Category Archives: recipes

Chocolate Bark with Almonds (makes you look like a genius)

Bitterweet Chocolate Almond Bark

I made something like last winter to give away for the holidays but thought I’d tweak it into something less sweet, and more ingredient-centric. Some people really really LOVE it. But it’s not going to be your cup of tea if you like stuff really sweet. Because it’s not. Rather, it’s just sweet. (you can use “regular” chocolate if you want it sweeter).  And that is what drives the people crazy. Here goes! (oh and a Warning – many of the recipes on this blog are designed with an eye towards frugality – but this is not one of them).

Ingredients:

1 lb dark chocolate; (I used the 72% from Trader Joe’s, it’s $5.00 for 17 oz);
3/4 lb toasted unsalted almonds; ($3.00 of a $4.00 bag from Trader Joe’s);
1/2 cup of dried sweetened cranberries; (about 1/2 of a $$4.00 bag from Trader Joe’s);
1 cup of chopped dried unsweetened apricots; (about 1/2 bag from Trader Joe’s)*

Tools:

sauce pot;
very clean stainless steel bowl;
fork;
parchment paper;
water.

Fill a broad sauce pot (10″ radius or greater) until the water level is a few inches from the top. Simmer. Do NOT boil. Place the stainless steel bowl in the pot and make sure that the water makes good contact with the bowl. The bowl should float.  Break the chocolate into chunks, then drop them into the stainless steel bowl.

Tear off enough parchment paper to cover a cookie sheet.  Let the chocolate melt. Mix the almonds and dried fruits. Pour everything onto the paper. Allow to cool for a few hours and eventually, cover it with parchment paper. Move chocolate bark from the cookie sheet to a cutting board. Cut. ENJOY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ALTERNATE ENDING: for those of you who enjoy white chocolate, use that! Might want to use salted almonds to balance out the sweetness usually associated with white chocolate.

*I have also purchased the Mariani dried apricots from Costco, for about $3.50 for 2 lbs…they are VERY sweet and wonderful for this bark too!

Sunday Gathering Frittata

frittata extreme closeup

frittata extreme closeup

Artichoke and Broccoli Frittata*

I made this dish for a Sunday afternoon gathering – and people seemed to like it! Oh, and someone made mention of my blog there so I thought it might be nice to update it in case anyone takes a look….kinda like housecleaning and setting out fresh flowers before company arrives!

Ingredients: (warning: these measurements are very, very approximate – I am guesstimating them after the fact)

  1. 5 or 6 jumbo eggs;
  2. 1 whoppingly large yellow onion;
  3. 3 cloves of garlic; (I used 3, and I think it was not enough…might want to beef it up to like 5 or 6 cloves!)
  4. 1 cup of marinated artichoke hearts, and a few tablespoons of the marinade;
  5. 1 enormous Russet potato (weighs around 1 pound);
  6. 2 cups of broccoli;
  7. 1 cup of Vintage White Tillamook cheddar (any cheese will do, this just happens to be a favorite of mine and I believe it is good value for the expense);
  8. cooking oil;
  9. roasted almonds (optional – but adds a nice crunch and sweetness); and
  10. saltiness – I put a few dashes of soy sauce and some sea salt (likely about 1/4 teaspoon).

Instructions:

1) Prep

  • Garlic and Onions: Remove the skins (I used a big heavy rock on the garlic) and chop broadly, discarding the hard ends. Then sweat the onion and garlic. Of course, when I say “discard” I mean, toss into a compost bin if you’ve got one.**
  • Broccoli: While you are letting the onions sweat, it’s a good time to tackle washing and slicing the broccoli florets into halves or quarters even. I chopped off the longer stems because they just add extra bulk.
  • Artichokes: Slice the marinated artichokes. I bought mine in halves and quarters so I ended up slicing each piece no more than twice at the most.
  • Potato: Wash the potato, and remove any sprouts. You might know, but I will gently remind – the sprouting “eyes” are poisonous! Slip it into a bowl with 1/2 cup of water. Microwave for 6 or 7 minutes.
  • Slice the cheese into 1/2″ cubes (or smaller).
  • If the almonds are salted, rinse them in a little water. Drain, then crush with the big rock.

2) Assembly

  • Beat the 5 eggs in their own mixing bowl.
  • While the potato is still piping hot, peel off the skin and chop it broadly. Toss it into a bowl with the reserved artichoke marinade.
  • Set aside enough cheese and crushed almonds to set on top. Toss everything else into the bowl with the hot potato mix.
  • Pour the eggs into the potato mixture. The mixture should now be totally coated with egg and definitely shiny. If it looks too dry, crack and beat another egg and toss that in too.

3) Cooking

  • Heat up a large skillet (mine is 10″ in diameter) to medium-low. Once the pan has heated up, pour in a little olive oil and smear with a bit of paper towel, coating the entirety of the inside.
  • Pour in the mixture.
  • Cover with a lid, and turn the heat down to low – err on the side of lower rather than higher heat. Let this cook for a good 30 minutes. Set the lid at an angle to let water escape.
  • Get the oven to 250 Fahrenheit.
  • Remove lid.
  • Broil the frittata for 15~20 minutes, until the mixture is fully cooked. Turn off the oven. Garnish the frittata with the reserved cheese and crushed almonds, and allow the cheese to melt for a few minutes in the residual heat.
  • Sit back, and await accolades :-)!

I served directly from the skillet, but I suppose you could plate it up in wedges. For this event, people served themselves. If you are serving directly after cooking, the cast-iron skillet retains heat for a good while.

***********************

Cost Breakdown

The costs of the almonds and garlic are missing from the below, just FYI.

Ingredient price # type unit price: units used costs
Jumbo Eggland eggs $2.99 12 egg 0.25 6 $1.50
Russet Potato $0.89 1 oz 0.89 1 $0.89
Yellow Onion $1.49 1 oz 1.49 1 $1.49
Cheddar Cheese $8.99 32 oz 0.28 8 $2.25
Marinated Artichokes $9.99 32.5 oz 0.31 8 $2.46
Broccoli $4.00 48 oz 0.08 16 $1.33
Recipe costs: $9.91
servings (appetizer sized) 15
cost per serving: $0.66

***********************

Shopping Notes

The broccoli, Tillamook cheese, and marinated artichokes were from Costco. Be warned that the jar for the artichokes is extremely difficult to open! Also, the jar says 65 oz, but I think that includes all the liquids so I’m guessing that the usable portion is about half that. The eggs were from Safeway.

* Was this truly a frittata? I didn’t actually fry it. One can argue that this is a riff on a tortilla de patates, due the inclusion of the potato and onion.
** My county waste management service gives everyone an organic waste bin (as large as a garbage can!) and it really really cuts down on trash.

frittata on the counter

frittata on the counter

Photo credits: I’m using these photos by kind permission of the hostess’s husband.

P.S. Was googling about one of my great loves, canned fish, and landed on these awesome Japanese Sardine Rice recipes from Miss Baby Sunshine and Tomo – and I knew I had to give the linky love!

Chicken for 77 Cents per Pound…nostalgia and inspiration!

chicken and kimchee lettuce cup

Chicken at Safeway this week is 77 cents per pound – seems like Safeway changes the chicken price to this level from time to time. I remembered that long, long, LONG ago, I bought a whole chicken and froze it. I figured that I should use it…nearly a year later?

chicken price sticker

So I defrosted it overnight, and then brined it. Didn’t follow a recipe for the brine – just threw everything (for just a few hours, with salt, sugar, and apple cider) into a large stockpot, stuck it in the fridge for about 4 hours. I figured the apple cider vinegar would help liven up the taste if the chicken had fallen victim to freezer burn.

Someone had given me many bags of veggies, including a wealth of root veggies: fingerling and purple potatoes, as well as carrots. I decided that they would form a bed for a roast chicken. While the chicken marinated, I soaked the root veggies which were a tad dried out.

potatoes

carrots

bed of root veggies

After quickly rubbing it with some chilic powder I got for $1.00 at the dollar store, I put the 4 lb chicken on a bed of root veggies into the 450 degree oven. About 75 minutes later, it was all quite roasted. The feedback on the chicken? No one knew it was previously frozen!!! I could have roasted a (previously frozen) woolly mammoth if I brined it first!!! Brining is truly magical.

roasted chicken on a bed of root veggies

Roasted chicken was part of one day’s meal (yesterday’s). And what about the second day of roasted chicken? Why not make lettuce cups? That’s right, slather that chicken with kim chee and roll it up in some lettuce. And call it a day. So so easy.

chicken and kim chee lettuce cups

I can see doing something similar with cold, drained, firm tofu. Hm…maybe I’ll have to try that.

Thanks for still reading my blog, despite my inattention! Here’s a totally gratuitous photo of some California goodness.

sunset

Extremely Easy Salmon Salad with Sweet Potatoes

I’m kinda like a cat. I love fish. When I was a vegetarian for a few years, I resisted burgers, hot dogs, steaks and even pork chops without any trouble.  But fish? I remember pining away for albacore sashimi, when everyone else in my family enjoyed platters of it, on gorgeous beds of freshly-picked chiso.

I’m not a vegetarian now, so, I don’t have to resist eating fish. Sigh of relief! Recently, one of my friends gave me a can of wild Alaskan salmon. And I have been roasting sweet potatoes in the toaster oven like there is no tomorrow. Naturally, these must come together in a salad.

Salmon Salad  with Sweet Potatoes

  • 1/4  cup of canned salmon; (1/4 of $2.69* = = $.67);
  • 1/2 of a roasted** sweet potato, sliced broadly (half of a 2/3 lb potato x $1.99/lb = = $.66);
  • dab of mayo;
  • dab of grainy mustard;
  • greens/herbs to garnish.

Probably no-salt canned chickpeas would be a great addition to this salad. For visual interest, I added a stem of yu choy, chiffonade-d, fresh from the farmer’s market. By the way, Trader Joe’s canned salmon is great. Bay Beauty (a.k.a., Ocean Beauty) brand, which I used in this recipe, is decent quality.*** FYI, I googled around and found that warm potato/salmon salad is pretty common. So, feel free to change out the sweet potatoes for plain ones. I happen to love it cold, straight out of the fridge.

P.S. It’s a really lovely mix of sweet and savory. Kinda reminds me of Japanese food!

Also – I would love to try making a bean pie, but I want a recipe that someone can recommend personally. If you have one, please share!

*I think that is the cost of the Trader Joe’s wild Alaskan salmon. There are definitely cheaper brands.

**I usually roast a few sweet potatoes at 450 F for 1 hour in the toaster oven.

*** These opinions are not the result of fees/gifts.

Shiitake Stuffing for a Minnesota Holiday Potluck

Zojirushi

Once upon a time, I attended a potluck, with a savory bread pudding in tow. It was much, much loved. And my hopes of eating the leftovers were not to be – it was entirely demolished! I was so proud of myself because I thought I had completely invented the recipe, and it was the first time I made it (not something I recommend when cooking for others – my backup plan was to buy something if it didn’t turn out). But now I realize – the dish reminds me a little bit of the chawanmushi my grandmother would make. Everything “new” is actually old.

Shiitake Stuffing

Ingredients: (I don’t remember the exact measurements…these are very approximate)

  • 1/2 loaf of decent quality San Francisco style sweet Italian bread – the kind with sesame seeds on the crust;
  • 2 cups of dried shiitakes;
  • 3 medium yellow onions or 2 large yellow onions;
  • soy sauce;
  • 3 eggs;
  • 1 24 oz can of chicken stock;
  • milk? (I can’t remember if I used milk or not…*)
  • dashes of white wine;
  • dashes of ngouc mam;
  • dash of sugar;
  • cooking oil/butter.

1. Soaking

The mushrooms were the stars of this show. I soaked them in warm water for a few hours before I cooked. Usually, I soak them in a deep, narrow container with a small dish that fits inside the container mouth to keep the mushrooms submerged nicely.

2. Chopping

The onions and mushrooms needed chopping/slicing. Each went into their own bowls, waiting their turn. I wanted to show off the beautiful shape of the shiitake, so, I sliced them (sans stem of course) from the top to the gills in 1/8″ wide pieces.

3. Bread Frying

This was the longest part – frying 8-10 pieces of bread on each side, to get some slight browning.** After frying, I chopped each slice into four strips. I think I chose against cubes, in the hopes that the pudding would be more textural.

4. Sweating the veggies + deglazing

To a hot, hot skillet, I added the onions, then the mushrooms. They sweated for a good few minutes, without burning. Then, I poured the chicken stock to deglaze and quickly scraped all the veggie fond from the bottom of the skillet. Now, I can’t quite remember how much white wine, soy sauce, ngouc mam, and sugar I added, but, they went into the mix during the deglazing. Everything simmered and smelled amazing as it all reduced a little bit.

5. Cooling the mushroom mix/Preheating oven

I knew I would need to add egg to make the stuffing, and did not want scrambled eggs, so, I let the mixture cool down a bit. Very important! I think I separated the liquids and stored them in the fridge or freezer for a little bit. This is probably when I preheated the oven (likely to 400).

6. Egg mixture

I beat the three eggs and incorporated the cooled liquids (and possibly the milk, if I used it!). The egg mixture was not watery in consistency – when I was mixing, likely with some chopsticks, the mixture was a little bit resistant/elastic.

7. Baking

I think the glass baking dish was 9″ x 13″ or so. Well, I buttered it. Then, loosely arranged the bread and the mushroom mix. Then poured the egg mixture, which almost covered the bread/mushroom mix. A few pieces stuck up here and there, for textural interest. Into the oven it all went, for about 1 hour at (probably) 350 Fahrenheit.

8. Costs

Most of the ingredients were pretty cheap, but the shiitakes usually aren’t.  The shiitakes came from a package I got from Costco, a really great deal – I think it was like 1/2 lb for $10.00 or so. Probably used less than 2 dollars’ worth or so. The quantity of onions might be 2 dollars. The bread expense…hm…maybe 2 dollars? Half a loaf, for four dollars or less (two dollars’ worth). Three eggs…roughly 50 cents – 75 cents, depending on how fancy the eggs were. That’s seven dollars so far, not counting the dashes of this and that. Using store-bought chicken stock brings up the cost to ten dollars. It serves more than ten, so, it’s probably less than a dollar per serving.

How did it taste? Oh, I remember it well! First, the nearly custard-like bread/egg foundation is rich and savory. Then a bite of the shiitakes makes the brain so very happy. Shiitakes are pure umami to me.***

*I usually use milk when making stuffing…so…I probably used it for this recipe…

**I don’t remember why I fried the bread, it’s been such a long time since I’ve made any kind of stuffing/pudding , but I’m pretty sure I’ve always done that for bread stuffings.

***Science journalist Robert Krulwich has a charming 8 minute story about Kikunae Ikeda and Escoffier discovering umami contemporaneously. One as a chemist, the other as a chef.

show me the money: part i, finding low-cost recipes

ramen with tofu and gai lan (Chinese Broccoli)

ramen with tofu and gai lan (Chinese Broccoli)

A lot of people are finding this blog by looking for low-cost recipes in search engines, and people are even linking to my site from message boards (I am so honored!) as a good resource for such recipes. So I thought I’d put together a post about low-cost recipes: some sites and my frugal recipes for Part I. Part II will be about deciding if a recipe is for you and your budget. Part III will be a collection of tips/ideas I’ve used myself or have known someone who truly benefitted from the use – not exactly food-related, but, I might as well get it off my chest.

 

Sites with Low-Cost Recipes / Food information

(I haven’t tried all of these blogs personally, but I think they will have decent, cost-sensitive recipes)

  • Hillbilly Housewife Read the $45 Emergency Menu, for feeding a family of 4~6 during a week, including instructions for the cooking and prep. Even if you don’t like the dishes themselves, you will learn something from this menu – time management, how to shop – from the sheer amount of information.
  • AskMetafilter AskMeFi has some excellent threads with dozens of suggestions for low-cost cooking. This thread was about mastering cooking genres, while staying within a tight budget. Another thread focuses on frugal meal planning for a single person. Yet another thread ponders the secrets of saving money at the grocery store. Just goes to show that two heads, or rather, thousands of heads, are better than one.
  • Frugal Cuisine The name says it all. The recipes are always brilliant, clear, and unfailingly INSPIRING. She really focuses on nutrient-dense foods, tending to avoid empty calories. I have blog-envied this blog for YEARS!
  • Consumer Reports CR has a short list of foods, and their nutritional value and cost per serving. Very helpful! It’s quite shocking to see that black beans, which are a nutritional powerhouse, are only $.07 per serving!! I would dispute the cost of the egg (I know for me they cost more than $.09 each) but it’s nice to have comparative data.
  • Could I live on a dollar a day? Hm…well, some other people have done it! Andrew Hyde, (not a foodie blogger) post on how to live comfortably on $36/month impressed me! The bloggers doing the One Dollar A Day Diet Project also impressed me!
  • I love comfy, homey recipes! Heritage Recipes has time-tested, old-fashioned recipes. Low cost is not the focus, but I notice that many of these recipes are very SIMPLE, which tends to run towards frugality. Frugal Recipes is something of a bulletin board with utterly charming recipes, with an eye towards frugality. CHOW has a series on basic recipes . these have pretty illustrations and very simple instructions. Most of them look totally delectable.
  • Cheap Eats documents the blogger’s food choices (there are are a lot of product reviews) and very, very low-cost recipes, including some $3.00 recipes with very explicit cost break downs.
  • $5 Dollar Dinners focuses on meals for 2 persons, and 2 small children for under $5.00. I like the fact that she breaks down the prices for each of the ingredients in the posts.
  • Cheap, Healthy, Good has big, big recipe lists. The one for frugal party foods looks so interesting!
  • Simply Frugal This Southeast Michigan blogger spends $15/per person each week, for 2 people. Her recipes look great! And she has great tips on how to shop for groceries more frugally – to get your cost per serving down to 45 cents. Really wonderful blog!
  • Poor Girl Eats Well The PGEW blogger creates definitely gorgeous, gourmet foods, averaging around $2.00 per serving. This blog is justifiably famous.
  • Casual Kitchen has 25 “laughably cheap” recipes. I also really like his application of the Pareto Rule, or the 80/20 rule, to cooking (as in, 20% of your effort yields 80% of your desired results). The concept of “heavy rotation” – getting your top ten favorite dishes over and over again – holds true with me.
  • Food is always an important expense, and personal finance bloggers always write about food. Frugal Upstate , The Simple Dollar, and Get Rich Slowly, The Frugal Girl, have good, appetizing recipes in the context of frugal living in general. GRS’s post compiling 3 years’ worth of food tips is excellent! My Open Wallet has a great page on frugal recipes, collected from frugal foodies/personal finance bloggers. Frugal Abundance (the blogger is the original creator of the Hillbilly Housewife!) has a great post on addressing the rising cost of meat. The costs in that post are very different from those I experience in California, but the relative prices (whole chicken v. breast filets, etc.) are still applicable and therefore helpful in determing what to buy.

Plugging my own blog

Dude, where’s the Stove? Hey, of course I have to plug my own blog! Here are some of my posts with price breakdowns, that yield meals that cost less than one dollar per serving.

Here are some of my blog posts that may/may not contain price break downs for the recipes (but are very inexpensive to prepare):

My own rough guidelines

I spend about $35 (or less) each week on groceries for myself. (Note – I live in a truly pricey part of California). That figure does not include larger-ticket items like vitamins, a 25-lb bag of rice, oil, and other bulky pantry items. (Yes, I realize a true frugalista would include that – maybe I’ll count that in the future). But that $35/week includes: eggs, tofu, poultry, fruits, vegetables, dry beans, canned foods, dry pasta, soy milk, yogurt, cheese, and impulse(!) purchases of junky snacks.

I tend not to buy red meat. I’m not actually that enamored of beef. But I LOVE pork. Pork makes everything better.I will buy it very eagerly – ONLY if it’s on sale! Mostly, I buy chicken. In my neck of the woods, I notice that the supermarkets are fighting it out on the chicken fronts – each week, at least one of them is selling chicken at less than $.80/lb. I pretty much never buy fresh fish. I love it, but, good fish is expensive. Very, very, rarely, I will buy some fresh wild salmon. The farmed stuff is bland to me, so I tend avoid it. I actually like the canned stuff, because it’s wild. I love canned fish in general, but, I don’t have to drag you into that right now.

I buy fruit very rarely, because I love sweets – but it’s something I should cut down on. I’ve started buying apples recently, due to their high fiber, and high satiety factor. Oh, and it’s apple season!

In general, I eat pretty darn well – my figure is quite well-padded.* I could probably spend less – a truly frugal friend of mine spends about $15-20/week on groceries for herself – but I consider $35 reasonably OK as a guideline – breaks down to daily average of $5.00/day. Also, I will confess that I too could furnish a “Hall of Shame” – when I am busy, or just plain lazy, I often fall into the trap of eating convenience foods that are expensive and junky! Anyways, I’m including this in here so that you can see how my perspective on “low cost” relates your own cooking/shopping guidelines.

Over the last  few years, I’m tried to become a bit more frugal.** Mostly by listening to friends and family who are truly, TRULY frugal. I don’t actually consider myself to be frugal (not YET), so, I’m really happy to see that people have used this blog to help themselves and their budgets! If you have a favorite frugal tip/recipe/etc., please feel free to share. I am always happy to learn. Thanks for reading!

* In the words of Just Hungry, I’m not an Asian gazelle. OK, but if I’m not a gazelle, uh, I’ll have to think of a nice, graceful animal that looks like me.

** The other weekend, you could spot me in the supermarket, with a CALCULATOR in hand. Oh, I felt a tad self-conscious. I told my friend I was reinforcing every stereotype about Asians from teenage 80’s movies!!! How did I get to this point?!?!

P.S. Sorry for the hiccup the other day – the feed software published an old post from last year, and I don’t have any idea why/how that happened!

Kotonk Chow Fan // Spam Fried Rice

Beware of Hawaiians. They will laugh at your “mainlander” accent. They thought I talked funny because I am a kotonk. I speak native Californian! Meanwhile, they spoke pidgin. Who’s right? Ah, when in Rome…do as the Romans do. And in Hawaii, that means, fall in love with Spam. From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin:

Hawaii residents consume nearly 7 million cans of Spam a year, an average of about six cans for every man, woman and child.

Not a fan of spam musubi (mandatory for Hawaiian residency). But, I do love it in my fried rice, as do many Hawaiians. Putting spam in your fried rice is a modern nod to the more traditional char siu. Plus – spam costs a lot less!

Kotonk Fried Rice

  • 3 cups of cooked, refrigerated Japanese rice;
  • 1/4 of a full container of Spam (thanks mapgirl!) ham / other savory meat-like thing;
  • 4 green onions, sliced moderately thin;
  • 2 eggs, beaten like they owe you money;
  • salt and pepper – be generous!

Use your favorite skillet – for this, I used a cast iron pan. I like to start off by frying the Spam. Then, add the rice – use your spatula vigorously! Add vegetable oil whenever necessary. Ideally, you would scramble the eggs separately, but, let’s not get too crazy here. Add the green onions when the rice is hot and the eggs are scrambled. These will wilt in a matter of seconds. You are done! Season with plenty of salt and pepper!

(My mis en place…well…minus the rice, salt, pepper and vegetable oil for frying…)

(action shot of beating the eggs)

(plated, just for you!)

P.S. I’m going to have to do the price calculations later. But, I think this is quite inexpensive to prepare! I think 1/4 of a container of Spam is going to work out to less than $1.00.