22 March 2014

Thriving on a budget

Since I lasted posted, a lot of people have been asking me about if I'm really living on $30 a week for groceries. Sure $30 doesn't sound like much, but it is entirely possible to not just live off of, but thrive on thirty dollars a week, so I figure today's post will be dedicated toward how to manage your grocery spending.

First off, I think it is important to say you need to be realistic. Different people have different eating habits. For instance, I don't eat meat, so I am able to save a lot of money in that department. I'm also a small person, so I probably eat less than people who are normal height (unless you put nachos in my face, then I'm going to eat an alarming amount). Different people also have different amounts of time that they can feasibly devote to cooking, and also like cooking (and doing dishes) to different degrees. If you hate cooking prep or just want to cut down on clean up time, then make sure you factor in the cost of these prepared foods into your budget.

Second, it is wise to start by making a small cut to your current spending. Early last year, I would fluctuate up to forty dollars a week on how much I spent weekly on groceries. Once I was aware of this, I tried a budget set around roughly the average of how much I was spending then. Later on, I lowered this budget to $40 a week. Shortly after, I realized that I was routinely under my $40 price point, so I lowered it to $30. If I had started with my original spending and immediately imposed a $30 budget there is no way I would have been successful and so I think it's really important you do what you need to do to make sure you don't feel unhappy with your food options.

Third, when reducing your grocery costs consider what is in season or locally sourced. These products tend to be cheaper, and if it's locally you're sourced, you're doing the environment a favor, too. In the winter in the northeast, I realize it can be difficult to stay fully stocked on fresh fruits and veggies, because nothing is in season near you. I suggest then that you look at whether there are fruits and vegetables that keep well and that you can buy in bulk at your local grocery store. For example, Wegmans has a terrific deal on family packs of granny smith apples. While these apples are not the gigantic apples I used to feast on, they are crisp and juicy, and at $2.99 for 3 pounds, they are a steal! In addition, do some sleuthing around your freezer section. Your store might offer flash frozen, unseasoned vegetable or fruit medleys. These are often cheaper than what you would buy fresh and they are extremely versatile! {Never}homemaker recently reviewed how the frozen vegetables from Wegmans help her stay on track with healthy eating, but her post also highlights how affordable and handy they are! I try to always have a few bags of the different Asian medleys on hand, so that at night I can throw together a vegetable and tofu stir-fry in just a matter of minutes.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, be in the habit of planning out your meals. I don't mean that you should be planning in the sense that you should be watching your nutritional content intake, but you should have recipes picked out for the next week. This will help you stay within your budget by making sure you don't make a thousand elaborate meals within the span of one week and at the same time it will limit how much time you spend wandering up and down the aisles, throwing whatever looks good into your cart. Perhaps most exciting for me, planning out my meals gives me the chance of trying out new recipes on a weekly basis!

Do you have any tips for staying on track with grocery shopping? Chime in! Otherwise, be sure to enjoy your weekend. I'll be back with a round-up of recipes I've tried out recently and loved as lunches to bring into work!

04 March 2014

Strawberry Raspberry Chia Jam

Chee-a? Chai-a? Chia. As in, those furry grass-like pets from the 80s.

I got into eating chia seeds in the past two years when they blew up in the food world for being rich in omega-3s and fiber.



They're these tiny little seeds and as a vegetarian and someone with a fickle stomach, they just seemed like a no brainer to add to my diet. I bought them in the organic section at my regular grocery store and like to top off my yogurt with them, throw them in smoothies, and even use them as an egg-like binder in vegan baked goods. Most recently, I've been using them to make jam!

Strawberry Raspberry Chia Jam
Lightly adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

Yields: 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 cup raspberries, frozen or fresh
  • 2 cups strawberries, halved, frozen or fresh
  • 2-3 tbs maple syrup, honey or agave
  • 1/2 tbs vanilla extract
  • 3 tbs chia seeds
Directions
  • In a small pot, bring your fruit to a low boil, stirring frequently. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and continue to stir for 5-7 minutes until most of the fruit falls apart. 
  • Add in to the fruit, your sweetener, extract, and seeds. Continue to stir the mixture for an additional 7-10 minutes or until it has thickened up to a jam consistency of your liking.
  • Remove jam from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature before serving or storing. It should keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.

I've been putting this jam on top of my oatmeal in the mornings to sweeten it up without the addition of raisins, honey, and the like. What's your favorite use for jam? 

03 March 2014

Life right now

Life has changed significantly since I last posted, but that's to be expected when I last posted over a year ago. What exactly has changed since then? Well, to start, I picked up running. I began by running a 5K in April 2013 and in September I had completed my first half marathon. In fact, I'm training for my second major race right now! I'll be running the Broad Street Run, a 10-miler, in May. I'm also looking at a half marathon in Wildwoods, NJ two weeks after. It also feels like I dived into adulthood practically overnight when I decided to adopt Pepper, my now 8-month old black kitten this January. I was already starting to pay more attention to my finances, but now I'm cleaning the dishes after every single meal, sweeping, Swiffering, and vacuuming on a weekly basis, and abiding by a tight budget. To top things off, in the past year I've been following a 'gluten light' diet, because it turns out my body is less than pleased with gluten consumption, although my tastebuds beg to differ.

Surprisingly, I've never felt more productive or motivated in the kitchen. I spend no more than $30 a week on my groceries, but I truly look forward to crafting my grocery list each week. It's fun to be constantly challenging myself to stick to my budget, while trying out as many new recipes as possible. So it's a new year and a new me! I hope whoever it is that is reading this, that you enjoy seeing how far $30 can go and the recipes that come out of my kitchen.

TLDR; I'm back.

12 December 2012

Eggnog Snickerdoodles & the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012

This is the second year I've participated in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap and I've really come to love it. This year to participate in the cookie swap, bloggers were asked to donate 4 dollars to Cookies for Kids' Cancer, a non-profit organization committed to help funding new therapies that fight against pediatric cancer. Moreover, one of my favorite in-the-kitchen brands, OXO, got involved. OXO is donating 50% of proceeds from their adorable spatula AND is matching the proceeds earned from the FB Cookie Swap and donating it all to Cookies for Kids' Cancer.



So not only was this cookie swap a ton of fun to participate in, but it could not have been for a better cause!

With just over a week left in the semester, I truly looked forward to and appreciated coming home to shipments of cookies! This year I received delicious Tahini Butter Cookies from Annelies, at the Food Poet, Brown Butter Shortbread Cookies from Aaron, at the Hungry Hutch, and Moroccan Sesame Cookies from Amanda over at MoracMama. All three cookies were enjoyed on my own before deciding enough was enough and that I should probably share the wealth with my labmates at work. I'm sure my waistline will thank me for this decision in the long run, but my sweet tooth tonight sure is regretting it!

For the cookie swap, I knew I wanted to embrace seasonal flavors and do a twist on a classic cookie. In the end, I went for incorporating the rich, spiced flavors of eggnog into a classic cookie - the snickerdoodle!

Eggnog Snickerdoodles
Based on Joy of Baking's Snickerdoodles

Yields: 36-40 cookies

Cookie Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour (or half all purpose, half whole wheat baking flour)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 c unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/3-1/2 c, whole fat eggnog

Coating Ingredients

  • 1/3 c granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon


Directions

  1. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for 2 -3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  2. Once sugar and butter have been creamed together, mix in the eggs one at a time, scraping in between additions. Afterward, mix in the vanilla extract. 
  3. In a medium sized bowl, mix together your dry ingredients. Fold the dry ingredients to your wet mixture.
  4. With your stand mixer or hand beaters on low, pour the eggnog into the cookie dough. If you're using whole wheat flour, you'll want to add closer to 1/2 c of eggnog. Cookie dough will be sticky at this point, so scrape down the sides and pop it into the refrigerator for at least two hours or until firm.
  5. Once cookie dough is firm, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Set up your work station with your metal cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and sprayed with your favorite non-stick cookie spray or lined with Silpat sheets. In a small bowl, you'll want to have your sugar and cinnamon mixture. You'll also want a small, circular cup that you can press your cookie balls down with. 
  6. Spoon it 1-1 1/2" balls of dough. Roll the balls into the sugar coating before pressing down with the cup. To keep the cup from sticking, occasionally rinse the cup off with clean water. You should aim for fitting 15 cookies on a pan.
  7. Bake the cookies in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Keep a careful eye on the cookies and make sure that they are baking evenly. If your oven is as fickle as mine, you might want to rotate the pans while the cookies are baking. You also should keep an eye on the centers of the cookies to make sure they're baking all the way through, and watch for the bottoms of the cookies browning before cookies are actually done all the way through! (If this happens, try covering your cookie pan with tin foil while those cookies finish baking in the oven. Just be careful not to have the tin foil touch up against the cookies.)
If you are super ambitious, I would love to see someone try drizzling a salted bourbon caramel sauce over these cookies. I actually had bought all the ingredients for the sauce, but ran out of time! With all of the ingredients sitting in my cabinets, I have the perfect excuse to make the cookies over again, but I hope that it also inspires one of you to try out something new and make it your own!



Happy holidays, folks!
Caitlin



03 December 2012

Eggnog and Cranberry Bread Pudding with a Hard Bourbon Sauce

Excuse me while I channel my inner Liz Lemon while I go "What the whaaaaat!?" Two posts in one day? Could it be so!?

Well, yes, yes it could be. I'm serious when I say that I buy wholeheartedly in to seasonal flavors. I was all about the pumpkin earlier this year (and still am, actually), but as of recent it's like there's a little voice in my head whispering 'eggnog' to me throughout the day. It's torturous, I swear! And with no roommates, I have no one to tattle on me if I were to polish off a bottle in a day. My waistline might tell a different story, though. Anyway, that's neither here nor there, so let's get to the good stuff!





Eggnog and Cranberry Bread Pudding with a Hard Bourbon Sauce

Adapted from some recipe my mom has coveted as her own for years. I don't know which cookbook it's from, but I would wager a bet on the Silver Palette or one of David Wood's cookbooks. (Also, I bet this vanilla bourbon cranberry sauce would be absolute money with this bread pudding if you made it more compote-style, but that's for another day!)

Bread pudding ingredients
  • 8 tbs butter, room temperature
  • 1 baguette or challah bread (enough to yield 4 c of cubed bread)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup whole fat eggnog
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbl sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup fresh cranberries
Hard bourbon sauce ingredients
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 5 tbl bourbon
  • 4 tbl (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 tbs pieces
Directions
  1. Cut off the ends of your carbalicious vehicle of choice. Next, cut the carbs into one inch cubes (or smaller). Butter each of these little puppies on all four sides. That's right, ALL FOUR SIDES. This should require at least one stick of butter and no, I'm not kidding.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla, bourbon, 1/2 cup of the sugar, nutmeg, and salt until blended.  Add the bread cubes and toss until evenly coated.
  3. Refrigerate the pudding for at least 2 hours, occasionally tossing the mixture with a large spoon (or your hands, don't be afraid to get messy) to make sure all the cubes are getting their fair share of eggnog bourbon goodness.  
  4. Fifteen minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350'F.  Grease an 8-inch square baking dish with butter.  Add the cranberries to the pudding, toss, and then pour the pudding into the baking dish.  Sprinkle the remaining 2 tbl. sugar over the top of the pudding.
  5. Bake the pudding on the center oven rack until the top is crisp and golden, and has risen in the center, about 50 minutes.
  6. While the pudding is baking, now is your time to make some bourbon sauce! Start by putting a small sauce pan filled with 3/4" to an 1" of water on the stove and whisking together the egg yolks and sugar in a container that can be used as the top of a double boiler. (I usually go for a small glass (Pyrex) bowl that I later put on top of said small sauce pan.) You'll want to whisk until the mixture is a light yellow color, which will take 2-3 minutes. Afterward, go crazy and whisk in the bourbon!
  7. Once the water is simmering and your sauce is mixed, add the bowl/top off of the double boiler to the heat. Cook, whisking vigorously, until the mixture is hot and slightly thickened, 5 minutes.
  8. Remove sauce from heat once the mixture has thickened, add the butter slices one at a time, and stir until all of the butter has melted. 
  9. Serve the sauce warm over the bread pudding.  If you prepare the sauce ahead of time, reheat it in the microwave, heating it one minute at at time and stirring in-between heating sessions.