Fresh & Frugal

How to cook fantastic, fresh food on a tight budget

Month: July, 2010

Spicy Roasted Chickpea Salad

Finally, Philadelphia earned itself a break from the insufferable summer heat. For the first time in weeks (really, since I moved into my new place), leaving the windows open didn’t mean lying on the floor under the fan to save the couch from sweat. Instead of dressing to brave the heatwave, dresses were yanked from clean hangers and worn for the sole purpose of a lovely appearance. Flipflops are chosen over sneakers not because they make my feet un-sweaty, but because they let my tootsies wiggle in the light breeze. Oh yeah, and the best part? Eating lunch and reading outside. Thank you for abating, you stifling heatwave. Welcome, blues skies I can actually lie under, gentle grass to sit upon, and thoughtful books to slip through.

Embracing the lovely weather, my friend Tara and I strolled back to her truck in West Philadelphia after work and slithered our way through just-past-rush hour traffic and Center City, to make a neat landing in Fairmount. The Belgian Cafe is a lovely little restaurant settled on a corner of Green, with fairly priced food and drink. Luckily, this is one of the few places in Philadelphia that is not dry or a BYO. Settling into Ikea-esque red plastic seats on either side of a small patio table, we passed the next three hours with just about as many drinks and a lovely bite of tofu before making our way home. While I haven’t any photos to share with you of my new hideout, I trust you’ll give it a shot and maybe even see me there.

At work, we were rewarded for our vast book/manuscript/folio-moving efforts with a pizza party, featuring what must be the best pizza in Philadelphia: Dock Street pizza. I’m not going to lie. A few of us were put off at the idea of a pizza party as a reward, flashing back to the horrible lunchroom pizza from 3rd grade at public school, but oh were we wrong. Having been a fairly frequent patron of Dock Street when it was only two blocks from my apartment, I knew we were in for a lovely treat. If you’re ever traveling through Philadelphia and don’t have any time restrictions for dinner, hop on a trolly (westbound to 69th street) and get off at 50th. Across the street will be the best pizza. We worker-bees certainly enjoyed it!

Now that you know the story of my life (at least for the past two days), I ought to move on to more important things, like spicy roasted chickpeas. This is one of the most delicious, easily made dinners. The warmth of the spices on the chickpeas is easily cooled by the sweet cucumber, and the feta saves any need for salt or dressing. Of course, you could always add a simple vinaigrette or something, but I think this dish does quite well on its own.  Also, if you make quite a lot of chickpeas at once, they also double as a lovely afternoon snack, or even appetizer, should you find yourself needing/wanting one.

Roasted Chickpea Salad

1 can chickpeas (drained, rinsed, and dried)

1 romaine heart

1 small pickling cucumber

4 oz. Feta cheese (in brine, cut into cubes or crumbled)

1 small garlic clove (chopped)

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp cayenne

sprinkling of black pepper

Preheat to 375.

Open the can of chickpeas, drain, rinse, and dry them well. Toss in a bowl with the olive oil to coat them, then add the turmeric, cayenne, red pepper flakes (you can leave either the cayenne or flakes out if you’re not into very spicy things), cinnamon, and garlic. Toss again to coat.

Spread into a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet/pan, and roast for 20-40 minutes (depending on how crunchy you like them), stirring/flipping them after 15 minutes.

While roasting, wash and tear the romaine to form a nice, soft bed for the chickpeas. Slice the cucumber thickly, adding it to the lettuce. Once the chickpeas are out, cube/crumble the feta as they cool, then add both to the top of the lettuce and cucumber. Voila! A mediterranean masterpiece with minimal effort.

Pesto, Pesto, Pesto

SCAPES! Garlic scapes! After being thoroughly disappointed in having missed their brief appearance at the Reading Terminal Market, one of my favorite people on the planet dropped them into the fridge at work for me to pick up. Shana, even though I missed your last day at work because I was sitting in a dank, dark room loading box upon dusty box of old crap onto cart after cart, I am thoroughly thankful. Dinner’s on me when you get back (in my kitchen!).

While I’m relatively sure these scapes are going to make their appearance in pesto-form soon, I haven’t decided what they’re going on, or when. After spending about an hour chopping and shifting and chopping and shifting and chopping s’more a few days ago to try my hand at made-from-scratch sans-processor/blender pesto, I think tonight’s going to yield even more chopping. I’ve two large bunches of parsley I’ve been dying to try to turn into pesto, and now that I have scapes, I’m wondering if they could maybe just replace the garlic, or if I could just nix it altogether from the recipe.

You have to admit, there’s certainly something to be said for parsley. As I mentioned before, I’ve been meaning to incorporate that summery, almost lemony layer to my cooking lately, and what better way than through the majesty of pesto? It sounds silly, I know, but keeping a fresh bunch in a glass of water on the windowsill in the kitchen makes the whole kitchen feel so much more… inviting. It’s too bad it doesn’t come free at the grocery store anymore like it did when I was little. I’ve caught wind of this lovely habit at the forum markets in Italy, where little odori are lovingly tucked into one’s bag of groceries — sometimes a carrot and stick of celery, or a bunch of parsley, sometimes a handful of seasonal herbs. Why can’t people do that here?

By the way, my slight tomato obsession was mentioned to me again today, and I wasn’t sure if it was in distaste or not. Sorry. I’ll try to spice it up a little more, throw in a little more deviation for your benefit in the days to come. Speaking of deviation, I’ve been double-dog-dared to come up with food  that would stay good while backpacking for 2-3 days. I’m deferring until this weekend for ample time to think and see how long things will last before revealing my conclusions. In the mean time, here’s a little homemade pesto to tide you over.

Classic Pesto

2 c packed fresh basil leaves (I mean packed as in jammed into a measuring cup, not packaged)

1/2 c parmesan cheese (grated)

1/2 c pine nuts

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp olive oil

spaghetti-water, if pesto will be used immediately

Gather a handful of basil and just begin chopping. Chopping, chopping, chopping. Grab another handful, add, and keep chopping. Gradually incorporate the rest of the pesto and keep chopping.

Add the garlic, keep chopping.

Add the pine nuts one small handful at a time. Keep chopping.

Add the (freshly) grated parmesan, keep chopping.

Finally, drizzle a little olive oil over the pesto and mix it in. If the pesto will not be used right away, you could add a little more olive oil to cover the top of it, and then pop in the fridge. If it’s going to be a long while until you use it, divide it into portions in an icecube tray and freeze, then thaw as you need it.

If you want to break up the pesto a little more (it does come out pretty dang thick), save some of the salted water used to boil your pasta, and mix it into your pesto little by little until it’s reached the desired consistency.

Also, I’ve heard rumors that freezing cheese isn’t always the best option. The next time I make my pesto, I’m leaving out the parm from the mix I’m freezing, then mixing it in as I thaw my pesto-cubes. Just an idea. Lets see what happens.

Chipotle-Inspired Chicken

Meat does not make an appearance in my kitchen often. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I dislike eating meat. I love it, actually. What I do not like — not at all, ever, in any way — is touching raw meat. I hate touching raw meat. Chicken, however, unlike hamburger beef and steak and the like, comes frozen. Voila! Raw chicken consistency is no longer a problem. Defrost in the microwave and dump into a hot skillet!

The point is, I’m hungry enough tonight to not only defrost said chicken, but to actually eat meat. Rare occurrence, I know, but here we go. I have one of the most fantastic jobs, usually involving a giant desk that looks much like one my dad’s father used — a lovely, dark wooded, bulky thing that smells like pipe tobacco — and utilizing my fine motor skills. I also work with books. Today my task was a great deal different: loading books into giant blue shelves-on-wheels, wrapping the whole package up in saran wrap stuff, and then pushing it down a warehouse walk, around two or five corners, and into the hands of movers. I’m not complaining. Quite the contrary! It feels so good to do mindless work sometimes, using my entire body to shove something easily twice my weight, — and push it fast. The thing is, it makes your whole body hungry for every kind of food.

So getting home, I raided the fridge. Kitchen Sink posted a recipe for a chipotle burger that I’ve been absolutely salivating over (have I mentioned that my dad’s family is mostly Latino?) for weeks, but I haven’t quite gotten around to buying chipotles yet, and I most definitely have zero plans for touching raw hamburger or turkeyburger meat. What do I have instead? Canned green chiles and my lovely, lovely chicken. A few more tweaks (cherry tomatoes, not one giant thickly sliced heirloom) and I had my own version, and ohhhhhhh was it delicious. Even the bits that stuck to my cheeks and fingers. I will definitely be making this sandwich again.

Green Chili Chicken Sandwich

1 chicken breast, thawed

1 fresh bun (I like wholewheat, but bought ciabatta on sale)

8 cherry tomatoes

1/2 small white onion (red might be prettier)

1 handful arugula/spinach leaves

1 small sliced mushroom

1 small radish

1 small clove garlic

1/2 lime (for squeezing)

1 tbsp mayo

1 tbsp dijon mustard (I like TJ’s spicy stuff)

1 tsp diced green chili

1 tsp dried red pepper flakes

salt pepper

Defrost chicken, then sprinkle with salt and pepper and dried red pepper flakes, chop garlic clove and add, then cook over medium heat, covered. Slice the mushroom, add to the pan, and re-cover.

In the mean time, slice the remaining toppings: onion, radish, tomatoes. Cut the roll/bun in half, and coat the top and/or bottom with the mayo, dijon, and green chili. I like mixing the chili in with the mayo.

Layer on the toppings, then move the cooked chicken and mushrooms onto the sandwich. Quickly roll the lime on the counter (it should be room temp by now, and the rolling on the counter makes it juicier), slice it in half, and squeeze over the insides of the sandwich.

Close it all up and enjoy.

Ripened Tomato Salad

What ever happened to relaxing on Sunday? At home, the whole family lies around, feet up, television/computer on. The cleaning and errands and shopping had been done the day before and all that remains for Sunday is a late brunch that always amazes with minimal effort (thanks mom), and either a simple dinner or dinner out. The only annoyance I can recall from living at home was being chased from reading in a nook on the couch in the quiet living room when someone switches on the television. This is the kind of Sunday I just live for.

Today, due to some poor planning of my own yesterday, is not so quiet and calm. After accidentally staying up until 2am reading a fantastic book (thanks to Caitlin and mom for the recommendation and Grandma for actually loaning me the book), I passed out until 6:00am, at which point I rolled over and promptly went back to sleep. Waking late, I finished cleaning the bathroom and kitchen, straightened a bit downstairs, made a list of things I still had to do and get, and hit the road for Target and a general grocery store for eggs, cheese, milk, and vinegar.

I should also mention that I am hovering over my phone and email, praying for a reply from a friend who has been planning  a birthday-icecream party for months, which I have been dying to go to. Unfortunately, I completely blanked on asking for her address the last time I saw her, and since my phone had reset itself when I was at home, I also lost her phone number. I emailed her earlier this morning though, in a desperate and somewhat far-fetched attempt to contact her. Fingers crossed she checks her email soon! So far only one of the people I know who are going to this party has given me her number, and she hasn’t answered my desperate plea for the address of this party. Well, I still have 45 minutes.

So here I am, back home, staring at these heirloom tomatoes I’ve had since last Wednesday. There’s a hunk of mozzarella in my hand. I KNOW! So it was only a matter of time before I was happily munching away on my tomatoes, little mozzarella lumps, and basil slices. The fantastic thing about this is that salt is unnecessary! I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about it, but there is very little in this world better than vine-ripened, fresh, local tomatoes.

Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Salad

3 lbs. ripe tomatoes

1 lb. mozzarella cheese

1 handful basil leaves

Wash tomatoes and slice into bite-sized pieces. Slice the mozzarella into pieces, if you haven’t bought those lovely little mozzarella balls. Finally, roughly chop/shred the basil on top, and mix everything together well. That’s it! No oil, no salt, just flavor.

Roast Me Up, Buttercup

If my kitchen came equipped with a toaster oven, I swear my electric bill would be cut in half. I cannot even begin to emphasize just how much I love to roast things: chicken, beef (when I touch it), tomatoes, zukes, brie tucked in a flaky dough… Really, I would eat just about anything roasted. So what do you think I did when it came about that one of the few things left in my fridge from last week which needs to be finished off relatively rapidly is broccoli? Dang straight. I roasted it.

Like anything else you ever plan to roast, there are only two other food items I’d suggest you use in addition to the roast-ee: olive oil and garlic. Then again, there’s very little in this world that doesn’t taste better with a few drops of olive oil and a sprinkling of garlic. So this freed me up to finish the The DaVinci Code, which I fell asleep during last night. What is it about that scene in the Swiss bank that just lulls me to sleep? At any rate, I turned on the television and Tom Hanks was standing there with Audrey Tautou, staring down at a blue screen.

The best part of my week so far has been the all-too-short trip to Reading Terminal Market with Shana this afternoon. Sweating (and rather panting) like a dog in the ridiculous heat wave that’s been slamming the East coast for some time now, we bobbed and weaved between one slick body and the next, snatching beautiful, cheap, fresh food where we could get it. I cannot thank her enough for exposing me to this place. Honestly. For $25.00, most of the week’s grocerying was finished! All that’s left are a handful of things from the dairy section, and I did blank out on grabbing carrots and radishes. The list of snagged food is below, then the recipe for roasting … well, anything!

New Produce: 2 pints cherry tomatoes, one bag of limes ($1.00!), 3 lemons, 3 peaches, 2 pints strawberries (2/$3.00!), 8 large white mushrooms, 2 pints blueberries ($2/4.00!), 1 ear white corn, 1 romaine lettuce head, 1 small bunch of chives, 1 suntan pepper, 2 kirby cucumbers, 2 Fuji apples, 1 mango (.89!), 1 red onion, 1 bulb garlic, 3 regular onions, and 2 purple potatoes.

Roasted Broccoli

2 pounds broccoli (once separated from stalk)

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

coarse salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 or 400, and foil-line a baking sheet or pan.

Drop the broccoli into a bowl, add the olive oil, and shake/mix to coat. Sprinkle in the salt and pepper, and shake/mix s’more.

Roast in oven for 20-25 minutes, remove, and serve immediately.

Tomato-Driven

It’s nearly the end of the week and I still have a fridge relatively full of produce since, like a horrible foodie (or food blogger, for that matter), I fell asleep without eating last night. I know. So instead of making you wait until tomorrow, we’re talking about what was just scooped out of the pan and into my mouth.

As we discussed yesterday, I have a bit of a tomato problem. That’s the first step, right? All day I’ve been craving slow-roasted tomatoes that I learned to make by drooling my way through Smitten Kitchen’s recipes and finally trying out at my parents’ house. The question is, what do I put them with? And can I wait for dinner until 9pm? Certainly not. So of course, I set to work immediately when I got home, preheating and slicing and olive oil-drizzling away until the tomatoes were in the oven and I was faced with the first question again: what to put it with?

I had majored in classical studies and have a raging passion not only for classical Greek antiquity, but the modern people, landscapes, and especially the food. Rifling through the fridge, my hand closed around the remaining yellow summer squash and the container of mushrooms. A few seconds later, my little tub of feta cheese followed and before I knew it, the squash was ribboned, the mushrooms were sliced, and they were both in a pan on the stove.

Finally the cheese was mostly melted and I switched off the heat, but something was still missing. Something green. Yesterday afternoon (while checking my blog stats; thanks for visiting!) I came across someone claiming that parsley is a superfood — which basically means that it packs a ton of phytonutrients — and after doing a little more research myself, decided that the claim sounds legit enough.  A trip across the living room to the parsley plant my mom sent me home with provided the splash of green that the dish lacked. Honestly, I’m thinking I will be including parsley in more of my cooking. It might sound a little loopy, but I swear it adds a certain spark of freshness I just can’t find elsewhere, which makes me think of freshly mown grass. Maybe it’s that mom keeps the herbs on the back porch.

The only disappointment was that I wound up putting a little salt on my food once it was on the plate. Please don’t get me wrong, I do like salt and think that it has its place. When I make a simple dish with fresh food, feeling like salt is still necessary makes me feel like I must have done something wrong. Why couldn’t I make these natural ingredients just sing? Ah well, the feta did all the work for me, in the end.

Melted Feta and Vegetables

7 button mushrooms, sliced

6 whole roasted cherry tomatoes

1 yellow summer squash

3 oz. feta cheese (mine was in brine)

4 fresh basil leaves

2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 250 and put cherry tomatoes on a foil-lined pan, lightly drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Pop into oven when preheated, for 3 hrs. If you’re in a hurry, try preheating at 350 and then leaving the tomatoes in there for 15-20 minutes, or until they look nice and wrinkly.

Peel the yellow squash, forming long ribbons, and slice the mushrooms, then heat in a skillet over medium heat for 12-15 minutes. Gently fold in the soft, wrinkly tomatoes.

Add the feta and mix in. When almost completely melted, stir in the basil and parsley.

Sides: Spinach adds a shock of green to the plate, and the texture of Israeli/pearl couscous goes incredibly well with the cheesy vegetables.  If you’re in the mood for some meat, I bet shredded chicken would be a fantastic addition.

Slow Burn

Summer Squash Spaghetti

Psych! No burning today guys, though I’ll admit that I did burn the [nix!] out of the roof of my mouth last night on a scalding (but oh so delicious!) tuna melt.  I’m not going to write about that tonight though. There are a few things I’ve been meaning to tell you, and those are so much more interesting than my whining, I promise.

CutCo knife from my brother

First and foremost: a giant thank you to my brilliant brother and his compendium of merchandise. Lets be honest folks. I do not, in any universe, have the money for my own personal cast of cooking knives. Nevertheless, the set of knives that my mother and I found on sale for $25 dollars roughly 4 years ago have begun to rust. Yes, they are literally rusting in places, by absolutely no fault of my own. My loving, genius, adorable– er, I mean, handsome — brother not only recommended a knife to replace the dull french chef knife that came in my own set, but the blade on the new one is serrated: all the better to cut through tomato skins without spurting tomato juice all over myself! There’s a reason he’s a CutCo manager!  I also can’t forget my dad, who leaped into action and drove an hour to my brother’s office to pick up the knife and then an hour to get it back to me before I left home to return to the city last weekend. So thanks, guys. Dunno how my new acquisitions would survive without you.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Speaking of new acquisitions, I splurged today. No, seriously. There’s a mini-farmers-market outside the university bookstore, directly behind the library every Wednesday afternoon from 11-2. I had never been, but knew I ought to check it out for all of you lovely foodies out there (okay, so I heard the guy who sells tomatoes is painfully attractive), and made an appearance at lunch with my friend Kristen. I came away 5 minutes later — literally — with a bag full of tomatillos, mini roma tomatoes, and three heirloom tomatoes. Like a child, I couldn’t bear to wait another minute to pop one of the smaller varieties into my salivating mouth. Remember how acidic tomatoes are? Remember my freshly-scorched mouth? Ohhhhhh it hurt so good.

Total Splurge

My last little miscellaneous blip for the day concerns two more of my friends, who have basically insisted we make a trip to Reading Terminal Market, tentatively scheduled for Sunday. I’ve been promised everything I can carry crammed into giant bags that I’ll have to carry with both hands for a mere $20, supposedly enough to get me through the week. Even the experienced foodies I know just rave about their findings at Reading Terminal.  I’m picturing my hefty jute-woven bag from Tesco crammed to the gills, the tops of leeks and carrots spilling out from the edges, a baguette tucked under my arm, maybe even a wedge of cheese or a small lump of hard salami (sweet indulgence!) peeking up to wave at passersby.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Tomatillos

Finally, to the recipe and a short explanation. This is what came of Sunday, when I arrived home from Indiana. Tired and just craving some pasta, I grabbed the other CutCo tool I own: the most wonderful peeler on the planet. Remember that pair of yellow summer squash? One of them was ribboned, dropped into a bowl with a splash of water and (dare I even say it?!) microwaved, topped with a handful of cheese and chives, and gulped down. Gotta admit, it was just perfect. I’m sure you could really use any kind of peeled veggie here. Wouldn’t the colors be prettier with eggplant and zucchini/corgettes in there, too? Anyway, it’s delicious, warm, simple, and healthy.

Tomatillo

Summer Squash Spaghetti

1 medium summer squash

1 teaspoon fresh chives (though I had to use freeze dried)

1/4 c water

light sprinkling of parmesan cheese and/or romano cheese

Thoroughly wash your squash, then use a peeler and long strokes to create ribbons, or “noodles”. Deposit in bowl (it can be messy!).

Pour 1/4 c water into bowl and microwave for up to 2 minutes (or you could be schmancy and steam it over boiling water in one of those handy steamers, which I do not yet own).  When hot, remove from microwave and drain.

Sprinkle with cheese and chives or other herbs, and serve nice and hot. I could see butter or a little splash of olive oil on there or even some salt, but to be honest, it was perfect as it was, for what I was craving.

The Ugly Onion Pizza

Ugly Onion PizzaSo I should have started with something a little healthier, and a little less doused in cheese, I’m sure. Something prettier would have done just fine, but I gotta be honest with you. Last night I was exhausted, having battled my way to work and back via SEPTA, Philadelphia’s public transportation system, and instead of arriving home at a timely 5:30 or 5:45, I hurtled through the door sometime after 7:30. Believe it or not, losing two hours from my night really really throws me off.

Withered basilAt work I had already decided on the onion. In effort to make the most of my ugly, two week old baggied onion, I placed it on the counter and stared it down for what probably wound up being 20 minutes or so. What else did I have to use up? What else is borderline icky? My poor plants… Bingo! plucking a few of the dry, withered leaves of basil from the plant, I now had an onion and basil, and what does basil (inevitably and immediately) bring to mind? PIZZA!

The Ugly Onion Itself

Confession: I forgot to mention that there’s also always a hunk of TJ’s herbed pizza crust in my freezer. I know, I should make my own dough, and I will at some point, I swear, but last night was the exact reason that I keep it in the freezer. Anyway, so from there, I raided fridge and freezer, until satisfied with toppings. Unfortunately, in effort to pay attention to a television show while topping the pizza, I did get a bit carried away  (omigod so totally carried away) with the cheese. A light sprinkling will most definitely do.  That is, unless you’re like me and pretend to not care about your waistline.

Ugly Onion Pizza

1/2 large white onion (preferably ugly)

1 hunk pizza dough

1 c mozzarella cheese

1/4 c parmesan-romano cheese

2 small cloves garlic

1 handful withered basil leaves

salt and pepper to taste

-Preheat oven to 400. If you have a pizza stone then do wha’cha gotta do and if not, nonstick your baking sheet. Roll out your dough (I shot for a rough rectangle because I like the idea of an un-circular pizza).

-Chop the garlic and slice the onion into ribbons, cross-ways. Pop the baking sheet (with dough) into the preheated oven for a few minutes to let it start to puff up, but before it starts to become golden.

-Remove the crust, and layer on the toppings. Place back into the oven for another 10+ minutes, until the cheese is gently bubbling and crust is golden-brown.

Since TJ’s didn’t  restock the arugula, this week I’m working with baby spinach, so that’s what I topped and snarfed the pizza with.

How I Skimp

Sorry to disappoint once again with no real recipe to speak of. The fact of the matter is, I’ve been traveling back from Indiana and my family to Philadelphia, which isn’t quite “my city” just yet. So. This week I’m basically starting from scratch with stocking fresh ingredients, since I was traveling for two weeks. Speaking of which, my poor plants!

They had been so pretty before I left for two weeks!

Since I’m starting “from scratch” with my fresh stock, I’m going to assume you are too (but let’s face it: there’s always that container of x leftover from last week that we meant to use and just forgot about).  This was a large fresh-grocerying week, especially because I had to restock on cheeses. At the bottom of the post, I’ve created two lists: one of (nearly) un-perishables that I tend to keep stocked NO MATTER WHAT, and that which I just purchased — my weekly fresh, cheap stock.

Grocery Mix

Unfortunately, I had planned on a super-easy dinner tonight which involved avocados and all sorts of roasted veggies in a limey, light dressing, but alas! the avocados at the store were harder than rocks. On this lovely (read: hot) Sunday afternoon, I planned on a quick run in, dumping all my favorites into a hand basket, and then a nip right back out. Today, however, they were out of just about everything. When I say just about, I most definitely mean anything fresh without a bruise. So tonight we’re getting crafty, and if it goes well, that will certainly be my first post for you!

Mmmm Gala Apple

Being the compulsive buyer I am, and after re-reading my last post, it seems like it might be helpful to mention some of the tricks I use (to trick myself) when at the store. Wait wait, I’m ahead of myself. Before you even enter the store, arm yourself with a list. Yes, I know, I was once among the horde of shoppers who write out a well-intentioned list and then left it in the purse/pocket/wallet, but I  know it has helped me, at least, keep from forgetting things I otherwise ALWAYS miss.

So head to the store (with your lovely reusable bags in tow), and as you enter, skip the full-blown driver-cart-thing. Battle the urge to splurge! No splurging unless there’s still room in the hand-basket you’re using. How this works: if you can fit everything in there, fantastic. If you can’t, some of your vitamin-rich, fresh food would start to lose some of its valuable pizzaz while it sits in the fridge, so don’t panic! Just (if you can) swing by the store again in a few days to pick up those miscellaneous things that were too bulky for you.

One of the many things I had to put back

I mentioned my ‘treats’ last time. They’re another of my tricks: seasonal, special treats over something wrapped in cellophane and smothered in preservatives. Knowing that you’ve already picked up those Bing cherries you’ve been salivating over for the past 5 days might just keep your fingers from straying to the 2-gallon tub of  generic ice cream. If that doesn’t work, at least go for an ice cream with hunks of those cherries?

Not cherries, but frozen mango: LIKE icecream.

Last, but not least, consider the way your entire purchase would look to say, your mother’s scrutinous gaze. Not that my mother scrutinizes my purchases — she has no reason to anymore! So if you wouldn’t want her to see that giant gallon of ice cream or the “value pack” of whoopie pies (even if the sweet Amish man from the farmer’s market made them), put ’em back. If I didn’t do this, I would NEVER make it out of the store with transportation/fun money.  So that’s it! And here are those promised lists:

Those are roasted peppers and tomatoes

Stock: basmati rice; angel hair pasta; penne pasta; Trader Joe’s (TJ) dry pesto-stuffed pasta, 2 cans corn, 2 cans black beans, 1 can chick peas, plenty of flour and sugar and eggs, butter, mayo, TJ’s spicy mustard, olive oil, balsamic, honey, crackers (Carr’s, as I learned from Aura, are amazing), coffee, tea, frozen chicken, frozen bread (English Muffins, plain bread, sometimes bagels, and always some sort of artisan bread), and Goddess Salad Dressing from TJ’s.

I didn't make this, but I did eat it.

Fresh this week: 1/3 gal. milk, 1 small Greek yogurt, shredded mozzarella, Greek feta, shaved parmesan-romano cheese (it was on sale!), 2 apples, 1 single-sized watermelon, 2 anjou pears, 1 lb. cherries, 1 large container blackberries, 2 yellow squash, 1 hothouse cucumber, 2 small containers of cherry tomatoes, 1 bag of broccoli and cauliflower mix, 1 bag of 3 romaine heads, 1 bag of spinach, 2 leeks, 1 small bag assorted potatoes, 1 small bag green and yellow string/wax beans, and 1 container of button mushrooms. I still had, but did not re-purchase 1/2 an onion that looks like it’s still okay. All of this cost a measly $61.55. Next week will cost less. I’ve weaseled out of there before having spent barely $40 for a week’s worth of food (okay, there were lots of carrots involved).

Reason for Being

WatermelonWhen I was little, my mom said that no matter what time it is, no matter how old I get or what’s going on, she will never say no to books or fruit. Here I am roughly 20 years later, kicking off graduate school as an Art History and Archaeology student and trying my best to curb my raging passion for food.  Armed with the second camera I’ve ever owned (I can’t even change the lenses, but I’m saving money for that!), the camera on my phone (only for the most dire situations), and my shiny little laptop, I am prepared to boldly blaze my own trail into the dense forest of food blogs. Bet mom never imagined just how far that sentiment would take me.

Roasted tomatoes, black beans and chick peas

I always just assumed (you know what they say about assuming) that I think the way a fat person must think: food food food food food. From the moment I wake up, I’m wondering what I’m going to make for breakfast. When I finish breakfast, I wonder what delicious delicacy I can whip together for lunch. When lunch is over, it’s on to dinner and sometimes (if I have the energy) I even wonder what’s for dessert. Don’t get me wrong, I do love the simplicity of buying ready-to-snarf ice cream, but what I really want is to make something out of nothing — something delicious. Lucky for me, I’m already halfway there: I’ve got nothing.

Peach Bourbon Crumble

This is, I suppose, my schtick. One of my best friends, Caitlin, introduced me to my newest (and perhaps strongest) addiction: food blogs made by foodies for foodies. I sprinted through that Smitten Kitchen and plumbed the depths of The Kitchen Sink. From Asparagus to Zucchini, I drool and pine. I am, however, stuck behind a glass window when it comes to one ridiculous restraint: budget. I cannot afford to even buy the creamiest of the cream of the crop from Whole Foods. Even a good deal of the farmer’s markets out here are rather expensive, as are, it seems, some of the most “thrifty” supermarkets.

BBQ sauces at Schnuck's in Evansville, IN

I’m sure some of you are shouting at the screen, “why don’t you just make a few trips to different places, buy the cheapest food at each place?!” Here’s why: I have little to no self-control. While shopping at Pathmark, I’ll pass (lets say) a sale on starfruit, and pick up a large-ish fruit. Then I’ll pass another sale and pick up one discounted avocado. There, that’s good. Two special things to save for those nights when I’m feeling a little down and need a pick-me-up, and I can now safely make it out of that store without adding a slab of chocolate or slightly saggy croissants to my haul, especially with those two special sale pieces staring up at me from the basket of the cart. That happens at each place I shop for food. See the problem?

So here I am, buzzing along with my modest (at best) paycheck, trying to make ends meet in Philadelphia. Despite my best efforts as a (mostly) Midwesterner to make the absolute best of nearly everything, I’m not going to lie. The people are rude. Everyone runs around in circles, worrying about their own little problems, stuck in traffic in a city where things that should only take an hour actually take 4. Tip: be nice to people. Believe it or not, if everyone would just be nice to one another, everyone would be so much happier. This isn’t to say that everyone makes me miserable, here. Most of the people I work with are absolutely fantastic — especially John (one of my bosses). The rest of the city can just be frustrating, though: When I have the time to do something cool, I don’t have the money, and when I have a few spare bucks, I pour it into a special food purchase to use in a special dish (as opposed to an evening of drunken revelry and misplaced memories).

Menage a Trois Chardonnay

So there you have it: A single girl (and her cat) trying to lead a healthy and interesting yet frugal lifestyle in The City of Brotherly Love while also studiously striving for an archaeological degree. So take a test drive, and please feel free to leave suggestions or questions.  Here we go!