Sunday, March 29, 2009

Chicken, Black Bean, Corn, and Tomato Salad




Oh my goodness, this is one tasty salad. It's delicious. This is good enough to serve to my mother. And it's pretty!

I made this salad last night with the following changes: 1) Yellow onion instead of scallions, 2) 10 oz of canned, cooked chicken instead of poaching 12 oz of fresh chicken breast, 3) Added a cup of thawed frozen peas, 4) 1/2-1 tsp of dried tarragon (I just eyeballed it), and 5) 1/2-1 tsp of dried basil, again I eyeballed it. 6) maybe 1/4 tsp of ground red pepper, to help brighten the taste, and 7) Ground coriander instead of fresh parsley. I happened to have these spices on hand and I thought I would toss them in. I think they made a huge difference in the success of this salad.

Using the pre-cooked, chopped chicken speeds this meal up considerably. I don't make roast chicken so I don't ever have left-over cooked chicken lying around. The next time I make this salad, probably for a pot-luck, I will probably turn to the canned chicken once more. If I make it for myself, I will go through the trouble of cooking up fresh chicken breasts.

As mentioned in my last post, I rinsed both the chicken and black beans as planned. I think it did get rid of much of the sodium, as I had to add a bit of salt at the end, again to help bring out the flavors.

It's a bright salad that's perfect for spring and summer. It actually looks more like a salsa than a salad, since there's no lettuce. There's enough protein and carbs in there to make it a meal. I had the suggested serving size for dinner tonight and I found it to be quite filling. Since I made so many changes to it, I feel like I should post my version here. Enjoy!

Kim's Chicken, Bean, Corn, and Tomato Salad

Serves 4

10-12oz of cooked, chopped chicken.
15oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 large tomato, chopped
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2-1 tsp of dried tarragon
1/2-1 tsp of ground coriander
Ground red pepper, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp sherry vinegar or cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 yellow onion, chopped. About 1/4-1/3 cup.

Directions: Mix everything together in a non-reactive medium sized bowl, cover, and refrigerate 1 hour to allow flavors to blend.

Nutrition Facts (From the SparkRecipes.com Recipe Calculator)

Amount Per Serving
Calories 288.7
Total Fat 5.6 g
Saturated Fat 0.9 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.9 g
Monounsaturated Fat 2.9 g
Cholesterol 49.3 mg
Sodium 486.7 mg
Potassium 553.4 mg
Total Carbohydrate 34.6 g
Dietary Fiber 9.2 g
Sugars 4.7 g
Protein 29.0 g

Friday, March 27, 2009

$18.75 for a week's worth of groceries

I had a good test of my grocery budgeting skills this week. As I mentioned in my last post, I'm using Dave Ramsey's cash-only system to pay for weekly stuff like groceries, gas, etc. After paying various bills from my paycheck last week, I was able to set aside $40 last week to pay for groceries until my next paycheck (next Friday, thank goodness). I had $18.75 left to purchase next week's groceries. I took a big gulp. I wasn't sure if I could make it work. Looking through this week's Food Lion circular, there was not a whole lot of good sales either. My heart was thumping...I was pretty nervous about this! I thought that maybe I should make an exception; after all, I was still trying to recover from a financial set back. But I steeled myself, thinking that if I don't learn to do this NOW, then I will always have financial problems. With that thought in mind, I set out to accomplish my goal.

I looked through all of my cookbooks, searched all of my recipes on my email, and looked on both Allrecipes.com and EatingWell.com. NAYY. By the way, EatingWell.com adds a nice variety to my resources for healthy, good eats but their recipes required ingredients that are generally slightly more expensive (sometimes a lot more expensive). Even the "cheap meals" aren't cheap enough. I actually chose one of their meals, one of their vinagrette chicken salads, for dinner next week, but I had to cut corners. The ingredient list called for 12oz of chicken, but the smallest chicken I could buy was $5.71. With tax and all of the other things I had to buy, I went over budget buy 2 cents. I didn't have 2 cents to spare in the grocery budget. I had to choose 10oz canned, cooked chicken instead. It was $2.19. The sodium content isn't too bad...about 24% of RDA...okay, that is pretty high! But I'm hoping that if I rinse the meat very well before adding it to the salad, that would reduce the sodium by a quarter. I won't actually know for sure but rinsing canned beans reduces their sodium content so it should work for canned chicken, right?

Back to the the chicken salad. I decided that if I need an extender for the salad, I could add a small can of tuna or serve the dish over rice. Depends on how the whole salad tastes, I don't want another food fiasco like I did last week! Then I'll really have to break from the cash-only rules just to feed myself. The remaining ingredients for the salad was a large tomato, $1.18, no problem there, and a can of black beans. Even easier at $0.59 for the store brand. Brilliant, dinner was covered.

Planning for breakfast took a lot of forethought and searching. Again, I needed something hearty, healthy and something I would eat. As it turns out, I'm a bit picky about my breakfast foods. I don't like yogurt. Or hot oatmeal...and I had just eaten a week's worth of Honey Peanut Granola. BTW, it contined to be awesome with the vanilla soymilk but I'm tired of the granola now. Regular cereal isn't filling enough. Likewise for fruit. All of the eggy breakfasts were too expensive or weren't healthy enough. This was getting tough. I went to good ol' Allrecipes.com, my trusty online, and thankfully, free recipe resource.

I'm going to go into a side-bar for a moment here and talk about the search engine at Allrecipesc.om. They have fantastic recipe collections that you can "prioritize" by rating, relevance, etc. I generally sort by rating, because I don't want to cook up a dud. I found a recipe that I wanted, one of the banana breads, but I neglected to bookmark it. So I went back the next day to look for it; I couldn't quite remember the exact name so I just searched for "breakfasts," after all, that's how I found it the first time. The search engine returned a huge amount of breakfasts, but after looking though 5 or 6 pages, I still hadn't found the one I wanted. I was confused, because wasn't this how I found it the last time? No, it wasn't! I had clicked their actual "breakfast recipe collection" the day before. I re-traced my steps and found what I was looking for. So lesson learned, their search engine won't give you the exact same result list as their actual recipe collections.

The thing I loved about this particular banana bread recipe, was that I only had to buy banana and a small container of sour cream. I omitted the nuts because I don't like nuts in my banana bread, or muffins... or cookies, for that matter. And besides, most nuts are too expensive anyway. Two bananas were $0.44. Awesome. And the 8oz container of sour cream was on sale for $0.99 cents. Store brand. Awesome again. Add potatoes (for the lunch stew) for $4.49, 5lb bag on sale. And add half-gallon of vanilla soymilk at $2.99. My grand total was (drumroll please)....$13.32, including sales tax. I could have danced a little jig at the check out. And I could have bought another tin of chicken breast, but I figured I could use something else to help extend that salad if need be. Or I can just go back for another can. It felt so good to stay within my budget.

I have about $4 and change to go towards the grocery budgeting cycle. I decided to put those leftovers into my emergency fund. Hey, every little bit counts!

Until next time!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Honey Peanut Granola and Returning After A Long Absence

Hello Internet:
I haven't posted in several months because I had a wonky, glacially slow internet connection that simply could not support posting to the blog. For instance, I could not post. At all. The connection would time out after, oh, 5 minutes. And again and again. I finally gave up until I could afford a faster internet connection. Ah...Road Runner, how I love thee. It also meant that I had to give up cable. Priorities.

I moved during my absence and I fell off of the wagon. It's hard to stick to a $25 weekly budget when you have to clean out the fridge. But now I am all settled into my new abode and I am back on the wagon. In a big way...I have decided to follow David Ramsey's money management system. For those who are unfamiliar with the system, you essentially use cash only to pay for weekly or minor expenditures, such as groceries and gas. I decided to use his "Financial Peace Planner." NAYY. I picked that one over the more popular "Total Money Makeover" as I thought it got to the nuts and bolts of his system much quicker and I liked the worksheets that he had in "FPP" much better. I am not in serious financial trouble but I do want to get rid of debt and build a nest egg. So my grocery shopping method has changed. I still troll the weekly Food Lion ads for the best deals but (right) now....no more stocking up. Once I hit the $25 limit, no more groceries for the week. Right now it does not feel too restrictive as I happen to have a very well stocked pantry. But I can see how it can be tougher when I start running out of my frozen meat/poultry stash.

The $25/weekly budget was tough this week for a slightly different reason. I tweaked "Lemony Asparagus Pasta" a little too much and it came out definitely poorer on the other end. It was edible but I had to make myself finish the bowl. Ugh. The original yield of the recipe was for two...and I doubled it to make four servings. I knew I was not going to finish the rest of the pasta so I just threw the other 3 servings away. I felt bad about wasting the food...only because I had to figure out how to feed myself lunch the next 5-6 days without buying more food. Luckily, I had some frozen lentil-beef soup. Thank goodness for leftovers!

Looking back over the pasta recipe, I don't think that the original would be bad (in fact, it's prolly yummy). The substitutions that I made were not good decisions. The killer was probably the canned asparagus. I hear you all groaning. I admit that I had my reservations about the canned vegetables but I had two cans that needed using up. My excuse for even owning canned vegetables? I bought them as emergency food in case a major hurricane hits or some other natural disaster occurs. Isn't there a Boy Scout motto about being prepared? In this case, being prepared brought disaster to the meal. As I already knew but was unwilling to admit, the asparagus practically disintegrated under the weight of the pasta. Asparagus-mush does not look appetizing. Nor does it taste particularly good. I actually liked canned asparagus when I was a kid...clearly my taste has improved!

The next bad idea was using somen noodles instead of the whole wheat rotini. Yes, it was in the pantry. No, I do not regularly eat somen and the flavor was different enough from regular pasta that I was turned off. I used feta instead of parmesan...which was not a bad substitution but I only had about 1/4 cup, if that. Simply not enough cheese. The last substitution was using vanilla flavored soymilk. I am lactose intolerant. I can actually tolerate a cooked sauce that uses milk but I wasn't going to buy a pint of whole milk just for this recipe. The soymilk was undetectable in the sauce, so it was probably the only substitution that worked.

As I was making myself finish up the bowl of pasta, I re-learned a lesson today...most canned vegetables are really best used for starvation rations. They are nutritionally inferior to frozen and fresh foods anyway. Will I try the recipe again in the future? Perhaps. Asparagus is normally so expensive that I tend not to purchase it. And with my $25 weekly budget...I don't think I'll be buying any in the foreseeable future.

My substitutions worked much better in my next recipe. This was actually a better-than-expected outcome. I made home-made granola for the first time, "Honey Peanut Granola." I actually do not eat granola in any form altogether that often. It's usually too fattening. And the granola cereals are pretty expensive. I picked this recipe out from Allrecipes.com as I had most of the ingredients already. I only had to buy the peanuts and buy a new bottle of oil (I forgot the nearly full bottle of oil at the old homestead! #$%@!). And the recipe's picture looked enticing. The granola was low enough in fat and sodium to fulfill my personal goals for "low fat, low sodium." It did have a lot of calories per serving, at least 400, but I consider that a plus for any breakfast. I go for 5-6 hours between breakfast and lunch and I rarely have time for snacks, so I try to eat a hearty breakfast. Otherwise I am starving by 1000 AM and I am ready to gnaw on my desk by the time noon comes around.

This granola was so super easy and fun to make! Mix together the dry ingredients. Mix together the "wet" ingredients in a separate bowl. Then coat the dry in the wet ingredients. Spread in a greased baking sheet and pop into a 250 degree oven. Stir it up every 15 minutes and an hour later, I had a pan full of yummy granola cereal. It's delicious with the vanilla soymilk. Changes I made: 1) I had 2 cups of regular rolled oats, so I used that. To make up some of the volume, I added another 3/4 cup of peanuts and 1/4 cup of wheat germ. 2) I added about 1 cup of raisins to the cereal...you guessed it, I needed to use up some "leftovers." Changes I will probably make in the future: 1) using applesauce instead of oil, to reduce the fat content even further and 2) possibly not greasing the pan. I think if I use applesauce in the granola, I will probably grease the pan. I really do not want stuck on granola in my jelly roll pan! Final conclusion for Honey Peanut Granola...It's got a pleasing crunch once it is completely cooled. I will definitely make this one again, possibly doubling the recipe and freezing the extras for future use.

That's the update for this week. See you in 7 days. Thanks for reading!