Category Archives: Appetizers

Restaurant Review: The Little Dipper

In case this is your first BE review article, I’ll remind you of the rules.

Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (best you’ve ever experienced)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

Tucked inside the North Building of Brightleaf Square on the outskirts of downtown Durham NC is a hidden gem. Called “The Little Dipper: Fondue on Main”, Durham is its second location. The owner is from Durham, and followed a girl to Wilmington. Their first date was at the Wilmington location, and it must have made quite the impression. When they eventually married and moved back to Durham, they decided to take a leap and open their own here.

The Durham location opened in April of 2013 as a full service fondue restaurant. Each table has at least one burner built into the center for the table to share. The owners also designed, built, and painted the entire interior from booths to eclectic decor to crazy sand wall art. They are known for our specialty sauces, all homemade and delicious for dipping cooked meats and seafood.

The Durham location also offers a “LOCAL ‘919’ MENU,” which includes options for each course made with locally sourced farm ingredients.  The Durham Dipper is proud to be part of such a strong community who supports local farmers by offering seasonal features and sustainable menu items changing on a regular basis.

The Menu is insanely huge and can feel a bit overwhelming at first glance. It is set up to be a three-course experience, so make sure you have plenty of time set aside to fully enjoy this meal! You get to choose your cheese dipper appetizer, a soup or salad, and you main entrees and cooking style.

The desserts are priced separately, but honestly it is the best part of the experience! Make sure you also have a lot of room, and very stretchy pants 😉

review the little dipper durham

The servers are extremely helpful and friendly as well, and can answer all your questions and provide suggestions based on what you like and are looking for. We decided on a premium fontina and basil starter. They light your burner, and bring over a massive cast iron pot full of molten cheese and a sampler tray, and then the fun begins!

They supply long fondue forks which you use to spear your fruit or veg, and then dip into the lava like bowl of cheese. I was a little leery of the fruits, but it turns out cheese covered grapes are delicious. We ate and ate and then realized we had 3 more courses to go!

review the little dipper durham

Once you throw in the towel on the cheese, they whisk it away and bring your salads. It is not the star of the show to be sure, but it felt nice to have a light lettuce moment between the heavy cheese and the goodies to come. And the salad itself is large enough to be a meal, so I ended up packing up half to take home.

Then your main course arrives. We went with the traditional peanut oil, which is again brought out in a huge iron pot. You can choose a pre-selected variety of meats, or like we did, the “undecided” where you get 3 different protein options.

I went with tuna, dumplings, and filet while my dining companion chose scallops, shrimp and filet. It comes with your choice of 3 of their homemade daily dipping sauces, as well as a plate of mushrooms which you stuff with their aphrodite herbed cream cheese, dip in breading and fry.

There is a handy tip sheet on suggested cooking times for each item, in case you don’t know how many seconds in boiling peanut oil it takes for a scallop to be considered done. They also supply a long “rescue spoon” for anything that happens to jump off the fondue fork for a swim.

It was great fun dipping and dropping different cuts into the pot while chatting about life and stuffing our faces. The wasabi lime sauce on the filet was my personal favorite of the night.

review the little dipper durham

Drumroll please……

Then they cleared the table, and brought out the steaming bowl of molten chocolate laced with caramel and topped with pecans that I’d been waiting for! Oh yeah, you better believe we went with the Turtle dipper. And a ‘classic dippers’ plate, because we’re indecisive like that.

You can also go with just fruit dippers, or upgrade to the “supreme dippers” or “Swanky Fondue” options for things like rice crispies, oreos, or liquor-laced dipping sauces.

review the little dipper durham

The Turtle fondue was so amazing, I wanted to just eat it with a spoon. Thankfully I was in so much pain from being too full so I couldn’t do it! 😉

The whole meal took about 2 hours total, and was a very relaxing experience. I loved the funky atmosphere, and the energy of the place. I cannot wait to go back!

 

Overall I’d rate The Little Dipper:

  • Taste: 10
  • Atmosphere: 10
  • Value: 9

Weekly Eating – 4/2/18

 

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!

 

Easter weekend was filled with relaxing and outdoor adventures! Friday was a day off, which was awesome, and I got to take a 5 mile hike, resulting in a new high score for daily steps this year. Then on Saturday we were all about gardening. I got broccoli, spinach, and romaine sprouts in the ground, as well as some beans and peas.

We also are trying berries this year, with 4 blueberry and 4 blackberry bushes. The back yard is super shady (thanks to a million trees) but we are planning on taking several down this summer, and hopefully there will be enough light that the bushes can at least survive and establish themselves. It would be amazing to have pounds of free organic berries every year!

And on Easter Sunday, I decided we should at least do a little something to celebrate. We have no kids and no family nearby, so your typical church or egg hunt or Easter baskets or brunch were not happening. Instead, I made some French toast, and cut a piece in half to make bunny ears! Then I used colored white chocolate and sprinkles to make a cute face. It was tasty, and we hadn’t had French toast in a long time so we both enjoyed it.

bunny rabbit french toast

Oh, and back to Lowes we headed, because the boy wanted to complete a project we had talked about several times: building a stone fire pit! We had a small plain metal fire pit that sister in law gave us for our housewarming gift, but we wanted to spruce it up and make it look more permanent. So we got a big pile of stones (thank goodness they were on sale, why are literal rocks so expensive?!) and he built up a lovely fire pit ring.

And while the boy was playing with rocks and building that, I was playing with tortillas and building some enchiladas. I consider that a fair trade. For Sunday dinner we had turkey or black bean enchiladas with Spanish rice and  watermelon mojitos I’d found in the freezer from last summer. Then we hung out outside during sunset & into the night to enjoy it. I’m looking forward to many bonfire nights.

Monday:

Breakfast – Coffee with protein powder, & an energy bar

Lunch – Frozen lamb stew, & a salad. Over the weekend I also did a quick freezer inventory, which happens a few times a year. This way we find ‘lost’ food and hopefully waste less. I pulled out a few things to thaw and eat up this week.

Snack – I had a meeting after work, and was planning to go to dinner afterwards. But I was also pretty hungry by 5:30pm, so I stopped real quick at a Walmart, and they had a snack box on sale 1/2 price. So I grabbed it, and enjoyed the apples and grapes and cheese. I ate about half, and gave the rest to the boy at home later.

Dinner – Chicken fajitas! It’s always so fun when they bring out that sizzling plate, and I feel like an artist crafting my tacos. I also always end up with leftovers, which is like a 2-for-1 meal deal.

chicken fajitas

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Blender crepes with Lemon yogurt filling! I followed the recipe almost exactly (I know, gasp) but also added in a spoonful of cottage cheese to the filling, because I honestly forgot I had it and needed to use it up. I also microwaved a cup of blueberries to put on top. SO GOOD.

blender crepes with lemon filling and blueberry topping

Lunch – Leftover black bean enchilada and Spanish rice

Snack – If you are my friend on Twitter you know I succumbed to the sugar demon… someone at work is having a baby, so there were tiny cute cupcakes in the office! I ended up having 2, 2 days in a row…

Dinner – Lemon garlic asparagus pasta, a recipe Kroger sent me in the mail with my ‘super shopper’ coupons. For the boy I cooked some chicken quarters too.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Skinny vanilla latte and pumpkin bread. I have a Starbucks gold card (I don’t know how that happened either, but it has my name on it so it’s not a mistake…) and today was super double star day! That means I get 4 stars per $1 I spend. Starbucks is a rare treat for me, and I hoard giftcards just for these days.

Lunch – Chickpea salad sandwich with some carrots. Y’all. This has seriously changed my life. I added a sheet of nori seaweed in the morning when I made the sandwich, so the bread wasn’t soggy and the seaweed was soft by lunch time. This is mindblowing, it is seriously better than tuna salad. I’m in love.

chickpea salad sandwich

Snack – a cherry yogurt

Dinner – Chana Saag and brown basmati rice

I’m so excited its spring, because Farmers market Wednesday is back! I didn’t know and as I walked by the tables I was drooling over all the gorgeous in season greens. I dug through my pockets and came up with 3 dollar bills, and don’tcha know, that was the price for a big bundle of collard greens!! My lucky day.

Thursday:

Breakfast – More crepes with lemon yogurt and blueberries

Lunch – Chickpea salad sandwich with carrots and clementine. I ate the CLIF cherry-chia-apple bar as a snack around 4pm. It was really tasty, and I’m so sad I didn’t buy every single clearance box.

Dinner – I needed to do something creative with the gorgeous leafy Swiss chard I bought yesterday, so I made some spring rolls!

Swiss chard spring rolls

I used this recipe (mostly because I have a childish sense of humor and liked the site name) and even remembered to cut the veins out, but totally forgot to steam them… oops! The leaves were tender enough though, and they were really good. And actually really filling.

Swiss chard spring rolls with peanut sauce

Even the boy said they didn’t suck. He said the peanut butter sauce made him nervous, but it was surprisingly good.

Friday:

Breakfast – Crepes filled with peanut butter and banana and drizzled with honey

Lunch – Leftover Chana Saag

Dinner – I finished off the Swiss rolls. And then went out for some drinks with friends, which was so fun! But, also, led to Taco Bell on the way home… What can I say, sometimes a rice and bean burrito and cinnamon twists just has to happen.

 

The Weekend

There’s a slight chance I’ll hit the stores again Saturday, because Kroger is running some really good sales. But I told myself I’m not allowed to go unless I take the boy with me, so he can keep me from browsing and over spending!

I’m actually really happy it’s raining this weekend, it should help the berry bushes and garden plants we planted last weekend get more established (and let’s be real, I can be lazy and not water!). But it does put a damper on my hopes of hiking a lot… probably will be a very chill weekend.

I definitely need to do some laundry, I think it has been almost a month! I re-wear heavier things that don’t get dirty, like blazers and jeans, and the only things that automatically go into the wash pile are undies, socks, and workout clothes when I actually sweat in them… so… since I’m nearly out of all of them I guess it’s time!

 

Food Total: $26.93 + $3 cash

Woo hoo for low grocery totals!

I meal planned a bunch of things that were already in the pantry, and cleaned/inventoried the freezer. So the majority of our meals this week were ‘free’, or pre-paid basically. Then I made a quick stop to a WalMart while in the area, because we were nearly out of yogurt and that makes the boy sad.

Dairy $6.48 Staples $4.46 Fruit/Veg $7.17 Extras $8.82
4-pk Greek yogurts 2 4.48 Ravioli frz 3lb 2.58 Bananas 8 (0.52/lb) 1.42 Bistro snack box 1.9
4pk reg yogurts 2 2 Cucumber 0.54 Softsoap refil 64oz 3.84
A H DEO 1.88 Sweet potato 3 (.88/lb) 2.21 Mascara 2
CLIF fruit bars 4 3 Tax 1.08

And this total includes mascara and soap, which aren’t even food! So really it’s more like $20 total, plus $3 cash for Swiss chard.

Lessons Learned

I definitely need to keep up with eating from the freezer and pantry. I come from a family that is borderline Hoarders, never wanting to throw things out and always maximizing sales. I definitely think if you have the initial cash that stocking up will save money over time… but only if you then use the items!

At this point my pantry is full to bursting and it’s getting ridiculous. I need to work pantry items into the meal plan each week, not only to use things up before they expire but also to keep our future grocery totals low. So the focus will be on using up staples with interspersed seasonal produce, until my pantry is as sleek and gorgeous as Dr. McFrugals! #goals

 

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

Hand-Dipped Chocolate Covered Strawberries

With Valentine’s Day being tomorrow, you may be one of those people who is desperately searching the internet for the perfect “last-minute” ideas. Maybe you are almost ready to run to the store and shell out way too many dollars for over-priced and sub-par drug store candy.

Or perhaps you are celebrating solo, or with your friends, and just want a little treat for yourself or your girls, to make the day extra special. But you don’t have all day to slave over a hot stove.

Here’s your answer!

Chocolate dipped strawberries. They are universally loved, as who could resist a sweet, juicy fruit dipped in chocolate? And they are marvelously easy to make, taking mere minutes plus a little bit of chill time. But, you could make them as fancy as you wish, by mixing dark, regular, and white chocolate, sprinkles, coconut, crushed nuts, or any other whim of your imagination.

coconut oil and chocolate with a strawberry

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chocolate chips (whatever kind you like)
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • Berries

20170213_195254

Step 1: Put a smaller pan over a large pan of water, and bring the water to a boil. This helps to melt to the chocolate, but keep it from burning or getting scorched on the bottom. The coconut oil also helps to make the melted chocolate smooth and glossy.

very last minute valentines day dessert idea

 

Step 2: Once melted, dip your strawberries in! Hold them by the green parts and the top, and drag through the melted chocolate.

Dipping a strawberry in chocolate

Mmmm look at that melty goodness! You could use any kind of berry or fruit for this honestly, bananas or pineapple would also be great.

20170213_195415

Step 3: Lay your chocolate covered berry on wax paper, on a plate or cookie tray that can fit in your refrigerator or freezer.

Chocolate dipped strawberries

Step 4: Put the berries in the fridge or freezer, to harden, at least 10 minutes. If using the freezer, don’t forget about them! You don’t want strawberry ice cubes. They are best fresh!

20170213_200815

The fun part about making your own chocolate-dipped treats is that sometimes you have extra melted chocolate. And you can go as crazy as you want! I had some almonds and peanuts, so I made nut clusters with mine, and sprinkled it with sea salt. The same idea applies, just let them chill for 10 minutes to an hour in the fridge before enjoying.

 

Do you have any Valentine’s Day plans tomorrow? If you want to avoid the crowds and overpriced “prixe-fixe” food, I’d suggest a simple yet impressive meal at home; everyone loves to be cooked for 😉 <3

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.

 

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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Best Black Bean Soup

My whole life up to this point, I have thought “Bean soup? Why would anyone just eat pureed beans?” I’ve read dozens of black bean soup recipes and thought either that it sounded way too simple, so how could it possibly be tasty, or that it was too complex because “toast your cumin seeds lightly  until fragrant and then grind in a spice grinder”; ain’t nobody got time for that.

But then one day, I had a big batch of fresh slow cooker black beans and several jars of slow cooker chicken stock in the refrigerator at the same time. And I thought to myself, self, broth based soups are very good for you and low in calories, and so are black beans.

Why not give it a try?

Lo and behold, with some very simple staple spices, I put together a black bean soup that was out-of-this-world tasty. You can probably pull this together in minutes at any time with what you already have in your home. It would also be very easy to adapt to a slow cooker, just add everything and cook on low for a few hours. Additionally, it would freeze beautifully to be enjoyed at a later date.

I wolfed down half a batch, felt guilty, checked the calorie count, and felt guilty no more, because the whole thing will cost you less than 1000 calories total. And it’s super filling because of all the fiber from the black beans, so you can easily get 3-4 bowls from this recipe.

I used chicken stock that I made in the slow cooker from a whole chicken carcass. I recommend using homemade because you can control the amount of sodium, or add extra flavors you like such as bay leaves, lemon juice, or jalapenos to the broth while it cooks. If you want to keep it vegetarian, just make vegetable broth by putting a bunch of veggies in a slow cooker with some water for hours, and then strain it.

I also usually add a can of stewed whole tomatoes to my broth, and I loved that one tomato got added into this broth. I think it adds a nice layer of flavor, but your black bean soup won’t suffer without it. Feel free to leave that part out, or add more based on your taste buds.

This recipe makes a little more than a liter of soup, enough for 3-4 good sized bowls with some chunky bread and/or a salad on the side, or two really hearty meals. It takes approximately 10 minutes total, which does not include cooking time for the beans themselves or the chicken stock if you make that as well.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups cooked black beans^
  • 2 cups chicken stock*
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp dried chopped onion
  • Optional: 1 whole tomato, quartered
  • Optional: 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Step 1: If cooking your own beans, soak them at least 8 hours, then cook them on low overnight or over 6-8 hours, and drain. If using canned beans, drain 2 cans but don’t rinse. Add the vegetable or chicken stock and the spices to your beans in a large bowl.

Step 2: Use an immersion blender or an upright blender to blend the soup to your desired thickness. I enjoy a few beans left whole, so I just pulsed it several times, but you can also blend the crap out of it until totally homogenized.

And that’s all there is to it! Since I regularly cook up large batches of dried beans on the weekend, I think this will become a standby recipe in my repertoire. It is super healthy, low calorie, very filling and crazy cheap.

Price Breakdown

Black beans: $8.84 for 12 lbs
2 cups dried = ~.66lb = 4 cups cooked
$8.82/lb /12 lb * 0.66 lb = $0.48

Chicken stock: I consider it free because most people throw away the carcass after eating the meat. But if we consider the cost of the whole chicken just to make stock: $3.61 + maybe $2 of other ingredients (1 jalapeno, 1 can tomatoes, 1 onion, spices) = $5.61
This makes approximately 1 gallon stock, 1 cup = $5.61/16 = $0.35

Onion: $5.98 for about 96 tbsp
1 tbsp = $5.98/96 = $0.06

Garlic powder: $8.94 for about 96 tbsp
1 tbsp = $8.94/96 = $0.09

Whole chicken 5.47 lb 3.61
12lb Black beans 8.84
Minced onion 5.98
Garlic powder 8.94

 

Total: 0.48 + 0.35 + 0.06 + 0.09 = $0.98! Total!

Therefore, even if you only get 2 bowls, that’s $0.49 per serving. Not too shabby at all.

^You can use 2 cans of black beans, drained but not rinsed, if you don’t want to make them from dried.

*You can also used canned or boxes of chicken stock if you don’t want to make your own, or use vegetable stock, to keep it vegetarian/vegan.

 

Best Black Bean Soup

Yield: 4

Best Black Bean Soup

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cooked black beans
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 whole roma tomato, quartered
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp dried chopped onion
  • Optional: 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. If cooking your own beans, soak them at least 8 hours, then cook them on low overnight or over 6-8 hours, and drain. If using canned beans, drain 2 cans but don't rinse. Add the chicken stock and the spices to your beans in a large bowl.
  2. Use an immersion blender or an upright blender to blend the soup to your desired thickness. I enjoy a few beans left whole, so I just pulsed it several times, but you can also blend the crap out of it until totally homogenized. 
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http://www.budgetepicurean.com/vegan/best-black-bean-soup/

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Buckeyes

 

O – H !

Anyone?

(The correct response is, I – O!)

If you’ve never had a Buckeye candy, boy are you missing out! They are balls of sugar and peanut butter dipped in chocolate, and so rich and creamy it is positively mind blowing. We have started calling them sugar-sugar-peanut butter-butters, because that is an accurate reflection of the ingredients list.

They are named after the state tree of Ohio, the Buckeye tree. A buckeye nut is dark brown with a lighter brown circle, and is a part of the chestnut family. The buckeye nut itself is not edible, but this candy after which it is named most certainly is edible! It is darn near irresistible, in fact.

The Ohio Buckeye nut, photo from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aesculus_glabra

I made a big batch of these for a cookie swap with some friends, and they were a total hit! Only one person had had them before, so it was extra fun to watch my friends experience these for the first time. They were described as “peanut butter fudgy wrapped in chocolate” and “like a ball of Reese’s” and “mmmmmmmmmm…”

They are very quick and easy to make, with just a handful of ingredients. And they are no-bake! That’s right, no oven required. All you need is a refrigerator or freezer to get the peanut butter balls to harden before dipping, and a microwave to melt the chocolate. Honestly, the inside peanut butter ball is so tasty and fudge-like, you could probably get away with no coating it and just calling it fudge!

This recipe makes approximately 5 dozen Buckeyes, depending on how large or small you roll them. You will also need at least one toothpick, for dipping the peanut butter balls.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups peanut butter
  • 1 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla flavoring

Coating:

  • 1/2 cup chocolate melting chip, baking chocolate, or chocolate chips
  • 1 – 2 tbsp coconut oil or Crisco

Step 1: In a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, cream the butter and peanut butter well. Blend until it becomes soft and thick.

Step 2: Add the vanilla, and then slowly add the powdered sugar. Be careful not to just dump it all in, or the powdered sugar will explode everywhere! Not that I know from experience or anything…

Step 3: Once it is all mixed and has become a soft but firm dough, scoop out by teaspoon-fulls and roll into balls. Put the peanut butter balls on a wax-paper or foil-lined pan, and refrigerate or freeze for an hour or more. You want the balls to be hardened and cold, so that the liquid chocolate solidifies faster once they are dipped.

Step 4: In a microwave safe bowl, add the chocolate and the oil. Microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring in between, until it is melted. Take your peanut butter balls, and stick a toothpick in one side. Dip the ball into the chocolate and swirl it around a little, leaving only a small section of light brown at the top. Let the melted chocolate drip off, and then place back on your tray.

Put them back in the refrigerator or freezer to let the chocolate harden. They will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks, and they can freeze well for up to 3 months. They are super rich and addictive, and so easy to make! In about an hour, you can create several dozen of these treats to share, sell, or keep all to yourself. Enjoy!

 

Have you ever had or heard of a buckeye? Do you have any family recipes that you make every year?

Cracker Cookies: An Heirloom Family Recipe

 

There are certain things about your childhood that you will never forget, and experiencing or thinking of these things just takes you back. Maybe you had a particular place you always vacationed (oh hey, Conneaut Lake Park), or a song that every time you hear it you are transported to a certain place and time, or a specific smell or meal that always reminds you of happiness.

For me, it is cracker cookies.

They are called many things, from wafer cookies to sandwich cookies, but I have always known them as Cracker Cookies. Cracker cookies have always been my favorite Christmas cookie. Those light, buttery, sugar bombs were so dang addictive, I couldn’t trust myself around them.

We used to spend hours in the kitchen together, my mom and I, and usually my sister or grandmother. Mom would be rolling the dough, lovingly trying to get it to just the right thickness to be crispy and wafer thin but not crack in half under minimal pressure. I’d have a bowl full of sugar and a fork, and mom would toss the little rounds of dough at me as they came off the shot glass.

I’d wriggle the dough around until nicely covered in grains of sugar, and line them up in neat rows on the baking pan. Then I’d stab-stab-stab-stab, exactly 4 times, to make holes with the fork. I never did know why… maybe to bake evenly, maybe it just made them look pretty, maybe mom just needed to keep me busy until the first batch was done and could come out of the oven.

Regardless, we would then have dozens of little dough circles, piled on the cooling racks and waiting to be filled with yet more butter and sugar, to create a cavity causing sandwich of happiness.

The dough recipe is the original recipe my family has been using for decades, whereas I tried a new filling recipe this year. You can find infinite icing recipes online using regular sugar, powdered sugar, cream cheese, and all sorts of what-have-you. The beauty is that you can change your filling at any time, you could even go super crazy and try something fruit-focused like jam.

Another fun fact of these is that they are not just Christmas cookies.

Oh no. These little minxes can be changed up with the drop of a dye, to become wedding colors, or graduation centered, or a pastel array for a baby shower. The dough can be dyed as well as the frosting, for infinite variations. If you are super ballsy, you could even dip the finished sandwiches in chocolate! Whoa, nelly, make sure you have an appointment with your dentist lined up soon 😉

Recipe makes approximately 36 cookies, or 18 sandwiches. Can easily be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled for your cookie swap. If you’d rather watch me make these in Virtual Reality, simply Click Here or scroll to the bottom of the post!

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick room temperature butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup plain white sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla
  • 2-3 tbsp half and half or milk
  • Extra sugar for coating
  • Plastic wrap
  • Rolling pin
  • Baking sheets
  • Stand or hand mixer

Directions:

  1. In a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, cream your butter well for about 5 minutes. You want it to be very soft and light, almost liquid.
  2. Add the flour, sugar, and vanilla. Let it mix for 7-9 minutes; it will become quite dry and crumbly. At this point you may lose faith, but trust me, this will become dough very soon.
  3. Add 2 tbsp of milk or half and half. You can also use heavy whipping cream for richer flavor, or almond or coconut milk. The dough should begin coming together and smoothing out. If it remains a little too crumbly, you can add one more tbsp slowly.
  4. Once the dough has become smooth and sticky, scrape it out onto some plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to a week. You could also freeze it for up to 6 months at this point.
  5. After 2 hours or 2 days, take the dough back out and flour a large surface. You can use your counter, tabletop, or a large cutting board or silicone baking mat.
  6. Place the dough on the flour with the plastic wrap on top. Begin rolling out the dough, pressing down firmly and evenly. Flip the dough, replace plastic wrap, and roll some more on the other side. You want to roll until it becomes about 1/4-1/8 inch thick.
  7. Once the dough is rolled out, cut circles with a 1-2 inch cutter, or use a plain shot glass. This is the easiest method I’ve found.
  8. Put the circles into the sugar, and mix it around to coat well on both sides. Place on an unsprayed cookie sheet.
  9. Bake at 350 for 7-9 minutes, turning once. You want them to be just barely beginning to brown on the bottoms.
  10. Take them out and let sit for 3-5 minutes on the pan. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Once cool enough to handle, you can begin filling them!

 

Filling ingredients:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 tbsp milk (if needed)
  • 2-3 drops food coloring

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, cream the butter for about 5-7 minutes, until softened.
  2. Add the powdered sugar, a little at a time, and mix well. Add in the vanilla as well.
  3. As it comes together it will thicken and become smooth. If not, you can slowly add a tiny splash of milk.
  4. Color it however you like, and spread a teaspoon onto one cooled cookie. Gently press another on top to complete your sandwich.

 

Cracker Cookies: An Heirloom Family Recipe

Yield: 18

Cracker Cookies: An Heirloom Family Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 stick room temperature butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup plain white sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla
  • 2-3 tbsp half and half or milk
  • Extra sugar for coating
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 tbsp milk (if needed)
  • 2-3 drops food coloring

Instructions

  1. In a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, cream your butter well for about 5 minutes. You want it to be very soft and light, almost liquid.
  2. Add the flour, sugar, and vanilla. Let it mix for 7-9 minutes; it will become quite dry and crumbly. At this point you may lose faith, but trust me, this will become dough very soon.
  3. Add 2 tbsp of milk or half and half. You can also use heavy whipping cream for richer flavor, or almond or coconut milk. The dough should begin coming together and smoothing out. If it remains a little too crumbly, you can add one more tbsp slowly.
  4. Once the dough has become smooth and sticky, scrape it out onto some plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to a week. You could also freeze it for up to 6 months at this point.
  5. After 2 hours or 2 days, take the dough back out and flour a large surface. You can use your counter, tabletop, or a large cutting board or silicone baking mat.
  6. Place the dough on the flour with the plastic wrap on top. Begin rolling out the dough, pressing down firmly and evenly. Flip the dough, replace plastic wrap, and roll some more on the other side. You want to roll until it becomes about 1/4-1/8 inch thick.
  7. Once the dough is rolled out, cut circles with a 1-2 inch cutter, or use a plain shot glass. This is the easiest method I've found.
  8. Put the circles into the sugar, and mix it around to coat well on both sides. Place on an unsprayed cookie sheet.
  9. Bake at 350 for 7-9 minutes, turning once. You want them to be just barely beginning to brown on the bottoms.
  10. Take them out and let sit for 3-5 minutes on the pan. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Once cool enough to handle, you can begin filling them!
  11. In a large bowl, cream the butter for about 5-7 minutes, until softened.
  12. Add the powdered sugar, a little at a time, and mix well. Add in the vanilla as well.
  13. As it comes together it will thicken and become smooth. If not, you can slowly add a tiny splash of milk.
  14. Color it however you like, and spread a teaspoon onto one cooled cookie. Gently press another on top to complete your sandwich.
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http://www.budgetepicurean.com/comfort-food/cracker-cookies/

 

 

It’s the world’s first Virtual Reality Cooking Show!

Want to watch me make these cookies start to finish, real time, in Virtual Reality?! You know you do. While watching, simply click and drag the screen to get a full 180 degree experience. Or if you have a VR head set, you can watch it in VR and feel like you’re right there in my kitchen with me.

Let me know what you think, and we may bring you more delicious content soon.

 

 

This post contains some affiliate links to Amazon products. They are the exact products I have and use, and if you purchase through these links this site receives a small commission. Thanks for stopping by!

Turkey, Ham n Cheese Pinwheels

 

You know how sometimes, you get invited to a potluck at the last second? Or you get home from school/work and are totally starving but don’t have the time or energy to make “real food”? Or you need a lunch or snack that will keep at room temperature for a few hours, but want something a little better than PB&J?

Pinwheels to the rescue.

Pinwheels are essentially a wrap, sliced into little sushi-like bite sized pieces. You can use any type of meat and/or cheese, as well as any condiment or topping you can think of. I’ve made these little guys for plenty of potlucks, holiday parties, picnics, and impromptu get togethers, as well as when a snack attack hit but I didn’t want to make a full meal just yet.

Try: turkey, ham, chicken, roast beef, cheddar, gouda, swiss, provolone, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, guacamole, sriracha, hummus, cream cheese, plain Greek yogurt, tzatziki. Add spinach, lettuce, bean sprouts, tomato, onion, cucumber, carrot slices, beets…

To make my favorite kind, I use a mixture of ham and turkey, and white and yellow cheddar. I also usually add a few leaves of spinach, to convince myself they are good for me. 😉

Makes about 20 pinwheels.

Ingredients:

  • 4 large tortillas
  • About 1/2 lb lunch meat
  • 4 slices cheese
  • Handful of spinach
  • Optional: cream cheese

Step 1: Layer the meat, cheese, and toppings on your tortilla. Roll it up tightly.

Step 2: Slice into 1-inch thick pieces. Spread them out on the plate, and prepare for ooooh and ahhhhs. And a quickly empty plate.