Thursday, June 30, 2011

Congratulations to Our Giveaway Winner!!!

Tuesday marked the one year anniversary of Near to Nothing and we wanted to celebrate by hosting a giveaway on our blog!  We decided to giveaway one of the tools we use often - an immersion blender.  We have randomly selected a winner and are proud to announce that Whitney B. has been chosen!!!  We will send you an email in order to get your information.  Congratulations, Whitney!!!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Southwest Salad with Cilantro-Lime Dressing

Usually by this time of year I'm serving about two dinner salads a week.  But because of the strange cool weather this year, I've only served about two, period.  We finally had some really hot weather last week.  It was so hot I didn't want to cook--I didn't have the energy and I didn't want to heat up the house.  So one day I threw this salad together.  (Of course, now the last two days have been rainy and in the 60s.)

To keep the cost down, I served it without any meat.  With the beans and the corn, you still get a complete protein.

I really like cilantro.  This is the second year I've grown it in my garden and it really thrives.  Last year I lost it because it grew too tall and blew over.  If you have to buy fresh cilantro, this dressing can be a bit pricey.

My cilantro is flowering.  The flowers are edible so you can
use them too.

The quantities of the ingredients in the dressing are simply suggestions.  This is how I like to make it.  If you want a sweeter dressing, simply add more honey.  Tangier?  Add more lime juice or some vinegar.

For those of you who don't like cilantro, *wink, wink to Kimiko* this salad is also really great with last week's chipotle ranch dressing.

Southwest Salad with Cilantro-Lime Dressing
Romaine, torn
Black beans, rinsed and drained
Tomatoes, diced
Bell pepper, diced
Avocado, diced
Chicken or steak, cooked and chopped (optional)
Tortilla chips
Cilantro-lime dressing (see recipe below) or chipotle ranch dressing

Layer all ingredients except chips and dressing in large salad bowl or on individual plates.  Crush chips over top and drizzle with dressing.

Cilantro-Lime Dressing
1/2 c. cilantro, packed
1/2 c. lime juice
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. salt
few dashes pepper
1/3 c. olive oil

Place all ingredients except olive oil in bowl of food processor.

Pulse until cilantro and garlic are well chopped.

With food processor running, slowly add olive oil in steady stream.  Yield:  about 1 cup.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dark Chocolate Brownies

For a few years, I made brownies by opening a box of mix, adding eggs, oil, and water; pouring it into a pan; and baking it.  However, I no longer buy brownie mixes; this recipe is just too yummy!  I use some dark cocoa powder to make dark chocolate brownies.  I suppose to could use just regular cocoa powder, although I can't vouch how they would turn out, because I've never tried it.  I know there are different kinds of brownies: cakey brownies, fudgy brownies, etc.  If you like fudgy brownies, these are for you!

Dark Chocolate Brownies
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup dark cocoa powder
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter, melted
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
4 eggs
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flour, both cocoa powders, and salt.  If your cocoa powder has clumps in it, sift it before mixing it with the other ingredients.  Mix well; set aside.
You can see the difference between the dark cocoa powder and the regular cocoa powder.
In a separate, large mixing bowl, combine melted butter and sugars; mix until smooth.  Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition.  Gradually add dry ingredients to wet.  Mix until well-blended.  Add chocolate chips.

Before adding the dry ingredients.

Pour batter into a greased 9 x 13-inch pan.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (because of the chocolate chips, you probably will end up with a little melted chocolate on the toothpick - that's fine.).

 To make the little brownie bites grocery stores sell, simply cut the brownies into 1-inch cubes and roll in powdered sugar or leave plain.

Mmmmm.  So, so yummy!
On Friday I will post the most amazing recipe that uses these brownies!!! 

ALSO, don't forget about the giveaway that's happening right here on Near to Nothing!  Midnight (Pacific) tomorrow night is the deadline for entering to win!  You can find the details here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Chipotle Sour Cream and Chipotle Ranch Dressing

Things that are zesty:  pico de gallo, guacamole, lemons and limes, HeidiMichelle, and chipotles.  On Monday I posted about making chipotle puree.  If you missed it, go back and check it out--it's a super easy way to add zesty, smokey heat to your dishes.

The two things that I most commonly make with my chipotle puree are chipotle sour cream and chipotle ranch dressing.  I must confess that neither of these were my idea.  Some really smart person thought of it first and is making tons of money off of it.

I first saw the sour cream at Raley's and actually shelled out the $2-something for a container just to check it out.  I paid more than twice as much for this "special" sour cream than I do for plain.  The verdict?  Neither Robbie nor I were too impressed.  It had a very mild chipotle flavor--we wanted more.  So I pulled the plain sour cream out of the fridge, thawed a few chipotle cubes in the microwave, and made it myself for a fraction of the cost.  I used about four teaspoons of chipotle puree for about a cup of sour cream.  That's another bonus to making your own (besides saving money)--you can make it as mild or as zesty as you want.

Watch it!!  A few seconds is sufficient.

Knudsen also makes roasted garlic sour cream and jalapeno sour cream, either of which can be made at home in the same way.

What can you do with your homemade chipotle sour cream?  Baked potatoes, burritos, tacos, chili, quesadillas, taco salad, beans and rice, black bean soup, taco soup, veggie dip...

A few days later I was at Fresh & Easy and saw chipotle ranch dressing.  Once again, the price was way higher than I'm willing to pay.  So I went home, thawed a few chipotle cubes, and spooned them right into a half-full bottle of ranch dressing.  A few good shakes, and I saved a few dollars versus the pre-made stuff.  I added about five teaspoons of puree to about one cup of dressing.  Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of it, but it is yummy...and zesty!!

P.S.  Don't forget about our giveaway!!  Find all the details here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Oven Roasted Chicken

Our weather has been rather unusual this year.  I live in an area that doesn't get snow.  Actually, we barely get any precipitation at all.  So little, in fact, that even when it just sprinkles people don't know how to drive and I both fear for my life and get a kick out of watching them try to drive all at the same time.  Anyway, all this to say that we got snow this year!  And I'm not just talking about a few flakes falling from the sky.  No, these were big flakes and there were enough of them to stick for several hours.  Our strange weather continued when we experienced only cool/cold weather well into June instead of our usual 90-100 degree heat (I wasn't complaining about that at all!).  So, I decided that since it was still quite cool (low 70's), it would be safe to use my oven and roast a chicken.  Of course, the day I decided to do this, summer decided to show up.  Regardless of the heat, however, the chicken turned out moist and delicious (and produced some delicious leftovers, which I'll write about at another time)!

Oven Roasted Chicken
1 whole 5 lb chicken
5 cups water
1/3 cup kosher salt (or scant 1/3 cup table salt)
3 Tbsp sugar (I actually forgot the sugar and it still turned out well)
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp rubbed sage
1 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp garlic powder
2-3 Tbsp canola oil
Aromatic fillers (carrots pieces, quartered onions, crushed garlic cloves, lemons halves, etc.)

Remove giblets from chicken.  Brine chicken by filling a gallon zip top bag with 5 cups water, 1/3 cup kosher salt, and 3 Tbsp sugar.  Add whole chicken; seal.  Refrigerate for 4-12 hours.

I placed mine in a dish to provide support for the bag and to help prevent the bag from leaking all over my fridge!
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine thyme, rosemary, sage, pepper, and garlic powder.  Add canola oil; mix well.

Remove chicken from brine and rinse well.  If you don't rinse it, you may end up with a super salty chicken.  Place chicken in a roasting or baking pan.  Stuff chicken with ingredients of your choice.  I used an onion, 4 garlic cloves, and carrots.  Rub the canola oil mixture all over the chicken.

These will help flavor the chicken from the inside.  We didn't eat these; just threw them out, since I didn't check their temperature once the chicken was done.

The chicken is stuffed.
Mine looks a little different, because I added some butter under the skin.  You can do this too, but be aware that your drippings will be super buttery!  I think I'll leave the butter out next time.

In order to prevent the legs from burning, make sure they are tight against the body of the chicken.  If not, simply cut a slit in the skin and stick the legs through.

The legs after they've been put through the slits I cut in the skin.
Place chicken in a 400 degree oven for 1 hour or until skin is browned and crispy.  Turn heat down to 350 degrees and roast for an additional 30 minutes or until the meat reaches 180 degrees on a thermometer.  Remove from oven and let the chicken rest (resting is important!!!!) for 15 minutes before cutting into it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Near to Nothing!

We can hardly believe that Near to Nothing will soon be one year old!  Next Tuesday marks the anniversary of our first post, introducing ourselves and our Near to Nothing mission!!  What started out as casual chatting between the two of us has turned into a fun, exciting forum for us to share our cooking and money-saving secrets.  We've gone from a small audience of a few friends and family members to an international audience that includes many people we don't know.  To thank you all for your continued readership and encouragement, we'd like to give you the chance to receive a gift in honor of our birthday.

But first, a Near to Nothing pop-quiz:  What do lentil soup, baby food, and chipotle puree have in common? Need a hint?  Take a look and see if you can figure it out.

Yes, that's right!  They are all super easy to make with an immersion blender!  I (Sumiko) absolutely love mine and we want you to love one too.  So we're giving one away!  And just in time for strawberry lemonade!

From now until midnight (Pacific) on the night of June 28, you can enter once a day.  Simply send us an e-mail at kitchendiaries[at]yahoo[dot]com with "immersion blender" in the subject line.  We'll announce the winner on Thursday, June 30!*

As if giving away an immersion blender wasn't enough, we have one more announcement!  Last Saturday I finished my weekly series on baby food.  We'd like to open up that Saturday post to all of our readers.  If you have a Near-to-Nothing-minded tip or recipe you'd like to share, please e-mail it to us at kitchendiaries[at]yahoo[dot]com.  Please include things like the background behind the recipe, how you developed it, what makes it so good, etc.  And please do your best to make it post-ready before sending it so we have to do as little editing as possible.  When writing, keep our Near to Nothing mission in mind:  feeding our families affordably and nutritiously.  We will let you know by e-mail if and when your submission will be posted.

Don't have an original recipe to share?  Feel free to share a past Near to Nothing recipe you've made and how you tailored it to your family's preferences.  Or share how you've implemented Near to Nothing tips and ideas into your cooking.**

*Fine print:  One entry per person per day.  Open only to residents of the United States (sorry, international readers).  Family members of the Near to Nothing authors are not eligible (sorry, Dad).  Giveaway begins at 7 am on June 21, and will remain open until 12 am June 29.

**More fine print:  All submissions must be original and not under copyright.  Any submissions accepted for posting by Near to Nothing become the property of Near to Nothing and may not be reproduced elsewhere except by permission of Near to Nothing.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Chipotle Pureé

I love chipotle-flavored foods!!  Chipotles are simply jalapeños that have been dried with smoke.  But until recently, I was a little puzzled about the best way to use them.  I buy them canned in adobo.  I’ve tried cutting them into small pieces and adding them to chili, but that just didn’t seem right.  Every few bites you’d get an extra hot spoonful.  I’d rather have the heat and flavor even throughout.

I finally saw the light a few months ago as I was watching an episode of Rachel Ray.  She said she just purees the whole can and scoops out what she needs.  Why didn’t I think of that?!?  Now I pull out my immersion blender every time I open a new can.

Because I can’t use an entire can before it goes bad, I scoop the pureé into 1-teaspoon portions onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and stick it in the freezer.  Once the pureé is frozen solid, I transfer the chipotle cubes to a zip-top bag and return it to the freezer.  (Unfortunately, I neglected to get a photo of this part).  When I want to add chipotle to something like chili, I simply throw some into the pot.  If I want to add it to something cold, I defrost the desired amount in the microwave first.

Later this week I’ll share some of my favorite ways to use this chipotle pureé.  And also be sure to check back tomorrow for an exciting announcement!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Baby Food: The Cost of Convenience 2

Last Saturday I started looking at how much it costs to buy prepared baby food.  I went through cereals, veggies, and fruits.  This week I would like to take a look at foods for older babies.  Keep in mind that I pay no more than $1/lb. for produce and dry goods or $2/lb. for meat.  Therefore, any meal I serve will cost below $2/lb. and often costs less than $1/lb.

Gerber ham & ham gravy:  2.5 oz. for $0.87

Regardless of how much it costs, meat from a jar is just gross.  But then you realize you're paying $5.57/lb. for ham and ham gravy!  Ew!

Gerber Graduates, cinnamon apple oatmeal:  4.5 oz. for $1.59 (sale price)

This is different than the blended fruits with oatmeal that I mentioned last week because it has chunks for babies who are learning to chew.  I can cut April's fruit into chunks and add it to oatmeal for a lot less than $5.65/lb.

Gerber Yogurt Blends, banana:  14 oz. for $2.47

I pay $0.40-$0.50/lb. for bananas and I make my own yogurt.  Much cheaper than $2.82/lb.

Gerber mixed vegetables and chicken:  6 oz. for  $0.80

Now this is a little more reasonable at $2.13/lb.  But it is starting to look like food I would feed the rest of my family.  I may as well just feed my baby the fresh food I'm cooking at home.

Gerber spaghetti in tomato sauce with beef:  6 oz. for  $0.80

Same deal as the mixed vegetables and chicken.  I bet my spaghetti tastes much better though!

Gerber Graduates, mashed potatoes and gravy with roasted chicken and carrots:  5.3 oz. for $2.15

Notice that this meal is mostly potatoes.  Potatoes are definitely not worth the $6.49/lb. that this baby meal costs.

Gerber Graduates, spaghetti rings in meat sauce:  6 oz. for $1.28

My kids won't eat stuff like this.  Which is good, because it would cost me $3.41/lb.

Beech Nut Steamies, macaroni and cheese:  12 oz. for $2.67

Homemade just tastes so much better!!  And doesn't cost $3.56/lb.

Beech Nut Steamies, chicken vegetable stars:  12 oz. for $2.67

Oooo!  Soup with cute little stars that are perfect for baby!  It will cost $3.56/lb.

Campbell's condensed chicken and stars:  10.5 oz. for $1.50

Here's basically the same thing not marketed for babies and it only costs $2.29/lb., but it's even less once you  reconstitute it.

El Guapo star pasta:  7 oz. for $0.25

Or you could make your own soup with cute little stars even cheaper.  These can be found in the Mexican section, right next to the cute alphabet noodles!

This marks the end of my weekly baby food posts.  I will definitely post special diet milestones:  first birthday cake, first cow milk, first peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  So be on the lookout for those.  Thank you so much for following along on our feeding journey.  April and I hope we have encouraged you to save some money by making your own baby food!
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