Too Thrifty Chicks

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Too Thrifty Chicks Cook: A twofer with three ingredients

The Too Thrifty Chicks are a day late and a dollar short these days when it comes to posts. We’ve both been living life on the run — Reese in Austin and me working my temp job — and things are crazy to say the least. But we haven’t forgotten you, nor have we forgotten the multitude of posts that we promised all of you. Person pairs and Affordable health care 101, anyone? We are hoping that things are going to even out soon, but in case it doesn’t, we encourage you to follow our motto: “Just go with it!”

We’ve been cooking sporadically these days and by sporadically we mean you-will-not-believe-how-much-we-have-eaten-out! Like seriously, we have been all Operation Do Worse instead of Operation Do Better. While it’s not impacting our budget so much, we have some concerns that it might be impacting our health. So at first opportunity we got in the kitchen and made some kitchen alchemy as Reese likes to call it.  We’ve been kind of stumped for ideas, but have vowed to stay out of the grocery store and eat what we have on hand when we cook.

Meal #1: Butternut squash and sweet potato curry

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There has been a butternut squash sitting in our kitchen and silently mocking us (what your vegetables don’t mock you?) each time we grabbed something out out of the bowl where we keep our vegetables. Did we want soup? A casserole? Roasted? What, oh what, to do with the butternut!

Turns out we didn’t want to do any of those things. Instead we decided on curry and boy were we glad we did. I found a fairly simple recipe for butternut squash and sweet potato curry. Ding, ding! We have a winner. We love Indian food and we make and eat Chana masala and even get our Tandoori on from time to time. The spicy curry powder in this dish was a nice foil to the sweetness of the butternut squash, sweet potatoes and sweet onions we used in the dish.

All you need to make the dish are things that you might have handy in your pantry: mustard seeds, curry powder of choice, coconut milk and veggie broth.  I’m not going to lie, I didn’t follow the recipe very closely, but it still turned out great. Here’s what I did:

Sauté the mustard seeds, but be careful they start to pop when they get hot. To avoid popping I tried to keep the heat at a medium flame and essentially put the chopped union in half a second after stirring the seeds just enough to get them coated with oil. Once your onions become a bit translucent, add in a teaspoon of curry powder. I only used a teaspoon to begin because Reese said the particular curry powder I chose to use was rather spicy. Coat the onions in the curry powder. Your house should smell amazing at this point. Then dump in your chopped butternut squash and sweet potatoes.

I sautéd the butternut squash and sweet potatoes much the same way I do when I make home fries, allowing the sugars from the veggies to carmelize and covering it with a lid to allow the steam to sweat the veggies at the same time.  At this point, I also sprinkled some sea salt over the mixture. To help the veggies cook down enough to get tender, I added a little organic veggie broth. Don’t overcook your veggies, or it will be mushy. I threw in a handful of curry powder that had much less spice and then another teaspoon of the spicy curry. If you like spice, but not this much, skip this step. I added a half can of coconut milk, stirred to incorporate, allowed it all another few seconds to heat through and Violá! Butternut squash and sweet potato curry. Serve with some brown basmati, or jasmine rice and red wine.

Meal #2: Roasted butternut squash and sweet potato as a side

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Warning: Objects should be bigger than they appear. We do not advocate these portion sizes.

It’s that time of the year when Mother Nature’s bounty runneth over, and that was the case with the fairly good sized butternut squash and gigantic sweet potatoes that started this whole thing. When I chopped up both the squash and the potatoes, I was overwhelmed with how much we had. Reese suggested that we curry half and roast the rest. She whipped out some traditional spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin and olive oil. She tossed the veggies in the oil and then got her sprinkle fairy on and popped them in the oven until they were fork tender. Serve this as a side dish to baked fish, sautéd swiss chard and our crockpot black beans (not pictured) and you have an easy and colorful dinner.

We hope you find your way back to the kitchen and we hope it’s delicious. Happy feasting!

— Ricks


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A Too Thrifty Update

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From Ricks’ 34th Birthday Brunch Shenanigans!

Hey boos! Today is Friday and this should be a Food for Thought post but it has been a rough and tumble week! Reese is off to the Food for Black Thought conference in Austin, Texas getting her nerd on. Catch her tweeting at @toothrftychks.

I’m holding things down in the D.C. metro area. The government shutdown has put the kabash on my freelance federal work, but the universe provides and I am happily working my temp job. Catch me if you can at the Petworth Community Market this evening from 4 to 8 p.m. I will be checking out what promises to be cool vintage threads and whatnot. Address is 4130 9th St., N.W. Washington, D.C. Hope to see you there.

We promised to introduce you to some of the amazing person pairs we know and that is a promise we intend to keep! Once we are back in the same place, at the same, time we will crank out those posts.

Until then, have a great weekend!

R & R


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Tidbit Tuesday: The Power of Pesto

It’s time for another installment in the Thrifty Cooking Series and today’s topic is pesto. Yes that deliciously flavored green slurry that makes certain Italian dishes taste so yummy — pesto. For a long time, when the Thrifty Chicks thought “pesto” we immediately thought “pasta”. But we are here to help you change how you think about this flavor-filled rock star and how it can bring more than your pasta dishes to life.

Around the same time we started cooking nearly every meal we’ve eaten since we started Operation Do Better, we began making our own pesto. Don’t get us wrong, the jarred stuff is delicious and convenient. But for the size, usually less than 7 ounces, and our money, pesto is pricey. When we read the ingredients on a jar, we were surprised at how simple the ingredients were.

Aside from the preservative ingredients that give jarred pesto its shelf-life, pesto is nothing more than parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil, basil, or some other kind of green herb, garlic and some kind of nut, usually pine nuts. Blend them in a food processor and Presto! Pesto! There also are tons of other ingredients you can use to make pesto and plenty of recipes on the Internet to help you do it.IMG_3951

For our recipe we substituted pine nuts with walnuts because they were cheaper. We bought a rather large bag of walnuts from Trader Joe’s and it’s lasted us about six months. We keep the walnuts in the refrigerator so that the oil in the nuts doesn’t get rancid. We usually buy the biggest container of basil we can find and make a rather big batch.  We preserve our pesto, without preservatives, by freezing it in an ice tray with a layer of olive oil on top. The stuff keeps in the freezer, without getting freezer burned, for a pretty long time. We never leave it in the freezer longer than a month because we use the stuff in so many of our dishes.

When in doubt, add pesto

Pasta: Of course we use pesto very traditionally in pasta dishes, but the way we use it is probably a little different. We occasionally use it as a stand alone sauce, but often times we use it to add flavor to store bought white and red pasta sauce. We’ll soon be making our own pasta sauces, but we’ll likely still add pesto because we really love the flavor.

Fish/Shrimp: We discovered this summer that pesto is great on fish and shrimp. Slather it on skewered pieces of shrimp and salmon, grill or bake.  Not only is it delicious, but it keeps seafood from drying out in that cooking process. What you’ll have is succulent morsels of seafood that will disappear from plates.

Mayo replacement: During a recent tubbing adventure, our girl Sunny S. whipped out these mini-sandwiches with pesto, mozzarella cheese and tomatoes. All served on mini-whole wheat bagels.  And she blew our entire minds! They were that good. The pesto was the delicious glue that held these bad boys together. And when you think about it, pesto would make a pretty awesome replacement in many of the salads and sandwiches that call for mayo. A new twist on potato and macaroni salad, you say? Why certainly!

Pizza: We like making homemade pizza more than we like ordering it out. The act of flavoring IMG_3771our dough and deciding what kinds of toppings we want to add to our pizza really is an ever-evolving thing at our house. We have put pesto in our dough and we certainly have made it the primary sauce on top of our pizza and mixed it in store-bought sauce.  It is delicious. Period.

If you’re bored with what’s on your plate and what it taste like, give pesto a chance. We don’t believe you’ll be disappointed.

— R & R


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Too Thrifty Cooks: Lookout for the Cookout

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There is very little that we love more than getting together with friends to eat, drink and make merry. But let’s face it, we all have lives and nailing down the schedules of a handful of our favorite friends is a beast! Lucky for us, everyone (including the thrifty chicks) was in town post Fourth of July, which weirdly fell on a Thursday this year.

We wanted to invite our friends for a casual cookout that included good eats and drinks, but what do you do when a friend is allergic to strawberries, another does not eat mushrooms, some friends are strict vegetarians, some are eating “clean” and the rest are flexitarians like the two of us?

You ask people what they want to eat, what they are willing to eat, you cook it and keep it moving! We bought the most adorable, tiny grill, some charcoal and prepped to get it in! To keep this thrifty gathering cost-effective we asked our friends ahead of the event to chip in $10. This way they didn’t have to cook a dish, or rush to the store last-minute to pick up something that everyone could eat.

If you’re sweating how to afford feeding everyone for a gathering, consider just asking everyone to chip in toward the cost, or do what you can to cover the food and ask your guests to contribute wine, spirits or some other extra thing. Most times your friends won’t come empty-handed and will want to contribute something so you might as well ask for something you need.

20130706_202444Our friend Kim makes the bomb sangria. WE MEAN THE BOMB! Instead of chipping in money we asked that she bring that. So she brought both a red and white wine sangria. We blended up our own summer fruit drinks including an adult beverage and…let’s just say a good time was had by all.

Check out our menu, which was a serious hit with our friends!

Lookout for the Cookout Delicacies

Seasoned wild-caught salmon skewers: These are previously frozen salmon filets that we cut into bite sized pieces seasoned with salt, pepper and a lemon herb blend to taste. You can certainly use fresh salmon if you can catch it on sale. We put about three pieces of salmon on each regular size skewer (four if the pieces were smaller). Let the seasoning marinate at least 30 minutes to an hour. Cook until to fish is firm and flaky.

Tandoori wild-caught salmon skewers: Same frozen salmon filets. Mix about half a packet of tandoori 20130706_202236seasoning that you can probably find in your local international market with a small container of greek yogurt. Coat the salmon in the sauce and let it marinate until you’re ready to cook. Bake until fish is firm and flaky.

Wild-caught shrimp and homemade pesto skewers: We used previously frozen shrimp of a good size to get about three shrimp to a skewer. Feel free to use fresh shrimp if you can catch it on sale. You can use store-bought pesto, but we make our own using basil, walnuts, grated parmesan cheese and olive oil. Coat the shrimp and let them marinate  for about 30 minutes to an hour. Grill until shrimp is firm and pink.

Wild-caught shrimp and barbecue sauce skewers: Same shrimp. We used a zesty store-bought barbecue sauce from Trader Joe’s and added some teriyaki stir fry sauce . We also let these marinate. Bake or grill until shrimp is firm and pink.

Baked sweet potatoes: Slice them in thin rounds and fold them in packets of foil. Add some cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar if you’d like. Roast in the oven until tender. The steam inside the packet will cook the potatoes.

Fresh “Creole” corn: Take fresh sweet corn ears and cut them in half. Put a pat of butter, the amount is up to you, for each half ear in a packet of foil with as much corn as you can hold without spilling. Add creole seasoning such as Tony’s or Zatarain’s, a generous amount of garlic powder. Wrap them in foil and roast in the oven until tender.

Farm fresh squash and zucchini: Toss with olive oil, grill in a grill pan on the stove, outside if you have the space (we didn’t), or roast in the oven.

20130706_183719Reese’s baked mac ‘n cheese: You’ll need pasta and at least two kinds of shredded cheese. Use whatever kinds you like, just not pre-shredded. We used monterrey, pepper jack and gouda. You’ll need about 1/4 cup of milk  and seasonings such as garlic, onion powder, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste. You’,ll also need butter. Cook the noodles until Al dente, stir in about half the cheese and butter. Add enough milk to make it creamy but not watery. When the cheese has melted, transfer to a baking dish. Add the leftover half of cheese and stir until it is well mixed. Top with another 1/4 cup of shredded cheese and breadcrumbs if you’d like. Bake until brown.

We broke out our folding chairs, blankets and the Too Thrifty Chicks Photo Shoot playlist on Spotify and hung out in the park until long after dark! Good Friends + Good Food = Good Memories! This whole shindig was put together for less than $100 and a good time was had by all. To us, that is the hallmark of a successful, thrifty gathering!

Until next time,

— R&R


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A Pie for You, Mama

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI loved picking blackberries when I was a kid, but not for the sake of loving it. I loved it because I knew that if my sisters and I picked enough, my grandmother would take those berries and make a pie. My goodness, I loved my grandma’s blackberry pie. I’d watch her roll out the dough, line the bottom of a 9×12 pan with dough, pour a layer of berries, add another layer of dough, and repeat it until the pan was full. Most times, I’d sit in the kitchen and wait, or I’d run next door to my house only to return about 30 minutes later to see if the pie was ready.

Today is my grandmother’s 81st birthday. She can no longer make blackberry pies or garden or fish or drive herself to church 3 or 4 times a week. She can’t do any of these things, because she can’t remember how to do them.

My grandmother taught me how to sew. She taught me how to bake a cake. She was the person who heard me spell my winning word when I qualified for the Scripps National Bee in 3rd grade. She took me fishing, picked me up from athletic practices, disciplined me when necessary, and made me wear stockings to church even though I P1080648hated it. She showed me what grace looks like in action and reminded me that raising my voice wasn’t the only way to be seen or heard. She was devoted to her church, but more than that, she was committed to the idea of loving thy neighbor as thyself. She is the one and only person I have called “mama” my entire life. She’s strong, a classic example of not succumbing to the woes of the world.

I cannot be in Texas today to celebrate her birthday. Even if I was, she wouldn’t know who I am. Instead, I celebrate her day by baking a blackberry pie (not as good as hers…no time to make dough from scratch), and committing to volunteer at least 20 hours over the next six weeks. What better way to celebrate the person who taught me the beauty of working with my hands and the joy of helping others?

image (4)Mama, today’s pie is for you. I frustrated you when you taught me how to sew. You often thought I talked too much. There were times when you felt like I was not always appreciative of all you did. But, I also know that you were proud of me and your other grands. I cannot go back and redo those awful stitch lines or close my mouth instead of arguing or show you more appreciation during the times you felt like you were undervalued. I do hope the pride you felt was enough to make the frustrations worth it.  What I can do is sow your legacy into the world and spread goodwill and justice wherever I go…and one day, if I have a tiny human, I will teach her that her great grandma was a gentle, loving reminder that the Universe’s love is spread through how we choose to treat people. Happy Birthday, Mama. I am so proud to be your legacy.


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Too Thrifty Cooks: A thrifty cooking series

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As you all know the Too Thrifty Chicks cook almost everything as part of Operation Do Better. I’m qualifying that “everything” with “almost” because the summer months have us all off kilter. The weather is warmer and we’re often away from home and under prepared to NOT eat out. Sad but true.

We’re trying to pull ourselves back from the eating-out brink by cooking for the week on Sunday because really it’s too hot to fire up the stove more than once or twice during the week. So we’re starting this cooking series to force ourselves to plan what we’re going to eat each week and to hold ourselves accountable for one of the most important things we do — EAT!

The goal is to cook enough food to last through at least three or four meals that we are willing to eat multiple times during the course of the week.

To kick off the first week we’re focusing on a few staple recipes that are not only tasty enough to eat multiple times.

On the menu and our plates this week:

Fish  and Shrimp Tacos: This is a favorite at the thrifty palace. Saute  your fave white fish and shrimp with some creole seasoning until fish flakes and shrimp has that pink/orange hue. I take a package of broccoli slaw (we added some fresh fennel and cilantro) and dress it with whatever concoction I come up with because I never make the dressing the same twice. This last time it was honey, rice wine vinegar, Dijon mustard and some left over Asian dressing from the fridge that likely had ginger and soy sauce in it. Trust me. It works.

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Vegetarian Tamales: We posted this recipe here before, but we found the masa to be tasty, but a little bit bland for our tastebuds. I found this amazing recipe posted by Natalie over at Tasty Kitchen Blog, and decided to pump it up in a few ways. One, I added cumin, chili and garlic powder until I could smell it wafting from the masa. We like things spicy, so if you don’t, you might want to stick to the recipe. Two, I chopped up some frozen corn kernels and added it to the mix. We had corn in our masa last time and really liked it. Three, I added some pepper jack cheese to the mixture too. We really like cheese. Four, I chopped up a bunch of greens we had on hand and actually added that to the masa too. We have a lot of greens from the CSA where we get fresh veggies and needed to use them before they go bad. And five, we used the veggies we had on hand for our filling, which included a lot more greens and jalapenos.

Crock pot Black Beans: We eat so many black beans that we now buy them dry and cook them in our crock pot. We quick boil them and then toss them in the crock pot with a little salt, cumin, garlic and chili powder.

Classic Israeli Salad: This is a new one on us. We love tabbouleh, but when I saw this recipe in my inbox from Vegetarian Times I knew it was right up our alley. We already had the ingredients on hand because we intended to make tabbouleh, but the bulgur wheat we purchased this time came out looking scary, and neither of us wanted to touch the stuff when it was ready.

So that’s what’s on tap for the rest of this week. If we need a quick meal like we did Monday, black beans plus rice is quick enough and if we run out of that there’s always pasta or homemade pizza. What are you eating this week? Got recipe’s we should try? Let us know down in the comments section and maybe we’ll give it a whirl. Better yet, we take dinner invites too. 🙂

Until next time…

— R&R


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Get in My Belly: A Few Thoughts on Cooking Everything

IMG_4164With the Operation Do Better spending pause in full effect for the entire year (gulp), cooking and eating are a big focus at the Thrifty Palace. We’re not big, traditional breakfast eaters, unless it’s brunch at the house, but we still need to have something for lunch and dinner, (or is it dinner and lunch considering our leftover habits?).

We are always trying to maximize our food dollars and we seriously don’t believe in wasting food or spending too much time in the grocery store. We’re eat it until it is gone kind of girls, so we make a lot of big, one pot dishes that last at least through one lunch and two dinners.

We know what you’re thinking: doesn’t that get boring? Well, yeah. Real talk. It does. But over the first quarter of Operation Do Better we’ve learned a few things that help us stretch our budget and beat the leftover blues.

Cooking is a process — a fun one. At the thrifty palace, we cook with our whole hearts, our whole selves and our whole kitchen. Sometimes we drink wine and sometimes we crank up the music and slide across the kitchen floor. The place usually looks like ground zero when we’re done. But at the end of the day we always have fun and that fun comes through in our food and the things we’re excited about making and eating. IMG_4134

Practice, practice, practice. So here’s the thing. We both could do a lot more than boil water coming into this process. We can cook, but our cooking skills were often about the necessity of having something quick and easy to eat. Quick and easy doesn’t always mean tasty. In fact, a lot of time it means functioning. But the more we’ve been about the aforementioned process of cooking the more opportunity we have to practice our skills. We get to experiment almost daily with what to cook and how to cook it and then we get to eat it all. And we do.

Spices, spices, spices. Cumin, chili powder, salt, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper and black pepper. Our spice rack runneth over and so should yours. Trust us.

Recipes help you branch out. We are both the product of a long generation of women who cook with no recipe.  A pinch of this, a handful of that is how these women measure things. But recipes are a good way to get started in cooking and learning how to pair different seasonings and flavors, especially if you are straying far away from the food you were raised on. The way we make Indian and Mexican food, you’d swear both of us grew up eating it.  Recipes also help you see the possibility of how to increase the kind of food you can make, even if you buy the same things at the grocery store all the time.

Real cooks wing it. Once you’ve tried a few recipes you’ll see that the flavors are usually based on the palates of the author of the recipe. You might taste the final product and find it bland, or just missing something. We are quick to throw our favorite spices in anything, even if the recipe doesn’t call for them. Why? So glad you asked. If you generally like the food you are making and all it’s ingredients, adding your favorite seasoning probably won’t make it taste worse.

IMG_4199Have some quick and easy dishes. Even the Thrifty Chicks get burned out on cooking and eating leftovers. At some point, usually in the middle of the week, we’re sick of eating something, or in fact, we’re not sick of it, we ate it all. We’ve learned to make pizza, pasta dishes and generally have some kind of quick meal that we can pull off in the middle of the week or heading into the weekend. But just because it’s quick doesn’t mean that it can’t be delicious. We flavor our pizza dough with fresh herbs and garlic. We make our own pesto and add it to pretty much every pasta sauce we make. It requires a little extra time, but boy is it good.

Fresh is best. Buying fresh vegetables and herbs can be expensive and it can be a pain, but it really does taste better and the flavors are more vibrant. Yes, we use stuff in jars, but we make it a point to get fresh or frozen when we can.

Cooking with friends is lots of fun. This fact is kind of not a fair one to share, but we will anyway. We clearly have a built in cooking support system because we live in the same household. Cooking together is a shared experience and a cathartic process. Sometimes we cook with noise and sometimes we cook in silence. While we do have occasion to prepare a meal solo — if one of us works late, is out racing, or parked on the couch working on freelance stuff — it’s not as much fun or as meaningful if you’ve only got you to focus on. If you’re a singleton, invite your friends over and cook together. Make enough so that everybody has leftovers for lunch the next day. Win-win.

Make it meaningful. Making a meal for yourself or someone should be about more than the function of feeding one’s self. It should be about love, care and breaking bread, whether solo or not.

Going forward

Now that we’re moving into warmer months, we’re reevaluating what cooking and eating will look like going forward. Neither of us is into heating up the house by firing up the stove more than necessary. We also both tend to gravitate toward lighter foods in the warmer weather. We tried pasta salads, and while we liked a couple, we know we don’t want that all the time. We’ll keep playing around with ideas and share them with you!

Until next time,

R&R