Young, broke and hungry

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

Month: January, 2012

Tilapia and Vegetable Pouches

Baking fish in individual parchment paper pouches – or said more fancily, fish en papillote – is certainly not a new concept.  It is, however, incredibly easy and a nice change up from the seared in oil or breaded and fried varieties.  Baking fish is a super healthy way to prepare it, but I am hardly ever succecsful at it without drying out my fish.  Not to mention, baked fish reminds me of the dish that’s on every cheap buffet that involves a mystery fish, leathery lemon slices, and an oily butter-colored sauce.  You know exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s gross looking.

Baking each filet in its own little pouch seals in the moisture for a flaky, not dry, finish.  The veggies and splash of white wine – which can be substituted for chicken stock or a drizzle of olive oil – combined with fresh lemon slices and juices from the fish, make for a light and creamy sauce that really pulls this pouch together.

I used tilapia here and before you fish snobs roll your eyes, I’ll stand in defense of tilapia.  I like it.  It lends itself well to other flavors and is a perfectly economical substitute for a more expensive fish when used in a dish like this where the fish doesn’t have to be the star.  If you can find it wild-caught, that’s best, and the tilapia in this recipe can be substituted with any other wild-caught white fish you can find on special at your grocery store. 

Tilapia and Vegetable Pouches (serves 2)

2 filets of wild-caught tilapia

1 zucchini

1 summer squash

1 lemon

Splash of white wine (can be subbed for chicken stock or a drizzle of olice oil)

Salt and pepper

Handful of fresh parsley, chopped

2 squares of parchment paper


Step 1:  Preheat your oven to 350.

Step 2:  Slice your lemon – you’ll need 4 thin slices for two servings.

Step 3: Using a vegetable peeler, peel the zucchini and squash into ribbons, stopping when you hit the seeds.  Side note: zucchini and squash peeled this way can be a great substitute for pasta when served with a hearty meat sauce.

Step 4: In the middle of each square of parchment paper, start with the fish (salt and peppered), sprinkle on the parsley and add the veggie ribbons, topping with two slices of lemon.  Pull up the edges of the parchment paper square and drizzle the white wine over the top.

Step 5:  Pull the two edges running parallel to the length of the fish together and fold at the top, and fold over the edges of the remaining sides to form your pouch.

Step 6: Bake for 12 minutes at 350.  Cooking times may vary based on the thickness of your filets.  When done, the fish should be solid white – no longer opaque – and easily flaked with a fork.  Squeeze the lemon slices over everything, serve and enjoy!

This would be really great paired with oven roasted tomatoes and brown rice, but is perfect on its own for a light meal.  Not to mention, the limited ingredient list makes this incredibly affordable, and even more so when zucchini and squash are available again at local farmers’ markets.

I also love that there are so many different directions you could take this dish – make it with olives, spinach and tomatoes for some Greek flair, or add shredded carrots and stems of fresh thyme to the original recipe to venture into French territory.  You could even put the fish on top of steamed lentils with some diced sweet potato, fresh ginger, garlic, curry powder and lemon slices to make a U-turn toward the Middle East. 

Any way you fold it (lame cooking pun intended), this pouch is simple, easy, delicious and nutritious.





Asian Tofu and Veggies

I feel pretty badly about my attitude toward tofu this last couple of years.  It hasn’t been very nice.  Whenever I think about eating tofu, I feel like I need to wear Birkenstocks and not shave my legs for a week before I’m even allowed to buy it.  Turns out – neither of those are required to be able to cook it at home!  Who knew?  Whenever I’ve tried tofu at restaurants, I’ve really enjoyed it, so I finally decided to give it a go on my own.  In doing so, I learned that one – you don’t have to be a dirty hippie to enjoy it, and two – you DO have to be a tortoise for it to taste restaurant quality without deep frying it.  Pan-fried tofu is not conducive to a hare mentality…

I started with some toasted sesame oil, let it get nice and hot in the pan, then let my tofu sizzle in it, turning to brown on all sides until it was nice and toasty, and finished by de-glazing the pan with some Bragg’s Amino Acids.  Slow and steady wins the race…slow and steady, now stuff your face?

The toasted sesame oil can be substituted with vegetable oil, but I’ll recommend it as a kitchen staple.  It lends a subtle, but deep and nutty taste to dishes with other Asian flavors.  And if you keep it in the fridge, it will last for quite a while.  The Bragg’s can be substituted with soy sauce , but I would recommend it as another staple.  If I may take you back to high school chemistry, you’ll remember that amino acids are “the building blocks of protein.”  Bragg’s Amino Acids are loaded with protein, heart-healthy, and contain less sodium than regular soy sauce. In fact, it has just under 1/4th the amount of sodium as a low-sodium soy sauce…and zero calories.  Again – keep it in the fridge and it will last a while.   

I used some vegetables that I had left over from a stir fry earlier in the week, but leftover bell peppers, bok choy, broccoli and green beans would all be great in this dish.

Asian Tofu and Veggies (serves 2)

1 14oz package of tofu (I used extra firm for pan frying), chopped

1 tbls Bragg’s Amino Acids

1 tbls toasted sesame oil

2 cups fresh spinach

1/2 zucchini, chopped

1/2 summer squash, chopped

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

Step 1:  Heat your pan to medium-high and add half of the sesame oil.  Let it heat up – you can test to see if it’s ready by adding a drop of water.  If the water sizzles, you’re ready to fry!  Add the tofu and let brown, turning to brown on all sides.  This takes about 15 minutes (remember – tortoise) – but it’s worth it to get a nice crisp all around.

Step 2: Add half of the amino acids and toss the tofu around the pan.  Remove the tofu so it doesn’t get soggy when you cook your veggies.

Step 3:  Add the rest of the sesame oil, the vegetables, and the rest of the amino acids and let saute about 5 minutes.  I like my veggies to be just cooked through, but still with a bite.  Add the tofu back to the pan to heat up.

Step 4: Serve and enjoy!

This dish is flavorful and filling on it’s own, but can be served over brown rice for an extra punch of whole grains.  If you’re feeling especially ambitious, add in some fresh ginger and garlic to take the Asian theme to the next level.  Go ahead – the world is your oyster!  Or your recycled, empty tofu container if you happen to fit my above description of a dirty hippie…Bon Apetit!



Garbage Meal: Veggie Stir-fry

More than one person has pointed out to me that “garbage meal” does not sound like something you would want to eat.  I get that.  But I can’t figure out a better way to describe them, and “Last-Stop-Before-The-Garbage Meal” takes too long to say.  So you’re stuck with garbage meal.  And stuck is an appropriate word here, because judging by the number of you who have mentioned this, I think it’s safe to say that this term is stuck in your heads, meaning you are more likely to implement this philosophy into your weekly meal planning.  Ellery:1, “Garbage meal” haters: 0.

In order to help you embrace the garbage meal, I’ve decided to add recurring garbage meal posts, like my ‘save or splurge’ articles.  This first recipe ended up being a very happy surprise – Merritt and I cleaned out the refrigerator and realized that we had TONS of vegetables considering taking to their death beds.  We rescued them by transforming them into a delicious stir fry, and Merritt really deserves the win here because her suggestion to add a can of black beans resulted in a black blean sauce with an almost creamy consistently.  I feel like a proud mom…watching her child not put all of her food in the pan and then turn it on for the first time (we’re still working on that).

Vegetable Stir Fry (made 2 dinners and 1 lunch portion)

1/2 cup green beans

1/2 zucchini, chopped

1/2 summer squash, chopped

1 cup shittake mushrooms, stems removed and chopped

2 baby bok choy, sliced

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, diced

1 tsp fresh ginger, grated

1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed

1 tblsp sesame oil (vegetable oil can be substituted)

1 – 2 tblsp Bragg’s Amino Acids (soy sauce can be substituted)

Step 1: Heat oil in a large skillet on medium-high, or in an electric wok (I used a wok, but I honestly couldn’t tell you how I acquired it, so I don’t expect you to have one).  Add ginger and garlic, saute for a couple of seconds and add in all of the chopped vegetables.  Saute for 10 minutes.

Step 2: Drain and rinse the beans and add them to the pan with the amino acids (or soy sauce).  Cook mixture for a couple more minutes, sprinkle with some red pepper flakes if you like some heat, and serve.

That’s it.  Fast, easy, delicious, super healthy…and it all went into a garbage meal instead of a garbage can.

Garbage meals are meant to be guides for you – jumping off places to start creating your own garbage meals, because chances are, your left-behind ingredients won’t match mine exactly.  But once you get the hang of a recipe, you can start to train yourself to open the fridge and say, “I could make a stir fry!” instead of “Bloody hell, there’s no food in this house!” 

And just in case you were wondering, I did decide to make you British in that last part because who hasn’t dreamt of having a British accent at one point in time?  Young, Broke and Hungry…making all your dreams come true.

Spaghetti Squash Pie

I’ll openly admit that the following recipe is a little more involved than most that I make.  However, I love cooking a more advanced recipe on the weekend, or whenever I have some extra time.  There’s something about following a process, completing each step, and having a finished product to enjoy that has always been a stress-reliever for me.  If you find cooking more stress-inducing than relieving, or are just starting to cook (or get more adventerous in your cooking), I’ve included some tips after the recipe on a simple preparation for spaghetti squash that will serve as great introductions to the vegetable.

I’ve already regaled you with tales of just how much I love butternut squash, but I have pretty similar feelings about spaghetti squash.  Spaghetti squash is also of the winter variety – in season from early fall through winter – so it should be reasonably priced, perhaps even on sale, in grocery stores during this time.  I love to use spaghetti squash to replace its namesake, and not just spaghetti, but any type of pasta.  Added benefit: it rings in at just under 40 calories for 4 cooked ounces.  And…it’s a vegetable and vegetables = healthy.  Easy enough.  Budget-friendly benefit?  This recipe uses the leftover 1/2 pound of ground turkey from my Zucchini Boats

Spaghetti Squash Pie (makes 6 servings)

1 spaghetti squash

1/2 lb ground turkey

1 cup low-fat ricotta

2 cloves fresh garlic

1/2 white or yellow onion

1 egg

1 tbls olive oil

1 tsp dried italian herbs (or combo of parsley, basil, and oregano – whatever you have in the pantry)

8 oz crushed tomatoes (look for a can that has no sodium added and that does not list sugar in the ingredients)

1/2 cup low-fat shredded mozzarella

1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, defrosted with the extra water pressed out (put in a strainer and press with paper towels)

Step 1:  Pre-heat oven to 350.  Slice the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. 

Step 2: Place squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes.  When it’s done, you should just be able to run a fork through it to scrape it into spaghetti-like strands, but it should not be mushy. 

Step 3: While the squash is baking, dice the garlic, chop the onion, and remove any water from the spinach using the instructions in the ingredient list.

Step 4: Heat olive oil in a pan on medium heat and add garlic, onions and spinach.  Saute for 3 minutes, and add ground turkey, breaking it up with a wooden spoon and cooking until brown.  Add tomatoes and spices, turn down the heat, and let simmer for 10 minutes.  (Note:  If you’re using turkey you’ve browned for an earlier purpose, just throw the cooked turkey in after you add the tomatoes)

Step 5: Remove squash from oven and use a fork to shred both sides of the squash.  Remove access liquid by placing in a strainer and pressing with paper towel, or spread out over a paper towel and let sit for several minutes.  Spray a pie pan with light cooking spray and line the pan with the spaghetti squash, like a crust.

Step 6:  Wisk together the ricotta and egg with a pinch of salt and pepper and spread the mixture over the spaghetti squash “crust.”  Top with the turkey mixture.

Step 7: Top with shredded mozzarella and bake at 350 for 10 – 15 minutes.

Slice and serve!  This pairs well with a simple green salad on the side, but is filling enough to eat on its own.  This is also a great way to use up any extra vegetables you have lying around before they go bad (not to mention, a great way to sneak some veggies in under a tomato sauce and cheese cloak for those of you with kids) – you could add mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, chopped zucchini and summer squash, diced carrots…take some liberties with it!  Need a vegetarian version?  Swap out the ground turkey for any above-mentioned veggies, or just leave it out entirely.

If you’re looking for a simpler – or beginner – preparation, bake and shred the spaghetti squash per my instructions above and serve with a tablespoon of pesto, or just a drizzle of olive oil, black pepper, and parmesan.  The ultimate comfort food…without the ultimate calorie intake.

Save or Splurge: Pre-packaged Produce

We’ve all had the urge…you walk through the produce section and see those carrot sticks, neatly sliced and all the same size, then you spy the onions, diced perfectly (and no more tears!), and finally the herbs, nestled into their cute little plastic boxes with a pretty picture and trendy font on the label…it’s hard not to buy them simply because they look good or seem so easy.

My general rule for pre-packaged produce is to save your money.  You will typically get less product for your cash since you’re paying for someone else to slice, dice and package it for you.  Always – and this goes for all ingredients, not just produce – check the cost per pound listed on the price tag.  It’s listed on every tag and is an excellent way to compare costs, but is shamefully underutilized.

Checking that sticker will reveal that you’ll end up paying more per pound for the herbs in the tiny plastic boxes than for a full bunch.  Buy the bunch, wash it, and keep the stems in a cup of water to help them stay fresh for longer.  The pre-chopped veggies are another no-brainer.  It’s tempting to buy the pre-cut, smaller packages if the recipe you’re making doesn’t require a lot of that vegetable.  However, it doesn’t take much effort to dice onions or peel and chop carrots, and those are both ingredients that can be added to tons of different dishes, which helps to ensure they don’t sit in your fridge long enough to spoil even if you end up buying a larger amount.  So as nice as the perfectly cut portions look, buy the whole veggies.

You should also consider the process that certain foods went through before they were packaged.  Some prepared ingredients that really will save some serious time and effort – steamed beets for instance – should be passed by because the high-intensity steaming process used on those beets dramatically reduces the nutrients, so you’re better off buying fresh and cooking with a method that doesn’t require many steps, such as roasting.

I do have a few exceptions to this rule.  In many cases, the main reason for buying pre-packed foods is to literally buy yourself some time, so you just have to weigh the cost.  Is the price of the time saved worth the extra cash?  Sometimes it is – I often buy butternut squash already cubed simply because the task of peeling and cubing a whole one myself is too daunting, too time-consuming, and I usually end up peeling away half of the squash anyway.

So the next time you’re considering taking a stroll down easy street (aka the pre-packaged produce aisle), check the cost per pound, see if there’s a viable fresh and whole option, and decide whether a couple extra minutes is worth a couple extra dollars.