Monday, January 15, 2018

Asian Inspired Lettuce Wraps

Contrary to popular opinion, these are not Thai lettuce wraps, though that's what I've always called them. They have peanut butter, that makes them Thai, or so I thought.

Upon further research, satay and spicy peanut sauces originated further down the Malay peninsula and Indonesian archipelago. So, in an effort to give credit where credit is due, these are now called Asian inspired lettuce wraps.

eve rousseau
Lettuce wraps themselves, aren't even of Asian origin. They're either a British or American invention. So, Asian inspired seems the best way to go. Besides, I use a variety of ingredients from across Asia, so I can't pinpoint an area of origin. But be aware, they are exceptionally yummy.

Don't let the list of ingredients dissuade you from making this recipe. None are too exotic to find in your every day grocery store and many you'll already have on hand in your pantry. And, aside from some minor mincing and chopping and dicing, most everything else just gets stirred up. This is a quick-cooking recipe. You'll have dinner on the table in 30 minutes. This serves my family of four with enough left over for a couple lunches the next day.

Asian Inspired Lettuce Wraps
Bib lettuce
2 Tbl. veg oil
1.5 lb ground turkey or chicken
1 onion, diced
1 inch piece of ginger root, peeled and minced fine. This is approximately 2 heaping tsps. of ginger, I'd say
2-8 oz. cans diced water chestnuts
Salt and pepper to taste
Splash of water

4 Tbl. soy sauce
2 Tbl. creamy peanut butter
1 Tbl. honey
2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
dash of garlic powder
squirt of Sriracha
3 Tbl. Teriyaki sauce (even better if it includes sesame seeds)
Dash of sesame oil if you have it. I didn't, but it wouldn't hurt

Pickled carrots
3 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1/2 C. rice wine vinegar
1 Tbl. white sugar
1/4 tsp. Kosher salt

Cucumber cut into matchsticks
Lime wedge
Green onions, diced
Extra Sriracha

Heat large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 Tbl. oil and saute diced onion until translucent. Add minced ginger and cook for a couple minutes until fragrant, but not brown. Add ground turkey or chicken and cook until cooked through and browned. Add diced water chestnuts when meat is cooked through. I love the bite water chestnuts add to this dish. You don't want to cook them, you want them crunchy. If the meat mixture is over-browning on the bottom of pan, add a splash of water, but no more than 1/4 cup, I'd say. Scrape bottom of skillet.

Meanwhile, make sauce.
Place all sauce ingredients in bowl and whisk until combined. Add to cooked meat mixture and let simmer until everything is warm.

Meanwhile, make pickled carrots
Add all ingredients in bowl and let sit until ready to eat. You can do this a couple hours in advance.

Meanwhile, prepare garnish and lettuce cups
Cut cucumber, slice limes into wedges, dice green onions, wash cilantro, and wash and break apart lettuce cups.

To serve, place a couple lettuce cups on everyone's plate, scoop out a nice serving of the meat mixture into each lettuce cup, top with garnishes of choice, and devour.

This is sure to become a staple in your dinner rotation.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Too scared to buy groceries

My grocery list this week stared me down and flipped me the bird, leaving me afraid to load up my cart.

So, what did I do? Crossed off everything that wasn't absolutely necessary. Peanut Butter? The kids can scrape the jar clean. Pecorino cheese (I like it better than Parmesan) for pasta? Unnecessary! Aluminum foil? An extravagance we can live without. Psst don't tell my sister, but I snuck over to her house and took a square. Turns out it wasn't something I could live without, but now, I am fighting with myself not to save that square in case I need foil again before I get around to buying some.

And then, I ended up spending only around $130.00. I need to buy a few more things, but I'm still going to end up around $145. Far below the $200 I am allotted. The peanut butter, cheese and foil would've been fine.

What happened to the woman who would spend a fortune on groceries without blinking? She is long gone and it only took a little over a month. I just kept thinking, how much will everything cost at the other store? I can't risk it.

I suppose the more I do this, the better I'll get, but in the meantime, we are working on living (mostly) without, and yes, like my Grandma would've done when I was a kid, the foil is sitting in my drawer. Just in case.

Thanks, Sister!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Perfect drop biscuits made with buttermilk or whey

If you make one thing I've shared all these years, make these biscuits. This is it. The one recipe I want you to make. My signature recipe.

buttermilk whey biscuits
When I have my grandparents over for dinner, I always make these biscuits. My Grandpa, who is the best, will forgo dessert every time for one more biscuit with jam. I wonder if it reminds him of a simpler time. He lost his mother at a very young age and had to take over the household chores, cooking and cleaning, while his dad and brothers worked during the great depression. In Oklahoma, no less. So, just know, these biscuits are special.

They're not the most beautiful. I'll give that award to rolled biscuits. But, my mom made drop biscuits, and that's what I make. They're craggy and tender and buttery and light, and beautifully easy. And that's beautiful enough for me.

Two things about these biscuits. You need buttermilk or whey (if you make yogurt), on hand. I quite often have both. Whey makes for a seriously soft crumb. The Mister prefers a whey biscuit to a buttermilk biscuit. And, they're a bit fussy. By that I mean, you have to melt the butter beforehand. If you forget, you have to wait a minute or two while the butter melts and cools so it isn't blazing hot. But once you get the hang of it, you can crank them out lickity split.

Best Buttermilk Drop Biscuits made from scratch
adapted from America's Test Kitchen

2 Cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 Cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 Cup cold buttermilk or cold whey (I know, that's me for you. Random, weird-ass ingredient nobody else has)

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Now, the very next thing you must do, before anything else, is get a small saucepan, put your stick of butter in it, and start melting it over low heat.  As soon as it's mostly melted, remove it from the heat and let the residual heat from the warm pot melt the rest. This will also help cool the butter a bit faster.   

You want the melted butter to range in temperature from room temperature to just a bit warm.  The magic comes when you add the melted butter to the cold buttermilk or whey!

Combine all the dry ingredients in a  large-ish bowl.

Pour your buttermilk into a measuring cup, then pour the cooled, melted butter into the buttermilk.  Stir.  You want the cold buttermilk to rapidly cool the butter so that it makes hard little butter bits in the buttermilk. The reason for this is SCIENCE!!!  Once the biscuits go in the oven, the butter is going to melt and create steam which is going to make for light and fluffy drop biscuits.  

See, the cold buttermilk has turned the melted butter into hardened butter bits.

Now, pour your buttermilk/hardened butter bits mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  

On a cookie sheet topped with parchment, portion out the dough into 12 dough balls.  I like to make them taller versus wider. This is because I find splitting a tall biscuit easier than a flat biscuit. Pro tip, there.

Now, I cook mine for 12 to 13 minutes. They come out lightly golden, perfectly poofed, and wonderful. Yours might take 11 minutes. Or 15. Pay attention the first couple of times. You're not looking for golden brown here.

buttermilk drop biscuits
And that's it. My family doesn't even let them cool before they're splitting them open and slathering on butter and jam.

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Friday, January 5, 2018

OMG Soup part deux. Life on a budget.

Eating on a budget has some challenges. I made excellent Instant Pot Stuffed Cabbage and had ingredients left over. In the olden days, wanting to make something easy the next day, I'd have headed to the store after dropping the young off to school, bought some artisinal rolls made with local, Utah cheese, some nice peppers, maybe a tossed salad and some exotic fruit, and would have made loose meat sandwiches for dinner.

Now I can't do that.

scratch bean soup
So, instead, I considered what I had. One pound of ground beef, half a bottle V-8, all my usual veggies... Well, that's the beginning of soup, right there. And, I had a base recipe to go off of, this more involved soup that tastes amazing, by the way, and is only more involved because I dredge and brown stew meat. Plus, bonus points, I get to free-style cook; cook intuitively with only my instincts to go off of, which I love!

Don't stress if we don't have exactly the same ingredients. Use what you've got and let me know how you did it so I can try it your way, next time. Every summer when they're in season, my local grocery store will roast you a bushel of Hatch chiles. I then portion them out and freeze them until needed. Remember to peel off the blackened skin. That's not delicious.

Let's make soup.

1 lb ground beef
1 onion, diced
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 ribs celery, diced or sliced to your specifications
Frozen roasted Hatch peppers. Again, this might be unique to my soup, but it added some nice flavor. **Peeled, thawed, and diced
1 1/2 C. Soup base. A mix of beans, lentils, oats and groats. I use Bob's Red Mill.
Some V-8. I had about 3 cups. If you have more, use it. If you don't have it, that's fine.
Beef base
A couple Parmesan rinds.
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

In large dutch oven, add two Tbl. olive oil. Saute onions until translucent over medium heat.

Add ground beef and brown until dark brown and flavorful. Season with salt and pepper.

Add carrots and celery and cook until just beginning to soften.

Add peppers and soup base to pot.

Fill dutch oven with liquid until it's two inches from the top. I used a combo of V-8 and water. Scrape the browned bits off bottom of pot.

Throw in some beef base or chicken base (I'd normally use chicken, but had run out, so beef it was) equivalent to how much water you are using.

Add a couple Parmesan rinds for flavor and to thicken the soup a bit.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil and let simmer with lid on but slightly askew. This is where you'll have to read your soup base instructions. Mine says to cook for 1 1/2 hours, but that leaves everything awfully toothsome. So, I tack on an extra hour and go 2 1/2 hours.

Serve with the buttermilk biscuit recipe I'll share with you Monday and everyone will declare you to be the hero of the night. And I'm awfully vain, so I like being the hero of the night.

Here's the link to the perfect drop biscuits

And, on top of all this fun we've already had, hopefully the soup and biscuits will last you two meals. Now, that's a good time in my book.

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Instant Pot Stuffed Cabbage Rolls 1st time success

There's a puzzle piece missing in my life. Several, actually. But in this case, I need a friend with an Eastern European Jewish American mother, willing to take me under her wing and teach me all she knows.

As I currently don't have that level of support, but am taking applications, really sending out bribes, I was all on my own to figure stuffed cabbage rolls out. Also, I have never made an actual main course in my Instant Pot. So, this was a double first-time adventure.

I mainly used two recipes already available online. Grandma Lil's and my internet crush, Smitten Kitchen to come up with my own version of stuffed cabbage. And, I finally used the saute function on the Pot.

Let's get to it.

stuffed cabbage

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
1 head cabbage, I used regular green cabbage
1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, diced fine
1 large parsnip, grated (I love parsnips! Other recipes also used carrot, but not me)
1/2 C. uncooked white rice
3 C. Spicy V-8 plus an extra splash or two
1/4 C. brown sugar
4 Tbl. lemon juice, I used bottled cause it's what I had
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

1. Par-cook cabbage. With trivet in bottom of Instant Pot, place cabbage head in whole. Select pressure cook, 5 minutes. I unfortunately only cooked mine for two minutes, and the middle was still raw. So, in doing further research, I'd up it to 5 minutes. Quick steam release when 5 minutes is up. The first couple leaves were a bit mush. I picked those off and saved them to layer on the bottom of the Pot. Apparently tomato-based dishes like to scorch.

2. Using the saute function on the Pot, add a couple tablespoons olive oil and saute the onions for a few minutes until translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add the grated parsnip, another sprinkling of salt, and saute for another few minutes until softened. Set aside to cool. Wash Pot.

3. Filling: In large bowl mix ground beef, uncooked rice, a good pinch of salt, you want your filling to be well-seasoned, some pepper, and a splash or two of V-8. In other recipes they used tomato paste, but I didn't want to open a tomato paste just for a tablespoon or two, so I went with the tomato juice I was using for the sauce. Add sauteed onions and parsnips and mix until just combined.

4. Sauce: In medium bowl combine Spicy V-8, brown sugar, lemon juice, a Tbl. of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside until needed.

5. Rolls: Carefully pull off cabbage leaves and lay them flat. Cut off the bottom of  leaf where the vein is thick. It'll make folding unwieldy.

6. Place a scoop of meat mixture in the bottom-middle. Fold either side over the meat and then roll it up to the top. Continue until the cabbage leaves and or meat mixture is gone. I was stingy with the meat mixture, or something, but I ran out of cabbage leaves before I ran out of filling. So, I made some really pathetic rolls using raw cabbage that I kind of sandwiched around the filling. It worked fine.

7. Place a couple cabbage leaves in bottom of pot. Put trivet over cabbage leaves. Stack cabbage rolls in single layer on top of trivet. Pour a nice dousing of sauce over cabbage rolls. Cover the first layer with cabbage leaves or chopped up cabbage core and place another layer of rolls on top. Pour rest of the sauce over. Make sure you don't go beyond the max capacity for the Instant Pot. The rolls will swell thanks to the uncooked rice.

8. Here's where things get a bit sketchy. I had to leave before my cabbage rolls were done cooking. So, I had a couple things to consider. I could cook it on high pressure for 9 minutes, as one recipe suggested, and let it finish cooking until it naturally re-pressurized. But almost all the other recipes said cook for 18 minutes, let naturally re-pressurize for fifteen minutes, then quick release. So, I did my own weird thing and let them cook for about 16 minutes at high pressure, knowing the Mister would be home to do the quick release within about 20 minutes.

**Next time I make them, and there will be a next time, I'll cook them at 18 minutes, high pressure, let re-pressurize for 15 minutes, then quick release, so I'd recommend that method for you. Even though I was forced to go rogue.

9. Here's also where things didn't work out exactly to plan. As I wasn't home, the Mister tossed out the sauce the rolls were cooking in. Dagger to heart. So, when you make them, hold onto the sauce. If it's thin, remove the cabbage rolls and turn the Pot back to saute, letting the sauce reduce a bit. I imagine it's delicious, as the rolls were excellent and they cooked in the sauce. But I'm sure they would've been even better with.

Results: Both kids enjoyed the filling more than they enjoyed the cabbage around the filling. The adults though, enjoyed it as a whole. The parsnip added a sweet earthiness that I think really added something. And even though I used Spicy V-8, it wasn't the least bit spicy.

Give this a try and let me know what you think.

In case you want to make what I'm making, tomorrow's dinner will be my OMG soup and the best biscuits you'll ever eat. I'm using the other lb. of ground beef I thawed, and didn't use for this recipe, plus the left-over V-8. I've got carrots, onions, celery, beef base, and a bean soup-base already on hand.

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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Cheers to the last month of 2017 and hope for a wonderful 2018

Happy 2018.

Now that the formalities are taken care of let me just say, the last week sucked! Sinus Infection. And despite an avowed dislike for antibiotics (I love my gut flora), I got a prescription and thankfully feel almost human again.

Luckily, my family ate during my illness thanks to pantry items, frozen meals, and my twelve year stepping up and wanting to cook. And the Mister didn't complain once as he helped me flush out my nasal cavities and carried cup of tea after cup of tea to my weakened form. Okay, I didn't make him neti-pot me. I did that myself. But he did everything else.

The best part, it was winter break. I didn't have to drag my pitiful ass out of bed to make breakfast and drive kids to school. And because my kids are fairly self-sufficient, I was able to fester in relative peace, watching as they tried riding the dog like a horse.

Christmas squalor built up a bit, but I couldn't have cared less because the pressure in the right side of my face felt like a balloon ready to pop. Well, that, and the Mister almost single-handedly installed my Christmas presents: new light fixtures. I've hated the lights in my house for almost ten years now. I did get up to help hold things and hand him tools as needed.

I even missed most of my annual New Year's Eve party. My sister pitied my mucus-filled soul and took over the event. Everyone had a blast while I slept for three hours straight for the first time in five days. Sorry helpful gut bacteria, I'm making homemade yogurt today, to help.

Oh, exciting budget news to report, the Mister showed me a graph yesterday, and we spent just over $800 on food and dining out for the month of December. DECEMBER! Fist pump. I am not only succeeding at staying on a budget, but am officially rocking it. Let's see how it continues.

I'm in the groove now and have found the most important part of sticking to a budget is flexibility. I can't be pinned down to a weekly menu, I just can't. I can have ideas and if I want to make them, fine, but if I want to make something else, I just gotta. So, the importance of the pantry and freezer can't be understated.

I also have the Mister grocery shop with me. It's time spent together which is always nice, even if we are checking prices and tracking the cost of what we're buying with a calculator.

Coming up later this week, I'm making stuffed cabbage rolls in the Instant Pot. I've never made stuffed cabbage rolls in my life! And, the best thing is, the cabbage rolls have been waiting to be made for coming on two weeks, now. Thank goodness cabbage sticks around.

Also, my second batch of Pot yogurt. Instant Pot yogurt, that is.

Now, where's my neti-pot?

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Enchiladas with sketchy beans

In my efforts to eat on a budget, I've tried to incorporate more beans into my meals. For this I've used the Instant Pot twice and twice it's burned me. First was toothsome garbanzo beans. Second was mushy kidney beans.

My cute Aussie friend, Mel, informs me I'll only experience pain and heartbreak, cooking beans with a pressure cooker. She's very smart. Also, her Grandpa had involvement with the Snowy River in the Australian outback, so that qualifies her as an expert in just about anything, if you ask me. I'd say he was a cowboy, named Jim Craig, who captured brumbies, but that might be a fib. 

Despite my failures as a bean whiz, my family still has to eat.  So, I used just enough mushy beans and tossed the rest. I'm frugal now, not a glutton for punishment.

eve rousseau
Here's how you do it.

Left-over Rotisserie Chicken Enchiladas

Left over chicken in bite-sized pieces
approximately 3 cups shredded cheese (I used a combo of pepper jack and sharp cheddar) Reserve 1 cup to top your enchiladas
8 oz cream cheese, softened (Or if you're like me and forgot to take it out of the fridge, zapped for a few seconds until malleable)
2 pouches enchilada sauce
mushy beans, or not mushy beans, if that's what you have. A couple cups
Tortillas (I used flour this time but corn is just as good)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a glass 13 x 9 pan, spray with non-stick cooking spray then drizzle the bottom with a nice-sized splash of enchilada sauce. I used green.
Mix chicken, 2 cups cheese, cream cheese, some beans, and about half a pouch of enchilada sauce. I used red for the filling.

Put filling on one side of tortilla, roll, and place seam-side down in baking dish.
Repeat until filling is used up or there is no more room in your dish. I pack them in tightly as I can and this time, got eleven in there. This is good because I had dinner for the next day.

Pour remaining enchilada sauce over the top, and sprinkle a nice layer of cheese over that. I used a combo of red and green. These are Christmas enchiladas. I like green the best. My kids like red.
Bake 30 minutes until warmed through and cheese is melty and delicious.

Serve with sour cream, salsa, guacamole, refried beans, salad...

It's really hard getting an appetizing pic of enchiladas. Plus, it was almost dark by the time they were done. This is me, outside, trying to get the last of the natural light,while my neighbors looked at me and wondered why I was outside, holding a plate and taking pictures of it. They're so nosy. 

Despite using mushy beans, the enchiladas were tasty and filling. Honestly, I noticed the unpleasant texture of the beans, but as there is cream cheese and melted cheese mixed in, they weren't unpalatable. The kids didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. And the Mister declared me a gem.

So, it all turned out well in the end.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Instant Pot Kidney Beans Fail. But, can I salvage them?

If you're new to this Instant Pot craze, as I am, you might not understand how to cook with it. Take dried beans, for instance.   I looked at the Instant Pot instructions and they were crap. Nowhere did it mention how much water is needed. Upon further investigation, I chose to follow the instructions on the bag. Attention Instant Pot, it might be nice if you put that information in the recipe.

After one failed attempt at garbanzo beans, not soaked, I'm going to try kidney beans, not soaked.

I know, I said I was going to start soaking them going forward. But, dang it, I can't be that responsible. They still want you to soak them for six hours. Six!

Eve Rousseau
Also, because beans foam up, don't fill it passed the 1/2 mark. I was pretty well under the 1/2 mark cooking the entire 1 lb bag and using 8 cups of water. In doing my research one person felt adding a touch of oil helped with the foaming. So, trying it.

Here's what I'm attempting. I decided to make the entire bag and just freeze what I don't need. I love having things ready to go in the freezer.

Kidney Beans Recipe
1 lb kidney beans, sorted. Beans pretty much come as they are at the time of picking. That's why you have to sort them. You don't want to chomp down on bits of grit. Broken tooth, anyone?
2 tsp salt, or what looked like 2 tsp in my palm
1 small glug of olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed because I didn't want to mince them
8 cups water

Put everything in Instant Pot. Use beans setting (first time), and set for 35 minutes, normal, high pressure, natural release.

Cross fingers.


poor instant pot directions
It's hard to convey the level of mush present in this picture, but trust me, gross. Now, I don't want my beans toothsome, but dangit, I don't want them to be mealy. Brrr.

It took nearly an hour to depressurize. Alright, so I added eight cups of water, that may have been a mistake. The Instant Pot manual says to start out with only 1 cup of water in the pot as the more water there is the longer it'll take to pressurize and depressurize. And that means more time spent cooking. But, does that mean I can cook an entire pound of beans with one cup of water? Who knows?  Well, you know what, nobody told me how much water to add. Next time I'll put less. I'll also add more salt as they're bland as heck. Unless I just give up.

Because, in trying to save money by using the instant pot, I keep wasting money by cooking things incorrectly.

So, now I have to decide if the beans are too mushy to put in the enchiladas. Blah.

See how it turned out tomorrow.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

$200 a week. Week 3 and rocking it. Plus, a taste of nearly two years' work

Here it is, week 3, and I'm not in hysterics regarding the grocery budget. Before this experiment, I'd break into hives any time I considered nourishing my family for less than whatever I bloody wanted to spend. Now, I feel great. I rarely go over $160, and that's even with the holiday season upon us. Yay.

And, we're trying not to spend our $50 a week fun money. So far, so good.

Plus, I have yet to stick to a really strict dining plan. I want to cook what I want to cook, dang it. Don't pen me in.

betrayal and yearning
Total cost so far this week: $143.00
What I bought: Milk x 2, half and half, dog food, cottage cheese, pepper jack cheese, tortillas, two packets enchilada sauce (I was buying Hatch enchilada sauce, but love Frontera. Give it a try, I think you'll really love it. I go Christmas, every time), celery, bananas, 3 body washes, 24 cans sparkling waters, 4-2 liters, rotisserie chicken, large tub pesto, 2 onions, molasses, anise extract, 2 cans sweetened condensed milk, cream cheese, 160 gallon freezer zipper bags, sandwich bags, Caesar salad bagged mix, yogurt, a ham

Still need to buy: bulk steel cut oats (didn't want to go to 3 stores yesterday), more yogurt as my oldest needed a lunch today so I gave her my yogurt starter, maybe some potatoes, cookie ingredients for the party on Friday, as well as an appetizer.

What I have from previous weeks: one frozen raw chicken, carrots, lemons, 2 onions, 3 packets ground turkey, ready-to-to taco meat, dried beans, cheddar cheese, frozen cauliflowers, coffee, eggs, bacon, spaghetti stuff, lentils, rice, misc. frozen meat, lots of spices and seasonings, frozen chicken carcas, LOTS of cold cereal, peanut butter, salsa (but getting low), sour cream, honey, bread, 1/4 bag of flour, sugar, instant yeast, a few sparkling waters and 2 liters.

What I'm planning to make this week: Well, since I shop on Sunday, we always have a Costco rotisserie chicken for dinner and then use the left-overs for Monday's meal. Today I'm making enchiladas using the left-over chicken, my tortillas, my sweet, sweet, enchilada sauce, a pile of cheese, the cream cheese, and I'm going to Instant Pot some of my dried kidney beans. In light of the disaster that was my garbanzo bean incident, I think I'll soak them before hand, despite not being happy about it. Then starting tomorrow I'll make the ham. We'll eat ham. More ham. And then if there's ham left over, The Mister will take it for his lunches or we'll freeze it if we're completely over it. After we eat all that ham, I'll make ham and bean soup. Yum.

How we're feeling over all: I'm tolerating the Costco coffee. I miss shrimp and salmon. Love overnight Instant Pot-ing the oats for breakfast. My kids miss cold cereal. The Mister misses canned soda. I also miss impulse buys that tasted so good. But, I am loving the savings. So, despite making a few sacrifices, I think it's going well.

If you don't know what Christmas enchiladas mean, check out my Instagram.

And, in honor of a successful test-reading, here's the first paragraphs from Betrayal and Yearning. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

Present Day 
Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

             In the hush of the forest Jessica clutched her map. She tucked a wayward lock of hair back into her ponytail and blew out a breath. The coordinates showed she was in the right place.
            “Where is it?” she murmured. After all the convincing it had taken for her boss to sanction the field research—actually using her geo-physics degree—Jessica needed to find the proof she’d promised. If she didn’t, god knew what assignment they’d give her next. Training new recruits to log mud samples, most likely. But something had happened here, the evidence from the satellite imaging was clear.
            The shadows deepened as she scrambled up a grassy dell all while her mother’s warnings drummed in her brain. Rapists and thugs lurk in dark corners, and, don’t go out in the woods alone! Her jaw tightened, and she tried shrugging off the feeling of unease skittering down her spine. Besides, she’d never heard of any crimes committed here befo—

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Monday, December 4, 2017

My Instant Pot life

It's not all been fun and games with the Instant Pot, but we're learning.

Bad: When the Mister made oatmeal using Instant Pot's recipe for steel cut oats, entitled, Three-Minute Steel Cut Oats. Can you say salt lick? I don't know what happened. He said he didn't stir up the oats after adding the salt. You'd think it would just absorb and spread throughout. Apparently not. And apparently I'm the one who got the salty bowl. Shudder. But it wasn't bad only because it was salty, I am not a fan of bloated raisins or vanilla in anything but dessert. So, I recommend you pass on this recipe. Unless you like big old mushy raisins, then go for it.

Bad: Chick Peas. To be fair, the instructions did say if you pre-soak the beans they turn out better. But, I thought the whole point of getting an Instant Pot was so you don't have to pre-soak. I should have pre-soaked. After 40 minutes they were still basically raw and couldn't go in my recipe.

Good to Amazing, depending on who you talk to: Coconut Mango Sticky Rice. Everyone in the family, including the daughter who claims to hate rice, enjoyed this! The Mister declared it his favorite dessert, ever. It's not too sweet and the mango, well, who doesn't love a mango, added the perfect sweet and sour touch. I didn't have the pandan leaf that was called for. And used slightly less coconut milk, but dang, it was good.

Good: That time I made the steel cut oats for 3 minutes without any additives and stirred in the salt. Although, I did find my oats to be a bit toothsome for my liking.

instant pot oats 5 minutes
Almost Great: This morning's oats. I assembled 3 C. water, 1 C. steel cut oats, and a pinch of salt last night before bed. Gave everything a stir for good measure, and set it to begin cooking at 6:45 am. Settings: Pressure cook, high pressure, natural release, for 5 minutes of actual cooking time.

Oats get foamy so you don't want to use the quick pressure release valve to speed things along, otherwise the oat foam can gunk up the works. But, the reason it's not all the way great, it wasn't de-pressurized until nearly 7:30 am. I don't know, did I get the slow de-pressurizer. I read so many recipes saying it takes 12 minutes to depressurize. No, mine takes 30. Aside from that, the oats were creamy and a hit.

Random thoughts on the Instant Pot: The strange thing is, I've yet to use any of the individual settings. Not beans, rice, or steam, even though I've done all that in the pot. Only pressure cook. That's fine, but it has me thinking, are all the other settings a gimmick?

I am going to try yogurt next week, so, we'll see.

Maybe I just need Instant Pot lessons. Give me all your good tips and recipes.

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

$200 a week and all's well. Week 2

It took me a week to get over feeling bad for myself. But turns out $200 a week is more than doable. That doesn't mean I haven't had to make sacrifices. Namely, my high-end coffee habit. Trust me, it still smarts. The Kirkland brand swill I drank this morning was barely palatable and may be a point of contention. We'll see if the Kirkland coffee lasts.

I worried I wouldn't be able to experiment and try new things. Turns out, as long as I plan in advance and stick to my pay-no-more-than-$3-a-pound-meat price-point, it's fine. I'm making three new things this week.

I've also learned that I don't love sticking to a strict, weekly menu. To be honest, I already knew this, which is why the idea of going on a grocery budget scared me the most. I just gotta be able to make whatever I want, when I want. So, I buy a multitude of things that I can make a multitude of dishes from. Variety really is my spice of life.

My three new recipes for this week:

This chicken and pepper stew I saw on the Today show when I had to tune in to see about Matt Lauer getting the boot.

This Smitten Kitchen recipe featuring all my favorite flavors. Including feta, tahini, and herbs. In all fairness I did have a jar of tahini just waiting for when the time was right, so I didn't have to buy it this go round.


Coconut Mango Sticky Rice for my Baby's school cooking contest. Glutinous rice was a fun one to search for. Never did find the pandan leaf. Also, it was cooked in the Instant Pot!

So, this has given me a sense of relief that all is not lost culinarily speaking. But, this week I also didn't have to buy dog food, toiletries of any sort, toilet paper, or anything like that. I should have bought plastic baggies, but forgot. That might have to happen later this week.

What did I buy at Costco?
A four-pack of ground turkey, 2 gallons milk, cottage cheese, Tillamook cheddar cheese, frozen cauliflower packets (I have a hard time buying fresh when I'm not sure I'll eat it before it goes bad. Frozen veggies just work better for me), 2 loaves bread, Costco roast chicken, a giant tub of cinnamon (impulse buy but it was CHEAP).

What did I buy at Smith's?
More veggies than you can image. Onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, 4 lemons, garlic, green bell peppers, poblano peppers, tomatillos, parsley, celery, carrots, mango, banana, feta, steel cut oats, dried apricots, glutinous rice, coconut milk, 8 boxes of cereal on sale (the girls only get to eat cold cereal on the weekends, but again, CHEAP), brown lentils, elf candy for the advent calendar, 5 bottles soda for The Mister's soda addiction, peppermint tea, Irish Cream syrup to try and make the Kirkland coffee better, sesame seeds, dried corriander

Total Cost: $146. Which leaves me a sweet $54 left if anything should come up. My family goes through a lot of milk. A milk run may be in the cards.

What's in my pantry?
Pasta, bottled tomatoes, taco seasoning packets, spices galore, chicken carcass in the freezer for making stock, salsa, sour cream, flour, sugar, frozen pie crust, beans, lentils, rice, peanut butter, raisins, frozen chicken thighs, frozen taco meat from last week, 1 frozen whole chicken from last week, various baking supplies including chocolate chips

Sunday dinner: Costco roast chicken, my variation of Smitten Kitchen's lentil salad (which rocked my world), cottage cheese, and coconut mango sticky rice for dessert.

Monday dinner: Repeat of the above. I love left-over night.

Tuesday dinner: WHO KNOWS!?! I can go for Padma's stew or just throw caution to the wind and be wild and crazy. I'll keep you updated.

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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!
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