Budget Epicurean

Budget Epicurean: August 2013

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fancy ramen: steak & spinach soup

This is one of my favorite ways to fancy up ramen noodles. After freshman year of college, I thought I'd left the days of ramen behind forever. Not true. Some months in grad school I feel even poorer than I did back in my dorm days, and sometimes I just crave the chemically created fake chicken taste & smell. Sure, I may be weird but don't lie and say you never have had a ramen craving!

Anyways, since I now like to pretend I'm all grown up and 'adult' and all that, I feel the need to spruce up old college standbys. I can't just be eating out of a cup-o-noodles anymore, after all. Besides the social expectations, I also have grown into great knowledge and concern for my health. As I am still on the young side of life, I'd like to take care of myself now to prevent problems later down the timeline as long as possible. So I sneak extra protein and veggies into everything I can. With that, here is the healthiest version of ramen I could come up with. If you have other ideas or something even better, feel free to comment and share!

1 package ramen noodles
1 cup fresh spinach
1/2 cup meat of choice (I had some leftover steak from burritos)
1 egg
1 cup water

All you do is microwave the ramen & water for 3 minutes. Add the spinach, meat and crack the egg (yes, right into the bowl) and microwave another 3-5 minutes. Stir well and enjoy! The spinach will be slightly wilted and the egg cooks fully so no worries. If you're vegetarian don't add meat, put in some beans or tofu instead. Any other veggies or spices of your choice can also be added. This is an extremely easy, fast, cheap and portable lunch.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Salmon Latkes

When you have a mission to eat only (or at least mostly) food you already have for a month, it is certain that you will come up with some... interesting... combinations. That is exactly what I've decided to do, due to moving situations, I have 2 boxes of canned/boxed food and handfuls of frozen meat that I am determined to get through. Since pork chops and rice can only be tolerated so many days a week, I decided to get creative with tonight's dinner. I had some frozen fish fillets and most of a 5 pound bag of potatoes, so I said, self, salmon patties are delightful, and latkes are good. What happens when I put a fish inside a baked potato patty? Turns out, something quite delicious happens.

2 small potatoes
1 large salmon filet (8-10 oz)
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups spinach
2 tbsp sour cream (optional)
2 slices old bread, torn up
2 inch square chunk feta (you can use whatever cheese you like, or none at all)
Garlic salt

Step 1: Wash the potatoes, poke holes all over with a fork. Microwave 6-8 minutes, until slightly soft. Then dice and boil another 8-10 minutes until mashably soft. (That's a word now.)
 Step 2: Microwave the salmon 2 minutes per side and cut into small pieces.
 Step 3: Mash the potatoes in a large bowl. Add the salmon pieces.
 Step 4: Put all remaining ingredients into a bowl and mash together well. I just dug right in with my hands.
 Step 5: Get about 1/4 cup oil hot in a frying pan over medium heat. Form palm-sized patties with the salmon-potato mixture. Place into the oil and enjoy the sizzle. Cook about 5-7 minutes per side, until nicely browned and cooked through.
 These were delicious, it really is like a mashed potato with a slightly fishy flavor. You can add whatever other spices you like, take out the spinach, add other veggies if you want. If you want it vegetarian, just take out the cheese, sour cream and egg, and use some of the potato cooking water to hold it all together. I guess technically the salmon makes it pescatarian. Maybe lacto-ovo if you leave the egg and sour cream. You can also use bread crumbs, cooked old rice, or oats as a binding agent if you don't want bread or the potatoes.
I topped these with salsa, sour cream, and sriracha and served over a bed of mixed baby greens. Yum!

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Crock pot: pork chops & veggie rice casserole

I openly praise slow cookers all the time for their many qualities. Here is yet another perfect example of a recipe that took me a matter of minutes to prep, then the machine did all the work for me throughout the day so that I came home to a lovely smelling house and a hot meal.

2 large pork chops (or a small roast)
1 chicken bouillon cube
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 cups water
1 cup milk
1 cup rice
1 cup frozen or fresh chopped veggies of your choice
2 tbsp garlic powder

I also made asparagus on the side. Just put 1 tbsp oil, 2tbsp lemon juice & some sea salt in a pan, and heat over medium until the asparagus starts to blacken and is soft yet firm.

 Step 1: As you can see, I like just taking out pre-frozen meat to use in the crock pot. I took out 2 pork chops I'd bought and frozen weeks earlier. Put the bouillon, corn starch and spices in the crock pot. Add the water and mix well.
 Step 2: Add the rice and veggies and mix into the watery spice mix. Place pork chops on top and cover. Cook on high 4 hours or low 6-8. Give it a good stir once if you can midday.
 The pork chops got so tender the meat literally just fell off the bone. So the small chunks of pork just got mixed into the rice for a casserole.
Since you know what ingredients you put in and can control what/how much vegetables go into this casserole, it is quite healthy. You could make it vegetarian or vegan easily too. Use tofu, add beans, etc. I might try brown rice next time too. Maybe throw in some tomato sauce too. Go crazy.

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Slow cooker chili con carne with beans

I love my Slow Cooker. Not that I've ever tried to keep that a secret, I just wanted to put it out there. Slow cookers are amazing for so many reasons: it's super easy, takes little to no time/work on your part, and makes meals so much cheaper. You just prep, throw all the ingredients in, then go do whatever you want. You can buy cheap ingredients in bulk and turn them into a zillion different types of meals. If ever I meet the inventor of the Crock Pot I will hug them.

I know, some of you are thinking, but wait it's August in Colorado, why are you making winter food? While it is true the Rocky Mountain blizzards haven't yet begun (and thank god for that! stay away as long as possible please...) it has been rainy/overcast here. Weird, right? Isn't Colorado basically a really high-up desert? That's what I was told. Someone lied to me, because we've had some serious torrential downpours recently. It's far too late to save my porch plants, but at least maybe they'll lift the fire ban and allow fireworks again soon...

Anyhow, so I was craving some chili. After an in-depth discussion with my boyfriend, who is from Texas, arguing the general attitudes of some people towards the many different types of chili (with beans, never beans, meat types, heat level, sweetness, over noodles, etc) I decided on a thicker, meatier kind of chili with minimal fuss, not sweet and with beans.

1 pound ground beef (as you can see, I popped mine right in there from the freezer)
1 can pinto beans
1/2 onion, diced small
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 small can V8 or tomato sauce
Garlic salt
Chili powder

 Step 1: Put meat in crock pot, add all canned ingredients. Dice up the onion, add that and spices to taste. I don't measure, as a general rule. I like garlic salt, so that's probably about 3 tbsp worth, coriander comes out slow so maybe 1-2 tbsp, chili powder is kinda key so I'd say I used maybe 1/4 cup worth.
 Step 2: Put that sucker on low overnight. In the morning, break up the meat chunk into smaller bite size pieces. Leave on low all day too. You can taste it to see if it needs more spice of any kind, and add extra liquid (tomato sauce/juice is best) if it needs it.
 Coming home from work to the knock-your-socks-off smell of chili just can't be beat on a cold, rainy day!
I made some corn bread muffins to go with it, (I totally cheated and used a 50 cent Jiffy mix, no judgment) as well as serving it with shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream. It was amaaaaaaaaazing. And makes plenty for several servings and leftovers too.

Leftover chili is great on its own, or over hot dogs as chili cheese dogs, over cooked pasta, or on a baked potato with extra cheese, sour cream and or avocado. I've even seen it as pizza! (Which I will need to try making someday soon).


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Homemade granola bars + Make your own vanilla extract

As a simple on-the-go breakfast, post-workout snack, or get-you-through-the-afternoon munchie, I love granola bars! Endlessly varied in terms of type of nuts, berries, chocolate, flavors in them, they are always in my pantry in multitudes. Usually I buy whatever is on sale, say $1-2 for a box. I have a rotation and favorites, but am not brand loyal by any means. But even at $1 for a box of 6, it can get expensive. So I figured, I already have lots of diferent types of nuts and dried fruits, and oats. It can't be hard to make my own.

After googling a bit, I found this recipe for home made granola bars, which is close to what I had on hand. But I didn't want the chocolate part (shocking, I know!) because I'd be storing them in my book bag and gym bag and don't want to deal with melty chocolate all over my workout shoes or laptop. So as usual, I took the framework of the recipe and made it my own with what was on hand and the pan size I was working with. The results were splendid!

3 cups oats
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup craisins (dried cranberries)
1/4 cup smashed pistachios (I shelled them, put them in a ziplock baggie and smashed them up with a spoon. For reals.)
1/2 cup smashed up candied peanut halves (also ziplock pulverized)
1/4 cup chia seeds (bought a few months ago and had no idea what to do with them... perfect.)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Step 1: Mash up the nuts, then mix together oats, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and olive oil. Stir to coat well, then bake in a flat oven safe pan at 350 for about 10 minutes, to make everything brown and toasty.

Step 2: In a pan over medium heat, stir together butter, brown sugar, honey and vanilla. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Pour over the granola mixture, and stir well to coat everything. Bake at 300 for 25-30 minutes, until warm and brown. Remove from the oven and let cool or stick in the refrigerator for a little while. Cut into bars the size you like.
I used a 9x13 pan, and as such I got 16 bars. They are very soft, so I put them in the fridge for about an hour before I cut them up.
I individually wrapped each bar in a plastic baggie, and am storing them in my pantry. They are delicious! The honey makes it so sweet, I don't think you'd need chocolate anyway. Probably could even have done without the extra brown sugar.
I love these because I can use whatever dried fruits or nuts/seeds I have available. The next batch will include dried apricots and plums. You better believe sometime into the fall I will be making some bars with pumpkin seeds in them! I think I'm going to try experimenting with peanut butter in the honey instead of just butter too.These are vegetarian, and could easily be made vegan as well. If you go easy on the oil/honey they are quite healthy and filling. And very inexpensive! Buy whatever fruits/nuts/seeds you like on sale, oats are cheap in bulk. This batch probably cost me $1 total?

Speaking of  inexpensive baking, did you know you can make your own vanilla extract from just vanilla beans and vodka? Seriously, that's it.

A bottle of vodka on sale was about $7, the beans were a bit pricey at $4 for 2. But that's $11 for about a gallon of vanilla that I can use pretty much forever. If I invested a bit more I could even jar it myself and give it as gifts or sell some. When you get low you just add more vodka and maybe after a year another bean or something. Jackpot.

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Monday, August 5, 2013

Peanut butter, banana and Nutella sandwich

This was a spur of the moment creation while packing for a hiking trip. We were attempting a 14-er (peak higher than 14,000 feet) and it would be a 5-7 hour climb round trip. When I do long hikes I like more than just a few granola bars and trail mix. So I made a peanut butter sandwich, then noticed a banana on the counter about to go bad. Sliced that guy up and added it on top of the Jif. Then I remembered I had bought Nutella a few weeks before and it was in the refrigerator still, so that was the finishing touch on this butter, peanutty, fruity delight.


It was gooey, filling and delicious. Even after being smashed in a backpack with 2 water bottles for 3 hours. Might I suggest honey if you don't have Nutella, or a semi-melted chocolate bar. Maybe try some marshmallow fluff instead of the peanut butter if you're allergic. I bet peaches or pears would work well too, sliced thinly. I might need to go try all these combos now...

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Lazy won-ton soup

Sometimes you just get a craving for something specific, you know? Not like a vague "I'm hungry", no it's an "I want a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich on pumpernickel bread" kinda craving. Right now. That's how I felt about won ton soup the other day. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts for nearly a full year, I have not yet found a satisfactory Chinese restaurant. Don't get me wrong, I've found some great noodle places, sushi and Thai. But I miss the giant buffet-style vats of soup and all you can eat MSG-laden delights from Ohio. Anyhow, I had a bag of frozen pork dumplings I'd bought a few weeks back, plus some fresh produce from the world's best Farmer's Market (chain), Sprouts. Apologies if you don't have this cheap fresh veggie heaven near you. That and some chicken bouillon I always have on hand for soups or a late night snack, and I had dinner for days and happily satisfied taste buds.

1/2 bag frozen pork dumplings
1 bunch fresh spinach, chopped or 1 package frozen
1 small head cabbage, roughly shredded
1 bunch green onions, diced small
3-4 bouillon cubes + 8 cups water or 8 cups chicken broth
Garlic salt to taste

 Step 1: Chop up all your veggies. Add the bouillon to the water and bring to a boil. Add the veggies & dumplings.
 Step 2: Boil for ~1 hour, or long enough to cook the dumplings and soften the greens. Not recommended to boil longer than about 2 hours, to risk the dumplings falling apart.
The flavors blend so nicely, and 1/2 bag made enough soup to last me about 4 days, at two bowls a day! I love soups so much, and this Lazy Won Ton Soup was just perfect.

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