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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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.

Of all reasons I've heard from people for why they don't cook, perhaps the the most common one is that they're a party of one.

"It's just me," they'll say. "Why should I bother when there's no one else eating with me? I can get takeout delivered to my door, and not have to do any prep or wash any dishes." Or worse, they'll make the case for a microwaved frozen dinner.

There is, of course, a litany of reasons why cooking for oneself is a good thing to do: it's healthier and more cost-effective than the aforementioned options; when you control what goes into your food, you control what goes into your body. Fresh ingredients are not only healthier, but also usually cheaper than take-out or frozen meals. Those are valid points. But they're not the main reason I do it.

For me, cooking for myself is one of the most deliciously indulgent, deeply satisfying pleasures available. It's "me time" in the best possible sense: I get to cook exactly what I feel like eating. I can season my food precisely to my liking. I get to take my time chopping, basting and roasting, not worrying about anyone else's schedule or level of hangry-ness. I can sip wine while I stir, and listen to whatever music I please. I can set a beautiful table and enjoy my dinner formally, or I can eat on the couch, while I watch Law & Order: SVU--it's totally up to me. After dinner, I can sit at the table and read for an hour, or, if I feel like it, I can abandon the dishes and go take a bath.

Don't get me wrong, I love cooking for others. Most nights, I cook dinner for Evan, and it's my favorite part of the day. But, on the nights we don't eat together, I relish my time in the kitchen alone. The importance of the quality of my dinner doesn't diminish because I'm the only one eating it.

I hope to have a family someday, and I hope to cook them incredible food every night. But I also hope that, occasionally, I'll find myself on my own for dinner. I'll pour myself a glass of Pinot, turn on some Smokey Robinson, and chop, stir, and nurture my body and soul with a special meal made just for me.

Why wouldn't I bother?

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One of the most gratifying things about being a food blogger is hearing from a reader that my blog helped solve a problem. Whether it's that someone needed the perfect dish to bring to a party and found the winning recipe on my site, or a reader who previously felt he or she didn't have the skills or money necessary to cook well at home, and then found recipes on BrokeAss Gourmet to overcome that, I get all warm and fuzzy when I hear I was able to make a difference in someone's culinary life.

In that spirit, I'm excited to introduce to you a new feature here on BrokeAss Gourmet: #DearBrokeAss, wherein I attempt to help solve your food and cooking dilemmas. Read on for some of the queries I received this week.

Got questions? I want to help you out! Email gabi@brokeassgourmet.com, or Tweet them to me with the hashtag #DearBrokeAss

Dear BrokeAss,

I'm trying to follow the Paleo diet but I keep struggling with lunch options. Sandwiches, burritos and wraps are so easy to make in the morning when I'm rushing out the door, whereas paleo bag lunch options seem daunting. What is an easy-to-make, Paleo lunch option that I can pack for work?

- Jeremy in San Francisco

Dear Jeremy,

I totally relate. The truth is, if you're on any diet that minimizes refined carbohydrates, your grab-and-go options become seriously diminished. Cut out all grains, as on the Paleo diet, and you're looking at even fewer options. But don't worry, there is hope.

One of my favorite low-carb, grain-free substitutes for bread or tortillas is nori seaweed, the kind used to make sushi. It can be found in nearly all grocery stores, usually near the soy sauce.

I fill it with all kinds of things, like cooked fish, leftover grilled chicken or beef, vegetables and avocado. It's especially good rolled around kimchee, beef and avocado. 

You might also consider roasting a whole chicken on Sunday night and taking pieces of it, along with a container of mixed greens to work for healthy, tasty low-carb salads throughout the week. The key here is just a little bit of planning and shopping at the beginning of the week. Get that done, and then you'll be set for a week of easy, healthy, good-tasting lunches. 

                                                      *** 

Dear BrokeAss,

Green smoothies cost like $10 at my local juice shop, so I tried making one at home and it was bitter and super chunky! Eating your smoothie is no fun, and eating a not-good-tasting one is even less cool. What gives? How can I make healthy green smoothies that taste good and are actually smooth?

- Helen in Brooklyn

Dear Helen,

I love green smoothies! Such a delicious way to get lots of healthy greens into your diet, especially if the rest of the day's eating has been less than stellar. But yeah, $10 is pretty steep for a beverage, especially considering you can make it at home for a lot less.

The key to combatting the bitter flavor is to balance out bitter greens like chard or kale with a little bit of sweet fruit. I like blueberries and banana (the latter of which helps yield a creamy smoothie texture as well).

And for a really smooth smoothie, you're going to need to let your blender work hard. I start by combining about 2 cups of roughly chopped kale or chard (leaving the stems on is fine) and 1 cup liquid (I like almond or coconut milks, but juice, water, soy or regular milk will work too) and let it blend for at least 30 seconds. 

Then I add my fruits one at a time, and blend thoroughly to ensure a super creamy consistency. I also taste as I go, and adjust the texture using more liquid as needed. You might also consider getting a cool to-go cup (I like this one, from Aladdin) since smoothies are so great for taking on the run.

                          

                                                       ***  

Dear BrokeAss,

My husband and I are mediocre cooks at best. This wouldn't be a big deal, except for the fact that our two children are extremely picky eaters, and we are losing our minds attempting to get them to eat any vegetables other than mashed potatoes. Any tips for convincing our 4 and 6 year-old kids that there is good food beyond boxed mac and cheese? Family dinners at our house are starting to get ugly.

- Jessica in Minneapolis 


Dear Jessica,

Ugh, how challenging. I'm sorry you're dealing with that! But alas, as you probably know, it's fairly typical for children to be picky and vegetable-averse. Most of them eventually grow out of it.

Meanwhile, it sounds like your problem needs 2 solutions for 2 separate but related issues: one for the immediate (how can you get vegetables into your kids' diet without a fight tonight?) and one for the future (how can you help your kids become people who elect to eat vegetables for the rest of their lives?). 

My first piece of advice is to look at foods they already eat that you might be able to sneak vegetables into. You mentioned they love mac and cheese, so perhaps your plan of attack for dinner tonight should be homemade mac and cheese made with whole wheat pasta and some unsweetened, pureed pumpkin added to the cheese sauce. They'll never know it's there, and pumpkin is a great source of Vitamins A, C and E, as well as fiber.

From there, try making pizza at home with lycopene-rich tomato sauce and veggie toppings.

My second piece of advice is to include them, as much as possible, in your family's food preparation process. Take them to the grocery store and let them pick out a few foods (including vegetables) for you to eat together. Include them in your menu-planning. Let them help you measure, stir and taste as you cook. Often, when they helped make the meal, even the most stubborn of children will willingly try a taste. It may be a slow-going process, but it's a worthwhile one. Good luck!    

Got tips to add? Share 'em in the comments!             

Creamy Sweet Potato Leek Soup

  • Prep Time 15 minutes
  • Cook Time 20 minutes
  • Estimated Cost $5.50
  • 1 Comment

You may recall that I am of the somewhat unpopular opinion that regular, starchy potatoes aren't all that great. It's not even a health thing; I just don't get what the fuss is all about. I mean, sure, if they're covered with cheese and other flavorful stuff I can get into them, but even then, it's in a, "hmm, this potato is a viable vehicle for these other things I'd like to put in my mouth right now," not in an, "OMG, please smother me with buttery potato starch immediately" kind of way. They just don't do very much for me. I'd rather have sweet potatoes any day.

So when I got a bushel of beautiful leeks in my CSA box this week, I knew I wanted to make a creamy leek soup, and I also knew that regular potatoes wouldn't be involved. Enter this bowl of farm-fresh magic.

There is very little to this soup, and yet, thanks to a few simple techniques, it tastes like much more than the sum of its parts.

And speaking of techniques, whenever you work with leeks, it's very important to clean them well. I do this by soaking them in a bowl of cool water for 10 minutes, and then rinsing them several times until they're completely free of grime. 

Next, they get melted down in a generous amount of butter until silky and soft, then cooked with sweet potatoes and water. I really could not be easier.

The resulting soup is ultra-creamy, but not heavy as with traditional potato-leek soup. Since I always have half-and-half on hand (for coffee, and every other time I need a creamy element in a dish), that's what I use here, but if you happen to have milk or heavy cream in your refrigerator, any of the above will work. I've even seen a similar soup prepared with soymilk.

I like to reinforce the oniony flavor of the leeks by garnishing each bowl with thinly sliced scallions or chives, but a shower of chopped fresh parsley or thyme would also be lovely.

As a sidenote, if you don't already own an immersion blender, I implore you to consider buying one. They're relatively cheap, and beyond making pureed soups a snap, they're also great for sauces, smoothies, hummus, mincing garlic, onions, ginger and fresh herbs, whipping cream, and so much more. If you have limited funds and limited space in which to cook, this is an investment you should absolutely make. 

Ingredients

  • 3 medium leeks $1.50
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter $1 for a stick
  • 3 cups peeled, diced garnet yams (don't by white-fleshed sweet potatoes) $1.50
  • salt and pepper to taste Pantry
  • 1/8 cup milk, half-and-half or heavy cream $1.50 for a pint

Recipe Serves 4

Directions

  1. Rinse the leeks and remove any dirty outer layers.
  2. Cut off the ends of the leeks as well as the dark, tough top leaves, and discard.
  3. Slice the leeks into 1/4" rings.
  4. Fill a mixing bowl with water. Add the sliced leeks, and soak for about 10 minutes. This will help loosen any remaining dirt or sand.                                                      
  5. Once the leeks have soaked, drain and rinse them several times until they are completely free of dirt.
  6. Heat the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat.
  7. Add the leeks and reduce heat to medium low.
  8. Stir the leeks to comletely coat them in the melted butter, then let cook, undisturbed for 15 minutes. Make sure they do not brown.
  9. To the pot, add the peeled, diced sweet potato and water to cover.                          
  10. Cover and turn the heat up to high to bring to a boil.
  11. Once the mixture boils, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 12-13 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are very soft. 
  12. Remove the soup from heat and use an immersion blender, regular blender or a food processor to puree until completely smooth.                                                       
  13. Add the milk, half-and-half or cream and stir to fully incorporate.                                   
  14. Return to the stove and simmer over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soup is very creamy.
  15. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  16. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sliced scallions, if desired.                                   
  17. Serve immediately.