$45 at the Grocery Store – Like Taking a Bullet

AC_PANTRYPROJECTchef's journal

Yesterday I had my first “major” trip to the grocery store since beginning The Accidental Pantry Project. I use the term major loosely because I did not need a lot of items, but I needed perishable things, as well as items for a Super Bowl party I am attending tonight, hence staying within the exceptions of the project (items that are requested by others).

This week I splurged a bit, since I have been trying to keep my food bills down – I went out to dinner twice with friends, went to a friend’s house for dinner, and I treated myself to a Chipotle lunch. I am really trying to limit going out to eat, both financially and that it’s usually not so good for you, but it’s also winter in New Jersey, so there really isn’t much else to do if you want to be social. My splurge probably added up to around $110. Being that I don’t have money coming in at the moment, I feel a little guilty. I promised myself about $100 a week for frivolous spending – eating out, coffee out, a movie, etc. – so I’m already over (for those who do not know me, I am notorious for beating myself up over little things).

Back to shopping, I hit up my local Stop&Shop. Since I am no longer with Whole Foods Market and do not have my employee discount to rely on (I really need to marry someone from there and get it back), I am opening my eyes back up to other grocers (you are still a guilty lowbrow pleasure, Aldi’s). Though few major grocery retailers out there have the atmosphere and aesthetics of a Whole Foods, in my opinion, the experience is not always as pleasant. At the same time, I can usually manage not to walk out with $300 worth of stuff (that pantry did not build itself) when I only needed milk and lettuce. What I like about Stop&Shop is that while you may need to dig a little, they have a huge organic presence in their stores, something I have grown used to the past few years as I am more mindful of what I put in my body.

Where does the $45 come in? Well, about half of that was stuff I needed, a quarter was splurge, and the final quarter was for my Super Bowl dish. I needed milk, Greek yogurt, produce (fruit and salad fixings), and coffee, so I figured it would be about $25. Then comes the Super Bowl dish. This recipe I am actually looking forward to. They are Bacon, Cheddar, and Jalapeno Pinwheels that I found on through another food blogger on Pinterest. The recipe sang to my project because I had everything I needed at home – bacon, cream cheese, cheddar – except fresh jalapeno and crescent roll dough. The dough is what did me in, and I may have to look for a copycat recipe to do it myself sometime. It was not on sale and $3.19 a can. I bought three as I am looking to double or triple the recipe (my friend is expecting 30+ guests for the party). So okay, I am really on track, spending a little over my estimated budget.

Then was my moment of weakness, the items that put me over the edge and I am confessing like an addict that just fell off the wagon – Cadbury Creme Eggs and Hershey’s Chocolate Spread. Two junk laden items that I cannot replicate because I am not a chemist, but are so sugary and chocolatey and delicious nonetheless. I do eventually want to test creating a similar spread to the Hershey’s stuff, but all the recipes I am finding online are more Nutella copycat than straight up chocolate. If you love lowbrow chocolate and need a fix, I highly recommend these spreads. They are relatively new and my newest junk food addiction. Unfortunately both of these treats were on sale, so it made it harder to resist, but also hard when the cashier rang me up for $45.36.

What can I say? The project is a journey…

“Pantry” Chicken Pozole Soup

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Probably about two years ago, I was introduced to the deliciousness that is pozole (or hominy). I have always like grits, but I had never had pozole in this form. As defined, “Hominy is a food made from kernels of corn which are soaked in an alkali solution of either lime or lye. The corrosive nature of the solution removes the hull and germ of the corn and causes the grain itself to puff up to about twice its normal size.” Apparently, it is fairly nutritious as well, which after hearing of the process you almost would not expect. However, it is rich in carbohydrates, low in fat, rich in fiber, and much less caloric than other grains and starches. I like the texture.

In any case, my mother saw a segment on the Today Show featuring Michael Lomonaco’s recipe for Turkey Pozole Soup. It ended up being way too spicy for her liking, but the flavor and heartiness stayed with me. Lately I had been craving some sort of Mexican style soup, so about two weeks ago I was playing around in my kitchen and I ended up modifying his recipe utilizing what was in my pantry and freezer (I had bought hominy a couple of weeks earlier). Since I work crazy hours, I do not keep a lot of fresh food in my apartment, I instead rely on my freezer and shelf-stable goods to whip up meals. It was a fun test of my skills, and I ended up loving the results.

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Pantry Chicken Pozole Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound frozen chicken breasts, thawed and roughly cubed
1/3 cup dried chopped onion
1 tablespoon dried sliced garlic
1 quart turkey stock (can use chicken or vegetable stock/broth)
1 28 ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 26 ounce box Pomi strained tomatoes
1 10 ounce can tomatoes with green chiles
1 29 ounce can hominy
1 tablespoon dried cilantro
1 packet True Lemon lemon powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Cholulah hot sauce
Optional – shredded cheese, tortilla chips, and sour cream for garnish

In a stock pot, heat olive oil and add chicken, brown on all sides, about five minutes (don’t worry about fully cooking it, the chicken will cook while the soup is simmering). Add onion, garlic, and about a half cup of the stock to help reconstitute the seasonings. Cook for about two minutes. Add the rest of the stock, tomato products, hominy, and remaining seasonings. Bring ingredients to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired (I did not add any salt, as the tomatoes already have a good amount of sodium). Simmer for about half an hour. Soup can be served immediately, or can be cooled down and reheated. Serve with optional garnishes, if desired.

The One Minute S’more

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My favorite new product is probably one of the least healthy on the market. Sugar and corn syrup laden, but of course, absolutely delicious. Jet Puffed Marshmallow Bits. My favorite part of Lucky Charms, Count Chocula, Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate Packets is definitely the dehydrated marshmallows. The product is solely the marshmallows. Add it to beverages, or in my case, make one utterly delicious low brow s’more.

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All you need for the s’mores is three ingredients – marshmallow bits, graham crackers, and a chocolate spread. Nutella, frosting, Justin’s nut butters, etc. all work. I’m a fan of the Choco Dream brand Chocolate Almond Spread. Spread some of this chocolaty love on a graham cracker, top with the marshmallows, and you’re good to go! S’mores in under a minute!

“Breakfast” Grilled Cheese

chef's journalThis is a pretty simple and quick breakfast that you may make as little or as much of as you like. In this case, I used about 1/2 cup of pancake batter (from an add-water mix), two slices American cheese, and 2 slices bacon. I first cooked the bacon and reserved a little grease. I divided the batter for form three pancakes. Upon flipping over the pancakes, I added cheese to two cakes. Finally, I stacked up the pancakes with a slice of bacon between each stack (cut in half so it would cover the full pancake. A little messy for cooking, but damn tasty!

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Accidental Iron Chef? #HurricaneSandy

Hurricane Sandy has left me isolated in my own home. No work, no businesses open, no friends or family or boyfriend to hang out with. Just me and whatever I got here at home. I’ve been wanting a day off to reorganize some closets in my home, particularly my pantry. Most of today with the crappy weather I wasn’t feeling up to doing anything besides lay in my pajamas and watch food network and play words with friends and play on Facebook and Twitter.

For a few hours it was fun, but I’m not really the type of person who can stay still for too long, so after a couple of cups of coffee, I got my second wind and decided to clean out my pantry and a kitchen cabinet that also had some pantry items. This sums up my non perishable items, sans spices:

I have now deemed myself a culinary hoarder. I have so much food all I can really do is have a party and find creative ways to cook it off, Iron Chef style. What are you inspired to make?

Late Night Snacks: Open Faced Bacon Grilled Cheese

It’s been mentioned a million times, my favorite food is cheese. There are always odds and ends in my fridge, thanks to my obsession with Maywood Marketplace, and now my employment with Whole Foods Market. I also usually have bacon in my fridge or freezer, both because I believe its effects on men in the art of seduction, and because it’s such a tasty, versatile ingredient.

Because of my cholesterol raising refrigerator stockpile, I’m usually prepared to put together a tasty late night snack. You can put together a pretty tasty grilled cheese sandwich with minimal effort by using your oven and not your frying pan – less mess to worry about in the morning.

Oven Baked Open Faced Grilled Cheese
Prepare bacon using your broiler setting. Arrange slices in a single layer on a lined cookie sheet (you can use parchment paper or aluminum foil). I like to brush the bacon with a bit of brown sugar and maple syrup to balance out the saltines of both the bacon and the cheese. Broil on low about 10 minutes or to your desired crispiness. Remember, you will be baking it once more for sandwiches, so you might want to leave it a bit chewier than normal as it will crisp up during the baking process. Meanwhile, spread a thin layer of butter on one side of each slice of bread you will be using, probably about a teaspooon per slice. As for cheese, I like to grate odds and ends of whatever is in my fridge that will melt well – I’ve used gouda, emmentaler, cheddar, manchego, robusto, UnieKaas, fontina, etc. When you’re ready, set the oven to 350 degrees, arrange bacon in a single layer on the dry, non-buttered side of the bread, and sprinkle with cheese. Bake sandwiches in the oven about 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Eat open faced with a knife and fork, or just close those puppies up and enjoy as normal.

Pinterest and Cookie Dough Dip

Step aside Paula Deen. There is a new pornographic food pusher out there and her name is Pinterest. I spend more time ogling over recipes than most men spend on Porn Hub.

Much like the discovery of a new sexual position, I have stumbled across a new dessert that I had never considered. Unusual for me because usually when it comes to food and cooking, I’m a cocky ass bitch who thinks she knows everything. That dessert is Cookie Dough Dip.

Via Pinterest, I came across this recipe from Just a Pinch.com. I cannot take credit for actually executing it, for that I thank my friend Dawn. Neither of us was crazy about the toffee bits, but she stumbled upon these awesome turtle sprinkles at Wegmans, and modified the recipe with those.

So, next party you have, I highly suggest putting this dip together. You’re welcome.

Brunch Ideas

I am often asked what my specialty in cooking is. Everyone who loves to cook, and even those who do not, or do not have a knack for it, seem to have a specialty. My thing is I feel I can cook just about anything, and I love trying out new recipes and methods.

With Mother’s Day upon us, it hit me that I do have a meal I enjoy preparing and hosting more than any other – BRUNCH! There is something so versatile about this meal, giving its preparer some wonderful creative freedom…yet there still seem to be rules. You want to include some breakfast foods, you want to include some lunch foods…and even better, find a marriage of both.

Tomorrow I will be hosting my family here in my home for Mother’s Day. My own mother has never been a fan of going out to restaurants on the day itself – restaurants are overcrowded, quality is poor, prices are jacked up, etc. She prefers intimate meals at home. I can deliver.

Be on the lookout for some of my brunch ideas as time goes on.

Lent Time

Two years ago I took the traditional Greek Orthodox path and gave up eating meat for Lent. It was actually an enjoyable and obviously spiritual time coming up with nutritious meat-free meals instead of just eating pizza, pasta, and prepackaged Morningstar Farm meals every day. I’m going to attempt it again this year, as Greek Orthodox Lent started yesterday. It’s gonna be sad to give up FOS, but I can always make a vegetable broth based version…

Old Pics from My Catering Days

I came across these pics this morning, and I’m glad I found them. I used to have them all up on an MSN spaces site, but I lost the content when they migrated over here to Word Press (I had so rarely used the site at that point, I don’t even know if I knew how to log in anymore).

In any case, here’s some fun stuff I used to do. Pardon the photo quality, many of these 2003/2004 cell phone pics.

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