Category Archives: Healthy

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.
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
http://www.budgetepicurean.com/less-than-5/butternut-squash-ravioli-with-sage-brown-butter/

 

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.
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
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?

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. 
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
http://www.budgetepicurean.com/vegan/best-black-bean-soup/

 

Ultimate Epicurean Gift Guide

Obligatory Disclaimer: This blog is part of the Amazon Affiliate program. If you click on some links and purchase products, this blog receives a small payment at no extra charge to you. This is in part how we keep the good stuff coming, so thank you!

 

When you need to get a gift for someone, but you don’t really know what to buy, you inevitably turn to the internet to help with your search. Whether you are counting down the days until Christmas and frantically trolling through Amazon or ThisIsWhyImBroke, or you have a birthday, wedding, a baby shower, anniversary, or a house warming coming up, everyone has got to eat & drink.

Anyone who is a frequent home cook, aspires to be a more frequent home cook, or is just a lover of food is bound to find most of these things useful. All of the items on this list are things which I personally have and use, or would be thrilled to receive as a gift! I’ve researched the best brands and deals, so you don’t have to.

Obviously, if you already have an Amazon Prime membership, the free 2-day shipping is an added bonus. If you want to try a FREE 30-day trial, sign up here! But even without it, you have enough time until Christmas if you order now.

Price Range: $5 – $20

Rbnexia Metal Long Chopsticks Set of 10: $5.99

If your giftee likes to make their own sushi, or often enjoys eating sushi or other Asian-inspired meals, consider this lovely set of chopsticks. Stainless steel metal chopsticks are reusable, and dishwasher safe. Think of all the bamboo saved by using these year after year rather than the disposable packs from Sushi Palace.

Tea Spot Steep & Go in Green Tea: $8.95

This is the Steep & Go adaptable tea strainer I reviewed a few years back, and it is still going strong. With adaptable rings to fit to almost any bottle size, this little guy makes having your tea anytime, anywhere a breeze. No hot water required. By the way, there were only 19 left as of writing this, so get to it! If Amazon happens to be out, you can check the Tea Spot’s website for other cool steepware options, as well as all kinds of teas to go along with your gift.

Amazon Basics Silicone Baking Mat Set of 2: $9.62

Silicone baking mats are a gift from above to regular bakers. For holiday cookie making, easy cleanup after roasting, to fruit leathers and protecting your counters from dough and mess, silicone mats can do just about anything parchment paper or aluminum foil can do, but they are freezer, oven, and dishwasher safe and reusable up to 1000 times!

Bamboo Cutting Boards Set of 3 Sizes: $12.99

A key aspect of healthy cooking is lots of fresh produce, and possibly protein from meats. But it is important to keep those items separate while prepping. With this set of 3 different size cutting boards, it is no problem to know where to cut the peppers and where to cut the chicken. Bamboo is also a highly eco-friendly material, as bamboo is fast-growing and easy to cultivate, while the handles allow for ease of grabbing them out of cupboards.

Desert Creek Cinnamon Creamed Honey: $14.57

If you haven’t tried creamed honey, you haven’t lived! It is honey, but creamy. I don’t know how to describe it, just trust me, it is delicious. Try it on fresh hot toast, in your tea, or on top of desserts.

Stainless Steel Chilling Stones: $14.99

These reusable chilling stones are like ice cubes that won’t water down your drinks. Keep them in the freezer, and you will be ready any time for ice cold whiskey, wine, orange juice, tea, or water, but without the extra water. Well, maybe you don’t need these in your water but… you do you.

Glass Caffeine Mug with Silly Scale on Back: $15.00

Coffee is what makes the world go ’round and powers the adult world. If your giftee is a java-lover, and/or a science nerd, they are bound to giggle at this chemically accurate mug with accompanying accurate silly scale on the opposite side. Watch them go from Zombie to Genius as they sip their morning cup-a-joe.

Justin’s Nut Butter Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups: $15.02

Justin’s Nut Butters does some great work, and makes some amazingly delicious products. Especially their Almond Butter. This is the cleanest substitute for a Reese’s addict like myself. Chocolate and Peanut Butter are just meant for each other. I’ve got one waiting for me after my holiday diet wraps up in January!

Cuisinart Set of Three Strainers: $15.47

I received this exact set of strainers as a wedding gift, and had no idea at the time how critical they would become in my kitchen! The large strainer is perfect for making my homemade chicken stock, to get out all the little bits of carrot and herbs and leave a clear stock for making minestrone, ham and white bean soup, and chicken tortilla soup. The smaller one is perfect for straining kombucha, to make sure no chunks of SCOBY get into the finished product, or to make loose leaf tea drinkable (since I lost my mana-tea).

EcoDefy Automatic Soap Dispenser: $15.95

We all know that moment when your hands are covered in bread dough, icing, or raw chicken, and you need to wash your hands. But how do you get soap and turn on the water without contaminating your whole sink?! Automatic soap dispensers were one of the best investments we made when we first moved into our house. We ended up buying one at first for our kitchen, and loved it so much there is now one in every bathroom as well. You will also need 4 AAA batteries per dispenser, and maybe some soap to go with it. I like the Softsoap moisturizing Milk & Golden Honey.

Multiuse Silicone Dishwasher Safe Spoon Rest: $15.99

If you’re like me, you usually have at least two if not five different utensils sitting in or around your spoon rest at one time. You may need a spatula, whisk, spaghetti spoon and soup ladle all in one day. The spoon rest gets crowded, the utensils awkwardly fall off the side, and your counter is covered in sauce. No more! This silicone, dishwasher safe set of 2 rests has you covered from any angle.

Or, for the more whimsical among us, this adorable “I licked the spoon” kitty cat spoon rest: $13.18

 

Hammond Candies Holiday Classics Hard Candies: $17.00

The Hammond’s Candies factory in Denver, Colorado has been in operation since 1920 making holiday classics like candy canes, peppermint sticks, and ribbon candies. Transport yourself back in time with this Holiday Classics assortment of hard candies in an adorable holiday tin.

Ovente Black 1.5L Glass Electric Tea Kettle: $18.99

When you want to heat up more water than would fit in one cup in the microwave, but don’t want to wait until a pot on the stove boils, an electric kettle is the perfect answer. I find that the 1.5 L size is about right for 3 cups of hot tea, and it stays hot enough throughout all three cups. This one has a handy LED light that turns blue when it’s boiling, and a stay-cool pouring handle.

Haitian Organic Superfood Dark Chocolate 5 Pack: $19.90

These beautiful 70% dark chocolate bars are nonGMO, vegan, gluten-free, soy free, filled with superfoods, made in Haiti, and Fair trade certified. That’s a big mouthful to say; delicious!

Mr. Kitchen Glass & Steel 8 Cup French Press: $19.95

I have this exact 32 oz size, and it makes more than enough for 2 large steaming cups of coffee, or a double batch of hot loose leaf green tea. Perfect for when you don’t want to make two trips, or have more than one person to serve. The double filter keeps grounds and leaves out of your cup, and makes the perfect, smooth cup of coffee without the bitter aftertaste. Use together with the electric kettle above for the perfect hot beverage.

Glass Locking Oven Safe Meal Prep Containers:$19.99

Definitely one of the most-used gifts I’ve ever received, these glass containers make meal planning and food storage a dream. The lids lock in place, meaning they are completely spill proof. Never again will you have to clean out spilled chili from your lunch box, or wipe fruit juice off your refrigerator shelf. They are also completely oven, freezer, dishwasher, and microwave safe, meaning you can transport your food straight from cooked to frozen and back to the microwave for lunch without a second thought.

Amish Country Hull-less Popping Corn 4 Pack: $20.88

Popcorn is an awesome frugal snack, and can be made easily on the stove top with oil, using an air popper, or by putting 1/4 cup kernels and 1 tbsp oil in a paper bag and microwaving it. This set of 4 types is hulless, meaning less “digging in your teeth and gums for days after eating it”, and more enjoying.

Price Range: $21 – $35

Reversible Memory Foam Anti-Fatigue Chef’s Mat: $22.99

Our kitchen has a memory foam mat which was purchased on a whim when we first moved in. It has turned out to be one of my favorite kitchen accessories, as it really keeps your feet and back from getting sore after hours of slaving over the stove  😉

Kusmi Teas – One Moment Assortment of 5 Flavors: $26.50

This is a brand I found on our honeymoon in France, and fell in love with. When I came back to the states, I immediately put it on my Christmas wish list. My current favorite is their “Spicy Chocolate” black tea from their “Afternoon Teas” set.

18-Piece Canning Starter Set: $26.99

Dang, for less than $30 you can get your friend or family member started on a lifelong skill that can save thousands of dollars over the years. All you need is a large pot to boil the jars, and you are on your way to making home-canned peachescanning your own beans, and preserving garden fresh salsa and pasta sauce. This set comes with 4 quarts and 4 pints with lids, a funnel, and a recipe book. May I also suggest these Tattler reusable canning rings & lids for extra savings?

Hamilton Beach 7 Quart Programmable Slow Cooker: $29.96

I actually did a double take when I looked this one up. Slow cookers are so affordable, it is silly to not have one! All you need to do is make 2 home-cooked meals rather than go out to a restaurant and it’s paid for itself. You can of course get a low-maintenance basic one, and those run even less. I recommend the larger one if you’re cooking for two or more, or do big batches to freeze. Slow cookers can save you money in so many ways:

  • Make big batches of cheap staples like rice or beans
  • Save money by making crazy-cheap soups and stews
  • Cheap cuts of meat become fork tender with long-time cooking
  • Home cooking is easier & faster with minimal prep
  • Avoids the temptation to just order take-out or pizza
  • Cook ahead and freeze extra for instant meals later
Simply Gourmet Stainless Steel Measuring Cups & Spoons: $29.99

These spoons are extra-long, which is handy if you need to get the last tablespoon of baking soda out of the box. The cups and spoons have a hole in the handle, which means you can easily add an O-ring to connect them all together, and avoid digging through your drawer looking for the size you need.

Hottest Hot Sauce Gift Set 4 Pack: $29.99

I had to throw this one in there since I’m a Carolina girl now, and have recently acquired some Carolina Reaper peppers. This is legit the hottest pepper in the world, and the Scorpion, Ghost Pepper, and Habanero are nothing to laugh at either. Use with caution!

Cuisinart Immersion Blender: $31.95

Anyone who makes smoothies, milkshakes, pesto, hummus, soups, beverages, and/or sauces could use an immersion blender! I’ve used this guy in my own kitchen to create the perfect smoothness in my tomato basil soup, vegan dark chocolate peppermint hot cocoa, black bean soupgreen tea matcha latte, and to mix up my breakfast coffee protein shakes (sans banana). It is WAY easier to clean than a full blender when you have a small job to do.

Spices of the World Gift Set: $34.95

This is the Budget Epicurean, and what could be more epicurious than trying a new spice blend from an exotic cuisine? This World Spice set of 16 different mixes contains the flavors of Ethiopia, India, Africa, South America, and more. With everything from Za’atar and Tikka Masala to Chinese Five Spice and Harissa, these spices will entertain in the kitchen for months to come.

Price Range: $36 & Up

Cuisinart Electric Wine Bottle Opener with Vacuum Sealer: $37.22

This electric opener and sealer makes a nice glass of red easy breezy. With the touch of a button, pop that cork and get your relaxation on. Then don’t worry about having to finish the whole bottle, because it also has a vacuum sealer to keep unused wine fresh for days.

Home Brew Ohio 1 Gallon Wine Making Kit: $38.42

This is the kit that got us started on our home-brewing adventures! We have made 2 gallons of grape wine so far, and are working on our first gallon of mead now. This kit has everything you need to get started except the juice. Buy it as frozen concentrate or as 100% juice in any flavor you want to try. The carboy, airlock, bucket, and tubing can be reused over and over. If they like wine making, it will only cost a few dollars in upkeep to replace the other ingredients, and keep the homemade wine flowing.

NeoMega Avocado Oil Super Pack 4 Flavors: $39.99

We all know that avocados are the darlings of the millennial food scene, but there are many scientifically proven benefits to avocado oil, like reducing cholesterol, it contains leutein (important for eye health) and oleic acid, a healthy fat, and it may help gum disease and promote wound healing.

Neomega Nutritionals was started in 2016 by local Durham NC mom of three. After leaving the world of clinical research, she decided to pursue her passion for clean eating and healthy pantry options. With flavors like Ginger Turmeric Orange, Chili Pepper, Roasted Garlic, Rosemary, and Basil, this oil is perfect for all your soup-finishing, fish or chicken-drizzling, salad-dressing needs.

Sunbeam Stand Mixer With Dough Hooks & Beaters: $59.99

A stand mixer is SO GREAT if you make any amount of dough based items. I use my stand for my homemade pretzels, pizza dough, and plain and ciabatta bread. It’s also awesome for holiday cookies. This is basically a newer version of the old one my grandmother gifted to me about 7 years ago, and mine is still goin’ strong. No need to spend hundreds on a fancy gadget with a dozen attachments when a whisk and a dough hook does the trick for just about anything.

Ninja Professional Blender 1000: $75.99

If you have a gift exchange with a $100 limit, or a recipient you really like, consider giving them the gift of fresh smoothies, soups, and milk shakes on demand. This is the exact blender I asked for about 2 years ago, and it is still going strong. After endless peanut butter banana smoothies, blender pesto, blender hummus, smoothies, and more, the Ninja keeps performing day after day. With 1000 watts of power, it crushes ice like a champ and blends to perfection, and the best part is that it is all dishwasher safe!

Authentic Italian White Truffles 1 oz: $270

If you want to prove your love to someone, or show off your ridiculous wealth, consider supporting the Italian economy while making someone’s pasta taste weird and earthy. Just kidding, if you are this wealthy, please email me immediately so we can be friends*.

 

 

There you have it, my epicurious friends, a personally curated list of the Budget Epicurean top gift picks. Hopefully someone on your list will love these things, and you will make someone else’s table a little brighter this holiday season.

Xoxo,
BE

 

*Meant in the spirit of jest and sarcasm. Obviously, this is also a perfectly legitimate gift option if this is your price range. However, you are likely on the wrong blog…

My Top 10 Money Saving Strategies

If you read enough personal finance and frugality articles, you will see a definite theme. Spend Less. Save More. (Next level? Pay off debt, start investing).

There are thousands of ways to save tiny amounts of money by shopping less and shopping strategically, making and doing things yourself, and getting creative. You can also really slash your money needs if you focus on reigning in your biggest expenses: housing, transportation, and food.

I can’t really talk about saving money on housing (can I say how good it feels to finally own a house and NOT be paying someone else’s mortgage?), but I can tell you about my transportation tips, and as the Budget Epicurean I hope I know a thing or two about saving money on food! Food spending is in fact one of the lowest hanging fruits when first looking to trim the budget, as I will show you below.

Over the past decade or so, I have read and learned a LOT, and built upon my semi-frugal upbringing. We had leftover nights and no exotic weeks long overseas vacations, but we also ate out on occasion and never had to scrimp for new school clothes. I’ve tried out several hundreds of frugal strategies and tips, and kept the ones that work for me. You should do exactly the same!

All advice does not work for all people. Some people have a one-person household in a small apartment to care for, while others may have multiple children and pets, a blended or extended family, or you may be elderly and living alone without a next generation to be concerned about. Take this advice with a grain of salt, and look at it through the lens of your own situation. I hope you find it helpful!

And now, on to my top ten money-saving tips:

1. Meal Planning

In my 2014 article about meal planning, I explained how simple it can truly be to plan your meals, and not much has changed over the years. Sure, now I write mine out on a fancy whiteboard, but that’s just because I got tired of wasting so much paper!

Creating a meal plan each week (or each month, if you’re really ambitious!) is a top ten frugal strategy because it keeps your grocery bill low in many ways.

You can plan meals around what is on sale this week, lowering your total at the cash register. You can take stock of your pantry and freezer, using up food items you’ve already paid for. And you can plan for batch cooking and using leftovers, keeping you from throwing hard-earned money right into the trash because you forgot to eat it before it spoiled.

Start slowly. Maybe just write a list of things you know how to cook or enjoy cooking, and make one of those meals this week, plus a little extra, and freeze it. Then write in that leftover meal for one night next week.

Try to creatively use ingredients in multiple meals in one week, like my multiple uses for a pork roast, or a cook a whole chicken and use the meat all week. Plain cooked grains (rice, quinoa, couscous, barley) or cooked beans can be mixed and matched endlessly, and they also freeze well for later.

A word of caution: don’t try to become someone you’re not.

Make sure to add in meals you know you and your family will like, and write in “dinner out” or “order pizza” or “leftover buffet” occasionally to keep your plan in line with your lifestyle. If you eat a “flexitarian” diet now with occasional meat, you may have a riot on your hands if you try to plan vegetarian only meals for a month. Similarly if no one likes soup and you make ten gallons, the odds of food waste are high, and that’s what we are trying to avoid!

2. Cooking at Home

To go along with tip #1 to plan your meals, also try to cook at home as much as possible. When you order food outside the house or go to a restaurant, you are paying for the food in addition to the time for someone else to make it, package it, and clean up after it. You are paying for the convenience. You may also be paying taxes and tip on top of all that.

When you make your food at home, you pay for the food.

Cooking is a skill, and it is one that must be learned and practiced over time. If you have never so much as scrambled an egg, don’t panic. Just start small, have fun with it, and accept that every meal doesn’t have to be a four-course five-star success.

Breakfast is a simple meal to start cooking at home. Try make-ahead egg muffins, breakfast burritos, orange-cranberry muffins, or make your own granola or granola bars. Then work your way up to making lunches like tuna salad, grilled cheese, salmon-couscous salad, or a big batch of chili or minestrone soup.

Pack your own snacks, like hard boiled eggs, peanut butter and apples, turkey cheese roll-ups, or trail mix. Before you know it, you won’t even have to think about it, and will be cooking up whole food healthy meals for pennies on the dollar.

This goes for drinks too!

Soda, teas, fruit juice, energy drinks, and sports drinks are not only sugar and calorie bombs, but come at a premium price outside the house. If you must have your Gatorade or Diet Coke, at least save yourself several hundred dollars over the years by buying a 12-pack at the store and bringing it from home rather than paying $2 per day at a vending machine.

3. Eating Leftovers

When I got to college, and even more so when I moved off campus to an apartment, one of the biggest surprises for me wasn’t how much laundry I can produce in one month, how little sleep I can function with, or even how often people fall asleep in lecture halls.

It was how many people hate leftovers.

I met so many people who wouldn’t even take leftovers home from a restaurant meal, or would put boxes in the fridge to be ignored and then eventually thrown out weeks later.

You are literally throwing your money in the trash! I wanted to yell.

When you buy a meal out and eat half of it, then bring the other half home, that is like $5 of the $10 total sitting in your refrigerator. If you eat that meal, you’ve now had two $5 meals. If you throw it away, you have had one $10 meal, wasted perfectly edible food, and contributed to our growing food shortage crisis and landfills.

Why??

I grew up with the concept of a leftover buffet almost every week. On a busy weeknight, mom would just pull out all the containers in the refrigerator, spread them out on the kitchen table, and we got to pick and choose and put together a meal. Sure, maybe it was meatloaf and stir-fried rice and a bowl of wedding soup, but it was an already-made meal that we were not going to waste.

Weekly Eating 8/7/17

In my series “weekly eating” I try to showcase how I use leftovers creatively to become new meals, and even plan for it on purpose. This enables me to buy in bulk and on sale, to use freezer meal cooking, and to make “free meals” where I use scraps that could be tossed and instead turn them into soup or casserole or stir fry.

All these tactics together can save you thousands of dollars!

So suck it up, buttercup, and have the other half of that chicken pesto panini or leftover Pad Thai for lunch today. Is it as good as it was fresh? Probably not. Is it cheap and a hell of a lot better than ramen or cereal? Probably yes. You may find it tastes even better after sitting overnight.

4. Buy & Try Generics

So you’re at the store, auto-piloting through your grocery list, with some other household items in mind as well. You cruise up and down the aisles, grabbing your Tostitos chips and Pace salsa, Oreos as a treat, a refill on Bounce dryer sheets, and some Dawn. A case of Diet Coke and a box of Frosted Flakes get thrown in the cart too.

If you grew up eating, drinking, or using a certain brand, you may have an emotional attachment to it. You truly believe that brand of product is the best one at what it does. Or you’ve seen enough commercials for it you can quote them word for word. Or there is one type of snack that you just have to have in the house at all times.

What you don’t realize is how those nickles, dimes, and dollars are bleeding your bank account dry year after year.

The difference between a name-brand product and a similar (or nearly exact) generic or “store brand” item may be just a few cents, or it may be $5. The point is, it all adds up over time. For example, if you just tried one new item in the generic form rather than the name brand each week, you could save yourself maybe $4 per month.

The items that you find taste or work the exact same way as the brand you like? Keep using them! Automatic savings. The ones where there is a noticeable difference in taste or outcome? Switch back! It really is that simple.

In my house, we will only use Dawn dish soap for greasy pots and pans, because I really think it works better, faster, and more completely than other store brand soaps I’ve tried. I save the dollar store soap for washing the car or the floor.

But when it comes to paper towels, I have yet to find a $3 per roll brand that can’t do the same job as a $0.50 roll of “Thrifty”, or whatever is on sale. I also can’t tell the difference between $1/jar Kroger brand pasta sauce and $3/jar Bertolli. The line of where it becomes worth it is different for everyone, but you owe it to yourself and your bank account to find that line.

5. In-sourcing

As a semi-famous mustachioed genius once said, “Muscle over Motor” is a great way to save money.

By that I mean, do physical chores with the type of tools your grandparents would have used rather than buying a gas- or electric-powered version to do it faster (and more expensively). Use a rake to rake leaves rather than a leaf blower. Shovel show with an actual shovel. Mop the floors with a mop, or even better, a washcloth and a bucket of hot soapy water.

Household tasks like lawn care, landscaping, gardening, pet maintenance, personal grooming, cooking, and cleaning, are all things that we have varying degrees of love, hate, or tolerance for. And we could easily fork over a few hours’ of our labor in the form of cash to outsource these tasks to someone else.

Or, you could learn and practice useful life skills, and keep your money for yourself!

For example, we bought a $20 electric razor kit, and now my husband never has to go pay for a haircut the rest of his life. I trim my own hair between (every other year) cuts too. We mow our own lawn, rake our never-ending leaves, clean our gutters, snake our own drains, fill the cars’ wiper fluid and check oil levels, change our own wiper blades, trim our own trees, bathe and anti-tick and clip the dogs’ nails and fur, and more.

These small tasks may be annoying, or tedious, or an interruption to an otherwise Netflix-and-video-games filled weekend. They may also be a little scary because you’ve never done it before. That’s what YouTube, or your dad or neighbor are for.

The time spent insourcing our own tasks is time well spent because we did not have to pay someone with time spent at our day jobs to get it done. Many small, regular preventive maintenance tasks also keep your home/appliances/car/self running better longer, keeping you from having to pay for a more  expensive repair or replacement later down the road.

6. Frugal Hobbies

We all have the same number of hours and minutes in each day. And we all get to choose how we spend those hours and minutes.

A few of these hours have required items, they are spoken for. We must eat, and we must sleep. That is basically it. We do need to house and clothe ourselves, we almost all have relationships we participate in, and we must find ways to pay for our necessary expenses (if you don’t already have passive income taking care of that for you). How we do these things is up to us.  We also get large sections of “Free Time” which is not yet spoken for.

Even if you have an expensive commute, eat all organic and expensive foods, have a large family, and wear the nicest name-brand work clothes, you can still cut corners in your personal time.

There are many “toys”, sources of entertainment, hobbies, and past times that are just huge money-sucks.

For example: boats, jet skis, skiing, golfing, shopping, having to play the newest video games, frequent movie-going, concerts, or nightly partying at the bars downtown. It is so easy to blow $50 on one night of drinking and dancing, or $500 on a weekend at the lake, or $5000 on a ski trip to Breckenridge twice per season.

I definitely think it is important to be social, to find like-minded friends and nurture those relationships. But you don’t have to blow your whole paycheck every weekend to do so!

By cultivating frugal hobbies, you can entertain yourself and possibly others, while doing small or no damage to your bank account and future financial goals. There are plenty of hobbies which may even further enrich you!

Some ideas might include: bird watching, baking, board games or card games, reading books, drawing, knitting, dog walking, nature hikes, blogging, cycling, or geocaching.

These types of hobbies and entertainment can provide the same kinds of enjoyment and escape from the mundane and from work or home life, but without causing you to have to work more to support paying for them.

Use your ‘free time’ to free yourself from having to trade your time for dollars.

7. Ignoring “the Joneses”

As you cultivate these new frugal hobbies and pastimes, and begin cooking at home more and cutting your own lawn, you may feel some judgment from those around you. Your friends, neighbors, coworkers, or even your family may discourage your new habits.

Ignore them.

How you live your life only impacts you and your immediate family. If your neighbor buys  a new Bentley, you don’t feel the weight of that car loan, he does. And if your aunt tells stories about her latest and greatest European vacation, you can enjoy the photos but not the credit card bill that comes due every month.

In the same way, if you are making good choices like cooking at home twice a week and taking your lunch to work, your coworkers might miss you at Chilis but you won’t miss that missing $50 every week. Instead you can transfer it into your savings account, pay down your student loans or mortgage faster, or buy some stocks.

And the best part is, as you are ignoring those who choose to be spendier than you, you will also be putting yourself in good places and a good mindset to start meeting people with similar goals and lifestyles. Maybe your neighbor asks to borrow your ladder rather than buy one too, or your coworker starts chatting with you about that delicious looking chicken salad sandwich you brought, and you discover a mutual love of Go Fish. You never know.

8. Driving an Older, Paid-off Vehicle

I wish I could also say that I save money by having a small commute or being able to walk or bike, but I did make a bit of a commuting mistake, as I wrote about here. If you are able to telecommute (work from home), or live close enough to your place of business to walk and/or bike or take public transit, I highly recommend that.

However, if as I do, you have a long commute every day, you can still make frugal choices to slash the amount of stress that commute puts on your yearly and life-long cash-flow.

In 2017, we have set a new record: the average new car loan has topped $30,000 for the first time ever. A record 17 million Americans have a car loan, and we are taking out bigger and bigger amounts to be paid back over longer and longer periods of time.

Average loan: $30,032
Average monthly payment: $503
Average payback length: 68 months

That is FIVE AND 2/3 YEARS. To pay off a car, that you will be tired of after three, and continue driving for what, maybe 8?

Rather than take on that crazy payment for a depreciating item, why not save up over time. Keep your crap car, or walk, and pay yourself what you would have taken out for a car loan, by putting it aside in a savings account. Then, after 2 or 3 or 5 years, you have a few grand saved up and can buy an older used car outright!

Of course, this in itself is a balancing act.

All cars, no matter how well built or maintained, do have a finite lifespan. Unless you have access to new parts and a ton of machine know-how, there comes a time when maintaining an older vehicle is more costly than replacing it.

If your beater car is worth $500, starts making weird noises and/or shaking weirdly and you find out there is a minimum $3000 you have to put in to get it running again, I’d say cut your losses and start looking for your next ride.

9. Recycling, Creative Re-Purposing, & DIY

My grandma used to have a phrase that I assume was learned from living through the Great Depression:

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”*

I LOVE that saying. Because it strikes at the heart of much of what frugality is. (It does kind of tap dance on the line between frugal and cheap, but that’s a whole other discussion). One of the greatest destroyers of wealth is shopping, plain and simple.

We live in such a throw-away culture, where devices are purposefully built to last only a few years or less, people are wasting up to 40% of all the food that enters the house (see the leftovers rant above), and if something gets a scratch or even slightly malfunctions we simply chuck it in the bin and buy a new one to have delivered in two days.

Wasting and re-buying these things, or even buying in the first place, is also chucking your hard-earned cash money in the trash bin.

Why not try to imagine a creative way to turn something you no longer like/use/works into something else? Maybe someone else  has a vase you can borrow (or keep) rather than buy a new one with each bouquet, you can turn wooden pallets into all kinds of creative decor and projects, a broken picture frame plus wire can become an earring holder, a burnt out lightbulb can become an oil lamp, there are literally infinite ideas online.

Sometimes all you need is a new perspective, a fresh coat of paint, and a free afternoon to create something functional, interesting, beautiful, or useful, and also save yourself some serious cash. You might be surprised at all the ways you can turn trash into treasure.

*Qualifier: This isn’t the Depression, of course. There are obviously products you should spend some money on, like good shoes or a set of quality pans. I’m saying be mindful of your purchases and think about the long-term cost per use rather than whip out the credit card just because you like that shade of blue on that pillow.

Quality over quantity, folks.

10. Planning Purchases & Avoiding CC Debt

Ah, delayed gratification. That beautiful, crucial life skill which makes you much more likely to be successful, and yet so many people lack these days.

In the era of exponential technological advances where nearly anything can be learned, watched, bought, or done with the swipe of a finger, the art of waiting is something which we should all try to cultivate.

We have tons of data on past sales and price fluctuations, use that knowledge to plan when is the best time to purchase anything. For example, do you want to remodel your living room? Maybe wait until April for discounts on carpet, and May for cheap paint. Whether you have kids or not, you know August is the time to stock up on cheap school & office supplies. And go figure, November & December are the best times to invest in a new gas grill. When no one is grilling.

Almost all of our purchases can and should be anticipated and planned for. We know how long phones tend to last, we know we will need furniture, lawn equipment, when family and friends’ birthdays are (well… maybe not those of us with horrible memories), the dates of anniversaries and national holidays. There is no excuse to not have a plan for these events.

As for regular, everyday purchases like paper towels, Windex, dish soap, diapers, deodorant… you can keep a running list on the refrigerator, in a Google doc, or on your phone. Then you can order it all at once, or make one large trip, saving yourself the temptation from multiple store runs. Simply avoiding impulse buys ever can save you hundreds, even thousands of dollars each year.

A handy rule I used before I had my iron will fully developed is to wait 7 days per $50. So if there was something I wanted because I saw it in an ad or someone told me about it, I put it on a list.

And then I waited, researched it, and comparison shopped. If, after a week, you still want the item, it is something you legitimately need and or will use regularly, you know which place has it for the best price, and assumedly have read reviews saying it is a worthwhile thing to have, go ahead and purchase it.

If you find yourself hardly remembering what it was you wanted last Tuesday? Not a thing you need in your life.

Before long, this process becomes second nature, and you find your life much less stressed from lack of money, because now you have more, and lack of space to put all your stuff, because there is less stuff!

 

 

What are your best frugal tips? Do you already do any or all of these?