All posts by BudgetEpicurean

Late 20s long-time student turned young adult with varied interests, mostly food and frugality. At the fusion of food, fun, and frugality, you will find me.

Easy Spinach & Mushroom Pasta Sauce

Sometimes, when you just need a quick dinner and don’t feel adventurous, it is easy to discount pasta as “too easy”, or feel guilty about all those carbs. But the good news is, pasta is a great blank canvas on which you can paint all sorts of tasty, healthy flavors.

You can use generous amounts of pesto, which can be made in a blender and contains easily 2 servings of vegetables per plate. You could also whip up a white bean alfredo sauce, which is essentially watered down hummus, and is super healthy and filling.

Or you could make my favorite veggie-packed sneaky healthy red sauce of all time: spinach and mushroom sauce.

mushrooms and spinach

The beauty of this is its simplicity. You only need spinach, mushrooms, some spices, and a giant can of crushed tomatoes.

You can easily substitute in a jar of pre-made sauce, and add the veggies; or use diced or even whole tomatoes, just whir them in a blender before simmering. Canned or dried mushrooms would work just fine as well. You can also use frozen or canned spinach, but it will make the sauce much waterier and it would be best to simmer the sauce for an hour or more to thicken.

homemade pasta sauce ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pint of any type of mushrooms
  • 2 heaping cups fresh spinach
  • 1 tbsp dried onion/onion powder
  • 2 tbsp Italian spice mix
  • Garlic salt, pepper, to taste

spinach and mushroom pasta sauce ingredients

Step 1: In a pan, add the mushrooms and a bit of water, wine, or stock. Cover with a lid and bring to a simmer. Cook 5-7 minutes, and then add the spinach. Cook another 3-5 minutes until wilted.

simmer tomato sauce for pasta

Step 2: Add in all the spices, and the tomato. Bring to a gentle simmer, and place the lid on, slightly askew so that the steam can escape and your stovetop isn’t covered in sauce bubbles. Simmer until thickened to your liking, usually about 15 minutes for me.

spinach mushroom pasta sauce

Serve with or without meatballs, sausage, or any other sauce additions you like. The flavors all work together beautifully, and most people won’t even notice there are extra veggies! If you want to really fool them, you can puree the sauce with a blender or immersion blender before serving.

 

What’s your favorite way(s) to sneak more vegetables into your diet?

Carolina Reaper Pepper Hot Sauce

In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a new top dog in the world of spiciness. You probably know all about jalapeños, maybe even serranos and habañeros. If you’re a true spice afficianado, you might even be aware of the previous holder of the record for the world’s hottest: the Scorpion Pepper.

Well, since August 7, 2013, the new top dog in town, crowned by the Guinness Book of World Records, is a gnarly looking pepper with a shape reminiscent of a flame: the Carolina Reaper.

Bred as a child of the previous record holders the Bhut jolokia (also known as the Ghost Pepper or ghost chilie) and a red habañero, the Reaper was developed by pepper expert Ed Currie in South Carolina. A man driven by the pursuit of health which led to the pursuit of heat, Ed has been breeding and processing peppers for several decades.

One day while strolling, I noticed a bush, with some strange looking orange fruits. Of course I was interested, as an incurable foodie and forager. I snapped some pictures and went home to research. In short order I found out the above information, and confirmed these were indeed Carolina Reaper peppers! They happened to be in a public garden space, so I quickly snatched a few with no recipe in mind, but a burning curiosity (see what I did there??).

Carolina Reaper pepper plant

Once I got home with my trio of terror, I started googling recipes. Turns out not many people want to tangle with the Reaper in their kitchen, and for good reason. Too much heat can produce burning sensations, raise your temperature and blood pressure. In extreme cases, you can lose feeling in your hands or face, start shaking or even have a seizure, and become unable to breathe.

The way pepper heat is measuring is using the Scoville Heat Unit scale. An average jalapeno hits about 8,000 SHU, whereas pepper spray (the kind meant to completely disable attackers) is around 2 million SHU. The Reaper averages about 1.5 million, with the hottest plant on record hitting 2.2 million Scoville units.

So basically, a Reaper is the equivalent of pepper spray.

This recipe is for a homemade hot sauce; if you are using Reapers or other similarly strong peppers, please use caution. Make sure you have food-grade gloves to protect your hands, and make it in a well ventilated area. Leaving the seeds in always makes it hotter, so if you truly want to bring the pain, leave in the seeds. I did not…

The recipe works with all types of hot peppers, so you can sub in your favorite kind, or mix and match. This makes about 14 ounces of hot sauce.

Carolina Reaper hot pepper hot sauce ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 2 Carolina Reapers
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 a red onion
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • garlic salt to taste

Carolina Reaper pepper hot sauce ingredients

Step 1: Cut the tops off the peppers and discard. In a food processor or blender, chop the garlic, onion, and peppers. Add the vinegar and spices. If you want it totally smooth, add the tomatoes and blend well until liquid. Otherwise, add the tomatoes just before canning.

Carolina Reaper pepper hot sauce

I could have cooked the sauce down to thicken it a bit more, but I didn’t want to take the chance. Even just boiling it on a stove might create fumes that I didn’t want to deal with.

I jarred it in two glass jelly jars. If you want to process them in a canning or pressure bath the sauce can be stored in the pantry for years. Otherwise, store in the refrigerator for up to one year.

Hubs insisted on labeling the sauce appropriately: “Death For Sure”.

He had a burger, and put about 4 drops on it, spread all over the patty. He said that was a good amount to create a “nice burn” for the next several hours. I stuck a fork in the sauce, let the actual sauce drip off, then licked the fork, and my mouth and tongue tingled for at least 2 hours after… suffice it to say, I won’t be using much of this! The sauce should last us a good long time.

 

Have you ever, or would you, try a Carolina Reaper? Do you make your own hot sauces?

Weekly Eating – 1/15/18

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Well, turns out we got iced in on our trip to Texas! With freezing rain that turned into snow, followed by days of below-freezing temps, flights were grounded and hills were un-navigable. Just walking out onto the porch was a bit of an ice skating adventure. The dogs did not want to leave the house. We saw several cars in ditches in the following days because they didn’t think it was “that bad”.

And then the following day, our destination city gets hit with a foot of snow! I thought we moved south to get away from this winter crap? Several people who have lived in NC a long time say it’s been the coldest winter in memory. And we usually get a few snow days, but a foot in one day is kind of ridiculous. It meant extra time with family though, so overall it was kind of nice. 🙂

Monday:

Breakfast – I had the honor of hanging out with Kara from BravelyGo this morning at Summer Moon! I happened to be in town and she agreed to stop by and chat about all things Austin, business, and food with me. I really enjoyed getting to know this spunky, driven woman, and hope we stay in touch in the future.

Also, Summer Moon moon milk is magical, and their breakfast tacos are really dang tasty.

Lunch – Leftover chicken and dumplings soup from the weekend

Dinner – Chicken tortilla soup – it was served with crushed up tortilla chips, and it was like a piece of the puzzle of the universe aligned inside my head. Ahhhh, that’s why it’s called tortilla soup!

Snack – I had brought along some Miracle berries, so we had a fun experiment night! Miracle berries come from West Africa, and they have a compound in them that binds to your taste receptors.

Anything bitter, and especially sour, starts to taste sweet. Limes and grapefruits become absolute candy. The effect takes a few minutes to kick in, and lasts about 30 minutes to an hour. It’s very fun to watch people’s reactions to drinking pure vinegar!

Tuesday:

Breakfast – I was inspired by yesterday to make breakfast tacos

Lunch – turkey sandwich, just because there was lunchmeat in the fridge and we had eaten all leftovers already

Snack – Pecan pie! We were snowed in today, with just about everything in the state cancelled. So we took stock of the pantry, to make sure we could survive. Mom in law found all the makings of pecan pie, so how could we not?

And if you’ve never had warm pecan pie just out of the oven and covered in caramel ice cream, don’t wait for the next blizzard, go make that happen!

Dinner – Pasta with meat sauce. Because no matter the weather or what else is happening, a big plate of carbs covered in sauce always sounds good. We did sneak quite a bit of veggies in though, there is bell pepper, onion, jalapeno, and tons of spinach in there!

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Greek yogurt with granola and blueberries

Lunch – BBQ brisket sandwich and mac-n-cheese. We took a friend out for an early birthday lunch at a local BBQ place. The brisket was fatty, but I know what I’m getting into when I order brisket. The mac n cheese was phenomenal though, so creamy.

Dinner – Tex Mex. We were in Texas, after all, how could we leave without some enchiladas?

Thursday:

Breakfast – blueberry smoothie

Lunch – Our flight was delayed an hour, which was fine because I was starving. So I got a (way overpriced) beer, burger & fries.

And then, just as I’d paid the bill, some guy runs in and yells “if you’re on the flight to Raleigh Durham, chug your beers and pay your bills, the flight is back on time!” And so we ran…

Dinner – We finally made it home, and basically collapsed into bed. Oh, and this is what we came home to…

car covered in snow

Friday:

Breakfast – I made toast with peanut butter on one piece and jelly on the other. So naturally I was like…now it’s a sandwich. Not a song.

Lunch –I was not feeling great, apparently traveling just inevitably makes me sick for a few days. I heated some minestrone soup from the freezer.

Then I passed out for a 2 1/2 hour nap. The good news is, I felt so much better afterwards.

Dinner –Ribs (also from the freezer), potato wedges and edamame. Again, a very nice one-pan dinner.

The Weekend

This weekend is for resting and recovering, I’m feeling better but now it’s hubs’ turn. No more travel for a while, which is good. We have to unpack, do laundry, and restock the refrigerator eventually. Someone needs to remove the foot of snow in the driveway, and if we feel up to it there’s a post-holiday party at a friends’ house. I also got the “How Not To Die Cookbook” from the library, so I plan to spend some quality time with it and get some new ideas!

how not to die book and cookbook

Food Total: $72.43

I did a grocery run one day while in Texas to help re-stock. They were very generous with buying all the food, but I felt bad about drinking all the green tea and eating all the flip yogurts. (Y’all know that choco coco loco is my weakness.) This also includes the Summer Moon run, and the lunch we bought for our friend. And the silly expensive airport lunch. (Seriously, $7.50 for 10 oz of Bud Light?)

Lessons Learned

You just gotta roll with it, because life will throw you all kinds of crazy curves. From sickness to weddings, traveling is bound to happen. And you can pack all the granola bars and trail mix you want, but you will probably want real food and have to pay for it at some point. Just accept that. And having meals in the freezer is such a life saver. You can get home, just pull out a few bags or jars, put it in the fridge, and know that tomorrow you can eat real food.

And you never know what mother nature has in store. It is far better to be safe, than sorry and in a ditch. Always pack layers, lots of layers, no matter how warm you think the place you’re going will be. And take the dang vitamin C like your mom said. Who cares if it’s real or placebo effect, if you think you’re gonna get sick it’s better to be over-ready. On the same note, bring Claritin! Because cedars, yo.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

One Pan Dinner: Steak, Broccoli & Potato Wedges

Quick, can anyone guess my least favorite thing to do after a long day, a delicious dinner I spent time cooking, and before bed?

Dishes!

For many people, that is one of the biggest barriers to entry for home cooking. Knowing that whatever dishes they dirty, they will have to clean up afterwards. And if you have more than one person to feed, it seems the dishes multiply exponentially. You’d think one more plate and fork is it, but no, somehow after 2 days there is Mount Dirty Dishes and a sink you can no longer see the bottom of.

Well, to solve this problem, we have started using several tricks, one of which I will share with you today: One Pan Meals!

It is exactly what it sounds like, you need only one pan in which to cook and serve your meal. It could be a sauce pan, a soup pot, a slow cooker, a rice cooker, an Instant Pot, a muffin tin, or a cookie tray. The point is, there is only one item to clean up afterwards! Brilliant.

A super-basic starter recipe that anyone can follow to create a meal such as this would be:

1 serving Protein + 2 servings Vegetable/Fruit + 1-2 servings Carb

This could be chicken stir fry over rice, or a veggie burger on a whole wheat bun with toppings and side salad, or a shrimp noodle soup. You should include a small amount of a healthy fat as well, like nuts, avocado, or olive oil, to help your body absorb those lovely vitamins and minerals.

The recipe here is for a simple steak and sides dinner, but looks quite impressive in its presentation. It can be as unassuming as a Tuesday night dinner, or as fancy as a Valentine’s Day dinner for your loved one. You can also easily change up the sides, if you don’t like broccoli try cubed sweet potato, cauliflower, diced carrots, or squash. If potatoes aren’t your thing, sweet potato fries are also awesome, or you could use another pan for rice or couscous. The choice is yours.

This meal was exceptionally affordable too, since I found a large 8.5 ounce steak on sale for about $5, and cut it in half for 2 servings. Broccoli was also on sale for 0.99/head, and potatoes 0.99 for a 5lb bag. That made this whole meal cost a grand total of about $7, or $3.50 per serving!

Ingredients:

  • 2 steaks, 3-4 ounces
  • 1 large head broccoli or 10oz frozen
  • 2-3 potatoes, slivered or cubed
  • Spices to taste
  • Olive oil to drizzle

Step 1: Cut your potatoes and broccoli into bite sized pieces. Lay everything out on a cookie tray, and sprinkle with spices of your choice.

I used McCormick “steak seasoning” because it’s a favorite around here, and I sprinkled it on the broccoli and potatoes too.

Step 2: Cover with foil, and roast at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes. This cooks the potato and steak.

Step 3: Uncover, and bake another 10 minutes. This browns the potatoes and crisps the steak. Watch to make sure you don’t burn the broccoli though.

 

That’s all there is to it! You have a delicious, filling, and nutritious meal, and only one pan to wash afterwards. More time for cuddling and Netflix. 🙂

Crispy Oven Baked Tofu

If you’ve ever had the perfect crispy tofu, where it is still soft and creamy on the inside but the outside has a shattery crisp crunch, then you know what I’m after. If you have not, then boy are you missing out, and you need to try this recipe!

Tofu is a beautiful blank canvas, able to suck up and take on the flavor of whatever sauce or dish you pair it with. It is great in all types of Asian dishes because salt in particular brings out its best qualities, but it is also a great stand-in for scrambled eggs, and it blends right into a smoothie without a trace.

But we all know that tofu’s true calling in life is to be the star of a good stir-fry.

Ingredients:

  • 1 block firm or extra firm tofu
  • 2-4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Step 1: Drain the tofu, and place on a paper towel or dish towel on a plate. Put something heavy on top, to help press out the water, and let it drain for 20-30 minutes. This dries out the block a bit and lets it soak up your marinade instead.

Step 2: Cut the block into 5-6 strips, and then cut each strip into cubes, about 1 inch square. Mix all marinade ingredients in a bowl, and toss the cubes to coat well. Lay the squares out on a baking pan (I lined mine with foil to make it easier to clean up afterwards).

Step 3: Bake at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes. If you can, flip each piece once or twice halfway through, to crisp up all the edges.

You can douse them in buffalo sauce once baked for a can’t-resist party appetizer, dunk them into dips (or even some Green Goddess dressing), or toss onto a salad like bread crumbs. Or of course, toss into a good stir fry, and let the tofu feel that it’s life mission is complete.

 

Weekly Eating – Jan 8

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

So remember the part where we are eating 80% vegetarian this year? I’d say we have totally nailed it so far! We had some great successes this week, and a few fails too. The week did include an impromptu cross country trip, for a family emergency situation, so that sort of threw the meal plan off the rails a bit. However, it was for good reason, and didn’t damage the budget too badly.

Monday:

Breakfast – Banana berry smoothie

Lunch – Beet & Sweet Potato veggie burger wrap with sprouts, red sauerkraut, tomatoes, spinach, & Green Goddess.

Beet, Sweet Potato, Black Bean Burger Patties

I just adore the bright pink colors going on here! Imagine all those lovely flavonoids running around my bloodstream detoxing and getting rid of free radicals… no, just me? #sciencenerd

Beet, Sweet Potato, Black Bean Burger Wrap

Dinner –Homemade pizzas. I whipped up overnight refrigerator pizza dough on Sunday so these were easy breezy. The boy had pineapple, ham and mozzarella on his, while I added handfuls of veggies to mine.

Homemade Veggie Pizza With Pork

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Banana & Cardamom Pancakes

Banana and Cardamom Blender Pancakes

Dudes, I had never had cardamom before (I think) but it’s one of the highest antioxidant spices so I’m trying to incorporate it into my cooking more. This pancake recipe was so simple, I whipped up the batter in a blender and poured it right onto the griddle. Easy peasy, and they came out fluffy and perfect. #winning

Banana and Cardamom Blender Pancakes

Lunch – Big salad with sprouts, walnuts, cranberries, quinoa, and my amazing Green Goddess dressing.

quinoa and greens sprout salad

Dinner –Tempeh Teriyaki Stir Fry.

Teriyaki Tempeh Stir Fry

Guys. Guys, I made a vegan meal that the boy said he loved and would eat again! That’s a huge win! TBH it was super tasty, I would eat it again, and also I nailed the plating. (Pats self on the back)

Wednesday:

Breakfast – mixed berry smoothie

Lunch – leftover mushroom risotto from last week. There was a lot left and we were leaving town, so I wanted to eat it up. However, after sitting for a few days, it became thicker and… blah. I forced down a few forkfulls, but couldn’t come close to eating it all. That led to a starving afternoon of snacking…

Mushroom Risotto

Snacks – first up was a handful of dark chocolate with almond kisses that someone at work brought in. I figured, dark chocolate has good flavonoid & antioxidants, and you can’t go wrong with almonds right?

dark chocolate with almond kisses

Well apparently 3 almonds isn’t enough protein to satisfy, so I was rooting through my desk drawers about a half hour later. I did bring this vegan banana bread that I swapped at last month’s Bull City Food Swap… sad to say, it also was “meh”. But when I found a tiny peanut butter packet, and was also getting hangry, it was like sweet mana from heaven, and I ate half the loaf.

vegan banana bread

Dinner – Lemon Garlic Parmesan Pasta with a salad. I needed to use up several lemons, so I whipped up a super simple pasta dish.

Lemon Garlic Pasta with Kale and Sausage

Thursday:

Breakfast – stressful morning getting to the airport and literally making our flight by ONE minute… so, breakfast was coffee and airplane snacks.

Lunch – stopped by a BBQ place, and they had a Thursday Special: $2 pulled pork sandwich! We were totally in, and they were delicious. The pork was so moist, and the BBQ sauce flavorful.

Stubb's BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich

Dinner – a local pizza joint is a favorite here, so we had to indulge when in town. I got the Brussels sprouts one, which had sweet hot pepper jelly on it and was super tasty, while the boy got a meaty spicy one and compromised with a bacon jam covered in arugula as well. They were all amazing, and we ate nearly the whole thing!

Three whole Pieous pizzas

Friday:

Breakfast – Pineapple jalapeno smoothie and toast.

green smoothie and toast

Mom in law is obsessed with this smoothie which includes pineapple, spinach, coconut water, and jalapeno. It is fruity with a hint of spice, which is strange but definitely tasty.

Pineapple Jalapeno Smoothie

Lunch – Leftover pizza, which I threw a handful of salad greens on top of to make myself feel better about eating pizza for at least 4 meals this week…

leftover pizza with greens on top

Dinner – Korean tacos. It is super simple, a crock-pot beef roast with sweet sauce, a fresh crunchy slaw, and a peanutty dressing. They were really tasty, and I need to get the recipe.

Korean beef tacos

Snack – Chips & salsa. I cut up half an avocado, and mixed it with a half cup of salsa for a satisfying snack.

blue chips and avocado salsa

The Weekend

This weekend will be spent relaxing and spending time with family. We may get to go out and explore a little, and perhaps see some of hubby’s friends. The in-laws are great and are covering most of the groceries, so for food we will only spend on anything we go out for.

Food Total: $72.86

This week was just stocking up on frozen berries because we were out, and some other staples like soymilk, produce, and boxed wine. Don’t judge me, tons of people love boxed wine, even frugal folks and hard core wine lovers!

Thanks to last week’s big stock up, and tons of food still hanging out in the freezer and pantry, we should be set for at least another week (with the exception of a produce run). Maybe I need to do another of my own January Pantry Clean-Out challenges.

 

How was your week? Are you flexible with meal plans, or how do you deal with surprise travel?

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

Ravioli is a nearly universally loved food, and yet I’ve only met one person who has made it from scratch. Because sadly, the time and knowledge and desire to spend hours making and rolling and cutting your own dough has been essentially lost to today’s fast-paced and convenience-based lifestyle.

Well I have good news!

You can have your ravioli and eat it too. With one easy trick, you can make fresh, ‘homemade’ ravioli in minutes. Honest.

The trick? Wonton wrappers.

The wrappers are basically very thin dough, and they are perfect for stuffing with a delicious autumn spiced filling. Whereas making your own noodles requires hours of work, tedious rolling, or having a fancy pasta machine, these ravioli take only about 10 minutes total once you have your filling ready!

This recipe makes about 25 ravioli, or half the number of won ton wrappers in your package (’cause you need 2 per ravioli).

Ingredients:

  • 1 package wonton wrappers
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 butternut squash*, roasted
  • Optional: pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, sage, sea salt, brown sugar, maple syrup, parmesan cheese, ground nuts

Sage Brown Butter**:

  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • Handful of sage leaves
  • Optional: sea salt, cracked black pepper

Step 1: Roast a butternut squash by slicing it in half, removing the seeds, and placing it cut-side-down on a baking sheet or pan. Bake at 350 F on the bottom rack of the oven for 45 minutes, flip, and bake another 25 minutes. The flesh should be tender and you can scoop it right out into a bowl.

If you want your filling to have more flavor, you can choose to add any of the following: dried or fresh sage or rosemary leaves, a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom, salt and or pepper, shredded parmesan cheese, crushed pine nuts or walnuts. I just left my filling as butternut squash because I love the flavor.

Step 2: Mash your squash up with a fork; lay out a single layer of wonton wrappers on a flat surface. Place a scant tablespoon of your filling in the center, and then use your fingers or a pastry brush to spread the egg all around the edges. Place another wrapper on top, and press down to seal.

I recommend doing these just 3-4 at a time, you don’t want your egg sealant to dry up before you press the top layer on.

Step 3: Bring a pot of water to a boil, and drop your ravioli in 2-3 at a time. Boil for 5-7 minutes, until they are floating, and then remove to a strainer or pan.

Step 4: While the ravioli are boiling, you can make the sage brown butter sauce. Melt a half a stick of butter in a pan, and bring it to a gentle simmer.

“Browned” butter and “burnt” butter are only a few seconds apart.

Step 5: Add a handful of fresh sage leaves. They will begin to shrink up and get crispy. They only need to cook in the bubbling butter for about 1-2 minutes, don’t let them get black. Take the pan off the heat, add some sea salt and cracked pepper, and you’re ready to roll!

Put 2-3 ravioli on a plate, and drizzle with the sage butter. It makes for a very impressive presentation, and a delicious, complex flavor with minimal ingredients and time.

This is a perfect, satisfying fall or winter recipe to use up seasonal, affordable squash, get some needed vitamins and fiber into your diet, and impress your dining companions. Once boiled, you can store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days, or freeze in a single layer for up to 3 months.

 

 

*Butternut is not the only squash that works in this recipe. You can also use acorn squash, delicata squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, or really any firm-fleshed autumn or winter gourd here.

**Sage brown butter is not the only sauce, either. It complements the flavor of squash well and is seasonal at the same time. However, the ravioli would be equally delicious with an Alfredo or marinara.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

Yield: 25

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

Ingredients

  • 1 package wonton wrappers
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 butternut squash*, roasted
  • Optional: pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, sage, sea salt, brown sugar, maple syrup, parmesan cheese, ground nuts
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • Handful of sage leaves
  • Sea salt, cracked black pepper

Instructions

  1. Roast a butternut squash by slicing it in half, removing the seeds, and placing it cut-side-down on a baking sheet or pan. Bake at 350 F on the bottom rack of the oven for 45 minutes, flip, and bake another 25 minutes. The flesh should be tender and you can scoop it right out into a bowl. If you want your filling to have more flavor, you can choose to add any of the following: dried or fresh sage or rosemary leaves, a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom, salt and or pepper, shredded parmesan cheese, crushed pine nuts or walnuts.
  2. Mash your squash up with a fork; lay out a single layer of wonton wrappers on a flat surface. Place a scant tablespoon of your filling in the center, and then use your fingers or a pastry brush to spread the egg all around the edges. Place another wrapper on top, and press down to seal.
  3. Bring a pot of water to a boil, and drop your ravioli in 2-3 at a time. Boil for 5-7 minutes, until they are floating, and then remove to a strainer or pan.
  4. While the ravioli are boiling, you can make the sage brown butter sauce. Melt a half a stick of butter in a pan, and bring it to a gentle simmer.
  5. Add a handful of fresh sage leaves. They will begin to shrink up and get crispy. They only need to cook in the bubbling butter for about 1-2 minutes, don't let them get black. Take the pan off the heat, add some sea salt and cracked pepper, and you're ready to roll!
  6. Put 2-3 ravioli on a plate, and drizzle with the sage butter. It makes for a very impressive presentation, and a delicious, complex flavor with minimal ingredients and time.
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What are your favorite squash recipes?

Vegan Green Goddess Salad Dressing

Remember my Salmon & Couscous salad that I was 100% addicted to for a few weeks last year? During a BOGO sale on salad dressing, I got a bottle of “Green Goddess”. How in the world, as a food blogger and obsessive reader of recipes, have I not heard of this thing prior to then? The world will never know.

The Green Goddess was amazing, perfect in every way. It was creamy, tangy, smooth, and light tasting. It made me feel like a goddess every time I drizzled it on a salad. And then I ran out. I couldn’t find it at the 3 stores I usually go to. So I decided to try to make it myself at home.

And then I read the ingredients.

Corn syrup, xantham gum, colorings, “natural flavor“, sugar, cultured skim milk, dried buttermilk… all kinds of things I’m trying to cut down on, and that I don’t 100% understand but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be eating.

So I went on a quest. A mission of sorts. To re-create a dressing just as tangy, creamy, and satisfying, but with a far less questionable list of ingredients.

Friends, this is the answer.

With a base of avocado and tahini for that rich healthy fat, spinach for that vibrant green color, garlic and green onions for a bit of a spring kick even in the dead of winter, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar for a note of acid, and a sprinkle of salt and dash of honey to balance it all out, this stuff is darn near irresistible.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup spinach or herbs, packed
  • 2 small avocados
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (or almond butter)
  • 1/2 tsp honey or sweetener of choice
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • Juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)
  • 4-5 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Salt to taste, I used about 1 1/2 tsp

Step 1: In a food processor, chop your garlic, spinach, and onions.

Step 2: Add the avocado, and all your liquids. Whip well, using a spatula to scrape down the sides, until smooth.

Feel free to add the liquids slowly, and add more of the acids or even some plain water to reach your desired consistency and flavor.

The recipe is 100% vegan, but you can also mix in some plain unflavored yogurt, mayonnaise, or sour cream at approximately a 1:2 ratio for extra creamy flavor, and it tastes pretty radical. Though it is already good enough that I basically want to eat it with a spoon.

The awesome thing about this dressing is that you can customize it to your tastes too. You can easily sub half or all of the spinach for fresh herbs like dill, basil, parsley, or cilantro. The sweetener can be xylitol or stevia, maple syrup or brown rice syrup, or like I used, a flavored honey (whipped lemon, mmm mmm!). If you don’t care for tahini or it’s too expensive for your tastes, try almond butter, sun-butter or peanut butter instead.

The only limit is your imagination!

Plus, not only is this the best dressing of all time on salads, it is also great on wraps, sandwiches, burgers, baked potatoes, chicken, steak and fish. Basically, put it on anything and everything.

 

 

Vegan Green Goddess Salad Dressing

Vegan Green Goddess Salad Dressing

Ingredients

  • 1 cup spinach or herbs, packed
  • 2 small avocados
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (or almond butter)
  • 1/2 tsp honey or sweetener of choice
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • Juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)
  • 4-5 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Salt to taste, I used about 1 1/2 tsp

Instructions

  1. In a food processor or blender, chop your garlic, spinach, and onions.
  2. Add the avocado, and all your liquids. Whip well, using a spatula to scrape down the sides, until smooth.
  3. Feel free to add the liquids slowly, and add more of the acids or even some plain water to reach your desired consistency.
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http://www.budgetepicurean.com/vegan/vegan-green-goddess-salad-dressing/

Weekly Eating – New Year Edition! 1/1/2018

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Welcome to the first Weekly Eating of 2018! This series got a bit off track back when I decided to tackle my Holiday Weight Loss Plan for a Christmas/double 30th Birthday/NYE cruise. My eating got pretty boring for a few weeks. (Though, maybe that’s a thing readers want to know? Shoot me an email or leave a comment if you’d actually be interested in that).

For those of you who are used to being on the edge of your seats every Sunday morning, just waiting to drool over the BE family week of goodies, despair no longer, it’s back! There will be some twists this year though. As most people make “eat better” new year resolutions, the BE family will be tackling a big one:

Eat 80% Vegetarian in 2018!

*collective gasp from the audience*

But WHY?! You might think. What about all the flank steak, BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, and bacon wrapped pork roasts? Won’t you develop anemia and deficiencies and die without eating 300 grams of proteins in the form of cooked animal muscles at every meal??

Well, dear readers. Let me first assure you that these are all quite common myths. There are some legitimate nutritional concerns to be aware of, such as getting enough vitamin B12. But on the whole, even a fully vegan diet can supply more than enough protein, vitamin and nutrients for an Olympic pro athlete.

My in-laws got me a book for Christmas which I’ve been desperate to read for some time: How Not To Die. It is a compilation of all the food science and nutrition articles, and what we know about the links between food and disease. And I’ve devoured it cover to cover in under a week. (My husband is not thrilled.) Between that book, Forks Over Knives and a bazillion other blogs, books, movies, and resources, I can fight it no longer.

Science says: to avoid, alleviate, and even reverse disease, it’s super simple: Eat plants. All of them. All the time.

So, that is what I intend to do. I rather like living, and particularly enjoy my hubs being alive too. (Sometimes he hates that I try so hard to keep him around). Unlike myself, who loves a good steak, but wouldn’t die without it, he really does love meat and might die without it in his diet. And he is allergic to vegetables*.
*not really, he just says that so he doesn’t have to eat them

A happy marriage is all about compromise, so to avoid the all-out war and depression announcing we are now vegan would cause, we settled on a bargain. 80% vegetables, 20% meat/dairy. I think we can both live with that, and live with it a whole lot longer to boot! 😉

Without further ado, here’s our first week of the New Year’s meals:

Monday: January 1, 2018

Breakfast – A fun souvenir from traveling is coming down with a cold! I spent the first few days of the new year sniffling and coughing and generally feeling suuuuuuuuper exhausted. I was too tired to bother with actual breakfast, plus we slept in a bit. (We also went to bed by 10:30pm on NYE, woooooo 30s!)

Lunch – Didn’t have the energy to make real food yet, plus the fridge was wicked empty from cleaning it out before traveling. So I just pulled a bag of mixed veg and a frozen bag of beans & rice from the freezer, boiled it together, and called it soup!

Dinner –I did manage to pull a pork roast from the freezer and soak some black eyed peas overnight, so that I could produce the required New Year meal of pork, sauerkraut, greens & black eyed peas. We definitely want luck and prosperity in 2018, so I made sure we had peas & pig for luck, and collard greens & sauerkraut for money. I added just a tiny bit of pork to flavor the greens, and the rest of the roast was just ‘around’ for whenever hubs needed meat.

I got a bit of an energy boost once the DayQuil kicked in, so I meal prepped for the week a bit by batch roasting a bunch of veggies and cooking a big slow cooker full of black beans. They will become lunches, black bean soup, and possibly black bean hummus.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – smoothie with banana, blueberries, and some spinach thrown in for greens

Lunch – black beans & rice, salsa, and roasted brussels sprouts

Dinner –Falafel balls served over rice with mushroom gravy. They were delish, though not quite the flavor I was looking for. I will keep playing with the recipe until I get it right, and then I’ll share it here.

Snack – RUM CAKE! Erin from ReachingForFI.com and I did a little holiday swap, my famous Cracker Cookies for her famous Rum Cake, and boy was it tasty! Sweet but not too sweet, with just enough rum to know it was there. It’s a good thing it was a small size cake, because I’d eat a whole one without a second thought.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – strawberry banana smoothie

Lunch – Leftover black eyed peas & collards with sauerkraut & a salad with radish sprouts. The greens and peas had a creamy earthy flavor, which was complimented beautifully by the salty tang of the sauerkraut. Plus, since I made it using red cabbage, it was such a lovely bright pink color! I’d eat this on the regular for sure.

Dinner –Veggie packed alfredo mac n cheese, using plain yogurt instead of milk. It gives it a nice tangy flavor. I added chopped collard greens and broccoli for extra veggies and fiber.

Thursday:

Breakfast – I wanted oatmeal with strawberries and goji berries, but we evidently had some pantry moths. Those little #&@*ers ruined a whole bag of dried goji berries. >:( So I ended up with chocolate maca peanut butter instead, which I managed a few bites of before my stomach was like “nope, you’re done.”

Lunch – I made a big batch of my best black bean soup with the crock pot black beans, and this was an awesome comfort meal on a cold day when also feeling sick. Quite filling too.

Dinner – Mushroom risotto with collard greens. I had a pint of mushrooms and another head of collards still left from NYE that needed to be used up. I also had some barley from the Indian spice store (more below), so naturally I was thinking risotto.

I found this recipe from Williams-Sonoma, and of course adapted it to what I had on hand. It turned out pretty tasty, but be warned, it makes a LOT of food! We each had 2 bowls and there is plenty left for at least another 3 lunches.

Friday:

Breakfast – I did my trick of putting jam in my yogurt to make natural fruit-on-the-bottom, and topped it with my homemade tropical granola. Delightful!

Lunch – Black beans & rice with salsa and a small sweet potato. I added turmeric to the beans, and cinnamon & ginger to the sweet potato for extra antioxidant power.

Dinner – Oh my goodness, so many leftovers!

Snack – A friend at work went home to S. America over break, and brought back fancy chocolates to share. I enjoyed her generosity with a blueberry chocolate bar.

The Weekend

This weekend will be low key since we are both recovering from traveling and being sick. I am searching for tofu & tempeh recipes that will convince the boy that plant based eating isn’t the worst thing in the world. Give me a shout if you’ve any to share! I’ve found several BBQ recipes I’d like to try, so there will probably be some experimentation going on in the kitchen.

We are out of frozen berries, so a grocery run is in order to procure that and some soy or almond milk. Also Kroger is running a 1 day only $0.99 sale on cheese… is it worth it? So torn… I want to cut down on dairy but also burritos are hubs’ source of strength in this world, and that’s a really great price point…

Food Total: $162.70

My first adventure of the new year was to visit an Indian grocery nearby to check out the goods. Many cultures around the world have thrived on a plant based diet for centuries, so I assume they know how to do it right. I plan to cook many more Asian, Indian, Ethiopian, Latin American, etc. dishes this year.

I spent $62.61 there, and for the money I got a total bounty! Plant based eating can be super cheap, y’all. The haul included: shredded coconut, soya wadi, sesame seeds, ginger & garlic paste, 3 types of lentils at 2lbs each, barley, bulgur, tahini, golden raisins, turmeric, beets, cloves, and Amla powder. Not a single thing cost more than $5. I would highly recommend checking out an ethnic grocery near you for cheap staples like grains, beans, rice, and spices.

The rest of the grocery shopping was from Harris Teeter, where I stocked up on tons of produce and other healthy staples. They had a surprise sale on tofu and tempeh, which is perfect timing. I also snagged Black Rice at a cheaper price than Amazon offers, along with crazy-cheap canned beans & tomato (4/$1!!). That should be enough produce to last us quite a long time, though I will still have to restock the things that spoil (like greens/spinach, frozen berries, almond/soy milk, bananas) weekly.

Lessons Learned

So I did basically double my target grocery goal, but I’m hoping that now I am pretty much set for all of January. Except for occasional re-stocks of fresh and frozen produce, yogurt for the boy, and nut milks, we should not need groceries for a very long time. We will see how that plays out in real life. I’m a notorious menace in the “mark down” aisle of a grocery store.

Also, an initiative I’m taking on for this year is to purchase at least one grocery item every week to donate to a food pantry. It blows my mind and completely saddens me how many people in our country do not know where their next meal is coming from. Especially when I am so blessed and spend 70% of my waking hours thinking about food and recipes and meal plans.

Given the hullabaloo of the #BombCyclone this past week, did you even think what impact that has on children and families that depend on free or reduced meals at school to make their weekly budgets work? After much research, I think Urban Ministries of Durham will be the place to which I donate. And hopefully, I will even get to go cook and serve some meals there at some point.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Holiday Diet Details: Results

 

The year of 2018 has begun, and along with it, many New Years Resolutions. I’m not a huge fan of resolutions in general, though I do have several goals for the blog in the coming year. Also, this year I sort of did things backwards… I started a diet & exercise plan before the holidays, with the intention of loosening up once January started! I know, crazy, right?

This is the post of the original plan
Here’s how I was doing after 2 weeks

 

And this is the story of how it all turned out.

The 7 weeks of the plan were definitely a bit of a roller coaster. I had all the predictable pitfalls and slip-ups: too much wine during girls’ weekend, more than zero cookies, a lot of grazing over the Thanksgiving holiday (compounded by not-so-healthy travel snacking during the 10-hours drive both ways), and Christmas temptations galore.

But the good news is, every time I just couldn’t stop myself from shoving that sugary/carby thing I knew I shouldn’t have into my mouth, I just acknowledged it and moved on.

The whole purpose of this diet started out as a silly joke challenge, because we were going on a Christmas week cruise. And also both my husband and myself were turning 30 the same week! So I said I wanted to look and feel my very best, as I was sure lots of photos were going to be taken (I was right), and you always gain weight on a cruise (also right). We were going to Turks & Caicos, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Bahamas. That meant lots of sun, sand, sea, and bathing suits!

Me enjoying the crystal clear water and white sand beaches of the Caribbean!

So I cleaned up my diet, started tracking actual portion sizes to limit calorie intake, and ramped up my physical exercise. It was slow going, but by week 5 I was feeling the looseness of my pants and began getting actual comments on how I looked like I’d lost some weight from coworkers.

Conveniently, during the final pre-cruise-crucial-week of mega clean eating and restriction, the hubs had to go on a week-long work trip. Yearly reviews were due, a big project needed worked on, and the office holiday party were all happening and required his IRL presence (he works remotely, lucky duck!).

So good news for him, he didn’t have to smell broccoli and brussels sprouts all week, and good news for me, I didn’t have the temptation of his burritoes and beer around!

Workout Plan Results

  • Week 3-4 (Nov 17 – 30):
    • Daily – 20-30 minutes of yoga, 20-30 minute walk
    • MWFSat (or 4x/week) – body weight workout video or run
    Week 5-7 (Dec 1 – 22):
    • Daily – 30-45 minutes of yoga, 30-45 minute walk
    • 6 days/week – body weight workout video or run

     

I would say that I did stick with daily yoga about 80% of the time, but I found that 10-20 minutes was about my daily maximum. Except on weekends when I didn’t have a time crunch to leave the house, a 30 minutes long yoga video just felt like too much. A couple days I did a longer one at night, but in the mornings I can now say that I can stick with it, but about 20 minutes is my maximum.

Walking/getting enough steps every day was easier, because I have a job where I have to walk long distances occasionally (by that I mean cross a street and down 2 blocks). I also made a conscious effort to take the longer way to places, to use the bathroom a floor or 2 down from me, take the stairs rather than the elevator, and to stroll the long way to the parking garage.

Weekends continue to be my biggest struggle, especially now that it is so cold outside. Outdoor walks tend to be the only really active thing we do on weekends, and when it is 50, 40, 20 degrees, that ain’t happening. One night I got desperate enough that I stood up and just marched in place in the living room while watching a movie (yes, the whole hour and 26 minutes) and that seemed to do the trick! So maybe that will be my winter activity answer.

The cruise week was overall quite active, and I was proud of myself for going to the gym 3 times! On the days we were in port, there was a lot of walking, and even on the ship there is a lot of walking up and down stairs and doing laps around the decks. The 27th, which was our stop in Puerto Rico, is my new personal record! This is because I was up early, so I hit the gym for 60 minutes on the elliptical. I was at 10,000 steps by the time we got off the boat.

Once on land, we then proceeded to wander around town and shop, walked all the way to the coast, toured a 6-story old fort, and then walked back to town to sightsee some more. Hence nearly hitting 25 thousand steps in one day! It was a great day. Also, side note, if you’re ever in Puerto Rico, definitely get the coffee! The coffee was so amazing. I’m pumped to have brought about 4 pounds home. Oh, and try the pork and mofongo (plantain or yucca).

I also was able to stick to a 3x/week workout schedule thanks to YouTube and FitnessBlender.com. Working out in my own (warm) house whenever I want to works best for me. If you are the type of person who needs an instructor telling you what to do, or thrive on the competition with strangers next to you, by all means sign up for classes or go to a gym! Whatever works. For me, it is putting on my spandex, surfing through HIIT workouts until I see one that suits my fancy and time needs today, and hitting “play”.

Eating plan results

Food Plan

  • 3-5 meals per day, for a total of ~1000-1200 calories
  • Very limited carbohydrates
  • Daily green drink + vitamins
  • One cheat meal or snack/weekday, one per weekend
  • Only snacks allowed are green tea, raw whole fruits, raw veggies (RV) or steamed veggies (SV)
  • Unlimited salad greens or raw non-starchy veggies

Since measuring out actual portion sizes, I’ve gained an even greater disdain for how outlandish American portions have become, and how used to this we all now are. The human body only needs about 1200-2000 calories to maintain an active, healthy weight, and yet we nibble, bite, and slurp our way to easily 3000 calories per day without a second thought.

Cups, plates, tables, chairs, coffee mugs, bagels, muffins, pizzas, waist sizes. What do these things have in common? They are about 30% larger now than they were in 1980! A 2012 review of 245 restaurants found that 96% of meals exceed the (already generous) USDA recommendations for fat, salt, and overall calories. I bet now, 5 years later, that number is pushing 99%.

The good news is that now I have a more reasonable approach to portions, which I hope sticks with me for life. Your stomach can adjust to fit the volume of food you give it, just like your taste buds adjust to the flavors you normally give it. The bad news is, on a cruise you can have whatever you want, whenever you want… and I definitely took advantage of that!

A whole week with never less than two dinners and sometimes four, plus all the appetizers and desserts, means that my stomach was in pain a lot of the time, and my taste buds are soooo confused by all the fat, salt, and sugar intake.

Ready for the damage a week of pigging out does?

I gained back 10.4 pounds in one week!

Oops 🙁

Cruise birthday cake is seriously amazing, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t like cake. And yeah, those are 3 more dessert plates. Don’t judge.

But hey, now I have the knowledge, habits, and belief that I can do this again, and then some.

 

Overall Results

  • Pounds lost: 16!
  • Inches in waist: -2.5
  • Inches in thighs: -2
  • Inches in stomach: -1
  • Inches in arms: +1 (hooray, bicep muscles!)

Starting weight: 156.2

Ending weight: 140.4!

Post-cruise-weight: 150.8

So, no, I did not hit my goal of 130 pounds

But you know what? I’m okay with that, because 16 pounds in 6 weeks is still really great! And there are SO many other benefits I have realized in this short amount of time.

  • I can do jumping jacks for a full minute
  • Planking is not even a challenge anymore
  • I can do one-legged squats
  • My balance is WAY improved
  • I can do 20+ perfect form pushups
  • Literally all my work pants are loose now
  • I feel way more confident physically
  • Portion sizes make more sense
  • I can actually do this now:

    Those are called “Eagle arms”. Which makes no sense because you’d think that means sticking your arms out to the sides super-far like you’re trying to fly, but whatever, I didn’t make the yoga naming rules…

The biggest benefit of this by far is that I actually look forward to workouts now! If more than 2 days go by without doing HIIT, I start to feel lethargic and miss it. It is definitely still hard to get over the “activation energy” to get started, but that high of finishing a workout, when you’re a little sore, sweaty, and out of breath, but all your muscles are warm and happy, is so worth it.

OMG who have I become? lol

So the moral of the story is, although I didn’t get to my goal weight (yet!) it was a totally worthwhile endeavor. I’ve started tons more healthy habits that I hope to keep as part of my life forever. We all could use a little more movement. Flexibility and muscle mass starts decreasing with age, so it’s up to us to make the time to get and stay in shape.

All of these changes are meant to be a way of life for the long term. This is not a fad, just to lose 10 pounds and be beach ready (though that is how it started). I want to incorporate more movement into my days, strength training and flexibility every week, and pack my plate with healthy, whole, plant based foods as often as possible. Science says that eating lots of plants and moving your body more is the key to health, avoidance of disease, and longevity.

Let’s have a salad and a walk, shall we?

 

 

How do you stay fit & healthy? Are you resolving to eat better or workout more in the new year?