BrokeAss Gourmet

BrokeAss Gourmet

A little careful planning and a discerning eye can help you stock your kitchen with healthful real food without giving you cause to declare bankruptcy. 

I'll admit it: I love Whole Foods. The stores are clean and pleasant to shop in, the salespeople are knowledgeable and helpful, the produce is beautiful and always fresh, and the meat and seafood departments are impeccable. Yes, Whole Foods is notorious for being expensive (California stores got into big trouble for overcharging recently), but I have found that with a little bit of planning and insight, it is indeed possible to complete a Whole Foods shop without bankrupting yourself. Read on for my tips and tricks for getting out of Whole Paycheck with most of yours still in the bank. 

Shop on the outside aisles. The outside aisles contain the bulk section, the produce section, the meat and seafood counters, and the dairy and egg refrigerator cases. These are the best things to shop for at Whole Foods. Not only do they tend to be the healthiest items in the store, but Whole Foods also has a great selection in (and often very good sales on) these departments. The prepared, processed, and packaged foods tend to be where the highest-ticket items are. If you want affordable cookies, crackers, bread, and shampoo, head to Trader Joe's. They're not worth buying at Whole Foods.

At the meat and seafood departments, go with the cheapest items: Whole Foods has very high standards for all their products, so even their least expensive cuts of meat and seafood are very high quality. Opt for chicken thighs and drumsticks over breasts, and sirloin, flank, and skirt steaks over ribeye. Get the sole over the wild salmon. And while you're in the meat and seafood department...

Ask the butchers and fishmongers to help you out. In addition to being knowledgeable about the products they sell, the people behind the meat and seafood counters are the ones who clean, de-bone, skin, filet, grind, and trim the proteins they sell. As such, don't be shy about asking them to do some of the prep work for you. If whole fish are on sale, buy them (they're much cheaper per pound than skinned, pre-cut fish filets or steaks), and have the fish monger clean, skin, and filet them for you, free of charge.  

Buy in-season produce for the best prices. There’s a simple reason why a locally grown tomato in July costs less than a flown-in-from-Chile tomato in January: airfare. When we buy fruits and vegetables grown near where we live (which is only possible when they’re in season), they cost less because the produce doesn’t have to travel as far. Whole Foods generally has most of their produce available year-round (often flown in), but they also work with many local farms to bring in the best of the best when it's in season. Though my preference is to buy as much produce as possible at my local farmer's market, the on-sale, seasonal stuff available at Whole Foods is also very good.

Learn to love the bulk section. Some of the best deals at Whole Foods can be found in the bins of the bulk section. When you buy in bulk, you are paying only for the food itself, not packaging, so the pricing is significantly lower than pre-packaged goods. It's great for when you need a lot of something, but it's also wonderful for when you need only a little (why buy a twenty-four-ounce package of walnuts when you only need a quarter cup of them for a recipe?). It’s worth the annoying twelve-seconds it takes to wrap a twist-tie around a plastic bag and write the product code on it. Invest in a pack of cheap jumbo-size mason jars to store things like flour, sugar, rice, beans, pasta, oats, nuts, and dried fruit from the bulk section. Keeping them in an airtight container like a mason jar will keep them fresh for longer.

Shop like a European. I know this isn't possible for everyone. When you have a nine-to-five job and children and errands, it can be hard to regularly practice the classic European way of shopping, which is to keep a pantry stocked with basic non-perishables, and then augment a few times a week with small quantities of fresh items: a piece of meat or fish, here, some cheese and eggs there, and whichever fruits and vegetables are gorgeous and seasonal. It means more frequent stops at the store, but when you can, this is one of the most cost-effective ways to shop. Since it requires you to grocery shop on an as-needed basis (as opposed to the more traditional American style of filling a cart with enough food for two weeks), you are far more likely to actually use all of what you buy (how many times has the lettuce you optimistically bought a week ago been left to turn to mush in your crisper because you never got around to eating it?). Nothing is sadder than a compost bin full of never-used produce gone bad.

Remember, these principles can be applied to other supermarkets and health food stores too. Whole Foods is obviously the most ubiquitious whole food grocer in the United States, but, if you're lucky, there are other good options available where you live as well. Remember: just because a store is generally expensive doesn't mean it has to be off-limits. A little careful planning and a discerning eye can help you stock your kitchen with healthful real food without giving you cause to declare bankruptcy. And whatever you do, don't forget your reusable bags

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Grilled Strawberry Shortcake

  • Prep Time 10 minutes
  • Cook Time 5 minutes
  • Estimated Cost $9.50
  • 1 Comment

We should all grant ourselves freedom from complicated, involved cooking on this day and instead focus on enjoying the fun with our friends and family as much as possible. 

There are times when spending hours slaving in a kitchen is really worth it. Thanksgiving, Rosh Hashanah, a special romantic meal. But not on the Fourth of July. This is, of course, not to say that the Fourth of July doesn't deserve wonderful food--that's not the case at all. But it's a holiday celebrating freedom, and as such, I think we should all grant ourselves freedom from complicated, involved cooking on this day and instead focus on enjoying the fun with our friends and family as much as possible. 

With this in mind, I bring you what I believe is my cleverest, easiest summer dessert yet: grilled strawberry shortcake. It's really, really simple. All you need is cubed, storebought pound cake, though I suppose if you are more ambitious than I, you could make it yourself (if you don't eat gluten or are paleo, try this coconut flour version), plus fresh strawberries and bamboo or metal skewers. 

After being assembled, the skewers get grilled very briefly, just long enough to char the berries and crisp the cake. Then I top the finished product with a dollop of whipped cream (whipped coconut milk is also delicious and dairy-free/paleo and makes a good substitute for traditional whipped cream. Sprigs of fresh mint are lovely but totally optional.

Hey, you're grilling anyway. Why not throw your dessert on the grill too, while you're at it?

Ingredients

  • 1 10.75 oz. pound cake (I used one from Sara Lee) $4 
  • 30 fresh strawberries, cleaned and stems removed $4 
  • whipped cream, for serving $1.50 for a pint of heavy whipping cream
  • about 10 skewers (bamboo or metal)

Recipe Serves 6-8

Directions

  1. Use a sharp knife to cut the pound cake into 1-inch cubes.                                         
  2. Slide the pound cake and strawberries onto the skewers as pictured.                          
  3. Grill on a lightly oiled grill pan or over a gas or charcoal grill, over medium-high heat, just until the strawberries char and the cake gets slightly crisp.                               
  4. Serve immediately with whipped cream                                                                                            

 

Roasted Jalapeño Guacamole

  • Prep Time 15 minutes
  • Estimated Cost $5.25
  • 0 Comments

If you've been following along on Twitter and Facebook, you know I've been having a crazy Hollywood adventure the past few months.

Well, the show premiered and I'm still here. Back in my sweet city of San Francisco, in my tiny-but-perfectly-mine kitchen, thrilled to be cooking with the glorious bounty of summer produce that San Francisco's farmers markets have to offer right now. My kitchen table is currently overlfowing with ripe nectarines, heirloom tomatoes, Meyer lemons, apricots and white peaches. Every meal offers an opportunity to celebrate summer. Though I must say I surprised myself by developing a great fondness for Los Angeles, I am still quite happy to be home. 

Plus, I missed my writing coach.

And so, life goes on. The TV show is off and running (check it out Wednesdays at 8/7 Central on ABC Family!), and, save for a few trips back to LA for publicity, I am now returning to my regular life of cooking, writing and editing. 

But first, 4th of July weekend is upon us! Evan and I will spend the 4th in my hometown of Santa Rosa watching my dad's band play at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds (did I mention my father plays keyboard in a honky tonk band made up entirely of legal professionals, called Court 'n' Disaster? IS THAT NOT THE MOST AWESOME THING YOU HAVE EVER HEARD?). Whatever you have planned for this weekend, I implore you to include this guacamole.

Here, I kick my guac up one step further by fire-roasting the jalapeño, rather adding it in fresh. By holding the chile over a flame (or sticking it under a broiler), I'm able to impart a sweet, smoky flavor into the jalapeño, that adds a wonderful depth of flavor to fresh guacamole.

I don't typically add tomatoes to my guacamole, but if you wanted to, it would surely be delicious.

Finally, while canned green chiles aren't the same, they'll still do quite nicely if you prefer to skip the roasting step. 

Happy 4th of July! What are your plans for the holiday weekend?

Ingredients

  • 1 green jalapeño $0.25
  • 2 large or 3 medium-sized ripe avocados, pitted and peeled $3
  • 1 clove garlic, minced Pantry
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion (about 1/8 medium red onion) $0.50 for a whole onion
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro, finely chopped $1 for a bunch
  • juice of 1 lime $0.50 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt Pantry

Recipe Serves 4

Directions

  1. Use a metal skewer or tongs to hold the jalapeño over a gas stove flame, rotating until blackened (if you use a wooden skewer, make sure to soak it in water first so it doesn't catch fire). This can also be accomplished by putting the jalapeño under the broiler for a few minutes, then rotating to blacken it evenly.
  2. Rinse the jalapeño under cool running water and gently peel off the blackened part to reveal the soft flesh underneath.
  3. Slice off the stem and cut the jalapeño in half lengthwise. If you are sensitive to chile heat or are serving the guacamole to kids, carefully remove the seeds and discard. 
  4. Chop the chile finely and transfer to a mixing bowl.
  5. To the bowl, add the avocado, and mash roughly with the back of a fork. Don't go crazy though--the guacamole should be a little bit chunky.
  6. Stir in the garlic, onion, cilantro, and lime juice. Stir gently to combine.
  7. Add the salt and stir to incorporate.
  8. Serve immediately, or refrigerate, sprinkled with lemon or lime juice and covered, for up to 3 hours. 

Spiced Plantain Tacos

  • Prep Time 10 minutes
  • Cook Time 6 minutes
  • Estimated Cost $9
  • 0 Comments

Summer food should feature bright, bold flavors, capitalizing on the incredible bounty of produce available this time of year. 

Summer food should not be over-thought.

It should be light, so as not to weigh you down in the heat. It should feature bright, bold flavors, capitalizing on the incredible bounty of produce available this time of year. It should be portable and picnic-friendly. And, most importantly, it should come together quickly, so that you have more time to spend enjoying it with the people you love.

This recipe fulfills all of the above. Ripe plantains get coated with an addictive yet utterly simple spice mixture of Ancho chile powder, ground cumin, salt and pepper (which, by the way, is also the contents of those stupid packets of taco meat seasoning, so go ahead and stop buying those and make your own for a lot less money instead).

When buying plantains, it's important to look for ones that look like a nearly-rotten banana. Pure yellow or green plantains will be too hard to work with. Using very ripe plantains will ensure that they are sweet enough to counterbalance the smoky spices and onion. That said, do keep an eye on them while they cook. It's fine for them to be soft, but you don't want them to turn to mush in the pan.

These are great on their own, but if you want to round them out into a fuller meal, add black beans and perhaps a crunchy slaw.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon Ancho chile powder $1.50 for 1 oz.
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin $1.50 for 1 oz.
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt Pantry
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper Pantry
  • 2 ripe plantains, peeled and sliced on the bias, into 1/2-inch thick pieces $1.50
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil Pantry
  • 8 6-inch corn tortillas $2 for 12
  • 1/4 red onion, chopped finely $0.50 for a whole onion
  • 1 avocado, diced $1.50
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro leaves $1 for a bunch
  • sliced jalapeño Optional

Recipe Serves 3-4

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine the spices, salt and pepper. Mix well.
  2. Arrange the sliced plantains on a plate or cutting board and sprinkle half of the spice mixture over them, making sure each one gets lightly coated on one side.
  3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick pan or griddle over medium-high heat.
  4. Cook the plantains (working in batches or using 2 pans, if necessary), spiced-side-down for 2-3 minutes, until a brown crust develops. While the plantains cook, sprinkle the remaining half of the spice mixture on the tops of the plantains.
  5. Flip plantains, and cook on the other side for 2-3 minutes, until a brown crust develops.
  6. Once the plantains have cooked, turn the heat off, and leave the plantains in the pan.
  7. Toast the tortillas by either toasting them directly over a gas burner for 30 seconds to a minute, or in a dry frying pan. You want the edges to crisp up slightly, and the tortillas to be flexible.
  8. To assemble the tacos, divide the cooked plantains between the tortillas, and top with onion, avocado, cilantro, and jalapeño, if using.
  9. Serve immediately.

Honey Whole Wheat Challah

  • Prep Time 2 1/2 hours
  • Cook Time 30 minutes
  • Estimated Cost $5.50
  • 1 Comment

This challah is incredible on its own, but my favorite way to serve it is sliced and toasted, and topped with a generous layer of ripe avocado, a drizzle of olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper. 

The last 2 weeks have been insanely busy. As the premiere of Young & Hungry creeps closer (June 25 at 8/7 Central on ABC Family -- set your DVR!), there is so much to do to get ready. Most recently, that has included shooting a web series cooking with the cast.

Check it out: that's me cooking with Rex Lee, of Entourage fame

 

But all that excitement has also meant a lot of time spent away from my cozy little San Francisco kitchen, and whenever I've been away from home for an extended period of time, the first thing I want to do when I get back is make challah.

OK, that's not exactly true. The very first thing I want to do is see Evan. But after that, I want to make challah. Warm homemade challah for Shabbat dinner, to be repurposed the next day as French toast or panzanella. Making challah centers me. It takes some time, so it forces me to carve out at least a couple of hours to devote to this special task. As I mix the eggs and flour and oil, and knead the dough, my worries melt away and I shift my focus to the weekend ahead.

Tonight, I'm switching things up and, instead of my usual Olive Oil Challah, I'm making this heartier, healthier whole wheat challah, made with honey rather than sugar. I like to use dark amber honey to really emphasize that component of the flavor. The combination of the honey and nutty stone-ground whole wheat flour yields a rich brown dough.

Additionally, while most challah recipes call for canola or vegetable oil, I generally prefer the flavor of extra virgin olive oil. Not only is it a healthier fat, but the flavor survives the baking process and adds much depth to the finished product.

This challah is incredible on its own, but my favorite way to serve it is sliced and toasted, and topped with a generous layer of ripe avocado, a drizzle of olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper. 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 packet instant yeast $1.50 for 3 packets
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoons honey Pantry
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the bowl Pantry
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten, divided $1.50 for 6
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour $2.50 for 32 oz.
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour Pantry
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt Pantry
  • sesame seeds Optional

Recipe Serves 8-10

Directions

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or dust with flour, or grease with olive oil). Set aside.
  2. Combine the water, yeast and 1 tablespoon of the honey in a mixing bowl. Stir well to combine.
  3. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel, and let rest for 5-7 minutes, until bubbles appear on the surface.
  4. Gently whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup of honey, olive oil, and 2 of the beaten eggs. 
  5. Stir in the flours and salt until you have a cohesive dough.
  6. Knead dough on a floured surface (or in a standing mixer) until it becomes somewhat elastic (2-3 minutes in the mixer, 5-6 minutes by hand). Please note: the dough will not be springy and soft like regular challah--it will be somewhat dense. This is okay.
  7. Gather the kneaded dough into a ball and put it back in the bowl you mixed it in with enough oil to coat it well. 
  8. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm spot (like an oven that has been brought to temperature and then turned off so it's warm, not hot).
  9. Let the dough rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until doubled in size.
  10. Once risen, gently punch down the dough to deflate, and transfer it to a lightly floured surface.
  11. As I've stated before, there are a few ways to go about weaving the challah. You can do it the Deb (of SmittenKitchen) way, the Tori of The Shiksa in the Kitchen way, or you can do it the Gabi Moskowitz, 1989 Graduate of Beth Ami Hebrew School Sunday Challah-Making Class way, which is to sort of braid it like you would hair, and then tuck the messy bits under so no one can see them. You can find my step-by-step tutorial for this approach with photos here. You can make 1 large braid or 2 smaller ones. 
  12. Once the dough is braided, place it on the parchment-lined or floured/greased baking sheet. Cover the braid gently with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let rise in the turned-off oven for 1 hour.
  13. Take the dough out of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  14. Once the braided dough has risen, use a pastry brush to coat the top with the one remaining beaten egg. Give it 2 or 3 coats.
  15. If desired, top the egg-washed dough with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
  16. Bake the challah(s) for about 30 minutes, until deep golden brown. 
  17. Serve warm or at room temperature.