Category Archives: Review

January Pantry Challenge

 

Wow, so February starts in just a few hours, 2016 is already 1/12th over!  How are you all doing with those new years resolutions?  Been to the gym every day, stuck to a calorie goal, finances in ship-shape, in fact taxes have already been filed?  Yeah, me too.

Just kidding!

I don’t really do the resolution thing, because it is far too easy to set yourself up to fail.  I am more a believer in long-term goals with short-term goals break down.  By taking a big life goal, solidifying your reason for desiring it, and then breaking it down into smaller, easily achievable goals, you set yourself up for continual personal improvement.  Plus you have the ability to look back and see what worked and what didn’t, and tweak or change your goals if your lifestyle and desires have changed.

This is the final post in a series of a challenge I set for myself Jan 1st, to cook out of my pantry/freezer and only spend $20 per week on fresh groceries.  Below are the first three week’s summaries:

Week 1 Recap
Week 2 Recap
Week 3 Recap

This final week, I was surprised at how quickly this month had flown by.  When I did my one grocery stop, it felt like more than enough.  I think I have adjusted to fewer grocery store trips, which is likely a very good thing.  Looking back at the past few weeks’ lists, I realized I still had 3 out of 4 kiwis in the refrigerator.  I also had to throw out half the cucumber because it went to mush before I could slice & eat it.  Other than that, I have done quite well with not buying too much or wasting produce.

Fruit/Veg $11.96 Meats $3.29
Celery 1lb $2.49 2/3 lb ham $3.29
Ginger root $0.30 Dairy $5.35
3lb oranges $3.77 White cheese $1.48
Bananas (8) $1.35 Organic yogurt $3.87
Avocados (2) $2.00
Collard greens $2.05 Total $20.60

 

This week I got brave and bought a head of collards, because I know they are chock full of chlorophyll and good stuff.  I chopped up a few leaves to toss into salads, some of the leaves got blended into a sauce for the gnocchi, leaves were added to soup, and one day for lunch I used the leaf as a wrap for tuna salad.  I also ended up getting a small pack of ham and some white cheese to make sandwiches for my fiancee for lunch.

White Bean, Sausage, & Collards Soup

Jan 23 – Pork ribs & baked potato soup
Jan 24 – Leftover stuffed shells for lunch, pork chops, Spanish rice & salad
Jan 25 – Buffalo chicken sandwiches
Jan 26 – Butternut squash gnocchi
Jan 27 – Sausage, white bean, & collard greens soup
Jan 28 – Lasagna with spinach
Jan 29 – Leftover lasagna
Jan 30 – Leftover pizza, buffalo chicken on salad

AS for the budgeting part of the challenge, not counting the couple of times we had meals outside the home, the total I went over is: $3.30 + $2.34 + $1.08 + $0.60 = $7.32

Which means a total of $87.32 for all the “fresh” groceries the entire month of January.  Not bad at all.  I don’t think realistically I can keep that up for many more months beyond this, but it is a good illustration of how much having a stocked pantry can help, especially in case of a natural or financial emergency.  Now I know that if something catastrophic were to happen, or the fiancee and/or I were to lose a job and we had to really tighten our belts, the pantry I normally keep can indeed see us through.

 

How about you, any resolutions or goals you are keeping, or struggling with?  Feel free to share!

 

Pantry eating challenge – week 1

 

So for the New Year, I decided to try a cook-from-the-pantry challenge.  See this article for full details, but pretty much the plan is to cook mostly from what is already in my house (fridge, freezer, pantry) and $20 per week for fresh produce & dairy.

How’s it going so far?

Pretty darn well, actually.  I’ll try to keep posting updates every Sunday on how the previous week went, and at the end summarize the whole month.  But for the first week, things are going along as normal.  Here’s the week’s menu:

Jan 1 – Pork roast & sauerkraut (leftover from day before, and it’s good luck on New Years Day!)
Jan 2 – Chicken & rice soup
Jan 3 – Chicken quarters & rice & broccoli
Jan 4 – BBQ spare ribs & baked potatoes
Jan 5 – Crock Pot Turkey Chili
Jan 6 – Seafood linguine (recipe coming Tuesday!)
Jan 7 – Pork chops w/apple chutney, mashed sweet potato, and cranberry sauce
Jan 8 – Spinach stuffed chicken rolls, rice, salad

You get one bonus day because Jan didn’t start on a Monday. 🙂

For breakfast, I have had smoothies using frozen fruit & fresh, wheat English muffins (from the freezer) with almond butter & jam, and cereal (cold and hot).  Lunches are most often leftovers from one of the dinner meals, and one day this week I had a caprese sandwich for lunch out with some coworkers.

Oh, how am I doing with not shopping?  That part is a little harder… as you may know, I’m a sucker for a good sale, and have no qualms snagging them and stocking up when I find it.  Well, that’s a no-no this month, I have to make a strict list of only fresh veg and fruits we want or need, and stick to it.  For me, this is the toughest part of the challenge so far.  So, what did I buy this week?

Dairy Fruit/Veg
Kefir (2) 5.92 Bananas (5) 0.96
Org. milk 1/2 gal 3.5 Spinach (12 oz) 1.49
Heavy cream 1.69 Kiwi (4) 1.49
Asparagus (1 lb) 2.69
Romaine (3) 1.99
Avocado (2) 1.98
 TOTAL $23.30 Raspberries 1.59

 

Yup, I went over budget by a little more than 3 dollars… but honestly that’s still pretty good, given on average I spend $100 per week on groceries.

The cream was so I could make our own coffee creamer, (we are trying to get away from packaged, processed chemicals as much as possible) and organic, grass-fed milk is way more expensive than factory milk.  But it is a choice we are making, to be healthier all around.  The same goes for adding kefir to our diets, to get more gut-healthy probiotics.

The fruits will mostly be eaten as snacks and in lunches, and added to smoothies.  The spinach & romaine will be salads to go with things from the freezer & pantry, and compliment any frozen veg. I already have.  The fiancee eats a banana per day for breakfast, and both the asparagus & raspberries were on sale, how could I not buy them?!

Well, that’s it for this week, stay tuned for next week!

 

How about you guys, ever done a no-spend or low-spend challenge?  Do you think you have more food in the house than you think you do?  Could you go a month without grocery shopping as usual?

 

Restaurant Review: Wang’s Chinese Food in Cromwell, CT

 

For those unfamiliar with my system of reviewing food service establishments, I use three areas, with a scale of 1-10.  The Budget Epicurean has not been compensated in any way for this review, and all opinions are my own. For reviews, preference will be given to unique, local, family-owned establishments. 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 (Buckingham Palace)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

Today’s restaurant review is for Wang’s Chinese Restaurant in Cromwell, CT.  A small home slash business building tucked just off West Street (Route 372) in between Route 9 and highway 91, I have passed this place countless times on my way to work.  And every time I think, hm I should go there sometime.  Somehow I just never got around to it… Then I found out a friend of mine just so happens to know the owner, and so we decided to take a trip for lunch.

Wang chinese restaurant outside

Upon parking, the first thing I noticed was that it is actually quite larger than I had thought, since the entire left side of the building was a large dining area which can be rented out.  When we walked inside, it smelled immediately of those delicious umami smells of soy sauce, bubbling soup, and stir frying vegetables.

Wang chinese restaurant inside

There is a fully stocked bar, so you can have traditional sake right alongside a Cosmopolitan if you so desire.  There is ample seating for both tables and booths, in a nice dark cherry wood, and white linen table cloths.  Some very quiet, soothing music was playing in the background, nonintrusive enough that you forgot it was there.

Wang chinese restaurant owner

As soon as you are seated, the waiter immediately brings over a bowl of fried dough pieces and sweet and sour dipping sauce.  It is like the Chinese version of chips and salsa.  The sweet and sour was so delicious, I could practically drink the stuff, and the dough chips were the perfect level of crispy.  Somehow, it all disappeared very quickly…

Fried dough and sweet and sour sauce appetizer

The next endless part of the experience is the hot tea.  Every lunch special (and dinner too) includes bottomless pots of hot tea.  I love that, because tea is the best.  I’m pretty sure I had at minimum nine cups.  Good thing the cups are so small!  We also had soup included in our lunch orders, I chose won ton while my friend ordered the egg drop.  The soup was so tasty I wolfed it right down, and didn’t even get to take a picture… oops.  Sorry, not sorry.

Wang chinese restaurant hot tea

With menu items ranging from $1.50 to nearly $28 for the Peking Duck, there is something for everyone’s budget.  Their lunch specials are quite reasonable at $6.50 or $6.95, and includes all you can drink hot tea, soup (won ton or egg drop), egg roll, and entree.  Lunch is daily from 11:30 – 3:00.

I ordered the shrimp and broccoli, and funny story, my friend ordered the same thing.  She got veggie fried rice, while I stuck with the included pork fried rice, and you can also choose steamed white rice.  When the food came out, it smelled absolutely wonderful, and was a very generous portion size.  You can see the plate was pretty much overflowing.

Shrimp and Broccoli with Pork Fried Rice

The brown sauce was perfect, lightly coating the shrimp and veg but not overpowering.  There was a ton of flavor, but I didn’t feel as if I had licked a salt shaker while eating it, which is a good sign.  The rice was springy and flavorful as well.  The broccoli was steamed just right, soft enough but still with a slight crunch.  And the shrimp were gigantic, with 5-6 big pieces per plate.

The owner came over to say hello while we were there and asked how our meals were.  We of course said ‘absolutely wonderful’!  My friend introduced me as a new frequent customer, and I have to say, she was right.  With a distinctly mom-and-pop feel, attention to detail and attentive staff, very generous portions for a reasonable price, and amazing food that actually tastes like food and not something frozen and microwaved or doused in chemicals, I will definitely be returning here often!  I’m glad to have finally given this hidden gem a try, and so should you.

Overall, I’d rate Wang’s Chinese Restaurant:

  • Taste: 9
  • Atmosphere: 8
  • Value: 9

 

You can read other reviews here:

 

Review: Three Sheets

 

Tucked away on Elm Street in New Haven is a tiny unassuming “friendly neighborhood gastropub” called Three Sheets.

It has gone through many changes over the years, under different names and different locations, but today it is a cozy, welcoming dive bar with a creative atmosphere. I had happened upon it during  a ‘brunch and board games’ meeting. Always a fan of good food and new friends, I welcomed the opportunity to try some local flavor.

IMG_9388Open Monday to Thursday, 3 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Friday, 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.

With typical dive-bar murkiness, this place was at once sketchy and friendly. Tattooed and pierced bartenders and servers abounded, and there were handfuls of clear regulars grouped around the bar and at tables, despite it being 1pm on a Saturday.

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The menu behind the bar immediately intrigued me. With plenty of good old bar-eat standbys like burgers and wings, they also have a ton of creative and unique choices, such as “Stuffies”, fried pickles, “Koolickles”, and a Banh Mi. They also offer oodles of tasty sounding sauces and toppings for anything your heart desires, like smoked catsup, remoulade, yellow BBQ, or kimchi. Plus rotating chef’s and drinks specials.

This is my kind of place.

Their Facebook page has periodic updates about what bands are playing (always NO cover and 21+) and what the daily house specials are. They say: “the following items which are all made IN HOUSE. Smoked clams, chicken pastrami, ham, bacon and pulled pork. Our jalapeno poppers are slow roasted and hand stuffed. We pickle our own vegetables and eggs. Our beef, breads, and clams are locally sourced… Oh, did I mention hand rolled sushi?”

Yes please.

I had to start the night (afternoon?) with a local craft beer. The bartender suggested Two Roads Hefeweizen, made right here in Stratford CT.

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The No Limits Hefeweizen was a nice, fruity wheat beer, perfectly refreshing for a hot summer day. I enjoyed the can, and the fact that they gave me a chilled glass to go along with it. I had tasted the Two Roads “Road Jam” previously as well, and it is even more powerfully berry flavored.

However, the “Lil Heaven IPA” is the opposite of my taste preferences, and I ended up tossing out half a six-pack because I just couldn’t drink it. Those who like extremely bitter beers would totally love this type. All the same, this brand is a great New England brewery, and I will keep trying their beers as long as I’m here.

The front area is the bar, right next to a cozy room containing several tables & chairs, and a tiny elevated stage area. I have not attended any free concerts here yet, but it is now on my New Haven to-do list. We played several games with a group of about 20, with multiple games on-going simultaneously.

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Through the hallway, you are led to a back room with more seating, a food-order area leading to the kitchen, pool tables, and a large chalkboard wall. There is plenty of chalk provided to indulge your creative side. I believe there is a back door, but we did not investigate if there was a porch area or not.

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It has that ‘dirty’ in a ‘gritty dive-bar’ way, but was well-kept. From what I could see through the kitchen window, everything was in fact being freshly prepared in house. Speaking of food…

While there were many tempting items on the menu, the Beet Reuben in particular called to me. Roasted beet slices on whole grain rye bread (which I believe is from another CT local, the tasty bread experts WholeG Bakery), with kimchi, thousand island dressing & Swiss cheese. I’m not a huge fan of swiss or 1000 island, but they are requisite for a proper reuben. And I adore kimchi.

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BEET REUBEN                                                                      $10

roasted beets sliced and served on whole g rye bread with kimchi, thousand island, and swiss.

The bartender took my order and told me ‘ok it will be out in a few minutes’. I don’t know if they are all just that good, or I got lucky & it was a slow day. But I sat down, played some games, and as I was halfway through enjoying my hefeweizen another waitress magically appeared and handed me a steaming plate.

The bread was perfectly crispy, everything was exactly the right temperature. The spicy kimchi mixed with the creamy tang of the thousand island, the sliced beets were soft and sweet like candy, and the whole thing made me look at Ruebens in a whole new light. I don’t think the usual roast beef & coleslaw combo will have quite the same magic anymore.

The fries were also the right amount of salty, and were so good that even though my fiance hadn’t wanted to order any food, after he tried one, he ended up eating almost the whole order! If I’d been more hungry, or not completely enthralled with my sandwich, I would have gotten a second order. As it was, this sandwich was more than enough to satisfy, and I had to stuff down the last bite. It was totally worth it.

All in all, this is a cute little gem that during the day is tame enough to bring the kids, but has it’s rough side too. The food prices vary in affordability, but are reasonable given the taste standard and the portion sizes. With entertainment, public events all the time, great drink specials and killer food, this is a gastropub I’d be happy to re-visit again and again.

  • Taste: 8.5
  • Atmosphere: 7
  • Value: 7

Resources & Further Reading:

New Haven Register Review
Three Sheets Website
Their Facebook Page

Address: 372 Elm St, New Haven, CT 06511

Review: Sushi Palace

 

Seeing as this blog is the “Budget Epicurean” and part of that name entails being curious about new foods, I felt that it was time for a new food place review. If you will recall from my Austin, Texas review series, I rate places based on taste, atmosphere, and overall value. All honest opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean, and no goods, services, or payments were offered for this review.

  • 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)

There are several places I’ve been in the past few months and simply haven’t written up yet. This one is a definite stand-out, and somewhere I hope to go again soon. Perhaps this article will get me convinced to make reservations! And maybe I’ll see you there.

It’s no secret that I love me some good sushi. All-you-can-eat sushi buffets are one of my favorite places in the world. Sushi snobs may turn up their noses, doubters may worry about the fishy smell or taste, and environmentalists may debate the Earth-friendliness of over-fishing. But there is nothing better than stuffing yourself to discomfort with tray upon tray of rolls and nigiri.

Upon moving away from Denver CO and my precious Sushi Katsu, at which I’ve probably spent several hundreds of dollars over four years (best damn all you can eat deal in the area, fo sho), I needed to find a similar addiction in my newly adopted New England. It is not uncommon for my fiance and I to begin with at minimum 50 individual pieces. This is a tough order, as it also needs to be both delicious, and affordable.

Asking around yielded a place with locations in both North Haven & Hamden called Sushi Palace.

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Luckily for me, a friend was visiting from out of town who has a similar addiction to salty fish and rice, so we set off on our eat-till-it-hurts adventure.

We “began” our meal with three people, thus about 60 pieces between us. Several sashimi were ordered, along with a few rolls, the Rainbow roll, Dragon roll, Philadelphia roll & California roll among them.

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The individual sashimi slices were uniformly perfectly thick and even, with each fish’ unique flavor and texture shining through. My favorites in order: salmon, tuna, white tuna, yellowtail, red snapper. I’m normally not a huge fan of raw fish alone, I prefer some rice along with it, but this was all in all a great experience.

The only exceptions would be the  egg custard (tamago) and red clam (hokkigai). The egg custard was sort of tofu-textured with a hint of eggy and sweet, and the clam was a tough chewy texture, neither of which I totally enjoyed. However, you may have different taste and texture preferences, and find cold shoe leather enjoyable.

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Their menu is quite exhaustive, and the prices are reasonable. I wish to goodness I worked closer to either location, so I could waste one day a week’s pay on buying sushi for lunch daily.

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This is the dinner rush on a typical Thursday. Luckily we got to the place just around 5:30 and snagged one of 5-6 empty tables. Approximately 6pm, cue huge crowd and an out-the-door line. You have been warned.

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Round two of our main course consisted of “sushi”, of which the majority was salmon because that was our unanimous favorite. First big difference I noticed between Colorado and Connecticut: “sushi” in CO meant a roll, here it means “piece of raw fish with room temperature rice”. The CT definition of “sushi” is “nigiri” where I am used to.

No matter, we were ready to mow down a few more rolls and pieces. Of the three of us, we each had about enough room for about 10 more pieces. I can’t recall the name of one of the tempura-fried warm roll, but the hot mayo on top is super delicious! Several of their rolls have this as an option. If you are unsure, you could ask to taste it before ordering a roll drenched in the stuff.

We also got just a taste of the eel, or unagi. Eel is a delicious, flaky fish with a meaty, salty flavor, and is served with this amazing eel sauce that is slightly sweet and warm. This stuff is the bomb dot com yo! Give it a try, you might like it.

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And finally to round out the meal, we each finished off with a small bowl of ice cream. The flavors? Green tea and red bean. Oh yes. Too weird to not try. And it turned out that the bean ice cream has actual chunks of red beans in it, and the green tea is sweeter than I imagined it would be. I did not hate either taste experience, and might actually order a pint of the green tea on purpose.

In summary, an experience and spread well worth $30 for dinner. They have a huge regular menu, and a completely separate menu for the all you can eat option which is equally expansive. With options such as udon noodles, fried rice, beef teriyaki, and edamame, everyone is sure to find something they like. Overall rating:

  • Taste: 7
  • Atmosphere: 6
  • Value: 7.5

http://www.sushipalace.us/menu/menu.htm

Review: Asian Farmers Market

 

One of my big priorities when visiting or moving to a new place is finding the good grocery stores. I know, lots of people think I’m crazy but I LOVE grocery shopping! It’s so fun walking up and down the aisles looking at different foods and imagining what I could create with it.  I especially love any type of ethnic foods, foods I’ve not tried yet, strange spices and sauces, and fresh produce.

All this and more is what I found by accident one fine spring day in New Haven.

The original intent was to go to ALDI’s for a stock-up on basics. Those who know me know my love affair with ALDI runs deep. I wouldn’t have eaten nearly as well throughout college without their no-frills rock-bottom food prices. If you’ve never been or don’t have one in your area (like Colorado…) I am very sorry. You could always do what I did and move across the country to be near one.

Anyways, I arrived half an hour earlier than they opened. Silly me, thinking they have normal hours on a weekend. So rather than wait in the parking lot, I decided to explore further up the street since I had not driven east yet.

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To my surprise and intrigue a few blocks down was a large red sign proclaiming “Asian Farmers Market”. We all know I adore a good farmer’s market, so I just had to stop in and check it out.

I was immediately rewarded with a double shelf of fresh vegetables, roots, herbs, and fruits as I walked in the door. There were your typical bananas and oranges, but also dragonfruit and huge daikon radishes. Fresh bunches of Thai basil, lemongrass, and mint lined the shelves.

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Huge stacks of 15, 25, and 50 pound bags of Thai, jasmine, brown, and white rice lined the opposite wall. Baked goods of all types covered the table just inside the door, tempting you the minute you step inside.

As I wandered slowly, drooling over everything, a kind asian man approached and asked if I needed any help finding something. I explained that I just wanted to look around, and we ended up chatting about how I’d just moved from Colorado, and he said he has always wanted to move to Colorado. Funny how that happens. He gave me some advice on the area, and it turned out he was the owner of the store!

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The owner told me many of the items actually come from NYC China Town. Food goods are flown in from Asia, and once a week or so he drives down to pick up a big shipment. Isn’t it great that us smaller town folks can enjoy the big-city luxuries by living so close? I’m glad he will drive into the city so I don’t have to!

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As I wandered the aisles I found tons of great bargains. I snatched up a pack of fresh spring snow peas for $1.50, a hefty chunk of ginger root for stir fry and tea, as well as a bag of sprouts. I grabbed a pound of mung beans, so I can sprout my own at home over the next few months. Some rice noodles, chicken bouillon, fish sauce, and of course Sriracha made it into my cart.

I ended up nabbing the last bottle of Sriracha, just as another customer rounded the corner. I don’t know if they wanted the Sriracha or not, but I hugged my bottle and ran away. I very nearly grabbed a small green jar of the garlic sriracha too, but figured I can always come back. They even had a two gallon jug of Sriracha! I’m sure someone somewhere uses that quantity, but my taste buds cry at the very thought.

All in all, it was a very successful accidental shopping trip, and I am looking forward to many more great curries and stir fry meals now. This will become a regular spot on my weekly/monthly grocery route. For anyone looking for some exotic cooking ingredients or ideas, I would highly recommend checking it out. Located at 913 Foxon Road in New Haven, CT 06513, the Asian Farmers Market is a family-owned, friendly spot.

 

 

Restaurant Review: Little Owl Coffee

 

In an unobtrusive section of Blake Street in downtown Denver, Colorado, lives a minimalist coffee-drinker paradise. This little gem is easy to walk right by, but once you’ve been inside you will crave its unique, laid-back yet hip vibe, and expertly crafted java jolts with an artistic flair.

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Little Owl Coffee, at 1555 Blake St. in the heart of LoDo (lower downtown), was established in spring of 2013. The interior is clean, natural, and decorated with mainly itty-bitty plants. Live branches, clusters of seasonal gourds, tiny air plants in teeny glass bulbs, and other plant life in bud vases adorn the standing bar and wood tables.

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The place is cozy, small but not too small to work on a laptop or enjoy a teacup of espresso with a friend. Their patio area is boxed in with small hedges, and each table top has its own petite glass jar and miniscule spoon for doling out natural brown sugar in case the espresso is too bitter for your tastes.

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You can watch the downtown foot and vehicle traffic rush by as you sit and sip your hand crafted beverage, including tasty teas, espresso, and a variety of espresso-milk combinations. They also boast fresh hand-made almond milk daily, and plenty of fresh, hand-made pastries and cakes.

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Oh, and of course the baristas are trained in the very adorable art of coffee-pictures. Makes me smile every time.

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If you find yourself in the area, I’d recommend stopping by. My personal favorite is the mocha latte, but there is plenty to choose from. With a variety of local and chain organic, healthy, and/or vegan snack options, hand-made almond milk and pastries, a friendly and talented staff, and a can’t-find-anywhere-else atmosphere, Little Owl is a must-see in downtown Denver.

Final round of Walmart Grocery To Go

 

For my third and final test of Walmart Grocery To Go service, I decided I would go with ways to preserve meals and plan ahead. Because everyone is busy and convenience is king in today’s over-stimulated and demanding world, being able to plan ahead and cook meals in advance can save you on a hectic week night.

In preparation, I ordered several different sizes of Zip-Lock baggies, quarts, gallons, sandwich size, and snack bags.I got zip-and-steam bags, which you can put fresh veggies into, seal, then steam them in the microwave, and Crock Pot liners, for easier clean up. I ordered a few foil roaster pans with lids, for lasagna and casseroles to freeze.

I got many items which can be stored long-term and used in a variety of dishes, including black beans, pinto beans, Jasmine rice, chickpeas, split peas, black-eyed peas, barley, quinoa, and lentils. These will become soups, stews, curries, and chili. Dried fruits such as dates and apricots and raisins, and cashews and mixed nuts for trail mixes and granola bars.

I also ordered a few games, SkipBo and Phase 10, because it is always nice to have cards on handy when bored during a cold winter night or when friends come to call.

This order came around noon on Valentine’s Day, which I was spending alone. Because the S.O. had already moved to Connecticut to start a new job! Super exciting I know. More on that later.

The delivery guys were very sweet, and made sure to ask if I was okay with a substitution they had to make. If something you ordered is out of stock, they notify you by email, and then you have to verbally agree to it before you can accept the order. You have the option to send it all back and wait until what you wanted is in stock again, which is nice if you had your heart set on something.

So, one weekend or weeknight, when you have a few hours to cook, pick 2 or 3 recipes which store frozen well. Take stock of your refrigerator and cabinets for ideas. Almost all vegetables lend themselves well to soups and stews. Rice or potatoes are easily made into many dishes.

Be flexible; if you don’t have ground beef but have leftover chicken breast, you can still make a mean white bean chicken chili. And don’t be afraid to experiment!

Ideas include:

Now that you’ve chosen your recipes, gather all your ingredients. Spend some time chopping and peeling, feeling the texture of the vegetables, the lovely colors, the smells and tastes. Cooking is the best way to get back in touch with what we eat, and thus are putting into our bodies.

Once you have two or three pots happily simmering, you can entertain yourself elsewhere. Taste as you go, remembering that you will need to re-season when you reheat the dishes, as flavors may dull over time.

Now you can portion out your home-cooked goodies into individual or family-sized portions. Soups and stews can be spooned into freezer bags and laid flat to freeze. Lasagnas and casseroles can be assembled and baked in the roaster pans and then frozen to be thawed and re-heated in the oven later.

Now that is convenience food I can get behind!

Restaurant Review: Pho Lee

 

Until I moved to Colorado, I didn’t know what “pho” (pronounced “f-ooo” or “ph-uh”) was. The closest thing I’d ever had was ramen noodles out of a bag with that obviously fake chicken flavor but deliciously salty spice packet.

Well, pho is definitely not just ramen noodles. It is so much more. Typically a rich, flavorful broth made by simmering all manners of vegetables and meats for hours, filled with noodles, veggies, and paper-thin slices of beef. Then topped with crunchy sprouts, Thai basil, and jalapeno slices. Pho is a whole taste experience.

You can of course have non-soup dishes as well, including rice bowls and noodle bowls. Depends on the place you go, but you should definitely try authentic pho soup at least once. Be sure to ask to see the size of the bowl before you order for the first time. Even a “small” can be a staggeringly huge amount of food.

By far my favorite find for pho in the Denver area has been Pho Lee.  A small, unassuming store in a tucked-away plaza off of Arapahoe Road just off I-25, you wouldn’t know it to look at it but this cozy diner is ragingly popular with the locals. And for good reason.

I’ve had both a noodle bowl and the pho soup, and both have been crazy tasty. For a very affordable price ($8-$12) you can have a gigantic bowl of top-notch Asian cuisine, likely with enough left over for dinner or to store in the work fridge until tomorrow. If it even lasts that long.

I went with several people from work, and we waited about 5 minutes for a table. Be sure to get there well before the noon rush crowd, or you will definitely be there longer than an hour. Like I said, this place is popular.

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My co-worker got a rice bowl with sweet and sour shrimp, and said it was delightful. The sauce was flavorful and tasty, not too thick and not too watery. The veggies were steamed to perfection.

I chose the brisket noodle bowl, and boy am I glad I did! This monster of a meal had heaps of fresh hot meat, sliced more thinly than my pinky nail and covered in a slightly sweet almost BBQ like marinade. The hot rice noodles went perfectly with the brown sauce, and the cold diced cucumber and shaved carrots were a great combination and contrast. Topped with scallions and crushed peanuts, and with a cup of kimchi poured on top, it was absolute bliss.

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I had more than enough to satiate me, and more than half I took home in a box for dinner. Not bad for $9. I went back a few weeks later with another work friend, and had the pho soup bowl. This time we had a 10 minute wait for a table, and ended up sharing a 4-top with one stranger. But at Pho Lee, everyone is family.

The bowl was bigger than my head and filled to the top with hot, complex, spicy broth, heaps of ribbons of meat, fresh vegetables, and rice noodles. The plate they bring as toppings was piled with handfuls of fresh Thai basil, other greens, jalapenos, and bean sprouts. Several types of hot sauces and spices are also provided, so you can customize your heat content to taste.

Overall, Pho Lee provides some amazing food for a very affordable price, especially in the I-25/Arapahoe area. The service was great too, the owner himself came to give us a quick apology for the delay in getting a table, and to thank us for being willing to share a table when they are clearly busy. Everyone was pleasant, and seemed very happy to be working there. I would highly recommend this place, for lunch or dinner, any time.

 

Pho lee

6860 South Clinton Street
Greenwood Village, CO 80112

Recipe Review: Chia Fresca from Oh She Glows

 

As I research and educate myself about food and nutrition, I believe more deeply that plant-based foods have such phenomenal health-promoting powers, and want to incorporate more of them into my own life and cooking. I am constantly on the hunt for more ideas, tips, advice, recipes, and knowledge.

I have recently become aware of this fabulous vegan/veg-centered blog from Angela at Oh She Glows. Her story is inspiring, and her recipes even more so! With so much abundance of plant-based, fabulous foods, I will never again be without dinner ideas! Check it out yourself and you’ll see what I mean. My new foodie heroine.

So in browsing her many recipes, I came across this odd bird: The Chia Fresca. A popular drink in South America for centuries, it consists of water (or coconut water), chia seeds, lemon or lime juice, and usually sweetener.

For those who do not know, when chia seeds are soaked in water they produce a gel-like coating, much like tomato seeds. Chia seeds are so intensely hydrophilic (hydro = “water” philic = “loving”) that they can absorb up to NINE times the weight of the seed in liquid. That is just plain crazy awesome!

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Chia seeds also have two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, which will help keep your whole digestive tract healthy. Their gel takes a long time for the digestive system to extract the water from, so it hydrates your whole system along the way. For more fun facts check out MySeeds.

Chia seeds are also a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, so if you are vegetarian or vegan and cannot eat fish, this is a great option. Chia seeds are easily incorporated into any beverage, and can be used in cooking as well as a substitute for eggs or pectin in jellies and jams. That may be my next project.

Anywho, back on track.

The Oh She Glows chia fresca recipe called for 1 1/2 tbsp chia in 2 cups water, plus 1/2 a lemon or lime and sweetener to taste.

I tried exactly that, without the sweetener.

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No sweetener partially because I didn’t want to add sugar, and also because I like lemony water so I figured it is just that with a little chewy bonus.

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The chia seeds take 10 minutes or so to become fully gel-like. At first they sit on top of the water like a little film. Just keep stirring and be patient.

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I thought this was a little bit too much chia for me, and it clumped together a bit. So I experimented a little (of course). There are tons of other recipes and ideas of what you could add to the water. Cucumber was pretty tasty, and would have been even better if I had fresh mint leaves.

But I think my favorite was when I added lime juice and a little orange juice, and a smaller amount of seeds. The amended recipe is below.

Give chia a try, it is probably a love-or-hate kind of thing.

As the SO said when he saw it: “Are those bees?!”

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To his credit, he did try it. And he said he actually likes the bees. Success.

And then he went to “drink some bacon grease”. Life is all about the little victories ya know?

 

Orange-Lime Chia Fresca

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 2 cups

1 glass-full

Ingredients

  • 1/4 lime, juiced
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • Optional: 1/2" piece of ginger

Instructions

  1. Mix the chia seeds into the water. They will take 10+ minutes to completely gel.
  2. Add the lime juice and orange juice. Stir to mix.
  3. If using the ginger, chop it roughly and add to boiling water, mix well and let sit 30+ minutes. Strain and continue with ginger-water as above.

Notes

You can sub in any fruit juice here basically. Get creative and see what you like.

Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
http://www.budgetepicurean.com/beverage/chia-fresca/

 

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