Too Thrifty Chicks

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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: A thrifty cooking series

Photo Dec 17, 11 10 21 AM

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


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Tidbit Tuesday: Cucumber Salsa + Veggie Tamales

The weather is getting hot, and we have been on the hunt for foods that don’t involve us firing up our oven more than is absolutely necessary since we’re still cooking everything. We combed the interwebs looking for recipes and these two became instant hits.

Cucumber Salsa

Ingredients: 2 cups finely chopped seeded peeled cucumber, 1/2 cup finely chopped seeded tomato, 1/4 cup chopped red onion, 2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley, 1 jalepeno pepper (seeded and chopped), 4-1/2 tsp minced fresh cilantro, 1 garlic clove (minced or pressed), 1/4 c reduced-fat sour cream (or greek yogurt), 1-1/2 tsp lemon juice, 1-1/2 tsp lime juice, 1/4 tsp ground cumin, 1/4 tsp seasoned salt, tortilla chips

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Directions: In a small bowl, combine the first seven ingredients. In another bowl, combine the sour cream, lemon juice, lime juice, cumin and seasoned salt. Pour over cucumber mixture and toss gently to coat. Serve immediately with chips.

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Veggie Tamales (serving size 12)

Ingredients: 2 cups masa corn flour, 1/2 cup butter (cubed), 1 teaspoon salt, 1 pinch sugar, 1 1/2-2 cups broth (you might need more than this, use your judgment), 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, chili pepper (to taste),  2 1/2 cups corn (fresh or thawed frozen will work), 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese (mexican cheese is better, reserve about half for filling), 2 tomatoes, deseeded, pealed and sliced (can immerse in boiling water for 20 seconds, and then ice water to loosen skins), 1-2 jalepenos, parchment paper or corn husk

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Directions:

1. Soak corn husks for about 30 minutes.
2. In a food processor blend corn and cheese until corn is in nearly a meal consistency.
3. Add butter, Masa flour, salt, sugar, pepper and baking powder and process until the mixture is loosely mixed.

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4. Add broth and mix until just smooth
5. Fill with some cheese, jalepenos, and tomatoes.
6. Close parchment paper or corn husk around filling, trying to cover filling with Masa flour mixture. If you have trouble closing or have too much filling try using less in your subsequent tamales (we had a few chubby ones at the beginning)

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7. Roll wrapper closed, roll and fold over ends and set aside.
8. Once they’re done they can be refrigerated or frozen, or placed immediately in steaming tray above boiling water for about 30 minutes, or until Masa flour mixture is set.

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