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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to Eat for $7 or Less a Day

Welcome new readers! If you found my blog in the US News & World Report story about living on a budget on Yahoo! Finance and are looking for budget shopping and cooking ideas, please check out my Hunger Challenge posts . You'll find recipes, tips and more. Thanks! Amy...
Monday, September 26, 2011

Basic to Brilliant, Y'all & Spiced Sweet Potato Mash recipe

Virginia Willis is like the Southern cousin you wish you had. She's smart, funny and warm and has a mischievous sparkle in her eye. I finally got to meet her earlier this year in Monterey at Cooking for Solutions . She did a cooking demo where she had the audience laughing over a story about her appearance on the Paula Dean show (the story is in her latest book, by the way). But what I remember most is the spectacular dish she made with trout. I can still taste it in my mind. It was pan-seared trout drizzled with pecan butter and topped with an incredibly rich smoked trout salad. And the recipe is dead simple. That's the signature of Virginia Willis, amazing food that really isn't all that difficult but definitely something extra special. Virginia's latest book, Basic to Brilliant, Y'all , is all about the "something extra special." Each recipe has a simple component--like the seared trout, and an optional brilliant flourish--like the topping of smoke...
Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Picks for SF Cocktail Week

I'm super busy this week trying to get stuff done before heading off on another trip. But if I had more time on my hands, I'd be going to lots of SF Cocktail Week classes, seminars and events. The fifth annual SF Cocktail Week has an extremely impressive line up of events , everything from a how to throw a brunch cocktail party with H. Joseph Ehrmann (who is rightfully famous for his bloody mary) to hand's on classes on gin and rum, a chocolate and scotch pairing seminar, and a molecular gastronomy meets mixology event that sounds like the Exploratorium for adults. The iconic Anchor Brewing , the site of the opening party, is part of Anchor Distilling , which also includes a portfolio of small batch traditionally distilled spirits. At the party I got a chance to try quite a number of them. Some of my favorites were the Luxardo line of maraschino, limoncello and amaro, Hirsch bourbon and Junipero gin . Keep your eyes open for them! At the event I made a point to ta...
Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Alaska Diary Day Two

What a difference a day makes! I've never been as happy to see the sun as I was on day two of my Alaskan adventure. If it had stayed grey, I would have missed on some truly spectacular scenery. Even on sunny days, it's not a bad idea to wear the de rigueur Alaska footwear, Xtratuf boots. In Cordova there are just three processing facilities (plus a 4th very small one) where the salmon is cleaned, cut and prepared to be shipped out. In the Summer kids from places like Slovenia, the Czech Republic and the Ukraine come to live and do the work American kids don't want to do. Even the roe is harvested and graded and prepared for export. Sport fisherman can bring their freshly caught fish in to be smoked or canned. You know you're in Alaska when a garage has a seaplane and moose hanging in it. Speaking of planes, I thought we would heading straight into grey, but that wasn't the case at all. A flight is the best way to see the varied terrain including moun...
Monday, September 19, 2011

Alaska Diary Day One

Welcome to Cordova , a remote Alaskan town Southeast of Anchorage. The population is around 2,000 people (though it swells to around double that in the Summer during salmon season). The life of the town is tied to the Copper River. Salmon fishing is not just an important part of the economy but a way of life. It's a place where you go for a hike instead of going to the movies and host a potluck instead of making dinner reservations and wear Xtratuf boots all year round. People fish, forage, hunt. And the annual festivals celebrate things like salmon, wild berries and fungus (at the fungus festival you can win a prize for the best mushroom themed decorated pair of Xtratuf boots!). There are scientists, fishermen and processors, environmental advocates and a whole lot of overlap between them all. Cordova is also the home of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association , Alaska's first regional seafood development association and host of my trip. "In Al...
Saturday, September 17, 2011

(Not Really) Moroccan Chicken & Lentils Recipe

This might be my favorite Hunger Challenge recipe. My apologies for it being brown on brown on brown, but trust me, it is delicious. On a bed of earthy and mildly spiced lemony lentils rests sweet roasted onions--some soft and some chewy--and tender roast chicken with crisp skin. It's is a combination of two different Bon Appetit recipes, but modified pretty significantly because I didn't have all the ingredients necessary. The technique for pan roasting the chicken thighs is a good one though I had to adjust it to keep the chicken from overcooking. Beans and legumes like lentils are a very economical way to stretch a budget and more expensive ingredients such as fresh vegetables and meat or cheese. My chicken thighs were over 6 ounces each, so one per person was plenty, but if you need more for bigger appetites by all means double the number of chicken thighs. I baked this dish in the toaster oven, you may need to cook it a little longer if you use a conventional oven. I&...
Friday, September 16, 2011

More Observations on the Hunger Challenge

Yesterday's post was the most pitiful thing I think I've ever written. I tried a new recipe, Queso Panela Kebabs, and it was a failure. The cheese melted into a sad pile of goo. Failure happens but it's all the more discouraging when you're on a budget. It's not like you can run out and buy more ingredients. Also, you can probably tell, my heart just wasn't in it. I was feeling uninspired and that always comes across when I'm cooking (and writing). So I made a dull meal lacking any real creativity. It makes me embarrassed to read that post . But my embarrassment is nothing compared to the feelings that someone really living on a limited budget would experience. There has been some criticism of the Hunger Challenge specifically from people who have experienced real hardship, some of whom have been on public assistance. I can completely understand why they would not want to participate and would feel uneasy with the Hunger Challenge. If I experienced real ...
Thursday, September 15, 2011

Chicken & Vegetable Kebabs

I believe there's a trick to making kebabs. While skewers threaded with alternating chunks of vegetables and seafood, meat or whatever-you-put-on-a-skewer look great, they are difficult to cook so that everything is done at the same time. On the other hand, if you make each skewer with just one ingredient, it's guaranteed to cook evenly. Another thing, I have metal skewers and bamboo ones as well. Recipes always tell you to soak the bamboo skewers so they don't burn. But I can't be bothered. I'm going to throw the skewers away after I use them anyway so what do I care if they burn? I've never had any kebabs burst into flames and I'm not cooking over an open flame (unless I'm broiling) so it's really no big deal. Food on a stick always seems to be more plentiful than just plain grilled food-on-a-plate. I don't know why. I had lots of chicken thighs, because I bought a "value pack" for 99 cents a pound. But I had to buy 4 pounds. Luck...
Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hunger Challenge Chili Recipe

This is one of the cheapest meals I know how to make. There are a lot of tricks to make it taste good without using very many ingredients. Chili is all about layers or flavor and texture and spice. While texture is not the hardest thing to achieve on a budget, flavor and spice are a bit trickier. To make up for the lack of complexity in the spices, I overcompensated in the texture department and also tried to get the most flavor out of the ingredients I could afford. I like some fresh vegetables in my chili so I used one Anaheim chile and half of a large onion. I also used mushroom stems. Surprise! I will use the caps for another recipe and I would have just discarded the stems. Mushrooms, even just the crumbled stems, lend savory "umami" flavor and also meaty texture. Speaking of meaty texture, this is not a purely vegetarian chili. It has two slices of bacon which might not seem like much, but it adds a bit of meatiness and fat for cooking the vegetables. I used a comb...
Monday, September 12, 2011

Is Hunger a Taboo Subject?

The first year I participated in the Hunger Challenge, one of my commenters basically said that anyone who was hungry in this country was lazy. I was also told by a blogger that she wouldn't participate in the Challenge because it was her personal goal to support organic farmers and the Hunger Challenge just encouraged support of an already broken food system. In subsequent years I have heard that hunger is a bigger issue in other parts of the world, and that childhood obesity is the real problem we should be focused on. The goal of the Hunger Campaign is to raise awareness about hunger in the San Francisco Bay Area . Participants in the Challenge live on the same budget a food stamp recipient would receive, a paltry $4.72 a day. But somehow, I find many people I tell about the Challenge don't want to hear about that. They'd rather focus on something else. All those other issues - politics, sustainable food systems, organics, world hunger and even childhood obesity get w...

Shopping for the Hunger Challenge

There will be no coffee, no tea, no chocolate, no ice cream this week. No matter how much I stretched my budget shopping at less expensive stores this year, some things are just out of the question. In the past I have shopped at Safeway and at Whole Foods for the Hunger Challenge. This year, I did my primary shopping at what is considered a "price-impact warehouse store" Foods Co and picked up a few bulk items at Rainbow Grocery (a coop). What exactly is a price-impact warehouse store? Warehouse stores are often located in low rent areas, have spartan, warehouse style interiors and most importantly, low prices. They are not as service oriented or as high priced as traditional supermarkets. Shopping at Foods Co was eye opening. The demographic of their shoppers is clearly not the typical supermarket shopper. I saw mostly Asian and Latino shoppers many who were not speaking English, primarily young families and some older couples. The store was bustling on a Saturday and...
Sunday, September 11, 2011

Planning for the Hunger Challenge

Shopping on a tight budget isn't impossible, but it does take work. Yesterday I started planning for the Hunger Challenge , a campaign to help raise awareness about hunger in our community. For one week during Hunger Action Month participants live on a very limited food budget, comparable to what food stamp recipients live on. In 2008 just seven of us participated in the Hunger Challenge and the budget was $3 a day, this year there will be over 50 250 people participating and the budget is $4.72 per day. Tomorrow I will be shopping with CBS reporter and Hunger Challenge participant Juliette Goodrich at Foods Co . Yesterday I read the Food Co weekly flyer and planned my menu based on sale items and what I know I can afford. Here is what I plan on cooking and eating, for new dishes I will post the recipes throughout the week: Dinners: Panela and Vegetable Kabobs - a new recipe I will be creating for the challenge. Panela is a cheese similar to haloumi but much less expens...
Tuesday, September 06, 2011

All about Fava Beans

When I lived in Italy there were all kinds of lovely things to eat that I never saw back home. Fortunately three of my favorites – fava beans, Tuscan kale and baby artichokes are now as common here as they were over there. Fava beans also known as broad beans take a bit of work to prepare, but are totally worth it. They are super tasty and healthy too, a good source of protein, fiber, iron and folate. Young fava beans are tender, have an unmistakeable buttery texture, an appealing herbal/bitter edge and cook up in no time. Older fava beans can be very starchy and are kind of earthy, but make a great addition to braises, soups and stews. You can cook fava beans in the pod if they are very young and fresh. You can broil them, grill them , saute them in a pan with oil and salt or braise them in broth. But the more typical way of cooking them is to remove the beans from the pods, boil them for 3-5 minutes then pop the bean out of its thick skin (opening the skin then pinching the bean...
Friday, September 02, 2011

Pizza Pairing

You know what to drink with pizza, beer or wine, right? But what beer and what wine? Does it make a difference? To figure out the answer to this weighty philosophical question a group of food and wine writers descended upon Patxi's Pizza to eat and drink. A lot. I'm pretty sure this may the first and only time anyone asked for a spit bucket at a pizza parlor. We ate thin crust pizza, thick crust pizza, deep dish pizza, pesto pizza, meat pizza, vegan pizza you-name-it-we-ate-it pizza. The conclusions were pretty clear in terms of what worked and what didn't. Here are the matches I liked the best: Thin "cheese to the edge" pizza + Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandel After trying both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, I'm convinced Zin is the right red wine for pizza. The heavier tannins stand up to the richness of the cheese and it is not overwhelmed by the acid of the tomatoes. Sausage pizza + Stella Artois This is an interesting match. The yeasty notes in ...
Thursday, September 01, 2011

Barbecue Sauce Reviews

Right now I have three open bottles of barbecue sauce in my fridge. I received each one as a sample to try. Welcome to the life of a food writer and frequent specialty food reviewer. So here's my feeling about barbecue sauce, the best barbecued meat doesn't need any sauce at all. It's smoky, spicy, tender and succulent (I'll post soon about Franklin Barbecue in Austin and you'll see what I mean). But for those of us who do not live in Texas or have a smoker, barbecue sauce is a great way to add flavor to all kinds of meat. You can cook with it or add it at the table to chicken, ribs, beef, whatever you like really. I have three bottles so I figured why not compare them in a blind taste test? I cooked some boneless beef short ribs (flanken) very plainly. I like cross cut short ribs because they are flavorful and tasty even without any sauce and don't require a marinade. Flanken is a relatively inexpensive cut of beef, if you can find it. It isn't as tend...