Tuesday, July 27, 2010

No-Meat Balls

Who doesn't like a good meatball?

Vegetarians, that's who.

Hillary is a vegetarian and I am not, and this creates a small problem when it comes to mealtime decisions. We have come to the conclusion that the best idea would be to determine some meals that we can make that incorporate a meat "add-in" a it were. For example, Fettuccine Alfredo, chicken breast optional. Or simmering two pots of chili, one with extra beans, one with beef. I am comfortable with the fact that I am unable to eat meat everyday (have you seen how much flank steak even COSTS?), but I do revel in the times when I can fry up some bacon.

Imagine, then, my suprise with this peculiar recipe for vegetarian meatballs that Hillary happened across a while ago. From the first bite, there is no real indication that these meatballs are not genuine. The texture is perfect, as long as you mince up the walnuts well, and the taste hinges on the sauces in any case. If you didn't know they were vegetarian, you wouldn't know they were vegetarian!

Vegetarian Meatballs
  • 3/4 c walnuts, very finely chopped
  • 1c shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1c Italian breadcrumbs
  • 4 eggs
  1. Mix all ingredients together well, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 375.
  3. Portion out meatballs onto a lightly greased baking sheet. The best tool for this is a 2oz cookie scoop, which should make about 40 meatballs.
  4. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare a sauce in which to simmer the meatballs. Some options include 3 parts bbq sauce to 1 part water, vegetable stock, or cream of mushroom soup mixed with a little cornstarch.
  6. Place the meatballs in a pot and cover with your desired dressing, enough to almost cover the tops of the meatballs. Simmer for around 30 minutes.

This recipe fed all five attendees at our dinner club.

Feel free to experiment heavily with this recipe, especially the sauces. And, take note that the meatballs can be frozen after step four, speeding up mealtime during the week. The balls can be placed right into a simmering pot of barbeque sauce for 30 minutes or so while you prepare other side dishes. They can also be slow cooked, on low for about 2 hours, to gain a similar effect if you happen to be going to a potluck.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Vegetable Chips

I have said, more than once, that there is no reason that anyone should ever buy chips. Of any kind. Ever.

But as I sit here munching on some chips, I have to reconsider what it is that I have said, and restate it: There is no reason that anyone should ever buy greasy potato chips. For as it turns out, the chips that I am consuming are of the veggie variety. A stroke of genius then strikes. "If I could make my own food, could I not make my own veggie chips?"

The answer is a resounding "Duh."

Several pages on several websites have several different points of view on how to best conjure up a chip, including frying and even microwaving, but I have set my sights on a healthier variety, so I will introduce you to the method of baking. The steps are very simple. Cut up some vegetables into slices, let them dry for a short while, then bake them in a very low oven.

For our first trick, we have decided to use some squash. You could also use any other tuber you might like: sweet potato, raddishes, beets, regular potatoes, parsnips, even carrot, green beans, cucumbers, what have you. Here is the formal recipe that we followed.

Baked Veggie Chips
  • 2lb Mixed vegetables, peeled
  • Salt to taste
  • Cooking Spray
  1. Slice the vegetables very thinly, approximately 1/16 inch, and allow to sit in the open air for about 20 minutes. Set oven to 275 degrees.
  2. Rinse vegetables well and pat dry.
  3. Place the slices on a lightly greased sheet pan in a single layer. Spray the tops of the vegetables with cooking spray as well, and salt to taste.
  4. Bake for 1 hour. Check for crispness occasionally.

Not all the vegetables take the same length of time to dry, and not all the slices of the same veggie will take the same length of time to dry, either. This is why you have to check them relatively frequently. I would say at least every 15 minutes, more often near the end of the hour. We completely ignored our yellow squash for 55 minutes, and by that time, it was too late. Imagine little round blacks discs burned to the pan. :( It was like making toffee all over again. But that's a story for another day.

For round two, we decided to check on the little monsters every 10 minutes or so. even though we were watching diligently...

Many of the chips were no good at all, a little limp, and some of them were ok as cooked squash, but almost none of them were chips. Something tells me there's an error in translation here. This will have to have a comeback in a later post...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New Math... New Math...

You can't take three from two,
Two is less than three,
So you look at the four in the tens place.
Now that's really four tens,
So you make it three tens,
Regroup, and you change a ten to ten ones,
And you add them to the two and get twelve,
And you take away three, that's nine.
Is that clear?

Here's a new recipe that's so very simple only a Child could do it. My wife, that is: Hillary. For our dinner club dinner this week we were weaseled into making Spanakopita, Spinach Pie. We had never made Spinach Pie before. Fortunately, it is not difficult to do at all. And, since we are only making one dinner during the week, we are able to splurge a little bit on the necessary ingredients: Fresh baby spinach, ricotta and feta cheeses, and phyllo dough.

Hillary was positively astounded at the prices of the ingredients, but I reminded her that it would be a splendid dish and that absolutely everyone would like it. Plus, we have been doing well on our weekly spending this month, so one week that falls a little bit over isn't quite so bad (we spent about $45 this week.) I even promised to help cook it.

Conveniently, a few friends (or is that club members?) dropped by earlier than expected, and helped clean and chop all two pounds of fresh leaf spinach. It DOES take quite a while to chop all that spinach, I'm told. All the leaves were carefully dried and fried, mixed with cheese, and spread out between layers of flaky phyllo. Forty minutes later, I arrived just in time to help remove the dish from the oven.

And, everyone liked it. Even the meatatarian.

The title of this post I feel fitting because Hillary was mostly fearful of cooking something that was unfamiliar when it is being tested on friends. Certainly, making something new is a learning experience, but a wise french chef says that you must be bold in the kitchen, not apologize for your mistakes, and never feel that you are being judged for your art. And to wear pearls, to a lesser extent.

So do not be scared of trying new things when you feel it applicable. New skills in the kitchen are positively indispensable, and expand your repetoire. For example, I tried making english toffee a while ago. It was a horrible disaster, but I feel that I have a much better grip on how to create candy than I did before. And, now that Hillary knows how to cook using pastry sheets, we are able to use phyllo in more recipes in the future.

Plus, we only used eight sheets, and phyllo dough comes in packs of FORTY. That means baklava next week :)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Nutrient Density

One of my favorite blogs, Wise Bread, had an article recently about eating organic on a budget. The only parts of that sentence that I saw were "eating" and "budget", so I began reading immediately.

The article in question had very good ideas about spending wisely and reducing intake, and even included a paragraph on eating less meat, but the section that intrigued me the most was about "Nutritional Density".

Nutritional density is the quality of food that makes you feel full and satisfied after eating it (something that is severely lacking in cola and french fries.) More or less, it quantitatively measures the number or amount of nutrients available in a specific portion of a certain food, and calculates a number based on those figures. Some of the healthiest items to eat are no surprise at all: spinach, brussels sprouts, collard greens, and broccoli are among the leaders. And, conversely, other items on the other end of the spectrum are not so surprising: white bread, ice cream, french fries, whole milk, and cheeses.

What does all this mean to you (and me)? Choosing items that are higher in nutritional density make you feel fuller after eating them. Thus, you will have to purchase less to create a meal, and save money. As an added bonus, most of the things that are high in nutrient density are really quite inexpensive (think fresh green veggies, dried lentils and beans), which of course leads to saving even more money.

Of course, you do not need to eat only kale and kelp to save money, but do try to improve your choices at least a little bit. Like whole wheat bread instead of white, and skim or 1/2% instead of whole milk.

The broad line retailer in our area, Meijer, has rolled out what they call the "NuVal" system, which is a similar score based on the nutritional information of a product. High scorers include cantaloupe, lettuce, and radishes. Low scorers are pop tarts and potato chips. When picking snacks, using this index to guide you can lead to less eating later on. I know that I, personally, can munch through a bag of cookies without breaking a sweat, but Crasins make me feel full after just a few handfuls [read: lose weight, too]. I know the physical volume is lower, but the density is what matters.

WiseBread is a community of bloggers who are all about you saving money. I recommend you check them out, and start scrimping in other areas of your budget!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


YEAH jam.

Blackberry half pints at 10 for $10 this week at our grocery store, Kroger. That means its time to jam. Make jam, that is.

Making your own jam is surprisingly simple. Mash and boil some berries with sugar, add fruit pectin, and jar. For $6.00 we made 7 jars of blackberry jam, probably enough to last through to winter. Jars of jam and jelly will last about a year in the fridge, so feel free to make too much and give it away.

Canning jars can be found at most grocery stores; we got ours at Target, actually. There are a lot of complicated steps for getting the jars sealed, like boiling the lids, boiling the jars after filling, and cooling for so many hours, but the only one we did was to warm up the jars before filling. The hot jam cooled, and sucked in the top of the jar by itself.

It's delicious on homemade wheat bread.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Save my dinner!

The Real Simple Magazine which I was recently reading had an article about how to save disastrous dinner situations! A great way to save the day AND save money. It reminded me fondly of my earlier post about saving partially ruined meals. Not only does Real Simple help you save this meal, but it also gives you some tips for preventing the same mistake later.

Here's a link:

Easy Fixes for 8 Common Kitchen Mishaps

RealSimple.com has a great plethora of good tips for saving time on cooking, too, as well as a ton of other household ideas, tricks, and tips.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Dinner club update

Well, last month it looks like we spent almost our entire budget. $154.00 for two people, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But let's break that down by week. We started having our firends over for dinner on the week of June 20th...

Looks like we saved about $10 a week by having our little dinner club! The final week actually spills over into July, and we haven't actually used all the meals we purchased yet, so it also looks like next week will still be less, even if we don't share any meals at all! Which of course, we will. ;)

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Note on Sides (Subtitle: A Duh Moment)

The last time you went out to eat almost anywhere, what did you get? Just a hamburger? Just a slice of fish? Chances are you probably ate some salad, some fries, some mixed veggies, or some french onion soup with that. This may seem old hat and way too obvious, but adding sides to your meal really fleshes it out. grill up a pork chop and see how exciting and filling it is without a salad, potatoes, and some mushrooms on top.

Initially, from an economical view, it may seem that it would be inefficient to keep many different types of sides around to account for all your meals. But if you are planning week by week and buying fresh things, its actually a lot cheaper to replace a part of your main dish with a little bit of something complimentary and inexpensive.

Take for example, again, that lonely pork chop. When you are going to buy, you might figure out that everyone would like to have three chops. Replace one of those chops with some instant mashed potatoes, or even better, a big baked potato, and a head of lettuce for some salad. Youve instantly replaced something that regularly might cost $3.99 per pound to something that usually costs a lot less than $0.99 per pound. Your troupe still gets fed just the same, even healthier, and you save probably about a buck a person for that one meal.

Duplicate that 6 or 7 times, and you are rollin' in it.