Young, broke and hungry

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

Category: Tip

Save or Splurge: Organic Produce

It’s hard to escape the organic craze.  Nearly ever item at the grocery store has an organic counterpart that boasts itself as the better choice…more all-natural (is that possible?), more healthy and certainly more expensive.  While the choice to go organic is a personal one, it may help to know which foods are really worth the switch.  And the answer may shock you!  Okay fine, that was more for dramatic effect, but what I’ve learned about organic produce really has been enlightening.

The Environmental Working Group releases a list every year of the 12 foods with the highest traces of pesticides – the Dirty Dozen, if you will.  The 2011 list can be found here, but for those of you too busy (lazy) to click, I’ll recap the list for you:

1. Apples – frequently at the top of the list of most pesticide-laden foods

2. Celery

3. Strawberries

4. Peaches

5. Spinach

6. Imported Nectarines

7. Imported grapes

8. Bell peppers

9. Potatoes

10. Domestic blueberries

11. Lettuce

12. Kale

All of these foods tested higher in pesticide traces in 2011 than their superfood brethren.  The fruits and veggies that tested clean?  Onions, sweet corn, pineapple, avocado, asparagus, sweet peas, mangos, eggplant, domestic cantaloupe, kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, mushrooms.  If you’ll notice, with the exception of a few, most of the fruits and veggies on this list involve some type of inedible peel.  A good rule of thumb when you’re shopping and don’t have this list handy (WHAT??  My blog isn’t the homepage on your phone’s browser?!), is that if it has a peel that you don’t eat, it’s safer than a fruit that you eat whole – apples and grapes for instance.  So plan ahead, check the weekly specials, and decide which organic fruits and veggies to splurge on and which to save on, using that simple rule.

Don’t have the budget to accomodate any organic produce?  Personal belief disclaimer: I’m no nutritionist, but I think it’s safe to say that the good you’ll do yourself by continuing to load up on fruits and vegetables will outweigh any potential harm from pesticide traces.  So continue to buy your produce, and stick as closely as possible to those on the “clean” list.

Bonus tip: Go for fruits and vegetables that are in season and save even more. 

Extra bonus tip (I’m feeling generous tonight): Many local farmers’ markets have stands with organic produce at a much lower cost than what you’ll find at the local supermarket, so hit up the world wide web to see if there are any winter farmers’ markets in your area, or just look forward to that in the spring!



Stuffed Portabellas

One of my strengths – just one, mind you, there are many – is developing recipes that are ultra-versatile.  I almost never post a recipe whose main ingredients can’t be substituted by at least one other option.  Being so flexible is what really helps to keep my grocery bills down.  By buying a limited number of proteins and lots of vegetables, I can follow some of the same basic recipes with different ingredients and have the option of substituting an ingredient on the fly if I have something about to be past its prime or lounging in the freezer.  The best example of this?  Stuffed veggies.  I’ve already posted my zucchini boats, so allow me to introduce you to…stuffed portabellas!

I saw these “stuffing portabellas” at Trader Joe’s and knew they’d be great choice –  any time you can make vegetables the bulk of a dish instead of meat or grains, it’s an instant health-booster.  And because you’re stuffing something, you’re using less filling by default.  I also grabbed a pack of the TJ’s spicy chicken sausage.  Want a glimpse into my mind while grocery shopping?  I see the chicken sausage and this happens: “there are 4 of these in this pack that costs right around 4 dollars that’s 1 dollar a sausage I’m going to use them in stuffed portabellas and quinoa with vegetables and in some pasta if I have any left over they’re going to be my main meat for the week that’s only 4 dollars!”  Then they go in my cart.  That’s really what happens.  Exhausting, right? 

Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms (serves 2 for dinner, but can be made as appetizers or party food!)

6 small portabella mushroom caps

2 stems from the mushrooms, chopped

1 spicy chicken sausage (sub with literally any other sausage or ground meat, or leave it out entirely)

1/3 cup zucchini, diced

1/4 cup shredded parmesan

1/4 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella

Olive oil

Salt and Pepper

Step 1: Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Remove stems from portabellas, and line mushrooms on a baking sheet.  Drizzle mushrooms with olive oil and roast 10 minutes.

Step 2: While the mushrooms roast, chop the two stems, zucchini and chicken sausage. 

Step 3: Saute sausage, zucchini and stems about 7 minutes or until tender, remove from heat and stir in parmesan and salt and pepper to taste. 

Step 4: Remove mushrooms from oven.  Water from the mushrooms may have gathered in the top – just flip over and dump out!  Stuff the mushrooms with the sausage mixture, top with mozzarella, and pop back in the oven for about 5 minutes – just long enough for the cheese to melt.  Serve, and enjoy!

I had these for dinner with some oven roasted tomatoes (just put them on the other end of the baking sheet that’s holding your mushrooms!) and some pan-roasted broccoli.  The real trick to eating healthily on a budget is to use few and fresh ingredients – when you’re eating fresh, whole foods there’s enough flavor in that alone that you don’t need any extras.  Plus, using fewer ingredients means buying fewer groceries, and spending less money.  You were wondering what my other great strengths were?  We’ll start with reiterating the obvious…

Grilled BBQ Chicken Pizza

Happy Super Bowl day!  First things first…is Madonna really singing?  But more importantly, how much delectable junk are you stuffing your face with tonight?  The Super Bowl, and other various sporting events, are such good excuses to blow out your budget and your New Years resolutions on all things grease and delicious.  I’m here to give you another option!

I can almost hear your eyes rolling…but really, this BBQ chicken pizza recipe is good enough for any non-epic-American-event night of the year, and is both budget friendly and a great alternative to delivery or take-out pizza.  Let me preface the rest of this post by saying I adore pizza.  I could eat it every day, but I would be as round as one of those large pies I so covet.  So, this recipe, with grilled whole wheat dough and simple, fresh ingredients really does the trick (without doing that neat trick of making my thighs double in size).

I make these pizzas on an indoor electric grill, but you can use an outdoor grill, or a grill pan that goes over the burners on your stove.  It makes the crust puff up in a wonderful pillow of dough, and because I put the toppings on after I grill the crust, there’s a great crisp to it.  I also use shredded BBQ chicken from a recipe on my favorite blog, How Sweet It Is.  The recipe makes a ton, so I freeze it in batches and use it for pizza, tacos, sandwhiches…a great make now, freeze for later recipe with ingredients that will make your wallet and your waistline happy…sold.

Grilled BBQ Chicken Pizza (makes 2 pizzas)

2/3 ball fresh whole-wheat pizza dough (many grocery stores have started selling them in the deli sections – Harris Teeter puts them on VIC special often at .99!) – split in two equal parts

1 1/2 cup crockpot BBQ chicken

4 tbls Bone Suckin’ Sauce (in my opinion, the healthiest BBQ sauce readily available)

1 1/2 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese

1/4 red onion, sliced

Handful fresh cilantro

Salt, pepper, and garlic powder

2 tbls olive oil

Step 1:  Let your dough rest on the counter until it comes to room temp and spread 1/2 tablespoon olive oil onto each of two pieces of aluminum foil, sprinkling salt, pepper, and garlic powder onto the oiled foil.  Using your fingers, spread the dough out from the center into a circular shape on the foil.  Let rest about 10 minutes, and spread out again.  Seeing the picture above, it’s rare you’ll get it to a perfect circle!  Spread another 1/2 tablespoon olive oil on top of the dough and sprinkle on salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Step 2:  Heat up grill pan and drizzle of olive oil in a pan and cook red onion slices until they start to brown around the edges.

Step 3: Once your grill is hot, put the dough on it by placing the foil on the grill, dough side down, and peeling off (the importance of oiling the foil before spreading out the dough comes in here).  Let cook until dough starts to puff up, crust is crispy, and has good grill marks then flip.

Step 4: As soon as you flip, spread 1 tablespoon of BBQ sauce on each pizza, spread on chicken, sprinkle on red onions and mozzarella and cover with a cookie sheet if you’re using an indoor grill or grill pan.  If you’re using an outdoor grill, well…close the lid.

Step 5: After cheese is melted and bottom side of dough is crispy, transfer to a cutting board, cut pizzas into fours and add fresh cilantro.

Come even LOOKS ten times healthier than any pizza you’d get delivered in a box.  Plus, you can use this process as a base for any kind of pizza, so it’s a great garbage meal option (freeze your leftover dough).  So, enjoy, and your thighs can thank me later.

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!