Frugal cooking: Making crispy eggplant and roasting peppers; also, fish

Even though it’s hot, I cooked today, meaning: baked.

You gotta do what you have to do.

It had been a while, making do on the stove, eating cereal, sandwiches, cold salads. It’s summer.

But at some point you do have to bite the bullet and turn on the oven and this morning was that time.

It all starts at Kroger. If you hit the reduced produce section at the right time, i.e. just as they stock it, it looks like this:

The cart is not my cart. It’s part of the reduced section, an overflow that would not fit on the regular shelves.

Anything in a red net bag is 99 cents. I bought a bag of red peppers and a bag of orange peppers. I got a bag of lemons, a bag of two eggplants, two trays of cherry tomatoes- one red and one orange- and regular tomatoes.

See? They look perfectly fine. Usually red peppers are $1 each or even more. In the bag they are 33 cents. I saved $12 on produce with what I got.

Anyway, if I buy the reduced produce I am essentially making a commitment to it, both as a promise not to waste food, not to deny someone else the opportunity to buy fresh produce for a good price, and also to financially shepherd my resources well. So that means use it/cook it/eat it in some way.

The produce is the first stop. Depending on what I can get, I make my menu from there. Sometimes soon I’ll get a shallow dish frozen pie crust and make a red pepper tartlet. For now, I roasted the peppers and I’ll use them in antipasto and in scrambled eggs.

I cut them up into strips, toss them with oil, salt, and pepper, and roast till soft and the edges are brown.

Since I got tomatoes and eggplants, I’d decided to bake the eggplants and use the crisp rounds in sandwiches. I’ll need cheese. I headed over to the reduced cheese section

Mozzarella and provolone are both great with eggplant. I went to the reduced cheese section and what did I find? Mozzarella and provolone. 50% off, down from $4 to $1.99. There’s enough to even make a casserole later if I want. Since I already cooked the eggplants, making a casserole would not take long, essentially I just need to heat it through and melt the cheese. I bought a tiny can of tomato sauce just in case I want to do that later in the week.

Here is how I bake eggplant. Cut into rounds. You can peel or not peel. I peel. Sometimes I peel each round after I slice them or sometimes I peel the whole eggplant first.

Dip rounds in egg scrambled with milk, and then bread crumbs. 2 eggs were enough with the two eggplants. Do not use a fork. Once you pierce the eggplant, whether frying or baking, it makes the eggplant round soggy as the oil or the egg-milk mixture seeps into the flesh. Use tongs or your fingers to dredge and turn over the rounds. You can add spices like oregano or salt-pepper to the bread crumb mixture, also Parmesan cheese too. Or you can sprinkle your preferred seasoning over the cookie sheet rounds.

I try to maximize space by filling the cookie sheet but also try to have the rounds not touch each other or overlap. It causes uneven cooking. As the baking process progresses, the eggplants shrink since the heat evaporates the water int he flesh. So if they are touching a little bit, that’s OK. They’ll each be an island unto themselves soon enough, lol.

Two smallish eggplants filled three cookie sheets (of varying size). Bake until crisp on one side then flip. Depending on your oven and the temperature you bake them at (I go 375) it might take 7-10 min on one side then 5-7 on the other.

Yum! Crispy eggplant! I pop two or three of these onto some crispy bread, a couple slices of tomato, and cheese and make a panini on the griddle. You can also use tomato sauce and make a sub sandwich. Or just eat them on the side as a vegetable. You can re-crisp them in the toaster oven, on a griddle, or bake or roast for a few minutes.

I drifted over to the fish section and got a stuffed crab for $1, a salmon filet for $2 (2 meals), and a tilapia filet for $1.35 (fish chowder, 3 meals). 3 proteins for $4.35 and will last for 6 meals.

Tomorrow I’ll reveal a cute, perfect, zen cabin in a bamboo garden I plan to vacation in next spring!

Lesley Stowe crackers, and other things

Summer is still good. I still love it. I don’t get bored. It’s endlessly interesting, wonderful, and relaxing.

It’s been one month, and I have another month to go. School begins again on July 31. However, I do have two days upcoming which are dedicated to professional development, two half-day educational classes on July 17 and July 18.

I’ve been reading and exulting in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I say exulting, because of the poetic language and the varied types of language, never mind the riveting story. All excited, I watched Ron Howard’s 2015 movie In the Heart of the Sea, based on the true events that inspired Moby Dick- the wreck of the whaleship Essex which was stove in by an angry sperm whale. Half the story is the sinking, the other half is the survival in open boat for 90 days in the middle of the Pacific. The movie is also riveting. Moby Dick is THE Great American Novel.

I also started The Son, by Philipp Meyer. It’s a television series now, or so I understand, but usually like the book better so I started there. As a McMurtry fan, and a fan of The American West in general, this one had me hooked at the opening line. It’s a spare retelling of a fictional son of a scion family who was kidnapped by Indians and raised among them in their culture. It’s early days but I like it a lot.

I also have been given a wonderful resource, the website of Dr Abner Chou of The Master’s University is a profoundly insightful lecturer and I am going through Job with him. Here is his Expositors Wiki, with the following lectures available:

  • 2 Samuel
  • Acts
  • Biblical Interpretations
  • Biblical Theology
  • Deuteronomy
  • Ephesians
  • Ezekiel
  • Greek Exegesis
  • Job
  • Minor Prophets
  • Zechariah
  • Biblical Theology of Vision
  • Job 2014
  • Gospel of Luke 2014
  • 2 Timothy/Pastoral Epistles
  • Hebrews
  • Advanced Hermeneutics

One thing I did which was to satisfy a goal on my list, was edit the 200 photos I took on my Church Pews & Pulpits Ramble, traveling over 120 miles in eastern rural Georgia to learn about the history of 7 historic and abandoned churches. It was great. I have tried to find a way to post multiple photos on Blogger, such as a slide show embedded within a post, but it’s not possible as far as I have seen. So I will post a review of the trip with a link to my Flickr folder with the photos, tomorrow.

A family at church has a large garden, so you know what that means. They share and I’m a happy recipient. This past Sunday I got an eggplant, two yellow squashes, and a green pepper. I made a saute: as depicted.

Saute onion, green pepper in salt and olive oil:

When the onions are golden and the peppers are soft, I added cubed eggplant, more salt and pepper, a bit more olive oil, and covered until eggplant were soft.

I use it as a sandwich filling, added to spaghetti or penne, or just as a warm salad on the side.

At Kroger grocery store I am always on the lookout for deals. There are a lot. One kind of deal is the WOO-HOO sticker. It alerts the shopper to an item that is about to expire or perhaps is being phased out. Usually, expired. I found these in an organic section the other day. I had never seen them before. I love crackers though so I took a chance. They are Lesley Stowe fig and kalamata olive cracker crisps. They were only 99 cents so, I figured it was worth a chance.

I LOVED them! Curious, I looked them up on Amazon in case I wanted to buy them in the future. I was astounded to learn they sell (depending on vendor) for between $10-30 per box! The next time I passed by Kroger, I bought three more boxes. If there are still more next time remaining on the shelf as there were yesterday, I’ll buy more. Look for the woohoo sticker. It appears on just about anything, from milk and yogurt to produce bags (like shredded lettuce or spinach) to boxed non-perishables.

Another deal is produce in a red net bag. Any item in the bag costs 99 cents. Yesterday I got three red peppers. Since red peppers are usually $1 for one, or more than $1, these at 33 cents per pepper were a good deal.

The peppers are fine, not wrinkled and no spots or mold. One time I saw the produce clerk loading up the spot where they put the bags, and I thanked her profusely for the ability to buy quality produce at a low price, She said “It helps us too. We hardly ever have to throw anything away.”

Another deal I’d gotten last week was three turnips. One, I simply peeled raw and cut up into matchsticks. I added matchstick carrots, and some lime juice and salt and made a salad out of it. The other two turnips, I peeled and cut into fries, tossed in oil, salt and pepper and baked. They got brown but didn’t get crunchy like potato fries do. But they were still very good. Sorry I don’t have an ‘after’ photo.

turnip fries

This weekend when I go shopping again I’ll buy some cans of black beans and make a red pepper, green pepper, cilantro and black bean salad with avocado. It’s filling, healthy and good.

This week I’ve enjoyed a visit from a returning college student who is attending The Master’s University in CA, and attended an ice cream social at another friend’s house. Just to prove I’m not a total recluse, lol.

Last night upon returning home I watched circling birds prepare to roost…enjoyed the cool night air and heard owls late in the wee hours…snuggled with my two cats, one at a time…watched cute clips on Youtube of babies escaping cribs or babies walking around with a bucket on their head, or kittens playing and so on.

I’m appreciative of everything the Lord has given me and grateful for everything He has not given me. Life is good.

Lunch on a budget: Spicy Shrimp Sandwich with Chipotle Avocado Mayonnaise

Today is payday so today is grocery shopping day. Yay. I enjoy shopping because everything about Kroger makes the experience pleasurable.

For really busy shoppers, or shoppers who hate shopping, Kroger has unrolled a special service called ClickList. You go online and create a list of purchases you want and type an hour-range of time to pick up. When you arrive, the clerk puts your groceries in the car and you pay right there, too.

I have not used ClickList myself but friends who have really love it. It beats dragging around your kids throughout the entire store. Or dragging yourself around the store for that matter.

But going in is OK for me. The clerks are friendly and helpful. They know where stuff is. The sales are great. The markdowns make obtaining lots of fresh produce and seafood attainable on a budget. The quality of the food is always good. It is a big store, that is a drawback, but if I restrict myself to the areas I usually frequent then I can get in and out efficiently and stick to my budget.

Here is the lunch I prepared after arriving home from the store. It is Spicy Shrimp Sandwich with Chipotle Avocado Mayonnaise, ruffled potato chips, and sweet cole slaw. Dessert, strawberries and nectarines with organic strawberry yogurt on top. Sound too expensive for a frugal summer lunch? It’s not. Read on!

Kroger offers skewers of five medium (de-veined) shrimp for $1.00. I like the fact that they are de-veined already, and they only take 3-4 minutes to cook. This is good on a summer day in Georgia. Any protein I can purchase that’s $1 or less per serving is a go.

Red leaf lettuce was on sale this week, $.99 per head. Potato chips were on sale, $1.50 for a large bag. Kroger usually has bags on sale of prepared cole slaw (just add mayo) for $1. The bun you can’t see it; it’s under the lettuce) was on the reduced rack. A bag of 6 kaiser rolls was marked down to $.99, so 20 cents per bun.

The store puts some items from produce in a red net bag on a special shelf. The items are almost always nearly perfect, but whatever is in the bag is 99 cents. I’d bought a red net bag of 5 avocados for 99 cents, so the avocado was only 20 cents. A couple of avocados in the bag were ready but could be eaten tomorrow and one or two were really soft, so I chose a really soft one to make the spicy mayo spread. Including some strawberries I’d had for dessert, my lunch cost around $2.

I didn’t know I was going to make this lunch when I went into the store. It is usually more expensive to decide ahead of time what you’re going to eat and then going to the store to buy the individual ingredients for your selected dish. What I do is look at the weekly sale flyer and I scout around in the store for unadvertised markdowns, and purchase whatever they have available. This method works well if you do not have a family, I admit.

I usually buy the shrimp because it is a good protein for a good price. As mentioned, lettuce was on sale, and an unadvertised markdown was the bag of kaiser rolls at the reduced bread area, as well as the bag of avocados in the unadvertised produce area. I found a large container of organic yogurt marked half price.

A produce clerk was stocking the mark down shelf when I got there. I thanked her for putting what to me are good produce items (non squashed, or otherwise nearly perfect) in the red bags for us. She said that it really helps Kroger too. “We hardly ever have anything we throw away,” she said. This was great news to me. Win-win. I also bought 2 lb of yellow squash, a bag of oranges that I’ll cut up for fruit salad, brussels sprouts, and some orange peppers. Good stuff.

After I got home I decided one of the avocados needed eating right away. I didn’t want to let the shrimp go another day or so. I’d already taken a long time in the store and a hot drive home without refrigerating them so I wanted to cook and eat immediately. Hmmm. I briefly considered “shrimp and grits” as I’d bought a box of instant grits, but in the end I went with the sandwich. I googled ‘shrimp-avocado sandwich’ and voila, the above recipe came up. I had the olive oil and the spices on hand already. I did not have the chipotle spice, so I just substituted Sriracha.

Frugal Organizing

I often write about ways to save money and time in grocery shopping and cooking. Being frugal in these tight economic times suits many people from all socio-economic levels.

There is a kind of frugality to the way we use space, too. I live in a 350 sf apartment. I like that, it is economical to heat, light, and clean. It’s frugal to not use or pay for more space than we need, and we really need less than we think.

But a small living space, even with just one person living in it, can become cluttered too if we don’t watch out. Add to that, there is always some unused space that can be used, if we think creatively.

In frugal living in a small space, the less cluttered you can be, the better. That means clear and clean surfaces. I don’t leave lots of books and magazines and junk on top of the coffee table, dining table, or bookcase tops. The eye likes to stop when it’s roaming around the room. The less it has to stop it, the more of a clean sweep the eye can do, the bigger the room will seem. For example, I use a clear cutting board so that it doesn’t clutter the small kitchen counter top and make the eye stop. I keep the surfaces clean, as I mentioned, I put the books spines together evenly so that the clean lines on the bookcase look neater. Think of giving your bangs a trim. They always looks neater afterward don’t they? Even a small trim.

There are spaces around your home, apartment, trailer, studio etc that you can use. Recently my one closet got pretty packed. I knew where all the things in it were, but they were hard to get to. Having things you’re unable to freely and easily use is just the same as not having them at all.

I decided to empty it, sell what I haven’t used lately, and re-organize the rest.

I don’t have a lot of shoes, but the few I do have I don’t want in a pile on the floor. I hate searching for the mate through a dark closet at the last second before I have to leave for work. I decided to get a behind-the-door shoe organizer. It was $8.00. I put my scarves in the empty pockets. They had kept falling to the floor. I continually forgot the ones I had. This way they are out in the light and I can see what I’ve got. The behind-the-door pocket hanging organizers are useful for the space that is out of sight but filling a previously unused spot. One caveat, make sure that you buy one whose hooks that go over the door can allow the door to close. The hooks for this one are strong enough to hold a full organizer but slim enough to allow the door to close.

There is another behind-the-door spot in my bedroom besides the bedroom closet. It’s the bedroom door. I never shut it because I am the only one who lives here, lol. I bought a larger pocketed organizer for that space and use it to put in my hats, canvas bags, and purses. The hooks on this organizer ($7) are the plastic ones on the left side of the top of the door. They don’t allow the door to close. So I use this organizer for the door that does not need closing. These items used to be
on the top shelf of the closet. The black bag hanging at the bottom contains other smaller canvas bags. It’s light. It needed to be accessible because I use a lot of canvas bags, so I hung it by hanging in as another level to the pockets of the organizer, and I can still use the bottom pocket to hold things.

There is space between the stove and the counter in the kitchen. Hmmm, what can I do with it? It’s out of sight to my eye when I look into the kitchen so using the space won’t clutter up my small cooking area. I know! I’ll use a strong magnet to hold a canvas bag to store my dishtowels in! I only have two drawers, and one is broken. The other holds all my knives. This is a great solution for items I use constantly in making them accessible yet hidden.

Look around your home and look for spots that if used, won’t clutter the space or stop the eye from roaming.

Frugal Cooking: garden eggplants. What to do with them?

It is hot in Georgia in July. And August. And half of September. So needless to say, weekend cooking comes to a near-halt during the dog days of a southern summer. Not to say that stove top cooking ends. But sauteing eggs is done quick and microwave poached eggs are best.

The heavy heat means the heavy foods can wait until fall and winter. I eat Salads, humm
us, sandwiches, cold antipastos.

However I do make some stove top things. I got some tamarind sauce and rice noodles recently and made a pad thai for the first time in a long time. Boy, I love that dish. I like the rice noodles because as an alternative to boiling noodles (or rice as in other Asian dishes), Pad Thai noodles can be soaked in cold water till soft, then flash sauted at the end. Since rice noodles are made with rice flour they are a good choice for those who are gluten intolerant. As always, read the package to be sure it’s not got additives to which you will be sensitive.

I used this recipe: http://rasamalaysia.com/pad-thai/ . Yum! It’s a quick and filling stove-top dish. Since shrimp are expensive for me, I leave them out and just rely on the tofu and the egg for protein. Since sprouts are hard to find, I use more scallions.

Once in a while I need to use the oven to make a more substantial dish. It’s veggie-garden season and I love to take advantage of the bounty. A friend at church had brought in some bounty from her garden, and gave me some eggplants. I had already bought two eggplants the other day. But you can never have enough eggplants! And garden fresh is a luscious opportunity I cannot pass up.

Many people around here do not know what to do with eggplants except make friend eggplant parmigiana. I like that too but i hate to make it. Others use the eggplant rounds to make a Stack, here is Mario Batali’s Eggplant Stack recipe.

Two other ways I offer as considerations for your eggplant enjoyment are Caponata and Baked Crispy Eggplant.

I decided to use the garden eggplants in a bake, and the older store bought eggplants for caponata. Caponata is a Sicilian recipe that is complicated and uses some luxury ingredients like fresh olives, capers, and pine nuts. I don’t often have those particular ingredients on hand so I skip them. Some recipes call for roasting the eggplant or frying it first. Again, I skip. Here is one example of a traditional caponata recipe: Sicilian Caponata

Caponata also uses vinegar but I skip that too, lol. The finished dish can be used in sauces with pasta, or as a topping on Italian bruschetta, or as a vegetable side dish by itself.

What I do is saute the onion, and when they are soft, I throw in the celery. Whey they are soft, I throw in the eggplant, which I’d cubed small. Let that dwindle down covered on medium heat. I use oil but also some apple juice if I have it on hand. If not, then add water if you’re watching the fat content, just so the eggplant won’t stick.

Sometimes if I have enough tomatoes, I add those. If not, then later when I’m ready to eat it I add tomato sauce. Or not. Caponata is versatile! Add salt and pepper to taste, and since I am a Philistine, I add canned black olives, lol. Voila, a fast way to use a lot of eggplants.

The baked eggplant recipe I used is here, Crispy Baked Eggplant. I like this recipe because it is simple and uses few ingredients. Also, it takes less time in the hot oven than Eggplant Parmigiana. That’s always good! Remember, this essay is called ‘frugal cooking’. If the eggplant is really fresh I don’t think it needs to be salted, wait, press to drain, and all those steps. I like to save steps. Again, frugal cooking means not only using few or inexpensive ingredients but also saving time. Time is money too. The older eggplant had a higher water content so that is why I decided to use them for the caponata, which needs moisture as it cooks. To make crispy eggplant, less water is better, so normally if you get store eggplant that has been around a while then do go thru the process of getting rid of the water content by salting and pressing..

I keep the skins on the baked eggplant, because that holds it together better. For the sauteed caponata, I stripped the purple skin off because I want it to break down.

Aren’t these garden eggplants cute! And beautiful! They are a deep purple, nicely shaped, and firm.

Cutting the rounds. The skin-on will be baked. Cut 1/2 inch to 1/4 inch. Thicker, and it won’t bake through before burning, thinner and it won’t hold the egg/bread crumb mixture.

I scrambled two eggs with a bit of water in one bowl, and in another poured a mound of bread crumbs. I dragged one round through the egg mixture, using my fingers. If you use a fork or knife it will puncture the skin and the eggplant won’t be as crispy since the liquid will seep into it.

I cooked according to the recipe. When they were done I took them out and tested one. Crunch!

The frugal part: in addition to choosing recipes that use fewer ingredients, or a shorter cooking time (electricity costs more on weekends), or using what I have in the fridge already, or accepting a gift of veggies even though I already had some veggies but I knew I’d use them… if you’re going to turn the oven on during a hot day, don’t turn it on for one item only! STUFF the oven. So I used up some squash I’d had rolling around the bottom of the veggie tray. They were rolling around because they had very thick skins and those take a long time to saute. If the oven was going to be on I might as well put some more in it to have on hand for later in the week when it’s supposed to be even HOTTER. In went the thick-skinned yellow squash.

The green are Poblano peppers my friend gave me in addition to the eggplants. At the bottom of the photo are pita bread triangles. I wiped the top of some whole wheat pita bread rounds with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt, and cut them into triangles to make pita crisps. They will be holding hummus later this week. I also put into the oven a few potatoes washed and encased in tin foil for baking, again to have later this week to make potato salad or home fries. I could squeeze them in between the baking trays. Voila, a stuffed oven!

Between the oven being on and the stove top pot containing simmering eggplant for caponata, it got hot in the kitchen. One of the potatoes being baked was quite a bit larger than the other really small ones, and it was taking forever to finish. I could not take the heat any more so I turned off the oven and kept the door shut. The residual heat would finish baking the potato. I do this on the stove top as well, turning the burner off a few minutes before the item is completely done, and letting the residual heat take care of the finish. I got this tip from Clara Cannucciari of Great Depression Cooking. “Anything to save anything” she had said.

One last tip. I started early when the day was cooler. I don’t like to work a lot in the morning, preferring to do my chores in the PM after I’ve studied my Bible and read my theology books and had my coffee. All the important things,you know. LOL. But with the temps predicted to rise quite high, and it happens fast once the sun is up, I began at around 7:00am and finished at 8:30, and that included washing the pans. This gave the apartment a bit of time to cool down and the oven to return to its resting state before the sun came up over the trees and began to heat up my apartment. As it was, I heard the AC click on higher fan setting about a minute after I opened the oven each time. Ugh. So start early and get it done, why ask your AC to cool the hot air you asked the oven to provide?

So that was the morning! For lunch I plan to have a green salad and caponata on Italian toasted rounds, topped with Parmesan cheese. Abbondanza!

Chia seeds, PB2, and Sunday organizing for the week

During the Summer I had forgotten how busy Sundays have to be to get ready for the week. If I put off doing the cleaning and laundry on Saturday, which I usually do, then it HAS to get done on Sunday. After church I eat and then take my Sunday nap. The rest of the evening is filled with chores that have to get done if I am to have a smooth week.

Important to the frugal life is cooking ahead. Not just money, but TIME. Time IS money, and time is time , precious little enough of it to go around. So I usually make a dish like casserole or soup as the main meal, and salads, chop fruit and veggies for snacks, and oatmeal cookies, granola and stuff like that for extras. This week I made

–burnt corn/black bean/mango salad;
–fried some tofu;
–put together two jars of refrigerator oatmeal.
–boiled 5 eggs to have as a shot of protein during each weekday.
–tuna salad for sandwiches
–chopped mango for snacks
–chopped some tofu that I didn’t fry to toss into the black bean salad.

The oatmeal is supposed to soak/cook in the milk or yogurt overnight and be soft in the morning. I’ll see if I like this method of breakfast-on-the-go Monday and Tuesday and adjust from there. Additions to the oatmeal were raisins and mango.

I was going to make soup but it’s so blessed hot! My lunch time got moved to 12:50-1:20 which will be 1:00 by the time I get to eat. I usually have breakfast at 6:00 so that would be 7 hours between meals. The 5 eggs are for one a day to get a shot of protein and keep my energy up. I’ll bring a piece of fruit too, and I can eat them while I’m on standing at lunch duty with the kids in the cafeteria. So that is lunches, breakfasts, and snacks ready to go.

Always on the lookout for a low-fat protein that is easy to cook or prepare and is affordable, I found two kinds that I am trying this week. My go-to proteins are quinoa and eggs. Also peanut butter but there is a lot of fat in PB so I ration that one out.

Chia seeds.

Here is an excerpt from Authority Nutrition about chia seeds.

Chia seeds are among the healthiest foods on the planet. They are loaded with nutrients that can have important benefits for your body and brain. Here are 11 health benefits of chia seeds that are supported by human studies. Fiber: 11 grams.
Protein: 4 grams.
Fat: 9 grams (5 of which are Omega-3s).
Calcium: 18% of the RDA.
Manganese: 30% of the RDA.
Magnesium: 30% of the RDA.
Phosphorus: 27% of the RDA.
They also contain a decent amount of Zinc, Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Potassium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) and Vitamin B2.

Like quinoa, which is used by the indigenous folk of the Andes, (I learned about quinoa while I was in Ecuador in the late 1990s, but it wasn’t till the later 2010s when it was imported and available), chia also is from South America. Chia seeds have been a staple in Mayan and Aztec diets for centuries. Here is more dietary info:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Chia seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds’ lipid profile is composed of 60 percent omega-3s, making them one of the richest plant-based sources of these fatty acids — specifically, of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. The omega-3s in chia seeds can help reduce inflammation, enhance cognitive performance and reduce high cholesterol.

Fiber
Fiber is associated with reducing inflammation, lowering cholesterol and regulating bowel function. Chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber, with a whopping 10 grams in only 2 tablespoons. That is one-third of the daily recommended intake of fiber per day.

Antioxidants
Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants that help protect the body from free radicals, aging and cancer. The high antioxidant profile also helps them have a long shelf life. They last almost two years without refrigeration.

Minerals
Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain 18 percent of the DRI for calcium, 35 percent for phosphorus, 24 percent for magnesium and about 50 percent for manganese. These nutrients help you prevent hypertension and maintain a healthy weight, and are important for energy metabolism and a part of DNA synthesis.

Satiety
Satiety is the feeling of being full and satisfied, which helps lower food cravings between meals. The combination of protein, fiber and the gelling action of chia seeds when mixed with liquids all contribute to their satiating effects.

Gluten-Free
Chia seeds contain no gluten or grains. Therefore, all of the nutritional benefits of chia seeds can be obtained on a gluten-free diet.

Egg Replacer
The outer layer of chia seeds swells when mixed with liquids to form a gel. This can used in place of eggs to lower cholesterol and increase the nutrient content of foods and baked goods. To make the egg replacement, mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and let sit for 15 minutes.

Can Be Digested Whole
Unlike flaxseeds, which are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and minerals, chia seeds do not need to be ground in order to obtain their nutrient or egg-replacement benefits.

Pretty amazing food, eh? I ordered some from Amazon.com, and since I like to make granola and smoothies, I see Chia Seeds in my future.

The other amazing food I discovered was PB2. It is basically peanut butter without the oil. It’s dried peanuts made into a powder, which can be either sprinkled into smoothies or other concoctions, or reconstituted with a bit of water. I know that sounds gross and like every other health food you heard about since Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook in the 70s. But all, and I mean ALL the reviews at Amazon were ga-ga over PB’s flavor and ease of use. So I bought some of that too, knowing full well it is more expensive than the grocery store, but I figured I’d try it and then go to Kroger or Ingles, which my friends tell me, is available on the store shelves. Sprinkling a teaspoon or two will give me a good amount of protein and peanut butter flavor without the fat.

We have come such a long way since the health food/vegetarianism of the 1970s when we were relegated to finding limp organic lettuce rolling around the moth-eaten shelves at the back of the store. There is a wealth of good food you can find…if you can just afford it. I feel I got a good deal on

the chia, and I also found a good deal on Amazon for peanuts in bulk. I searched for a long time, but I am sorry to say that almonds are out of reach, as are most other nuts. I’m hanging on to sunflower seeds and peanuts as the last legume stronghold for my shelves.

So that is the food blog for now, I’ll let you know how the eggs worked out, chia seeds, and PB2. I sure hope there will be food in heaven, and that it will taste so perfect and we will never get fat. 😉

Frugal cooking lessons

I have the day off due to the Martin Luther King holiday. Yay! It is below freezing now but later it is supposed to get up to 64 degrees, AND be sunny all day. Can’t beat Georgia weather!

My neighbor who pastures her sheep in the field immediately adjacent to the side yard, said a momma sheep died, and had a baby lamb to take care of. She put a diaper on him and brought him inside the house. Bottle feeding every two hours ensued. Yesterday I heard her bring the lamb outside, its tiny baby bleat was so cute. When it warms up some later today I’ll go outside looking for the little lamb. If he is amenable, lol, I’ll take some pictures.

Yesterday I did my weekly cooking. It won’t last me all week, it usually lasts till Thursdays, maybe Friday lunch if I stretch it. But the Sunday extravaganza comprises the bulk of dinners and lunches for the work-week. Where the prepared dishes fall short, sandwiches, fruit, or cereal fills in. I don’t like to come home from 8 solid hours having run around on my feet to stand around in a kitchen. So I make several main dishes, side dishes, and desserts ahead. It also helps when I’m hungry, I’ll eat what’s made instead of eating something less healthy.

So this week I made:

MAIN DISHES
–Carrot-pumpkin-ginger soup
–Spinach-cheese quiche

SIDE DISHES
–roasted potatoes,
–roasted peppers/onions,
–roasted broccoli

DESSERT
–Pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins
–Banana-oatmeal chewy bars

FRUIT
I cut up three oranges that had been put on sale, for a citrus salad, and I also have mango, bananas, and a cantaloupe ripening for later in the week.

Why these dishes? To be frugal, you don’t go to the store with a list of ingredients in order to cook certain dishes you want to make. You go to the store and see what’s on sale, and THEN prepare your menu. Frozen carrots and frozen broccoli were on sale. At my local store the owners often gather overripe bananas, bag them, and sell 6-8 of them for 99 cents. And at the Dollar store, 30 oz cans of pumpkin were on sale for $1.50. I bought it all.

Not my soup but it looks like this

The frozen veggies and the pumpkin were fortuitous. I’d been to the grocery store last week and became a bit dispirited because the fresh veggies have gotten SO HIGH in price. The selection has been reduced, too. I really miss Bountiful Baskets. But enough of that, I’ll drive myself crazy pining for a long-lost golden time of a plethora of fresh fruits and veggies via the now defunct food co-op.

In monthly budgeting, and I budget monthly because I get paid monthly, rent or mortgage should comprise no more than 25 to 30 percent of the net income. I live in a small place by choice, utilities are lower in a smaller place and it is easier to furnish and to maintain. My rent is very low but it’s still 32% of my monthly net. It’s one of the reasons I’m mindful of the grocery bill, make no stops in between the weekly shopping, and I am vigilant about using gas and heat and lights. If I can save on utilities I can overcome the 2% overage in rent. I don’t like to skimp on food. Fresh, healthy food is important. I don’t like to buy processed food or junk food, so again, committing to buy to fresh is important.

Monthly groceries should be about 12% of monthly net. I do spend about that much. So when veggies got so high I looked for an alternative. Doing without fruit and vegetables is not an option.

I’ve never been a fan of frozen vegetables, but for the first time I looked into their nutritive qualities. Apparently in some cases they can be more nutritious than fresh. Vegetables picked at the peak of freshness are then flash frozen, thus retaining nutrients. Fresh are picked prior to peak freshness in hope that continued ripening as it is transported to end destination. Here is a website explaining it:

While the first step of freezing vegetables—blanching them in hot water or steam to kill bacteria and arrest the action of food-degrading enzymes—causes some water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C and the B vitamins to break down or leach out, the subsequent flash-freeze locks the vegetables in a relatively nutrient-rich state.

On the other hand, fruits and vegetables destined to be shipped to the fresh-produce aisles around the country typically are picked before they are ripe, which gives them less time to develop a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Outward signs of ripening may still occur, but these vegetables will never have the same nutritive value as if they had been allowed to fully ripen on the vine. In addition, during the long haul from farm to fork, fresh fruits and vegetables are exposed to lots of heat and light, which degrade some nutrients, especially delicate vitamins like C and the B vitamin thiamin.

Bottom line: When vegetables are in-season, buy them fresh and ripe. “Off-season,” frozen vegetables will give you a high concentration of nutrients. Choose packages marked with a USDA “U.S. Fancy” shield, which designates produce of the best size, shape and color; vegetables of this standard also tend to be more nutrient-rich than the lower grades “U.S. No. 1” or “U.S. No. 2.” Eat them soon after purchase: over many months, nutrients in frozen vegetables do inevitably degrade. Finally, steam or microwave rather than boil your produce to minimize the loss of water-soluble vitamins.

Not my pumpkin muffins but they look like this

Hmmm. So when frozen vegetables went on sale I thought I’d try. I bought frozen carrots and broccoli. I decided to roast the broccoli, that was one way to get roasted veggies, which I love, and at the same time, cook out all the moisture.

The carrots became the soup. I sauteed onions and then dumped the frozen carrots right in the pot and cooked till they were soft and most of the moisture was gone. I knew I was going to puree them so any flaws in the carrots would be obliterated in the blender.

I learned that canned veggies lose a lot of their nutrients- except for two: pumpkin and tomatoes. With pumpkin, the canning process actually adds more beta carotene so the vegetable becomes more healthy. When I saw the 30 oz can of pumpkin on sale for $1.50, I immediately thought of several recipes- soup and two-ingredient muffins.

Two ingredient muffins (or cake) involves canned pumpkin and any boxed cake mix. Lots of people like spice cake mix with the pumpkin but I usually get yellow cake. Why? It’s always on sale at the Dollar Store for $1.

So for $1.75 I can get 18 muffins. That’s nine cents per muffin. I usually add a half a bag of chocolate chips so that brings the price per item to 13 cents per muffin. Still a lot better than 50 cents per muffin, or more if buying it out at a restaurant or drive thru. It goes without saying that eating out while on a budget is a no-no. It’s wasted money.

If you have children, cooking all in a bunch saves time, prepares meals and snacks ahead which reduces spur-of-the-moment unwise purchases, and it also uses the oven more frugally.

If I look at my electricity bill I notice that weekend electrical use is assessed at a higher rate than weekdays. That’s why the Electric Company always advises doing laundry or other high-electric use activities on the weekdays. I’m not going to cook at night after work, so since I choose the weekend I bunch up my cooking and stuff the oven to concentrate its use. At one point I had three pans of roasting veggies, a quiche, and the muffins in there.

My kitchen. Cute, isn’t it!

It also concentrates my time. I only spent two hours doing it all at once. I went to church, came home and ate, watched a TV show, napped, and then at 5:00 I started cooking. By 7:00 I was done and eating a piece of quiche and side of roasted veggies for supper. While I was cooking I listened to music and a sermon. I didn’t feel like a drudge nor put upon, it was relaxing. Cleanup happens all at once too, so I ate my supper at a clean kitchen table.

The key is to commit to it, forgo choosing recipes ahead of time, trusting yourself to creatively come up with dishes that use the items on sale, and be diligent to do it all at once.

Bon appetit!