Friday, June 26, 2009

southern-inspired polenta.

Yesterday, our menu told me it was polenta + veg day. Usually when we have polenta, I just cook it according to the package directions, and serve with roasted vegetables and some kind of sauce, like pesto or red sauce. Last night, I just wasn't really in the mood for that.


I poked around in my cupboards aimlessly, trying to find some point of inspiration. Since it was Thursday- the day before we go grocery shopping, the pickings were getting pretty slim and I didn't want to cut into the burrito stuff for the following night, so I had to be careful. I rummaged around our spice cabinet and my hand came out holding a bag of filé powder. (sounds like feeee-lay. like those stupid-ass mcdonald's commercials.)

Suddenly, I got a craving for gumbo, but we didn't have any meat laying around to make it taste good. (YEAH, MEAT IS WHAT MAKES IT TASTE GOOD.) Then, the pieces all fell together in my brain and I realized I had enough stuff laying around to make some semblance of southern food- although I have to call it 'southern-inspired' so nobody kicks my ass for making hippie chow and calling it southern. This was basically just a pot of sauteed veggies with some bacon fat & some southern spices, served over polenta.

What's that? OH YEAH, I said BACON FAT.


Remember? From the other day when I fried hot dogs in it? Oh god. On Father's Day, I made my husband bacon & eggs for breakfast (and some pathetic, soggy, useless 'hash browns' but we'll talk about that another time) and I finally decided to save the bacon fat and use it for something else. I've been slipping it into stuff all week, not just my hot dogs, haha! It has recently come to my attention that lard is actually pretty good for you, compared to some of the alternatives. It's about half monounsaturated fats, which- if you're keeping track, are the "flat belly" fats that everyone is freaking out about in olive oil and dark chocolate and nuts. I plan to research it some more, but for now I'm using lard sparingly in my cooking, somewhat secure in the knowledge that my arteries aren't hardening as I type. And anyway, having some bacon fat around yesterday MADE MY DINNER, I can't lie. It would have tasted so boring and crappy without the bacon fat.


Oh, do you want a recipe instead of listening to me ramble? Fine.

Polenta with southern-inspired vegetables:

1 or 2 bell peppers- I had half a red one and a whole yellow one laying around so I used those. Dude, bell peppers are expensive, sorry. If you live in Portland, you should be shopping at Limbo anyway for a number of reasons, but one of my favorites is that they always have cheap-ass bell peppers. These were 75 cents, but sometimes they're like 50 cents, which is a lot nicer than the buck fifty or two bucks the regular store tries to charge.

1/2 a red onion (or white onion, whatever)
1 carrot
2 celery stalks
1 or 2 small zucchini
1 small yellow squash
some broccoli
a clove or two of garlic, although I have to admit that I forgot to put any in and I didn't even notice. But if I weren't cooking in a hurry next time, I'd add some. Because garlic is delicious.

2 tablespoons, more or less, rendered bacon fat. (Start keeping some in your fridge! Have BLTs for dinner and save the fat in a jar, it's worth it.)

1 can of tomato sauce

some chili powder, a couple generous pinches of filé powder, garlic powder, a bay leaf if you have it, (I didn't have any and it was fine) salt & pepper to taste.

In a large pot with some hot oil, saute onions, garlic, carrots, celery, and bell peppers until they begin to soften, then add zucchini and squash and whatever else. (I waited to add the zucchini & squash because there's always so much water released from cooking it, I didn't want the other vegetables to get soggy.) Stir in a tablespoon or two of bacon fat and inhale deeply, thinking to yourself- "GOD, I LOVE BACON." Add the can of tomato sauce and season with a pinch of chili powder (I didn't go crazy on chili powder, just a generous sprinkle will do), some filé powder (a tablespoon? 2 tablespoons? I don't know.) garlic powder, and salt & pepper. Taste, and adjust seasoning to your liking- I ended up adding more bacon fat towards the end so it'd have more of a smoky flavor. Allow to simmer for awhile.

For the polenta, you can just cook according to the directions (we buy Bob's Red Mill, and it's like 3 cups of water to 1 cup of polenta- just bring water to a boil, stir in polenta, and simmer, stirring frequently.) or if you're feeling fancy (like I sort of was) you can saute some veggies in the pan (I did finely chopped carrot, celery, onions, & shallot) and then add the water, bring to a boil, then add polenta. When the polenta got really thick, I stirred in some cheddar cheese- I was going for a cornbread type thing. Spoon into dishes to cool, then turn out onto a plate and serve with veggies in the tomato-y gravy.


I was so pumped on this because I usually fail miserably at weird, improvisational food, but this came out pretty awesome. I blame bacon. Normally I try to offer an idea on how to make something vegetarian, but honestly, the smoky flavor of southern cooking comes from cured/smoked meats, sorry guys. You could probably just add liquid smoke, but for some reason the idea of liquid smoke really grosses me out. If you don't have bacon fat handy, you could just pick up andouille sausage, and then it would just basically be gumbo. Yum!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

holy meatball.

This isn't the first time I've posted about meatball sandwiches. Frankly, it might not be the last. Dude, have you HAD a meatball sandwich lately? God, they're so good.


This post is here mainly to talk about this bread. Have you ever had banh mi? These sandwiches have only recently been brought to my attention, and now whenever I have the chance, I like to stop into a local bakery that sells them at lunch time and meet my husband for a few bites of awesome spicy pork. Yesterday we were lucky to both be free at the same time, and when we stood there chatting with the hilarious little girl who works behind the counter, I reminded him that we had meatball subs on our menu for dinner. He snagged this bag of rolls, the same ones they use for their sandwiches, and brought them home.


He stopped at the grocery store on the way home and picked up some ground beef and some pork sausage, mixed them together in a giant bowl with bread crumb, fresh basil, diced onions & garlic. (AND THIS REVELATION: HE SAUTEED THE ONIONS BEFORE ADDING THEM TO THE MEATBALL. WHAT?! THIS SERIOUSLY NEVER CROSSED MY MIND BUT IT IS QUITE CLEARLY THE ANSWER TO SUPERIOR MEATBALLS. They were lightly caramelized and perfect when he mixed them in, and as a result the meatballs were moist, the texture was flawless, and I am never adding raw onions to meat again. He also admitted to me that he picked up this tip NOT from his fancy culinary education, but from a certain, slightly douche-y tv chef that I will not name who may or may not be Tyler Florence, hahaha)


Mush the meat together in a bowl with all the other stuff, then form into balls and fry in a pan with oil, adding a splash of red wine halfway through. Brown the balls on all sides, then put a lid on the pan to steam them up and help them cook faster. When they seem to be nearly done, dump in some pasta sauce and turn the heat down to a low simmer.


Here's my son screwing around with my plate. Do kids ever stop TOUCHING EVERY SINGLE THING THEY SEE? I know the answer is no, but I felt like begging the universe for an answer anyway.


I mean, the meatballs were obviously the star of the show- mixing in pork sausage keeps them moist and adds tons of flavor. I like it when the pasta sauce cooks down into that dark, sludgy red goo, streaked with grease, not gonna lie. But, aside from all that goodness, these banh mi loaves held up FANTASTICALLY to all that messy goodness, while still being fluffy and lightly crisp on the outside. If you have a Vietnamese bakery in your neighborhood, see if you can get your hands on these loaves, they're a mixture of wheat & rice flour that makes them so light- I've even heard people describe them as "shattering" when you bite into them. It's amazing to me that they manage to hold that much sauce without falling apart, but you don't have to tear them to death with your teeth to get a bite, either. Oh, and that bag of 5 loaves cost 2 effing bucks, WHAT THE HELL? Portlanders, get thee to An Xuyen, order the pulled pork (or pork with lemongrass, or meatball) sandwich for a whopping $2.75 (or was it $2.25? either way, under 3 bucks) and grab a bag of these bad boys. And a steam bun. And chat up the little girl behind the counter, because she's my new best friend.

Monday, June 22, 2009

exactly what it looks like.



Why yes, I did just have hot dogs fried in bacon fat on toast (fried in bacon fat) for lunch. Thanks for asking.

Friday, June 19, 2009

burrito night.


So, in keeping with my previous post about weekly dinners, here's our #1 standard dinner. It's cheap, easy as hell, and filling. Duhhhh, burritos! As we get terrifyingly closer to buying our first home (no jinx! no jinx!), this will probably be on the menu like 3 times a week. BEANS AND RICE 4 LYFE, SUCKAS. All my adorable mumbo jumbo about budgeting is going to get thrown out the window when we buy a house, because our rent is basically going to double no matter what- good bye, fancy eggs! We are lucky to have found a really cheap apartment a few years ago and the rent hasn't really gone up with the rest of the neighborhood. BUT, whatever- we're here to talk about food.


First of all- "Burrito night." I know it's dorky, but along with enjoying family meals at the table, I like to keep a sense of order and consistency in my kid's world by referring to dinners like, "Burrito night! Pizza night! Noodle night!" etc. I feel like it will give him something to look forward to when he's a little older and give him a sense of family stability and BLAH BLAH BLAH- I am totally over-thinking this. So, burrito night, it happens every week. We usually time it so that it falls on a night that I babysit, which means that my friends probably think we eat NOTHING BUT BURRITOS, since I always drop their daughter off in the evening with the sendoff, "She had a burrito!" The reason we time it this way is that burrito night basically = opening a bunch of cans and rolling shit up in a tortilla. I'm not gonna lie, this is the laziest night of my week. The only way we could get lazier would be to go to an actual burrito shop, which we occasionally throw up our hands in exhaustion and do, (we're only human!) but why pay 15 bucks for 3 burritos when the basic elements of this meal total up to like 5 dollars?


A recent phone call with my mother revealed that she doesn't know how to make spanish rice from scratch. I can't fault her for this- I didn't know either until I met my husband. I feel like this is one of those things everybody should know how to do, like boil an egg (hey, I learned to do this last year!) or like, wipe their own butt. We make spanish rice from things that we always have around the house. Look, I'm not even going to bother looking up a recipe for this or pretending like I know anything about spanish rice, so spare me your "MY MEXICAN GRANDMA DOES IT LIKE THIS, AND YOU ARE DOING THIS WRONG, BLAH BLAH BLAH." I don't care- this is how we make it, it tastes good in our burritos.


More moments of confession: I am a sloppy-ass cook. I don't really measure anything, I eyeball everything, and if it doesn't come out just right, I eat it anyway. I kind of apply the same logic to cooking that I do when I cut my own hair- YOU JUST HAVE TO BE COOL WITH THE IDEA OF SHAVING YOUR WHOLE HEAD, AND THEN YOU CAN GO AHEAD AND CUT YOUR OWN HAIR. In short, if you screw it up, it's not the end of the world. Deal with it, or start over.


Sorry, I just have a lot of pictures to show off. I used 2 cans of beans last night because I wanted leftovers for lunch today.


about a cup of rice
1 can of fire roasted diced tomatoes (these are so good! i know i'm all boo-hoo-no-processed-food but sometimes you need some damn canned tomatoes.)
1 onion
some garlic
handful of chili powder
smaller handful of cumin
bay leaf (i didn't have any yesterday, bummerrrr)
a little water

In a large pan, saute onions and garlic until they begin to soften. Dump in the rice and spices, and toast for a minute or two. Dump in the can of tomatoes, stir it around, and then dump in like a can's worth of water or so. You just want to make sure the rice is covered with liquid, but err on the side of a teeny bit more, because overcooked gummy rice is preferable, in my opinion- to crunchy undercooked rice.

Stir it around and put a bay leaf in, then drop a lid on it. Stir a couple of times to make sure it doesn't stick, and in about 20 minutes or so you have a big ass fluffy pan of spanish rice. You can also use stock instead of water but it's not a huge deal. It does taste better, though. THERE- stop using a box now, mom. You don't need all that sodium in your life. OH YEAH speaking of sodium, make sure you remember to salt your rice. I always forget and then my husband is all, "UGH, PASS THE SALT."


Anyway, oh hey- do you know how to fold a burrito? Sure, you could just do tacos, but there's just something about the meal-in-the-palm-of-your-hand that is a burrito that is so dang satisfying. I worked at some crappy local taco chain when I was a teenager, rolling burritos all day, so I like to think that I'm pretty darn good at it. I tried to do a little photo essay describing my method, but damn if it isn't a pain in the butt to try and photograph yourself ROLLING A BURRITO ONE-HANDED.

Basically, you tuck in the sides first:


And then you grab the end closest to you and fold it over so it touches the other end, and then tuck it under.


Then you just kind of keep pinching the sides in and roll the whole thing up, it's really satisfying, okay? This method works really good with spring rolls, too.

Heat up the tortilla on a cast iron skillet, dump some food inside, (CHEESE. BEANS. RICE.) and roll it up. TA DA. Burrito night.


Sometimes if we're feeling ritzy we'll buy sour cream or avocado, but usually it's just beans, cheese and rice, because come on- what do I look like, a millionaire?

HEY SPEAKING OF MILLIONAIRES- I got an inquiry about joining an ad network owned by General Mills. If I can figure out how to deal with the fancy sign-up website, I will probably throw some ads onto the sidebar there- but if it doesn't pay more than google ads I'll probably just dump it, because in case you noticed the google ads I had up there- I was literally raking in PENNIES A DAY. Like, one or two pennies a day, literally. What a waste of space! That had been there for months and months, and I still didn't have enough racked up for them to cut me a check, because they have a minimum. Whatever! Don't hate on my corporate sponsorship, y'all- I have to pay for my kid's Nike Airs somehow, and this 8 dollar carton of eggs isn't going to pay for itself.

dicking around with my template, please disregard. D:

Monday, June 15, 2009

a week of dinner.


Okay first of all, let's talk about how I had this big idea about how I was gonna post a week's worth of dinners and talk about my budgeting and grocery list and How We Live® and blah blah blah. I tried to remember to take pictures of dinner every night, but then I did a lousy job of keeping track of them. I worked late one night and had leftovers for dinner and forgot to bring my camera- the whole week was kind of a clusterfuck of obligation and I was BUSY! Baby-sitting for friends and family, extra shifts at work, meeting with photography clients, spring cleaning in the apartment- it's Sunday and I'm wrecked. In a good way, though- the kind of wrecked you feel after getting a lot of stuff done.


So I guess what I'm saying is, like everyone else- we are pretty disorganized. But, we try to make time for dinner together every night, because it kind of glues us all together. I'm pretty old fashioned when it comes to stuff like that, I really feel like every family, if they have the ability, should join each other for dinner, and cooking it is half the fun- even when you're stressed out and short on time. Whenever I throw together dinner after a crazy day, and my low blood sugar is making me snap at my family and I get frustrated and burn something, and then something else is undercooked when I got to put everything on plates, and I get super pissed but then it somehow all comes together in the end- it's just so satisfying to sit down and EAT IT.


Of course, all that said- I'm lucky enough to have a husband who cooks. We'd be totally screwed if it was all on me, because come 5:30 p.m., if I am not close to sitting down to a full meal, I turn into a loopy wreck who cannot function. That's just the time of day that my blood sugar plunges and I turn into a cranky, confused, useless lump. I do about half the cooking around here, probably. Maybe a little less.


Anyway, the whole reason for this post is to answer some of the questions I get asked on a regular basis about our dinners and our shopping budget and all that crap. I feel like every time I mention that eating healthy doesn't have to be expensive, someone on the internet finds it necessary to yell at me (isn't that what the internet is for, though?) that I'm being insensitive to whatever lifestyle or cause or the destitute or whatever. All I can do is speak from experience, though- and my experience says that when I was eating lots of junk food, I got fat, miserable, and I was spending way too much money. We forced ourselves to start writing out a meal list every week, set a grocery budget and we stick to it as closely as we can, and I made a few lifestyle changes to lose some weight. Now I feel better and we're on track paying our bills, and that's enough anecdotal, one-sided evidence for me, thanks.


I recently posted on a local community asking if anyone had a good hookup for pastured eggs besides the farmer's market or the few specialty stores that I know of who carry them. There's ONE booth at the farmer's market who has them for 5 bucks, and everywhere else they run about 7 dollars a dozen, which is way, way more than I'm willing to spend, even though I'm happy to throw down a few extra bucks to support local farmers. Someone got on my case about the "morally offensive" idea of Five Dollar Eggs and suggested that I was a huge jerk for being willing to pay that much. When people think about eating healthy, I think they need to consider a few things. Yes, some unhealthy foods ARE cheaper- because you can buy huge portions of them. But you don't need to eat a GIANT BOWL of sugary cereal if you have a reasonable portion of oatmeal with some butter, it's just as filling. You don't need to eat extra portions of your frozen pizza if you take the time (5 minutes?) to make a salad. The reason we can afford to buy 5 dollar eggs every once in awhile (and I do mean "every once in awhile," because they really aren't in our budget) is because of the things we DON'T buy. We don't buy paper towels, we don't buy pre-made, frozen dinners. We don't buy candy, we never buy soda and we don't really buy juice, either. We drink (OMG) water. Consider how much paper towels, soda, and juice cost for a moment. When I was a kid, we had ALL of these things in the house at all times- we always had a backup 12 pack of coke in the garage, waiting to be guzzled. I tried to look up the price of a 12 pack of coke, and then I realized that I have never bought my own 12 pack of coke in my entire life. I think it's like 4 or 5 bucks, right? I think paper towels are like 3 or 4 dollars for a package of 2 or 3. And a big container of juice is at least 3 dollars. So, added all together, just NOT buying those 3 things that a lot of families consider to be staple items means that I have almost 15 dollars to spend on other stuff. That's how I feel okay about paying 5 dollars for eggs every once in awhile.


Now, what we DO buy. Every week we sit down and write a list- first we pick out what we're going to eat each night for dinner. Last week it was hippie chow, pizza, chicken, vegetables, and polenta, pesto noodles (which we stretched over 2 nights), burritos, and then something else that I've already forgotten, haha. Our list this week says:

Sat- salad rolls
Sun- Kennedy School (We had a catered party to go to. Free dinner, woo hoo!)
Mon- Couscous + mezza
Tues- Alice at work- sandwiches?
Wed- Burritos
Thurs- Polenta + veg
Fri- Burger?

The way we make our list is pretty straightforward. We have a lot of standard dishes that we choose from, and we try to keep the stuff that uses the most fresh vegetables towards the beginning of the week, and then whenever we're going to have meat, we put it towards the end of the week so we can buy it fresh that night. That's why "burger?" has a question mark after it- if Friday rolls around and Jason hits the grocery and steaks are on sale, maybe he'll buy steak. Or maybe we'll be more in the mood for fish by then, who knows? Fridays are always kind of a scramble to get food in our bellies because that's when we go shopping. After we have our meals written down, we write down the ingredients we need for all our crap, and then we throw on whatever we're going to have for lunch- sandwich stuff, salad stuff, whatever.

Here is what we consider to be stuff we must ALWAYS BUY, every week, regardless of what is on the list:
roasting vegetables, like zucchini, squash, brussels, etc.
Tomato, usually
Grapes if they're on sale
Almonds (I buy a pound of almonds every other week or so, it takes me awhile to go through it, but I carry almonds in my purse with me everywhere I go. It's to keep my blood sugar level.)
can of fire roasted diced tomatoes
can of beans
at least a little bit of pasta
eggs (not 5 dollar eggs, haha)

And this is where I get thrown off when people say that you can't eat healthy when you're poor- usually the produce portion of our weekly grocery bill doesn't exceed 40 dollars. Vegetables are CHEAP, you just need to learn to cook them.


Anyway, I hope this wasn't just annoying information overload, like "OOOooOoOOh, good for YOU. You have your fancy stupid grocery list, WHO CARES?" I get questions about stuff like this a lot, and it seems like people are more interested in the more 'normal' stuff that I eat instead of waiting to see if I bust out something fancy. Over the next few days, I'll be posting recipes for staple items in our kitchen, like our spanish rice recipe, what we do on mezza night, stuff like that. Also I made pizza the other night and I made a little mini-calzone that blew my mind, so I'll probably post those too. And feel free to ask any questions you'd like. PEACE OUT.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

hippie chow.

Oh HEYYYYY food blog, what's up? I almost forgot about you. On our budget, we eat a lot of the same crap, so we don't do anything too fancy on a regular basis. I've mentioned this to a few people, and they seemed interested in the same-shit-different-day approach that we have, so pretty soon I'm going to do a week of our meals, and you can see how we eat on a daily basis. It's boring food but we try to keep it healthy. Until then, dig this hippie chow!


Look, I love to make fun of hippies. I can't help it, there's just something so funny about being like, "Shut up, hippie!" When I see some goofy hippie walking down the street, I say stuff like, "HAHA, HIPPIE!!" to whoever I'm with. If someone I know is doing something to make their lives more "green" or whatever, I'll jab them in the ribs and be all, "HIPPIEEEEE!" It's not that I have anything AGAINST hippies, I just love saying the word, and I also love making fun of people. Not to mention, I'm a huge-ass hippie. I didn't wear a bra for like 10 years (ah, those were the days), I was vegetarian for almost half my life, I even have one of those goofy stickers on my car shaped like the state of Oregon with a green heart in the middle. I shop at the farmer's market, I like eggs from backyard chickens. What's up, HIPPIE!?


So anyway, my husband and I are always making cracks about how hippies can't cook, and how all their food is just junk in a bowl, so whenever we decide to eat a pile of crap in a bowl (FAILURE PILE IN A SADNESS BOWL? I THINK NOT), we call it hippie chow. Hippie chow can be anything- back in the day when my husband was vegan and living in punk houses with tons of hippies punk rockers, hippie chow was toasted TVP with red sauce on whatever carb was laying around, or rice with condiments, or dumpstered vegetables (Yes, I have engaged in dumpster-diving for pleasure. Sorry, Mom. I have a job now.) thrown together in a sauce pan with some spike or something. Hippie chow is whatever the hell you want it to be! In this case, however- as our tastes have refined over the years, our hippie chow was hella delicious.


quinoa (I don't know, 2 cups? a cup? If you don't have or don't like quinoa, get brown rice. It's not hippie chow if it doesn't have a whole grain, so no cheating with white rice, haha)
2 medium-large beets
2 large carrots
1 bunch of kale
a few zucchini and yellow squash
a potato or two
garlic & onion
Whatever other vegetables you have lying around- broccoli would be good (IF IT DIDN'T MAKE ME FART SO MUCH), or green beans, or asparagus. Try to think "RAINBOW." Because you're a hippie.

Cook your quinoa- you can just put it in a rice cooker and cook it exactly the same way you would rice. Or like, cook your rice in the rice cooker, if you're not enough of a hippie to want quinoa- but you know what? Quinoa is really good, and supposedly it's really, really good for you. Go out on a limb, hippie.

Chop beets, carrots, and potatoes- then toss them with olive oil & roast them in a pan at about 400ºf until tender. When they're getting close to done, saute garlic & onion in a pan with some butter or oil, until glassy, then add the rest of the vegetables, which presumably you have chopped up already (don't add the kale until the end, or it'll get overcooked. I put it in and then put a lid on it to steam a little, but only for a minute or two, I still like some crunch to my greens). Season with salt & pepper, throw in some fresh herbs if you like (I think Jason added basil) and then, in the immortal words of Patton Oswalt, pile it all in a single bowl. Top with a poached egg, if you're feeling fancy (we totally were), then mix it all together. If you're a real hippie, you'll add ketchup and/or hot sauce, like I did. Ta da! You just slummed it like a hippie. No seriously, though- I love hippies. Please don't send me any butthurt emails. I love the Earth, guys! I love hugs, and rainbows, and kittens, and Nag Champa, I really do! The sad part is that I sound sarcastic, but I'm really serious, just like when I tell people that my favorite movie is Legally Blonde and they don't believe me. Whatever, that shit rules.

Oh hey, you know what's more awesome than hippie chow for dinner? HIPPIE DESSERT.



My husband eternal soul partner came out of the kitchen bearing these little bowls- vanilla ice cream topped with slices of fresh peach, a drizzle of local honey (hippie!) and some warm, freshly toasted almonds.

And, now I can stop making fun of hippies. One love, y'all!