Monday, 18 March 2013

Shopping around

I edited this week's shopping list pretty significantly since I first posted it up, and I'm going to re-list it here, but this post is mostly going to be about the benefit of shopping around. Being a wop, I'm a huge foodie. However, I'm also married to a Jew (Writer Husband) who manages our money, including the grocery budget, groceries being something that I am obviously in charge of. It is therefore in my best interest to shop around and get the absolute best price on everything, because if I spend more money than I have to on fresh basil and imported wine, I'm going to be stuck buying the shitty 99c spaghetti from Safeway instead of the whole wheat pasta for a buck forty-nine, and fresh mozzarella is totally out of the question. So I shop around. I have prices for certain essentials (like olive oil and tomatoes) memorized for comparisons at different stores. I compare food by price per weight unit. And goddamnit if I didn't buy some fantastic food to feed a family of four for a week at only $95.89.

First off, we went to the Grocery Outlet, which is my absolute favorite store in the world because it sells imported wine at a price I can actually afford. Sure, I don't get to choose what type of wine, but the sad truth is that from the age of four I was raised by a single Englishman who suffered from severe depression and at this point, I don't actually know enough about wine to care. So I picked up two bottles of Sangiovese di Rubicone at six dollars plus tax each, and after a quick scout around the store we also got:
10lbs of potatoes
Seven bananas at 25c each, compared to Safeway's 39c (yes, I have this memorized, and if you don't then you don't care enough about bananas)
A jar of pickle chips for $1.99 compared to Safeway's $2.29 (seriously, I'm not even checking any of this. I don't even like pickle chips! They were for Vet Tech Husband!)

From the Safeway, I bought:
Two loaves of whole wheat sandwich bread
One can of diced tomatoes
Three cans of albacore tuna
Two cans of beef broth
One can of sliced black olives
A tub of margerine
Three tubs of full fat plain probiotic yogurt
A parmesan wedge from the deli
Garlic hummus
Two bunches of collard greens
Half a pound of white mushrooms
A box of whole wheat penne and one of spaghetti
1lb of fresh mozzarella at 50% off
A three-pack of yeast
Frozen strawberries and peaches
One shallot
A gallon of fat free milk

I spent fifty-six and change on that.

Finally, today before work (for which I have to carry a backpack full of cleaning supplies with me on the bus), I walked one and a half miles each way to get to an asian market in the International District in Seattle to pick up the last few bits and pieces I wanted. For $15.89 plus great exercise, I think it was well worth it.
5lbs of fresh chicken breast
1lb of ground beef
One fresh mango
1.2lbs of sweet, sweet tangerines
A HUGE bunch of fresh basil, I mean HUGE
A can of pineapple

For reference, the absolute cheapest you can buy fresh chicken breast at Safeway is $3.69/lb. Frozen, it's $2.49/lb. That means that from Safeway, the chicken breast alone would have cost me $18.45. Frozen chicken comes in 4lb bags for $9.96, but 5lbs worth of it would cost $12.45. Oh, and the cheapest you can buy ground beef is $3.49/lb. And don't even get me started on fresh basil! I'm not even quoting the price here because nobody should buy it. Get it from the Asian market like I do, or buy a basil plant.

I got home at around seven o'clock tonight, immediately got dinner started, and by eight-thirty we were eating whole wheat spaghetti with bolognese sauce (fresh onions, fresh garlic, fresh basil, fresh beef, fresh mushrooms, canned olives, canned tomatoes, red wine, olive oil), bread fresh out of the oven, deli parmesan and a generous couple glasses of red wine! Exactly what I wanted to eat after work and all that walking, and yes, cooking it myself made it taste even better.

To finish up, from the Italian-Jewish household, a flawlessly Italian-Jewish argument that was had earlier this evening.

Me: Yeesh, it's freezing in here! I guess the heat's still not on...
Writer Husband: Hey, I've been saving a lot of money by keeping it off.
Me: But it's so cold!
Writer Husband: Well, I just saved you twenty dollars that you can spend on food!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The best bread recipe ever

As someone who struggled with making bread for six years before finding this recipe, this claim is pretty outrageous. Before, I would have said there's no such goddamn thing as a good bread recipe, just different variations of frustrating and sticky and flat and crap and time-consuming. The soft, fluffy sandwich bread that rises more than a hand's width is literally made out of magic and capitalism, because nothing I've ever made with flour and yeast has ever come close.

And this isn't sandwich bread! But it does make the best dinner rolls or sandwich buns ever. It's whole wheat, it's soft and fluffy on the inside, pleasantly crunchy on the outside, and it only takes 30-40 minutes meaning you can cook it alongside the rest of the meal, start to finish. I don't remember where I found the original recipe, but I've modified it sufficiently everywhere from the ingredients to the cooking temperature that I don't feel even slightly bad posting it as mine.

Since I discovered this recipe, I have been literally baking my own bread from scratch whenever I fancy eating some bread. That just never happens with other yeast bread. You have to plan ahead and schedule it in because it's going to take you at least four hours to make. But no, with this recipe I'm just like, "I feel like some bread and jam for lunch", and half an hour later I'm eating fresh, hot bread that just came out of the oven.

I appreciate that half an hour might seem like kind of a long time for some of you to wait for bread, but given the freshness, the smell in my kitchen, and the fact that there's usually at least a half hour wait for any of the food I eat that is more complex than yogurt and honey or a piece of fruit, personally I think it's more than worth it.

Preheat oven to 425F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1C warm water, 1tbsp white sugar, 1tbsp olive oil, and 1 packet yeast, in that order. Mix with a wooden spoon and let rest for 10-15 minutes.

When yeast is frothing, stir in 1/4tsp salt and 1 egg. Add 1C AP flour and stir. Add 1C whole wheat flour and stir. Then scoop out 1C AP flour and add from the cup until dough is just barely not sticky. It's nice when it's moist in my opinion. I have rarely finished off the whole cup.

Let dough rest for 5 minutes. Then split into whatever shapes you like - I like to split it into 9 balls and put them in a square cake pan to make dinner rolls, but you can do it however you like. I grease the (nonstick) pan with olive oil and flour all the dough balls, so that the finished product comes out dusted with flour on the tops.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Enjoy with fruit preserve, gravy, tomato sauce, honey, or even just plain butter - the bread is delicious enough to make it taste sublime!

Olive oil pie crust and shopping lists

So today I really wanted to make a quiche, but we're out of stick butter and have been for a while, and it's not grocery buyin' time just yet. I do, of course, keep three liters of olive oil in the house at all times, and I thought I might as well just google to see if there was a way to make pie crust with olive oil.

Turns out that not only is there, but it's simple, takes half the time and mess of butter crust, and instead of rolling it out and laying it down in the pan you squish it with your fingers, meaning that there's no waste and none of that "flour your worksurface" nonsense that I hate so much!

The method, which I found (and modified slightly) here, is to boil up 1/4C water and 1/3C olive oil in a pan.When it's boiling, take it off the heat and add 1C AP flour sifted with 1tsp baking powder, and just stir the shit out of it until it forms into a basic ball. Put the ball in the greased pie dish and just press it down around the bottom of the dish and up the sides with your fingers. It literally couldn't be easier and it is SO flaky and light!

I haven't tried it yet, but I have a suspicion that it would be better with the liquid ingredient quantities reversed; that is, 1/4C olive oil and  1/3C water. The crust was slightly on the greasy side for me, and also tasted faintly of olive oil even though I didn't use EVOO; for a sweet recipe I think it would be too strong of a taste.

Thanks to a recent budget change, partly due to Writer Husband managing the money now, and partly due to me having a job, we now have enough money to buy the food I want to buy every week. So - this is mostly for my loyal reader Olga whom I know loves reading this stuff - here is my shopping list for the coming week!

Pre-sliced whole wheat bread
Albacore tuna in water
Beef broth
Cottage cheese (4% minimum)
Medium cheddar cheese block
Parmesan cheese wedge
Whole milk mozzarella (the wet kind)
Full fat plain yogurt with active cultures
Frozen pineapple, mango and strawberries
Canned tomatoes
Gala apples
Collard greens
Roma tomatoes
Russet potatoes
White mushrooms
Fresh basil
Whole wheat penne
Thin-cut beefsteak
Chicken breast
Red wine

And the ingredients that I already have in my fridge/pantry and won't run out of before the following week are:

Skim milk
Tomato paste
Peanut butter
Fruit preserve (strawberry and blackberry)
Whole wheat flour and AP flour (plus associated baking ingredients like baking powder/soda and salt)
White sugar
Brown sugar
Steel-cut oats
Brown rice
Spices and dried herbs including ground oregano, dried basil, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, cayenne pepper, curry powder, oriental mustard, etc.

So I have an emphasis on whole grains (rice, oats, bread and flour, pasta), protein (beef, chicken, cottage cheese, tuna), and a variety of fruits and vegetables. I use white sugar for proofing yeast and brown sugar as an oatmeal topping, along with cinnamon and nutmeg. Peanut butter is a favorite post-workout snack and I love honey and yogurt as a dessert! Also note that I just buy sliced bread for sandwiches to take to work; if I'm eating at home, I make my own bread from scratch, the recipe for which I shall be posting shortly.