling the dough, I bake it for 5-10 minutes at 350 degrees. You know it's good when the dough gets a big bubble or barely starts to brown. Just don't cook it all the way yet. Pull it out of the oven and add mozzarella, veggies, mushrooms or whatever you like and drizzle some olive oil over it. Or go the Mediterranean route and use pesto, olives, sun dried tomatoes, capers and fresh mozzarella. Put it back in the oven until the cheese melts and starts to brown (about 10 minutes). I use a regular ole pizza pan. Curious how this would grill or pan fry.

Far as cost goes, homemade pizza dough is super cheap. I'd guess about 50 cents each (depending on what you add). By comparison, Publix's yummy five-grain dough is $3.50 a pound (makes one pizza). A typical freezer pizza is $5 to $8 dollars and isn't nearly as healthy. Healthy frozen pizzas are usually more expensive and taste like cardboard. No matter how you look at it, you come out ahead.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Mike and I are often on the hunt to perfect a certain dish.

He's got steaks to a tee and I think they're better than almost anywhere else. We ate several salmon delicious dinners looking for the perfect way to prepare salmon.

We now find ourselves seeking the perfect fajita recipe. We know it exists. We had the best fajitas ever at Taqueria Ixmiquilpan. And then, wouldn't you know it, we had the best fajitas ever AGAIN at Viña Del Mar, one of the restaurants at our resort in Mexico. The fajitas were so good we got them two nights in a row.

I came home with a renewed vigor to figure out how to make the perfect fajitas at home. I started where I usually start: allrecipes. I found this popular marinade and went to town.

Mixed up the marinade. Didn't have a good size plastic bag, so I used a tupperware instead. Anyone know if this affects quality?

24 hours later and ready to cook. Except I used a yellow onion, not red, and added some green peppers to the mix.

I didn't have a recipe to use when cooking the fajitas, so everything was me guessing. I sauteed 1/2 a yellow onion in a bit of oil.

Chopped up 1 red bell pepper and grabbed some green bell pepper from the freezer. Tossed those into the mix. 

After cooking them, I removed them from the pan and set them aside to cook the meat. Wasn't sure if this was the right thing to do, but its what I did.

Cut the meat into strips and cook.

Add everything together and cook for a bit longer.

Steamed some corn tortillas in the microwave and then covered them to keep them warm.

Our simple spread. Fajitas, tortillas, chips & queso. 

Mike likes to eat his without the tortillas.

I like mine with. :)

Result? These fajitas were NOT the fajitas I've been searching for. However, they're the closest I've ever come. I think the liquid smoke in the marinade was possibly something that edged me closer to those coveted delicious fajitas.

One of my problems was that the meat was too dry. I think, perhaps, next time I should cook the meat first and then add the vegetables and let everything finish together? I feel like I cooked the meat for just a little too long.

Also, when we've gotten the BEST fajitas either here in Greenville or in Mexico, the food has been a bit darker in appearance. Is that a product of cooking them on cast iron? I feel like I should cook these on cast iron. And I would, too, if SOMEONE had brought down Mom & Dad's old cast iron pan like she had promised.

Or maybe it's some special fancy and/or secret fajita sauce that no one has told me about.

Do you have a favorite fajitas recipe? Or some fajita making secrets? If you're willing to share them, I'd love to hear it!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Mexican Burritos

Mike came home from the grocery store with an Amy's burrito. Just to try. He tried it. He liked it. And he thought, "Hey, I can make this myself!"

The following photos are actually comprised over two different batches of burritos. We made some on the 29th and enjoyed them so much that we made some on the 30th to freeze for later tastiness.

Batch 2 was made with both fresh tomatoes and canned tomatoes. Batch 1 was just canned tomatoes. While you're doing the prep work, cook 1/2 cup long grain white rice.

In the pan: pinto beans (1/2 can), MI sweet corn, tomatoes w/ chilies, green peppers.

Mix it all together. Add some cumin and chili powder. Enjoy the delicious smells in the kitchen.
Mix in that 1/2 cup rice you cooked earlier. Cook for a few minutes.

Steam a lo-carb wheat tortilla in the microwave. Put some of the burrito mixture on it.

Add some shredded cheddar cheese, of course. What's a burrito without cheese?

Roll it up. 

Cut it in half so you can share your experiment with your lovely wife. ;)
Tomorrow. Do it all again and make several to freeze.

When we talked about what we would have done differently, one thing came up: used fresh ingredients instead of canned. The only two canned ingredients were the tomatoes--and we used fresh the 2nd time around--and the pinto beans. Next time we'll add fresh cilantro and lime.

The following day, Mike popped a few in the microwave. How did the frozen ones taste after reheating? Delicious and just as good as the hot-from-the-skillet ones.

If anyone else makes their own healthy burritos, we'd love to hear your recipes!

(Just to clarify, these burritos were made in 2011 and the ingredients are not part of our January Challenge.)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Red Lentil Soup

After holidays full of caramel corn, chocolate cake and Irish cream, it's good to fill my belly with something healthy. This afternoon we made our favorite Red Lentil Soup. I always modify the recipe based on what's on hand and this soup is pretty hard to mess up.

This time I added a cup of organic long-grain brown rice from Swamp Rabbit Grocery. I didn't add any additional liquid, the result is a heartier soup. Also I added some corn, a half tomato and a parsnip that were leftover from other things. I didn't have any fresh parsley, but no worries. I use the Better Than Bouillon organic vegetable base instead of broth. It has good bit of sodium, so use sparingly and don't add the salt from the recipe. The magic ingredient is the cumin. It gives the soup a warm buttery flavor. And cumin is great for you.

Red lentil soup ranks pretty high up there far as healthiness. Adding the long-grain rice to the lentil creates a complete protein. It's full of fresh vegetables. It's vegan but so tasty. The cost for a pot of this soup (approximately 6-8 bowls) is about $8. This is the perfect soup to start a new year.

You might also like:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...