Sunday, August 31, 2014

$138 A Week For Groceries - Frugal Grocery Shopping Tips & Day 1 Meals (Saturday)

I ended up being out of pocket longer than expected yesterday and was unable to post this on time. Just pretend it's Sunday like I've backdated it to appear. ;)

The other day, I asked y'all for your best/favorite frugal grocery shopping tips, and here's what I got:

- Don't shop hungry.
- Shop the periphery of the store (fresh, raw ingredients) and minimize your purchases from the aisles (more heavily processed foods).
- Do some preparation before you shop - research prices, clip and organize coupons, make a list and stick to it.
- Don't have kids.
- Eat the packaging. It's high in fiber.
- Shop more frequently, and buy less at a time.
- Shop bulk or warehouse.
- Shop clearance/last minute reductions and find out when your market does those so you can time your shopping accordingly and get the best selection.
- Plan your menu around what's on sale.

The dinner that almost didn't get made...

I employ most of these tips in some way or other, but I do happily have kids and there's no turning back from that, I prefer my fiber from more traditional food sources, I don't shop bulk/warehouses because I'm willing to pay a little bit more for more immediate variety within my budget within one shopping trip and also for the storage relief (our home is just big enough for us), and I mostly don't clip food coupons because the bulk of my food purchases are raw ingredients for which there are few coupons.

More of my shopping guidelines that I've shared in the past (that may or may not overlap with the above):

1) I don't insist on organic, local, free range, grass-fed, wild etc. I'm neither proud nor ashamed of this choice, which is driven by a few factors:

   a. Insistence on those things would easily increase my total grocery bill by at least 30%. That's about $180 a month that we choose to spend in other ways to improve our quality of life, whether it be going out for a meal, buying some booze to enjoy as a couple or with friends, taking family outings, going thrifting, buying garden supplies...

Do I hate what Monsanto's doing to agriculture? Yes. Do I think most factory farming operations are deplorable? Absolutely. Do I think it's better to buy locally grown produce than stuff trucked from across the country or shipped in from another continent? Mostly, though I think it's more complicated than it sounds... 

Do I always spend my dollars accordingly? No. 

I do my best in lots of ways whenever and however I can to leave as small a footprint as reasonably possible and to support a generally more modest way of living, producing and consuming, but I don't want my family's enjoyment of life to be subsumed by my politics. Some people are in the financial position to consistently make those other choices without unduly impacting other aspects of their families' lives. As of today, in my assessment, I'm not.

  b. While I do try to stay away from hormone and antibiotic fed food, I don't believe that non-USDA Certified Organic food is necessarily going to kill me or my family. I do believe that lots of people are made very sick by the overconsumption of processed and refined food that converts to blood sugar and causes diabetes and other comorbid conditions at raging epidemic levels in this country and that even if those refined and processed foods came from certified organic farming practices, they would still cause that kind of sickness.

  c. It's not been my experience that certified organic food necessarily tastes better. External growing conditions, production volume, seed variety and other factors contribute as much as farming practices. 

2. Further to item 1b, other than cheese, butter, a few condiments, canned tomatoes and raw cooking materials like flour and sugar, I don't buy much highly processed food. 

And by highly processed food, I mean food that's been broken down to the point that you can't tell by looking at it what it's made from and is then further heated up and pasted together with and by other processed foods to look like something else.

From a cost perspective, the more processing, the more cost added at each step. From a health perspective, the more processing and chemical alteration before it goes in your body means the harder your body has to work to process it. If you don't want to approach it from a scientific perspective, just go a month without processed foods and see if you don't look and feel noticeably lighter.

I do also buy bread, cereal, lunch meats, and pasta regularly now, the first three mainly to make it easy for my 15 year old to prepare his own breakfasts and school lunches, but I try to treat them more as indulgences for my convenience than go-to items for our meals.

3. I buy spices in bags, not bottles. 

These are often found in the "Hispanic" or "Latino" aisle of an otherwise not "Hispanic" or "Latino" market. They aren't always less expensive by the ounce (though they often are), but spices are potent stuff. With the exception of daily use seasonings like black pepper, spices take a loooooooong time to get through. And you can spend 6 or 7 dollars for a bottle of chipotle powder that should be thrown out long before you've used half of it, or spend about $1.00 on a packet you're much more likely to use up while it's still good.

4. Farmers markets aren't always a good place to save money. 

While going to the farmers market is a lovely outing to be sure, what I've noticed over the years is that the glamorization of food seems to have turned farmers markets into more of an attraction than produce outlet. And with that attraction factor comes an upcharge that accounts for lots of things like the actual cost of producing and selling less output that has to be reflected in the margin, the real estate on which the farmers market stands, the primary demographic of its shoppers, and their willingness to pay more just because they can. This isn't true of all farmers markets, and it probably applies to more generally affluent areas, but it's a thing to look out for if you're trying to save money.

5. With the exception of a small handful of items, I am not brand loyal.

I'll admit it. I'm not that picky. Yes, some brands taste better to me than others. And in my willingness to try products that are new to me that might be on special, I've encountered some brands that aren't so good. But while a small percentage of the products I've tried seem to strive to be inedible, there are VERY few products that I, considering myself a fairly adaptable, resourceful and good cook, have simply been unable to work with.

6. I shop for roughly a week's worth of groceries at a time.

While sale item stockpiling works for some people, especially those with larger families, it doesn't work for me. I am much more efficient and less likely to waste when I know for the most part exactly what is in my pantry and refrigerator and when I keep an eye to using ingredients before they rot, wilt or freezerburn. It's hard to know exactly what's in your fridge or pantry when it's constantly crammed with layers of stuff.

And the truth is there is ALWAYS something on sale. I'd rather buy just the protein I need for the week than to have so much meat in the freezer that I can't keep up.

I totally get why stockpiling works for some families. But you do have to be disciplined and organized to make sure you're rotating your stock effectively and efficiently.

7. So-called "ethnic" markets, if they're reasonably close to you, can offer lots of great savings.

And they can also expose you to all kinds sights and flavors you've never experienced before.

8. I stop shopping every 4 to 6 weeks to use up the accumulation of neglected or left over ingredients.

Hence the reader favorite fridge cleanouts.

9. It takes a little sacrifice.

What I mean by that is you have to be willing to be satisfied with what you've got. That is, if I made four servings of stew last night, and we only ate two, then lunch the next day for both of us is leftover stew or something made with it. If all I have for breakfast is cereal, and I feel like a croissant, I'm eating cereal instead of going to the patisserie to buy a croissant. And if by Friday, I'm all out of animal protein, then I'm a vegetarian for dinner. 

Sacrifice is probably too strong a word. Making do within our means is something people used to do all the time, and it used to be the norm until credit cards and rampant consumerism creeped their way into our consciousness. Sacrifice makes it sound a little too extraordinary, doesn't it?

And on to the first day of meals.

FYI, I account for the ingredient cost of a dish on the day on which I cook or prepare it. Leftovers eaten on a subsequent day are, for multiple reasons including the fact that they don't have to be cooked at that point, are considered freebies. :)

I also tend to err on the side of caution and slightly pad ingredient cost, specially when it comes to pantry items.

I've included a meal total and per person total on the blog. The detailed ingredient cost breakdown HERE.


For the most part, everyone in the family but Izz had cereal (Mads had a double serving), and Dean, Joey, and I had coffee. Izz had milk and a banana. If I have two main not-so-guilty convenience foods in my kitchen, they are probably cereal and instant ramen. They buy me some time out of the kitchen, and the family are usually more than happy to eat them.

Before Izz was born, cereal was actually more of a treat in our house than anything else, but parenting a toddler can wear you out, and it's really a little kindness to which I treat myself to keep cereal on hand for when I can't be bothered to cook breakfast and no one else is in the mood to, either.

I will say this for the kinds of cereal the kids like to eat (which is mostly kiddie type cereal): It, like most highly processed grains, provides lots of sugar or sugar convertible laden calories without much satiation. I'm not about forcing Kashi on my kids, and they're not about eating it. They get plenty of other wholesome food in their diet. But this kind of cereal invariably means snacking shortly thereafter. If it's a weekend, they can do that. If it's a school day, I try to make sure a little protein gets thrown in with breakfast to prevent the rumbles until lunch.



Mads (my current bottomless pit - I'm sure she and Joe will probably trade places at some point) had an apple with peanut butter, another small bowl of cereal, and then another apple and cheese. Izz had a banana, and Joey had another small bowl of cereal.

LOL. So much cereal consumption is not typical in our home, but IIRC, I've been a hot, tired, crabby biatch who doesn't much feel like preparing any other grab and go snacks these past few days. I'll get back on the good foot soon. ;)



Our friend Nathan gave us yet more freshly caught ahi, so we had ahi sashimi with some steamed rice and garden salad with my Miso Ginger Dressing.

LUNCH TOTAL: $4.51 for 4 servings, $1.13 per serving

Of course that's not an accurate number at all for what I'd have paid to buy the fish myself. If I had bought fish for sashimi locally, I probably would have bought sashimi salmon at Mission seafood which usually runs $10 to $12 a pound. For four people, I probably would have bought a little over a pound. So assuming a salmon sashimi lunch for which I had bought the fish, this lunch would have ranged between $3.50 and $4.50 per serving.

Most of the point of this diary is to show how I spend my grocery dollars, but part of it is also about making the most of whatever it is we're blessed to have, however it is we come to have it. I try to make good use of as much of the food we're gifted as possible.

What do they mean by so-called "sashimi" grade fish? Read more HERE.


The dinner that almost didn't get made - Chicken Stir Fry with Oyster-Sriracha Sauce (recipe HERE) and Ong Choy in Garlic Sauce. LAM got the ong choy for me a couple of weeks ago so I won't be tallying it in the cost of dinner.

I can't tell you how much I didn't want to cook this dinner or how many times I opened the fridge to see if some easier option would magically appear the longer I stared (and also to stick my face in refrigeration on a dismally hot and somewhat sticky evening)...

But eventually, despite my hormonal and weather related exhaustion, hunger and budget balancing won out, and I cooked. I would have loved to order takeout last night, but we already had plans for our Entertainment budget for the long weekend.

DINNER TOTAL: $5.20 for 4 servings, $1.30 per serving

Wiener Dog Food (& Resulting Plain Turkey/Chicken Stock)

Almost forgot. I also made wiener dog food yesterday by boiling some turkey backs and the back from the whole fryer chicken. The meat pulled from the bones along with some fresh carrot, apple, or cabbage, and a tiny bit of rice should last about a week. I also get some plain turkey/chicken stock I can use any way I like - about 6 cups.

This probably looks like a pain in the ass, but you just put everything on the stove, bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for a good long while until the meat is falling off the bone, which makes it easy to quickly remove as much meat as possible. I take the carcasses out at that point and just let the stock simmer a little longer uncovered so it can reduce just a bit.

Honeydew's a small dog, so it's easy and economical enough to feed her this way. It's only about 20 minutes of active time for me, and this diet keeps her coat soft and shiny and her teeth nice and healthy.

Plus a little stock goes a long way in adding depth of flavor to dishes in which its appropriate to use it in lieu of water. Not to mention a 15 oz. can of stock can cost anywhere from $1 to $3, so there's that.



Speaking of frugal matters, at the moment, I'm kicking myself for not buying the Groupon I was going to buy last night for our bowling outing with our friends yesterday because it has since sold out. I snoozed, and I loozed.

But we get to hang out with friends and have ramen with them and stuff, so I'm totally over kicking myself about it. Mostly. ;)

Happy Sunday, all. I hope you have some fun with friends today. :)

'Til tomorrow,


This post is part of my 30 Day Grocery Budget Diary. To see all the posts of this series in reverse chron order, click HERE.

Like what you're reading? Do you find it helpful, useful, entertaining, or any combination thereof? Please consider showing your support. :)

Chicken & Veg Stir Fry With Oyster Garlic Sriracha Sauce

Printable Version (Recipe Only)

This recipe is part of my 30 Day Grocery Budget Diary. To see all the posts of this series in reverse chron order, click HERE.

Chicken & Veg Stir Fry with Oyster Garlic Sriracha Sauce
Serves 4 with some steamed rice on the side
Time: About 30 minutes
Recipe Only

- 1/2 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 stem celery, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 1 medium carrot, cut into 1/8-inch thick slices on the bias (or don't cut it on the bias - whatever works for you)
- 1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thigh meat cut into roughly 1-inch cubes
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 Tablespoon minced garlic (about 2 large cloves garlic)
- 2 Tablespoons oil
- 1.5 Tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 Tablespoon sriracha
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 Tablespoon distilled white vinegar

1) In a bowl, mix the chicken with the kosher salt thoroughly and evenly and set aside.

2) In another small bowl, combine the oyster sauce, sriracha, sugar, and distilled white vinegar and mix thoroughly.

3) Heat a wok, skillet, or large saute pan to high, add 1 Tablespoon oil, and quickly stir fry the onion, carrot, and celery for about 2 minutes or until the onion just begins to turn translucent. Set the veg aside on a plate.

3) Heat your pan back up to high heat, add the other Tablespoon of oil, and spread the chicken in a single layer on the cooking surface and let it cook undisturbed for about 2.5 to 3 minutes. (I know this defies the idea of literally stir frying, but home ranges rarely get hot enough to stir fry this quantity of dark meat at a time without releasing lots of liquid from the meat and/or generating steam, so in this case, it's actually better to leave the meat undisturbed at the high heat and let it develop a sear before you stir it.) Give the chicken a stir to redistribute and flip it, then let it cook another 2 minutes or so.

4) Stir in garlic and let it cook for about 30 seconds.

5) Add in vegetables and sauce mixture and toss to evenly season your stir fry.

That's it!

Enjoy with some steamed rice or as a lettuce wrap filling or whatever makes you happy. :)


Saturday, August 30, 2014

$138 A Week For Groceries - Shopping Day 1

If you'd like to be notified of all the posts in this 30 day diary, you might like to subscribe by email under my G+ badge to the right of this blog. I don't sell or otherwise share subscriber info.

So I was imprecise. My budget's not exactly $150 per week. It's actually $600 per month, which works out to $138 and odd change per week.

My groceries this week:

Sprouts & Big Lots Haul

Emergency Walmart Run

My loose parameters:

- This budget covers food and drink for 2 adults, 1 full time teenager, 1 part time teenager, 1 toddler, and 1 somewhat spoiled wiener dog. Since my part time teenager is at that bottomless pit stage of their development, all told, I'm chalking everything up to the equivalent of 4 adults in case that makes it easier for some people to put it in context.

Unless other food is specifically indicated, you can assume Izz (who is 2 years old) eats a little of whatever we're having plus milk and/or water.

- It covers every meal and snack with the exception of the usually 1 to 2 times a week we order in or dine out. The latter is more typical. How much those 1 to 2 meals out per week cost in comparison with my grocery bill that covers ALL THE OTHER MEALS kinda makes me want to cry when I think about it, so I'll stop. Thinking about it, that is.

Also, while it includes inexpensive beer and wine, we don't include our craft beer, better wines, or other liquor in this budget. We allocate those to the Entertainment budget.

- This budget also covers incidental cleaning and paper supplies that I might pick up while I'm shopping for food. It doesn't include makeup, toiletries and diapers.

- It assumes a mostly full pantry with the odd staple or 2 or 3 running out every week. I created a very basic spreadsheet of my pantry staples along with an estimated cost, and it tells me it would cost roughly $85 to stock a bare pantry with my idea of the essentials. Assuming I've forgotten some stuff, which I probably have, let's do some Asian style rounding and say it would cost you about $100 if you were to have my idea of a mostly locked and loaded pantry.

- My grocery categories are Beverages, Dairy, Grains/Starches, Proteins, Pantry, Produce, Snacks/Indulgences, and Misc. Fairly self explanatory, but I'll clarify that eggs, which are sometimes considered dairy, are considered proteins for purposes of this budget, and misc. is everything else that doesn't fall into any of the other categories, including tax, CRV, and odd minimal rounding adjustments that need to be made so my spreadsheet numbers gel as exactly as possible with my receipt numbers.

I'll share a bit more of my shopping philosophy and strategy with each successive post, but if it seems I've forgotten anything or if you have questions, please feel free to ask them below in comments.

Here goes nothin'.

For my first shopping trip of this budget, I shopped at Sprouts, Big Lots, and Walmart. I usually shop Sprouts and Fresh & Easy when I want to stay super close to home, but I ended up finding some stuff at Big Lots looking for diapers that ended up not being stocked there any more, and then a couple of other things at Walmart where I knew I'd find the diapers I can no longer find at Big Lots, which is where I would go for diapers when I didn't want to trudge through the hell that is Walmart when it's busy, which is pretty much any time between 8am and 10pm.

$135.60 TOTAL as follows:

BEVERAGES: Kool-Aid Jammers, MexiCokes I happened to spot at Big Lots and got for Dean and Joey who both love MexiCokes, a bottle of cheap bubbly, and coffee beans. $18.06, 13.3% of total.

DAIRY: Half and half, whole milk, plain yogurt. $9.87, 7.3% of total.

GRAINS/STARCHES: 2 loaves of wheat/whole grain bread, 1 box Honey Nut Cheerios. $5.60, 4.1% of total.

PROTEIN: 4 cans Kipper Snacks, ~ 2 pounds of pork shoulder, ~ 2 pounds tri-tip roast, ~ 3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, 1 whole ~4.5 pound fryer chicken, 1 pound honey ham, 1 dozen jumbo eggs, ~ 3 pounds turkey backs for Honeydew's food. $50.37, 37.1% of total.

PANTRY: Rice Paper, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Fish Sauce, Soy Sauce. $15.43, 11.4% of total.

PRODUCE: carrots, Russet potatoes, cucumbers, mint, celery, cilantro, eggplant, Hatch green chilies, Fuji apples, garlic, ginger, green onions, lemons, limes, Napa cabbage, red bell pepper, red leaf lettuce, Roma tomatoes, seedless watermelon, white onions, bananas, peaches. $35.72, 26.3% of total.

SNACKS/INDULGENCES: None this week, as we still have ice cream in the freezer and cake mix in the pantry.

MISC: This week was just taxes, CRV, and adjustments. Barely enough to make a dent. Other weeks, it might be TP, paper towels, stuff like that.

If you'd like to see exact quantities and unit or per pound pricing for each item and/or spreadsheets just turn you on, THE SPREADSHEET DETAIL IS HERE.


I loosely plan meals after I shop and not before. I like to select from what's on sale, in season, or specially irresistible for any number of reasons and then cook from that rather than shop around a pre-set menu that may or may not work with what the market has to offer on a given week. My plans for this week's haul:

- Vietnamese Summer Rolls (aka Goi Cuon) with the pork, lettuce, mint, cilantro, cucumber and rice paper (They are Mads' standing request whenever I ask for her input on meals.

- Bulgogi style chicken thighs (maybe the spicy kind)

- Ropa Vieja, shredded beef tacos, or a Beef Bourguignon type deal with the tri-tip roast

- My almost weekly roast chicken breast and possibly a Proven├žal inspired roast chicken with the rest of the whole fryer

- Wiener dog food and stock with the turkey backs and the back of the whole fryer chicken

- Kimchi with the Napa cabbage, ginger, garlic and green onions

The rest is up in the air, and as always, the plans are subject to my whims.

Back tomorrow with the first day of meals. Hope you're all having a loverly Saturday. :)


Miso Ginger Dressing

Today's the first day of my latest installment of the 30 day grocery budget diary, and I'll be sharing the shopping breakdown with you later today, but since our friend Nathan treated us to yet more freshly caught ahi, and we'll be having sashimi and salad with this dressing for lunch today, I thought it a perfect time to transfer the recipe over to the new blog. It's my twist on the ubiquitous yet mildly mysterious Japanese restaurant orange salad dressing. 

Hope you enjoy. :)

Garden Salad With Miso Ginger Dressing
Serves 4 to 6
Time: 20 minutes


- a 12 ounce bag of mixed salad greens of choice

- a small carrot, julienned, if you like
- cherry tomatoes
- sliced cucumber


- 2 Tablespoons minced ginger
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 1/2 a medium onion, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 2 Tablespoons Japanese miso or light colored Korean dwenjang
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 Tablespoons distilled white vinegar
- 2 to 2.5 Tablespoons sugar
- 2 to 3 Tablespoons water
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- optional 3 Tablespoons mayo if you like a creamier dressing

1) Put all dressing ingredients in a blender, start off on a low setting for the first 10 seconds or so to prevent splatter, then turn to puree setting and blend until there are no remaining chunks of ginger, carrot or onion.

Adjust seasoning if needed and whiz for another 20 seconds or so to make sure the seasoning is evenly distributed.

2) Arrange salad veg on a platter and drizzle with dressing or serve dressing on the side.

Enjoy! :)


Goes Great With: BulgogiEasy Braised Teriyaki ChickenSpicy Salmon Poke with Crunchy Cucumber, Teriyaki Chicken

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Purple Grape & Plum Jam

Looking back to see what I was doing a year ago, I found I'd shared this jam recipe on the old blog so I figured I'd transfer it over to the new blog today. Hope you enjoy. :) 

Ever since I discovered that I could make a small batch of strawberry jam with just fruit, sugar, a little lemon juice, and a pinch of salt, that I wouldn't have to sterilize jars for (if it was to be consumed within a couple of months) or make enough to feed an army in the process, I haven't looked back.

And when berries or other jam-able fruits are on sale or clearance, I take advantage of the savings and make a jar or two of super fresh and intensely flavored jam for less than I would pay for store bought product with added water, corn syrup, starches, or any number of other thickeners or fillers.

I hope that doesn't come across preachy as much as encouraging and inspiring. Because as a parent who's seen much more hectic days while juggling career and family, I totally get why we buy jam at the store. I'd still be buying some jam at the store if I didn't have as much time at home as I do.

But I really do think you'll be so pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to make delicious jam at home. And with the slightly thinner texture of a no added pectin recipe, it's totally adaptable and delicious not only with toast and PB&Js, but yogurt, ice cream, cheesecake, layered in a trifle, mixed with warmed Maple syrup as a flavoring... So many possibilities.

But enough of this soft sell on making jam at home... :P

Last weekend, I bought what I thought were Concord grapes on clearance at the market and realized upon coming home that they were Niabells. Turns out they're not all that different. Slightly smaller fruit size and thicker skin, but very similar flavor.

And on a second grocery run, black plums were on sale, and they were deliciously fragrant in the market so I had to bring some home.

Then as I was thinking about jamming the grapes, it occurred to me that ripe plums taste quite similar to ripe purple grapes - candied, fruity, and musky - and could make a great augmentation to my grape jam seeing as I only had 1 pound of grapes.

Turns out it worked just fine and resulted in a double batch of an overwhelmingly grape-y tasting jam with a delicate and harmonious hint of plum.

That said, a little caveat. If you've never made jam before and this particular one intrigues you, I recommend using seedless Concords if you can get them so you don't have to trouble with peeling or removing seeds. If you use seedless Concords, you can skip the peeling and seeding steps.

Another note: Many Concord grape jam/jelly recipes don't make any mention of removing the seeds, so it's very possible that you can have a great end product leaving the seeds in. But having grown up eating Concord grapes (which are very popular with Koreans), and accidentally biting into their seeds and tasting their acrid bitterness, I didn't feel like taking chances with my first batch of grape jam.

One more note: If your standard or expectation of grape jam or jelly is something like the Welch's so many of us grew up on, you have to use a dark purple table grape like Concord or Niabell. Regular red and green grapes just don't have that same musky, candied flavor.

Purple Grape & Plum Jam
Makes roughly 32 ounces

- 1 pound Niabell or Concord grapes, peeled and seeded
- 1.5 pounds ripe black or red plums, washed, seeded and cut into 1/2" cubes
- 2 cups sugar to start
- a pinch of salt (about 1/16 of a teaspoonful)

1) If you're using seeded grapes, peel and seed them. Peeling these grapes isn't like peeling red or green grapes. You can just squeeze them with the stem end facing away from you, and the entire pulp will separate from the skin. As for seeding, I opted to just dig in with my fingers to halve the pulp and remove the seeds, grape by grape. There are other ways to remove them, but none I've tested for this purpose, so I'm not comfortable suggesting them at this point.

2) With the seeds removed, run the grapes through a food processor for 20 to 30 seconds to help break up the skins a bit.

You can also use a stick blender or regular blender, but if you're using a regular blender, you'll have to constantly scrape down the sides with a paddle or spatula, making sure it doesn't touch the blade, to feed the blade and keep it going because you don't want to add water and dilute the grapes.

3) Put your plums, grape puree, sugar and salt into a large saucepan (or deep saute or stock pot or Dutch oven - whatever you have on hand that works), give it a few good stirs, and put in on medium heat, uncovered, until the mixture starts to gently boil and bubble. Once it does, keep it at that heat for a minute. (This should take 10 to 15 minutes.)

4) Then turn the heat down to medium low and simmer, uncovered, for another 20 minutes. At this point, if you don't care for chunks in your jam, get a potato masher and give the plum chunks a thorough mashing. If you don't mind the chunks, no mashing necessary.

5) Simmer an additional 25 to 40 minutes, depending on how thick and concentrated you want the jam, stirring every 10 or 15 minutes and ensuring that the heat never gets so high that you can scrape fruit solids off the cooking surface.

Low and slow is the key to jam. Once you've reached that initial gentle boil, you almost can't ruin the jam by turning the heat down too low, but you can easily burn the solids and the sugars by leaving the heat a little too high for a little too long. If you're unsure, always err on the side of lower heat and just let the jam go longer to get to your desired consistency.

This is also a good time to taste for sweetness and see if you'd like to add a little more sugar. Remember to cool your sample completely so you can accurately taste for sweetness. Things tend to taste sweeter when cooler. If you add sugar at this point, let it go an extra 5 to 7 minutes to make sure to melt the sugar completely.

6) When the jam is a very thick and syrupy, you can turn off the heat or let it go a few minutes longer for a thicker consistency before turning off the heat. Keep in mind the jam will continue to thicken as it cools.

7) Give the jam 15 or 20 stirs to release some heat and enable it to cool faster. Cool completely before transferring to a thoroughly washed and dried lidded container. Glass or plastic, doesn't matter.

Enjoy! :)


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Carne Asada Marinade

Carne asada is a great way for the whole family to enjoy a better cut of meat in a taco rather than the usual ground beef, on a limited budget.

Make a couple of tacos by adding some shredded cabbage, fresh pico de gallo, a squeeze of lime, and a drizzle of crema or slightly thinned sour cream wrapped in charred corn tortillas, and you have a healthful, delicious, balanced and inexpensive meal.

If you prefer chicken, this marinade also works great with boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

Carne Asada Marinade
Serves 4 as a taco or burrito filling. Easily doubled.
Time: 15 to 20 minutes to prep marinade. Doesn't include grill time.

- 1.5 pounds skirt or flap steak
- 1/4 of an onion, cut into 1/4-inch strips
- 1 Tablespoon minced garlic (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder, not garlic salt)
- 2 Tablespoons lime or lemon juice
- 1 to 1+1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cumin (depending on how much you like its flavor, but you might want to go light if you're cooking for kids who haven't acquired a taste for cumin)
- 1 teaspoon ground achiote (aka annatto) for color and earthiness (paprika will work in a pinch)
- 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder for smoky heat
- 3 to 4 Tablespoons chopped cilantro (this is a great use for the stems)
- 1/5 Tablespoons oil

Massage it all together well and thoroughly and let it marinate for at least 3 or 4 hours before grilling. You can wait up to 2 days if life gets in the way.

¡Buen provecho! :)


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Coconut Curry Chicken Satay

As far as I know, satay or sate is basically your generally Southeast Asian grilled skewer or kabob, prepared in a variety of ways throughout the region, and often served with a dipping sauce on the side.

I pulled my influences from Thai and Vietnamese cuisines to come up with this version which includes a little coconut milk in the marinade, which can either help chicken breast meat retain moisture or soften the slightly stronger and gamier flavor of dark meat, depending on which you use.

One upside (among others) of using breast meat is that it cooks very quickly, and when you have lots of skewers to cook for a crowd like I did for our potluck last weekend, it speeds up the cooking time by about a third. As it turned out, I didn't have to do the grilling because our friend Jason handled it for me. Our friends are generally awesome like that. :)

On the day of the potluck, because we had so many other delicious things to eat, I only served my Super Easylicious Peanut Sauce on the side. But aside from serving them with some steamed jasmine rice and a side salad or some sort, I also love making a full lettuce wrap meal of the chicken and sauce with stuff like sliced raw cucumbers, carrots, jicama, raw bean sprouts, cilantro, mint, Thai basil, and if I'm feeling starchy, maybe even some boiled and cooled bun (Vietnamese vermicelli) or angel hair pasta.

If you're grilling on a gas grill, you just need to preheat your grill to a just under medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes prior to cooking. If you're grilling with coals, since you're dealing with smaller, thinner skewer cuts, you'll want to make sure to give your coals plenty of time for the flames to burn out and then a little time for the white heat to dissipate just a bit before you start cooking. You'll be able to tell when some of the coals have returned to something more like the original charcoal color.

And then there's always the hand test (assuming an even spread of the coals) in which you hold your hand an inch or two above the grill grates and judge the temp by how long you can hold it there before you have to pull it away. For the slightly less than medium heat you want for these satay skewers, 4 to 5 seconds should do it.

Coconut Curry Chicken Satay
Serves 8 to 10 (makes roughly 30 skewers - easily halved)
Time: About 20 minutes to prep and marinate, 2 to 8 hours to marinate, 20 to 30 minutes to skewer, 6 to 9 minutes to grill per batch for white meat, 11 to 14 for dark

Why the weird/odd numbers, Shinae??? Because I find people more apt than not to overcook proteins, specially on a grill, and the slightly lower than usually prescribed cooktimes are there to encourage you to dare to cook them just a little bit less than you usually do so you might discover how much better meat can taste when it's not THAT cooked. ;)

- 40 skewers soaked ideally overnight, but at least 6 hours or so

- 4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast or thigh meat cut into roughly 1/3-inch thick, 1.5-inch wide strips
- 1 to 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/3 cup coconut milk
- 1/4 cup minced shallots
- 3 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 Tablespoons oil
- zest of 1 lime
- 1.5 to 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 Tablespoon minced garlic (about 2 large cloves)
- 1/2 Tablespoon curry powder

1) In a large mixing bowl, combine the chicken strips with the salt first and give them a good thorough mixing with your hands to ensure that the chicken is evenly seasoned with the salt. (I often find that when I'm working with wet or watery marinades, this step of minimally salting the protein first ensures that the meat takes up a little bit of salt flavor before the salt elements in the marinade can leach moisture, thereby diluting the flavoring of the meat.) Let that sit for about 5 minutes while add the other ingredients into the bowl.

2) Combine the rest of the marinade ingredients with the salted chicken and again, using your hands, massage the ingredients gently and thoroughly into the chicken, making sure that all the components are evenly distributed throughout the chicken.

3) Cover the chicken and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 8. (What will happen if you marinate it longer? Well, it won't be terrible, but the longer proteins sit in a salty mixture, the more cured a texture they begin to take on. You can actually let this marinade go for 2 or 3 days before you cook the chicken, but I think up to 8 hours for chicken breast keeps optimal texture. Up to overnight for dark meat.)

4) Skewer the chicken in roughly 6-inch segments. This may take combining 2 or more pieces together. No biggie. Also, if you're planning to cook the chicken over coals right after you skewer, right before Step 4 would be a good time to light your coals.

5) Grill the skewers over slightly lower than medium heat. 3 to 4.5 minutes per side for breast meat, 5.5 to 7 minutes per side for dark meat.



Goes Great With: Joey's Favorite Crunchy Soy Slaw, Super Easylicious Peanut Sauce, Simple Jasmine Rice & Peas (without the peas is probably better for this particular dish), Spicy Cucumber Banchan

Repurposing Ideas: Tortilla Wraps with a little lettuce, mayo, and sriracha; over a garden salad with your favorite dressing; a kicked up banh mi...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Chicken Cutlets & Plastic Surgeons (My Review of Dr. Tom Pousti)

Though not many know about it, it’s also not a huge secret that once upon a time after breastfeeding two kids and watching my perky Bs turn into saggy double A socks in mild horror, I got myself a pair of fake bewbs. Not pornobewbies or anything. Just a little bigger and of course unnaturally perkier than what Mother Nature gave me B.B. (Before Babies)

They were perfectly fun while they lasted, and I learned a lot of things about myself and the people around me. Among them that you should never say never because before my bewbies shriveled from breastfeeding, I was adamant I’d never be that woman with fake tatas. Also that most men, whatever their professed favorite female body part(s), are also boob men. And also that having noticeable breasts can make you Public Enemy #1 to some women. 

Despite what a lot of people want to believe, I didn’t do it for or because of THE MAN patriarchy (and even as I’m telling you I didn’t, I’m sure someone’s going to insist I did). I did it because I wanted to look like that for a time in my life. Given the same circumstances as then, I’d probably do it all over again. And given the same circumstances as now, I probably wouldn’t take a new set for free. We change, we learn, we grow, and hopefully all of it is integral to making us more and more at peace with who we are becoming.

This is my review of the plastic surgeon who eventually removed my implant (you’ll see why it’s singular). He is exceptional, and I wanted to share that as well as my personal story with you. :)  scr

P.S. If you don't want to go apeshit crazy from fucked up blog formatting, don't compose in +Google Drive and paste into +Blogger . You will want to slap a bitch with your chicken cutlets.

About four years ago, after having had implants for several years, I experienced some complications with the right one. I went back to the plastic surgeon who performed the original augmentation, and he proceeded to remove said implant on the spot in office referring to what seemed to me an implausible theory of a silicone implant related cancer, which, according to him, apparently miraculously resolved itself upon removal of the offending implant.

Had I had more presence of mind in the moment, I probably would have gone to another doctor to see if the inflammation could be more thoroughly diagnosed and treated before resorting to the removal of the implant, but there were lots of other issues to deal with in my life at the time, and I wanted to trust the doctor to do the reasonable and intelligent thing, so I did.

In the bass ackward turn of events in which my implant had already been removed without any treatment and the biopsy came back negative, I was lopsided, and it was clear my original PS assumed I would return at a later date to pay him to fix what he so clearly in hindsight had botched. Because some surgeons - lots of surgeons, actually - underestimate their patients’ intelligence and judgment just that much.

Once I was able to step back and analyze his handling of the matter, there was no doubt in my mind I would never return to him to fix anything, even if he’d offered to do it for free. But I also had these more pressing life matters to attend to, and it would be almost four years and a few sets of silicone chicken cutlets before I would turn my attention back to fixing not only my lopsidedness but also the significant disfigurement that results from the removal of an implant without any steps taken whatsoever to mitigate aesthetic damage.

By this time, I had no interest in renewing my implants. I got my implants at a very different time and headspace in my life, and I enjoyed them while they lasted without complications, but I was ready to be done with them and any possibility of further complications like the ones I’d already dealt with.

When I began researching area plastic surgeons who seemed to be as comfortable with removal as with augmentation, Dr. Pousti’s name came up again and again. And in all the research I did on his work, not only did his patients seem to love his work and his bedside manner, but he also seemed to have a sane and reasonable approach to the removal of implants where so many surgeons who specialized in removal seemed to espouse a certain dogma and fear mongering about explantation in order to convince potential patients that the removal process would necessarily be long, difficult, complicated, drawn out, and so naturally, very costly.

Well as you know, I’d already learned the hard way that a fear based approach to medical decisions probably won’t end well, so based on my research I decided to consult with Dr. Pousti about removing the remaining implant and reasonably fixing the disfigured breast.

At the first consultation, I was struck by not only his professionalism in consulting with me and my husband who accompanied me, but also his considerate interactions with us and the other people around him. He listened carefully to my wishes and expectations, and thoroughly presented the options available to achieve just what I wanted rather than some procedure and outcome he might prefer for some reason or other (which, if you’ve consulted with plastic surgeons, you know is fairly commonplace). And when I eventually chose to go with the most simple approach, having been made fully aware by Dr. Pousti of the reasonable outcome I could expect with that approach, he absolutely respected my thought process and decision and carefully and thoroughly helped me prepare for the upcoming procedure, making sure I understood exactly what he was going to do and why he was going to approach it as he would.

The surgery center he uses for his procedures is staffed with friendly professionals who are fantastic about ensuring your comfort before, during, and after the procedure, and for my particular procedure, I was in at 6, and out by 11.

Dr. Pousti, true to his fashion, was great about communicating before and after the procedure, and as important as his skill in surgery itself is the truly human touch with which approaches his practice.

It’s been a little over a month since I had my procedure done, and I can say that everything is healing and reshaping beautifully since.

And for the finesse and skill with which the work was done, Dr. Pousti’s rates are so very reasonable and accessible.

I would easily and gladly recommend him to anyone considering having work done on their breasts. He is a consummate professional and a caring human being, and I couldn’t ask for better.

Friday, August 15, 2014

From Stock Markets to Stock Pots

As I'm gearing up to do a third installation of my month-long grocery budget diary, I thought it a fitting time to re-share this post from the old blog about the value of frugality in life and specially in the kitchen - complete with old pictures, some of them in awfulbad lighting. ;) I know that Trader Joe's stopped selling Wild Japanese Scallops for a time after I wrote this blog because of the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, and I haven't checked to see if they stock them anymore these days, but the rest of the piece still holds true for me. 

I was born in 1973, year of the ox. Oxen folk are supposed to possess the steadfast, workhorse, practical nature of this tireless beast of burden.  And, being a water ox, I'm supposedly more flexible, adaptable and affable than my wood, fire or earth counterparts. Predictable or coincidental, the general characterizations of my sign suit me quite well. I've always loved to work, I like to think I'm pretty friendly, and changes in plan and scenery generally don't phase me too much. (And yes, I can be quite stubborn as well.)

But if any of these attributes suits me to a tee, for good and for bad, it is that I am a practical kind of gal. So practical that it hurts sometimes.  So practical that I strongly dislike holidays, carnivals and parades. So practical as to make me wonder if I didn't spend some part of another life in the Great Depression or the Great Potato Famine (and just what makes these things *great*, anyway???)...

Parmesan Polenta W. Roasted Pork Ragu &
Fresh Mozzarella - $2.50/serving

And when I say practical, I don't mean that high-rolling, free-wheeling, spend-thrifting practicality of the past two decades when people bought 8 seat, 40-gallon Suburbans because it was *impractical* for a family of 4 to have to squeeze into a Camry the 6 days a week they don't have soccer practice. Not the kind of practicality that tells a girl she has more credit limit than hours in her day, so she would be wiser to drop 25 bucks every 4 weeks to have someone else push back her cuticles and shellac her nails than do it herself while she watches Real Housewives (The irony kills, I know. :P). And definitely not the kind of practicality that tells someone it makes more sense to fatten the coffers of Starbucks by paying 2 dollars every morning for a cup of the best or the worst coffee ever (depending on who you ask) instead of brewing their own for odd change...

I'm talking the kind of middle class practicality that was the order of the day before not-so-cheap but easy credit hijacked our sense of proportion and frugality to the point that we've overextended ourselves individually, and as a nation, and turned our micro and macro finances upside down. The kind of practicality that told us it's OK to feed our toddlers a bit of our 15 dollar entrees instead of buying them a 7 dollar kid's meal they weren't going to put a dent into. The kind of practicality that told us it's perfectly fine to tell our children that 200 dollars is a LOT of money to spend on that DS and that if they were so lucky to get that DS for their birthday, it would be the ONLY thing they get.  The kind of practicality that reminded us that certain things in life should be considered privileges no matter how our sense of indulgence (and the banks) want us to consider them rights.

Caldo de Pollo - $1.25/serving

Living in an upper middle class Stepford during the 90s and early 2000s often left me feeling a fish out of water, trying to reconcile my innate sense of old-school practicality to my relationships with the not so similarly practical people around me - other middle class people who tipped 40%, couldn't sleep on low threadcount sheets, bristled at the mere idea of using coupons and would rather die than admit that something, anything, was beyond their middle class budgets. 

But something good can always come from something bad, and it seems the ruins of the wild financial excess and oblivion of the past decades have indirectly brought about a return to a healthier, less disdainful attitude toward frugality and practicality. If credit cards and credit lines at one point made us all but forget that we were living well beyond our means, the financial industry's kneejerk reactions to their own shortsighted strategies by way of sudden reductions in credit limit, usurious rates and fees, and outright refusal to lend, have served to remind us that our actual middle class dollars are actually limited and should be spent humbly and wisely. 

Where credit momentarily allowed many of us the fantasy that we had more money than time, the credit debacle has forced us to deal with the reality that we probably are not rich folk. And that as not rich folk, it doesn't make much economic sense for us to pay other people, on a regular basis, to do what we can quite reasonably be expected to do for ourselves.

Antipasto Salad - $1.50/serving

And so despite the misfortune of this economic downturn, I find myself in a time and place that feels much more my element. I love that a bag of Trader Joe's Wild Japanese Scallops, some rice, some produce, a couple of bottles of Kirin and an hour's worth of elbow grease can turn out a really delicious Sushi and Ceviche date night for under 20 dollars. The fact that a 6 dollar chicken will make dinner for 4, feed the pup for 2 or 3 meals and give me a quart of chicken stock excites me probably a little more than it should. And when nothing goes to waste, I feel I've put my sense of practicality to a good, humble and respectful use of the precious resources I share with my children, my neighbors and the world at large.

Cheap Date Night... :)

I realize cooking isn't everyone's idea of fun. Neither is dusting, doing the laundry, scooping dog poo, or washing the car. But of all the domestic activities borne of necessity, it has one of the highest rates of return. When, even in this tight economy, dinner for 4 at a crap chain like Applebee's can easily come to 60 dollars or more, and a really tasty meal for the same number of people could be made with 10 dollars' worth of fresh ingredients (and a lot less processed crud), it makes increasingly more sense to start cooking if you don't already, and to hone your skills further if you do. You might find the joy of wonton cooking far outweighs the thrill of wanton spending.

GET IT??? Wonton cooking??? Wanton spending????


I kill myself.

Who says cows don't have killer comic instincts...