When Food Attacks!

I'm in the thick of Thanksgiving prep today, but on my lunch break I found this story waiting in my inbox. As someone who can end up sick for days following the euphoria of feasting, this comprehensive look at trigger foods hits close to home.

I can say from personal experience that dietary change can profoundly affect your overall feeling of wellness. I wouldn't claim a change in how you eat will prevent you from contracting a disease or open your mind, but no question, it can relieve you of the distinctly uncomfortable symptoms of things like acid reflux, heartburn, bloating, indigestion, gas, and so on.

I've identified spicy foods, raw garlic, and coffee as three triggers for my unpleasant digestive symptoms, and an overabundance of citrus can do me in, too. Eating too much food also brings me pain -- something to keep in mind for tomorrow, I suppose.

Read on to learn what foods might be causing your pain.

ABC News: 10 Foods That Bring on the Pain: “While an estimated 40 million Americans live with what they describe as chronic pain, many more suffer from acute bouts of pain, such as acid reflux and headaches. But be it chronic or acute, pain is something we'd all like to live without.

Dr. Neal Barnard, founder and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and president of the Cancer Project in Washington, D.C., believes that pain-free living could be a dietary change away.

"What we know is that when people eliminate certain foods from their diets, their symptoms are eliminated or reduced, so we know that there is a link here," says Barnard, who is an outspoken advocate of vegetarianism. The link could be a number of things, ranging from a reaction to certain proteins found in particular foods, to an increase in cholesterol, which can irritate the lining of our arteries, he says.”

Monday Meal Planning: Thanksgiving Madness Edition

I'm finally getting this out there, but I'm crazy-busy this week with Thanksgiving prep, so there's no guarantees of more!

I'm also somewhat uncertain of the menus for post-Thanksgiving. A lot will depend on the amount of leftovers, as I'll be feeding five instead of three for a few days.

Chicken schnitzel
Parsleyed potatoes

Scrambled eggs with cheddar
Home fries

Tomato soup (if I feel ambitious)

Deep-fried turkey
Jellied cranberry sauce
Herbed mashed potatoes
Sweet potatoes with pecan streusel
Sage sausage and cranberry stuffing
Broccoli gratin
Creamed corn
Roasted carrots and onions
Fresh-baked rolls

Turkey stew
Stuffing or rice

Turkey croquettes
Baked potatoes?

Spaghetti with turkey bolognese
Garlic bread

Healthy Thanksgiving Roundup

Ready to start planning for the big day? It's less than a week away . . .

Hungry Girl offers a list of must-have holiday ingredients to slim down your festivities. Some are the usual branded, processed goods, but you'll also find out the benefits of plain puréed pumpkin and natural butternut squash. One surprise for me: Campbell's 98% Fat Free Cream of Celery soup has fewer calories than either the Mushroom or Chicken varieties.

Also on offer from Hungry Girl is today's holiday hit list - and I don't mean the Top 10 kind. She offers suggestions for cutting calories from the worst Thanksgiving table offenders. Sure to make hesitant holiday cooks sing with joy is the advice to go ahead and use gravy mix. You'll save loads of calories and fat while being guaranteed no lumps on the big day.

health-nov08.jpgHealth Magazine put together a collection of recipes for a healthier Thanksgiving. The cornbread stuffing, cipollini onions, and apple galette all look especially attractive to me. You can read more about the holiday fun at Health at my post on Fit Fare. Go try your hand at that Thanksgiving foods quiz and see if you fared any better than I did!

While you're at Fit Fare, you can keep on the lookout for more healthy holiday eating advice. Right now, you can find a recipe for vegan Pumpkin Tofu "Ricotta" to help you through the upcoming office parties. I know when I was teaching in Las Vegas that the mini-quiches were my downfall at our holiday teachers' lounge parties. At least I won't have the temptation this year!

Good Housekeeping also went the healthy route with its Thanksgiving recipes this year. Check out the healthy variations from the November issue using the links below.

The New York Times' Recipes for Health series has focused on a classic holiday food, sweet potatoes, this week. You can check out recipes for Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Soup and Sweet Potato Purée with Apples, as well as an article on their nutritional wonders.

If you follow the South Beach way of eating, Kalyn's Kitchen has an ever-expanding list of low-glycemic Thanksgiving recipes to keep you on track through the holidays.

Is it stress more than meal planning that gets you down during the holidays? The Beauty Eats blog by the people behind the Real Age site offers a top-five list of foods to keep you happy at this time of year.

Hungry Girl sneaks back into the roundup on her Yahoo! Food blog with a list of 7 Ways to Avoid Thanksgiving Weight Gain. Check out some of the recipes linked on this page to follow her advice and bring your own guilt-free contribution!

Finally, if you still can't find just what you were looking for, check out Cheap Healthy Good's exhaustive list of more than a hundred Thanksgiving links. It wears me out just looking at it!

Have a delicious holiday (prep) weekend!

Less Now Means More (Variety) Later

pastitsio.jpgAt lunch today, I dug eagerly into some leftover pastitsio, one of my favorite pasta dishes. It's dusted with sharp pecorino cheese, stuffed with cinnamon-scented ground meat, and topped with a rich, eggy crema.

Excuse me while I drool.

I cut a generous piece, but I knew before I was even halfway through that I would be left craving more. I loved every decadent bite, but even with the need to clear out the fridge before Turkey Day, could I justify a second slice?

I knew the answer, and so should you by now. But how could I change my perspective so that I wouldn't spend the rest of the day dreaming about stuffing my face with Greek pasta goodness?

What I needed to remember was that eating less food now means leaving more room for other delicious foods later.

Think about it. What's so great about eating? The variety of tastes! No one would get excited about food if chocolate cake was all there ever was to eat. No matter how much you love fudgy confections, they would lose their appeal after days of nothing but.

Surely you've been told more than once in your life to "leave room for dessert." That's simply a more specific way of saying "don't overeat now - there's still so many other enticing tastes you could spend those calories on!"

What happened with my lunch today, then? Well, I reminded myself that I had a fridge full of foods other than pastisio, many much healthier yet still yummy.

I elected to grab an orange instead to fill the space left in my stomach. A great choice for me - I haven't had one in months, so the juicy, sweet-tart flavor excited my tastebuds in a way another plateful of pastitsio never could. Plus, I knew the orange was both low in calories and full of vitamin C and fiber to keep my body healthy.


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Tuesday Meal Planning: Husband's Birthday Edition

Kind of forgot to post the meal plan yesterday, but I did have one in place ready to go. In fact, I planned nearly every meal up until Thanksgiving at the beginning of this month in hopes of saving money and shop time before the feast.

That hasn't been working out so well, by the way. I don't seem to have spent any less so far this month, and I have the huge Thanksgiving bill yet to come - huge mostly because it entails buying three gallons of frying oil for the turkeys!


I planned the first meals of the week to feature some of my husband's favorite foods, as today is his birthday. Yeah, the meals were kind of rich, but hey, it's a celebration!

Pastitsio is basically Greek baked ziti. You layer pecorino cheese, tubular noodles, cinnamon-scented meat sauce, and an eggy custard in a huge baking pan. It's labor-intensive, much like homemade lasagna, but it's delicious!

But I certainly wouldn't recommend the work (or the two sticks of butter) for everyday eating.

On special occasions, though, like today:

Happy birthday, Scott!

Twice-baked potatoes


Broccoli casserole

Grilled cheese
Tomato soup

Black bean salad

White whole-wheat pancakes
Turkey bacon

Chicken and rice with veggies

Managing Cookies for Christmas

New today on Edible TV:

13D114A6-C39E-42E0-A9CE-091290F55E3B.jpgHoliday baking fans, start your mixers!

Food Network’s annual sweet-treat bonanza, the 12 Days of Cookies newsletter, comes out of the oven starting December 1. That’s less than two weeks away, cookie monsters!

I know, I know . . . cookies?! How can they be part of a healthy diet?!

I obsess over cookie baking during the holidays, so I need to find ways to incorporate them into my healthier diet. And you know what?

We can bake our cookies and eat them, too!

All in moderation, of course. Moderation, as always, is the key to a healthy diet. Moderation can mean many things -- for big trigger foods, it can mean only eating them outside of your home (so you are inherently limited in the amount you can consume); for unhealthy but not necessarily crave-able foods such as butter, it might mean finding ways to substitute at least some heart-healthy oil or nonstick spray in your recipes. Of course, it can just mean eating less.

You have to decide for yourself what route you need to take with cookies, but here are my tips for keeping the cookie monster under control:

1. Spread the wealth. I bake up to a dozen batches of cookies each holiday season, but I would never eat them all myself. Ugh, you'd be rolling me to the Christmas tree . . . Anyway, I utilize my love of baking to create gift boxes of homemade cookies.

It's a fairly frugal gift (that is, if I find good sales on butter and nuts!), so I can make certain to recognize everyone I care about at the holidays, plus since it's a homemade gift, everyone knows I put in plenty of time and effort to make it special.

The healthy eating bonus is that I get my bounty of baked goods out of the house so my family isn't so tempted to binge!

2. Use the freezer. Most cookies freeze superbly. Pop a well-wrapped dozen in the freezer, and you'll have fresh-tasting cookies at the ready throughout the holiday season for unexpected guests. I store my cookies for gift boxes this way, too.

It's an excellent strategy for batches you plan on eating yourself, too. The freezer keeps the cookies from going stale, so you don't feel the pressure to eat handfuls at a time so they won't go bad.

3. Try healthier recipes. I have King Arthur Flour's Whole Grain Baking book, which offers a number of cookie recipes punched up with, as you would expect, whole grains. For Thanksgiving, I'm planning to make Sparkling Cranberry Gems, which offer the option of using white whole-wheat flour and are relatively low in fat. If you're not ready to make the leap into whole-grain desserts, consider classic healthier cookies like meringues, oatmeal cookies, and ground nut-based macaroons.

And remember, baking is light exercise. My shoulders feel the burn of lifting sheet pans after hours on my feet as surely as my fingers feel it if I forget the potholder.

Picture: Food Network 12 Days of Cookies Newsletter

Homemade Light Paprika Vinaigrette Recipe

I have to apologize for focusing so much on healthy recipes lately, but food is about all I think about in the run-up to the holidays!

I threw together this vinaigrette back when I made the Italian dip for our election-night party. I ended up making two batches as I spilled half the first batch all over the kitchen counter (that was fun), so we had homemade vinaigrette in the fridge for the next week.

And surprise of surprises, it went fast. Even my "I'll take Italian, please," brother elected to put some on his salad. How's that for an endorsement?

I made the vinaigrette using a stick blender and the beaker that came with it, but naturally it would come together just as well in a regular blender.

Keep in mind also that the more raw garlic you add, the more pungent it will become. It also gets more pungent over time, so keep that in mind when you taste the freshly blended dressing.

Light Paprika Vinaigrette
Source: Pennies & Pounds
Yield: about 1 to 1¼ cups of dressing, about 10 servings

½ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup water
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons dried parsley (or 2 tablespoons fresh parsley)
1 teaspoon dried dill (or 1 tablespoon fresh dill)
1 tablespoon paprika
½ teaspoon celery salt
½ teaspoon Lawry's seasoned salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 or 2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ medium onion, chopped
¼ cup vegetable oil

1. Put all ingredients except the garlic, onion, and oil in the beaker or pitcher of your blending unit. Pulse to combine.

2. Add the garlic and onion. Purée the veggies into the vinaigrette.

3. Add the oil and let 'er rip. You'll end up with a lovely red emulsion. Enjoy on salad or mixed into your favorite recipe.

Approximate Nutrition Facts (2 tablespoons): Calories: 66; Total Fat: 6.05g; Total Carbs: 2.20g; Dietary Fiber: 0.38g; Sugars: 1.47g; Protein: 0.23g

Roasted Vegetable Sandwich Spread


I despise cold cuts.

There, it's out. Hungry Girl may adore them, and may recommend the salt bomb of a slice of turkey wrapped around a pickle as a good low-cal snack, but I cannot stand the slimy sheets.

I do eat dried, cured sausages such as pepperoni and salami, which are often lumped in with cold cuts, and on occasion you can get me to eat a sandwich made with some sort of cold beef, but for the most part, I would rather choke down a quart of boiled cabbage.

Thus, I have to get creative with sandwich fillings. While I enjoy chicken salad, egg salad, BLT, and grilled cheese sandwiches, I can't eat them every day: One, I need variety, and two, well, they're awfully rich. I like egg sandwiches (whole or whites only, with light cheese), too, but they require prep time I'm often not willing to give at lunch time.

Now that I have oven access and a renewed appreciation for vegetables, I decided to finally try out Alton Brown's recipe for roasted vegetable sandwich spread.

Yum. Numnumnum yummmm!

I've altered the recipe each time I've made it. You can throw in just about any vegetable you like, and when you purée them in the food processor with a block of light cream cheese, you'll end up with a delicious, slightly sweet yet savory spread.

I go heavy on the vegetables, which doesn't negatively affect the texture but does make the spread calorically lighter and more nutritious.

By the way, don't confuse this with vegetable-flavored cream cheese they sell in tubs at the supermarket and bagel shop. This spread has way more flavor and nutritious goodness.

sandwich-spread.jpgRoasted Vegetable Spread
Source: Adapted from Alton Brown

2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 medium-to-large onion, cut into chunks
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 carrots, cut into chunks
1 tablespoon oil
8 ounces light cream cheese or neufchatel cheese

1. Toss the vegetables with the oil. Roast at 400 degrees in a toaster oven or regular oven until the vegetables turn soft and brown at the edges, about 45 minutes. Allow the vegetables to cool.

2. Pulse the cooled vegetables with some salt and pepper in a food processor. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the cream cheese. Run the processor until you produce a smooth purée. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.

3. To serve, spread on toasted soft sandwich bread. Lick fingers. Enjoy.

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The Joys of Junk and More Hot Links

New York Times - Money Is Tight, and Junk Food Beckons
My, this sounds familiar. I am not yet making tortillas from scratch, but I do bake a lot of our bread, muffins, and sandwich rolls. I've switched to dried beans and never buy pre-cut or washed produce. It takes a little more work, but it saves us enough money that we can actually eat more than just grains.

Honestly, though, I have to wonder where all this cheap junk food is. A pound of chips costs more than a pound of any of the raw vegetables I bought at the grocery store today, even including the vegetable oil I might use in cooking them.

If you want to talk fast-food versus grocery-store prices, I suppose it's less clear cut. Still, I think fast food wins out for most people because of its convenience, not its cost.

New York Times - Stretching: The Truth
Punning headline aside, read this article to learn the correct way to stretch as part of a warm up. Hint: Not the way you probably learned in P.E.

ABC News - Ten Foods to Fight Colds and Boost Your Immunity
I get sick less often when I stick to a healthy diet (including avoiding foods that trigger my digestive issues). I don't know for sure it's my diet and not some other factor helping my immune system, but surely eating healthy is also good in its own right.

New York Times - Calories Do Count
It's hilarious how restaurants are spinning their scramble to offer lower-cal menu items as solely due to giving the customers what they want, not AT ALL due to legislation forcing calorie counts out of the shadows. They have to promote that agenda to fight off further calorie-posting laws, but the truth is, consumers wouldn't be demanding less caloric items if they hadn't been confronted with JUST HOW MANY calories are in their favorite dishes.

Well Blog - Still Spooked by High-Fructose Corn Syrup
Now you can respond to those silly commercials.

Health - Heart-Healthy, Cost-Conscious Recipes and Food Tips
A roundup of some of the latest healthy eating news from a conference.

Monday Meal Planning: Gone Crazy Edition

Not so much crazy as ill, actually, but that makes everything else go crazy in the kitchen. Last week's meal plan ended up mixed up as I let things slide when my appetite abandoned me.

But the thing is, a meal plan is more a help than a hindrance when my schedule gets messed up. I know I have the fixings for several meals ready to go in the kitchen, so I don't have to leave home to go to the store when I'm not feeling so hot. If I'm really out of commission, everything is ready for someone else in the house to pick up and cook.

This past week, I ended up moving one meal later in the week when I didn't make it home until late, eliminating a side dish that I couldn't get an ingredient for, and knocking one meal off the menu in favor of sandwiches.

Flexibility is the spice of meal plans. At least when you're out of Lawry's.

French dip sandwiches
Oven fries

Pasta with sun-dried tomato sausage, broccoli, and roasted red peppers

Cheese frittata
Green beans with shallots and vermouth
Confetti slaw

Broccoli-cheddar casserole

Roasted boneless chicken breasts
Sweet potato casserole

Tofu stir fry: onions, garlic, ginger, carrots, broccoli
Yakisoba noodles

Mashed black beans
Mexican rice

Short programming note: Pennies & Pound's RSS feed address has changed. If you have subscribed already and want to update to the new address, go ahead and change to http://feedproxy.google.com/PenniesAndPounds.

A Psychedelic Thanksgiving, Courtesy of Saveur

Anyone else find these girly green beans and potatoes in their November 2008 issue of Saveur?


I was looking through for side-dish inspiration when I came across this recipe for Green Beans with Pancetta and Mint.

saveur-nov2008-03.jpgI wondered if perhaps the color was a reaction with the milk you cook the beans in.

Naturally, I also wondered why anyone would eat them.

The nuts and the bacon don't look that bad, actually. I suppose you could pick around the purple beans. Or you could simply plan on inviting Barbie to your Thanksgiving dinner.

After all, she could stand to put a little meat on her bones.

I bet Barbie would love this potato and celery root purée -- in bubble-gum pink.

saveur-nov2008-04.jpgI do love the taste of celery root in my potatoes. I ate heartily the year my grandma tried spicing up the standard mashers this way.

But these Whipped Masted Potatoes with Celery Root just don't look right.

They appear to need some marshmallows.

Or maybe strawberries would be a healthier garnish? The mash does look a bit like that strawberry mousse salad thing they put on buffets sometimes.

OK, so maybe Saveur was not trying to push us all in a very new direction for our holiday meals. I checked their web site and found that indeed, the beans are green and the potatoes white:


Maybe someone more familiar with publishing can explain the weird colors? The rest of the magazine was less trippy.

saveur-nov2008-02.jpgCheck out the November issue for some surprisingly light holiday fare:

Sweet Potato Casserole: The recipe accommodates the marshmallow crowd while also making room for those of us who prefer the healthier option, nuts. Also, this casserole is made with evaporated milk instead of heavy cream.

Roasted Cranberry Sauce: If you don't go for the traditional sliceable jelly from a can, then you might be interested in this walk on the wild side. With cardamom, jalepeño, and heart-friendly extra-virgin olive oil, it's both healthy and odd-sounding.

And of course, don't miss out on the actually totally normal Green Beans with Pancetta and Mint and Whipped Masted Potatoes with Celery Root. The green beans do feature butter and cured pork, but the hazelnuts provide healthy fat in this rich holiday dish. As for the potatoes . . . well, celery root has less than half the calories of potatoes. Otherwise, there's not much redeeming health value here.

But they are a lovely shade of pink.

Photos: Saveur

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The Consequences of Merriment

garlic.jpgBoy, have I been feeling the pain of joy the past couple of days.

Not being a physician, I can't diagnose what causes my stomach to seize up and my fingers to swell, but I blame what most people blame: It must have been something I ate.

"Somethings" would be more like it. The problem, to my mind, is not any one thing in particular but rather eating too much, eating too richly, and eating too . . . spicy.

Ugh, does the spicy ever get to me. Don't get me wrong. I long enjoyed hot foods: buffalo chicken, salsa, red pepper flakes on spaghetti sauce . . . but these days, spicy doesn't get along with me.

Did I mention I'm only 26?

Enough about my particular issues. What is a good plan for facing down the platters of abundant, fatty, highly seasoned (gurgle) foods so prevalent during the holidays?

1. Eat healthy, plant-based foods as much as possible. When not at a celebratory feast or experiencing the grueling recovery (when I can't stomach anything that isn't very bland), I need to stick with the fruits and vegetables that make my body feel nourished.

2. Eat sparingly. Well, at least try to keep away from that stuffed feeling. I found this strategy didn't do me much good at our election-night party, but again, that's because I chose to indulge in the foods that I know irritate my stomach as well as just generally rich foods. So . . .

3. Avoid known enemies. Good bye, chiles, cayenne, raw garlic, and red pepper flakes. So long, heavily salted foods. My hands won't miss you, tortilla chips, even if my tongue might. Oh, and let's slow things down, coffee, just for good measure. At least horseradish and mustard give me no pain.

I need to take my own advice more on that last one. I can feel the fluid retention already from the handful of tortilla chips I plopped alongside my grilled cheese. Leaving off the hot salsa isn't enough.

And yes, I know cheese and butter are poor choices for a sick tummy, but I just go with whatever sounds appealing when I'm feeling ill. They at least don't make my stomach churn away or, perhaps more irritatingly, add to the hiccups.

Ah, the holidays. They inject such joy into our lives!

A Healthier Appetizer for the Holidays: Italian Dip


Yesterday's air of excitement as the election results rolled in put me in a holiday mood. The anticipation throughout the day, and the literal dancing in the streets after the final polls closed made the atmosphere as electric as when Santa's sleigh is soaring through the sky.

We prepared a little election-viewing party here in our apartment, which meant lots of beer and cocktails and plentiful munchies. I baked two sheet-pan pizzas for dinner (I've finally just about perfected pizza crust), whipped up a batch of hummus with veggie dippers, and of course, I made what has become one of my go-to party foods, Italian dip.

My mother-in-law first introduced me to this salsa-like mix of cheese and veggies. When I make it, I follow her tips for success but invariably mess around trying to achieve hors d'oeuvre perfection.

We've both tweaked the recipe from the original, which called for a lot more cheese. I usually make my own low-fat vinaigrette to pour in rather than mixing up a batch of Good Seasons Italian, and sometimes, if I have the cash, I replace the canned chopped olives with kalamata olives.

FF844616-61FB-451A-8403-CD3EB4CF1341.jpgThe name is not particularly descriptive of the results, so feel free to call this cilantro-based concoction whatever you prefer. Cilantro, after all, is an herb found more commonly in Mexican and Asian cuisine. Though Italian markets might carry "coriander" (as it's more commonly known in Europe and what we here call the seed cilantro grows from), it doesn't make frequent appearances in that culture's dishes compared to other herbs such as basil or flat-leaf parsley.

As this recipe features cilantro prominently, I'm sharing it with the Weekend Herb Blogging community. I once participated in this even on my old cooking blog (which is only updated infrequently since I reassessed my writing direction), but it has changed since then. Starting this week, the event is organized on the site Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once, which you can visit to learn more about the event. This week's roundup is hosted by Noob Cook, if you're interested in more vegetation-based recipes.

I know cilantro can be a controversial herb. A loud faction insists that it tastes like soap and ruins whatever food it touches. Some contend that dislike of cilantro is genetic, but I'm not sure that there's much solid evidence to back up this claim (though science has examined the herb's apparent antibacterial properties). I didn't like cilantro when I first tried it myself, but after multiple exposures I grew to appreciate its fresh, verdant flavor.

Obviously I'm not the only person to adore cilantro in our household, as just yesterday I wrote about my cilantro-based pesto. Cilantro, like parsley, is ubiquitous in supermarkets and available in cheap, non-clamshelled bundles for less than a dollar each. It's as flavorful as basil (though differently so) for no more than a third of the price, which makes it both healthy and budget-friendly.

Give Italian dip a try at your next shindig. Use it like we tend to (having picked up the recipe in California) by scooping it up with tortilla chips, or consider alternate applications. It could be a topping for small rounds of toast (think bruschetta) or a filling for a pita. Some people even eat it straight up like a salad.

whb-italian-dip.jpgItalian Dip
Source: Pennies & Pounds

2 bunches cilantro, chopped
2 bunches green onion, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, diced
1/2 lb. fancy-shred mild white cheese (I used mozzarella, but my mother-in-law uses Monterey Jack)
1 4-ounce can diced green chilies
1 4-ounce can chopped black olives (or an equivalent amount of chopped kalamata olives, about 1/4-1/3 cup)
1 cup your favorite vinaigrette (or 1 package Good Seasons Italian dressing mix, prepared)

Toss the veggies and cheese. Mix in the dressing gently. Allow the dip to rest in the refrigerator a few hours before serving for the flavors to meld, but the dip tastes best served at room temperature so bring it out early.

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$7 Dinner Challenge: Pesto Pasta with Sausage


Inexpensive cooking has hit the web like yellow mustard splats a hot dog.

It's everywhere.

I started this web site a few months ago now, back when "bailout" might have meant those $1,200 checks families got in the mail rather than $700 billion to heal corporate America's boo-boo. I'd been feeling the pinch more from having lived on a dollar salary in a euro world, but now the idea of writing about cheap eating seems prescient. I caught the wave early.

Anyway, I decided to give the $7 Dinner Challenge as outlined on Sweetnicks a try, figuring it fit well with my efforts to write about healthy, frugal eating and with my efforts to keep our own grocery budget in line as food costs refuse to drop along with the price of gas.

We have a three-person household here in Seattle, with me, my husband, and my brother (also a grad student). Last month, we spent about $15 a day on groceries, which certainly isn't bad, but it would be helpful if we could do better. However, we draw a line when it comes to food quality; we won't subsist on ramen just to make ends meet.

Thus, I write posts like this one to show that you can live on the cheap without eating ramen or double cheeseburgers every night. The meal we had on Sunday, pesto pasta with smoked sausage and salad, cost only about $2.27 a person (for three people -- if you had four eaters, it's $1.71).

Give the method a try! You could make it even less expensive by using pre-grated parmesan cheese, regular pasta, and plain old vegetable oil, too. It would still be a healthy meal (albeit with a little less fiber), full of heart-friendly fats and pretty lean protein.

pesto-pasta.jpgPesto Pasta with Smoked Sausage
Source: Pennies & Pounds
Yield: 4 servings (unless you're serving hungry guys . . . then maybe only 3!)

1 pound pasta
2 tablespoons almonds (approximately)
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch cilantro
salt and pepper
1/4 c. olive oil
Reserved pasta cooking water
1/4 c. grated pecorino romano
1 pound turkey smoked sausage or kielbasa

1. Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Salt the water generously and add the pasta when it's ready. Cook the pasta until it's al dente. (I usually set a timer for 7 minutes.) Make the rest of the recipe while the water comes to temperature and the pasta cooks.

2. Grind the almonds and garlic in a food processor. Add the cilantro and pulse until it's chopped. Add a pinch of salt and some black pepper. With the processor on, drizzle in the olive oil through the feed tube. It won't look too saucy yet. Take a break from the sauce until you drop the pasta.

3. Slice the sausage into rounds and cook it over medium-high heat until it is nicely browned. Keep it warm over low heat until tossing time.

4. After you've put in the pasta and let it cook a couple minutes, scoop some starchy water out of the pot with a measuring cup. Turn the food processor back on and gently pour in the hot water until the pesto looks nice and loose. Remember, it will thicken a bit more when you stir in the cheese. Pour the sauce into a large tossing bowl and stir in the pecorino.

5. Add the hot pasta to the bowl and toss with the sauce. Add more pasta water if it looks too dry for your taste. Add the seared sausage and serve.

Cost breakdown (your prices may vary):
Pesto pasta with smoked sausage:
500 g whole-wheat pasta: $1.32
1 pound turkey smoked sausage: $2.00
25 g almonds: $0.25
1 bunch cilantro: $0.69
1/4 c. pecorino (.8 oz): $0.39
4 garlic cloves: $0.08
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil: $1.02
kosher salt
fresh-ground black pepper

and a salad of:
1/2 head iceberg lettuce: $0.40
1/2 cucumber: $0.40
2 plum tomatoes: $0.27

Total: $6.82

Monday Meal Planning: Election Party Edition!

I thought the day would never come.

For TWO *$&@#& YEARS, the presidential campaign seemed like it would never end.

And tomorrow (or, possibly, very early Wednesday) it finally will! What better cause for celebration?!

No matter who you support, surely we can all agree that this one was a marathon, not a sprint. I voted early, so my role is done; my choice, made. If only that meant the ad assault ended, too!

Ah, well. At least I have TiVo to get me through.

Besides putting together a festive meal for Tuesday night, I'm also planning to try out a few more Thanksgiving side dishes. It's true that said dishes are rich and often expensive, but I reduce the hit by halving the recipes for my test runs. Also, I do use lower-fat dairy products when possible to shave off calories for everyday meals.

We're also exercising more these days, which should help us build a little more calorie-burning muscle so we can maintain our weights.

Let the fun (and the end) begin!

Barbecue meatloaf
Pioneer Woman's mashed potatoes

Cheeseburger pizza
Italian dip with tortilla chips
Cream cheese-artichoke dip (maybe)

Maple sausage and dried cranberry stuffing casserole
Pioneer Woman's butternut squash puree

Bacon, onion, and Swiss cheese frittata
Boiled potatoes

Turkey kielbasa with onions
Pecorino polenta
Vinaigrette-dressed slaw

Sliced apples
Vinaigrette-dressed slaw

Spaghetti with meat sauce
Garlic toast