Young, broke and hungry

Recipes, tricks, and tips on healthy eating for the frugal foodie

Month: December, 2011

Polenta with Kale and Oven-Dried Tomatoes

I’ve never seen ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’ but I promised a friend that at some point in my week off of work I would crack open a bottle of wine, kick back on the couch, and watch it.  Instead, tonight I cracked open a bottle of wine, kicked back on the couch, and rented ‘Abduction’ with my friends Merritt and Anndel. Two out of three isn’t so bad…right?!  But, if you want to know what is bad, rent Abduction. 

Now for the not bad at all…my polenta with kale and oven-dried tomatoes.  I love roasting tomatoes – it creates a robust, tangy and tart flavor similar to sun-dried tomatoes, but without all the sodium, and without the price tag.  Plus, cherry tomatoes are often offered packaged by different brands at my local grocery store, and chances are high that one of these brands is on sale at any given time. 

And polenta…oh, polenta.  Being southern born and bred, I love anything that even slightly resembles grits.  Polenta is basically grits with a fancy name.  You can buy it pre-made in the produce section for roughly $4, or you can buy a bag of cornmeal for around $1.50 and make it yourself- with lots leftover to use for fying oysters, breading chicken, or making even more polenta.

To cook the polenta:

3 1/4 cup water

1 cup polenta

1 tsp salt

Bring water to a boil, add salt and whisk in polenta, turn heat down and simmer until thickened – stirring occasionally – for about 15 minutes.

Pour the polenta into a cake pan coated in cooking spray and let cool, then pop in the fridge to harden.  A great way to save some time is to cook the polenta while making dinner one or two days days before you plan to cook this particular meal.

Oven roasted tomatoes:

1 cup cherry tomatoes

1 tsp olive oil

Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Put tomatoes in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.  Put tomatoes on a baking sheet and roast until they just start to burst – about 25 – 30 minutes.

Polenta with kale and oven roasted tomatoes (makes 2 servings):

4 squares of polenta (cooked and cooled)

1 cup tomatoes (oven-dried)

1 cup mushrooms

1/2 yellow onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

4 leaves kale, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces

2 eggs

1 tblsp parmesan cheese

1 tsp olive oil

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place slices of polenta onto greased baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, or until crisp on top.

Step 2: Heat saute pan on medium, add a splash of olive oil and saute garlic until fragrant – about 3 minutes.  Add onions, mushrooms, and kale, and saute about 10 minutes, or until onions are translucent and mushrooms are brown.

Step 3: Heat a non-stick pan to medium, spray with cooking spray, and fry eggs just until the white is no longer translucent.

Step 4:  Assemble by placing the polenta on your plates, followed by the parmesan cheese, oven-dried tomatoes, and vegetable saute.  Top with fried eggs.

So, I love to tell you all how to cook, but it’s not often that I tell you how to eat…in this case, let me recommend that you break the yoke, crush the tomatoes and let them combine into a rich, creamy, tangy sauce for the dish.  Delicious, nutritious, and all-around inexpensive, this is a great meal for any time of day.

I have 5 more days left of vacation and I WILL watch ‘Miracle on 34th Street” and post more delicious recipes.  In addition, I will probably tell you how to eat the dishes in those recipes, will recommend what movies you should and should not rent, will continue to tell you what foods to buy, and will tell you what foods not to spend your money on.  Then I will add to my New Year’s resolutions, “stop being so bossy.”  Maybe.


Simple Kale Salad

Do you remember that scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when Violet Beauregarde eats the three-course-meal bubblegum and blows up into a blueberry so large the Oompa Loompas have to roll her away?  I do.  Mainly because after fully indulging in all things food that the holidays have to offer, that is exactly how I feel. 

If any of you out there are sharing my sluggish, sleepy, 3-pounds-heavier misery, let me introduce you to my favorite “detox” food…kale!  I know you were probably hoping for something a little more exciting, but I really do love kale.  It is so dark green and ruffage-y (a word?), you can’t help but feel like you’re doing your body a huge favor by eating it.  Not to mention, you really are doing your body a huge favor.  Kale is overflowing with vitamins K, A, and C, has tons of antioxidants, is chock-full of fiber, and will help lower your cholesterol.  And did I say kale is cheap?  Because it is.  Really, really cheap – it sells for .99 per pound at my local Harris Teeter and comes in loose leaves so you can buy as much or as little as you need.  

This recipe is a wonderful introduction to kale, but don’t let its simplicity turn you off – extra veggies can always be added if you feel you need to bulk it up to serve as a meal.  Fresh tomatoes, roasted beets, or sliced cucumbers would all be great additions. 

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 lemon

3 large kale leaves (washed and torn into bite-sized pieces)

1 tablespoon parmesan cheese

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Step 1: Wash your kale.  Kale can be very dirty and I think the best way to clean it is to fill a mixing bowl with cold water, tear the kale into bite-sized pieces and place pieces of kale into the water.  Swish the kale around and the grit and sand will fall to the bottom of the bowl.  Scoop the kale pieces out onto a paper towel and pat dry.

Step 2: Pour the olive oil and lemon juice over the kale and use your hands to coat each piece.  Because kale is typically extra crunchy, the lemon juice will help break it down and soften it slightly.  I like to let the kale sit in the lemon juice and olive oil mixture for about 5 minutes to allow the leaves to soften.  Letting it sit longer certainly won’t do any harm.

Step 3:  Add the parmesan and cayenne pepper (use less or more depending on your tastes), and enjoy!

I can’t think of a better way to get a jump on your New Year’s resolutions of getting in shape and saving money than to incorporate kale into your 2012 diet. 

At the very least, eating more of it will save you the cost of hiring those Oompa Loompas to roll you around all year.

Young, Broke and Not Really Hungry

“I’m hungry”  is a phrase that I am no stranger to – I rarely turn down good food, am always game for a snack, and will never, ever say “no” to frozen yogurt.  Ever.

Despite my frequent overuse of the word “hungry,” I try to remind myself to always be grateful that I have never known the true meaning of hunger.  You don’t need me to tell you that there are a lot of people all over the world who are starving.  What you do need me to tell you, is that there are ways you can help that are so easy, there’s no reason not to do them.

The first?   There are tons of neat things you can buy from the site, with all of the profits going to different charities, but the coolest feature only requires you to point and click.  When you click on the yellow button, sponsors of the site donate cups of food to charities who feed the hungry.  It really doesn’t get any easier to give back, and it doesn’t cost you a dime!

Idea #2:  BOGO for a cause.  Around the holidays lots of canned goods go on sale – even as much as buy 2, get 3 free.  This is a great way for someone on a budget to help feed the hungry.  And let’s be honest, when are you really going to use those 5 cans of creamed corn?  So buy 2, and give 3 to a local food bank.  It’s a win-win.

Idea #3: Volunteer at a local soup kitchen.  You’ve already spent a ton of money around the holidays, which are stressful to begin with, and you can’t possibly spare any cash for charity.  Though it may not seem it, you’re in luck!  Helping others is a proven mood-booster, and even if you can’t give goods or money, you can donate some time.  Search online for food banks in your area, and sign up to serve a meal.  You know what they say?  You get back what you put out into the universe – and who couldn’t use some good food karma?!

Idea #4: This might be my most favorite idea of all. has brainteasers in different subjects and they donate 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme for every answer you get correct.   I love the “English vocabulary” section.  If you haven’t already noticed, it’s my firm opinion that food and writing are best served together.  Go play some games, help save the world…not a bad deal at all.

Idea #5:  It is so terribly cliched, but in it’s cheesiness lies truth and I’d be remiss not to point it out – every little bit really does count.  Keep an eye out for small ways to help – when the girl working the register at your local grocery store asks if you’d like to donate $1 to help feed hungry children, don’t say “no” right away.  Think about it…can you spare that one dollar?  If so, do it, just once…and next time they ask you can say with pride “thanks, but I’ve already donated.”  Do you go out to lunch with your coworkers on Fridays?  Bring in some leftovers this week instead and donate that $10 online to a food-related charity.  You didn’t compromise your budget, and still managed to do a little good.  A very Merry Christmas, indeed.

Seared Duck Breast With Blueberry-Chipotle Sauce

Bartering.  It’s a method of aquiring food that’s as old as the human race and has, somewhere along the way, fallen out of style.  I, being the proponent for saving money and eating well that I am, fully encourage bartering whenever possible.

So when a friend of mine asked me to watch his dog for the night in exchange for fresh duck breast (retrieved by said dog the very same morning), I jumped at the chance.  Not only is the pup a sweetheart, she tires my own four-legged friend out.  But most importantly, the only thing I love more than fresh duck, is free fresh duck.  With duck hunting season in full force, it’s not hard to find someone around here willing to part with a bird or two.  If you don’t have a friend who’s a hunting enthusiast, you can find fresh duck (for a price) at some specialty stores, and frozen in most grocery stores.  If duck is simply out of the question, you can still make this recipe with an inexpensive cut of steak, or pork chops.

Now that I had the duck in my posession, what to do with it?  I was brought back to my summer in Florence, Italy when my friends and I visited Acqua al Due, a restaurant famous for it’s Blueberry Steak.  I’ve always remembered that blueberry sauce, and love fruit with a gamey meat, so I decided to give it a go.  I knew which main ingredients I would build my sauce off of, but was a bit nervous winging (duck pun intended) the rest of it.  The fact that my roommate, Merritt, practically licked her plate, gave me the confidence I needed to tell you to try this sauce.  You need it in your life – if only to completely blow your friends away at a dinner party.

The chipotle pepper gives a great bite to the sauce, and even though you’re only using a little bit, buy a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and – surprise, surprise – freeze the rest.  When a recipe calls for it, hold the freezer bag under running water for a minute to soften, and shave off whatever pepper you need.

4 small duck breasts

1 and 1/2 cup frozen blueberries

1/2 cup orange juice

1 tblsp sugar

1 tblsp white wine vinegar

1 tblsp fresh grated ginger

1/2 tbslp finely chopped chipotle pepper

Step 1: Combine all ingredients except the duck in a sauce pan on the stove, bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and let simmer.

Step 2: Liberally salt and pepper the duck breasts while heating 1 tblsp olive oil in a heavy pan on the stove.  I like to use my dutch oven to sear meat, as it distributes heat evenly for a good crust.

Step 3:  Add your duck to the pan and don’t move it!  The worst mistake you can make when trying to get a nice sear on a piece of meat is to mess with it in the pan.  Put it down in the hot oil and don’t touch it until it’s time to flip.  Otherwise, you won’t get the brown color you’re looking for.

Step 4:  Sear duck for about 4 minutes on each side for a medium rare (which is how I like my duck), slightly longer if you like less pink.  Be careful not to overcook – pouring the hot sauce over the duck during plating will continue to cook the duck.  Transfer your seared duck to a cutting board and let rest.  This gives the chance for the juices to redistribute – cutting a piece of meat before you’ve let it rest will make all of the juices run out and the meat to become dry.

Step 5: Pour your simmering sauce into the pan you used to cook your duck, using a wooden spoon to scrape up all of the brown bits on the bottom.  That is pure flavor right there.  Turn off the heat on the pan that is now holding your sauce – the risidual heat will help it continue to thicken without burning.

Step 6:  After your meat has rested for several minutes, slice the breasts on an angle.

Step 7: Plate your duck, spooning the sauce over the top.  I served with mashed sweet potatoes (boil the potatoes until tender, mash with 1 tbslp butter, a splash of milk, and salt and pepper), and lightly sauteed green beans and garlic.  The sweet potato is a great pairing for the tangy, spicy sauce.

Sauces are often overlooked in home cooking, but they can really make the difference between a good meal and a great meal.  This sauce is not only inexpensive – using several staple ingredient –  but an excellent one to keep in your back pocket and break out for a special occasion.

Crockpot Butternut Squash Lasagna

If you do one thing with your crockpot ever (and I do hope you use it for more than one thing), please make lasagna in it.  I didn’t even know making lasagna in a crockpot was possible, but when scouring the internet for new ways to use the slow cooker, I found out that it is!  And not only is it possible, it is – simply put – amazing.  When I made a lasagna in the crockpot on Sunday, I made a vow to never go back to the build-and-bake method.  The noodles, which you add uncooked, develop a wonderful chewy texture that the traditional lasagna noodles, after being boiled and baked, lose in the process.

I had some butternut squash left over from my soup last week and wanted to do something new with it.  I checked the cupboards and fridge to see what else I had on hand…onion, shallots, garlic on the counter…ricotta and eggs (left over from a spaghetti squash pie that you will soon be reading about) in the fridge…frozen spinach in the freezer.  I was planning on trying the crockpot lasagna after the holidays, but the realization that I had ricotta on hand sealed the deal.  For some reason, I always think of lasagna when I think of ricotta.  All I had to buy was lasagna noodles, shredded mozzarella and some sage.  I opted for the dried sage because it was on sale.  Fresh would have been nice, but buying dried v fresh spices, as long as it’s an ingredient in the dish and not a garnish, is a good way to pinch pennies when needed.  I’ll add though, even if you had to buy all of the ingredients for this lasagna, it’s still a good deal, and it makes 6 servings.  And you can freeze it.  Would you expect anything different from me at this point?

3 cups cubed butternut squash

1/2 yellow onion, diced

1 clove fresh garlic, diced

1 shallot diced

7 ounces (or 1/2 15 oz container) low-fat ricotta cheese

1 tblspoon dried sage (or same amount of fresh, chopped)

1 egg

1 package of lasagna noodles (you’ll only use about 6)

3/4 cup low-fat shredded mozarella

1/2  cup frozen spinash, thawed, liquid squeezed out

1 tbls olive oil

1 tsp coriander (don’t have it and don’t want to buy it?  the dish will be just as delicious without it)

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Add the butternut squash to a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, and coriander.  Roast for 30 minutes, turning once.

Step 2:  Heat 1/2 tbls olive oil in a skillet on the stove.  Add the diced onion, shallot and garlic and saute until tender – approximately 5 minutes.

Step 3:  Combine ricotta, egg, and sage in a bowl and whisk until smooth.

Step 4: Mash roasted squash until smooth.  You can add a little chicken stock, milk, even water if it’s all you have, to help smooth out the squash.  Salt and pepper the mash to taste.

Step 5: Layer your lasagna.  In the crockpot, spread out the other 1/2 tbps olive oil and a thin layer of the squash.  Break in half two lasagna noodles and place the 4 pieces on top of the squash to form an even layer.  On top of the noodles, spread out 1/2 the ricotta mixture, and on top of the ricotta, layer 1/2 the onion mixture.  Break two more noodles to form the next layer.  Spread the rest of the squash on top of the noodles, and add the spinach.  Lay down another set of noodles.  Top noodles with the last of the ricotta and the rest of the sauteed onions, shallot and garlic.  Top the entire dish with 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella.

Step 6: Cover and cook on low for 3 – 4 hours, or until the noodles are tender.  Remove from crockpot using a spatula, cut and serve!

Not only is this a delicious, lightened-up version of the orginal, but once you have the basics, this recipe lends itself to the ingredients you have on hand.  Talk about a good “garbage” meal at the end of the week – saute all of your leftover veggie from other meals during the week for fantastic veggie crockpot lasagna.

But most importantly, it’s a hardy meal for a group – so do the prep work before you pick up your relatives from the airport this weekend, layer the lasagna, plug in the slow cooker, and enjoy the holiday in the living room with the rest of your family, instead of standing over the stove!