Sunday, June 26, 2011

Vietnamese Summer Rolls (aka Alien Babies)

I made these today after church and shared them with my roommate, who promptly poked and prodded them, dubbing them "alien babies".  If you have ever had summer rolls before you know they have an almost sticky opaque wrapper, which inspired the name.  The rice papers were one of those things I just wanted to try out, then Bon Appetit featured a Vietnamese Summer Roll recipe that looked simple, so I went out and bought the rice papers.  Naturally I changed up the ingredients for the summer rolls according to what I had on hand, and would use as leftovers.  I knew I wouldn't be in the mood to julienne any vegetables, so I purchased prepared broccoli slaw mix.  I didn't have any sprouts (which I love) or basil or mint, so they just got left out.
I used:
1/3 package of rice noodles - Pour hot water covering noodles, sit for 10 minutes, cool in ice water, drain
Bag of broccoli slaw - Empty into bowl
Bunch of cilantro - I tore the leaves from a whole bunch and mixed it into the slaw
20 large shrimp (precooked, thawed) - take off tails, slice in half
Some lettuce - I got to use some fresh lettuce from the ward garden, rinsed well of course
8 Rice papers - Dampen them as you go.

I put about 5 shrimp on the rice papers, then some of the cilantro/slaw, then a bit of noodles, and a couple pieces of lettuce.  Then wrapped them up.
Disclaimer: I really should have watched a video about how to wrap these, you are welcome to try it as I did, but the following videos should help you get an idea of how to start the wrapping.

 I think I will do a better wrapping next time, for sure!

But I made them, and served them with a little soy sauce mixed with Asian chili sauce.

Now I am trying to figure out what else I can put in these gummy little wrappers next!
Tho'm Ngon!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Saving at the Grocery Store (I Hope This is Clear)

A friend posted on her blog recently, her struggle to make good home cooked meals while balancing the budget she and her husband have established.  As I perceived it, her main problems are going back to the store, cooking for two, and saving at the store.  I have really thrown myself into the couponing deal-searching world in the last year or so, I watched my mom coupon as I grew up.  I have found it to be a great hobby, one I can justify spending time on and really do enjoy.  My friends make fun of me for my three ring coupon binder and my knack for the phrase, "It's cheaper at ______ this week."  But I have figured a few ways to pare down the food bill, even without the coupon binder and ad studying.  I wanted to share a few tips with my friend, and anyone else that struggles with these problems.

Going Back to the Store
Set a Menu, Be Flexible Within a Menu, Have Staples on Hand

    I love to grocery shop, it is cathartic and relaxing for me, which is why I try to avoid them except for when I am on my designated trips. I try to grocery shop every two weeks.   A previous post showed my menu board, I love this for planning my menu.  I find I cannot plan two weeks of meals and stick to it.  I plan my first week before shopping (but after looking at what's on sale in the ads), new recipes or specialty ingredients get planned on this week, then the week after shopping is my leftover week.  I don't eat leftovers all week, I just use whatever is left in my fridge for dinners.  Sites like Epicurious and Betty Crocker are great for plugging in what you have, and coming up with new meals.  I also know that I always have pasta, tortillas, canned tomatoes, and chicken in the house to replace any meals I just don't feel like making that specific night.  Be flexible with yourself, don't turn dinner time into a battle of your will against your menu.  When I follow my menu I always know that a) I am going to use up anything perishable in my fridge and b) I can do new stuff in just another week.

Cooking for One (or Two)
Pre-package Your Bulk, Utilize The Freezer, Know Shelf Life
     This is really hard to do!  I have been cooking on my own for years and I still over portion my food on occasion.  I have found two problems to deal with when you break it down, portion and price.  The answer is bulk and freezing.  I know buying in bulk seems counter intuitive, but buying chicken at $2/lb a couple times a month is much more expensive than buying it at $1.59/lb once every couple of months.  I learned to add a step to my shopping trips from my aunt, single for 30 plus years, packaged everything after the grocery trip.  I package my chicken/steak/ground meat into proper proportions by serving size (this helps if you are watching your weight too).  This helps me track how much is left (when I need to restock), only use what I need (no chicken salad for two days to use up leftovers), and easier meal prep (shorter defrosting and cook times).
     My mom got a freezer for me at Christmas last year.  I have filled it with lots of different things.  Rice, for example freezes well after cooking, when reheated in the microwave it re-steams itself.  I also freeze spaghetti sauce, leftover canned black beans, and coconut milk. This is a good guide to what freezes well, and not.  Sometimes it is trial and error with recipes, but the things that work out are worth it.  I made individual fruit cobblers the other day and froze them individually.  Now I can finish dinner, pop one into a mug, pop it into the microwave, and pop it into my mouth.
     Produce can often present a problem as the fresh foods go bad on your counter or even in your fridge.  Recently I bought some green zip top produce bags, 8 bags for $1 at the The Dollar Tree.  I have kept my veggies in them the past month.  They are great!  I don't understand the science, but I can leave lettuce in them for three weeks and it is still fresh and crisp, snow peas stay crisp, and strawberries don't mold after a couple days.
      Lastly, know how long things are really good for, meaning don't be fooled by "expiration" dates.  I know some will disagree with me, but I stand by this concept.  This is a guide for storing food, but I disagree with even some of these.  Eggs are fine for up to 2 months (chicken scientist told me this, I am not kidding), asparagus keeps longer if you set it in a glass with a half inch of water in the bottom, and hard cheeses can be kept for a very very very long time, just cut off the mold.

Buy What You Use, Know Price and Ads, and Use Coupons

     Saving money at the register is a balance of buying what you use, knowing prices, and getting money off.  Obviously buying peanut butter is not a good use of money if you never eat it.  And $1 off at one store may be $2 more expensive than another.  And $1 off 4 of something is only good if you really will use 4 before they expire.  The menu and freezing will help you know what you will use.
     Knowing prices takes time.  The best way to do this is to look at your weekly ads.  Most grocery ads are online now, and you can even make a shopping list from it and print or email.  When you are new to learning prices there are various places to go to find out what actually is a good price.  I have found an EXCELLENT source for pricing in GrocerySmarts.  This site allows you to select a store and look at the rating of the current prices in the ads.  The red stars mean a great price, keep in mind there could be a greater price in another local ad, so look at them all.  You don't need to run around to 15 stores to get the deal, Walmart price matches any grocer's ad.
     GrocerySmarts also shows what coupons can be used with these deals, to sweeten the pot.  The most thought of place to find coupons is in your Sunday newspaper., which can be purchased all week long at most Walmarts, or many newspapers offer weekend subscriptions.  While this is the most thought of, the web has become an easy way for manufacturers to get there products to people, including coupons.  My favorite coupon site is,  This site has lots of coupons to print right off the Internet.  My favorite deal blogger Hip2Save has a coupon page where she links to lots of printable coupons from all over the web.  She also has links to the coupons, WITH a zip code, since different coupons are released to different regions, but still work everywhere.  I love Collin with Hip2Save, she has some really useful videos about how to use coupons if you are going to really get into the scene.  RedPlum, SmartSource, and All You magazine offer printable online coupons too.  Here in Utah a great money saver is the Smiths digital coupon feature.  You can load digital coupons directly onto your card, and print out a list of what's on there.  Finally, look at your coupons to see how many you have to buy, if you won't use two boxes of something, just get the one and leave the coupon on the shelf for the next person that does want two.  But, just because you have never bought it, doesn't mean you won't.  Kraft usually is higher price than store brand, but with a sale and a coupon, the Kraft could win out.  And never feel bad throwing away a coupon, it is better than throwing away money.

     I know this was a long post, but hopefully something in there was helpful.  I have really enjoyed the process of saving money with the help of all these tools.  Please feel free to ask questions or add to my notes if you so desire!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cheesy Braidy Bread

Just up the street from me is a pizza place that sells pizza dough, a large for 99 cents.
This night I was making pasta and wanted some yummy bread, so I stopped by PizzaPlus.
Rolled it out flat, cut some strands to braid on the outside thirds of the bread.
Then in the middle was Parmesan, butter, herbs, and garlic.
Bake until beautiful and golden.

Cheesy and Braidy and Yummy!

Argentinian Chimichurri Sauce

This is so easy and so good on anything!
I loved this on pork chops.  I also put it on some chopped potatoes and roasted them to tender.

Tomatillo Salsa Verde (Thanks to Briz)

While I was on my mission for the LDS church I had a Mexican companion, Briz.  Every once in awhile she would cook for me.  The best chile relleno I ever had was made by her hand.  She also made tomatillo salsa one time.  It was so good!  It is a different kind of spice, brighter and more fresh than the pureed tomato salsas, but less chopping than pico de gallo.  I have played with a recipe for the last few years, tweaking and playing with the recipe. 

I have come down to the following ingredients:

  • 5 Tomatillos (I use fresh but canned ones work.)
  • 1 Jalepenos
  • 1/2 Onion (I prefer white for pureeing.)
  • Fresh Cilantro
  • Lime Juice (again, I prefer 1/2 real lime.)
  • Dash of Salt
I like to roast everything until it is tender, (except the cilantro, that didn't stay on the pan). 
Then pop it all in the blender.
This shows it on my homemade tostadas (spray either side of a corn tortilla, then bake til crisp).

Watermelon Rind Pickles, Spiced Sweetness from My Childhood

When I say the words watermelon, rind, and pickles, all together, people think I'm crazy.  My mom used to can these.  I just made a batch and put them in some glass bottles I had, refrigerated them until they were gone.  I love the sweetness and bite that they have, lots of cinnamon gives them a subtle spiciness. 

I was making fruit salad when I looked at my watermelon and recalled my moms pickles!  I was so excited to chop and peel my rind.  I found the best way to get rid of the green peel is a vegetable peeler, preferably the "Y" shaped peelers and not the standard stick peeler.

Basically you plop everything in a pot and cook until the pickles get tender and the syrup thickens.  It smells SO GOOD!  (Kind of like mulled cider)

I put them in a Pyrex casserole dish to cool. Make sure you do glass because plastic will absorb the intense spices if left in contact for a while.  I let them sit in this for a few days in the fridge, then put them in my glass bottles.