You Know You’re a Foodie When…

You know you’re a foodie when:

you get truly excited to go grocery shopping. I look forward to seeing what new finds there might be at my small grocery store, and even more so get amped up to go to larger stores to stock up on items I can’t find at my primary store or explore for more obscure ingredients.

you enthusiastically share your recent good deals or special finds with friends and family. And like anything that I’m passionate about, I enjoy sharing them with those closest to me when the opportunity arises.

you find said friends and family looking back at you with that look telling you you’re just one monkey short of a circus. I found some ancient grains (a mix of farro, quinoa, & wild rice, if I’m remembering correctly) at Aldi a couple weeks ago, and tried to convey my excitement to my family that night at dinner to share in the joy with me. Let’s just say they were less than impressed by my discovery.

you carefully curate and regularly reference a ten-tab Excel spreadsheet on Google docs with all of the recipes you hope to make someday. The tabs are labeled by category, the sheets are further sub-divided into smaller categories, and there are headers for each column. I even have a tab for cooking tips and tricks. I put an asterisk by recipes I’ve actually made and enter notes about my adaptations and results. It’s where my love of food and love of organizing come together in beautiful harmony. It’s also a fantastic resource when I’m trying to figure out what to make for dinner.

you plan out your meals up to months in advance. I add cooking meals to my to-do list, selecting the date I want to make particular things for dinner (and subsequent meals of the leftovers). I have so many recipes I want to try that I often go overboard in scheduling them out far in advance.

you binge-watch cooking shows. I have been doing this a lot lately. I started with the episodes of Alton Brown’s Good Eats on Netflix, but quickly plowed through those 20-minute episodes and progressed to Iron Chef America. Man, it’s crazy to notice just how much my head starts spinning with all sorts of crazy ideas as I learn more about cooking.

you intentionally read lengthy articles about different kinds of carbohydrates, sources of protein, “good” and “bad” fats, and comparing honey to sugar. I never took a nutrition class in college, but I am genuinely interested in learning about food and the body now.

you get really sad when you have to take a cooking moratorium. This happened to me a couple months ago. I went so crazy trying to use up all the squash and apples I accumulated in the fall that I reached a point where my designated spaces in the fridge and freezer were completely full. I had to actually stop making more food because I had no place to store it. I practically went through cooking withdrawals during that period, greatly missing my beloved hobby until I had eaten enough that I could resume cooking.

you use unexpected income to splurge on kitchen tools. I managed to save more money than I had anticipated when I created my monthly budget, and I chose to allocate it to buying some kitchen tools that I’ve been coveting lately (measuring spoons that include a tablespoon since ours doesn’t, a grater, a ladle, refillable salt & pepper grinders, a set of cutting boards, and some other wonderful little things). I can’t put into words how good it felt to finally be bringing those items home after wanting them for so long. I truly had been meaning to get a grater and pepper grinder for MONTHS. Now I feel more like a real cook.

you find yourself feeling affection toward your cookware or kitchen tools and expressing gratitude toward the people who invented them. I have actually thanked the creator of the slow cooker out loud numerous times, sometimes in the presence of others. More recently, I’ve also been very thankful for my Ninja blender and food processor, which was a Christmas present I’ve already gotten many uses out of.

 

Do you find yourself doing these things? Would you add anything to this list?

Local Love

I’m taking part in Don’t Waste the Crumbs’s 31 Days to Frugal Natural Living Challenge, a day-by-day guide of ways to transition into a more natural way of living. One of the recent challenges was to eat seasonally. Food tastes best at its peak, not when it’s out of season, and picking local food means lower transport costs and a lesser impact on the environment.

I read Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, Jen Hatmaker’s 7: A Mutiny Against Excess, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in the last eight months or so. All of these [fabulous] books made a strong case for eating whole, healthy, sustainable food. Food is far more economical (paying to support farmers instead of transportation fees for the commercial food industry) and sustainable when it is eaten in season and close to where it was grown. However, putting that lesson into practice has been much harder than learning it.

I’ll admit that while pumpkin and apple things sound particularly delicious come September, I enjoy eating apples still in January, and crave bananas all year round. Some of the produce I love the most comes from places like Chile, which certainly is not local by any stretch of the imagination. But I’m comforted in knowing that I’m taking steps in the right direction.

I have been thinking more about what foods are in season (even printing out a list of foods that are grown each month) and trying to use more in-season ingredients, even if I let some out-of-season ones slip in every now and again. I figure that by focusing on including things that are in season, I will naturally be less inclined to buy things that aren’t at their peak. It’s a more relaxed and forgiving approach, and it’s working for me at this stage of my journey toward sustainable, healthy living.

I made some delicious soup this weekend, and I realized while its delicious aroma was 20151017_123309filling the apartment (and fogging the windows) that it featured quite a few local and/or seasonal ingredients. I had carrots (seasonal), kale (seasonal), acorn squash (seasonal), chickpeas, rice, chicken broth, Thai red curry paste, onion (seasonal), and cayenne pepper. The acorn squash was from my garden (which was a 2015-10-20 15.28.08pleasant surprise, as it returned from the seeds we planted last year, not this year), and the onion was from my local farmer’s market. The chicken broth was from a whole chicken I bought and made stock from. Who would have thought a soup recipe could turn into such a proud sustainable eating moment?

This experience, as well as the other challenges from this month-long frugal natural living guidebook have served to push me outside of my comfort zone, and I know I will be better for it.

What are some of your favorite ways to use seasonal foods?

Apples Galore

As I’ve said, I adore fall. I love the colors, the sights, the sounds, and the flavors. Ooh, the flavors. Apple, pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, cardamom, ginger. It’s almost enough to make my mouth water right now.

Some kind soul was generous enough to bring bags of apples and pears to work, leaving them in the kitchen with a note encouraging others to help themselves, saying they were particularly well-suited for baking. I took the opportunity to bake some fall treats and ran with it.2015-10-07 19.28.52

First, I made apple oat bars. Being the ambitious (but still rather inexperienced) cook that I am, I endeavored to make bars without refined sugar or oil. I made the base with ground oats, a little flour, and egg whites, which worked pretty well. The filling was apples cooked in the crockpot until soft, some diced, some run through the food processor. The topping was just oats and more cinnamon, but it didn’t crisp or hold together well, so I’ll have to add some sort of binder to the topping next time. Overall, these were pretty good, but lacking any over-the-top wow factor. I will continue working with the recipe until I get a better version I can customize with other fruits.

And I made applesauce. It was by far the easiest of the apple-2015-10-07 19.28.15baking recipes. I combined diced apples (although I had to peel them first) with cinnamon, vanilla, Stevia, and water in a crockpot and let the slow cooker do its thing. Of course, I had to stir it from time to time, but it was a nice hands-off way to make my apartment smell good and get some delicious cinnamon-y applesauce. I’ve been eating it plain and topping oatmeal with it.

And I made apple chips. These, too, had a pleasantly short list of ingredients- just apples and cinnamon. I don’t have an 2015-10-08 10.39.28apple corer, so I cut my apples into quarters to remove the core, and then cut them into slices. The thinner slices crisped better in the oven than the slightly thicker ones did, but I found that keeping them in an airtight container returned all of them to a semi-chewy texture by the next day. I can’t decide if I like them that way or not.

And I made apple pie cinnamon rolls. While I have yet to actually eat any of these because I finished them so late last night and didn’t want to burn the roof of my mouth by eating them when they were piping hot, they smelled 2015-10-07 20.05.51fantastic and came out looking much better than I thought they were going to when I put them in the oven. I will admit that I created quite a mess assembling them, since my filling was really watery (probably cooked for too long in the crockpot), running out onto the table and making the dough incredibly difficult to roll into a log. The result was a wet, doughy, apple cinnamon mush mess all over my cutting board and dining room table (thankfully the cutting board took the brunt of it). I must say, though, that after scooping the dough up and re-shaping it into semi-respectable rolls to nestle into the pan, they appear to have recovered quite well from their unappetizing beginnings.

And I made chai spice pear oatmeal. I neglected to take a picture of this one, probably because I devoured all three servings so quickly. I combined the ingredients in mason jars and stored them in the fridge, making it super easy to grab and take to work for breakfast. I really liked the combination of the flavors, although I didn’t have cardamom and omitted all but just the tiniest bit of sweetener, since I don’t normally add much sweetener to my oatmeal. I was a bit hesitant to try pears in oatmeal, especially with spices I normally associate with apples, but the flavors complemented each other very well, and I would make these again in a heartbeat.

And the fun’s not over yet! I currently have a batch of apples in my crockpot to make plain applesauce to use for baking. And I have intentions of going to an apple orchard to not only get some apples, but pumpkins, too! Now what kind of pumpkin concoctions should I make? I’m already thinking about maple pumpkin scones and pumpkin gingerbread. And butternut squash soup. And stuffed acorn squash. Basically all the fall foods.

What are your favorite fall foods?

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Home Cookin’

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I wrote about making homemade flour tortillas a while ago, and have since made corn tortillas, too. The process is similar, but I think I like the corn ones better. They taste more authentic (I kind of think the flour ones taste like whole-wheat Eggo waffles), and they use water instead of oil, so they’re healthier and cheaper to make. I also made corn tortilla chips with some of my tortillas, which I promptly ate with homemade pico de gallo (delicious!).

Note: when chopping jalapeños, wear gloves!!!! I knew somewhere back in the recesses of my mind that some hot peppers should not come in contact with bare skin, but glossed over that tiny detail in the hopes that jalapeños were not counted among them. News flash: they are. While chopping the peppers, I was fine. However, when I tried to wash the dishes I dirtied in hot water, I felt like I had torn cuticles on all of my fingers as the capsaicin reacted with the heat of the water. It then felt akin to having bad sunburn on all of my fingers. Not fun. I proceeded to Google how to relieve the pain, which meant looking like an idiot as I soaked my fingers in a bowl of milk while watching my Friday night movie selection. The burning sensation lasted into the next day and became a sort of nerve sensitivity even the day after that, preventing me from putting in contacts for a couple days. May you learn from my mistake and ensure that you don’t chop hot peppers (and remove the ribs and seeds) with your bare hands.

Also, I strained some regular yogurt to yield my very own Greek yogurt. It was thick and creamy, which was great, but it made so much less than the container I can buy at the InstaCollage_1442859769000store that I’m not sure it really would save me money. It did, however, produce about two cups of whey, which I proceeded to freeze in ice cube trays for smoothie and soup bases.

I made some pretty tasty mixed nut granola, too. I toasted some mixed nuts, dried cranberries, and maple-syrup-drizzled oats in our toaster oven, and then added cinnamon and a little nutmeg when I removed it from the oven. The result was a nice crispy, slightly sweet, mostly nutty granola/trail mix combination. I probably should have upped the granola, since there are far more nuts than anything else. But it’s really delicious the way it is, too!

I made some amazing roasted vegetables for a grill out that my friends complimented me on multiple times. Who would have thought that simple veggies would get such rave reviews? I simply chopped zucchini, yellow squash, baby sweet peppers, potatoes, and onions and seasoned them with basil, oregano, pepper, and thyme. We cooked them on cookie sheets (one for the potato & onion mix, one for the summer veggie & onion mix, since I knew the potatoes would take a lot longer) on the grill, which was surprisingly successful, since we had never cooked food that way before. I actually put a large spoonful on top of my veggie burger in lieu of traditional toppings of lettuce and tomato. It was a delicious grilled mess! And, true to form, I used my leftover veggies as pizza toppings. Mmmmm. Grilled veggie pizza.

And just in case you think everything I eat is healthy, let me suggest a summer/fall treat to you that breaks that mold. I’m by no means the first one to try it, but I think everyone 4cedfe2d9e78d2633cb61ece91fe3574should taste one at some point: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup S’mores. Yes. You read that right. I made mine with two marshmallows for extra melty gooey-ness. Part of the fun is trying to figure out how to eat s’mores without getting it all over, right? By adding peanut butter to the mix, I’m pretty sure I got a little taste of culinary heaven. So the next time you’re prepping for a bonfire, don’t forget the Reese’s!

Trying My Hand at Tortillas

One of my favorite foods is homemade tortilla pizzas. My infatuation with these delectable creations began in college, when I wanted a way to frugally make a personal-sized pizza. Sure, I could have bought a full-sized pizza and had lots of leftovers of greasy, carb-loaded slices that would more likely than not sit untouched in the fridge. Or I could find a way to make my own pizzas at home.

I started by pre-cooking a tortilla in a small skillet, and then added sauce, cheese, pepperoni, and whatever veggies I might have on hand (which was slim when I was still in school). As long as the toppings went on from the fridge, they cooked pretty quickly. If they were frozen, I had to cook my pizza a bit longer (and on lower heat, to ensure the tortilla didn’t burn).

Armed with a basic recipe under my belt, I tried a different method once I moved home after graduation, and I’m proud to say I roped my family into trying it with me. Instead of using a skillet, we baked our tortillas (or wraps) on pizza pans for a few minutes, then loaded them up with sauce, cheese, meat, and veggies before returning them to the oven until all the toppings cooked thoroughly. This method works far better for cooking for multiple people, since you’re not limited to the single tortilla you can fit in the skillet at a time.

The oven I have now is fairly small, and because I have discovered how much I love sautéed veggies on my pizzas, I have reverted back to the skillet-cooking method. I realized I was going through quite a few tortillas, though, and it was getting harder and harder for me to find whole-grain ones at the store (since I shop at a small grocery store). As I wasn’t willing to compromise my commitment to whole grains, I had to find a different solution: make them on my own.

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Assortment of ingredients– much shorter than the grocery store variety!

This undertaking seemed a bit daunting at first, but it really wasn’t too bad. Yes, it took some time (a bit more than I expected), but the list of ingredients is wonderfully simple, and the process itself isn’t complicated, just time-consuming.

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The recipe said to divide into 12 pieces, but I went for 20 smaller-size ones.

I used the recipe and instructions by Brown Eyed Baker, using the suggested substitution of olive oil for coconut oil, since I’m almost out of coconut oil. I also started the process in a food processor/blender, but it became too difficult to mix, so I put the dough on a large cutting board and finished the job by hand. We don’t have a rolling pin, so I used a glass bottle to roll out my dough, giving up really quickly on trying to make them round, because no matter how hard I tried, it just wasn’t happening.

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A quick toast in the skillet, and they’re ready to go!

Regardless of the  lack of round shapes, my tortillas turned out very tasty! I made a wonderfully delicious pizza with one of them last night, topped with mozzarella, sauteed kale, red onion, garlic, red chili flakes, carrots, bell peppers, and tomatoes (are you getting hungry yet?).

I also froze a bunch of the tortillas (separated with plastic wrap to keep them from sticking together) right away for future tacos, wraps, and —of course— tortilla pizzas. I can’t help but think about what variations I might be able to get away with in this recipe, like adding different spices (garlic, basil, oregano, red chili flakes…) for different nuanced flavors. Hmm, maybe that will be another adventure soon!

 

 

 

 

The Frugal Foodie

Have I mentioned my love of food and cooking? My affinity for making food is relatively new. I actually used to dread it. My parents made my sister and me make dinner for the family once a week when we were in high school, and I thought it was the worst chore ever. I didn’t like being responsible for making sure we had all the ingredients, finding the recipe, or somehow magically knowing when everything was fully cooked.

Moving out of my parents’ house prompted me to take a greater interest in cooking. I had already begun focusing on eating healthier food, which is easier to control when you’re the one cooking your own food.

Cooking really became fun when I realized I could experiment with basic recipes, adding my own flair, swapping out ingredients, combining recipes, and the like. Once I felt comfortable mixing up basic cooking recipes, I tried my hand at baking. Of course, I had made boxed brownies and muffins before, but I wanted to be able to make healthier versions. It took a little more work to feel comfortable playing around with these recipes, since the ingredients have to work together not only to create the right flavors, but also to have the right chemical reactions and come out right.

I would not by any means consider myself an accomplished chef or anything, but I do feel pretty comfortable in the kitchen and enjoy challenging myself with new recipes regularly. I have an ever-growing spreadsheet of recipes to try, and I feel really good when I can take a recipe, tweak it based on what ingredients I have (strawberries instead of blueberries), what foods I like and don’t like (sorry, no bacon for this girl), healthier alternatives (applesauce instead of brown sugar), and what other combinations I think might taste good (lemon and blueberry, anyone?).

Here are some of my favorite recipes, along with my notes/adaptations:

General Tso’s Chicken— I like to skip the cornstarch and just cook the chicken in the sauce, then add the veggies, so everything gets nice and coated in the spicy goodness.

Red Pepper Chicken Alfredo, which I combine with the alfredo recipe found here, substituting whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose flour. I use the milk and cheese portion of the second recipe, but the red pepper, garlic, onion, and pasta from the first.

Wild Rice-Stuffed Butternut Squash. I first made this for Thanksgiving this year. Well, to be fair, I made it on Thanksgiving, but I didn’t make it for Thanksgiving. I made it for myself. And it was amazing. I found the original quantity of herbs to be too much for me, but I made it again with a smaller amount, and loved it!

Blueberry Almond Overnight Oatmeal. This was great just following the directions, but I also liked doing an apple cinnamon version and a peanut butter banana version. I treat it like a solid overnight oatmeal base recipe that I can mix toppings into. I typically find myself adding more steel cut oats in, leaving me with oatmeal that’s solid enough to cut into bars, which can then be eaten as such or heated with water to make a more traditional oatmeal consistency.

What are some of your favorite recipes? How do you put your own special twist on them?