Food

August Challenge: Week 4

The final week of the challenge proved to be the hardest. Not only did we have friends over for dinner, we also celebrated our third wedding anniversary! I wanted to do something special for both evenings, without completely ignoring my budgeting goal. My first shopping trip of the week looked like this:

FoodCost
Strawberries (1lb)$1.66
Gold Bell Peppers (2)$3.34
Grape Tomatoes$1.25
Parsley$0.99
Yellow Squash (3)$1.79
Artichoke Quarters$2.99
Cream Cheese (2)$3.38
Milk (Half-Gallon)$2.29
Chicken Breast$6.76
Chicken Thighs$8.28
Sour Cream$2.69
Flour Tortilla$1.47
Paprika$3.49
Basil Leaves$1.49
Mushrooms$1.19
Baby Lemons$1.99
Mangoes (4)$2.76
Dried Basil$1.99
Avocados (4)$2.76
Fresh Mint$1.49
Eggs$2.99
Cayenne Pepper$3.59
Mozzarella$3.44
Shredded Gruyere$4.49
Garbanzo Beans (2 cans)$1.58


Total$70.14

We hosted our friends Grace and Jon for dinner on Sunday evening. I made Crusty Rosemary & Garlic Bread (again) with Spinach & Artichoke Dip as an appetizer. The bread always makes our apartment smell delicious and it is such an elevated experience for a tiny cost (about $1.85/loaf).

For dinner, we went a little healthier with Skillet Lemon Pepper Chicken. The fresh herbs and cayenne added so much good flavor to the yellow bell peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, and chicken breast. The entire meal came in at less than $20 and fed four people (plus leftovers!).

To be honest, part of me feels guilty and insecure for tallying up the cost of hosting. Having friends over for dinner is something we love to do and want to do on a regular basis. But this month-long challenge has made me realize that we can’t simply ignore the financial aspect. Historically, I’ve used hosting as an excuse to buy expensive foods and try to produce “impressive” meals. This is totally on me– no one is expecting Jimi to cook his famous steaks every time they walk in our home. I don’t have to serve elaborate charcuterie boards or buy expensive bottles of wine. We can spend less and have just as great a meal– and just as much fun.

We had a few slices of rosemary bread leftover, so I decided to surprise Jimi with some Gordon Ramsey eggs the next morning. These eggs are pretty life-changing (don’t believe me? The YouTube video tutorial has 42 MILLION views). Due to my budgetary constraints, I had to substitute in sour cream for the called-for crème fraîche, making the eggs slightly less rich, but still incredibly tasty. I popped the bread slices under the broiler to give them a quick toast, then loaded each plate with bread, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, and avocado. Nom nom nom.

Anniversary Picnic

Our third wedding anniversary was on August 26th. Instead of going out to dinner, I suggested we have a picnic on the beach where we got married. Jimi agreed and I put together a special picnic meal. While it was a “splurge” in terms of our weekly budget, it was roughly a tenth of the cost of our previous anniversary dinners!

FoodCost
Raisin Rosemary Crisps$3.99
Italian Charcuterie$5.49
Truffle Marcona Almonds$5.99
Italian Truffle Cheese$5.85
Goat Cheese Log$2.99
Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans$0.99
Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds$0.99

Total$26.29

I already had fruit on hand, along with some leftover Spinach & Artichoke dip. I built the picnic around those items, making a homemade walnut cream cheese dip and buying cheese, nuts, and meat to offer some additional sustenance. I put the food into serving dishes for easy transport to the beach.

Jimi surprised me with two dozen gorgeous red roses before we headed out (aww). We drove up the coast to Leo Carrillo in Malibu and set up our picnic precisely where we said our vows. It was both romantic and meaningful. A photographer happened to be taking photos of the sunset close by and we asked him for a quick picture. He took some amazing shots and it really capped a wonderful time (and memorialized Jimi’s wild quarantine hair). Honestly, I wouldn’t have traded it for the most expensive dinner in the world.

We spent the rest of the week eating leftovers in a variety of forms (chicken tacos, salad with goat cheese tomatoes, etc.). But I did find one incredible cocktail recipe. I had picked up four mangoes at the grocery store, because they were on sale for $0.69/each! Jimi loves mangoes, but these were all very ripe and needed to be eaten immediately. I scrolled through Pinterest, looking for a mango dessert or drink that I had all the ingredients for. And I found it: The Mango Margarita. I made a few tweaks to the original recipe, so here’s “my” version:

Mango Margaritas

  • 2 Fresh Mangoes
  • 3oz Tequila
  • 1oz Triple Sec
  • 3tbsp Agave Syrup
  • 1 Lime
  • Handful of Ice
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • Lime wedges and Mint for garnishing

Blend together mangoes, tequila, triple sec, agave syrup, lime, and ice. Run a lime wedge around the rim of your glasses, then dip them in sea salt and chili powder. Pour in your blended drink and garnish with lime and mint!

Cheers to a fun challenge! I have learned so much this month… I’m still trying to process and synthesize it into a cohesive narrative. I’ll be posting all those thoughts in the next week or two. But for now, thanks for sharing in my journey and I hope you make something amazing today!

Food

August Challenge: Week 3

This week was all about chicken. I found some killer deals on thighs and drumsticks at our local grocery store, but I didn’t want dinner to feel like a constant repeat. With poultry in hand (err… cart), I started flipping through Pinterest and AllRecipes.com on my phone, looking for particularly unique chicken recipes.

I’ll share my poultry preparations down below, but here’s what I ended up purchasing:

FoodCost
Broccoli $2.70
Grape Tomatoes$3.00
Lemons (4)$2.00
Bananas (1 Bunch)$1.46
Red Bell Peppers (2)$1.96
Red Seedless Grapes$1.89
White Peaches (2)$1.15
Yellow Onions (3)$1.98
Yellow Peaches (3)$1.18
Mozzarella Pearls$3.99
Chicken Thighs $6.60
Greek Yogurt $5.89
Butter (4lb)$7.99
Popsicles $3.50
Half & Half$1.79
Pears (2)$1.07
Romaine Hearts$3.99
Dill$1.49
Rosemary$1.49
Chicken Drumsticks$3.87


Total$58.99
Soooo close to my target. Excuses below…

The Costco Dilemma

Y’all… I love me some Costco. Even with COVID preventing me from eating my weight in samples, I still enjoy the experience of walking the aisles and stocking up. The prices are so good! The meat is such great quality! The cheese! The charcuterie!

I’ve always found ways to justify my Costco shopping… until my husband and I started to keep an itemized budget. The polo shirts I bought for Jimi (and the yoga pants I purchased for myself) were no longer conveniently hidden in the grocery bill. The four-pound carton of grapes that cost $10– and half of the which turned into wine before we could consume them. The five dozen eggs to satisfy my rapidly increasing baking needs. The reality checks were coming in hard and fast.

So I decided to come up with new “Costco rules” for myself:

  1. A Costco grocery run is for food only. If you need socks, a plant, batteries, or a new couch, that needs to be decided in advance. No purchasing non-food on a whim.
  2. Only purchase food that you can (and will) eat before it expires. For our home, this eliminates most of the fruit and vegetable options.
  3. Don’t take a cart. (What!!) Yeah, this one is a little dangerous. But I’ve been doing this all month and it’s working. Even with a detailed grocery list in hand, a cart is just begging to be filled. If I know I’ll have to carry everything throughout the whole store, I’ll overcome the urge to buy the handle of tequila on sale or get an extra block of cheese.

Costco items, while typically cheap for the quantity offered, still hit my $50 hard. This week, I needed butter and Greek yogurt– food I typically purchase in bulk because I cook and bake with them often. I knew buying them at Costco would bust my budget, but I made that concession because buying them in smaller portions would end up costing more and appearing on my budget more regularly. I need to plan my “Costco buys” more strategically, but I think it will be doable long-term.

One of the greatest benefits I’ve discovered over the last three weeks is the joy of variety. Instead of buying one giant bag of asparagus at Costco and cooking it all week long, I can buy a couple bell peppers, some broccoli, a few onions, and a pint of tomatoes at Sprouts. I never realized that Costco was actually limiting me until I stopped and took stock of my habits.

I will never get tired of going to Costco. I’m just going to be a more considerate customer in the future.

CHICKEN!

We did some serious feasting this week.

Night #1: Tandoori Chicken and Homemade Naan – My goodness. Indian food is way outside my comfort zone, but this recipe looked simple and absolutely delicious. After coating the chicken with the yogurt and spices, I set it aside to marinate. I knew my husband was a fan of naan, so I wanted to make some to complement the chicken. Unfortunately, traditional naan requires yogurt… and I had just used the last of it on the chicken. Not wanting to make a last-minute grocery run, I opened my fridge to look for alternative dairy options. I had some milk and I knew adding vinegar to it would make buttermilk– could that work? I decided to go ahead and give it a try. I popped the chicken in the oven and got my cast iron skillet sizzling. I mixed garlic and dill into the naan batter, then rolled a piece out on the counter. The bread fluffed up nicely over the heat and the inside was soft and flavorful. The chicken made the house smell amazing and Jimi soon came to hover by the kitchen. He stole a piece of naan and his eyes lit up. When I got the chicken and naan on the table, we tore in with our bare hands.

Jimi said, “This tastes better than it smells!”

I laughed at the odd compliment and added, “I want to try a different naan recipe– this one is a little too thick and doughy.”

Jimi shrugged, “I definitely won’t stop you from experimenting with naan. I could eat this for days.”

Lunch #2: Roasted Chickpea Gyros – While cooking the night before, I casually wondered what was the difference between naan and pita bread. Turns out? They’re fairly similar, but naan is made with yogurt, milk, eggs, or butter to make it the softer and fluffier cousin of traditional pita. I decided to do a little cuisine mashup and make gyros out of the leftover naan from dinner! I poured a can of chickpeas into a tray, spiced them up, and popped them in the oven. I heated up the naan and layered some Romaine, grape tomatoes, red onion, feta, and cilantro. When the chickpeas were ready, I tossed them on top!

Jimi: “There’s no MEAT?”

Me: “Well, the roasted chickpeas have a lot of flavor and add a lot of substance to this dish.”

Jimi: “…. but where’s the MEAT?”

I added some leftover carnitas his second wrap.

Jimi: “This just went from a 7 to a 9. This is phenomenal.”

Dinner #3: Creamy Cajun Chicken Lazone and Buttermilk Naan — This meal was straight. up. dreamy. We were on a naan kick, so I kept it rolling. This time, though, I found a recipe that specifically required buttermilk (avoiding another haphazard substitution situation). I needed to do another chicken dish, but I wanted to switch up the cuisine. Scrolling through Half Baked Harvest’s blog site, I spotted a Cajun dish that looked interesting. I pulled out some canned corn from the pantry and got to work! While the yeast was activating for the naan, I started heating up two skillets and then began dredging the chicken. I continued to dance between the bread batter and the floured chicken, eventually getting both to the skillets at around the same time. While the chicken hissed and popped, I rolled out thin ovals of naan batter. As soon as it hit the cast iron, huge air bubbles started to rise— it made me so happy. I simmered the chicken with the corn and the spices until the smells drew Jimi into the kitchen.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“It’s a Cajun Chicken recipe… and naan.”

“Can I try it?” he asked, ripping off a freshly buttered piece.

“What do you think?” I asked as I started plating.

“It’s pretty perfect.”

Dinner #4: Skillet Lemon Pepper Chicken — I still had a lot of veggies in the fridge, so I looked for a summery recipe to incorporate them with the remaining chicken. This Skillet Lemon Pepper Chicken dish is a little hard to define. It’s hearty, it has some Mediterranean vibes, but there’s a bit of a spicy kick from the Cayenne. For being a “healthy” dish, though, it is absolutely packed with flavor. I loved the addition of feta to balance the earthy notes; Jimi preferred it without. Either way, it is definitely a new household staple.

Baking: I continued to work on my Macarons this week. I made three separate batches, experimenting with color, flavor, and bake time. The chocolate espresso macarons were particularly satisfying… but really ugly! They didn’t make the group photo:

Vanilla and Peppermint Macarons

Another week in the books! Final challenge week ahead. Looking forward to finishing strong. And cooking up a storm….

Food

August Challenge: Week 2

Goal: Spend only $50/week on groceries for my husband and I.

Week 2 started off quite strong. And by strong I mean, people kept giving us food!! Jimi had to go in to the office on Friday (August 7) and they catered a meal for all the employees. He came home with a giant tray of leftover Greek food for us (he truly understands my love language).

We feasted on spanakopita, beef skewers, and hummus over the weekend. On Sunday morning, I decided to go beyond a quick nuke in the microwave and instead made omelettes with leftover baked potatoes, lamb, and some freshly shredded cheddar cheese. Comfort food at it’s finest.

On Sunday evening, I drove out to Lancaster to do some work on our rental units and pay a visit to the in-laws. After several hours of painting, changing out door knobs, and fixing baseboards, my mother-in-law called me over for dinner. Marlene is one of the most outstanding cooks I have ever encountered. She can turn scraps into feasts and leftovers into Michelin-star meals. That night she had made chimichurri chicken, potato wedges, and a balsamic salad. Her husband, Steve, who has taken up cooking as a quarantine hobby and is a fastidious sous chef, put together a corn casserole dish. It was a hearty and heartening meal after working all evening.

And, of course, Marlene always sends us home with leftovers. Not only did I get the extra chicken and casserole, but she had prepared Milanesa Napolitana just for me to take back to Jimi. If you have never had this mouthwatering dish, think of it as pizza… but with meat instead of pizza dough.

While I can’t tell you Marlene’s precise recipe (she never writes any of her dishes down), this recipe is a fairly good approximation.

We got through the weekend without a grocery run! On Monday, I did stop by the store to pick up a few things: tomato sauce (I’ve got all those frozen meatballs still), peaches (get ready for more whiskey cocktails), and a few things to make carnitas.

I bought some pork shoulder a couple weeks ago and stuck it in my freezer, waiting for a day when I had the time to slow roast it in the oven. Monday afternoon seemed to be that day! I pulled out the pork shoulder to defrost while I did my grocery run. Carnitas are a new one for me– I had never even considered making them until quarantine expanded my horizons. After my first attempt, though, my husband made it clear that I should make them on a regular basis. The pork turns out so tender and juicy, it’s really cheap, and you can use it in a variety of ways: quesadillas, lettuce-wrapped tacos, and (with a little bbq sauce) pulled pork sandwiches!

I’ve experimented with a variety of carnitas recipes this summer. I’ve braised the meat in wine, chicken stock, and citrus juice. I’ve added lots of spices and I’ve just tried salt (with unique toppings added to every individual meal). This carnitas recipe is my personal favorite at the moment, but I am open to alternatives. If you happen to have a delicious recipe, please share– I’d love to give it a try!

Between the leftovers and the carnitas, I didn’t do a lot of cooking this week– but that didn’t mean I stayed out of the kitchen. I baked up a storm… causing my husband some serious consternation.

“I thought we were trying to eat healthy,” he said with a mouthful of meringue.

“I’m trying to perfect my French pastry skills!” I explained, piping another row of meringue onto a baking sheet. “What do you think of it?”

“It’s got a weird flavor. Like it’s good… but it doesn’t taste like what I grew up with.” We later determined that traditional Argentine meringue was exclusively egg whites, water, and sugar. The French recipe that I followed included vanilla. I was pretty impressed with my husband’s taste buds.

Aaaand speaking of vanilla, I ran out of Vanilla Extract this week. On my first shopping trip, I decided to cheap out and buy “Imitation Vanilla Extract” for $1.47. Guys. Don’t do it. It was absolutely awful. Thankfully, since I didn’t have to spend much money on groceries this week, I splurged on a bottle of the real stuff at Costco. My baking supplies are completely restocked for the foreseeable future!

Here’s my spending breakdown from August 8-14:

FoodCost
Butter Lettuce$1.25
Blueberries (2)$2.50
Limes (4)$1.00
Oranges (3)$1.44
Peaches (3)$1.92
Cilantro$0.79
Marinara$2.79
Chicken Broth$1.99
Ginger Root Powder$2.80
Imitation Vanilla Extract$1.47
White Vinegar$1.17
Sausage (1lb)$1.99
Pure Vanilla Extract$24.99
Eggs (2 dozen)$3.79
Total $49.89

And here are all the glorious baked goods I made this week:

Macarons with French Buttercream

Preppy Kitchen has an amazing recipe tutorial for Macarons. Mine turned out… ok? They didn’t really puff up, so there’s a few tweaks I want to try next time. French pastry is all about precision which is so not my style. I played a little fast and loose with this recipe and definitely regretted it. Also, the French Buttercream was basically straight butter. I’ll go with a more traditional frosting in the future.

Meringues

I fell straight down the Preppy Kitchen rabbit hole and tried Meringues next. These were super fun to make– and quite lovely to eat. I definitely want to practice my piping and try out other flavors in the future.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

This is such a fun alternative to chocolate chip cookies. The bars stay so gooey in the center, but the edges get crispy. There’s a little something for everyone in a crowd! You can add some M&M’s on top for a festive touch (this batch was from July– I forgot to take a picture of this week’s version).

I think Week 3 will be a true test of will. My fridge is completely empty and my pantry is starting to look a bit sparse. Let’s see how it goes!

Food

August Challenge: Week 1

Goal: Spend only $50/week on groceries for my husband and I.

Well, nothing went quite as expected this week. Last Friday (July 31), I found out that we were going to have company over for dinner on Saturday evening. I definitely didn’t budget for guests!! So, I went grocery shopping on Friday for that specific meal and didn’t count it towards my August budget— that’s not cheating, right?

Other than that slight exception, here’s my spending breakdown and some of the fun recipes I tried out this week:

FoodCost
Milk$3.99
Cheese$3.99
Coffee Creamer$1.79
Flour$3.99
Brown Sugar$2.49
White Sugar$5.39
Onions (4)$3.17
Rosemary$1.49
Lemons (5)$1.99
Asparagus (1lb)$3.49
Cucumbers (2)$1.00
Roma Tomatoes (1lb)$1.00
Russet Potatoes (3lb)$2.36
Shallots (3)$0.78
Garlic Powder$4.30
Orzo Pasta (1lb)$0.98
Dried Basil$0.62
Polenta (1lb)$1.34
Chicken Thighs (3lb)$6.04
Ground Beef (2lb)$6.98


Total$57.18

SO close to my budget of $50. Also, I’m being extremely honest and including all the baking goods I stocked up on, even though they were mostly supplies for the cheesecake I made for our guests. Here’s a few meals that I concocted this week:

Dinner Party, Saturday, August 1, 2020

Appetizer: 

Spinach and Artichoke Dip— I blended everything in advance, then popped it in the oven a few minutes before our guests arrived. Hot, cheesy dip was a perfect way to start the evening.

Rosemary, Garlic Bread — I timed this to come out of the oven just before I popped the dip in. Unfortunately, it didn’t get a good rise on it, but the intense flavors and yeasty texture were great with the cheesy artichoke dip!

Dinner:

Ground Beef and Cheese Stromboli — I made homemade pizza crust this time and it ended up being a little soft/loose. I would definitely do it with store-bought pizza dough next time. Quite tasty, though, and great for a group!

Dessert: 

New York Cheesecake with Strawberry Sauce — Wow. This giant cheesecake (slightly taller than my springform pan!) has the perfect texture, the perfect flavor… it’s just incredible. I did spice up the crust with some cinnamon and nutmeg, but other than that I let it be. I made a simple strawberry sauce and poured it over each individual slice. Our guests (and my husband) were absolutely smitten. 

Note: I spent just about $45 on this specific meal. It’s wild to think that I blew almost a full week’s “budget” on one meal, but I made three courses for four people— which breaks down to $11.25/each. Way cheaper than a fancy meal out!

Dinner, Monday, August 3, 2020

Polenta with Homemade Meatballs — I had some leftover Stromboli filling to use up, so I decided to use it as a sauce for a polenta dish. My mother-in-law got me hooked on ooey, gooey polenta and I used my mom’s meatball recipe— quite the family affair! Here’s our family meatball recipe:

  1. Soak 4 bread slices in ½ cup water 2-3 minutes
  2. Add 2 eggs and mix well
  3. Add 1lb. of ground beef, ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, 2 tbsp sniped parsley (fresh) or 1 tsp dried parsley, 1 tsp salt, ¼ tsp dried oregano and dash of pepper
  4. Mix with wet hands
  5. Form mixture into small balls (about 24 per # of meat)
  6. Brown slowly in t tbsp of hot oil (Canola) in skillet.
  7. Fun Fact: These freeze really well. I almost always make a double batch.

Dinner, Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Sheet Pan Lemon Rosemary Dijon Chicken and Potatoes with Feta Goddess Sauce Quite the name. But quite the dish. I loved how easy it was to throw everything onto a sheet pan and get a beautiful blend of flavors. The feta goddess sauce was quite tart (with the Greek yogurt, feta, and lemon all on the sour end of the spectrum) so I might play around with that in the future. All in, this dish costs about $10 and we had enough leftovers for three meals! 

Cocktails, Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Penicillin — Mid-week cocktail time! I watched an interesting documentary called “Neat: The Story of Bourbon” on Hulu and was inspired to do a little whiskey mixing. The recipe I settled on called for Scotch Whiskey, but I swapped it for the Four Roses Bourbon I had on hand. Does that mean I get to call this Debby’s Penicillin? Regardless of whether this will be my new claim to fame, the smoothness of the bourbon and honey paired with the tartness of the lemon and the spiciness of the ginger… it just sung. Jimi is not much of a drinker, but even he couldn’t resist this concoction!

Breakfast, Thursday, August 6, 2020

Turnip Omelettes— Yeah, I know it sounds super weird. Let me give you the backstory. After our honeymoon in Thailand, Jimi and I became obsessed with finding the best Thai food in LA. On our search for those spicy, nutty, warm flavors, we stumbled across a restaurant called Ruen Pair. The reviews were stellar and they all mentioned one truly superb dish: the turnip omelette. We went for dinner one night and waited 45 minutes for a table. The smells coming from the kitchen were unspeakably delightful. When we were finally seated, we ordered half a dozen dishes— including the omelette. We could have just ordered half a dozen of them. It was amazing: salty, sweet, greasy… just all of the late-night flavors you crave. We have brought many of our friends here and they are always blown away by what seems like such a weird dish. I recently found a recipe that attempts to mimic the omelette and while it’s not quite the right flavor or consistency, it’s on the right track. Since the ingredients are cheap, I’ve been experimenting with it on a regular basis. I’ll write a post once I perfect it!

Food

August Challenge: $50/Week on Groceries

In the early days of the pandemic, I set a lot of “goals”. I was going to read twenty books. I was going to workout every day. I was going to practice Spanish. I was going to take online courses and do as much “upskilling” as possible. While I chipped away at some of these goals (see: Quarantine Reading List), I fell off the wagon on most. It was hard to stay motivated and focused when the world seemed to be falling apart at the seams. Some days, it felt like an accomplishment just to get out and walk my dogs.

I also challenged myself to cook more often and experiment with new foods. I’ve made mad Pad Thai, learned how to cook beets (and beet greens), and fallen in love with fresh ginger. I enjoyed my time in the kitchen, so daily meals turned into another form of “entertainment”. However, I recently took a look at my skyrocketing grocery bills. Steak and shrimp and salmon filets were obvious price-jacking culprits. But there were other, more subtle rascals inflating my bills. There were new spices and sauces that I used for one recipe and then buried in the back of my spice cabinet. There were giant containers of grapes from Costco that we never finished before they turned into raisins. Fancy cheese, real maple syrup, top shelf alcohol, everything that made life feel a little bit more comfortable.

But in an effort to curb my consumerism (and boost my wallet), I am setting myself a new goal: Make three delicious meals a day for my husband and I… and spend only $50/week on groceries.

Now, my pantry is pretty well-stocked at the moment. We’ve got pasta and coffee and spices galore. We also have several frozen dinners from the early-pandemic panic. I’m burning through all the leftovers and milk right now, but I still have quite a few tomatoes, tortillas, eggs, and cheese in the fridge. It feels a bit like cheating, but I know it will get harder each week as I run out of these excess ingredients. Here’s my shopping plan for August 1:

Breakfast FoodCost
Sausage Links$2.50
Coffee Creamer$1.79
Bananas$1.49
Milk (1 gallon)$3.29
Lunch FoodCost
Sandwich Bread (Whole Wheat)$1.49
Sandwich Meat (Ham) – 2 x 9oz packs$7.00
Lettuce (Romaine)$1.69
Dinner FoodCost
Ground Beef (3 lb)$11.97
Chicken (3 lbs)$9.42
Bell Peppers (2)$1.94
Broccoli (1 lb)$1.79
Onions (3)$2.91
Weekly Total$47.28

Meal Plan:

BreakfastEggs and Sausage, Breakfast burritos, Coffee
LunchSandwiches, Salads 
SnacksBananas, Protein Bars, Smoothies
DinnerQuesadillas, Chicken Stir Fry, Lettuce-Wrapped Burgers, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Tacos

WOW. That list feels so short. I am already embarrassed just thinking about the amount of food I typically buy on a normal Costco run. It’s also really evident that the bulk of the $50 will be going towards meat. Maybe an incentive to start adding more vegetarian meals to our diet?

I’ll be checking in every week to let you know how it’s going! I will also share any tips, tricks, and recipes I discover along the way.

Oh– and I’m going to try not to tell my husband what I’m doing. If he finds out, it’s fine. But I want to see if he notices the “limited” groceries every week. Social experiment: commence!

Food

Recipe Roundup

I don’t know about you, but I have spent a lot of time in the kitchen these past few months. Here are some of the best recipes, blogs, and secret ingredients I’ve discovered during this pandemic:

1. Half-Baked Harvest:

AKA The Queen of Quarantine Cooks everywhere. If you haven’t heard of Thiegan’s blog, I am grateful that I get to be the one to introduce you to her because she will change your life. Her photos make you want to dive into a bowl of pad thai and swim around in the deliciousness. Some of my favorite recipes include her super easy Tomato-Herb Pizza and her Lemon Butter Zucchini Orzo (the ultimate comfort food). Feeling exotic? Check out her Thai recipes and get spicy with it!

2. Crusty Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Bread:

Yes, I joined the bread bandwagon. But this bread is truly exceptional. The recipe also introduced me to the concept of roasting heads of fresh garlic. Not only is it delicious, but it makes your house smell divine (and keeps away the vampires). I highly recommend making this to take your cheese board to the next level.

3. Peach and Prosciutto Pizza:

I bought some ripe peaches that needed to be eaten immediately. I scoured Pinterest for some ideas and came across the inspiration for a Peach and Prosciutto Pizza. However, I was a little short on Prosciutto and Naan. So while I’m sure the original recipe is great, here’s the adjustments I made:

Ingredients

  • 2 naan crusts 1/2 lb of fresh pizza dough (enough to make a flatbread)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil divided
  • 4 oz burrata cheese divided An excessive amount of fresh mozzarella, shredded
  • 2 large peaches sliced
  • 4 thin slices of prosciutto torn 8 Slices of Soppressata
  • 1 tbsp chopped basil
  • 2 tbsp honey 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt to season throughout

The mozzarella melted against the pizza dough, creating this chewy, stringy cheese bread. Baking the peaches lowered their sweetness level, balancing them perfectly with the salty soppressata.

I paired the pizza with a peachy drink:

  • 1/2 peach, smashed
  • 1 tbsp rosemary syrup
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Shaken with ice, poured into a glass over ice, and then topped with tonic water

4. Cowboy Breakfast Skillet:

I would like to thank my friend, Erin, for introducing me to the breakfast of my dreams. Sweet potatoes, avocado, and sausage? Who would have thought breakfast could be so satisfying. This recipe is great for a group and only uses one pan!

This recipe is also extremely versatile. While baking the eggs is definitely easiest, you can also try poaching them (my favorite version) or frying them (my husband’s favorite version). Adding some sriracha on top really takes this to the next level, too!

5. Mediterranean Chicken:

I’ve made a lot of Greek chicken in my day, but this recipe calls for sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and capers. The salty, briny flavors are delightful and much more intense than my normal lemon/oregano/olive oil marinades.

Food

Nana’s Banana Bread

There was a short list of baked goods that were fundamental staples in our household growing up: TPC Coffee Cake, Superbowl Snack Mix, Cowboy Cookies, and Nana’s Banana Bread. Anytime I bake these offerings for friends or coworkers, I get clobbered with requests for the recipes. There’s no secret ingredients or mad science going on, but they are just exceptionally good recipes.

The funny thing is? I’ve been baking Nana’s Banana Bread wrong for the last decade.

I recently visited my sister in Ohio and she had a bunch of spotted bananas on her counter. We discussed making banana bread for breakfast and she complained, “Oh no! I don’t have any eggs!”

I looked at her, confused, “There’s no eggs in Nana’s Banana Bread.”

Her face mirrored my confusion. She walked to her recipe box and pulled out the index card with my mother’s handwritten banana bread recipe written on it. There, on the third line, was Beat in 2 eggs. What in the world? I pulled out my phone and opened the email that my mom had sent me almost a decade ago with the recipe. I had it saved in a special folder and referenced it religiously over the years. There were no eggs listed!

(Side note: My mom wrote all our family recipes and tucked them inside cute wooden boxes for us as Christmas presents. Literally, one of the sweetest, most memorable gifts I’ve ever received. If you’ve got time this quarantine– consider writing recipe cards for friends or family!)

My sister and I laughed, still a little unsure of who had the “correct” version of the recipe. We texted our mom and she said “Of course there’s eggs!”

I shook my head in amazement. I always warned people who wanted to try making the banana bread that it was a “tough one” because you had to bake it perfectly or it would completely cave in. Turns out, I’d made the baking process 10x harder by eliminating the ingredient that provides stability and structure. Unreal. At least it always tasted good!

So, without further ado, here is the Bouzeos family recipe for the most excellent banana bread:

Nana's Banana Bread

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Cream together:
– ½ cup shortening (or Crisco butter stick)
– 1 ½ cups sugar

Beat in:
– 2 eggs

Add and mix until well blended:
– 3 large ripe bananas mashed
– 1 tsp salt
– 1 tbsp vanilla

Sift together:
– 2 cups flour
– 1 tsp baking soda

Prepare separately:
– ½ cup buttermilk (substitution: ½ cup of milk with 1-2tbsp of vinegar)

Alternate adding the sifted flour and the buttermilk to the banana mixture.

Optional:
– Stir in ¾ cup chopped nuts

Pour into 9×5 crisco/floured loaf pan and bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes.
Or pour into muffin tins and bak at 350 for 20-25 minutes.

Sometimes I’ll get a little crazy and add cinnamon or chocolate chips. If you decide to bake it, let me know!

Food

Quarantine Cocktails

Soo… there’s a good chance that you’re treating the COVID blues with booze. At the very beginning of the crisis, “U.S. sales of alcoholic beverages rose 55%… according to market research firm Nielsen. Spirits like tequila, gin and pre-mixed cocktails led the way, with sales jumping 75% compared to the same period last year. Wine sales were up 66% while beer sales rose 42%” (according to The Associated Press). Wooo boy.

Day-drinking is officially the norm now. And with all this hot weather, I’ve taken it upon myself to find the perfect summer cocktail. While I am no mixologist, I have dug through the internet archives to uncover the most refreshing concoctions. Here’s my three faves:

1. Rosemary Gin Fizz

My romance with gin began on the Greek Peloponnesus. After 18 holes of golf at Costa Navarino, my golf partners and I would retire to the clubhouse patio for gin and tonics. They were zesty and strong, cooling us down and reviving us for an evening of revelry. G&Ts were essentially our version of pre-gaming.

Over the years, I’ve gravitated more towards bourbon-based cocktails. COVID was the perfect excuse to revive my interest in gin. I bought some Beefeater last week and began experimenting. I looked into some grapefruit-forward recipes and I liked the citrus notes, but none of them felt quite balanced enough. Then, I came across the Rosemary Gin Fizz. I had fresh rosemary on hand and decided to make some homemade infused simple syrup. The Rosemary Gin Fizz is essentially lemon juice, rosemary simple syrup, and gin, topped with club soda and a garnish. The flavors complement each other so well. My husband, who is not a big drinker and really doesn’t like the flavor of gin, had to hand it to me– “Oh wow, this is actually really good.”

2. Brown Derby

I was determined to make the ultimate grapefruit cocktail– primarily due to the fact that I had purchased an enormous bag of grapefruit at Costco. Bourbon is my typical alcohol of choice and I had a nice bottle of Four Roses in my kitchen (also from Costco– don’t judge me). A quick Google search of “bourbon + grapefruit” led me to the Brown Derby. After testing a few variations, I determined that my preferred sweetener is honey simply syrup— it just seems to mix better than sugar or honey from a jar.

The Brown Derby is described as “Old Hollywood in a Glass” and it does feel like that. It’s classy, rich, and smooth, like a hot summer night in Los Angeles. The citrus gives it a summery feel, but the bourbon and honey give it more warmth– a certain coziness. This might be my favorite cocktail of all time.

3. Strawberry Summer Sangria

What is summer without sangria? We had some friends over for dinner the other night (members of our tiny COVID-bubble) and I knew our friend, Jon, loved a good sangria. I had some ripe stone fruit on hand, so I started hunting for recipes. When I stumbled across the Strawberry Summer Sangria, I knew it was a winner. All of my favorite fruits, plus red wine and agave nectar? ALL the “yes”.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any Grand Marnier so I subbed in a generic brandy for that extra boost of alcohol. I sliced up all the fruit, doused it in a bottle of wine, and put the pitcher in the fridge to sit overnight. When our friends came for dinner, I scooped the fruit into glasses, poured in some of the wine, and topped it off with a little seltzer. I was savoring my second sip when I looked over at Jon’s glass — it was empty. “Jon! Do you want some more?!” I said, startled at his speed. “I think I should slow down a bit,” he said laughing, “It was just so easy to drink with the seltzer.”

Yes, this sangria is dangerous. But it is also incredibly delicious. (Side note: I apologize for the lack of pictures– it was literally gone before I thought of snapping some.)

What are you drinking during quarantine? Send me your tips and tricks!

Argentina, Food, Travel and Adventure

Thankful for Food

As a Thanksgiving tribute, I felt I should honor food with a blog post— specifically, in this case, Argentine cuisine. While you are probably skimming this with a full load of cranberry-soaked turkey in your belly, my singular goal with this blog is to make you more hungry.

Continue reading “Thankful for Food”

Food, Greece, Travel and Adventure

New Tastes, New Flavors

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – J.R.R Tolkien

I have found myself reflecting on this quote an awful lot this summer. Every single day brings a new experience, a new adventure. Everything is exciting and exotic! But more and more often I find myself losing my footing. I make spontaneous decisions and put myself in some precarious situations (hitchhiking, climbing up cliffs, etc.). It is easy to trust the people in my community here, because we are all essentially strangers. I go out with new people almost every night and have a wonderful time. But I’m learning how important it is to “keep your feet”, to make wise decisions in the midst of all the thrills. There are nights where I go home and curl up with a book or watch a few episodes of Mad Men. I enjoy cooking dinner at the apartment and coming up with new recipes using my extremely limited supplies. I value my roommate’s friendship and the honesty we share. Rima and I often go out together and watch each other’s backs. Greece is the place to get swept off your feet– that’s why I make sure to always wear my golf spikes…

Sunday happened to be another ridiculously fantastic day.

We had a great session with our junior golfers in the morning. The group has been growing steadily; kids often bring friends and some new families have arrived for the summer months. After a short practice session on the putting green, I sent them off hole number 10. They are getting much better at managing the course. I am particularly impressed with how well the girls are playing! It’s great to see them progress in the sport and know that golf has a future here in Greece.

After relaxing a bit over lunch (those kids are fun but they can be rather exhausting), I went down to help clean up the practice range. While I was remaking the pyramids of golf balls, I spotted two guys attempting to hit a ball out of the sand trap. It looked more like they were hoeing a garden! I went over to give them some tips and realized they were two of the resort workers who had participated in my lesson last week. I was thrilled that they had come back for more practice. Georgios and Kostas, I learned, were from the Raquet Academy. As in, they were the head pros over at the tennis courts. They said that they had been coming back to practice every day so far! This is exactly what I was hoping to accomplish with my weekly golf sessions. Georgios invited me to come for a tennis lesson and I said, “Sounds great! When should I come?”

“How about eight o’clock tonight?” he replied.

I agreed on the spot.

The rest of the day passed quickly. I was just about to head home when Petros (my boss) asked me if I would like to go see the new Bay Course. He was taking a German couple over and there was an extra spot available in the car. The Bay Course is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. course that will open the first week of October. I have been hearing about the design and the construction all summer; there is a lot of buzz about Costa Navarino’s second golf course! Of course I wanted to see it. We piled in the car and headed up the road. It is about 15 minutes away from the resort. In that time span, I learned that the German couple were not the VIP guests I expected them to be: The husband was going to be doing the golf course Slope Rating. During the next hour, as we drove down the unfinished cart paths, I received a full introduction to the world of Course Rating. It was fascinating to hear about the mathematics and science behind a golf course, while viewing one of the most magnificent landscapes every covered in green grass. The Bay Course is right on Navarino Bay, with several holes coming right down to the water’s edge. Highly reminiscent of Pebble Beach. Hopefully, I will have a chance to play the course before I head back home!

My afternoon was mostly gone by the time I returned to the Dunes Clubhouse. It was still warm so I headed up to one of the many resort pools (I’ve found four pools so far, and I still think there’s more hiding somewhere in the vastness of the resort complex). I spent several hours working on tanning my feet (if you’re a golfer, you’ll understand) and reading on my Kindle. My phone buzzed.

“Hello Debby? This is Chef Hussein. Would you like to have dinner tonight?”

“Absolutely! What time?”

“Does eleven work very good for you?” he said in his Lebanese accent.

“Sounds perfect, Hussein. I’m looking forward to it!”

Chef Hussein happens to be the Executive Chef of Nargile, the Lebanese restaurant at Costa Navarino. We had met several times– Nargile is by far my favorite restaurant around here. The waiters all know me and inform him when I’m eating dinner there. Each time he surprises me with some delicious dish: the Nargile filet, chocolate souffle, and (my absolute favorite) pumpkin kebbe. Chef Hussein makes me feel like a princess!

But first, I had to face the tennis courts. My stomach was starting to get a little tight at the thought of facing several skilled tennis pros. I told them I had played a little. And by that I meant very little. I arrived at the Romanos tennis courts just as Georgios was finishing a lesson. He smiled and waved me inside the court, yelling that I would be up in five minutes. I picked up a racket and started bouncing a ball, hoping to muster a little confidence. When it was my turn, he realized quickly that I was not an experienced player. We started close to the net. He fixed my grip and showed me where the “sweet spot” on the tennis racket was. I hit the ball better and better. We moved further apart and I got to really swing at the tennis ball. It was so refreshing to move. I’ve been working out a little bit up at the resort, but I forget how good it feels to really pour out my energy. Georgios helped me with my serve (“hit it higher, Debby. Reach!”) then we moved to full court practice. Kostas arrived, having finished up his last lesson at the Westin courts and suddenly I had two teachers sending balls my way! They turned the lights on at the courts and one of the Raquet Academy receptionists joined me on the court. Balls were flying everywhere, but we had a blast. Georgios sent us to the sidelines for a bit as he and Kostas faced off. I felt like I was watching the Wimbledon. After a short break, we continued to practice. Our tennis session lasted nearly three hours! I realized rather abruptly that I was due for dinner shortly… and I was drenched in sweat. I quickly said my Thank-yous and Goodbyes and ran off to the showers.

I arrived at Nargile right on time. Nargile is the term they use for hookah over here in Greece, so the meals always begin with a beautiful waterpipe brought out to the table. The man in charge of the hookahs, who reminds me of Aladdin’s Jafar, knows that Mint Green Grape is my absolute favorite. Chef Hussein ordered a vast array of plates to get us started: salad and falafel and hummus and kebbe… So many things to taste. I savored each dish as he told me about his special recipes and his attempts to modernize the traditional Lebanese foods.

“I make the hummus every morning myself,” he explained. “It is my secret recipe.”

For the main course, he ordered me kebab with yoghurt. I was unsure of what to expect, and I certainly wasn’t ready for the dish that was served to me. Chunks of tender lamb meat were immersed in a bowl of hot, white cream (a twist on the traditional yoghurt serving). Baked bread and spices were added to make the dish even more rich.

But nothing could compare to the dessert. He asked if I liked chocolate, and I asked him if he was crazy. Unfortunately, some things get lost in translation so I clarified, “Yes, I love chocolate.”

Out came a chocolate truffle oozing hot fudge. Creamy vanilla ice cream complemented the dish perfectly. I scraped the plate clean!

Dinner is a full experience here in Greece. My meal with Chef Hussein lasted well passed 1 o’clock in the morning. As he drove me back to my apartment, I thanked him for the delicious meal and interesting conversation.

Sports, math, kids, golf/tennis balls, hummus. The perfect equation.