Suburban Pioneers

The Adventures and Misadventures of Homesteading in 21st-Century America

Sarah: May Minestrone May 5, 2014

Why go out to Olive Garden when you can make minestrone just as delicious on your own stove?

Why go out to Olive Garden when you can make minestrone just as delicious on your own stove?

The Italians have been holding out on us, everyone.  I love minestrone soup, but I always imagined that each Italian family had a complex family recipe that took hours of simmering until it came to miraculous minestrone perfection.

This weekend, I had the epiphany that minestrone is really just the perfect excuse to use whatever leftover veggies happen to be in your house.  Family recipes notwithstanding, minestrone changes with the seasons according to what is ripe and ready.

Note: I made this in less than 45 minutes after a weekend away, while putting away groceries in the kitchen.  It’s not too difficult–the chopping is the only time-consuming part.

For a quick version at home, there are only about four essential ingredients.  The rest is a choose-your-own-adventure meal!  The other lovely thing about this is that you can make it dairy or gluten free by omitting the cheese on top or the pasta noodles.

Minestrone

Four essential ingredients (which you probably have already in your cupboard or fridge):

  • 1 large can (32 oz.) diced tomatoes
  • 4 c. broth (of any kind, really)
  • 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • salt & pepper to taste (I did 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper)

Ingredients I put in my soup tonight (because they needed to be used up or happened to be on sale at the store today):

  • 1/2 a purple onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 small red potatoes
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 yellow squash
  • 1 zucchini
  • a handful of penne pasta
  • a can of beans (I used a tricolor mix, but you can use white, pinto, kidney, whatever)
  • parmesan cheese
1.  Chop, chop, chop the veggies (we like them in small pieces in our house--otherwise, Keith calls it "lazy soup").

1. Chop, chop, chop the veggies (we like them in small pieces in our house–otherwise, Keith calls it “lazy soup”).

2. Sautee the onion until translucent, then add the garlic.  Add other veggies in order of cooking time--potatoes went first for me, then asparagus.

2. Sautee the onion in olive oil until translucent, then add the garlic. Add other veggies in order of cooking time–potatoes went first for me, then asparagus.

3. Next came squash.  After it had all sautéed a bit, I added the broth.

3. Next came squash. After it had all sautéed a bit, I added the broth.

4.  Then comes the can of tomatoes (with the tomato juice--why pour that down the drain when it adds to the soup?).

4. Then comes the can of tomatoes (with the tomato juice–why pour that down the drain when it adds to the soup?).  Stir in the spices now, too, so that it all boils together.

6.  During the last 10 minutes or so of cooking, add the beans and the pasta.  Serve when the pasta gets soft, and sprinkle with parmesan cheese…because cheese makes everything better.

6. After it all boils, let the veggies soften a bit, but if you’re adding pasta, don’t let them get too mushy.  During the last 10 minutes or so of cooking, add the beans and the pasta. Serve when the pasta gets soft, and sprinkle with parmesan cheese…because cheese makes everything better.

 

Sarah: Week 2 of Eat-In May

Filed under: Eat-In May,Food & Cooking — suburbanpioneers @ 3:36 am
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Week 2: Eat-In May

Week 2: Eat-In May

We aim for a pattern in meal planning: big meal extravaganza on Sunday evening when we’re both home to wrangle our child while chopping veggies and washing dishes.  Usually I make Sunday evening dinner and Keith puts together a crockpot o’ something to cook all day Monday.  Voila!  Two hot meals with leftovers for lunches for the next few days.

Then we plan a quick-and-easy meal for Tuesday.  Wednesday is my day off (I work four tens), so I usually plan something a little more involved (again with leftovers for the next day or two of lunches).  Then on Thursdays, we often have smoothies (use up all that leftover fruit, yogurt, etc.).  It doesn’t sound very hearty, but kids LOVE that dinner and then you can pair it with cheese toast or crackers and cheese for quick additional oomph.

And then…sometimes nothing goes according to plan (such as tonight when we both forgot to make the crockpot).  No worries.  You just switch around as needed.  No need to stress.  As long as you have all your ingredients, it’s no big deal to move things around.

 

 

Lauren: Veggie Frittata: Dinner in 30 minutes or less May 3, 2014

Frittatas have become a weekly staple in our house. Why? Because they’re quick and easy. And they’re a good way to use up eggs and random veggies lingering in the fridge. Our four chickens lay just about 4 eggs a day, 7 days a week. Math isn’t really my thing (English major here!), but I know that comes out to over 2 dozen a week, give or take about, um, 4. . . .  2 dozen eggs a week means at least one frittata for dinner. End of story.

DSCN2222

Ingredients:

1/2 onion, diced

2 tbsp. oil

8 eggs

1/2 c. milk

1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped or 1 tsp dried basil

1 tbsp parmasan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

1 red pepper, diced

1/2 c. frozen corn

1 cup chopped spinach

2 tbsp. butter

1/2- 1 c. of cheese

Note: You can add whatever veggies or leftovers you have to your frittata. I just happened to have pepper, corn, and spinach. Potatoes are particular good. I would consider the basil, butter, and cheese essential though. And the eggs, of course!

 

Directions:

1. Set oven to the broil setting. Heat oil in a large skillet. When warm, add the diced onion. Cook until onion becomes soft and transparent.

 

DSCN2220

 

2. While the onion is cooking, crack the eggs in a bowl and add milk.

DSCN2226

Play the game of what shape is the milk. I see a mouse. What do you see?

 

3. Add basil, parmesan, salt ,and pepper to eggs. Stir to combine. (Don’t skip the basil. I think it adds so much flavor to the eggs!)\

 

4. Add red pepper to the onions. Cook for a few minutes. Add corn. Cook for a couple minutes. Then add the spinach. Cook just until the spinach wilts.

DSCN2229

Ooo colors!

 

5. Once the spinach wilts, add the 2 tbsp of butter. Butter makes eggs taste even better and helps to keep them from sticking to the pan.

 

6. Add egg mixture to skillet. Cook it like an omelet, pushing the edges in and tilting the pan so egg liquid runs onto the pan. Cook until the edges are set. Don’t worry about the top too much; it will finish up in the oven.

 

7. Put the whole skillet in the oven for a couple minutes until the top is cooked. Watch it so it doesn’t burn.

 

8. Once the top is no longer runny, add the cheese. Put the frittata back in the oven until the cheese is slightly browned and a little bubbly.

 

DSCN2231

 

9. After removing the frittata from the oven, slice it into eights. I also recommend leaving a pot holder on the skillet handle so your husband doesn’t accidentally grab the handle and burn himself.

 

10. Enjoy!

DSCN2232

 

Sarah: Guac with Flair (3 Versions)

Filed under: Eat-In May,Food & Cooking — suburbanpioneers @ 3:40 am
Tags: , , , , ,
Make any night suddenly gourmet!

Are y’all hungry yet?

 

I love avocados.  I could eat avocados by themselves with just a little salt and pepper.  But I really, really, really love guacamole.  I’m not talking about the green glop that they serve at Qdoba or Chipotle that’s mostly sour cream and flavoring.  I mean guacamole that retains its avocado-ness.

But sometimes I like to mix things up (I’m like that–I get bored easily), especially if I make it two or three weeks in a row.  So below are my regular guac recipes plus a fun variation that is inspired by the “Exotic Guac” at our local Oaxacan Mexican food place (yes, of previous Suburban Pioneering fame–read about it here).

I wouldn’t call the following “recipes” exactly.  As Captain Barbosa says in Pirates of the Caribbean, “They’re more like guidelines.”  You can make this in less than 8 minutes.  Start by mashing the avocado with the half and half, then mix in the spices until you like the base flavor.  Finally, add the chopped items, tasting as you go (oh, yes, tasting as you go is VERY important).

 

Guac with Flare

  • 2 avocados
  • splash of half & half or milk (not enough to hide the avocado taste, just enough to help you mash–you could sub soy milk or almond milk for dairy-free)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • garlic powder to taste
  • green or purple onion chopped small (not too many–experiment to find the right onion : avocado ratio)
  • mango or strawberry (yes, really) to taste
  • goat cheese (to taste)

Sounds weird, I know.  But it is actually really, really good and a great way to get in some extra healthy fruits (particularly when the tomatoes I usually use in guacamole aren’t in season).  Even better?  Little Bear LOVES it, and avocados are full of good fats that she needs for brain development.  Also, because this recipe doesn’t have a load of sour cream drowning the avocado, there’s fewer unnecessary calories and less saturated fat, which is the problem with most fast-food-type guac.

And in case anyone’s wondering about my regular guac recipe, here’s the list for the regular version:

The Genuine Guac Article

  • 2 avocados
  • splash of half & half or milk
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • green or regular onion chopped small
  • jalapeño, chopped small
  • cilantro, chopped
  • tomato chopped
  • squeeze of lime

And, yes, there’s a very, very fast version for weeknights when Keith and I are really tired:

Speedy Guac

  • 2 avocados
  • splash of half & half or milk
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • garlic powder to taste
  • hot pepper flakes or spoonful of salsa

This post brought to you by: Eat-In May–let’s think of fast, no stress ways to eat healthier and at home!

Leave that restaurant table empty!  You've got a date with some fruits and veggies.

Leave that restaurant table empty! You’ve got a date with some fruits and veggies.

 

Sarah: Eat-In May Preparation May 1, 2014

Filed under: Eat-In May — suburbanpioneers @ 3:33 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Leave that restaurant table empty!  You've got a date with some fruits and veggies.

Leave that restaurant table empty! You’ve got a date with some fruits and veggies.

I feel the need to establish a little credibility, first.  I’m not one of those win-the-lottery type individuals paid for blogging and cooking.  I work forty hours a week and have a kid and a house to keep up with, so I wouldn’t say I have an abundance of spare time.  I’m also a fairly lazy person and much prefer reading to doing things around the house.

So…now that you know that, you can believe me when I say that, if I can do 7 home-cooked meals a week, you definitely can, too.  It really takes no special skills, just a little planning (which, by the way, I hate, but I’ve found to be necessary…I’ve mentioned that Keith’s in grad school, right?  A tight budget is a reality, so I’ve learned to be a planner).

The beauty is that once I do the planning and shopping, I’m done.  No special, last-minute trips to the store to get that one thing I don’t have to make the meal I just decided to make.  No standing in front of the refrigerator wondering what to make with the hamburger buns and two eggs inside (not that that’s ever happened to me).  I hate the planning process, but it’s kind of a pay-it-forward deal for a week with low stress.  So…on to the plan for the rest of the week.

And no, there’s nothing gourmet on here.  I aim for fast but healthy on weeknights, and I always make enough for leftover lunches the next day.  Here’s the menu, and if you scroll down, there are pictures of tonight’s meal (since it becomes tomorrow’s lunch):

MealPlan Week1

Tonight’s meal: Vegetarian Korma with Rice (we aren’t really vegetarians, but we try to only eat meat about once a week…for health, financial, and environmental reasons).

 

Ingredients:  rice 2 Tbsp olive oil 1/2-1 onion 2 sweet potatoes, peeled 1 jar Korma or Tikka Masala sauce 1/3 package of frozen peas or peas & carrot mix spinach a dash of extra yellow curry powder pepper to taste

Ingredients:
1 c. Jasmine rice in 1 & 1/2 c. water
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2-1 onion
2 sweet potatoes, peeled
1 jar Korma or Tikka Masala sauce
1/3 package of frozen peas or peas & carrot mix
spinach
a dash of extra yellow curry powder
pepper to taste

To prepare:

2. Add chopped sweet potatoes and sautee for a few more minutes

2. Add chopped sweet potatoes and sautee for a few more minutes

1. Sautee onions in olive oil until translucent.

1. Sautee onions in olive oil until translucent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Add jar of korma or tikka masala + a half jar of water for a little extra moisture (I like the Seeds of Change brand because it's as good as anything I can make at home, much faster to prepare than from scratch, and has no high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated yuckiness in it).

3. Add jar of korma or tikka masala + a half jar of water for a little extra moisture (I like the Seeds of Change brand because it’s as good as anything I can make at home, much faster to prepare than from scratch, and has no high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated yuckiness in it).

4. While the sauce and veggies simmer, start a pot of rice (Jasmine rice cooks fast, so you don't want to do this too early).  For extra nutrients, use brown rice, but I'd start it before you start any veggies because it takes longer to cook.  Combine the rice and water in a pan, bring to a boil, and then turn down to simmer.  Let set ~15 min. for Jasmine rice, more like a half hour or 45 min. for brown.

4. While the sauce and veggies simmer, start a pot of rice (Jasmine rice cooks fast, so you don’t want to do this too early). For extra nutrients, use brown rice, but I’d start it before you start any veggies because it takes longer to cook. Combine the rice and water in a pan, bring to a boil, and then turn down to simmer. Let set ~15 min. for Jasmine rice, more like a half hour or 45 min. for brown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Add in as many frozen peas and carrots as you like.  I used about 1/3 a package.

5. Add in as many frozen peas and carrots as you like. I used about 1/3 a package.  Allow all to simmer until sweet potatoes are soft and peas are warm.

6.  Tear up and add in fresh spinach (I always keep a bag of spinach on hand--makes any dish healthier!)

6. Tear up and add in fresh spinach (I always keep a bag of spinach on hand–makes any dish healthier!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7.  Cover the pan, let the spinach wilt just a little, and then serve over rice.

 

Total time:

30-45 minutes (depending on how fast you chop–I’m notoriously slow at it).

Total cost: $1.79 per meal!
$7.15 total divided by 4 meals–two adult dinners + 2 lunches…and a toddler-sized dinner, too)

1/2 onion: 50 cents
2 sweet potatoes: 66 cents
1 jar Korma: $3.99
1/2 bag rice: $1.50
1/3 bag peas & carrots: 33 cents
1/12 bag spinach: 17 cents

 

Sarah: Eat-In May! April 29, 2014

Filed under: Eat-In May,Food & Cooking — suburbanpioneers @ 4:07 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Leave that restaurant table empty!  You've got a date with some fruits and veggies.

Leave that restaurant table empty! You’ve got a date with some fruits and veggies.

I just wanted to add my voice? pen? computer? to Lauren’s to ask you to join us for Eat-In May!  She shared some pretty crazy statistics about how much Americans eat out.

I’ll add my two-cents in.  When we started thinking about this project, I remembered reading somewhere–maybe in Fast Food Nation–that Americans consume one-third of their calories away from home.  I looked it up, and found research from the USDA that confirms this:

 

* In 2005-2008 Americans consumed 32% of their calories away from home.   (USDA Economic Research Service) I wonder how that compares to the past 3 years?

* Furthermore, the USDA determined that food away from home was higher in saturated fat and sodium but lower in dietary fiber.  This seems like it should be obvious.  But still, in case you needed the reminder, there it is.

* It seems that 30% of American calories come from desserts, sugary drinks, alcohol, and salty snacks, with the top five food items that contribute calories to our diets being: soft drinks, pastries/desserts, hamburgers, pizza, and potato chips (UC Berkley News).  Notice these are all items we more frequently eat away from home.

* And my favorite quote from Berkley Professor of Health and Nutrition, Gladys Block: “…such healthy foods as vegetables and fruit make up only 10 percent of the caloric intake in the U.S. diet. A large proportion of Americans are undernourished in terms of vitamins and minerals. You can actually be obese and still be undernourished with regard to important nutrients. We shouldn’t be telling people to eat less, we should be telling people to eat differently.” (UC Berkley News)

 

Hear, hear, Gladys!  I’m all about not eating less…but yes, I’ll admit that I need to “eat differently.”  And to kickstart ourselves to eat differently, we’re launching Eat-In May.  Join us!

 

Don’t worry.  I’m creating my own two exceptions (because the point is to change habit and lifestyle, not to make things impossible).  Maybe you have one or two exceptions, too, but the point is to nix the casual coffee stop and the “I-don’t-know-what-to-make-so-we’ll just-pick-up-pizza” moments.  My exceptions:

  1. family birthdays/anniversaries–because I like my in-laws and would like to stay on good terms with them.
  2. travel–we rarely go away for the weekend, but there was this killer Groupon deal…well, you know how it goes.  While I’ll reduce our eating out by packing food for some meals, it’s a bit stressful to go away for a weekend without eating out once (and the stress of packing all meals might mitigate the relaxation of a weekend away…which would be a waste of a perfectly good Groupon).

 

So there.  Exceptions notwithstanding, WHO’S WITH US????

 

Lauren: Eat-In May April 27, 2014

Filed under: Eat-In May — lkcook20 @ 6:18 pm
Tags: , ,

Outdoor Cafe

Did you know? 

Americans spend about $1,000/year eating out for lunch. (forbes.com)

8 out of 10 Americans eat out at least once a month (gallup.com)

44% of Americans eat out at least once a week (statisticbrain.com)

2 out of 5 people say eating out at restaurants is an essential part of their lifestyle (restaurant.org)

There are 990,000 restaurants in the United States (restaurant.org)

When eating out, people tend to eat more unhealthy foods (csrees.usda.gov)

Cheese fries as an appetizer from Outback have 3,000 calories and 90 grams of saturated fat, the maximum amount a person should consume in four days. (abcnews.com)

 

I don’t know about you, but I found these numbers a little surprising and disgusting (I’m talking to you, Outback fries).

 

Why eat in? 

1. Save money! Eating out just costs more than cooking at home. Plain and simple.

2. If you cook the food, you know what’s in it. We try hard to avoid trans fats, hydrogenated junk, and high-fructose corn-syrup at home, but all bets are off when ordering out.

3. There’s less temptation for eating high-fat foods. I don’t know about you, but when I go out, I don’t want to spend $12 on a salad. I want something extremely delicious that I probably wouldn’t make at home. Translation: Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake.

4. You can spend more time together as a family. Everyone is able to be involved in the shopping/cooking/cleaning and has a chance to talk about their day, theoretically, at least. With a preschooler and toddler, I might get to say one or two things before a fork gets flung across the table. . .

So, for the month of May we’re eating in. It’s going to take some more planning and cooking, but I think it’ll be worth it.

Who wants to join us for Eat-In May?

 

Lauren: Vertical Gardening: A Pea Trellis April 24, 2014

Filed under: Gardens & Compost — lkcook20 @ 5:43 pm
Tags: ,

I’m really excited about our new pea trellis!

peatrellis

 

It’s great because we used the tiny space next to our driveway, we’re sheltering the house from the hot summer sun (maybe we’ll plant peas all the way around our house and lower our air conditioning bill!), and we didn’t use up any of our precious backyard garden space.

 

peatrellis2

 

Dave took some scrap wood and nailed it together to form a raised bed. Then he nailed three other pieces together for the sides and top of the trellis. We wrapped wire around the top bar and through poultry staples nailed in the bottom piece of wood, so the peas will have something to climb. I was the master painter.

The seed looked like a dried, shriveled-up pea when I planted it. And now it looks like this:

happypeaplantHappy pea plant.

 

 

T2T: Garbage Disposal Cleaner

I’ve used three lemons in the past week–one for a pasta sauce, one for salad dressing, one on salmon.  Usually I compost the lemon peels, but my garbage disposal was starting to smell, which gives the dishwasher a weird, musty smell as well.  So…the latest T2T (Trash 2 Treasure) is an easy, biodegradable garbage disposal cleaner: tear the lemon peel into a few chunks, cram it down the disposal, run for 30 seconds or so with some cold water flowing, and voila!  Instant freshness (and no worry about contaminating a water source with bleach).

I have tried to drop half a lemon peel in the disposal before, but my disposal didn't like it.  It seems much happier with a few bite-sized pieces.

I have tried to drop half a lemon peel in the disposal before, but my disposal didn’t like it. It seems much happier with a few bite-sized pieces.

I have heard that you can sharpen your garbage disposal blades by putting ice down the disposal, but we honestly don’t use our disposal for much food anyway since we compost–it’s really just the little bits and pieces that get washed down off the plates.

 

Lauren: Dumpster Diving (Again) April 14, 2014

We were dropping off some trash when I saw it–an enormous rosemary bush. We’re talking huge. I had to have it!

I admit that there is already a rosemary plant in my yard, but you can’t call it a bush because it only has a couple sprigs on it. This perfectly good plant in the dumpster would save me years of growing! Somebody’s trash was my treasure.

We were on our way to a party, so we had to come back and get it. And I made sure that we did.

I don’t have any action shots because it took both of us–one to hold it and the other to get showered with dirt, I mean, cut through the humongous root ball.

rosemary

 

You would think he would look a little more thrilled, wouldn’t you?

 

Here is our new plant in the trunk:

 

 

And here’s the rest of it we left in the dumpster:

 

photo (1)

 

I saw some other good stuff in there, too: a metal shelf, a ladder. . . but Dave said we didn’t need any of that, even if it was free. I tried to get him to go to some other dumpsters for our date night, but he wasn’t having it. I think he just didn’t want any more little scrapes on his hands and arms.

And we planted it. I hope it survives.

DSCN2201

How awesome is that?

I think I’m addicted. I wonder what other treasures the dumpsters are holding for me.

 

 
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