Friday, February 25, 2011

Food Budgeting: Building Your Supply

A while back I wrote about menu planning and how it helps us eat healthier, stay on budget, and not waste food.  I got away from the Food Budgeting series for about a month, but I love writing about food and money since we all have to eat and most people are trying to save money. 

My first tip in the menu planning post was:

Have a well-stocked pantry and plan your grocery shopping so you're not running out at the last minute for ingredients. Running out of food is an easy excuse to just call for take out. Also, incorporate what you have on hand into menu planning, if possible. Using your own supply of food always saves money.

(Click "Read more" below.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cheddar Biscuits

I can count on one hand the number of times I've been to a Red Lobster restaurant, but one thing I remember about eating there is the delicious Cheddar Bay Biscuits.  They aren't exactly health food, but they are garlicy, buttery, and cheesy... biscuit perfection.

This recipe is slightly adapted from Food Network Magazine's Almost-Famous Cheddar Biscuits and they are just as good as the restaurant original.  There are other recipes for these biscuits that call for packaged mixes (like Bisquick).  I have nothing against Bisquick, but I bake almost everything from scratch (it's not as complicated as it sounds, I promise), so I'd have to buy boxed mix to attempt those other recipes. 

(Click "Read more" below.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Steel-Cut Oatmeal

 In an effort to reduce my caloric intake and save money, I've been packing a healthy breakfast and enjoying it at my desk during my first hour at work.  I'm a big fan of Chobani Greek Yogurt (fat-free varieties only) and recently I've started preparing large batches of oatmeal and reheating them in small portions for weekday breakfasts.  What?  Reheating oatmeal?  No instant oatmeal?

I grew up eating instant oatmeal.  My favorite was the cinnamon and raisin flavor.  However, I really prefer old-fashioned slow cooked oats.  These oats remind me of holidays and snow days when my mom would make a special, home-cooked breakfast for us.  There's something gourmet about making oatmeal from scratch and seasoning and spicing it up to your preference.  Until recently, I only enjoyed old-fashioned oatmeal on weekends.  Now I realize that you can make a huge batch of oatmeal on a Sunday and enjoy it reheated for breakfast during the week.  It's far superior to the instant variety and it's less expensive than the cups of old-fashioned oatmeal sold at the cafe in my office building (or at McDonald's) for nearly $2.

Once I realized how easy was to reheat old-fashioned oatmeal, my next step was to move on to steel-cut oats (a.k.a. oat groats, Irish oatmeal, or coarse-cut oats).  I enjoy making my own oatmeal (steel-cut or old-fashioned) because I can control the sugar content and therefore maximize the cholesterol-lowering benefits of oatmeal.   As an oatmeal connoisseur, I prefer the nutty, chewy texture of steel-cut oats over their old-fashioned counterparts.

I opted to purchase my steel-cut oats (for a mere $1.49/pound) at my local farmer's market.  It's significantly less expensive to purchase steel-cut oats from bulk bins or farmer's markets than from the cereal aisle at your grocery store, but regardless of what you pay, you're saving calories and money by preparing a healthy breakfast.

The major disadvantage of steel-cut oats over old-fashioned, and especially instant, oatmeal is that they take a long time to cook.  Stove top cooking instructions suggest a minimum cooking time of 30 minutes.  I found a way to turn steel-cut oats into a convenience food - I use my rice cooker.  I simply set the rice cooker before I got to bed and I wake up to the cinnamony, nutty flavor of hot oats floating up the stairs.  It's like mom moved in and cooked us breakfast.  It reminds me of snow days in elementary school.  When I wake up I enjoy a bowl of oatmeal and pack the rest of for weekday breakfasts.  The first time I did this, E asked, "Where's the bacon and eggs?", but now he just grabs a bowl and helps himself.  Healthy and convenient, that works for me.

Steel-cut oats look more like rice than oatmeal.  The thick cut provides a chewy consistency.
The recipe below is intended for a rice cooker with a delay timer.  (I'm in love with my new rice cooker, but that's a future post.)  If you don't have a rice cooker, follow the instructions on your oatmeal package (steel-cut or old-fashioned).  If you do have a rice cooker, you just found a new use for it!

Steel-Cut Oatmeal
a Keeley original

yield 6 servings

1 1/2 cups steel cut oats
6 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
brown sugar (or your preferred sweetener), to taste

Special equipment - rice cooker equipped with a delay timer - If you don't have one, follow traditional cooking instructions.

The night before breakfast:
Put oats in the cooking pot for a 12-cup (or larger) rice cooker.  Sprinkle salt and cinnamon over oats and stir to coat the oats.  Pour water over oats.

Set rice cooker delay timer for the time you want to serve your steel-cut oats (example:  If you go to bed at 10:00 p.m., set the delay timer to ten hours to make oatmeal ready at 8:00 a.m.).  If your rice cooker has a "brown rice" or "porridge" setting, please use that.
When oats are cooked (the next morning):
Stir oats.  If some are stuck to the bottom, stir gently to remove the stuck-on oats and separate the stuck-on oats from the creamy oats (this only happened once and the oats were still good).  Stir in vanilla extract.  If the oats are too thick for your taste, add warm milk or hot water to thin them out.  Season to your liking with brown sugar (or other sweetener).  Enjoy oats immediately or refrigerate for up to three days.  Reheat portions with a bit of water to get oats to a creamy consistency.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Valentines Day at Home

Mini Ravioli with Alfredo Sauce... this recipe will be on Potluck soon.
I'm having quite the week!  I've missed the blog, but I'm really busy... I looked up, and next thing I knew it had been nearly I week since my last post.  Ouch.

When I came in from work last Friday, I had a UPS package with a letter from ShopRite and a $25 gift card to use toward creating a Valentines Day dinner at home.  This was absolutely perfect for me because E and I had no intention of going out to dinner to celebrate the holiday and I always go to ShopRite for groceries on the weekend.  There's nothing wrong with going out to celebrate holidays.  As a matter of fact, we had a really nice dinner last year to celebrate V-Day, but our anniversary is in about two weeks, so we typically hold back on celebration until March.  Plus, I've said numerous times that I often prefer eating at home over spending our hard-earned money on some mediocre overpriced dinner.

Since the temperatures finally broke 50 degrees, we opted to have a barbecue on Sunday.  Our menu:

Italian-Style Mixed Grill (steak, chicken, pork chops, Italian sausage) - recipe following
Caesar salad
Roasted Asparagus
Mini Ravioli in Alfredo Sauce (recipe forthcoming on Potluck - stay tuned)
Vanilla and Chocolate Swirl Cake with Chocolate Ganache (based on this recipe)

We always grill on charcoal.  (Tips on charcoal grilling here.)  We opted for a barbecue because... well, why not?  We've been cooped up in this house/our offices/our cars with freezing temperatures and ice and snow for a few months and we were ready to bust out and enjoy the warm non-freezing weather.  First, we had to shovel the remaining snow off the deck and wait for the sun to melt the ice.

And yes, it was so icy that we had to wait a few hours to get our umbrella off the floor of the deck because it was stuck in a chunk of ice.

While the fire was getting ready, I sliced up one of my favorite cheeses, Yancy's Fancy Double Cream Cheddar and served it with a hot loaf of No-Knead Bread.  If you haven't made this bread, please do.  It's simple and it's so good that we had to stop ourselves from eating the whole loaf before dinner.

Dried Cherries, cheddar, dried figs + bread = happiness

And of course we had to have our wine.  E picked out this Washington State Cab from Chateau Smith (about $18).  Any bottle over $12 is a "special occasion" treat at this house.  This one passed the test.  We also drank a $6 bottle of Rex Goliath Cab (after using some to marinate the grilled meats).  Honestly, the Rex was a decent alternative for 1/3 of the price... just saying.

So the main course... the meat!  I purchased Big Night In over a year ago, but this was my first time trying a recipe.  It's an Italian cookbook with lots of hearty (and very involved) meals.  I'm so glad I finally tried one out!  I'll be cooking from this one again.  I used the marinade from the Mixed Grill recipe and I remixed it to include chicken breasts, steak, and thick-cut pork chops.  Plus, we grilled some Italian sausage.  'Cause it was on sale.  And I love sausage.

We marinated the meats overnight in a mixture of red wine, olive oil, garlic, fresh oregano, salt and pepper.  Yes, the meat turned purple.  Yes it tasted really good.  We used the leftover grilled chicken on our salads at work the following day.

Take my word for it - the Mixed Grill was good.  I like that we can use this marinate with whatever meat we have:  pork chops, chicken, New York strip, whatever.  And the leftovers were still moist and had a nice smoky flavor from the grill.  I garnished the whole platter with fresh parsley and a bit of fresh lemon.

Now, on to things that didn't go so great.  I tried to adapt the Chocolate Pistachio Cake recipe and I wasn't thrilled with the results.  The cake was pretty...

But my goal was for the cut cake to be pink with a chocolate tunnel inside.  Instead, it came out yellowish orange with a chocolate swirl.  You know we still ate it. 

All in all, we had a fantastic Valentines Day dinner and a much-needed break from reality.  For now it's back to work, commuting, taxes, and thesis writing... is it summer yet?

Mixed Grill
adapted from Big Night In

3 pounds of meat (pork chops, chicken, steak)
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons salt
Italian Sausage links

At least 6 hours before cooking or the night before:  Whisk the wine, olive oil, oregano, garlic, pepper, and salt together.  Put the meats (except Italian sausage) in a zip-top bag and and pour marinade over the meats.  Let the meat marinate in the refrigerator.

The next day:  Remove the meat from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before grilling.  When the grill is ready, remove meat from the marinate and sprinkle lightly with a little bit more salt.  Grill the meat (including Italian sausage) and serve hot.  If you need grilling tips, please read this post.

The leftovers are really versatile.  Consider using the grilled sausage on pizza or in pasta.  The grilled chicken is great on a salad the next day.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cherry Cobbler

Visit Potluck, the ShopRite blog to see my latest post:  Cherry Cobbler.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

White Bean Dip with Rosemary

I don't enjoy creamy dips.  I'll eat cream cheese, but anything with mayonnaise or sour cream is not an option for me.  I do, however, enjoy beans, so I enjoy this dip.  As a bonus, it's pretty healthy.  It has no cream and very few ingredients.  It's safe to serve at room temperature, so it's good for parties.

If you don't like beans, don't be afraid.  White (cannelini) beans are mild in taste and you won't even be eating them in their whole form for this dip.  What you will get is the fresh fruity taste of olive oil, the slightly salty and garlicy white beans and the woodsy fragrance of fresh rosemary.  I enjoy this dip with soft pitas, pita chips, or flatbread.

Think of this as an Italian-style hummus.  It's a simple recipe - as long as you have a food processor.

Just dump all the ingredients into the bowl of your food processor...

Pulse until smooth, adding a bit more olive oil, if necessary...

Transfer to a bowl and serve at room temperature.  I like to garnish mine with a drizzle of olive oil and a few sprigs of rosemary.  If you aren't going to serve it right away, just put it in the fridge and let it come to room temperature before serving it again.

Did I ever mention how much I use my food processor?  It's a worthwhile investment.  If you're building your stock of cooking tools, please consider one.

Try this dip next time you have a party, or make it for yourself and enjoy it with a nice beverage and some crackers.  You won't feel too guilty eating it because it's pretty healthy!

White Bean Dip with Rosemary
a Keeley original

1 can of small white beans (a.k.a. cannelini beans), drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon salt, more or less to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper, more or less to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (more for garnish, if desired)
2 sprigs rosemary, stems removed (more for garnish, if desired)
2 cloves garlic

In the bowl of a food processor combine all ingredients.  Pulse until smooth.  Check consistency and add more olive oil, if mixture is too thick.  Taste and adjust seasonings to your preference.

Transfer to a bowl and garnish with rosemary sprigs and a drizzle of olive oil.  Serve at room temperature with vegetables, flatbread, pitas, or crackers.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Broccoli and Cheese Calzones

I promised a third pizza dough recipe last week, but I got busy (and caught a cold), so better late than never!

Here's yet another recipe that you can make with Easy Pizza Dough.  I'll admit that I love this dough and it's versatility so much, that I've worked with it even more and I've made some improvements.  I'll leave the original flavor up on the blog, but I also plan to post a new version (with herbs and garlic) soon.

So far I've shared Pizza and Pepperoni Bread, all made with the same batch of dough.  Next up are these Broccoli and Cheese Calzones.  E and I spent many late nights eating calzones from D.P. Dough back in our college days.  We'd order these huge, cheesy concoctions and eat them way too late while we watched movies (on VHS) from Blockbuster.  We'd drink Tropicana Twister or Coca Cola.  Talk about old school.  We no longer eat like that.  I guess my metabolism was also old school because if I ate those calzones at that hour in 2011 I wouldn't be able to fit into my clothes on Monday!

These calzones are much more reasonable in size than the ones I enjoyed in college.  They aren't packed with too much cheese and they have plenty of vegetables.  E says they would be better with grilled chicken, so feel free to add some chicken breast if that's your thing.  If you're really on a healthy kick you can substitute half of the flour in the Easy Pizza Dough recipe for whole wheat.  I prefer mine with white flour, but do what works for you and your family.

I start with 1/3 of the original dough recipe.  I made a full batch of dough on Sunday and used it for three recipes throughout the week.  If your dough is ready to go this is a really quick dinner.

Divide the dough into two equal balls.  Roll each ball into a circle, about 8-10 inches in diameter.  Top the dough with cheese and broccoli.

Fold the dough over and seal the ends by crimping them with your fingers.  I like to sprinkle a little garlic powder on top before sliding the calzone in the oven.

Bake for about 20 minutes and you're ready to eat!

We like to serve ours with a side of hot marinara sauce for dipping. 

My recipe serves two, but if you have a larger group to feed, just use the entire batch of pizza dough to make six calzones.  Get creative... try sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, eggplant... whatever you like!

Broccoli and Cheese Calzones
a Keeley original
makes 2 calzones, serves 2

Easy Pizza Dough (use 1/3 of the finished recipe)
2 cups cooked broccoli
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
garlic powder (optional, for sprinkling before baking)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Divide pizza dough into two equal balls (Remember, this is for 1/3 of the Easy Pizza Dough recipe, if you are making more than two calzones, adjust accordingly).  Roll each ball into a circle, about 8 inches in diameter.

Top each circle with cheese and broccoli.  Keep the toppings on one half and then fold the dough over to cover the toppings.  Use your fingers to fold over and seal the edges.  Poke a few holes in the tops of each calzone with a fork.  Sprinkle tops of calzones with a light dusting of garlic powder, if desired.

Bake calzones for 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve hot with warm marinara sauce, if desired.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pepperoni Bread

Pepperoni Bread is the second in a series of three recipes that I'm sharing this week that utilize Easy Pizza Dough.  On Monday, I started off (predictably) with straight up Pizza.  Today I'm branching out to one of my favorite appetizers:  Pepperoni Bread.  There are lots of (more complicated) ways to make pepperoni bread, but this recipe is my easiest version yet.

What is pepperoni bread?  When I was growing up in New Jersey my mom would often purchase it at local Italian bakeries.  It's basically baked bread with a crispy exterior and a chewy exterior rolled up with pepperoni and cheese.  I like mine straight up, but E prefers his with a side of marinara sauce.  To me, it's just the right ratio of bread to filling.  It's not greasy or wet (as Stromboli can sometimes be), but it's moist and very flavorful. 

So how do you do this?

Roll out the dough into a rectangle (-ish) shape.  Top the dough with shredded mozzarella and sliced pepperoni...

Roll the dough up in a snug little shape, tucking the ends as you go.  You'll end up with a tidy little package. 

Let the roll rise for 15-30 minutes, then poke it with a skewer to prevent excessive tunnels of air from forming in the bread. 

Then you just bake it!

When it's golden brown, remove it from the oven.  It may burst on the side and have a little cheese oozing out (especially if you overfill it, which I tend to do).  It's okay, just let it cool. 

Slice.  Serve.  Enjoy.  Life is good.  Pepperoni makes everyone happy.

P.S. If you don't eat pork, you can find turkey pepperoni in the dairy section at your grocery store.  It won't be in large slices like the traditional pepperoni, but it works. 

P.P.S.  If you don't want to make your own pizza dough, you can buy it fresh or frozen at the grocery store.  It's often more cost-effective to make your own, but do what you've gotta do - adjust accordingly to accommodate your dough.

I still have one more recipe to share that utilizes this versatile pizza dough.  Stay tuned!

Pepperoni Bread
a Keeley original
Serves 4 as an appetizer - or 2 hungry adults

1/3 recipe of Easy Pizza Dough
1/3 pound sandwich-sliced pepperoni (from the deli counter)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
warm marinara sauce (optional) for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

If pizza dough is refrigerated, let dough relax at room temperature for 30 minutes to one hour before baking.

Roll dough into a thin rectangle, about 14" by 8" - you don't need to be exact.  Top dough with mozzarella cheese, leaving a 1" border on all sides.  Lay pepperoni on top of mozzarella, be sure to leave a 1" border.

Roll the dough into a log.  Tuck the corners as your roll so that none of the filling pops out of the edges.  Dampen your finger with water to seal the open edge.  Place roll seam side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Let the roll rise for about 30 minutes.  Poke the roll all the way through with a skewer or toothpick in a few spots and then bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown.

Cool for 30-45 minutes before slicing.  Serve with warm marinara sauce, if desired.  Store leftovers in the refrigerator.  Slices reheat well in the microwave.

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