Orzo w/ Zucchini & Feta

October 1st, 2009

Another recipe discovered while watching the Food Network on a Saturday morning, this one from 5 Ingredient Fix with Claire Robinson. The premise of the show is that each recipe is quick and easy, with five ingredients (plus salt and pepper). I upgraded by adding onion and garlic, then served this tasty side dish with some chicken.


Orzo w/ Zucchini & Feta
adapted from the Food Network

1 cup dried orzo
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 medium to large zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspon of salt and dried orzo. Cook 8 minutes, orzo will be slightly undercooked, and reserve 1 cup pasta water. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in large skillet. Saute onion and garlic 3-5 minutes until soft. Add zucchini and saute 3-5 minutes until slightly soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add cooked orzo and reserved pasta water. Bring to a boil, tossing to mix. Add half of the feta and stir until melted into a sauce. Stir in most of the mint, reserving some for garnish.

Season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Remove from heat and top with remaining feta and mint.


Pepper-Cheddar Corn Bread Muffins

September 29th, 2009

While being lazy one Saturday morning, I flipped to the Food Network and caught an episode of “Down Home with the Neelys” and they were making these delicious looking spicy corn bread muffins. I looked up the recipe and made a few tweaks (like I usually do) to make this variety, perfect for Southwest-style brunch or Mexican dinner.


The original recipe called for poblano and fresno peppers, which can be hot. I used a mixture of mild green bell pepper with yellow and red sweet bell peppers. There are a few ways you can control the heat in this recipe:

  1. Use mild or sweet bell peppers and add cayenne pepper to taste
  2. Use medium to hot peppers of your choice and omit cayenne pepper
  3. Use mild or sweet peppers and omit cayenne pepper, then select salsa or picante of an appropriate heat level to suit your tastes

Pepper-Cheddar Corn Bread Muffins
adapted from the Food Network

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup diced peppers (of your choice)
Salt, to taste
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 cayenne pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
3 eggs
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400F and coat a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.

In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add onion and garlic, salt to taste, and saute 3-5 minutes until softened. Add peppers and saute an additional 2-3 minutes. Add paprika and cayenne pepper and saute an additional minute until fragrant. Remove from heat and add remaining butter to pan. Set aside and allow butter to melt.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk and eggs. Create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk mixture. Using a large wooden spoon, fold in buttermilk mixture until all the dry ingredients are moistened (do not overmix). Fold in shredded cheese and pepper mixture. Batter will be very thick.

Using a 1/2 cup measure, evenly scoop batter into prepared muffin tin. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before serving.  Spoon salsa or picante sauce on top of muffins if desired.

Makes 12 muffins.


Spiced Lentil Tacos

March 11th, 2009

Tacos, oddly enough, are one of my favorite foods. I could make tacos back when I didn’t even know how cook, and it still felt like a real meal. Tacos are actually the first thing I ever made for James. Since then, my taco recipe has evolved into a delicious dish that I still make on regular basis.

In honor of Frugal Nation, I thought I would give it a go with lentils. I have never been a big fan of beans (though I am trying to catch on, I didn’t think Great Northern Beans would make good tacos), so I used some French lentils I picked up at the Fresh Market before they closed up for good. This is a hybrid of my favorite taco recipe, combined with a few tweaks I picked up from Epicurious, though their recipe used a packet of taco seasoning (not in my kitchen, I say!).


Spiced Lentil Tacos

1 onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp salt
olive oil
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 cup lentils (black or green), rinsed and drained
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
1 cup water
1 can (14 oz) corn
taco shells, tortillas, or chips
toppings, as desired (rice, sour cream, cheese, lettuce)

Over medium heat, saute onion, garlic, and salt in olive oil under tender. Add chili powder, cumin, oregano, and lentils and saute until fragrant. Add tomato sauce and water, bring to a simmer.

Reduce heat and cover. Cook until lentils are soft, 25-30 minutes (or longer, depending on how soft you want your lentils), stirring occasionally. Add additional water if needed. Stir in corn and heat through. Serve as desired.


Frugal Breakdown:
1 onion: $0.50
1 garlic clove: negligible
1/4 tsp salt: negligible
olive oil: negligible
1 tbsp chili powder: $0.50
2 tsp cumin: $0.20
1 tsp dried oregano: negligible
1 cup lentils: $1.34
1 can tomato sauce: $0.89
1 cup water: negligible
1 can corn: $0.86
flour tortillas: $1.29
TOTAL: $5.58

Verdict: A rousing success, with money left for toppings or chips. Though I would argue this recipe is excellent on its own, I will admit to sprinkling some cheese on mine. Chopped spinach is also a great choice over iceberg lettuce.

This particular lentils were a bit more expensive than what I found at the grocery store, so a cheaper bag would bring this price down even more.


Sometimes, a dish is so simple that it is hard to call it a recipe. This is one of those dishes, using a container of goat cheese to create an easy but delicious sauce for pasta and asparagus. Look for goat cheese with roasted garlic and basil (or another combination if available). Plain goat cheese will also work, but add 2 teaspoons of grainy mustard for more flavor. Goat cheese will create a sauce similar to Alfredo, but without the fattening butter or cream.

Any variety of pasta will work in this dish, but my preference is a short, shaped pasta such as rotini. As the pasta boils in salted water, starch is released into the water. Reserved pasta water helps bind the sauce together (in a pinch, it can also help you stretch too little sauce without compromising flavor too much).



Pasta and Asparagus with Goat Cheese

1 box (1 lb) pasta
1 tbsp sea salt
1 lb asparagus, tough ends removed and cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
1 container (about 5 oz) goat cheese with basil and roasted garlic
Parmesan cheese, optional

Bring a large pot of water to a full, rolling boil. Add sea salt and pasta. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add asparagus. Cook an additional 5 minutes, until pasta is al dente and asparagus is tender. Drain, reserving about 1 cup of pasta water.

Add goat cheese to pasta and asparagus, stirring to melt. Add small amounts of reserved pasta water until sauce is at desired consistency. Top with Parmesan cheese just before serving, if desired.  



Frugal Breakdown:
1 box pasta: $0.88 
sea salt : negligible
1 lb asparagus: $2.86
1 container goat cheese: $4.79 
Parmesan cheese: $0.50
TOTAL: $9.03

Verdict: Success, though goat cheese is more expensive than a jar of Alfredosauce. Asparagus can also be an expensive produce item, depending on the time of year (in late spring, the price per pound can be as low as $0.99). Sales on pasta were a little higher this time around, $0.88 instead of $0.50 for a box, which is still not a bad deal.

Skinny Papers

The time to “Spring Forward” is upon us, along with that groan most of us mutter for losing an hour of time as the early morning plunges back into darkness. In Michigan, this change is particularly noticeable. Michigan is both one of the most western and northern points of Eastern Standard Time. Sunrise in Grand Rapids occurs significantly later then in New York City or Washington DC.  

In recent years, Congress has extended Daylight Saving Time to encompass early March through early November (in 2009, DST ends on November 1st). In conversation with co-workers, I mentioned a vague recollection that perhaps this was done for economic issues related to energy costs. No one could confirm or deny, so I decided to do a little research.

As it turns out, DST was intended as a frugal venture by design. By extending daylight hours in the afternoon and evening, energy costs are reduced. The original concept was that morning daylight was “wasted” and evening daylight provided more time for outdoor activities. This is the basis for increasing the number of weeks DST is observed.

A large number of lobbyists supported the extension of DST, however, representing sporting goods and merchandising associations, which benefit from extra daylight hours. People are more likely to shop and engage in outdoor sporting activities during the extra daylight hours.

Some initial studies conclude that DST may actually increase energy consumption due to extra afternoon cooling. Primary studies also show an increase in gasoline use.

Numerous studies also indicate that the time change can interrupt the body’s nature rhythm, including disrupting sleep-wake cycles, often with negative side effects. DST can produce both negative and positive effects on Seasonal Affective Disorder and depression. The stress from losing an hour of sleep can also cause an increase in other conditions, such as heart attacks.

DST has been presented as a means for reducing energy costs, but its origin and implementation appears to be ridden with political trappings. While decreasing energy consumption is certainly important, it appears DST also stimulates retail spending. The health implications are also concerning, especially considering the costs associated with mental and physical health care.

Here is an article from US News on 13 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Daylight Saving Time that outlines some of the implications of DST on health and public safety.