Simply put, the b is for budget, but the beat is about the rhythm of our life. And, eating local whenever possible.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Thankful Cupcake

My supplies were running low when my husband came home asking for baked treats to bring a few clients as a "thanks". I like going to Sevananda for pantry essentials. The store is a local co-op with a great selection of bulk goods. It has a variety of flours, grains, sugars, etc., with listed origin, for many of my daily needs and it’s a community-owned business. Win-win!  The Little Five Points community is awesome anyway, but Sevananda feels like a neighborhood market with a grocer that truly cares about your health. 

Now the only question… what to make? Since I don’t have that go-to sweet treat for any occasion I needed ideas. I remembered some fall recipes were in this month’s issue of Better Homes and Gardens (typically not my kind of magazine- my thumb is more brown than green, but it comes with an Atlanta Botanical Garden membership). 
These Chocolate-Filled Sweet Potato Cupcakes may become a fall tradition. I was happy to share, but knew I would make more just for home. I wish my husband could have brought them to his clients right out of the warm oven. I didn’t use the suggested chocolate frosting, and it isn’t necessary. The cupcakes are perfect without any frosting at all, but it adds the right amount of decadence to ease into the holiday season. The recipe calls for one pound of roasted sweet potato. I made two sweet potatoes, which was about 1 ½ cups mashed, but I am sure canned sweet potato will be fine.        

2 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 c unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ c granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 pound sweet potatoes, roasted*, peeled, and mashed
¼ c milk
1 tsp vanilla
24 milk chocolate or dark chocolate kisses, unwrapped

8 oz milk chocolate, chopped
4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 c minus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
½ c powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line twenty-four 2 1/2-inch muffin cups with folded 5x4-inch rectangles of parchment paper or paper bake cups; set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar; beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. With mixer on low, beat in eggs one at a time, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl between additions. Add the sweet potato, milk, and vanilla; beat on low speed until combined. Add the flour mixture to the sugar-egg mixture; beat on low just until combined.
3. Fill each muffin cup about two-thirds full with batter. Bake for 5 minutes. Carefully remove pan from oven. Gently press kisses, tips up, about halfway into each cup. Bake for 14 minutes more, until tops of cupcakes spring back when touched and chocolate is not visible. Cool cupcakes in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
4. For frosting, in a medium saucepan over low heat, bring 1 inch of water to simmering. Place chopped milk and semisweet chocolate in a medium mixing bowl. Place the bowl over the saucepan of water. Stir chocolate with a rubber spatula until melted. Remove from heat; cool chocolate for 15 minutes. With electric mixer on low speed, beat chocolate for 30 seconds. Beat in butter, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time. Beat in powdered sugar until smooth. Spread frosting on cupcake tops.

I made a Walnut Cream Cheese Frosting. My cupcakes were reminiscent of carrot cake, but I liked the idea of a chocolate surprise.

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 8oz. light cream cheese block, softened
1 32oz. pack powdered sugar
½ c walnuts, finely chopped (I used a few beats in a mini food processor.  Stop short of making a meal.)

Combine cream cheese and butter in mixer. Mix until light and creamy. Gradually add sugar, mixing small amounts at a time. Add walnuts until just mixed.

A quality control taste. I didn't have Hershey Kisses, so my chocolate chips were not heavy enough to sink. Still, these were so good that I wasn't too sad. These will make a great dessert for a Thanksgiving buffet. They were so easy that I may have found my go-to sweet treat. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The $15 Chicken

I have been craving a burrito and bought a chicken to help satiate that Mexican food craving. So as I enjoy the smell of stock bubbling away, I am searching for reasons why it makes sense to buy a $5 per lb. chicken on a $65 weekly budget. Vegetarian alternatives or smaller cuts of meat usually work fine.  It’s not the chicken that I doubt. This bird enjoyed snacks of insects and grubs in the Georgia sun, which is ideal for chickens because they lack necessary enzymes to digest an industrialized all-grain diet. The insects a pasture raised chicken finds while foraging result in meat with more vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids, and less fat than found in conventional chickens.

White Oak Pastures is a regional, sustainable operation committed to raising and processing animals humanely. Their chickens are available at Whole Foods (beef is available at Publix). I noticed the label has a “Step 5” on it, and remember other poultry at the store was marked “Step 2”. After researching, I learn that this is a rating by the Global Animal Partnership. The organization is now an independent non-profit, but it was originally started with support from Whole Foods to draw attention to animal welfare and sustainable farming. Step 5 is the highest rating, meaning the animals were bred for the outdoors. I have a troubled thought because I really thought all farm animals were bred for outdoors.

Taking the bird out of the bag, it has bigger bones, larger legs and wings, and the skin is tight over the flesh. It doesn’t have that slimy film which usually requires a salt scrub and rinse to remove. I also didn’t find fatty mounds to be trimmed away before cooking. I was getting hungrier looking at it which is rare because I can easily lose my appetite handling raw chicken.

Cooking the chicken I want to know if this chicken tastes different, so I use only a salt and pepper rub, then into the oven at 385 degrees for about an hour.  The first thing I notice is that the chicken is not swimming in a pool of fatty water. Second thing, the breast meat is a brilliant white and moist. The thigh meat (my favorite part) was deep brown, almost like turkey. As I wonder what a pasture raised turkey must look like, my husband asks if I would know the difference in a side-by-side taste test. I confidently affirm my ability, but I also admit there is no going back now, so an experiment is moot. This bird makes the chickens of my past seem like plastic food from a play kitchen.

Eating the chicken We dive in, stuffing our tortillas from our plate of beans, rice, avocado, watercress, and blissfully aromatic chicken. I quietly assume with happy satisfaction that I will want to eat burritos, tacos, and enchiladas all week.

Stretching Meals My plate isn't loaded with chicken. Black beans and brown rice are other great sources of protein. If I weren’t craving the umami flavor of meat, we would have enjoyed this meal without chicken. We don’t need to eat half the chicken in one meal. I can make this work for about 3 more meals, and by stripping the meat from the bones it will be easier to add small amounts to other dishes.

Is it worth $15? I won’t buy a chicken every week because I would get sick of chicken.  I will buy another $15 chicken though, provided it had a similar happy life and looks just as tasty. Also, it is important to choose weeks that you can supplement your meals with ingredients from the previous week.  In my case, I still have apples, carrots, collard greens, and sweet potatoes. Additionally, I won’t buy any other animal protein this week. I have black bean and chickpeas in the pantry, and I'll get a couple boxes of tofu.   

A chicken habit Making stock is the best way to use all of the chicken and add complexity to otherwise vegetarian meals later. It is also really easy and mostly unattended.

Chicken Stock
Chicken carcass, without skin
10 c water
3 carrots
4 celery stalks
½ onion, with skin
3 cloves of garlic, with skin
handful of parsley sprigs
1 tsp whole peppercorn
1 tbs salt

Bring to boil and simmer for at least 4 hours. (I often leave the stock on low for another 2 hours or leave all ingredients together in the refrigerator overnight.) Look for the meat and cartilage to be completely removed from the bone. Strain and freeze. My pups love the carrots as a treat.

Be creative with your stock.  Add other vegetables or spices that you may have on hand.  I used some daikon and watercress this time, which created a bright spice aroma. Whole cumin and coriander, and a jalapeno make a great flavor profile for a chili stock.

If you are craving a chicken burrito now, make some Salsa Verde for it.  Great salsa, designed for your palate, is another thing you can make cheaper (and tastier) than you can buy it.  It will take about 40 minutes, but that is mostly roasting time.

12 tomatillos
8 peppers (I used a poblano, jalapeno, 2 cubanelles, 2 anaheim, and 2 long hot finger peppers.)
3 garlic cloves, in its paper
1 lime, zested and halved
handful of cilantro sprigs, roughly chopped
½ c water
salt, to taste (I used about a tsp)
big pinch of sugar

Preheat oven to 415 degrees.  Roast tomatillos, garlic, and peppers with a drizzle of oil until blistering and soft. 
Remove the husks from the tomatillos and place the peppers in an airtight container.  Once steamed, remove the skins of the peppers.

With tomatillos, peppers, and garlic in a bowl, add cilantro, zest of a whole lime and the juice of half, sugar, salt, and water.  Blend and enjoy. (I use an immersion blender because it leaves considerable texture to the salsa.) This is also a great sauce for enchiladas. 

Snacking is also approved. Thanks for reading. Please comment on the good as well as the bad. I am excited to say that I stayed in budget for the first month. I will break down how I really get it done this month, and if it is possible to do a family Thanksgiving dinner.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pumpkin Seeds: A free snack!

The best part of pumpkin carving is the bonus snack hiding inside.  Even better is that I consider it to be a freebie since really the purpose of the pumpkin purchase was simple entertainment.  The best part about a pumpkin carving party is the extra seeds from the jack-o-lanterns of friends that, maybe unknowingly, did not realize these were mine to keep.  Bwahahaha….

My recipe for perfect pumpkin seeds: 

This method prevents sticky seeds from burnt oil while giving just enough gloss to help spices stick. 

Preheat oven to 385.  Rinse seeds in a large bowl under running water and remove all the pulp.  Drain the water, but while the seeds are still wet add about a teaspoon of salt and mix.

Lay seeds in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake until light brown, about 15 minutes. 

Prepare spice bowls.  I like to make a couple flavors: use a little bit of pumpkin pie spice with sugar, or blend some cumin, cayenne, garlic powder, salt & pepper for a smoky seed.

Transfer seeds to a fry pan over med-high heat.  Drizzle about a teaspoon of neutral oil.  Shake until they start to blister and turn golden.  Serve naked or toss in your spice bowl.  I work in batches and enjoy one flavor while roasting the next round.

Enjoy.  Happy carving and remember to share your treats.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Halloween Treats for Friends

This weekend was packed full of Halloween festivities with friends, which left little time to relax in the kitchen.  However, there was some time to whip up delicious desserts for a pumpkin carving party.  A perfect Sunday morning recuperation after what seems like a month of barhopping.  (Side note- We tried the Wrecking Bar Brewpub this weekend.  If you live in Atlanta, go. Every girl needs to support her local brewers.)

Back to desserts.  Now, I am confident in my ability to create a great meal without a plan or recipe before I walk in a kitchen, but this coolness is shattered by the thought of making a dessert.  I can’t make one without a little recipe muse with great instructions as my sidekick.  And of course, I turn to some of my favorite blogs for inspiration.  Here is what I made this weekend…

Apple pate de fruit  & chocolate chip toffee bars from NotWithout Salt.  I went for the apple jellies, but couldn’t resist making these chewy bars after seeing that kiddo’s chocolate smile.  Check out the website for the recipes.  The instructions are great, and I made very few changes.

apple pate de fruit- I love these, and they are simple.  My apartment smelled like warm apple cider for hours.

I used 5 large North Georgia apples from last week’s excursion: 2 granny smith, 2 splendor, and 1 pink lady.  I didn’t bake mine.  It firmed up well during cooling.  However, my sugar coating turned into sugary goo.  Still good, but these are Halloween treats for our door so I nixed the sugar and the rest were sans goo.  Maybe had I followed the instructions, it would have dried out more.  Remember, I don’t do sweets and really should refrain from going off-script. Sometimes I can’t resist, especially if I see a shortcut.

cc toffee bars- Followed the instructions here.  Since I needed these to travel, I was happy to see that I didn’t have quite so much chocolate as hers did.  I will make these again and twice bake them for what I anticipate will be perfect biscotti dunkers.

Pumpkin swirl brownies from Smitten Kitchen (& Martha Stewart).  I have never had a problem mixing chocolate and pumpkin as this blogger suggests was a little strange.  I am happy she is a convert.  I opted for the optional nuts, but otherwise did as instructed.  Mixing walnuts into the pumpkin batter only made a contrast that really highlighted the spices.  I also had some trouble with swirling, but I kind of like picking a pumpkin or chocolate rich brownie depending on my mood.  This is another great website that does a great job on instructions and I don’t like duplicating work.  Check them out and make them for your weekend recovery. 

Happy Halloween!   

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Still On Budget & Staying Local

(Wish I could share more pictures, but what I am sure will be many misadventures in blogging, I deleted them before making sure they were saved.)

We spent last Sunday visiting apple orchards in North Georgia.  It is becoming a fun tradition for us.  We came home with three pecks of apples (Splendor, Granny Smith, Stayman Winsap, Pink Lady, & Black Arkansas) after visiting Mercier, Hillcrest, and BJ Reece Orchards.  I know that sounds like a lot for two people, but I love the variety at the apple houses!  I had never heard of Stayman or Black Arkansas before last year.  

Mercier Orchards has another crisp variety that is perfect for snacking.  It is called a Limber Twig, but sadly it isn't available yet.  We may have a lot to eat, but apples stay fresh longer than say a peach, and they are great in sweet and savory dishes.  This is a local opportunity for yummy fall dishes on a budget.  Last year, we had apples through Thanksgiving, and my husband dehydrated some for snacking.  I am looking forward to those again this year.       

My happiest and most unexpected find was a bunch of collard greens the size of my upper body (picture casualty) for two dollars at BJ Reece Apple House!!  They also had budget friendly prices on sweet potatoes (also at Mercier), tomatoes, and a carving pumpkin.  I broke down, steamed, and filled four dishes with greens. Three are in the freezer for later, but I couldn’t resist using some with eggs for breakfast and tossed with walnuts and vinegar for a quick lunch. 

I knew sticking to the budget in October would be difficult.  I contemplated starting the blog later because of it, but that didn’t feel ethical.   So, drum roll please… after three weeks I have spent $190 on groceries.  That leaves $70 to get through the month!  The best part is that I still have plenty of ingredients to make meals for a couple more days.  We had a couple unexpected 2nd day meals with the carrot soup and curried okra and snap beans. Our version of local eating isn’t totally farm-to-table yet, but it does feel good knowing that we can buy many foods sourced near home or from local markets.  By Spring, we may be totally local for vegetables and meats.  

A pity picture: Today’s 3-minute lunch.  What you see here is what you get.  The cucumbers are the last of my quick pickles.  I made a quick dressing over cabbage, tomatoes, and fresh corn with the brining vinegar.  

I try to keep shredded cabbage (typically red) in the refrigerator.  A head can cost as little as a dollar, but rarely more than a few.  I use it in quick salads like this, or as a toss-in under beans and other saucy dishes.  It is a ready vegetable and well worth the 15 minutes with a mandolin and salad spinner.

Here is a recipe for pumpkin grits.  Sorry the picture was another one gobbled up by my nimble clicks to the trash bin.

Pumpkin Grits
Serves 2, 40 minutes

I use Logan Turnpike Mill grits. They are stone ground and cook creamy with little to no butter.    Make grits for two as instructed on the package, but with about 1 tablespoon of butter.
After grits are cooked add:
½ c. pumpkin puree
¼ tsp. cinnamon, scant
¼ tsp. ginger, scant
couple shakes of cayenne and coriander
salt and pepper to taste

Stir and serve.  Garnish with toasted walnuts.   

We eat this for breakfast or as a side dish for dinner.  We also enjoy pumpkin pie oatmeal.  Follow same technique, but use pumpkin pie spice and omit the other spices.  Hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

On the Menu

Here is what we are craving with this week’s ingredients.  Check back for pictures and recipes. 

B: Pumpkin Molasses Pancakes & Apple Slices
L: Black Bean & Cabbage Salad
D: Thai Shrimp Flatbread Salad (
It was awesome! )

B: 2nd day Pancakes under Orange & Apple Slices, GA Honey
L: Sesame Kale Salad with Curried Walnuts
D: Creamy Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup

B: Shrimp with Black Beans & Shredded Red Cabbage
L: Quick Pickle, Tomato & Farmer Cheese Sandwiches
D: Okra & Snap Bean Curry over Shrimp Brown Rice

B: Pumpkin Grits
L: 2nd day Curry
D: Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Walnut Sauce & Sautéed Squash

B: Egg & Tomato Sandwiches
L: 2nd day Sesame Kale Salad & Marinated Daikon
D: Italian Sausage & Roasted Pepper Barlotto

B: Veggie Fried Rice
L: 2nd day Barlotto with Eggs
D: Cheese & Apple Flatbread with Red Cabbage Salad

Snacks: Boiled Peanuts, Veggie Sticks with Peanut Sauce, Popcorn, & Too Good Too Be Oatmeal Cookies

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Whoops! Busted the Budget Already.

But, wait I can explain- I can always explain.  
Here is what’s in my kitchen. Locally sourced produce from Dekalb Farmers Market & Georgia Farm to Table-Dewberry Market.

Georgia grown bell pepper, cucumber, yellow squash, red cabbage, Thai basil, corn, okra, kale, soybean sprouts, tomato, and snap peas.

Other regional/national purchases from a local store:
FL: watercress, fall glo oranges, shrimp
NY: apples
PA: pears
MI: pie pumpkin
CA: carrots, daikon radish, lemons, garlic

Farm Stand: onion and plums

Local ingredients from Whole Foods: eggs, yogurt, milk, beef sausage, pork sausage, grits

I also bought Georgia peanuts, but those are already cooked up for a writing snack.

Last night, we enjoyed sausage and apple handpies and pumpkin grits with friends before the Center for Puppetry Arts awesome Halloween show,The Ghastly Dreadfuls.  No pictures this time due to the eat-and-go frenzy.   Leftover grits made fabulous cakes under fried eggs for breakfast this morning. 

This week’s shopping was $28 over budget; I had an unused $12 dollars from last week, but picked up a few extras for yesterday’s gathering.  Not typical, but kicking off Halloween is bigger than any other holiday in our family.  When I started this I told myself that I would make adjustments to later weeks if necessary, I hope to stretch my splurge over a few extra days.  I also expect the eggs,dairy, and grits to last more than one week.  I have set a goal to do a Thanksgiving Dinner for 8 in my budget, so I don’t feel too guilty.

Coming up this week, I definitely see pizza and dumplings or free form pasta in our menu.  Check back for the plans.