Tag Archives: frugal

Red Wine Pears

steaming pears

steaming pears

red wine pears simmering

red wine pears simmering

 red wine pears

red wine pears

Once upon a time, in early fall, pears were on sale for 29 cents a pound. TWENTY-NINE CENTS, you heard me. What to do? Oh yes, at first, you buy pounds of pears. And it is pear time, all the time. Pears with cheese. Pears by themselves. And then the pears threaten to go bad! How can I save these pears, so that their goodness can be captured? Why, poach them in red wine.

It’s that easy.

Ingredients:

  1. 6 very ripe Bartlett pears;
  2. one bottle of red wine; (I use the infamous Trader Joe’s 2 buck chuck)
  3. splash of vanilla;
  4. 1/4 cup of honey;
  5. 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon;
  6. 2 sprigs of thyme (somewhat optional – I’ve done fine without the thyme);
  7. 2 quart sauce pot.

Steps:

  1. Pour the red wine into pot and begin low simmer.
  2. Peel the pears. Slice in half if you like, or leave whole.
  3. Add ground cinnamon, honey/sugar, thyme and vanilla to the pot.
  4. Melt everything together.
  5. Add pears.
  6. Allow pears to simmer until just tender – this means, start checking on it no later than like 10 minutes after you’ve added the pears. Depending upon ripeness, these pears might be ready quite soon.
  7. Remove!!!
  8. Let sauce continue to simmer until it is reduced to half of its original size. This is not a hard-and-fast rule – the idea is to intensify the flavors.

They are simply wonderful as-is. Even better with ice cream/frozen yogurt / nondairy frozen treat. Served that way, any international spy of superior caliber will start weeping like a child with joy. I saw it with my own eyes!

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Miso Butter Asparagus Tart Experiment (why does David Chang have to be an evil genius?)

Miso. Butter. Uh…those are the ingredients for…miso butter. This is why David Chang is an evil genius. Way back when he was just a non-famous kid*, learning all about ramen in Japan, he happened upon the Sapporo stylings of miso ramen: finished off with a “knob” of butter and some corn. David notices the flavor combo is  crazy good.  He and his friends abbreviate the flavor insanity to miso + butter. Well,  I have both butter and miso in the fridge, so why not? Doesn’t cost me anything.

What does miso butter taste like? It tastes so good it’s just WRONG!!! The umami in the butter melds with that of the miso to create this uber-umami whirlwind of deliciousness.

He has a fancy recipe for poached eggs with miso butter on asparagus, in his Momofuku book – I decided to try something more basic, elemental: why not just go for the miso butter as the major taste?

Miso Butter Asparagus Tart

Ingredients: (these are very very approximate measurements, due to this being an experiment)

  • 1 yellow onion;
  • two or three handfuls of asparagus pieces**;
  • 1 sheet of puff pastry;
  • 1 tablespoon of dark miso; and
  • 2 tablespoons of butter.

Slice a whole yellow onion and saute until translucent. Allow to cool completely.  Wash and slice the asparagus spears. If they are thicker than 1/3″, you may want to halve them.

Take the puff pastry out of the freezer and allow to thaw for the required time. Cut the puff pastry into modest rectangles (like 3″x2″) – I was using Pepperidge Farms puff pastry, which yields about 12 pieces. Transfer the pieces to a cookie sheet.

Melt the butter in the microwave – try it like 15 seconds at a time – and mix in the miso. Mix. Mix. Mix. Baste the miso butter onto the puff pastry with a brush. Put a thin layer of carmelized onion onto the pastry. Then top with the asparagus pieces. Baste the asparagus with yet more miso butter.

Set your oven to 425 Fahrenheit. (I fiddled with the temperature, all the way down to 350 at one point). Bake. Remove once the puff pastry has puffed (about 15 ~ 20 minutes, depending on how heavy the asparagus and onions are).

Remove, and wait for praise and adoration!!!

Notes – I cooked this in an oven with a see-thru door to help keep a vigilant eye over the tarts so that they did not burn too much. The miso burns mercilessly fast.

Taster Feedback:

One taster (who weighs no greater than 110 lbs, I believe) ate portions intended for three adults in one sitting! One taster complained that the tart should be more attractive, perhaps with carrot or something pretty. One taster liked the flakiness of the pastry and the nice taste of the asparagus and how it was all bound together with the miso. All tasters eagerly ate MULTIPLE servings!

* His dad ran golf businesses and David played competitive golf as a kid…I guess he had to get out because he could read the writing on the wall when Tiger Woods‘ face would be on the brochures…for the tournaments he was competing in!

** The asparagus in the picture consists only of the tips because I had used the stems for another dish. I was lucky enough to find it on sale for under $2.00 per pound during a weekly special. You could probably swap in summer squash or even scallions for a more frugal take.

P.S. Here’s a link to the Kitchen Window story from yesterday that has some background info on miso (and hastened my decision to post about my miso butter experiment)!

Low-Carb Experiment #1: Tofu Bok Choy Hot Salad

Is there anything good about carbs? Results from a recent study suggest that a low-carb diet may be better for your heart than a low-fat diet. I guess you need them at times for quick energy…but last time I checked, my work tends to be about sitting at a desk, and less about running after animals or other more athletic pursuits. So, I’m eating fewer carbs.

One of my favorite preparations of tofu, yudofu,  is nearly zero preparation at all: slice a tofu cake into large-ish pieces; simmer in some water* to soften; serve with rice and garnishes of katsuobushi, sliced green onions, and soy sauce. That’s it! I love the simple, beany flavor of the tofu that is inexplicably sturdy enough to stand up to these aggressive garnishes. Hint: make sure you really like the tofu you are using, because you definitely be tasting it. This is not a matter of hiding or camouflaging it!

That spirit of simplicity made me think of eating tofu with gingery bok choy. Mainly because I bought a ton of baby bok choy and tofu in the fridge. I’m going to call this a hot salad.

Hot Tofu and Bok Choy Salad**


Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb of baby bok choy, sliced into halves; (about $.85, since it was $1.69/ lb at ye olde Ranch 99 Market);
  • 1/2 cake of tofu, torn into large pieces; (about $.45 at $.89 for 1 cake);
  • 1/2 cubic inch of ginger sliced into matchsticks (pennies, $1.59/lb);
  • soy sauce (pennies); and
  • vegetable oil.

(total cost per serving: .45 + .85 + miscellaneous pennies for soy sauce and ginger = 1.30 + X = under $1.50 per serving.)

The baby bok choy cook very quickly. Wash them. Halve them. Heat up a skillet. Slice the ginger into small, matchstick-like pieces. Once the skillet is medium hot, throw 1 teaspoon of veggie oil in the middle of the skillet. Spread the oil by lifting and angling the pan (or just smearing the oil with a bit of paper towel). Throw the sliced ginger into it. (I always love the smell of frying ginger!) Let the ginger cook for about 2 minutes, flipping it with a spatula a few times. This will infuse the oil with the fabulousness of the ginger. Throw the baby bok choy into the skillet. It will wilt immediately. Cover the skillet with a lid, and turn off the heat. You are basically steaming the veggies.

Next, open a package of medium-firm tofu. Tear the tofu with your hands, into large-ish pieces. I just like the way the torn tofu looks for this dish…you can of course cut it into cubes. Put the tofu on a plate and…microwave it! Yes, I said, microwave it – it’s already cooked, so it’s now just a matter of heating it up. This prep is the ultimate in laziness! Depending on the strength of your microwave, this might be for 1 minute to 90 seconds. Ladle the bok choy, with whatever gingery-liquids that developed in the skillet, onto the tofu. Drizzle generous amounts of soy sauce. Done.

When I ate this, I felt strangely satisfied. It’s very plain, but for me, tofu is a comfort food. Can’t get much simpler than this!

* I guess some use dashi – but I’m accustomed simmering it in plain old water.

** If there is such a thing as a roast beef salad, I think I can name this a salad too. The word “salad” is rooted in the use of salt to flavor veggies.

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!

Forty Cent Chicken Soup

French Daisies

Wildflowers

In the summertime, I bought five pounds of chicken quarters at $.77/lb. A total steal.  AndI had bought ginger, garlic, celery, and carrots. I had grand plans to make curry chicken, which I had’t done in ages. But then a heat wave hit. Who has the will to brown five pounds of chicken quarters when it is HOT? I couldn’t do it. But I didn’t want to freeze it either. So…maybe it’s time to make some chicken soup! Using this recipe means you want a LOT of chicken soup. Are you ready for it? And the chicken meat is soooo tender!

Forty-Cent Chicken Soup

  • 5lbs of chicken quarters (@.77/lb = $3.89);
  • majority of a bunch of celery ($1.79 per bunch);
  • 1 large yellow onion about 3/4 lb ($.99/lb = $.75);
  • most of 2 heads of garlic (sold 2 for $1.00);
  • most of a 1/3 lb chunk of ginger ($2.99/lb = $.93);
  • 1/2 lb of baby carrots (1lb for $1.00, on sale);
  • lots of water; and
  • salt to taste.
  • Total cost: $9.36

    Total elapsed time: 90 min.  (including washing the pot, cutting board, etc.)

    Yield: about 6 quarts (24 cup-servings)

    Cost per serving: 39 cents.

    0. Washing/Chopping

    I washed and chopped the veggies first. Then I washed the chicken. I always handle the meat last, in the interest of food safety.

    1. Sweating the veggies

    I started a skillet on medium. Smashed the garlic cloves, in their skins. Then removed the skins, and added them to the skillet. Then added the chopped onion, celery, carrots and ginger. The proportions are really forgiving. I am fickle about carrots so I don’t put a lot of them. In general, any type of root vegetable – rutabaga, beets, parsnips, daikon, etc. – can be part of the soup (if you have any type of root vegetable. There are a lot of root veggies from the brassica family, a.k.a., the cruciferous vegetables, which are extremely good for you.

    2. Bringing everything to a boil

    Once all the veggies were sweated/carmelized, I added the chicken quarters. I didn’t even feel like removing the chicken skin! So I didn’t. Then I just added water to barely cover and brought everything to a boil, leaving the lid off.

    3. Simmer

    After the water came to a boil, I lowered the heat to a simmer, added the lid, and did something else for about 45 min. The mass of ingredients was too large to place into my pressure cooker safely (you are only supposed to fill it to 2/3 capacity) but this would have been a good one for pressure cooking in a larger pot.

    4. Homemade Chicken Soup is Mine

    I let it cool down, and boiled some pasta for a simple soup-meal. Homemade chicken soup makes everything taste better! I eventually refrigerated it, skimming the fat (schmaltz) off of the top to use later.

    5. Schmaltz

    Chicken breasts are not my favorite. I usually eat them last, when there is no dark meat left. I had some chicken breasts leftover from a whole fryer I was using to make chicken curry, and I thought about trying the schmaltz from the chicken soup. Oh, it was SO good. The schmaltz picked up all the wonderfully deep flavors of the soup and gave them to the chicken breasts.

    Someday I might have to try a stock recipe – just using the bones, and no meat.

    P.S. I added to the Tips page the other day: The always-brilliant Frugal Cuisine says to never throw out chicken fat – use it  in lieu of expensive, fancy butters. Also on the Tips page – how to make a vegan stock.

    Budget Friendly Indulgences. Chocolate and more!

    Trader Joes Chocolate Soy Dreamy 32 oz

    Trader Joe's Organic Chocolate Soy Dreamy 32 oz

    In order for me to enjoy menu planning, and to stave off temptation, it helps quite a bit to know that I will get my treats. I need sweet, salty, and crunchy! For my sweet tooth, I have allowed myself to buy the Trader Joe’s 17oz of belgian chocolate for $3.29. I figure that should last me at least two months! That is a lot of dessert! As is Trader Joe’s lovely organic 32 – oz dairy-free chocolate ice cream (Soy Dreamy) for $2.99. I was very happy with it. Soy Delicious has a more intense chocolate flavor but I was perfectly happy with TJ’s – at nearly half the price.

    soy creamy in a bowlsoy creamy in a bowl

    To protect myself against the desire to grab a box of Cheezits, I have invested in a 2-lb block of delicious Tillamook medium sharp cheddar (I got that for about $13.00 at Safeway). A small slice of that with some crackers makes for a lovely, lovely snack. As for a savory delight, I decided to make a habit of getting a bag of soft corn tortillas – I think I got two dozen for about 3 dollars. Pop one in the toaster for crunch and slather with canned black beans, garlic, cheese and hot sauce, for complete proteins and complete satisfaction.

    Save Mart assorted pork chops for $1.59/lb

    Save Mart assorted pork chops for $1.59/lb

    On an attenuated note, I must also tell you of my victory with Safeway. I noticed that the Save Mart flyers were selling assorted pork chops for $1.59/lb.  Safeway also a special price for assorted pork chops – but $2.49. I asked the cashier to let me know if Safeway honored price-matching and showed her the Save Mart flyer.

    Save Mart flyer

    Save Mart flyer

    Safeway flyer

    Safeway flyer

    She called for a manager because she didn’t know. The manager told me that it was not their policy to price-match but that she would let me have the chops at my price if that would keep me coming to the store. I told her that I usually shop here but that $1.59/lb at Save Mart was very “motivating.” Due to the fact that none of us had a calculator handy, she ended up selling them to me for barely $1.00/lb!!! Craziness!!! They were delicious…I prepared them in a cast-iron pan with some butter, soaking them with my beloved Worchestershire sauce.

    Receipt of TRIUMPH

    Receipt of TRIUMPH

    That’s all for right now, but I am looking forward to blogging again and enjoying your company!

    Garlicky Black Bean Beef Chow Fun

    Garlicky Black Bean Beef Chow Fun

    Garlicky Black Bean Beef Noodles

    And how was your summer!?!?! Did you do awesome cooking? Always so great to enjoy the gorgeous produce. I served my version of beef chow fun a few weeks ago, to feed a crowd of hungry, tired beach-goers, also known as my family.

    garlic and black beans

    garlic and black beans

    carrots

    carrots

    onion and garlic

    onion and garlic

    rice noodles

    rice noodles

    veggies

    veggies

    beef

    beef

    green onions

    green onions

    Garlicky Black Bean Beef Noodles

    • dash of sugar;
    • dash of salt;
    • garlic;
    • dao si (black salted, fermented soy beans – be sure to get them dry and whole, not mashed up!);
    • oyster sauce;
    • fish sauce;
    • soy sauce;
    • green onions;
    • sliced carrots;
    • a large, sweet yellow onion;
    • a few ounces of beef;
    • a ton of green cabbage; and
    • a 2 lb package of fresh, flat, rice noodles.

    First, chop all the veggies. Then cut the beef against the grain into thin strips. After mincing the black beans and slicing the garlic, be sure to get a large, round rock and mash the garlic into the black beans. Because my mom said so! That way, you are truly marrying the flavors, even before they get to the skillet. Get a large bowl and fill halfway with hot water – this is for soaking the fresh rice noodles. You will notice that they are somewhat brittle. Let them soak as you stir fry everything else – and make sure that these get soft before frying. Stir fry the garlic, black beans, onion together. I used a large, flat skillet. Add the beef. Then the sauces (soy, oyster, fish), sugar, and salt. Then the cabbage and carrots. Add the noodles absolutely last – note that they contain oil, so, you might not even need to add much oil to the pan to fry them properly. Handle the noodles very carefully, as they are prone to breaking.

    This feeds a lot of people in a short amount of time. You should add some heat to this dish with a little bit of fresh jalapeno or dried chiles – I left those out because there were kids in the mix. Also, there was no white wine around, but I think it might have been nice to add a dash or two, to help mellow everything out.  The dao si definitely adds an earthy, bitter, tangy note, which plays off the sweetness of the cabbage, onion, and carrots perfectly. These all frame the beef and noodles beautifully. How does it taste? Thumbs up from everybody! Yes, even the toddlers who tried it!

    Serve it and get ready for adoration and fame that will surely follow!!!