Sunday, February 28, 2010

Saving money versus eating awesome food

Here's the deal: I'm a miser. I find it very difficult to spend money. I don't purchase clothes all that often. I believe I bought a shirt on New Year's Eve. Before that, I think I bought a pair of jeans in July ... maybe. I've needed a laptop for about 6 months now and I still haven't purchased one. But there is a caveat in all this thriftiness: Food. It's my weakness. I love buying food to try out new recipes. In any given month I spend about half my paycheck on food. I only spend a quarter of it on rent/utilities. I have decreased that number in recent months, thanks to my obsessive use of coupons and sales, but I still buy things I don't need. I still spend a lot on delivery/eating out.
The solution here is really a combination of things:
  • Eating out less frequently
  • Buying cheaper food and taking full advantage of coupons and sales
  • And tracking the amount the fiance and I spend on food
I've been implementing these things off and on, but I can't tell you if it really has decreased. So for the next month I'm hoping to track food spending a little bit better, while at the same time cooking with an eye on saving money. Making steak instead of ordering Chinese really doesn't save money, now does it? After tracing food purchases and uses, I might be able to implement a plan. So, in April you can look forward to my account of all my struggles to save money but still satisfy my passion for cooking.
Until then, here are some inspirational blogs you can visit if you want to know more about cooking and eating on a budget:
  • Budget Bytes: My favorite blog covering cheap eating! Beth is a New Yorker who started out hoping to help herself and her other 20-something friends eat well and cheaply in the city. She breaks down her recipes by price (total and per serving). She also has some great resources, like how to build your pantry so you don't have to go to the store every time you need a specific spice or thrifty rules to live by. Her mouthwatering photos don't hurt, either.
  • Money Saving Mom: Everything for recipes to menu planning to links to coupons and deals, Crystal Paine seeks to "help you become a better home economist."
  • Cheap Healthy Good: With a combined focus on eating healthy and saving money, a group of women in New York offer you cheap, healthy alternatives. This site has other great features, like roundups of awesome finds on the Web and a list of in-season foods to help you focus on produce that is more readily available and, therefore, cheaper.
  • 30 bucks a week: Can you eat three meals daily on 30 bucks a week? Apparently you can often do that with less. A couple in New York posts scans of their weekly receipts and offers recipes. It's a pretty unique way to stay accountable and prove to us all that it's possible.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday Wedding inspiration: Twine! Pie!

Photo by Anna Kuperberg, venue at Bear Flag Farm (an organic farm in California)

A wedding recently featured on Style Me Pretty's Little Black Book blog (the section that is all about wedding eye candy) offered outdoor elegance for its guests. There were so many amazing details from that wedding, but I was most enamored with this sun-kissed vision of twine and lavender. Apparently it's the little things that get me. You know what else makes me happy? Pie.

Photo by Anna Kuperberg, venue at Bear Flag Farm (an organic farm in California)

Specifically a table full of gorgeous pies and fresh flowers to wow guests accustomed to a single cake that is likely covered with fondant (the most hateful dessert ingredient ever concocted). You better be prepared for fruit pies at my wedding.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wednesday Wedding inspiration

The blogger at 2000 Dollar Budget Wedding blog has a pretty interesting idea for a guestbook: A Wedding time capsule. The pads of paper read "Write a message to Groom and Bride to be read on their 10 year wedding anniversary." That would be a great reminder of all the fun we had during our wedding and all the great friends we have.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Yes, that is a Samoa-laden box of ice cream in my freezer. And yes, you should be jealous.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wednesday's Wedding inspiration

When I first explained to the fiance my thoughts on a wedding, I said this (and I am quoting here): "Outside, preferably under a tree." And since I was never a girl who daydreamed about her wedding (I left that to the girly friends I had over the years), that was all I had to say.
Well, it turns out I'm not the only one who had this inkling when it came to her wedding. Turns out another bride went to a winery to find this gorgeous tree and then created a centerpiece with it using gorgeous white fabric, under which the ceremony was performed. I love it!

Photo by Ella Jae Photography, as seen on Style Me Pretty.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Super Bowl Celebration: Banana Fosters Banana Bread

I know it's been a few days since the Super Bowl, but I wanted to share this awesome bread/cake that I brought to the New Orleans Super Bowl potluck we had at work. Turns out we chose the right team to celebrate (Go Saints?). As soon as we decided on bringing New Orleans style food, I decided I wanted to bring dessert since everyone else was going with red beans and rice and andouille sausage (both were amazing, by the way). After a little research, I learned that Banana Fosters (rum soaked bananas that are set on fire) originated in New Orleans. A quick search of the blogosphere brought me to Brown Eyed Baker's post on her reinvention of a family banana bread recipe.

Banana Fosters Banana Bread
Yield: 1 loaf

For the Bread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
3 medium bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk

For the Streusel Topping:
1½ cups chopped walnuts
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter

For the Rum Glaze:
¼ cup (4 tablespoons) butter
2 tablespoons water
¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup rum

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan.

2. Combine ingredients for streusel topping in a medium bowl and combine with fingers to create a crumbly topping with the butter evenly distributed. Set aside.

3. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl to combine. Set aside.

4. On medium speed, beat the sugar and vegetable oil to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each until combined. Add the mashed bananas and vanilla extract; beat to combine. Alternatively add the flour mixture and milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat just until the flour is incorporated and finish mixing with a spatula.

5. Spread batter into the prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the batter. Bake until a thin knife inserted in the center comes out almost clean, about 60 minutes.

6. To make the rum glaze, combine the butter, water and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the rum. Set aside and cover to keep warm.

7. Cool the cake on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then, using a skewer poke holes all over the top of the loaf. Spoon about ¼ cup of the rum glaze all over the loaf. Let the cake sit for about 5 minutes and then spoon the remaining glaze over it, a little at a time, until it is all absorbed into the bread.

And here are some photos of the process:

The best way to incorporate the butter into the other ingredients in the crumble on top is to use your hands to combine. Your body heat warms the butter just enough for the flour/sugar/nut mixture to seep in.

Here's the deal with this batter: It puffs up a bit. Keep this in mind. During my test of this recipe I just filled the pan all the way with the batter and the crumble was almost overflowing. And then, as it baked, it did overflow. It created a lot of messiness that I could have easily avoided.

For my rum I chose Captain Morgan's gold label. There were two reasons for this. 1) I decided a dark spiced rum would pair really well with Cinnamon banana bread. 2) I really wanted "Captain's cream soda," which is basically Captains and ginger ale. When combined correctly, this concoction takes on the flavors of cream soda. So good. Pick whatever rum seems right to you.

Because I chose a dark rum, it darkened the bread. That's not burnt parts, that's just shaded with the amazing rum/brown sugar/butter mixture that I poured over top.

Lessons from this recipe:
*Use your hands. Nothing beats your hands when mixing butter with flour. I tried for about 5 minutes mixing the streusel together with a spoon. Don't waste your time. It will never come together without your heat.
*Alcohol in recipes is best picked based on flavor not on price. Okay, this wasn't new to me, but I can't stress this lesson enough. When you cook with liquor or wine or beer, the cooking process intensifies the basic flavors of that liquid. So if it tastes nasty plain, it's not going to taste any better cooked and poured over banana bread.
*Know your oven. The oven temperature and baking time in this and all recipes is a guideline. I hadn't really baked with this oven before, so when I tested my recipe, the beautiful bread burned all over the place. No amount of sugary rum can make that taste better. I've since learned that my oven is about 25 degrees hotter than most people.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Scouting for wedding venues #2: Williamsburg Winery

Looks like we have another swing and a miss here. I'm sure the Winery is a lovely place to have a wedding, but (except for the 30 seconds I was driving down the driveway and super excited by the fields of vines) it didn't really feel like us. Travis wasn't there, but I got the feeling after talking to him last week, that he wasn't too excited about any of the venues I had come up with. And I'm beginning to understand why.
They're all a little too mainstream for us. When you get married, you get married at a church, or an old historic inn, or even a winery. Though some of these examples are less mainstream than a church, none of them are what we wanted when we first brainstormed back in September.
I remember distinctly, we said outside, off the beaten path, abnormal, with trees. None of our options right now fill any of those ideas, except the orchard idea that I came up with recently.
The Boxwood Inn, the Williamsburg Winery, the Chrysler Museum: Any of these would do in a pinch, but they don't feel right.
I still think the Winery would be a fun tour to do. Maybe a bridesmaid party? All of us take a trip through the winery and then have lunch together. Might be fun.

I will still offer a few photos:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Recipe: Spicy sausage and rice

There's something about a chilly day that makes me want to eat something likely to warm me up, like soup. Unfortunately there is such a thing as too much soup or even chili for that matter. Did you know that when you are cold, your appetite increases as you body yearns for more fuel to keep itself warm? When that happens, I find myself scrambling for something warm, comforting and filling. Today I glanced at my Reverse Grocery List (which I mentioned in a previous post about cutting down on our food waste) and realized I had the perfect spicy comfort meal just waiting to be made. I'm calling it Spicy Sausage and Rice, which is something close to the classic Louisiana "red beans and rice," but replaces the beans with smoked turkey sausage.

Before doing anything with this dish, get your rice cooking. That takes the longest.

Next, take about 1/4 cup of chopped onions and toss them in a pan with medium-hot olive oil. Add salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and cumin to coat. I was taught to spice each layer of food, so this is not where you add all the spice. Each time you add another component, you add more spice. Keep that in mind so it doesn't get too hot for you. When the onions are almost done, add a pat of butter and some minced garlic. Cook another couple of minutes.

As your onions and garlic are cooking, chop up some turkey sausage. I went with Johnsonville smoked turkey sausage cause that's what the fiance bought for brat-beer-and-Lord-of-the-Rings-marathon night, but you can go with pretty much anything you want. Add it to the onions with a little extra olive oil. Add some more cumin and, if you want it super spicy, cayenne pepper.

Open a can of diced tomatoes with green chiles. Or you can do plain tomatoes and season those up, but these are super cheap and easy. I use them as a base for everything from pasta sauce to chili. Pour a little of the juice into the sausage, then add some of the tomatoes without the juice. The key here is to get a lot of tomatoes but just enough juice to create a bit of sauce for the sausage.

If you've timed your rice just right, it will have finished just as you're ready to add it to the mix. I used 1/2 cup of brown rice, which I've gotten slightly obsessed with recently. It's not everyone's cup of tea though, since there's a lot of flavor where most people expect to just taste almost nothing. Scoop the rice into the pan with the sausage, onion and tomato mixture.

Add a little more of the tomato juice and stir to coat the rice in yummy goodness. Add more tomatoes, if you like, and whatever of the spices you want to make this taste awesome to your standards. Remember, rice soaks up the juice and spice pretty quickly, so taste it as you go along or you could end up with something bland.

Are you hungry? I am. Too bad I ate all of this last night at work.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A smashing good wedding idea

Last night I was driving home from work and it hit me: Pinatas.
Let me back up. As the fiance and I near our wedding day, we've both been attempting to come up with fun ways to celebrate with our friends and family. On my way home, for no particular reason, I began thinking about pinatas and how much fun it would be to have one (or two) at the wedding. Why not begin our marriage by smashing something apart with a baseball bat? So what do you think, bad call or a smashing good idea?

Bride and Groom Pinatas by LlavesDesigns on Etsy