Thursday, November 30, 2017

What Heather's making on $200 a week

If you're anything like me and trying to save money on groceries but don't have a clue how to do it, join me in learning how to be frugal when your heart wants to be anything but.

Day 2 of living on a budget. p.s. it sucks.

My new rule about protein is it cannot cost more than $3 a pound. Otherwise it'll eat up my entire budget. This will probably mean a lot of roast chickens going forward. Whole chickens are cheap.

So, as I'm considering what to make for dinner tonight, here's what I know: yes, roast chicken is the main using this tried and true recipe, sadly missing the potatoes.. But I need a side. It's always the sides that get me. 

There will be the last of my carrots and celery cooking with the chicken, and I have a giant pack of unopened Costco broccoli florets just giving me the eye. Sigh. Broccoli is fine, but just fine. I also have a batch of already cooked rice that I didn't use yesterday as I didn't make the dal I was thinking about.

After an exhaustive search I've landed on this rice casserole recipe. With the intent to swap out the spinach for broccoli. I've run out of onions, so will swap out some ancient dried onion flakes from goodness only knows when. Reminder for next week: 5 onions, at least.

3:00 Prepare chicken by salting it all over, including under the skin. Put in fridge.
4:15 Turn oven to 425 and start prepping carrots and celery
4:30 Put chicken in oven without carrots and celery. Set timer for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
4:35 Prepare casserole and put in oven until the chicken comes out at 6:00
5:15 Scatter carrots and celery around cast iron skillet
6:00 Remove chicken from oven and let rest. Put rice casserole in oven and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

As I have no picture of this meal, I'll tease myself with that which I don't have: an onion from Thanksgiving. Also, don't have the fresh herbs. I'm sure dried or just salt and pepper will do. Besides, basil seems weird, here, so that's not a loss.

I'll get back to you with how it all turns out.

Random observations:

I've bloody burned myself on the oven twice now, resulting in blisters and scaring my dogs because of the amount of cursing. Take care, will you?

Need staples on hand at all times. This includes flour, sugar, even yeast. Add to that long-lasting veggies like potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, onions, celery, and carrots. Legumes like dried beans and lentils. Dairy: butter, cheese, milk, cottage cheese, and sour cream.

And finally, time. Luckily I am a writer and have the time to make things from scratch. I just need to plan better. But, gosh, I sure am a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-kind-of-gal when it comes to cooking.

Wish me luck, I'm going to need it, and happy frugal-ing.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

200 a week. Sad face.

I know I'm being a bourgeois baby, but $200 a week for groceries is hard. I love going to the grocery store whenever the whim strikes and making whatever the hell I want for dinner. So, as I only have $34 of my $200 budget left for this week, I'm not going to waste it. I will find something to make using what I have. I will. I have things. They're just not easy.

So, if you're like me and asking, How can I reduce the amount I spend on groceries when I have no bleeding idea how to do it? Then join me for my experiment in frugality. I'll start next week by letting you know what I buy and what I'm making for meals each day. Hopefully it involves a lot of leftovers.

We are giving ourselves $50 to spend on eating out each week.. If I save money by say, making homemade pizzas, yay us. More funds for something else.

What am I giving up? Ease. Convenience. Everything I love. So wish me luck.

So, option one for tonight: Tacos. Except, I don't have tortillas or lettuce. But going in the taco dinner's favor is, I have ground beef, beans, salsa, and my sister has a giant tub of masa (which I'm hoping she'll let me use so I can make homemade tortillas).

Optiong two: Dal using a pre-made simmer sauce of unknown age, rice, and homemade naan (I will obviously have to make the naan and don't have the several hours to let the dough rise).

Both with steamed broccoli for the side. Sigh.

Tacos it is.

The good news is I found the jar of tahini I bought a while back and never used. Yay. Now the chickpea, tahini and feta salad I want to make won't use as much of next week's grocery money.

If you want to follow me on $200 a week for groceries, let me know, we can be sad friends and share ideas.

Friday, November 24, 2017

To love triangle or not to love triangle

Who else has an Instant Pot? I didn't until I succumbed to the enticement of Amazon's Cyber Monday deals. So now, I've got to learn to use the dang thing. Please give me all your recipes for tasty Instant Pot delights.

I'm going to try and use it 5-ish days a week and report back here my successes and failures. Plus, discuss and share writing tidbits. And, maybe an exclusive peek at Betrayal and Yearning. I've got cover art coming! Yay!

But today, because my newest space-taking kitchen appliance hasn't yet arrived,  I must ask your opinion on love triangles. I didn't know until recently that there is an entire group of people devoted to the art of hating love triangles.

That got me to thinking, is it the norm to hate love triangles or the exception?

Confession time, I was not a fan of the Twilight Series. In fact, I refused to read the fourth book because I had assumed it was a trilogy. When I found out there was another... ugh, forget it. But here's the thing, the only redeeming factor for me, and the only reason I read more than first book in the series, was because of the love triangle. Probably because I was team Jacob.

I asked my sister to fill me in on the details of the fourth, so I knew how it all ended, and then rejoiced that I didn't read it. Renesme? Is that how you spell it? I'm not going to google it. But, seriously?

All right, so that's the question, love triangles, or not?

Oh, and because I have no pictures about love triangles, here's a peak at all the fun I had while in France. Yup. France. I have been to France. Technically.

Oh heavenly delight. Thank goodness this pâtisserie was open at 3 am. I tried out my excellent French by ordering un cafe au lait y un pan au chocolat. Yeah... 'y' is Spanish for 'and', but that's what I said, and got what I wanted. Yay. Also, uncertain if I used the correct masculine or feminine. I do not know the gender of cafe au lait or pan au chocolat. C'est la vie.

And, Ladurée the famous macaron shop where I ordered un rose macaron y un pistache macaron. Again, with the Franglish. That's combing my awesome Spanglish with French. A pidgin mix of English, Spanish, and French. Not very useful in international situations. Dang. 

In fact, I can only hold conversations with myself or my kids who roll their eyes at me and say not very nice things about me in grammatically correct French.  To which I then reply, tu es muy bonita, and let them think it's an insult, because they don't know it's not. Ha! French speakers!

to love triangle or not
I ate my beautiful Ladurée macarons without any guilt that my family was going to get the cheap pack instead of the fancy ones. But, just so you know, they were completely happy to enjoy real French macarons and begged me to go back to 'France'.

Maybe next time I'll make it out of the airport.

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

You should already have this all figured out.

So, if you're just looking for a diversion on this big day, and I can't blame you as you'll probably find me hiding under the stairs, here's the newest member of the Hearth family.


Isn't she a pretty girl with her haircut. But don't look too closely, I'm her stylist and my work is a bit scruffy still, to say the least. In my defense, I get a bit better every time. Tip: If you buy a standard poodle and want to groom them yourself, go with the fur grain, not against. Ahem, learned that the hard way. Bald patches.

Ginger had to get in on this action, too. She is getting her haircut today (p.s. today is really Tuesday).

Now for the shenanigans.

Eating each others' faces.

Dot exerting her dominance though she's only a baby. I know, she's huge, but she's only six months.

Ginger letting Dot know who's really boss.

 Nope, scratch that.

Just taking it, now.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Salad days

The title for the post is appropriate as this is my first time hosting Thanksgiving.

Now for the touch of green, aside from the green bean casserole, for your Thanksgiving feast. And I am not talking Brussels Sprouts. Ew.

It's green salad time, folks.

And while it might seem simple, there are some tips that will take your salad from ordinary to extraordinary.

The cast of characters. Already washed, gourmet baby lettuce and pre-sliced mushrooms because, easy. Feta, cucumber, croutons (of course), red onion, and some kind of protein. We're going with pepperoni here, but you could just as easily use shrimp or bacon.

There are some common pitfalls to avoid with the green salad.

The Mister was given specific instructions to feel the ends of the cucumbers. He said he did but... This isn't scientific but I always pinch the ends. If they're firm and not mushy, the cucumber is usually good.

Sort through your lettuce and pick out the slimy bits. Nobody wants to come across slime in their salad. This only takes a minute. Please, do it.

You have options when slicing your cucumber. The cucs on the right had the tines of a fork pulled through the cucumber flesh all around. Pretty.

My sister-in-law declared the pepperoni to be the perfect touch and the perfect size. I used a stick of pepperoni and sliced it myself, cutting the rounds into halves.

In my opinion raw red onion is a must, but do not go overboard with it. I sliced 1/4 onion into half-moons, giving the salad just the right amount of bite. Also, don't add it until just before dinner. Red onions are pungent and can take over the salad.

My vinaigrette of choice. A nice hit of...acid. Ahem. That sounds so wrong, but it feels so right. Plus, does anybody even do acid any more? I dunno, but Brianna's is a flavorful dressing that everyone likes.

For those who are less-refined, ranch. But not any ranch. Make it from scratch with the dry packets, buttermilk-style, with a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I love this whole milk buttermilk. So luxurious. I especially love it in my pancakes. 

One more thing, let's talk about a Thanksgiving necessity. Dish towels. In particular, flour sack towels, which are indisputably the best. 

Wash all of your dish towels ahead of time. They're perfect for the inevitable spills, hand drying, and in a pinch hot pads. But, I don't recommend that. I will probably go through all of these come Thursday and wish I had more.
Which is why I even include this one. Yeah...

Remember, the real work starts tomorrow. Bake pecan pie. Tear bread into cubes. Set table. Begin dry-brining the bird. Panic.

Happy prep! 

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Time for pie. But, not that pie. This pie.

A lot like my love for cranberries, I am also a fan of another of the less-celebrated gems of Thanksgiving.

eve rousseau
Pecan pie.

Nothing makes Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Tuesdays, more special than this pie. My Grandma always made me a pecan pie for Thanksgiving (as well as my birthday), and now I'm the steward in charge. It's sweet, such is the nature of pecan pie, but this particular recipe isn't overly sweet, which is why it's the best. It's the perfect party in your mouth with its soft, caramelized custard base and the pleasing chew of the pecans.

If you've ever had bad pecan pie, give this one a try. It's not dry or gelatinous; two properties in a pecan pie that will ruin anyone's day.

best pecan pie
There are some potential pitfalls when making pecan pie. And you don't want to blow it, so read carefully, and proceed with caution. As long as you follow these few rules, this pie is easy to make and a hit. No pumpkins needed.

not gelatinous pecan pie
1. Watch for the wiggle. This pie takes a bit of coddling. And you MUST take it out of the oven before it's completely firm. Wiggle in the middle, but not on the sides.

2. Watch for over-browning. The last thing you want is overcooked pecans or crust. If it's browning too fast, but the filling is still too jiggly in the center, throw on a tented piece of foil. As a rule, I always foil it with about 25 to 30 minutes left of cooking time.

3. Do not toast your pecans or they will end up dry and not delicious. That's it. Not too much to pay attention to for the best pie around.

delicious pecan pie
Pecan Pie

1- 9" pie crust, unbaked. Use a frozen store-bought crust. Life's too short to fuss with crust.
6 T. Butter
1 C. light corn syrup
3/4 C. Sugar
3 eggs, whisked
2 t. Vanilla
1/2 t. Kosher salt
2 C. chopped pecans

Heat oven to 350 F. Place a cookie sheet in the center of your oven while preheating. This is your protective shield. In case the pie filling bubbles over the cookie sheet will catch the overflow.

Place your pecans in the uncooked pie crust.

In small saucepan heat the butter, corn syrup, and sugar over medium-low until the butter is melted

In  a mixing bowl combine your eggs, vanilla, and Kosher Salt.

Here's the marginally tricky part.  You must add the melted butter mixture to the egg mixture, but you do not want to cook your eggs. So, allow the melted butter and sugar mixture to cool a bit before pouring it into the eggs. Whisk constantly as you're mixing the two together.

Pour your filling over the pecans in the pie crust.

Bake between 60 to 80 minutes. I know that's a big time difference. Just watch your pie carefully. Mine baked for about 67 minutes and it was pretty perfect; nicely golden and custardy in the middle.

Let it cool completely (at least two hours).

You can even bake this pie the night before.

homemade pecan pie
Serve with a dollop of very lightly sweetened whipped cream and experience Thanksgiving bliss.

Give pecan pie a try this year. You'll be glad you did.

How to make the perfect salad
And cranberries

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Check out what I'm writing when I'm not prepping Thanksgiving dinner

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Cranberries, the unspoken hero

Let's face it, gravy is the hero of Thanksgiving.

Turkey a little bland? Nothing a little gravy can't handle.

Dressing dry? Go ahead, ladle a little extra gravy on top. Dressing or stuffing? I really go either way.

Got a spare bite of roll? Run it through the last drizzle of gravy on your plate.

But, the unspoken hero has to be the cranberries. They add the nicest zing to everything on your plate. Paired with the gravy, of course. And, you don't need jam to go with your rolls. The cranberries can be your jam.

The thing is, I'm not talking the cranberries from a can. While I know people swear high and low that they're the best, they're wrong. I think the only reason people believe this way is they've never had homemade cranberries. I might be talking about the Mister's family, here. Until I showed up they used the dreaded can. And nobody ate them! Now, I'm assigned the cran every year.

They're so incredibly easy and add the prettiest burst of color to your meal.

Of course, it's me here, so I meddle with the recipe. But to be fair, I learned this technique from my Grandma, so it's not just me being fancy. The secret is, in place of the water, use orange juice.

eve rousseau
Couldn't be simpler. Here are the steps:

Go to store.

Head to the produce section.

Buy a package of fresh cranberries. Ocean Spray have never steered me wrong.

Bring 1 cup orange juice and a scant cup of sugar to a boil. Add the cranberries. Simmer ten minutes. Some will burst, some won't. It's all good.

Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Best part, they can be made way ahead when you have a free burner. After they come to room temp, throw them in the fridge until they're needed.

What you'll have is a lightly jammy, tangy-sweet accompaniment to your meal that cuts through the richness of the gravy to give your turkey that slight nudge towards brilliance.

Try cranberries from scratch this year, you won't regret it.

Also, in the Mister's family we always have pumpkin chocolate chip cookies to accompany the various pies for dessert. I'm in charge of these this year and gave this recipe from Food Network a shot.

I couldn't be happier with how they turned out. They are soft, moist, and flavorful. Plus, they use butter and didn't need to be chilled. That's a bonus in my book.

eve rousseau
Mine didn't take as long to cook as the recipe called for, more like 12 to 13 minutes. Also, I didn't get 60 cookies out of this batch, more like 4 dozen.

Now, this is very important, the thing to remember about pumpkin cookies is they are very moist. So, beware stacking them for transport otherwise they'll stick to each other and look all dumpy. And that would be a tragedy.

I know it's not beautiful, but this is how I'm doing it. A piece of parchment between the layers.

So, if you're looking for an amazing pumpkin cookie and are overwhelmed by recipe options, give this one a try.

Coming tomorrow: How to make an amazing salad. This might seem like a joke to some, a post on how to make a salad, but there's a skill to making a well-balanced, finger-licking salad. I mean, how many people slide right passed the salad because, mashed potatoes. But, if you make the salad right it'll be just as popular as the green bean casserole. Well... maybe not, but you will go home with an empty salad bowl.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

T Minus 1 week and counting

With one week to go here's what's happening at the hearth.

Well, the stock I said I was going to make yesterday is simmering, as we speak.

I know, the first picture is beautiful, fresh, and lovely. The second picture is ew. But hopefully it turns out tasty and my gravy is a hit. I'm using this bon appetit recipe but not exactly. The way I figure it, stock should use what you have on hand. I don't have white wine, peppercorns, chicken wings, or a ham hock.  Right, apparently I'm only barely following this recipe.

Instead, I am using several grinds from my pepper-mill that doesn't open (which is why I don't have peppercorns), a roasted chicken carcass that I froze a few weeks ago, a couple pieces of bacon, and a giblet. Don't even ask me what a giblet is. All I know is my grandma made turkey neck and giblet gravy. They didn't have turkey necks so I went with the giblet.

Tonight's dinner prep is also happening. We're having breakfast for dinner. The Mister is headed home after being on business for a few days, and my young declared breakfast was what he'd want to eat most of all upon returning to the good old U. S. of A.

Well, breakfast for dinner in this house means sourdough pancakes or waffles. So that means, make the sponge!

My starter lives in this quart jar and gets quite neglected. I really should feed it once a week. Which I  often do, but only if we're eating pancakes on the weekends. If we're not eating pancakes regularly... it'll go two, maybe three weeks between feedings. Bad sourdough starter mama. Bad.

I'll go into more detail on what's happening here, but not today.

The view from my table: Sponge sponge-ing and starter gobbling up its first meal in a while. Plus the pile of backpack detritus my oldest left before heading off to school this morning.

As all this is happening I'm also scrambling to do a mountain of laundry. Don't want the Mister to see the squalor we live in when he's not home.

Basically, my children wear dirty socks and subsist on soup straight from the can and cold hotdogs, while mama wears her sweatpants for the third day in a row and eats whatever is left on their plates and anything we have floating in jars in the fridge. I try not to cook or clean while the husband is away.

Oh, remember to buy your frozen pie crusts before they run out. Do it soon. They'll probably get a shipment but were running short this morning, and I don't want to mess with that crap.  I no longer make scratch pie crust, it ruins my day.

That's about it. Off to fold some more towels!

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4 1/2 hours later...

Here's what I pulled out of the stock pot. Lots of little bones. 

And the final result. Nice hue, good flavor, and not too salty. Making stock for Thanksgiving wasn't hard, and hopefully it will result in superior gravy.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

T minus 8 days and counting

Alert! Alert! Thanksgiving is eight days away!

Time to panic.

I've never done this before.

Why did my mother have to go and replace her knee now of all times? She could've waited until after the holidays. That would've been much more accommodating... to me.

Okay, deep breaths.

Repeat new mantra: You can do this. You are a capable human being who has cooked for yourself for twenty years now. This is like, nothing. Delegate. It's bloody time you hosted Thanksgiving, did you think Mom was going to keep doing it forever, stupid? Grow up and grow a pair.

Eeks. My mantra is getting increasingly hostile.

Luckily for me I have a to-do list. I read my Bon Appetit Thanksgiving issue, and it's making me feel pretty good about things.

I even have a picture of my first list (of many to come) to prove I've got this.

If you'll direct your attention to the upper right you might notice a happy little breakfast raisin.

Yup, that's how we do it here, rogue raisins. I so got this.

It's not very detailed yet. As I get closer the panic will set in and I'll get into the nitty-gritty. As for today my task is to make stock. This is so we can have loads of amazing gravy. Gravy is the worst, it always seems to be the first thing to go. Not this year. Not on my watch.

Future tasks include:

Practice deep breathing techniques.

Consider writing a new mantra.

Shop. Shop. Shop. I'm buying new dishes. Who else feels like they've got to up their game? No crummy chipped plates at my Thanksgiving. Not this gal. We still won't have matching silverware or glasses, though. That's for the next time I host. Hopefully years and years from now.

Time to get to work. 
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