Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fake n Bake Macaroni Casserole

Who doesn't love a good homemade baked macaroni and cheese casserole? I, for one, could not turn down this good old fashioned comfort food. However, with limited schedule and budget, who has time to make this from scratch? Enter this awesome fake n bake recipe. All you need is a box of Kraft mac and cheese, or for even less moolah, the generic store version, some shredded cheese, sour cream, and cracker/bread crumbs.
  • 1 (14 ounce) packages Kraft macaroni and cheese (dinner, blue box)
  • 1 cup shredded chedder cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper or 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 butter flavored crackers, crushed (like Ritz)
  • 1 tablespoon butter or 1 tablespoon margarine, melted
I substituted bread crumbs for cracker crumbs, and I just dotted the butter on the top once it was in the pan. The whole recipe takes about 30 minutes from start to finish so I didn't have to slave in the kitchen for 2 hours and waste my whole evening, yay! This comes out so gooey and cheesy you would never believe it was just glorified mac and cheese from a box. This recipe could be expanded on as well, I think once I had no sour cream so I used cream cheese and it came out the same. Or make two boxes and double the recipe if you have a big group to feed.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Grocery Breakdown

Someone had told me that it might be a good idea to let you know exactly what it is we buy each week, and how much money we spend in each area of our food budget. Well, I said, that's a great idea, but it would require me actually doing work for once.

After my wife put down the rolling pin, I decided that as long as I had locked myself in the office to escape, I may as well get typing. And since I never empty my wallet, I happen to have a good breakdown of what exactly it is that kept us going these past weeks.

Here is what we bought for the week of July 4th:
  • Bananas: $0.83
  • Cake Mix: $0.89
  • Frosting $1.09
  • 3lb Apples: $2.59
  • Coffee Cake: $1.99
  • (2) Crasins: $2.00
  • Cereal Bars: $1.99
  • (2) Cheese: $1.99
  • Ham: $2.68
  • Rice Vinegar: $1.99
  • Yeast: $2.69
  • Onions: $2.74
  • Cookies: $1.25
  • Toaster Pastries: $0.99
  • Bread: $0.78
  • (6) Blackberries: $6.00
All together, totals with tax are $32.60 for the week.

Here is the week of July 11th:
  • Cereal: $1.89
  • Toaster Pastries: $1.79
  • Mini-cinnamon Crisps: $1.99
  • Burger Buns: $.39
  • Wheat Bread: $1.69
  • Salmon Salad: $2.19
  • Spaghetti O's: $.73
  • Soup: $1.39
  • Canned Corn: $.49
  • Canned Peaches: $1.39
  • Canned Mushrooms: $.50
  • (2) Tomato Sauce: $.50
  • Green Tea: $.75
  • Avocado: $.98
  • Strawberries: $1.19
  • Frozen Dinner: $.99
  • Bananas: $.75
  • Eggs: $.95
  • (4) Yogurt: $1.48
  • Milk: $1.99
Total for the week: $24.02!

Here is the week of July 18th:
  • Ricotta: $1.89
  • Spinach: $3.99
  • (7) Frozen Dinners: $7.48
  • Milk: $2.00
  • Eggs: $.95
  • (2) Soup: $2.78
  • Bagel Bites: $1.39
  • String Cheese: $2.79
  • Cookies: $1.99
  • Ketchup: $.99
  • Granola Bars: $1.89
  • Almonds: $2.99
  • Butter: $1.99
  • Ham: $2.79
  • Bananas: $1.03
  • (5) Yogurt: $1.85
  • Filo Dough: $3.49
  • (2) Feta Cheese: $3.98
Total for the week: $42.26

Here is the week of July 25th:
  • Salsa: $1.69
  • Spaghetti O's: $.73
  • (7) Frozen Dinners: $9.31
  • BBQ Sauce: $.99
  • Bananas: $.70
  • Pudding: $.89
  • (5) Yogurt: $1.85
  • Cheese: $2.99
  • Cool-Aid: $.89
  • Granola Bars: $1.89
  • Crackers: $1.79
  • Sour Cream: $.99
  • Romaine: $.94
  • Liverwurst: $1.79
  • Avocado: $1.79
  • Tomato: $.23
Total for this last week: $29.14

Total for the month: $128.02 (which is about $30 under our budget!)

With all of the groceries we purchased this month we were able to make the following meals/items:
  • 7 jars of blackberry jam
  • Spanakopita
  • No-meat balls (2 batches)
  • Gourmet omelets
  • Chocolate cake and cupcakes (using applesauce instead of oil)
  • Several loaves of homemade bread
  • Bagels
  • Taco salad
  • Pasta with Olive Oil and Feta
  • Puffed Pancake
And, of course breakfast and lunch for two people seven days a week.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sushi Skills

A short while ago, I made the (excellent) decision to make my own sushi. While this was a fun endeavor, fillings are very difficult to choose. If you select fish, you must be sure to select very fresh sushi-grade fish or use a cooked variety. Many sushi bars will be able to supply you with the correct cuts for making your own sushi at home; some even sell kits that include nori (seaweed) wrappers and rice.

The types of fish that re available to you are almost endless. Tuna, salmon, crab, imitation crab, fatty tuna, white tuna, snapper, eel, scallop, shrimp, octopus, godzilla fillet, etcetera.

However, since Hillary does not normally eat fish, I believed the selections to be sharply narrowed. However, I discovered that there were as many vegetable fillings as there were fish fillets. Cucumber, avocado, egg (raw or cooked), daikon radish, ginger, pickled anything, tempura sweet potato (Hillary's favorite), asparagus, carrot, tofu, green onions, mushrooms, the list goes on. If you do not think you are able to find sushi-grade fish in your area, choose a cooked variety, like conger eel, shrimp or prawn, or even grilled tuna or snapper.

The rice is not very tricky, cook as normal, add sugar and vinegar when done, and let cool completely. if you do not have rice wine vinegar, you may substitute white wine vinegar with little ill effect. Also add sesame seeds if you like :)

Now the tricky part, in my opinion, is assembly. The pros use a bamboo mat to roll up their sushi by hand, or freestyle each individual piece in some cases. But, if you must have that sushi that looks like sushi, here is what I did: I retrieved a bamboo place mat from the dollar store and covered it in plastic wrap. Lay out a sheet of nori shiny side down on top of this mat.

Spread a coating of rice all the way across the sheet. You want to cover everything except about two inches at the far end of the seaweed. Do not apply this layer too thick, just enough to cover up so you can sort of see seaweed through it.

Line up your sliced ingredients horizontally across the center of the rice in a straight line, no more than 3/4 inch wide. Now simply start rolling up the sushi, using the mat for support. When you get closer to the end, flip up the end of the mat so you do not get it stuck in your sushi!

As a variant to this, you may prepare your sushi uramaki, which means that the rice is on the outside and the nori on the inside. Simply apply rice over the entire sheet of nori and flip the sheet over after applying the rice, then roll as normal with ingredients on top of the nori.

Move the roll to a cutting board and slice it up. Six pieces creates big sushi, I believe eight may be perfect. Serve and enjoy. Throw gang signs.

My friend Kelly recently retrieved a sushi-making tool from eBay, a sort of tube that split open so you can fill it, and a plunger to get the rice combo out and onto a sheet of nori. He used it to make a perfect roll every time. Though they were delicious, I fear there was too much rice and the sushi ended up too large. Hand rolling is the way to go for me. However, if you do not have very good dexterity, this may be a good option for you if you make a lot of sushi at home. You may wish to develop your skills on the side, so you may graduate to hand rolls and more complex sushi variants, like this crazy bean-rice-omelet combination.

If nori is not your thing, you may go that route as well, and simply place a slice of fish on top of a small roll of rice (nigiri-zushi). Or, create a roll of rice using either of the above methods, then placing the finished roll in a pan of sesame seeds, or breading and frying it to make a deep-fried roll.