Southwest Pumpkin Corn Chowder With Bacon

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Sundays happen to be when I do most of my cooking, and it’s also the day I clean out the fridge to trash the last remaining bits of old meals or anything that I’ve (unfortunately) forgotten to cook that has passed its time of being edible.

Today I found a can of pumpkin I’d opened to make pumpkin oatmeal, and an open can of creamed corn that we’d mistakenly bought. The solution? A hearty soup.

Ingredients

1 can creamed corn
2 cups canned pumpkin
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup Newman’s Own light lime vinaigrette
1 teaspoon Adobo seasoning (or to taste)
1 tablespoon chili powder (or to taste)
1/2 cup water (or more for a thinner soup)
3 slices cooked bacon (I went with pork bacon, but you could also use turkey, beef, or soy bacon)

Place the first 7 ingredients in a saucepan; stir. Heat through over medium heat until boiling. Crumble the bacon and mix it into the soup.

Cooking music: Soul Power, by Curtis Harding. I decided that I’m going to share some of the good music that keeps me in a cooking mood after I saw Rantings of an Amateur Chef ask his readers a while back what they liked to listen to. I always have something playing and, if you’re like me, it never hurts to have good new music to listen to. Harding is a versatile artist, and this recent release runs the gamut from soul to blues and a touch of garage/punk.

Leftover Veggies Pizza

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My refrigerator is often like a jungle of commestibles, plastic and tin cans, a dense, Amazonian jumble of meals, future meal ingredients, and condiments, where no light gets through.

Sadly, from time to time, I lose something in this food jungle. I hate wasting food, but like everyone else, it does happen from time to time. I’ve been trying a little harder lately to avoid being wasteful, and the recipe I have for today is one of the things I’ve done recently toward that.

I found myself with roasted tomatoes, from this sophisticated BLT idea (though I adapted it a bit to make it more flavorful; see below). I also had extra sauteed kale (again, see below). I took these leftovers, placed then on a garlic pita, topped then with an ounce of mixed Italian cheese, and had a sublime vegetarian pizza.

Roasted Tomatoes Recipe

Four medium-to-large, or 8 small tomatoes, sliced. (The original recipe called for Roma tomatoes, but the regular ones I had on hand did just fine. I’d cut the Romas into thirds, and regular tomatoes into quarter-inch slices.

1T olive oil

Salt, garlic powder, oregano, and red pepper flakes to taste

Put the sliced tomatoes in a bowl. Top with the oil and spices and mix thoroughly.

Place the tomato slices on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Place in an oven heated to 250; roast for 2 to 3 hours until desired doneness. (Mine weren’t super-dry like sun-dried tomatoes; I left in a smidge of liquid.)

Sauteed Kale Recipe

1/2 bag washed kale (next time, I’d remove the thick stems)

1/2 large onion

1 or 2 garlic cloves

1 T olive oil

1 c fat-free chicken broth

Heat the olive oil, and add the garlic and onions; cook until the onions are translucent. Add the kale in handfuls at a time. When some has wilted, add the chicken broth. Simmer until desired tenderness. (I left mine a bit crunchy still.)

Notes: if you wanted, you could add a couple slices of center-cut bacon or grilled or roasted turkey or chicken. Turkey ham our pork loin would also work.

Pantry Ponderings

I went to drop off food at a church’s pantry center this week for the first time, following a commitment I have made to donate on a regular basis. I entered the church to inquire about handing over my canned goods (vegetables, pasta sauce and chilli beans), pasta, and mashed potatoes, and it was truly a beehive of activity. Volunteers were manned at several tables, with each table standing in for a grocery store aisle, featuring similar kinds of items. At the entrance, several volunteers were on hand to get newcomers started and to inform them of other useful services. There was steady foot traffic in and out of the pantry the whole time.

After a couple of volunteers helped me empty my car of the items, I went to inquire about what kinds of nonperishable things the pantry needed, so I could be more helpful in the future. The most sought-out items were canned meats (chicken, ham and tuna), peanut butter, crackers, juice (100% juice was stressed, with disdain for plying kids with sugary beverages), spaghetti, and spaghetti sauce (canned or in plastic jars).

I am glad to have their recommendations, and I will definitely use them to shape what I bring the next time. It will also challenge me to think up other shelf-stable items I can buy in large quantities that help nutritionally more than harm.

It saddens me to think the number of people who need this kind of assistance seems to be on a steady increase during this volatile economic period, but it encourages me that the assistance is available, and that there is a preference for items that fill stomachs and are the best choices for meeting nutritional requirements. I know from stocking up for last year’s rare Midlantic-touching hurricane and from reading about the recent poverty awareness challenge that many nonperishables are not necessarily at the pinnacle of healthy eating, but I believe there are decent options, with a little detective work and an open mind.

I’ve been concerned lately about healthy food options for people of all socioeconomic levels, and I will keep thinking along these lines, to inform what I write about on this blog, and what I end up donating. Healthy food should not be exclusive to the tables of people of means.

Yogurt-Marinated Lamb Kebabs

I wanted to make a different recipe to share for my kebab commitment this week, but I guess it’s good that I ended up making this instead, because it demonstrates how fast good meals can come together.

It also demonstrates money-saving, as the meat is coming from a leg of lamb I bought on sale, cut into multiple meal parcels myself, and tucked away, into the freezer.

Recipe

  • 1 lb. lamb, diced into chunks (again, I cut mine from a bone-in leg of lamb, but you could also go with boneless.
  • 1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1-2 T Shan Seekh Kabab spice mix
  • 4 plum tomatoes
  • 1 large onion

It’s actually for ground meat, but it worked fine for my purposes!

Mix the meat, yogurt and spices together and let them marinate for several hours. (I marinated them in the morning and grilled at night.)

When you’re ready to grill, thread the marinated meat, tomatoes, and onion onto skewers (tomatoes whole, onion quartered), and grill over medium-high heat until the meat is cooked through.

Notes: I served this over whole wheat couscous, with a hunk of lemon on the side. I spritzed my

couscous with lemon recently, and found it to be quite tasty, so I said why not do it again? Topping with a bit of fresh chopped cilantro is another thought.

I bought the Shan spice mix at an Indian market, but if there isn’t one near you, you may find something similar in the international aisle of your grocery. Or, buy an Indian cooking sauce to mix with the yogurt–I’d say using equal parts yogurt and sauce.

Consider marinating other meats in yogurt, too. It’s a common choice in Indian cooking, but I think it could be useful with anything. For example, I’d try it as a stand-in for buttermilk in oven-fried or regular fried chicken.

Whole Foods Kale Salad Copycat: Take 1

When I go to Whole Foods, one of the things I always pick up is their marinated kale from the salad bar. My body is a big fan of leafy greens like spinach and collards, so this salad, with a nutty, tahini taste, black sesame seeds, and carrots and red peppers for color contrast, hits the spot. Kale has been getting its time in the spotlight recently, thanks to its super nutritional profile. This article from WebMD, which calls kale “the queen of greens,” says the vegetable is resplendent with calcium (15% of the daily requirement!), vitamins A, B6, C, and K, as well as magnesium, copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus.

With Whole Foods prices being what they are, I decided to experiment with making it myself. This is what I did on my first attempt (note that I completely forgot about the carrot and pepper!), with ideas to refine it for the future.

  • 16-oz bag of cut, prewashed kale (You could also buy a bundle of whole leaves; I just didn’t find it in my grocery store.)
  • 8-10 T hummus (Go with your favorite brand/flavor, but my suggestion? Roasted garlic.)
  • 1T olive oil
  • lt

  • Lemon juice to taste (I used half a large lemon.)

What I did was to rinse the leaves again for good measure, then mix u the other ingredients. (I ended up mixing with my [extra clean] hands, because raw kale leaves are no match for any kind of spoon.) But in the future, here’s what I’d recommend:

Don’t forget the carrot and red pepper like I did! Buy a bag of shredded carrot, or shred your own. Slice the red pepper into thin strips. It’s less of a priority for me to have the sesame seeds, but add them if you want (toasted?), to taste.

Do a little more prep of the kale leaves. Most important: remove the stems. Also, chop the leaves a little more. I wouldn’t want them to be super finely chopped, but I would recommend chopping them into more bite-sized pieces.

Mix the other ingredients together as a dressing. I’m guessing on my next go-round that it’ll be much easier to mix the kale and the tahini, oil and lemon if I have mixed them together first. I’d also add a little water to the mixture, to thin it out, as the Whole Foods original dressing has a slushy consistency.

After the fact, I noticed there are others out there who share my love of the Whole Foods kale salad. Here are some of their recommendations, shared on a Whole Foods message board for another kale recipe. I like the suggestion of pairing chili powder and mango with the kale.

Do you like raw kale? How do you prepare it? What are your tips for making the tough leaves tender and tasty?

The 10-lb. Ham Challenge: Two Days, Seven Recipes

Around Easter time, I learned that I qualified for a free ham from my grocery store. But I had no plans to cook it for the holiday, so off it went to my freezer.

Every market day since then, I found myself staring at the 10-lb. ham in my freezer when I went to store other items, marveling at how much space it was taking up. This past weekend, I vowed to do something about it. I brainstormed and made a list of recipes, gathered some necessary groceries, thawed and boiled the ham, and made these items. (Note: If you don’t happen to have a 10-lb. ham lying around, don’t eat ham, or want to make these dishes a little lighter, you could substitute in turkey ham instead.)

About 2lbs. of the ham have been accounted for at this point.

Split Pea Soup

I made the soup to the specifications of my recipe using turkey ham, just substituting in a pound of the ham and using the water from the ham in place of water or fat-free chicken stock. (Next time I think I’ll do half ham water, half regular water, or just the chicken stock, to lessen the fat content.)

Ham and Apple Salad

  • 2-3 oz. ham, diced
  • 1 oz. of a smoky and/or sharp cheese–I went with gouda
  • 1/2 Granny Smith apple, diced (Go with your preference for peeling. I kept the skin on.)

Add the ingredients on top of a bed of spinach (as I did) or lettuce. I ate it without dressing, but if I had it handy, I would’ve used low-fat honey mustard dressing. Thinly sliced red or white onion also would’ve been a nice addition.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

This one also uses the recipe I usually use for turkey ham. The only substitution this time was using the ham.

Ham and Pineapple Grilled Cheese Sandwich

This is similar to an earlier recipe I posted, with bacon and fat-free American cheese. This time, I’ve used the ham instead and given a foodie-worthy upgrade to the other fillings.

The before pic.

  • 2 oz. ham, thinly sliced
  • 1 light hamburger bun
  • 1 slice smoked cheddar
  • 2 thinly sliced pineapple rings
  • 1T I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Light

Preheat a nonstick pan to medium-high. Separate the bun halves. (You’re going to use the bun inside out, so the butter toasts the bread better.)

Add the slice of cheese. Top with a pineapple slice. Add the ham, then the other pineapple slice, and close the sandwich.

Spread 1/2T of the butter spread on one of the buns (again, on the white side, not the brown side). Add the sandwich to the pan, butted side down, pressing down on it a bit. Add the rest of the spread to the unbuttered bun half at this time. Flip the sandwich when the part that’s cooking is brown enough. Repeat with the other side.

The after pic.

Notes: The only thing I’d change with this would be to let the pineapple get to room temperature. Mine came from the fridge and it didn’t get warm, even though the cheese did melt.

Jerk Ham and Pineapple Hash

  • 1lb ham, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • Approximately 2c diced pineapple (fresh or canned in juice and drained)
  • 4-5T jerk marinade
  • 4-5T apricot preserves
  • 2T balsamic vinaigrette

Heat the onion in a pan (with or without oil) until it’s translucent. Add the ham; heat through.

Mix the marinade, preserves and vinegar together while the ham and onions are heating. Add the pineapple to the pan once the ham mixture is heated through. Pour the jerk mixture into the meat mixture; heat everything through.

Notes: I used the vinegar because I didn’t have a full bottle of jerk marinade. But if I did, I would’ve used two more tablespoons of the marinade and omitted the vinegar. (The vinegar didn’t dramatically alter the taste of the sauce, though.)

Serve the hash over brown or white rice or whole wheat or regular couscous, or as is, with a starch vegetable. Another interesting idea: Serve it as a burrito/wrap sandwich, with black beans and rice or arroz con grandules.

Creamy Spaghetti With Ham and Garlic Peas

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I was inspired to make this by a gigantic pasta cookbook I got as a wedding present. Pasta with ham, peas and a heavy cream sauce or a boatload of parmesan cheese seems to be a beloved Italian meal; this is my attempt at making something skinny and also quick to bring to the table. (Again, using turkey ham instead of pork would lighten things up a bit more.)

  • 1/2 lb. of ham
  • 1 package Birds Eye Steam Fresh Garlic Baby Peas & Mushrooms
  • 1/2 jar light Alfredo sauce (I went with Classico, but Ragu makes it, too.)
  • 1/2 package whole wheat spaghetti

Cook and drain the spaghetti. Heat the vegetables in the microwave according to package instructions, then heat the ham in the microwave in a microwave-safe container.

Mix the pasta, ham, vegetables and sauce together. Voila!

Note: I typically don’t cook with Alfredo sauce and I was a little afraid scorching it, so I didn’t heat it up. Feel free to heat it if you’d like. Also, in researching it a bit, many recipes I’ve seen use a chunky pasta, like shells or bowties, or fettuccine over thin spaghetti; you can always go with your favorite pasta shape.

Epilogue: After making these recipes over the course of two days, I set aside a pound of ham for miscellaneous use (including omelets and other salads), and I gave the remainder to my mother, along with some of these things I made. In the future, before freezing the ham, I think I’ll cut it into 1-lb. and 1/2-lb portions, using my food scale as my guide.

I doubt I’ll find myself in this predicament again, but at least I know there are simple ways for me to make a ham disappear!

Tightened Wallet, Tightened Belt: It Can Happen

There are a couple of things going on in the news right now that raise good questions about the costs of healthy eating. First, the organization Live Below the Line recently completed a challenge asking Americans to try out living on $1.50 of food each day for five days. The significance of the figure is that this is the American equivalent of the extreme poverty line. (In reality, 1.4 million people around the world live below this line, according to Live Below the Line, an initiative of the Gobal Poverty Project.) The challenge was intended to make people aware of the difficulty some people face in finding nourishing food on this income, and to raise money for various organizations that fight poverty and hunger.

Also in the news is research from PruHealth in the UK reporting that Britons are less likely to spend money on healthy food in the down economy. The report uses data acquired this year from 2,000 respondents; compared to a similar study undertaken in 2008, the number of people who say they find it challenging to eat five fruits or vegetables a day increased by 12 percent. 75 percent of people said they have changed their eating and shopping habits, and 85 percent attributed this behavioral shift to rising food prices and the recession.

It’s not a secret that the cost of living has been on the rise for quite some time, but the challenging of eating healthy on a tight budget may come as a surprise to some of us. Notice I said challenging, but not impossible.

It concerns me that people think healthy eating is the province of the wealthy. But the reality is that one doesn’t have to shop exclusively at Whole Foods or some similar upscale store to become or remain trim and fit. Eating healthy for less does require a shift in where we shop and possibly what kinds of foods we buy, however. And for some, it most certainly requires better access to affordable, healthy foods–as this article states, the 6,500 “food deserts” that exist across the country pose a big problem to making this a reality. If the best deals at the corner store are on processed, prepackaged foods, and quality produce is a long commute away, it’s clear why some people will not or cannot spend time or effort on identifying the places where the best, budget-friendly  food can be found. I applaud the organizations that try to address this problem, and I hope that they will continue to make it easier for abandoned populations to get convenient, affordable access to nourishing foods.

During the course of my weight loss journey, I have come to shop more at discount stores, often reserving my traditional grocery shopping for things that simply aren’t carried at discount stores, like turkey pepperoni or light hot dog and hamburger buns. (I’m happy to say that the list of things I can’t find at discount stores has gotten shorter over the years; for example, Aldi now offers Greek yogurt, reduced fat cheese, and good knockoffs of Kashi cereals.) I put together meals every day using these items. There are viable healthy alternatives to be found with an open mind and a little ingenuity, and in my opinion, there is no need to halt your weight loss momentum if your take-home pay comes under siege by rising gas prices, health insurance premiums, or increased costs for any other necessity.

In the near future, I hope to complete a book on this topic, to share some of the things I’ve learned during my weight loss journey that have helped me to be successful while still being frugal. But in the meantime, I’ll say that research is key–knowing what’s in your local market, knowing when there are sales on things you actually buy, knowing how to combine meals for nutrition in a way that does not waste your purchases.

Yes, sometimes I round out my discount purchases with things like salmon or sirloin. Yes, things will be more challenging for someone who lives at or below the poverty line. But I believe that healthy eating is (and should be) possible at any income level, something that is vital for longevity and attainable for all.

Are you a frugal “big loser,” or are you struggling to lose weight and stay within your budget? Share your story here.