Dec 30, 2009

A little bit of cheese

Happy Holidays everyone. With New Years Eve tomorrow and my last post just before Thanksgiving I've taken a bit of a hiatus this December. This wasn't scheduled just necessary as the holiday reveling has kept Matt and I super busy and we've been traveling quite a bit. From Thanksgiving in Utah, down to Santa Barbara for my first marathon, and finally almost a week up in Oregon. Busy, busy I tells ya.

I've missed blogging, but I have been cooking and I have a bit of a back log of goodies both sweet and savory to share. I've also spent some time brainstorming ways to make b&b better and I look forward to getting started in the new year.

However today I thought I'd re-visit a previous post that wasn't quite finished. If you remember, back in August, I went to visit my brother on the farm he was interning at in the Central Valley. During our visit we made a round of blue cheese using milk fresh from the goats he was taking care of. Well I did try the cheese when it was due on October 8th, but then I kind of forgot about it for the next couple months. So yesterday I pulled the round out and tried it again.

Um, got better. Even Matt, who doesn't like blue cheese or goat cheese, was like - wow...that's pretty good. However, now I have about 10 of these little triangles of cheese. So if I see you in the next couple weeks I might bring you some.

Happy New Year!

Nov 23, 2009

Coconut Wild Rice Soup

When the weather turns rainy, I start making soup. It must be one of those "settling in for the winter" tendencies that I have, along with pulling out the flannel sheets and walking around in sweaters and stocking caps. Though this fall has been so mild we've primarily had beautiful sunny days with a few rainy ones scattered about. Maybe I'm wishing for fall more than experiencing it.

Anyways, back to the soup. I've made several lentil versions, a hearty chicken and sweet potato chowder, and a couple weeks ago this delicious coconut wild rice version. It was hearty and used basic ingredients that I have in the pantry so was thankfully pretty easy to pull together.

This recipe was adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Super Natural Cooking, and one I find myself turning to more often then not. I love the simplicity of the recipes, and yet the layers of flavor built in to each one. And wild rice is so hearty and distinct its hard not to try anything that highlights this ingredient.

Reading up about wild rice in my handy Food Lover's Companion, I learned that it is "known for its luxurious nutty flavor and chewy texture, and actually isn't rice at all but rather a long-grain marsh grass native to the northern Great Lakes area, where it is harvested by the local Indians. Though it is also producing commercially in California, as well as several Midwest states." I love learning little random facts about what I eat.

Coconut Wild Rice Soup
adapted from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

Serves 4

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 1/2 teaspoons red curry paste
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 medium potato, chopped
1 cup wild rice, rinsed
4 cups water
1 14-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce (low-sodium if possible)
1 14-ounce can coconut milk

Heat the coconut oil in a heavy soup pot over medium-high heat, then add the curry paste, garlic, and onion and saute for 3-4 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Ensure everything is well coated in coconut oil and curry paste before adding the next ingredients.

Stir in the chopped potato, wild rice, and 3 cups of water. Bring to a simmer and add the garbanzo beans. Stir well then lower the heat a bit, and cook, covered for about 40 minutes, or until the rice starts to soften, and split.

When the wild rice is tender, stir in the sugar, soy sauce, coconut milk, and remaining cup of water. Stir, return to a simmer and add salt to your taste. Cook for another 5 minutes to meld the flavors. Remove from the heat and add any additional salt or pepper as desired.

When serving, be sure to ladle from the bottom of the pot to make sure each bowl gets a good helping of wild rice, potatoes, and beans.

Alison's Notes:
*I served this soup with crackers on the side, sliced baguette would also be good.

Nov 11, 2009

Homemade Spinach Pasta

Have you ever made your own pasta? No, I didn't think so. Because really - who makes their own pasta? That is not a retorical question. Until last weekend I would have never thought to make my own, but like most homemade dishes, it is well worth the effort. It's so good!

Over the weekend as I was doing my weekly ritual of scanning the cookbooks and magazines on the shelf to come up with new recipes for the week I came across an easy sounding pasta dish in a new cookbook, The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. This gem was a gift from a friend earlier this year, however with the recipes coming out of the heartland of northern Italy I have saved looking through it seriously until the weather turned cold.

I'm sure other cookbooks I've looked through before have walked me through making pasta, but for some reason this one spoke to me. Maybe because there are no pictures, and so I couldn't get too scared. Or maybe because it offered a hand made variety vs. using a pasta maker (which I don't have). Whatever the reason, I can now say that I've made my own pasta.

It probably, no - it definitely, did not turn out perfectly, but that was part of the beauty of it. It wasn't form made, or uniform at all. There were holes where their shouldn't have been holes, and I didn't have the special tool to make ziti, which my sauce recipe called for, so I went with a basic spaghetti noodle instead.

I'll be trying this again, because I obviously have tons to learn. But for those who've ever thought about trying to make their own pasta - I say go for it, and maybe it will turn out like some of the picture's here, or maybe not...but I can almost assure you that it will taste good!

Spinach Egg Pasta
adapted from The Splendid Table

Serves 4-6, and makes about the same amount as 1 pound of dried boxed pasta

2 jumbo eggs (I used large eggs and added more water when mixing)
10 ounces fresh spinach, rinsed, stemmed, steamed, squeezed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry*
3 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

Mound the flour in the center of the work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs, and chopped spinach to the middle of the well. Using a wooden spoon beat them together gradually incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As more and more flour is worked into the liquid use a pastry scraper (or your hands) to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate as much flour into the dough.

Once the dough has become a cohesive mass, use the pastry scraper (or a knife) to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface - these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough about 3 minutes, so that the consistency is elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny smooth, and very elastic. Don't shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it relax at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to three hours.

Using a regular size rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time. Keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. Shape it into a ball and being rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins out start rolling and stretching the dough using your hands to pull the dough as you continue to turn it a quarter turn. Stretch the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way, then gently pushing the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the dough in place with the other hand. Repeat these processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner.

The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For spaghetti and other flat ribbon pastas it should be thin enough to see your hand through it. Be careful to not take two long in thinning and stretching as the dough starts drying out, and then it can be difficult to stretch and will possibly cook unevenly.

Either lay the pasta sheets onto a flat surface, or drape them over the back of a chair covered with a dish towel to dry for 20 minutes, or until leathery in texture (turning several times to encourage even drying). Repeat with the remainder of the dough.

To cut, roll up the pasta and slice it to the desired width, then lay it out as necessary to continue drying or cook up in very salty water. This fresh pasta cooks very quickly, and is done in about a minute of cooking in boiling water.

Alison's Notes:
*I used one large bunch of organic spinach from Earthbound farms.
**Like I said this was my first go at it and I definitely struggled with the stretching of the dough. As I write up the instructions I'm already thinking of ways to make it easier and quicker next time.

Nov 8, 2009

Buckwheat Pear Pancakes

Sometimes I have a hankering for eating something specific, and this morning it was pancakes. On a crisp fall Sunday morning, this sounded like the perfect breakfast.

Not sure if I've mentioned my marathon training yet, but - for the past three months I've been training for the Santa Barbara Marathon with Team in Training. As the mileage has continued to creep up each week (next Saturday I'm running 20 miles, the longest I've ever run before), I've had to be more and more careful with what I eat. And the thing is...I want to be.

The more I run, the faster and stronger I want to get and much of that has to do with what I eat. As my coaches say, "You are what you eat." I've heard this before, but training for a marathon has made it more real for me than ever before.

Needless to say, these days I'm really trying to cut down on the sugar, processed food, and saturated fat in my diet. And at the same time figuring out new ways to eat good, nourishing food. Which is how the buckwheat pancakes came about. When I woke up wanting pancakes this morning, I knew that I wanted to make a healthier version of this breakfast treat. Buckwheat flour, which I picked up a while ago from my local food co-op, is a whole grain flour with a distinct nutty flavor, and its loaded with magnesium and other heart healthy benefits. Making it the perfect flour substitute in my pancakes.

Also, instead of regular sugar I used honey. A friend recently turned me on to the idea of using honey instead of sugar. She was telling me that up to a certain point you can use a one to one ratio of honey over sugar. I'm pretty sure it was at least 1 cup, so my substitution worked out just fine in this recipe.

I added the pears for the fun of it. I thought they were a nice flavor combination with the buckwheat, and I like how cooking them directly into the pancake batter softened and toasted them just perfectly.

Buckwheat Pear Pancakes
adapted from Betty Crocker's Fast Pancake Recipe

makes 9 medium sized pancakes

1 large egg
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 pinches salt
1/2 pear, thinly chopped

Beat egg in a medium bowl with a fork until fluffy. Stir in the remaining ingredients, except the pear just until smooth. Heat skillet over medium heat or to 375. Grease pan with butter.

For each pancake, pour about 1/4 cup batter onto the skillet. Place the thinly chopped pears into the batter. Cook until bubbly on top, puffed and dry around the edges. Turn and cook on the otherside until golden brown.

- Next time I might try using all buckwheat flour to see what it tastes like, or adding chopped nuts instead of pears. There are all kinds of combination's to try here.
- This was a great recipe for two, but I would definitely plan to double it if there were more people coming for breakfast, or I wanted left overs for the week.

Oct 26, 2009

oktoberfest beef brisket

I've made this beef brisket twice now in just a matter of weeks. Though you wouldn't know it, after the beautiful weather we've had here the past couple days, fall is coming and my inner clock is telling me to cook hearty, fragrant food that fills the belly. The first time I made this brisket I paired it with these soft-pretzels and apples with caramel sauce for an Oktoberfest feast. And more recently it was an easy dish that I made the night before a busy day of hanging out with family, knowing it would be a hit.

The original recipe recommended making this the day before and letting the flavors meld and come together for a night or two before serving. And it works! The earlier the better. Which brings me to the only slightly difficult part of the recipe - planning ahead, and by more than just a couple hours, which is my usual M.O.

But let me tell you it is well worth the effort and planning needed to cook the brisket on day one, and heat and serve it on day two. This allows the flavors to meld nicely, plus, when spread out over two days the house smells heavenly for just a bit longer.

Brisket Braised in Porter
adapted from Bon Appetit

(this takes approximately 4 hours and 30 minutes to make, but most of that time is hands off, plus time to re-heat on before serving)

1 tablespoon coarse kosker salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dry mustard seeds, ground)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 3-pound brisket, trimmed but with some fat still attached
2 tablespoons rendered bacon fat
4 cups low sodium chicken broth, divided
1 12-ounce bottle of porter or stout beer
6 whole pitted prunes
4 bay leaves
2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
3 cups thinly sliced onions
4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 pound medium carrots, peeled and chopped into 2 inch pieces

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Mix first 5 ingredients in a small bowl. Rub herb mixture all over brisket. Heat bacon fat in a heavy extra-large wide ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add brisket to pot and cook until deep brown, 5-7 minutes per side. Transfer brisket to platter.

Add 2 cups of broth to pot and bring to boil, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot. Stir in prunes, porter, bay leaves, and brown sugar; bring to boil. Return brisket to pot, fat side down; scatter onion slices over to cover meat, then add garlic.

Cover pot; place in oven and braise brisket 1 hour. Remove pot from oven; uncover and turn brisket over so that the onion slices fall into the liquid in the pot. Return pot to oven and braise uncovered for 30 minutes. Add 1 cup broth. Cover and bake for 1 hour 30 minutes. Add carrots and continue to braise until the meat and carrots are very tender, adding more broth by the cupful as needed, about 45 minutes to 1 hour longer. Cool slightly then refrigerate uncovered until cold. Cover and keep chilled at least 1 day and up to 2 days before serving.

About 1 hour prior to serving spoon off any fat from the surface of the brisket or in the pot. Re-heat on the stove by first bringing the juices to a boil and then simmering the brisket for at least 45 minutes until heated through. Serve meat and vegetables with sauce from the pot.

Serves 6.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Oct 17, 2009

homemade soft pretzels

As part of an Oktoberfest dinner party we had a couple weeks ago, Matt and I made these fabulous soft pretzels. We had made them once before last spring, and just like before they were no fuss and easy to pull together. This time we got a couple kinds of mustard to dip them in, and I would totally recommend this Jack Daniels version, yum!

I always thought soft pretzels were one of those items you got at the fair, or sports games, not something you made. But the homemade version is so incredibly yummy, that I think it will be hard to go back to the sports game variety. These pretzels are soft and chewy, and I like how when I make them at home I can add as much or as little salt as I want.

Similar to other kinds of bread the primary ingredients are flour, water, yeast and salt. I still have yet to find a local all-purpose flour, so unfortunately can't say that these are very local. I do wonder however if there is fair-trade flour that I can get? Hmmm, something to look into. I pretty much followed the recipe spot on for these and both times have come out with fantastic results. Though they take about 1 hour and 30 - 45 minutes to make, the hour is really due to them needing to rise until about double in size.

homemade soft pretzels
from Alton Brown via the Food Network

makes 8 soft pretzels

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
2 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
pretzel salt (large flake salt - I used Maldon)

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4-5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50-55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 1 large baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly brush with vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil.

In the meantime turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment lined pan.

Place the pretzels in the pan 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12-14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Serve with your favorite mustard and/or pint of beer.

photography by: alison clayshulte

Oct 15, 2009

deep dish apple pie and sustainable saturday

Last weekend I was asked to bring dessert for my friends "Sustainable Saturday" dinner party. This was sustainable dinner number 10 for said friends, who started the parties about a year and half ago, after reading Micheal Pollan's books The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food.

The parties go like this, one of them cooks up amazing meals using only ingredients from within 150 miles of Oakland, the other hosts like a pro and organizes the donation pool. Everyone invited is asked not to bring a dish or wine, but to provide a donation for People's Grocery, a non-profit organization in Oakland who's mission is to build a local food system that improves the health and economy of the West Oakland community.

The dinner always turns out a good crowd, eager to try the latest sustainable faire, and give to help such an excellent bay area organization.

Needless to say, there is a lot to live up to in terms of bringing a dessert for this dinner party. Not only the amazing food, but when I checked the evite list late last week there were about 40 people RSVP'ing yes. Whoa! That meant dessert for 40 people. So after a little research I settled on the following: 2 deep dish apple pies and cut up apples with homemade caramel sauce.

The pies were definitely an act of love, taking several hours to pull together. The project began with first mixing dough for the crust and setting it to chill. While the crust chilled I peeled 10 pounds of a combination of tart and sweet apples. Then cored, chopped and cooked them down in a mix of spices, sugar and lemon, before laying them out to cool on baking sheets.

Then it was back to the dough. I rolled 2 of my 4 rounds of dough out between parchment paper and then placed one in each pie pan, and poured in the apple filling. Each pie was then topped with another layer of crust.

It was well worth the effort, and I'm so glad I settled on the recipe outlined below from Cooks Illustrated. It was both easy to follow and produced a scrumptious pie with a lovely flaky crust filled with soft sweet apples.

deep dish apple pie
only slightly adapted from Cooks Illustrated

makes one 9-inch pie, serving 8-10

pie pastry

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and frozen for 5 minutes
3 tablespoons sour cream
1/3 cup ice water, or more as needed

apple filling

1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 1/2 pounds tart apples, about 5 medium, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices*
2 1/2 pounds sweet apples, about 5 medium, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices*
1 egg white, lightly beaten

for the pastry:
In a medium size bowl sift together the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the chilled butter and using a pastry knife cut it into the flour mix until it is the size of peas. Be careful not to over mix.

Using a fork, mix the sour cream and 1/3 cup ice water in a small bowl until combined. Add half of the sour cream mixture to the flour mixture and mix together. Repeat with the remaining sour cream mixture. Pinch together the dough with fingers; if dough is floury, dry, and does not hold together, add 1 to 2 tablespoons ice water and mix until the dough forms large clumps and no dry flour remains.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface. Divide dough into 2 balls and flatten each into 4-inch disks; wrap each disk in plastic and refrigerate until firm but not hard, 1 to 2 hours, before rolling.

for the pie:
Mix 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, zest, and cinnamon in large bowl; add apples and toss to combine. Transfer apples to large saute pan and cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring frequently, until apples are tender when poked with a fork but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes (apples and juices should gently simmer during cooking). Transfer apples and juices to rimmed baking sheet and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. While apples cool, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place empty rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees.

Remove 1 disk of dough from the refrigerator and roll out between 2 large sheets of parchment paper to a 12 inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick (If dough becomes soft and/or sticky, return to refrigerator until firm). Remove parchment paper from one side of dough and flip onto 9-inch pie plate; peel off second layer of parchment. Working around the outside of the dough, ease dough into the plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Leave dough that overhangs plate in place; refrigerate until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, roll second disk of dough between 2 large sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to 12 inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. refrigerate, leaving dough between parchment sheets until firm, about 30 minutes.

Set large colander over now-empty bowl; transfer cooled apples to colander. Shake colander to drain off as much juice as possible (cooked apples should measure about 8 cups); discard juice. Transfer apples to dough-lined pie plate; sprinkle with lemon juice.

Remove parchment from one side of remaining dough and flip dough onto apples; peel off second piece of parchment. Pinch edges of top and bottom dough rounds firmly together. Trim and seal edges of dough, then cut four 2-inch slits in top of dough. Brush surface with beaten egg white and sprinkle evenly with remaining teaspoon sugar.

Set pie on preheated baking sheet; bake until crust is dark golden brown, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer pie to wire rack and cool at least 1 1/2 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

*For the tart apples I used Granny Smiths; Empires or Cortland's would also work, and for the sweet apples I used Jonagolds; Golden Delicious or Braeburns would also work well.

** I was so exhausted after a long run in the morning and an afternoon of pie making that I didn't get a photo of just a slice. Bummer...but it was full of apples and uber tasty...I assure you!

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Oct 4, 2009

jam shortbread tart

A few days ago I made a wonderfully simple jam tart. This tart was for those who want something tasty and lovely, that is also super easy to pull together. It is also for those who don't have time for a classic pie crust. The crust is more of a shortbread, with a slight almond flavor and just a little crumb.

However, the crust becomes simply a means for highlighting whatever lovely jam that is cooked upon its top. With so many beautiful jams in the market right now I'm sure that you'll find a nice one. I was lucky enough to use homemade raspberry jam.

This was a nice and light tart which I will definitely make again, possibly mid-winter when I'm longing for the fresh flavors of summer fruit. Or as a quick dessert when friends are coming over as its super quick and nice and light. I enjoyed this with coffee and tea as well as below a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

jam shortbread tart
minimally adapted from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper

zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup whole almonds
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup jam (I used raspberry, cherry or another berry would also work nicely)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch round silver-colored cake or tart pan.

In a food processor grind the lemon zest and almonds. Add the flour, sugar, salt, egg-yolk, and almond extract. Pulse until everything is mixed and coming together. Scrape the mix into a medium size bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the mix, until it is the sizes of peas (it is better for the pea sizes to be larger rather than smaller for a crumblier crust).

Turn the dough out onto the pre-butter pan. Using a spatula or your fingers, spread it out to evenly cover the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust in the center of the oven for about 15 minutes, or until its edges are golden and the center is starting to color.

Remove the pan from the oven, and turn up the heat to 500 degrees F. Carefully spread the jam over the tart so that it is fully covered. Immediately return it to the oven (don't wait for the oven temperature to reach 500). Bake for another 5 to 10 minutes or until the jam is bubbly.

Cool the tart on a rack, slice into squares or wedges and serve. The tart can be served either warm or at room temperature. This will last for several days wrapped up well.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Sep 25, 2009

hunger challenge: day 3 & 4

On Wednesday I was able to complete the Hunger Challenge, eating on just $4 dollars for the entire day. With a very satisfying dinner of chicken and lentils (see recipe below) I had quelled my hunger, and was happy to come up with another recipe that fit the budget and tasted good. I resolved to finish the project through its completion on Thursday.

However, after an early morning workout on Thursday, I was completely wiped out. Driving my exhausted self home from the track I found myself torn with how to make my food dollars stretch out for the day, and really needing to fuel and refuel my body (especially thinking about an upcoming long run on Saturday). Deciding it was healthier to follow my body's instincts I ate more fruit, and a bigger dinner than I would have planned in order to meet the challenge. Throughout the day I realized how lucky I am to have the choice to do this. To be able to workout, and feed myself in a way that sustains me. And again I had a reality check when getting off of BART on Thursday morning there was a woman standing outside the stop holding out her hand saying she was hungry. I walked past, in a hurry to get into the office and on with my day. But then I stopped, turned around and handed her my plum. It cost 0.37 cents.

Overall this week has been exhausting, from planning out every single penny, to worrying about making it to my next meal, to thinking about how to make a healthy tasty dinner on very little. It has taken a lot of time to think about every meal and plan them out as best as possible.

Several times this week I thought about trying to eat on $4 per day and be an athlete. Working out hungry is hard, and not good for me. The number of good calories (in the form of fruits and veggies, protein, dairy, and healthy fats) that I was able to consume on this budget was not enough to energize and replenish me as I ran or swam this week. And those calories are expensive. I spent 0.75 cents on a nectarine, where I could have bought a small Snickers bar 0.50, there is something wrong with this reality.

Mid-week I got an email from the SF Food Bank with more information and several questions for us challengers to think about. They asked us if we had been able to go to the food bank would that have made a difference? Yes, it would have been a huge help! Especially when the list they gave of some of the items to be picked up this week included fruit, vegetables, whole wheat bread, and chicken sausages.

Can I imagine doing this all the time? Quite simply and quite gratefully the answer is no. I will forever be grateful to food banks for the work they do. I have learned so much this week and know that I will be much more aware, thankful for my privilege, and compassionate going forward.

Chicken and Lentils
(serves 2)

1/2 cup lentils (0.32)*
2 tablespoons butter (0.15)
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped (0.37)
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (0.12)
1 pound bone-in, skin-on chicken** (1.99)
1 carrot, chopped (0.14)
1 small zucchini, chopped (0.40)

total cost: $3.49

This fit into my budget as I had eaten left over pizza for lunch during the day, remained on my 0.65 breakfast, had no snacks, and was able to add Matt's $1.75 to the budget.

In a small pot boil a cup of water. Once the water is boiling, pour in the half cup of lentils and bring to a boil. Once the lentils have boiled, cover and turn down to simmer for approximately 30 minutes until the lentils are tender and have soaked up all the water.

Meanwhile melt the butter in a saute pan. Once melted saute the chopped onion and garlic until soft. Add the pieces of chicken and cook for 5 minutes to brown, and then flip. Cover the pan to cook the chicken for 5-7 minutes. Flip the chicken again and add the carrots and zucchini. Cooking until the chicken is done, then hold in a warm oven until the lentils have finished.

To serve, place cooked lentils on a plate the add chicken, carrots and zucchini. Scope up some of the juice in the saute pan for a light dressing.

*One bag of dried lentils is 1.25 for a 16 oz bag at Safeway.
**I talked to the butcher about the most cost effective way to buy chicken. I learned that a whole chicken gave you the most bang per buck, and he very graciously cut up the smallest chicken they had into serving sized portions for me. At 1.99 per pound for an organic chicken, this was the healthiest, most cost-effective way to purchase good meat.

Other thoughts:
- This morning, I realize that I've already added walnuts to my oatmeal, and milk to my tea - two small luxuries not allowed when trying to eat on $4.

- I had a minimal amount of cheese this week and no other dairy was in the budget. Milk, yogurt, and cheese is expensive and when faced with choosing fruit or dairy I chose fruit. I wonder what the best choice is.

- After Tuesday's post I had a comment from a friend asking about communities coming together to combine resources and budgets when on such a tight budget. I think this is an excellent idea. By having the extra $1.75 for dinners because Matt was joining me really helped stretch my food dollars and allowed for things like cheese and chicken that I wouldn't have been able to afford otherwise.

- I went to two stores, and thought a lot about my meals, and creating healthy dishes with little this week. If I wasn't able to spend the time, or go to a couple stores, this would have been much more difficult. What an eye opener.

Sep 22, 2009

hunger challenge: day 2

Day 2 of the hunger challenge was not quite as intense as Day 1. Partly because I knew what to expect, and partly because once again I cheated. Not terribly, but I did grab a few almonds and some yogurt this afternoon. I had a pre-planned 3-4 mile run this evening and running while super hungry did not sound like a good idea. So tomorrow I will try again to stick to this very strict, very difficult budget. Just in case anyone was wondering, $4 dollars a day per person is not very much at all! And for anyone doing any kind of even moderate exercise it is simply not enough.

Last night, after realizing I needed to make dinner sans water, I decided to saute up veggies for a veggie burrito. Without any water I didn't feel it was very sanitary to be cooking with meat and not be able to wash my hands, so I substituted in beans as my protein. The veggie burrito turned out pretty good, and with a minimal amount of cheese and no extra spices besides salt and pepper it almost felt like we were camping. Here's the cost breakdown and recipe:

Veggie Burritos
(this served 2, with leftovers)

2 whole wheat tortillas (0.38)
1/4 pound Cheddar cheese, sliced (0.82)

2 tablespoons butter (0.15)
1/2 medium white onion (0.37)
2 cloves of garlic (0.12)
1 medium russet potato (0.29)
1 small zucchini (0.40)
2 small tomatoes (1/4 pound) (0.37)
1/4 cup black beans (.22)

total cost: $3.12

First, after poking a few holes in the potato, moderately cook it in the microwave for a couple minutes. Meanwhile start heating up your saute pan and the butter. Once the butter has begun to melt add the onion and garlic to soften. After the potato is partially cooked, cube it and add it to the pan. Next add the zucchini, tomatoes, and black beans (undrained if possible). Stir in a touch of salt and pepper and let cook on the stove for 7-10 minutes.

Heat the oven on low, around 200 degrees F, and slightly warm the tortillas with cheese until the cheese is beginning to melt, a couple minutes.

Assemble the burritos and serve.

There were enough veggies from dinner last night to cover my lunch today, leaving more for dinner tonight. With that extra money I decided to add cheese to the homemade pizza planned for tonight. After the same breakfast as yesterday, coming in at $0.65, leftovers for lunch, and Matt's additional $1.75, I had exactly $4.55 for dinner.

I made a homemade pizza dough, and then added broccoli raab, frozen corn kernels, tomatoes, and a little cheese. While this sounded good in theory, everything worked but the broccoli raab. I purchased a 1 pound bag of it for $0.99 in the seconds or day old area of the store. It looked okay and so I thought I was getting a great deal. However, it was more bitter than expected, and truthfully I'm not sure if I would go that route again. Next time I might add a small zucchini or just stick to the tomatoes and corn.

The homemade dough was a definite bargain. Making it myself cost $2.73, but this made two rounds of dough large enough for a large sized pizza. I can by pre-made dough at Trader Joe's for $1.99 for one pizza. Here is the cost breakdown and recipe:

Homemade Veggie Pizza
(makes 1 large pizza - 6 slices)

One round of dough from homemade dough recipe* (1.36)
1 tablespoon olive oil (0.15)
1/2 pound broccoli raab (fresh is best, or eliminate all together) (0.49)
3/4 pound tomatoes, sliced (1.11)
1 cup frozen corn kernels (0.32)
1/4 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced** (1.00)

total cost: $4.43

At least two hours prior to assembling the pizza make the dough. This will give it enough time to rise accurately.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Once your dough has risen roll it out using a rolling pin to a thin crust. Lay the crust on a slightly floured pizza stone. Evenly spread the olive oil, broccoli raab (if using), tomato slices, corn kernels and cheese. Cook the pizza for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is golden and the crust baked through.

*When making recipe listed from previous post divide dough into 2 rounds instead of four in order to make a large sized pizza.
**This is not a normal amount of cheese, it is much less than I would usually add to a pizza. However it wasn't in the budget to add any more.

(photographs by: alison clayshulte)

Sep 20, 2009

the hunger challenge: day 1

This week I'm following the Hunger Challenge. I'll be taking the challenge Monday - Thursday, as Friday we have a out-of-town pre-wedding BBQ already planned. I'm taking part to help raise awareness about hunger in San Francisco. I'll be eating as healthy as possible on just $4 a day and trying to find new ways to stretch my food dollars. I plan to post every day this week to let you know how its going...

...I wrote this note last night (Sunday) prior to embarking on this challenge. Let me tell you this is a challenge and hunger is real, and I haven't made it through my first day. I had the best of intentions yesterday as I planned out my hunger challenge menu. Breakfast at $0.65 cents, lunch for $1.34, and dinner between Matt (who is joining me for dinners) and myself for $3.76.

The reality started to hit when I was walking to the office this morning and could not buy my normal chai tea for $2.50, not in the budget. By lunch I was famished and quickly inhaled my greens and beans, and later a plum that cost $0.37 cents. With no snacks in the budget for the the rest of the afternoon I was stomach growling hungry when I walked in the door at 6 p.m.

Unfortunately, I lost all resolve when I turned the faucet on at home only to find no water. Which I learned, after a bit of investigation to check out the trucks and digging up the street, was due to a broken water main that happened sometime today and that water is not slated to go on for another couple hours. Bam - I lost it. Back to the house I went, opened the cupboard and grabbed a snack.

Without water tonight to help make dinner I'm not sure what we'll do to stick to the budget. Do we try to make something sans water? Do we hit up the local dollar menu at the fast food place around the corner? If I had no other resources (meaning I could not go out to eat) how would I make a meal right now? If I had kids, how would I make it work?

Let me just say that my privilege is slapping me in the face today. What a wake up call. I'll let you know what we ended up doing for dinner tonight in tomorrow's post along with how well I can stick to my budget tomorrow.

Today I had the following for breakfast:

1 bag English Breakfast tea: $0.04
1/2 grapefruit: $0.34
1 hard boiled egg: $0.12
1/2 cup oatmeal: $0.15

total cost: $0.65

Here are three facts about the realities of hunger in San Francisco:

  • In San Francisco, 150,000 people are unsure where their next meal is coming from.
  • 1 in 4 San Francisco children lack regular access to the food they need to learn, grow and have a healthy start in life.
  • 1 in 5 San Francisco adults cannot count on the daily meals they need to lead healthy, productive lives.

Sep 13, 2009

green chile cheese burgers and fabulous chile roast

The first time my husband traveled back to New Mexico with me to visit family he was a bit taken aback by my father's necessity to stop by Blake's Lotaburger on the way to the airport. To Matt, this sounded like just another burger joint, and since we were already short on time, it made sense to grab a burger at the airport instead. However, Blake's isn't just any burger spot, they have the infamous "Green Chile Cheese Burger." Having parents that were both raised in New Mexico I grew up hearing stories about this place.

Green chile in itself holds a special place in our lives, a long with tortillas, pecans, and a host of other New Mexican ingredients that I can never get enough of. So, last weekend when Matt's brother in law invited us over for a New Mexico style chili roast and promising "the best homemade chili cheese burgers this side of Albuquerque" my answer was "how early can we show up."

The chile roast was awesome! Boxes of chile around the yard, two grills going, sweat bags next to each grill (to steam the freshly roasted chile), a pot of chile verde with fresh corn bread in the house...does it get any better? We roasted 10 pounds on Saturday and then skinned and bagged them the following day.

No photos of the actual burgers this time, I was to busy eating to think about it. However for a fabulous green chile cheese burger here are the steps:

1. make up a couple yummy hamburger patties and throw them on the grill
2. after first flip of hamburger top burger with freshly roasted chile - 1 or 2
3. on top of chile place cheese
4. grill buns
5. assemble burger and add ketchup, or other "must-have" fixin's
6. ENJOY!!

I learned this weekend that all chile starts out as green and as it ripens it turns either red or yellow. Most red chile's are then dried and must be reconstituted in hot liquid before using. This is the standard rule, however some chile, such as habanero, jalapeno or serrano, will become red and still be used in their fresh form. I'm thinking the next time I go back to New Mexico I need to pick up a ristra for a little chile decor. I can't wait to join the roast again next year.

bags of green chile skinned and waiting to be frozen

Special thanks to Matt who is letting me use a couple of his photo's in this post.