Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Living Richly, Simply

Last night I spoke with Julie. She'd seen yesterday's post and wanted to clarify that it's not her Energy Treats recipe but her personal trainer's.

Julie hasn't made her favorite snack this week-- apparently Lisa ate Julie's number 1 ingredient: the chocolate chips.

I wondered if Lisa was getting back at Julie for eating her sliced, honey-baked turkey, or if Lisa had had a genuine, uncontrollable attack of the munchies?!

Either way, this has been an interesting week: first grocery shopping with the 30-something roommates, and now hearing their stories about how they've been struggling to manage their food purchases effectively.

Not that this is any reflection on what has been going on between Lisa and Julie and the issues around sharing an apartment and their groceries, but I believe Julie is going to find her own apartment this summer.

She has started to collect a few household items in preparation for setting up her own place, and at the same time, she shared with me that she wants to live simply, i.e. uncluttered, and in a smaller, less expensive space than she's been used to.

I'm going to direct her and anyone who is interested to a terrific article I read, How to Live Richly on a Budget.

I love the title of that article. I think the definition of what it means to be rich has been distorted such that we wrongly identify living richly with accumulating and consuming stuff.

As people increasingly have less to spend on stuff, there's greater opportunity to realize a simple uncluttered life is paradoxically richer by virtue of it being spacious and thus potentially more spiritually fulfilling.

Speaking of living richly on a budget, the roommates purchased a lot of food on their grocery budget, and in keeping with the format of this blog, I'm proposing another meal idea using ingredients from their list ...

Chicken in Tomato and Lime

1) Heat an oil-lined pan and toss in chicken pieces, brown slightly.
2) Slice a lime, and a couple of tomatoes, toss over chicken.
3) Add pan lid and turn heat to low.
4) At around the 15 min. mark, remove the lime pieces. If you have any lemonade, or a fruity, oaky white wine (if not use water), moisten the bottom of the pan with your choice of liquid. Cook another 15 mins or so.
Note: The lime infuses the chicken with sourness that sweet tomatoes, lemonade or fruity white wine compliment by offsetting the sourness.

To Serve: Spoon chicken, tomatoes and juice over cooked pasta moistened with olive oil, or plain boiled rice. A simple side salad of lettuce mixed with arugula tossed in olive oil, crushed garlic and a little vinegar would make a great side with this chicken dish.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Chocolate, Coconut Energy Treats

I rarely post sweet treats on my blog. I focus instead on whole, healthy, simple gourmet-meals that can be prepared with groceries bought on a budget at Whole Foods, or any grocer, for that matter.

However, this past week I've been featuring two single girls, Julie and Lisa, who are roommates, and whose shopping and eating habits are very Bridget Jones-esque -- in other words they do quite a bit of impulse purchasing and eating.

Sweets are often the kind of treat we reach for on impulse, particularly when we feel in need of comfort food. So by way of acknowledging this fact, I thought I'd offer up a couple of suggestions for healthy sweet treats.

Now one of these, the round, nutty snacks in the pic above, I created using Julie's recipe, which I posted last week.

Made by mixing nut butter (I used almond butter), shredded coconut, chocolate chips, and honey (optional), they're absolutely scrummy and great energy food pre-or-post work out.

As you can see, I shaped mine into rounds and popped a pecan on top. Obviously you can shape them any which way and top them with your choice of nut or coconut or chocolate.

The Stingers, Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond Protein Bar to the left is something I sampled at Whole Foods when I shopped with Lisa and Julie, and I have to say, it was to DIE FOR yummy!

Actually, herein lies a small story about my own impulse moment: The sample I had was so yum, I tossed a whole bar into Lisa & Julie's shopping cart, for me, and without the girls knowing :)

At the promotional price of $1.99, it wasn't an extravagant purchase so when Julie checked out, she didn't blink an eye.

However it was a caloric extravagance, which I discovered later, after I'd eaten several sample chunks at WFs plus the whole bar over a cup of tea once back at the girl's apartment.

It was an extravagance in the vicinity of 400 calories! Now that is the equivalent of a small meal, and my preference would be to eat a meal rather than a protein bar, no matter how choc full of protein and added vitamins and minerals.

My reasoning: the carbohydrate content of many of these bars is always significant, and simple carbs don't satiate one's appetite; you're always hungry again within a short period of time.

The moral of my small story: Read the labels on the back of snack, protein and energy bars before you buy them. Consider the calorie, fat and carb content, and then consider whether it might not be worth making your own.

Note on making your own energy treats:
I'm guessing the calorie content of one of the above nut rounds is around 100 with most of the calories coming from the fat content of the nut butter and coconut.

Obviously you can substitute coconut for raisins, which will decrease the fat content and increase the simple carb content.

Or you could add a low-fat protein powder and reduce the amount of fatty nut butter. If you do this, then you might need honey to glue everything together.

If you have a food processor, experiment making your own by tossing together your choice of ingredients and flavors.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mahi Mahi with Arugula and Bacon

As I mentioned in the last post, this week I'll be using the groceries roommates Lisa and Julie purchased at Whole Foods to suggest a number of meal ideas.

I also said I'd update readers on how the girls have, and haven't managed all the food they bought. So here we go:

Though Julie was a bit miffed over Lisa buying $6 worth of sliced, honey-baked turkey, the priciest item in their shopping cart, Julie got her own back by buying $5 worth of hummus, and then apparently, she also ate most of Lisa's turkey!

The turkey was Lisa's "non-negotiable" impulse purchase and mid-week, with none left, she went back to WFs and bought more, plus some sliced cheese and to-go Sushi all for around $30.

The girls had already spent $115 on enough groceries for 10 or so days, which meant this additional impulse purchase was a spendy one.

However, I believe Lisa is not that excited about the meals Julie has cooked up with their groceries and so perhaps this explains her night-time dash back to WFs for her favorite comfort foods.

Ahhh, such are the everyday challenges of sharing an apartment, groceries, and meals with a roommate!

So it's with some trepidation that I'm proposing today's meal idea, since there's bound to be something about it that one, or both of the girls will not fancy. But I won't take it personally, since all the meals I post in this blog can be manipulated to suit.

Mahi Mahi with Arugula, Turkey Bacon & Lime
(using items Julie & Lisa purchased)
Defrost 2 fillets of Whole Catch Mahi Mahi (or your choice of fish).
2) Slice two or three rashers of turkey bacon & saute in a pan with some olive oil.
3) Toss in several handfuls of arugula, stir about. (Substitute arugula for spinach or chard)
4) Lay fish fillets over the top, then on top of the fillets place sliced lime (or lemon) and some olive tapenade (or any sliced olives and or tomatoes).
5) If you have an open bottle of white wine (if not use water), pour half a cup over the fish and veggies, place the lid on the pan and cook at a low heat for about 10 mins or until fish is done.

To Serve: On a bed of rice or mashed potato spoon greens, bacon and juice from the pan, gently lay a piece of the mahi mahi atop the greens, add an additional spoon of olive tapenade and a squeeze of lemon. Serve with a side bowl of crispy kale.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Roommates Budget Shopping at Whole Foods

This past week I've been blogging about single roommates, Julie and Lisa, and their shopping trip to Whole Foods.

The girls wanted to learn how to stick to a grocery budget and I was only too happy to help them accomplish their goal.

Whole Foods' nickname "Whole Paycheck" made both Julie and Lisa wary of shopping at the beautifully merchandised grocer; they believed it would be impossible to exit the store without breaking their budget.

Yet by applying a few simple tricks the girls were pleasantly surprised by the volume of groceries they were able to buy with the budget they'd set for themselves.

However, they did have trouble avoiding purchasing a number of items on impulse, and when gently challenged, they were both resistant to feedback -- some items were simply non-negotiable.

When they arrived at Whole Foods, Julie had a stash of plastic bags she wanted to drop in WFs' plastic bag Recycle Bin. I suggested they hang onto those bags and use them to collect their bulk items, since I'd noted they had food on their grocery list that could be purchased in bulk rather than as pre-packaged items.

You'll see in the video that Lisa is using one of those plastic carry bags to collect her trail mix. I prompted the girls to bring their own recycled smaller plastic bags, like Ziploc, when they next shopped.

I had also suggested they bring their own plastic containers and glass jars to collect other bulk items like olives for the olive bar, and honey and ground nut butter from the bulk section.

Re-using plastic and glass is so easy -- why not adopt a minimal-waste approach when grocery shopping.

The video above is a quick glimpse into the girl's shopping experience. At the end of the day, it was loads of fun because they learned a great deal about their shopping habits, i.e. where they could save money, and where they were likely to break their budget -- and ultimately, Lisa and Julie learned they could shop at Whole Foods without spending their whole paycheck.

This coming week, I'll be focusing more on meal suggestions using the groceries they purchased.
Plus, I have some updates on how the girls have, and haven't managed their grocery purchases, including several impulse trips back to Whole Foods.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Habits and Patterns Around Spending

A comment appeared under yesterday's post in response to Lisa and Julie purchasing honey-roasted turkey breast and Hummus (around $6 each).

Web's comment: "Did you and the girls think about buying an uncooked turkey breast from the meat counter? When I'm around the house, I find it's easy to throw a breast in the oven for 25 minutes with any flavor I choose to add to it, resulting in a nice, preservative-free lunch meat."

In effect, Web is suggesting that if Lisa had purchased $6 worth of uncooked turkey and roasted it herself, either basted with honey or mustard or another complimentary flavor, then she would have had more turkey on hand than the few slices she purchased at the deli.

Plus the turkey would have been free of the preservatives often injected into deli meats.

However, Lisa purchased the sliced turkey breast because it was for her a "non-negotiable" treat and so she was willing to spend extra for that reason.

What I've noticed, shadowing a number of people as they've done their grocery shopping, is that comfortable habits are hard to change, even if it means spending more money to maintain those habits, and even when one simple change translates into savings.

Web also commented: "When I want Hummus (which is often) I pick up a can of garbanzo beans for about a dollar. I throw them in the blender with salt, cumin and garlic to taste, adding olive oil until I get the consistency I like -- this takes about 10 minutes. Tahini is a nice flavor bonus but I don't find that Hummus needs Tahini, and it can be pricey, so if I'm out of it, I'm not going to go buy it just to add to the Hummus!"

I agree. Hummus is so easy to make, yet Julie, like Lisa, encountered a "non-negotiable" moment over the purchase of this item.

As we stood at the deli, I mentioned to Julie how easy it would be for her to make Hummus. Unintentionally she cut me off, saying she hates making it from scratch. Her manner suggested that any further prompts from me about the savings on making one's own Hummus, versus buying it ready-made, would not have been welcomed.

In other words, Julie demonstrated resistance to changing her habit around buying and consuming made-up Hummus in the same way Lisa demonstrated resistance to changing her habit of buying and consuming sliced deli turkey.

One way to gently challenge yourself to break spendy purchasing patterns at the grocery store is to be aware of where you're resistant to change.

With that awareness in mind, ask yourself why you're resistant, and then what it would take to make one small change to break through that resistance.

If you have a roommate, or a partner at home, why not agree to help one another become more mindful of habits and patterns around spending and consumption, particularly if adhering to a grocery budget is important to you and yours.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Grocery Shopping with Roommates

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that the girls I'm featuring this week, roommates Lisa and Julie met me at Whole Foods to learn what they could buy on their weekly grocery budget of $80.

Having prepped the girls, by pointing out the benefits of writing a shopping list, they came prepared -- their list looked something like this:
  • butter, milk, eggs, cheese
  • fruit, veggies, lettuce
  • meat, fish
  • bread, trail mix, chocolate, honey
We started in the fresh produce area and immediately I pointed out all the Good Stuff For Less signs. Despite having previously shopped at Whole Foods, the girls had never taken much notice of the signs, even though they mark items priced "for less."

They bought oranges, apples and Whole Trade bananas all of which were on sale. There was a bit of an issue over the oranges because Lisa likes them but Julie doesn't eat them often.

Nevertheless, they agreed to buy a 4lb bag for $3.99 because it was great deal.

Julie then reached for a 4lb bag of the mini peeled carrots and I prompted her to consider buying the large, loose organic carrots so she could control the weight and the price, and buy only what they'd need for the week.

She was reluctant because of the convenience of the already-peeled, bite-sized mini carrots. However, once she weighed 5 large carrots and found that they were a quarter of the price, she decided the price-savings was worth peeling her own carrots.

They also bought parsley, organic cluster tomatoes and limes on sale, lettuce, arugula and some curly kale, which I suggested they try cooking this way:

Crispy Kale
1) Wash kale and chop into chunks.
2) Spread on a baking tray and put into 350-degree oven.
3) Remove from oven once kale begins to turn slightly brown around the edges (about 15 minutes or so). Kale will be incredibly crispy!
4) Sprinkle with seasoning, i.e. salt & pepper, or grated Parmesan, or garlic salt.
5) Eat on its own as a snack, or with a main meal.

We transitioned to the dairy section where they picked up 365-brand milk, butter, eggs and cheese, all for much less than other brands.

Using their own plastic bags in the bulk section, they discovered the lower price on shredded coconut, trail mix, cranberries, pine nuts, dates and chocolate chips when you pick and pay for only what you need.

They also discovered the savings on using the nut-butter machine (middle pic) to grind just the amount of almond butter they wanted. Julie was over the moon when, at the check out, her portion of nut butter came up as a mere $1.

Julie uses nut butter to make her own Energy Bars:
1) Mix coconut, chocolate chips, almond butter and honey (optional) together until it sticks
2) Take spoonfuls & mold the mixture into rounds
3) Keep in the fridge for a handy snack

The girls picked up ground beef, chicken thighs and pork bacon, which Lisa took back to the meat counter, picking up 365-brand Turkey Bacon instead after I pointed out the savings and the lower fat content.

In the frozen-food aisle, they collected a bag of 365-brand chopped spinach and broccoli florets. Julie fixated on the amazing ice-cream selection opposite the frozen veggies, but resisted an impulse purchase noting the prices.

Once Lisa had picked out bread, using a coupon from the Whole Deal value guide, the girls were pretty much finished their shopping. And looking at their cart, I commented that they'd probably gone over their budget of around $80.

Then Lisa spotted her favorite deli item, honey roasted turkey. She bought $6 worth, their priciest purchase. Julie made noises, but Lisa said it was "not negotiable." I mediated saying, when you're on a budget a treat a week, and one within your means, is totally reasonable.

Lisa needed to leave at that point, but before she did, Julie commented "since you bought the sliced turkey, I think I'll treat myself to some hummus," which Lisa was fine with. So Julie purchased $5 worth of garlic hummus.

Once we got to the check out and Julie began to unload her groceries, it became obvious that they were probably at least $20 over budget, if not more.

As it turned out they purchased 42 items for $115. However, once home with the groceries stacked in the fridge, freezer and cupboards, they both agreed they had enough food to last at least 10 days, if not longer.

What Lisa and Julie discovered is that they can buy a lot of food and still save, shopping at Whole Foods, so long as they buy Good Stuff for Less and WFs 365-brand, but because the store merchandises so well, such that everything looks so enticing and delicious, it is hard not to impulse purchase.

My advice to roommates and singles shopping on a budget:
  • Be mindful of your grocery budget
  • Write a list and stick to it -- try and avoid impulse purchases
  • Treat yourself to one thing within your means once a week
  • If you get to the check out and find you've collected more than you can afford, take the things you don't really need and set them aside -- you don't have to buy everything you've put in your cart!

Monday, April 20, 2009

8 Tips for Roommates on a Grocery Budget

Last week I dedicated Market to Mouth to families with young children.

I featured Jane, and her family of four (including 2 tweens). Jane was happy to have me shadow her while she shopped at Whole Foods and offer her tips on how to save on the items on her grocery list.

I subsequently posted those tips and tricks to help woman, like Jane, save on their grocery bill, either at Whole Foods or any other grocer. I then proposed six, kid-and family-friendly meals with the items Jane bought.

This week, I'm featuring roommates, Julie (above right) and Lisa (above left). Two Bridget Jones-esque single girls who asked me to teach them how to shop at Whole Foods on a budget.

As with Jane, I shadowed Julie and Lisa as they grocery shopped. However, before we met up at the store, I asked the girls to go through their fridge and cupboards and make a note of what they had, and didn't have on hand.

As I've stressed many times, the easiest way to stick to a grocery budget is to make a list of what you do need, while making a mental note of what you don't need.

When we did meet up, Julie had their list in hand, and Lisa said their budget for a week's worth of groceries was $80.

They also had their own carry bags for their purchases, and their own plastic bags for bulk items. I'd suggested they also bring their own containers for bulk honey, nut butter, and deli items --though they forgot these.

As we headed into the store to shop, I offered up the following tips (I posted similar tips earlier in the spring) to help the girls stay within their budget:
  1. Peruse the Good Stuff For Less and Whole Deal value guide for sale items and coupons. Both are available at Customer Service, and also online. Lisa found a two-for-one coupon in the Whole Deal (pic above) for her favorite bread.
  2. Start in the produce section, and buy Good Stuff For Less in-season produce that's plentiful, and thus cheaper. Build volume in your cart by purchasing the items you'll consume daily, that is, fresh vegetables and fruit.
  3. Don't buy more perishable items than you need, since tossing out wilted lettuce is akin to throwing dollar bills in the trash. So be mindful of how much you'll need for a week.
  4. Buy dry goods like nuts, rice, granola, trail mix, honey, nut butter, in bulk. You'll always pay more for packaged dry goods, and when you buy these items in bulk you can control the weight and thus the cost of what you're buying.
  5. Buy Whole Foods 365-generic brand products, like butter, milk, yogurt, cheese, bottled, tinned, frozen and snack items. WFs brand is cheaper than other brands and just, if not more, flavorful.
  6. Buy WF's Whole Catch frozen fish. For singles, keeping fresh fish in the fridge is precarious since impromptu dinner dates mean fresh fish will likely go off before you get around to cooking it.
  7. Check out the sale signs at the meat counter and buy what's on sale. If you buy more protein than you imagine you'll need for the week, freeze meal-size portions that you can pull from the freezer on an as-need basis.
  8. Stick to your list, i.e. no impulse purchases! But do allow yourself one treat within your means per week.
Tomorrow, I'll post Lisa and Julie's shopping list and talk about where they easily stuck to their list, and where they had trouble resisting impulse purchases.

I'll also begin to propose meal ideas based on their list.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday-Night Leftovers

Today I'm posting the sixth main-meal idea using items from my friend, Jane's, shopping list.

For Jane's family of four (including tweens aged 12 and 10), I've kept the meals simple, quick-to-prepare, colorful, nutritious, tasty, and most importantly, kid-friendly.

Here's a list of the meals I've proposed so far:
  1. Shrimp & Tomatoes with Garlic Mash
  2. Mini Tortilla Pizza
  3. Beef Curry with Condiments
  4. Crustless Quiche with Salad & Parsley Potatoes
  5. Kid-Friendly Pasta and Salad
Friday night is often an evening when families will pick up take-out, or eat out at a family-style restaurant. If you haven't made the Mini Tortilla Pizza yet, try it tonight instead of take-out, and since they're fun to make, have the kids help you put the pizza together.

The other option is to make a pie with your leftovers -- also lots of fun to make with kids.

I made my leftover pie using tuna from yesterday's Kid-Friendly Pasta meal. Having suggested tinned tuna for the kids and tuna steaks for the adult-version of that meal, I'm guessing, like me, you might have a combination of some tinned tuna and tuna steak leftover.

Chances are, if you cooked the Shrimp & Tomato with Garlic Mash when I posted it, you don't have anything from that meal leftover. However, if you cooked it a few days ago, and have leftovers, those leftovers combined with the leftover tuna mixed with extra mashed potato is the basis for my meal idea for today.

Friday-Night Leftover Pie
1) Boil several potatoes until they're tender; drain and mash with seasoning, butter and some milk. Set aside.
2) Into a bowl, toss any leftover tuna you have, break it up with a fork.
3) If you have leftover Shrimp & Tomato, add that to the bowl too.
4) Break a couple of eggs over the lot and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.
5) Spoon the mixture into an oven-proof bowl and dot the top with pieces of buttered bread cut into squares.
6) Pop the pie into a 350-degree oven for about 30-40 mins or until the bread pieces on the top of the pie turn toasty. (If bread turns quite brown before the middle of the pie is hot, cover the pie with foil and return it to the oven for additional cooking.)

To Serve: A side of veggies like broccoli and carrots tossed in some butter and parsley, would make this a more complete and nutritious meal, however, it is Friday and rather than deal with the stress of nudging the kids to "eat your vegetables" just enjoy the pie as is, perhaps with some crunchy corn chips on the side.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

6 Tips for Sticking to a Grocery Budget

When I post meal ideas on this blog, I use items from the most recently posted grocery list.

I stress often the importance of using a list when grocery shopping.

Simply, if you want to stick to a budget, write a shopping list, then once at the store adhere to your list.

Today the New York Times online published an article that directly supports the idea of writing and sticking to a shopping list. Without a list, it says, we become disoriented by the multitude of choices and make impulse purchases for reasons we can't explain.

Impulse purchases break your budget, so try these 6 handy tips to help you stick to that budget.
  1. Write a list. That way you'll buy the things you do need and not the things you don't. My friend Jane, whom I've been featuring this week, keeps a list of staples on her computer. Each week she crosses off items she doesn't need and adds the items she does need.
  2. As you write your list, check your fridge, cupboards and pantry. Think ahead. Consider the upcoming week. Are you planning on having people over? How many meals will you eat at home and how many people will eat those meals.
  3. Once at the grocery store, stick to your list. Avoid impulse purchases. That said, I do allow myself one treat per week and it's always something within my means.
  4. Avoid packaged food, like cereals, rice, nuts, trail mix -- you'll always pay for packaging. Instead buy dry goods in bulk, that way you'll pick and pay for only what you need.
  5. Don't buy what you can't afford. And do avoid buying more than you need, especially perishables. Throwing wilted lettuce out is like tossing dollar bills into the trash.
  6. One-stop shop. I know it's tempting to drive from store-to-store chasing the best deal, but ask yourself, are you really saving money spending time, gas and energy going from here to there and back again. Instead, invest the time researching which store offers you the best overall value for money on your groceries and become a loyal customer to that one store. Most grocers offer loyal-customer discounts, so take advantage of those programs.
Coming up on Market to Mouth, I'll be featuring two single, Bridget Jones-esque roommates who asked me to show them how to reduce their grocery bill. Yesterday I met the girls at Whole Foods-- they had a shopping list--and we spent 2 hilarious hours as I shadowed them, teaching them what not to buy, and what to buy instead!

I'll be posting some video footage of that shopping excursion, plus tips and tricks for singles who want to save on their grocery bill, and of course I'll be offering simply, gourmet meals ideas from the items on the girl's shopping list.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Kid-Friendly Pasta and Salad

Keep in mind as you consider the pictures to the left, that this week I'm posting meal ideas for a family with tweens.

Kids are often fussy about their food, which can make for a challenging time when sitting down to a family meal in the evening

Last night I had dinner with some friends. There were five adults, and two boys aged 8 and 10.

The boys wouldn't eat the beef ribs their parents had prepared, or the polenta with greens and bacon, which I'd made. Their mum, quickly prepared a hot dog for both boys and still they were fussy.

Using items from Jane's shopping list, today I'm proposing a very basic meal of spiral pasta topped with tuna tossed in olive oil and parsley with a simple side salad.

I'm almost a bit hesitant to suggest parsley over the pasta because I remember having Jane's son at lunch a couple years ago and he had a complete meltdown when he saw "little green bits" in the pasta dish I made.

Obviously you can modify this simple meal to meet the taste-needs of your kids.

For instance, Jane has a number of different cheeses on her list, so pasta with tuna and or a little cheese on top is a meal, if the kids will also eat a bit of salad.

I know it's hard to make greens and vegetables enticing for children, but try, try, try to get them to eat some color that way you can be sure they're getting the nutrients they need.

Kid-Friendly Pasta and Salad
1) Boil a pack of spiral pasta till tender. Drain. Rinse under hot water. Return pasta to pot and a low-heat hot plate. Drizzle pasta with olive oil and then season.
2) You can either top pasta with a tin of good quality tuna, tossed in a pan with olive oil, or Whole Foods Whole Catch tuna, defrosted and pan fried in a little oil or butter and lemon juice.
3) Dot the top with cheese, or chopped parsley, or chopped tomatoes.
4) For the salad: Toss some washed lettuce into individual bowls, top with grated or chunky slices of carrots, and any veggies in the crisper that your kids are likely to eat.

Rather than make a separate meal for the grown-ups, perhaps add the tinned tuna to the kids' pasta.

And for the adults, saute the Whole Catch Tuna in butter and garlic, adding chopped tomatoes to the pan, cooking gently with a little white wine, for say 10 mins.

Serve tuna fillet whole or broken into pieces over the spiral pasta, with the tomato, white-wine pan juices spooned over the lot. Dress the suggested, individual side-salads with olive oil and lemon juice.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Crustless Quiche with Salad, Parsley Potatoes

This is the fourth main-meal idea I'm posting using items from my friend, Jane's, shopping list.

These are simple, nutritious meal suggestions for families with kids. Jane's two are 12 and 10 and they're at an age where they'll eat most of what their parents eat, bar some greens.

I remember loathing spinach as a child; the bitter flavor and the texture was too sophisticated for my taste buds.

I'm still not that keen on plain cooked spinach, but tossed in lashings of butter and garlic -- now that's a different story!

Crustless quiche takes maybe an hour to prepare and cook, and it's terribly easy, plus you can improvise and use whatever veggies you have in the crisper.

As you can see in the pic above, I used a leafy green, red chard is my favorite. Jane tells me her youngest, doesn't like it, or spinach. Broccoli is on her shopping list, so I'm going to propose that as a substitute.

I'm proposing a very basic salad to go with the meal. I dressed the salad to left with a yogurt and garlic dressing.

And the other side is boiled potatoes drizzled with olive oil and coated in freshly chopped parsley.

Crustless Quiche with Salad & Parsley Potatoes
1) Break 3 large or 4 small eggs into a bowl. Pour 1 & 1/2 cups of milk (or Half & Half) over eggs, season with S & P (and a little nutmeg if you like). Beat well.
2) Meanwhile, put 3 or 4 potatoes into a pot and gently boil till tender.
3) Wash, and chop into pieces whatever greens you have on hand, i.e. spinach, chard, broccoli, zucchini etc. Toss greens in a little olive oil with some onion (or leeks or shallots or spring onions) till transparent. Then place sauteed greens & onion into an oven-proof bowl.
4) Pour egg and milk mix over greens, and top with grated cheese of your choice.
Note: You could add some cooked chicken pieces or salmon pieces to the quiche for additional protein.
5) Put crustless quiche into oven at 350 degrees for about 40 mins.
6) Wash and drain your choice of lettuce. Pop in a salad bowl. Decorate with chopped tomatoes.
7) For the dressing, plop some yogurt into a cup, pour in olive oil to thin the yogurt, squeeze in juice from half a lemon, squeeze a garlic clove through a garlic crusher into the cup, then stir contents thoroughly. Pour dressing over salad.
8) Drain potatoes, cut into pieces, pop pieces into a serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, season with S & P. Chop a handful of parsley and sprinkle over potatoes.

The flavor pals in this meal are simple and intuitive: parsley with potatoes, cheese with milk and eggs, a garlic-yogurt dressing over lettuce to add oomph to a subtle-flavored quiche.

If you would like to try your hand at pairing foods and flavors other than what I've suggested above, I'd highly recommend FoodPairing as a resource. Keep it bookmarked on your computer and refer to it when you need help preparing meals for your family and friends.

Cooking with flavor pals or using the technique of food pairing, which I refer to often in this blog, is a great tool for becoming recipe-independent, which is also something I refer to often.

My theory is that when you become independent of recipes and recipe books, and instead trust your inner culinary-expert, you're less likely to make extravagant and unnecessary food-purchases at the store and thus more like to have success sticking to grocery budget.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Beef Curry with Condiments

If you've been reading the posts prior to this one, you know that I've been featuring my friend, Jane, and her family of four this week.

I've posted Jane's shopping list, then tips on how she can save money on that list, then late last week I went shopping at Whole Foods with Jane and shadowed her, collating more tips for saving on your grocery bill.

Along the way, I've suggested meals to make for a family of four using the items from Jane's shopping list.

So far the meals are Shrimp & Tomatoes & Garlic Mash. Jane's husband made this dish after I posted it and apparently it was a huge success with the kids, aged 12 & 10.

Mini Tortilla Pizza, which another reader said she was looking forward to making with her two young daughters.

And today my meal suggestion is Beef Curry with Condiments.

Jane and her family are from London so curry is one of their favorites, even with the kids.

London, like Melbourne, Australia--where I'm from--has a large Indian immigrant population and Indian restaurants and food are popular in the same way that Mexican restaurants and food are popular in the U.S

Depending on the age of your kids, you might temper the heat of the curry you make.

If it's too hot, children will not enjoy curry, or any really spicy food for that matter; their taste buds are just not that sophisticated.

With that in mind, my method below for easy curry can easily be manipulated to suit your family.

Beef Curry with Condiments
(Using ingredients from Jane's list)

1) Chop a large onion and mash one garlic clove, saute in oil.
Note: Even though this is curry, I still use olive oil; I tend to use it in all my cooking. You could also use ghee--clarified butter--or light oil, like canola.
2) Add a big or little scoop of Patak's Curry Paste - depending on how spicy a curry you want. Stir curry paste into oil and onion over low heat.
Note: You may recall from my post
Stocking Your Condiment Pantry that this is the paste I have in my pantry, and recommend for flavor and ease-of-use. It comes in mild and hot.
3) Chop several potatoes and carrots, add to pot and stir well.
4) Add cubed stewing beef, and stir coating meat in curry paste.
Note: You can substitute beef for chicken/turkey, or fish, or shrimp or lamb.

5) Place lid on pot and let the beef and veggies cook slowly in their own juices for about 45 mins.
6) Around the 30-min mark, I added some frozen peas and corn, and some apple sauce. The apple sauce intermingled with the pan juices creating a rich, sweet and spicy curry sauce.
Note: Sweet vegetables (like peas and corn) and fruit like apples and banana, and or dried fruits like raisins and currants, and shredded coconut are great flavor pals for curry because sweet counteracts the heat and spice of curry.

To Serve: Rice is a great accompaniment to curry, as is millet or couscous. Then as you can see in the picture at the top, I served sides of sliced apple, sauteed bananas, nuts, lemon and yogurt.

Yogurt is a great flavor pal to curry because it's cooling, as is sliced cucumber. In fact, yogurt-fruit drinks, like Mango Lassi, and side salad are great cooling pals to spicy curry.

When I was a kid, I loved the sides my mother served with curry it made the meal fun, colorful and different.

Keep in mind that kids may end up making more of a meal out of the sides, so be creative; your children will enjoy the meal so much more.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Grocery Shopping Tips for Families on a Budget

This week I've been featuring tips for shopping on a budget, plus meal ideas for my friend, Jane, and her family of four.

On Tuesday, I posted Jane's basic shopping list, which she keeps as a Word doc on her computer.

Today, at Jane's request, I met her at Whole Foods and shadowed her while she did her weekly shop, offering tips for saving on her grocery list, which she had with her.

Jane works part-time so she suggested we meet mid-morning for these reasons:
  1. "It's not busy in the mornings so with less people about, shopping is hassle-free."
  2. "I won't be hungry at 10.30, so If I'm not hungry then I'm less likely to buy on impulse."
  3. "It's much easier to shop when the kids are in school. When they come with me, I end up caving into them, buying things I would not normally buy."
As we walked into Whole Foods we picked up The Whole Deal which contains coupons and the Good Stuff For Less flier, which lists What's on Sale.

Jane's already a pretty savvy shopper, but I did remind her of several of the money-saving tips I posted on Tuesday -- you might want to read over those again.

She took advantage of a number of sale items:
  • Half & Half, 2 pints for $3
  • 365-brand Large White eggs 2-dozen for $4
  • Whole Catch Mahi-Mahi for $8.99 (which will make one meal for the whole family)
  • Buy one Get one Free 365-brand pasta
  • 365-brand Black Tea, Fig Bars, Orange Juice, Yogurt, and Chopped Spinach.
  • And it's Easter on Sunday, so her treat this week for the family is mini Easter eggs.

Using coupons, buying Good Stuff For Less and 365-generic brand product, and getting credit for using 7 of her own grocery bags, Jane spent $170. And this week for her family of four she'll make:
  • 16 packed lunches
  • 6 evening meals
  • Plus, tonight she has 2 guests coming for dinner (total of 8 people)
  • And this Sunday she's going to an Easter brunch for 8 people (I suggested she make Savory Bread Pudding for the brunch and use some of her eggs and the Half & Half.)
Shopping for a family and saving on your grocery bill is possible at any grocery store using the above tricks. Whole Foods Market just happens to be my favorite store because there, I feel I can get the best overall value for money.

I do recommend one-stop shopping, in other words, do your research and identify the one store that you feel gives you best overall value and become a loyal customer.

Most grocers offer loyal-customer discounts and when you're on a budget, why not take advantage of these programs just as Jane took advantage of the values at her local Whole Foods.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mini Tortilla Pizza

When feeding a family on a budget it's tempting to buy cheap filler-foods, like frozen pizza.

I know ready-made meals are convenient; I posted a blog titled More Meal from Your Frozen Favorites.

Yet I also have concerns about the impact on a family's health and happiness if mealtimes are reduced to consuming food that is made in a factory, frozen, and then sold cheaply.

It's actually very easy to fill up on cheap calories, if that's what eating is all about -- filling up.

But to me, nourishing oneself and a growing family is a holy and sensual act that can't be bought in the frozen-food section of your grocer.

If at the end of the day, time is the reason you seek the convenience of ready-made meals, consider involving your children in the preparation of dinner. Enlist their help and make cooking the family meal a fun and engaging way to be together.

As a kid, I followed my mother around the kitchen as she cooked, I'd tell her about my day at school and she'd give me things to do to help, like shelling peas or peeling potatoes, and this is how I began to appreciate the joys of cooking.

Then as a tween, one of my favorite meals to make was pizza, because like most kids of that age, I loved pizza! I made it on the weekends because I used yeast to create a traditional pizza crust, and as you probably know, when you use yeast, you need plenty of time.

With time in mind, the pizza I'm proposing here is simple, quick and easy. And it's definitely a meal kids will enjoy helping you make, and then enjoy eating even more.

Mini Tortilla Pizza
(using ingredients from my friend's shopping list)
1) Lay tortillas out on a baking tray. As you can see in the pic above, I used the mini corn tortillas so I allocated two per person.
2) Cut up several tomatoes and place slices around the tortilla.
3) Wash and chop leafy greens and or broccoli, then toss into a pan with some garlic, chopped onion and olive oil. Saute gently till greens are tender.
4) Dot the tortilla with sauteed greens.
5) Grate cheddar and mozzarella and spread cheeses over tortillas.
6) Drizzle olive oil over pizza. Pop in oven.
7) Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 mins or so.

Olives, of course, are great flavor pals to mild cheese and sweet tomatoes, but sometimes the salty, brine-like flavor of olives is a bit strong for kids.

It's easy to make family-style pizza without olives, instead, use whatever cheeses you have in the fridge and whatever veggies you have in the crisper. And if you want to add a little protein, dot pizza with ground beef.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Shrimp & Tomatoes with Garlic Mash

As I post meal ideas using my friends shopping list (yesterday's post), I'm keeping in mind that this is a family of four with two children, aged 12 and 10.

Tweens are at an age when appetites increase in direct relationship to physical growth. This is particularly so for boys.

And it's a tricky age, particularly for girls, who are suddenly aware of their body-image and hence at risk for developing an unhealthy relationship to food. Either they won't eat properly, for fear of getting fat or they satiate they're pubescent emotional ups-and-downs with too many delicious sweets and snack foods.

Additionally, tween taste buds are maturing and so they're often open to eating a wider ranger of foods and flavors -- that is, so long as you introduce them into your cooking.

In summary, family meal-times can be a challenge. However, the important ingredient is to model healthy eating by consuming a range of simple, colorful meals with texture, flavor and eye-appeal.

With that in mind, here's the first family-meal idea using my friend's shopping list.

Shrimp & Tomatoes with Garlic Mash
  • Shrimp is a slightly sweet crustacean with a subtle flavor that lends itself well to delicate flavor pals, or big flavors. Kids tend to like shrimp fried because that's how it comes at family restaurants on the "Kid's Menu." Frying makes most foods delicious, and it can drown the subtle flavor too. I'm pairing shrimp in this dish with vegetables: tomatoes, leafy greens, cilantro, and some onion. The shrimp flavor will hold its own paired with these veggies.
  • Potatoes have an earthy flavor that lends itself to many flavor pals. Because the shrimp and tomatoes are sweet and delicate, I'm adding garlic and butter to the potatoes to enrich them and add oomph to the whole meal. Plus, mashed potatoes are a fave with kids, probably because the buttery texture is non-threatening to their palate.
1) Boil several potatoes (you can either peel or not peel them).
2) Meanwhile, toss a chopped onion and a smashed clove of garlic into a pan with some olive oil. Saute gently until transparent.
3) Wash and chop leafy greens, and several tomatoes (and a couple of carrots, if you wish).
4) Add veggies to pan with onion, stir, then put lid on pan and turn heat to low, letting veggies cook in their own juices for about 10 mins or so.
5) At the 10-minute mark, pour frozen shrimp over veggies and replace lid. The moisture from the frozen shrimp will cause the veggies and shrimp to gently steam cook.
6) Once potatoes are tender, mash them with a fork, tossing in a couple chopped gloves of garlic, a big blob of butter, some milk. Season to taste.
7) Chop cilantro and toss over shrimp and veggies, season, then squeeze a lemon over the lot.

To Serve: I've sliced an avocado to decorate the plate--adding color and eye-interest. Though avocados aren't on my friend's shopping list, they're abundant and well-priced at the moment, and they're a great flavor and texture pal for potatoes. Try them with this dish and see if your family enjoys the combination.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Saving on Groceries for a Family of Four

Today I have a something I want to draw your attention to, it's an article in O Magazine which touches on the idea of recipe-independence, a concept I refer to a lot.

As I've stated in previous posts, recipe-independence can be achieved by trusting your creativity and taste-intuition, and by understanding complimentary foods and flavors, or flavor pals.

O's article uses The Flavor Bible as a resource for guiding home-cooks away from recipes and toward their inner "culinary authority."

I highly recommend this brilliant book for anyone who loves to cook. You can buy it on this blog; see the link to the right and below.

Back to Market to Mouth ... As I stated last Friday, my intention this week is to share a friend's weekly staples shopping-list, which she keeps it on her computer as a word document, and discuss ways in which she can reduce her grocery bill using that list at Whole Foods.

And then on the remaining days of this week, I'll offer some meal ideas using her list and flavor pals.

For a family of four: 2 adults, a girl aged 12, and a boy aged 10, my friend's weekly shopping list looks like this:
  • Veggies: carrots, broccoli, cucumber, green leafy, lettuce, cilantro, parsley, potatoes, garlic, onions
  • Fruit: apples, bananas, tomato, soft fruit, grapes, kiwi, grapefruit, lemons
  • Dairy/Chilled: milk, soy milk, eggs, cheese: cheddar & mozzarella & goat & Parmesan, butter, humus, whipping cream, yogurt, fortified orange juice.
  • Fish/Meat: cod, salmon, tuna, shrimp, Mahi Mahi, chicken breast, whole chicken, ground turkey, beef, pork.
  • Dry/Packets: bread, cereal, oatmeal, English muffins, raisin bread, tortillas, pasta, rice, crackers, cookies, dried fruit, coffee beans, tea bags, snack bars, chocolate, jam, peanut butter.
My quick tips for saving $$ on this list:
  1. Buy fruit and veg in season, i.e. we're just moving into spring so summer produce like cucumbers, soft fruit, grapes, kiwi and grapefruit will be pricey, whereas you'll find great deals on abundant spring produce like parsley, leafy greens, avocados, radishes, asparagus.
  2. Buy Good Stuff For Less fruit and produce--apples & pears are often on sale at WFs.
  3. Avoid buying ready-made products like humus, I know it's convenient, but gee it's easy to make.
  4. Buy 365-brand dairy, i.e. their milks, butter and yogurt.
  5. Buy WF's Whole Catch fish and shrimp and or buy it in bulk and get the case-discount.
  6. Buy family packs of chicken pieces, versus the breast which is very pricey.
  7. Ground beef is always on sale at WFs when you buy over 3 pounds.
  8. Don't buy dry goods in packets; you'll pay for the packaging, always buy bulk so you can control the weight and the price. And avoid buying tinned beans like black beans and chic peas, buy them in bulk and pay so much less.
  9. Use The Whole Deal coupons for items like snack bars, juices, jams, nut butters.
  10. For a family of four or more, it'd be well worth the savings to buy dry goods, plus protein items in bulk and cases and either dry store or freeze.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Orange and Almond Cake

On Friday I left off with the promise that my next post would include a picture and method for making flourless, Orange and Almond cake, which I consumed that evening at my very successful birthday dinner.

You'll note that I've posted more than a picture -- above is a hilarious video of the cake topped with an elaborate, flowering candle which bursts into flame and birthday song for the ultimate celebratory experience.

What fun we had, and as you'll hear above the din of music and chatter, I stress how delicious the cake smells.

The scent of orange is strong in this moist, souffle-like, gluten-free cake, and that means it lends itself well to flavor pals like fresh berries, yogurt, whipped cream, and or dark, grated chocolate.

I don't tend to include recipes in my blog but rather, fairly loose methods for preparing meals (since I feel this allows for personal innovation and creativity).

However, this cake requires measured ingredients, so I'm including an ingredient list and method.

Orange and Almond Cake
4 oranges, washed well to remove sprays and wax
1 -1/2 cups of almond meal
1 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
6 eggs

1) Throw oranges into a pot and cover with water. Simmer till oranges are completely tender (about 2 hours). Allow to cool, then cut oranges into pieces, removing pips. Put oranges and any remaining liquid into a food processor and whiz oranges (skin included) to a smooth pulp.
2) Now separate eggs placing whites into one bowl and yolks into another.
3) Pour sugar into yolks then beat till mixture turns creamy.
4) Add almond meal and mix in thoroughly.
5) Stir in baking powder.
6) Whisk egg whites till stiff then fold into orange and almond mix.
7) Line the bottom of a spring-form circular pan with baking paper or oiled foil.
8) Pour batter into pan and bake in 350 degree oven for about 50 mins.
9) Let cake sit and cool before removing spring-form. Sit cake on a platter and dust with icing sugar.

Optional: You may add a teaspoon of Cointreau or Frangelico to the cake mix to enhance either the orange flavor and scent or the nutty sweetness. Or you can add either of the liquors to whipped cream and serve this with the cake along with any of the fruit mentioned above.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Me and My IPhone Camera

Food photographer extraordinaire? No, I'm just a girl with an IPhone.

And there I am to the left trying to capture the best angle of the polenta cake I posted last weekend.

As you can see, my kitchen is simple with few mod-cons. Sometimes I surprise myself with the meals I produce with minimal gadgetry, especially given the cook-and kitchen-ware available now.

When I did my professional training we had our own knife set (which I still have), a uniform including ridiculous hat, and minimal equipment in the school's kitchen. The philosophy: It's not the equipment that makes a great meal, it's the chef!

Maybe you've read The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry. My culinary education wasn't that brutal, but I do remember having some mini-meltdowns after humiliating reprimands from one of the tougher chefs I studied under.

I think the boot-camp style of teaching was intended to toughen us up so that once out in the world of fast-paced commercial kitchens, sweating under stress and pressure, we didn't crack. I didn't crack, so I guess boot-camp worked.

My next post will be a picture and method for making flourless, Orange and Almond cake, which I'll be consuming this evening at my birthday dinner! I sent the recipe to a friend, as she kindly offered to make my birthday cake. It's one of my favorite desserts; I hope you'll love it too.

Coming up on Market to Mouth, I'll write another shopping list, a modified version of the list a friend uses for her family. Using items from that list, I'll post accompanying meal ideas for a family of four.

Then at some point next week, I'll accompany that friend to Whole Foods while she grocery shops, offering her tips on the spot to help her reduce her weekly expenditure on groceries. In subsequent posts, I'll share those tips, and more.

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Luscious Leftovers

April 1st easily makes fools of gullible individuals like me.

I'm sure my gullibility has something to do with April 1st being so close to my birthday and the subsequent excitement I feel about celebrating my pending day!

Doesn't matter my age, I always feel like a kid again when my birthday roles around.

It's Friday this year, and I'm planning on having friends over to celebrate with an early dinner followed by flourless, orange and almond cake. I'll share the recipe this weekend.

Well, I've listed 6 to 7 meals with the ingredients from the March 19th shopping list and at this point, the only other meals I'd suggest from that list are meals made with leftovers.

One of my budget-conscious strategies is this: I always cook more than I'll need at any one meal so that I have leftovers for lunches and or simple dinners.

Jazzing up and eating leftovers is a great way to ensure that by the end of your week you've wasted nothing (hopefully) purchased during your previous trip to the grocery store.

Oftentimes, I add frozen veggies or any remaining fresh produce in my crisper to the leftover meal thereby creating an almost entirely new meal. This ensures that I'm using everything I previously purchased so that by the time I need to grocery shop again, I'm down to a bare fridge.

Above is a picture of leftover savory bread pudding from Friday's brunch. I'll eat that for lunch today, otherwise, I might heat it up this evening with some leftover okra and eggplant made yesterday.

I suggested two different meals with polenta this week, one savory and one semi-sweet. The one cup of polenta to 4 cups of water I proposed in both meal ideas makes quite a bit of cooked polenta, which means if you have leftover, whether savory or semi-sweet, you might like to slice it and smother it with Salsa from the last shopping list, and then top it with olives.

In the picture to the left, I've used whole okra (which I had in the freezer) as a side to the tomato-baked polenta.

I simply popped the frozen okra onto the baking pan with the sliced polenta, dotted it with unpeeled garlic cloves, drizzled the lot with olive oil, and then put it into a 350-degree oven for about 20 mins or so.

Baked unpeeled garlic cloves are delicious. Once cooked, the garlic slips easily out of its skin. Eat it whole just like that, or mash it up with some olive oil and use it as a dipping for bread, crackers or corn chips.

Good luck being innovative with your luscious leftovers!