Kitchen Decor

I posted here about painting my 90s looking kitchen cabinets that blended in with the floor. I promised another post about everything else I did to the kitchen, so here it is. This post contains some affiliate links, marked with *, which means I receive compensation from purchases made using those links.

Island

This is the peninsula and its wall. Here is everything in the photo:

  • Glass Rolling Pin – It was my great grandmother’s. See this post about how I mounted it to the wall.
  • Wine Barrel Wall Rack – Similar to this one. Anchor it into a stud. Mine sadly isn’t positioned to be anchored into a stud, but I got drywall anchors for double the weight I thought I’d need based on the weight of the bottles plus the rack.
  • Le Creuset Pie Dish, Pie Bird*, and Tart Dish* are sitting on an IKEA Mosslanda shelf. Unfortunately I can’t find that exact pie dish anymore. The Le Creuset Mini Cocottes are hanging from s-hooks on drawer pulls mounted to the shelf. The Le Creuset minis are mostly limited edition colors from a few consecutive years of the Charleston Food & Wine Festival, but some of them are palm color*. (Separate post coming on how I did this. I’ll link it from here when it’s done.)
  • The vintage Pyrex verde bowl is filled with a bunch of my wine corks.
  • Wine Barrel Tea Light Holder – Similar to these.

fullsizeoutput_1039The wall near the refrigerator has two additional IKEA Mosslanda shelves. The top shelf has a deviled egg platter my bestie gave me for my birthday last year, plus my grandmother’s tin measuring cup and an antique German mustard jar. The bottom shelf has two Le Creuset baking dishes (the smaller two from the Classic Baking Dish Set).

To the left of the shelves is a shadowbox with a place getting of my grandmother’s silver. I’ll be doing a separate post on this as well, and I’ll come back and update this post with a link once that’s done.

I also changed out all of my outlet and switch plates from basic white metal ones to these from Lowe’s.

fullsizeoutput_103cAnd then there’s one of my favorite things in the kitchen – some of my vintage Pyrex. It’s on these shelves from Lowe’s – and I’ll tell you to proceed with caution. They were extremely hard to install due to the position of the holes for the screws and the shape of the brackets. They were also advertised as a “kitchen shelf” on the box, but I was disappointed to see that the instructions said there was a 10lb limit. I have each of the screws in a 75lb drywall anchor, so hopefully that should be more than sufficient!

Christy Jordan from Southern Plate is the queen of displaying vintage Pyrex. I picked up some tricks from her post here. The trick with the Ziploc containers was especially handy!

I unfortunately don’t have the red nesting bowl for the primary colors set. I’m currently on the hunt for one, but I want one of the older ones (pre-1950s). I need to see them in person to determine if it’s truly likely a pre-1950s bowl, so I’ve been going to antique sales, flea markets, and estate sales to hunt. I’m also on the hunt for one of the special Blue Chip Week round casseroles – seriously, this is my ultimate Pyrex wish!

I’ll also do another post on the kitchen counter and how I re-arranged things after painting. I’m excited how everything turned out!

Painting Kitchen Cabinets: Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations Kit

Painting Kitchen Cabinets with Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations Kit

I’ll do another post on the entire kitchen, but the painting is enough to necessitate its own post. I’ve hated my 90s kitchen cabinets the camouflage with the hardwood floor for quite some time. The prior owners added the peninsula and replaced the countertops with granite, but they left the early 90s cabinets. I didn’t want to spend the money on getting completely new cabinets. I looked into cabinet refacing, and that was still ridiculously expensive. I knew I wanted white cabinets, so I thought I’d just paint them myself. How hard could it be? I asked on Facebook and friends responded with tons of advice, and I knew I’d probably be in for way more effort than I had time for. Why not just hire someone? Because I like doing projects around the house, and I also didn’t want to spend the money. I also wanted to prove to myself that I could do it and not screw it up.

I was looking around Pinterest, and found a few posts about the Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations kit. I was intrigued, read some blog posts about it, and decided to give it a try. What’s the worst that could happen? I screw it up and I figure out how to fix it, or if things go really south, I just hire someone to paint the cabinets.

The kit has a deglosser, bond coat, optional decorative glaze, and a protective top coat. You have to get the kit tinted in the store (or choose your color online, if you buy it online). I chose pure white. Look at the top of the box when you buy it. It’ll show the colors with and without the decorative glaze. I did not use the decorative glaze. I wish you could just purchase the kit without it if you knew you weren’t going to use it, but unfortunately you can’t. I needed one kit for all of the cabinets you see in the photo and a second one for the cabinets around the peninsula.

Overall I’m very happy with how they turned out. I’m not the greatest at painting, and I was able to do this without much frustration. Here is the advice I have from my experience:

Hardware – figure it out first! 

Make sure you have your hardware picked out in advance, and that you actually try it. This is most important for hinges, but would be equally important for other hardware if it’ll need to be mounted differently. I had a hell of a time finding hinges that would work. If you don’t get that situated in advance, you’ll have a bunch of holes to fill and re-paint after. Learn from my mistake. Don’t assume the hinges are will work because they seem close enough when you match them up to the old ones. Actually try them and make sure they’ll work before you start painting. I think I ended up with 5 Home Depot/Lowe’s trips just because of hinges. And yeah, I have a bunch of holes on the inside of my cabinets I’m now filling.

Deglossing

The first step is deglossing. Don’t be skimpy with the deglosser, and make sure you get it all off when you’re using the wet cloth after applying it. If you don’t get the surface entirely deglossed or if there is still deglosser residue left, the bond coat won’t adhere properly.

Bond Coat

The instructions say to apply the bond coat with a synthetic 2″ brush. This absolutely did not work for me. I had brush strokes like crazy. A friend suggested a painter’s pad with women’s pantyhose over it. Sounds crazy, but it worked great! I ditched the paintbrush and used this method the rest of the time.

The instructions say you’ll need two coats. I was a little too thin on the first coat of the frames and a few of the doors, so I ended up needing 3 coats, but that was ok. It just affected the timing.

The instructions say to be careful of pooling and dripping (or something like that). I had a few places I had to troubleshoot because I didn’t notice the paint pooled and it dried like that. Watch this especially on the corners even when you’re painting the backs of the cabinets.

Decorative Glaze

I skipped this for a couple of reasons. First, I was pretty sure I wanted a white white color, and the decorative glaze would make it more of an off-white. Second, the directions made it seem kind of complicated in terms of matching the colors on all of the doors. I’m barely good enough at painting to get the bond coat applied well, so I didn’t think there was a chance I could do the decorative glaze without messing it up.

Protective Top Coat

This was pretty straightforward, but watch for bubbles and pooling. It was pretty easy to get rid of the bubbles. Also, it can get quite drippy when painting the frames if you’re not careful since it is runnier than paint. Lastly, make sure you do this in an area where you have direct light. I was painting some at night in the basement. The lighting is decent, but  that resulted in me missing a couple of patches on a couple of doors. When I was working on the ones in direct light, that wasn’t an issue.

Advice For Pet Owners

If you have pets, vacuum like you’ve never vacuumed before in the kitchen and in the area where you will be painting the doors. Use a lint roller on your clothes before you apply the bond coat and top coat. I vacuumed thoroughly, but still had stray dog fur I had to grab off of the doors while I was painting. I thankfully only had one piece of fur that dried on a cabinet door, and I was able to fix it fine.

Lobster Ravioli

Lobster Ravioli

Usually I’m the person who wants to get in and out of the grocery story as quickly as possible. I know what I want, I know where it is, and that’s that. Yesterday was one of those days when I felt like exploring everything, so naturally I ended up with a live lobster in my cart. Makes sense, right? (Note sarcasm.) There were two 13-ish year old boys who were fascinated by the live lobster being removed from the tank. They took a video of the employee removing it, and asked me what I was going to do with it. I’m probably on their Snapchat (whatever that is) or Instagram or something, along with Fred the 1.35lb lobster.

IMG_7613I felt a little guilty about what would be Fred’s fate later in the evening, and kind of wanted to keep him as a pet. But that wasn’t going to happen because I knew he’d be delicious. And don’t ask me why I named him Fred. It just seemed to fit.

I also had some filets in my cart, so I could’ve easily don’t filet and lobster tail. I had filet for dinner two nights ago, though, so I didn’t really want to do that again. I did, however, answer a fellow shopper’s question, “You look like you know what you’re doing. [Pointing at tenderloin steak] I’m looking for filet mignon. Is this it?” … followed by a short cooking lesson because she didn’t know how to make it. I also directed some other shoppers to the tortilla strips. Maybe a sign I’m in Wegmans too much?

So why bother cooking a live lobster for ravioli instead of just getting lobster meat? A lot of work, right? Seriously, you could just buy lobster meat, or even buy some frozen lobster tails and cook those for this recipe. Also, a lot of grocery stores sell sheets of pasta in the refrigerated section, so you can always buy those too instead of making your own if you don’t have a pasta roller or are short on time.

Ingredients – Ravioli Filling 

One small lobster (1.25ish lbs)
8oz ricotta cheese
¼ cup grated asiago cheese
Leaves from 2 sprigs tarragon, finely minced
¼ tsp salt

Ingredients – Pasta Dough

2½ cups flour + more for dusting
4 eggs
1 tsp olive oil
¼ tsp salt

Ingredients – Sauce

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
1 shallot, diced
4 cloves garlic, grated using a lemon zester
1 large tomato, seeds and juice removed, and diced
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup vegetable or seafood stock
Salt to taste
Grated parmesan (optional, for topping)

Instructions

The instructions are broken down into the following sections:

  1. Cook the lobster (you can start the rest of the filling while he’s cooking)
  2. Make the filling
  3. Make the sauce
  4. Make the paste dough and assemble ravioli
  5. Put it all together!

Cooking the Lobster

I learned how to humanely kill a lobster from Gordon Ramsey on MasterChef a few seasons ago (see video here). If you’ve never done this before, make sure you have an excellent and super sharp chef’s knife so you can humanely kill your lobster. I am not kidding when I say your chef’s knife needs to be in good shape and SHARP. Please don’t put your lobster through agony because your knife is dull. Please also do not put your lobster through agony because you’re too afraid to push hard enough to slice through his head.

Once you’ve humanely killed your lobster, you’ll want to boil it for about 7 minutes. I considered cooking him for less time since it would get some additional cooking when the ravioli cooks, but I didn’t want to take the risk of undercooked lobster. It’s cut into small pieces for the filling anyway, so the rubbery texture (if overcooked) would not be as noticeable.

Filling

Combine the ricotta, asiago, tarragon, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Remove the lobster meat from the shell, and chop it into small pieces. Wait for it to cool before stirring it into the filling. Cover the filling and set aside.

Sauce

Preheat saute pan over medium heat. Add butter and melt. Add shallots and garlic and cook for a few minutes until the shallots start to become translucent. Stir the entire time they’re cooking.

Add flour to the pan to make a roux. Keep stirring so the flour doesn’t burn. You’ll likely have paste-like gobs of flour-shallot-garlic, which is OK. Cook for a few minutes until the roux gets blond. Add heavy cream and stock tomatoes. Bring to a boil (stirring the whole time so the cream doesn’t burn), add tomatoes, then reduce to a simmer. Your sauce should be starting to thicken. Use an immersion blender to puree the shallots and tomatoes. I left some tomato chunks because I didn’t want it them entirely liquified. Add salt to taste.

Keep sauce warm on low heat, stirring occasionally.

Pasta Dough & Assembling Ravioli

Scoop flour onto work surface. Make a well in the center. Add salt. Add one egg and start to incorporate with a fork. Be careful not to kill the walls of your well or it’ll get unnecessarily messy fast! Continue to add eggs one at a time, incorporating more of the flour after each one. Add the olive oil, continue to incorporate everything until it becomes doughy. You will get your hands dirty. You will reach a point where it’s clear you can’t do any more with the fork and you just need to use your hands. Once you have a dough ball, knead, knead, knead for several minutes.

Roll out the pasta dough and put it through the pasta machine. Start on the widest setting and work your way thinner. I went to #6 (out of 8) on the KitchenAid. Lay out sheets on a lightly floured surface.

Add filling at even intervals down the middle of a dough sheet. How much filling you need will depend on the size of your ravioli. Lay another piece of dough over the top. Press to seal all around the filling. Cut out the shapes using a pastry wheel or ravioli stamp. Set them aside on a lightly floured surface.

Cook Ravioli & Finish! 

Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Cook ravioli for about 6 minutes. To check for doneness, test an edge since this is the thickest part that takes longest to cook. Use a spider spoon to transfer the ravioli to the pan with the sauce. Let them cook together for a few minutes. Transfer to a plate or bowl for serving. Top with grated parmesan (optional).

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Buffalo Chicken DipI first made this a couple of years ago, and it’s probably the most requested thing for me to bring to parties (or serve as an appetizer when I’m having a party). It’s really simple, but always a hit. If I’m taking it to a party, I will usually just wait to bake it until I get there, as long as I know the host will have oven space. This recipe fits well in a 2.5 qt casserole dish. I like using my vintage Pyrex verde dish when I make it, and I use silicone cooking bands to keep the lid on the Pyrex dish when I’m transporting it. These are especially handy if I’m transporting the dip right out of the oven because they’ll survive the heat. If it’s right out of the oven, I usually transport it on a Le Creuset silicone trivet on top of a kitchen towel in the car.

Ingredients

2-3 boneless chicken breasts
2 blocks cream cheese, softened
¼ to ½ cup buffalo sauce (depending on how buffalo-y you like it)
2 packets ranch dressing mix
¾ cup cheddar cheese

Instructions

Cook chicken breasts and shred. My favorite way to shred chicken is to cut each breast in half, toss in the bowl of my stand mixer with the paddle attachment, and turn it on medium speed for about 45 seconds. I always cover it with a towel so chicken pieces won’t fly everywhere. I go through it to pick out any funky pieces (which the dogs appreciate).

Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine. I just toss everything in the stand mixer since the chicken is already in there. Start with ¼ cup of the buffalo sauce and taste the dip once everything is combined to see if you want to add more.

Transfer to a casserole dish and bake uncovered at 350° until it’s hot, probably about 15 minutes. You may need to adjust the cooking time depending on how deep or shallow your baking dish is. Just keep an eye on it. Serve with tortilla chips.

Pulled Pork BBQ Biscuit Sliders

Pulled Pork BBQ Biscuit Sliders

Yesterday was a very cold day, and I wanted some comfort food. I didn’t feel like chili, and I wanted another excuse to use my Le Creuset braiser. This is another recipe you could adapt to a dutch oven or slow cooker. Fair warning – remember that I grew up in Charleston, SC, so this barbecue sauce is mustardy! (If you’re not familiar with regional barbecue sauces, Eater has a good post about it. It drives me crazy when I’m at a restaurant and they have Carolina barbecue on their menu. Seriously? Which one? Ok, off the soapbox now…) This recipe also uses frozen Pilsbury biscuits. I didn’t have time to make biscuits from scratch, and the Pilsbury frozen ones are pretty tasty.

Ingredients

2 lb boneless pork shoulder
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced (or grated using a zester)
1 apple, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
½ cup beer or white wine (I used leftover Pinot Grigio from Christmas that I wasn’t going to drink, but I would’ve preferred to use beer)
5½ cups chicken stock
4 bay leaves
Olive oil

Biscuits (I used frozen Pilsbury)
Pickles (optional)

Dry Rub
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp mustard powder
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp celery seed
¼ tsp cayenne

BBQ Sauce

This makes enough for the pulled pork, and there will be some left over to use later.

1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp cumin
2 tbsp mustard powder
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp Worcestershire
¼ cup pan juices from braised pork
¼ cup vinegar
½ cup ⅓ cup brown sugar (I used ½ cup initially, and it was too sweet. It took a lot of effort to get the “too much sweetness” out)
¾ cup yellow mustard
Olive oil

Instructions

Pork

Combine all ingredients for the dry rub and set aside. Preheat oven to 325°. Preheat  braiser or dutch oven on the stovetop over medium heat. Rub the dry rub on all sides of the pork.

Coat the pan with olive oil. Begin to saute the onions, garlic, celery, and apples. Cook for about a minute, then make a space in the middle for the pork. Sear the pork on each side for 3 minutes. Stir the onions/apples/garlic/celery occasionally while the pork is searing.

Deglaze the pan with the beer or wine. Let it cook and reduce by half. Return the pork to the pan, and add the chicken stock and bay leaves. It should cover the pork by half (add more stock or some water if it doesn’t. Stop adding stock once it is covered by half.) Bring the liquid to a boil, then transfer the pork to the oven and cover with the lid. (Tip: I’m always afraid of spilling the liquid during the transfer, so I always move it into the oven with the lid off and put the lid on once it’s in the oven).

Check the pork after 1 hour, then flip it to the other side. Return it to the oven and cook it for another hour with the lid on. The pork should be tender enough to shred with a fork. If it isn’t, keep cooking and checking in 15 minute increments until it’s ready. Once it’s done, remove from the oven and set aside.

Sauce

Preheat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s hot, add olive oil. Saute onions and garlic until caramelized. Add pan juices, vinegar, tomato paste, mustard,  Worcestershire, and brown sugar. Stir often until the sugar is dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients, and stir to combine. Cook for a few minutes. Use an immersion blender to puree the onions and garlic into the sauce. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender – just be careful with hot stuff in a blender. Vent the lid so the steam can escape, and cover it with a kitchen towel to avoid hot splatter.) Keep the sauce warm on low, stirring occasionally while the biscuits are baking or warming.

Put it Together

Shred the pork with a fork. Place the pork in a bowl, add some sauce, and stir to coat. You won’t need all of the sauce the recipe makes. Depending on how long the pork has been sitting, it may need to be reheated, which is fine. Just microwave for about a minute if that’s the case. Serve on biscuits with pickles.

Braised Short Rib Risotto

Braised Short Rib Risotto

When my mom was in town for Christmas last year, she ordered this braised short rib risotto when we were out for dinner one night. I tried a bite and it was amazing. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to try to replicate it at home, and I’ve also been wanting to use my new Le Creuset braiser more. Well, yesterday I finally made it – it was amazing!

Ingredients – Short Ribs

2 lbs beef short ribs (bone-in)
1 onion, diced
4 ribs celery, chopped
3 carrots, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp thyme
½ cup red wine
4 cups beef stock
Olive oil
Salt

Ingredients – Risotto

1½ cups arborio rice
10 oz package baby bella mushrooms, stems removed and chopped
1 shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cups chicken stock
¾ cup water
½ cup white wine
½ cup heavy cream
⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt

Instructions – Short Ribs 

I used my Le Creuset braiser to make these, but a dutch oven would work fine too.

Preheat oven to 325°. Season the short ribs on all sides with salt. Preheat braiser or dutch oven on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, coat the pan in a little bit of olive oil. Sear the short ribs for 2 minutes per side. Remove them from the pan and set aside.

Add onions, celery, carrots, and garlic to the pan. Saute the veggies, stirring occasionally, until they’ve started to caramelize. Deglaze the pan with the red wine. Return the short ribs to the pan and add the beef stock and thyme. The liquid should cover about half of the short ribs. Depending on the size of the pan, you may not need all of the beef stock – you don’t want them to be covered up with too much liquid. Add some water if the short ribs aren’t covered by half.

Move the pan to the oven and cook with the lid on for about 2-2.5 hours, until the meat easily comes off of the bone. Cook for an additional 15-20 minutes uncovered, then remove from the oven and let the short ribs rest while you’re making the risotto.

Instructions – Risotto 

Add chicken stock and water to a saucepan and simmer over medium heat, then reduce to low to keep warm. Meanwhile, heat a saute pan over medium heat, and coat with olive oil once it’s hot. Cook mushrooms, shallots, and garlic until the shallots are translucent. Add the rice and toast, stirring constantly, for about a minute. Add the wine to the pan. Bring it to a boil, then turn back to medium heat. Once the wine is reduced by half, add a ladle full of the stock to the rice. Stir occasionally until the stock has been almost entirely absorbed by the rice, then add another ladle of stock. Repeat the process of stirring and adding another ladle of stock. Add the heavy cream at the end when there is only a little bit of stock left. Add the rest of the stock if needed (taste the risotto and see if it’s tender – if the texture is right, you can stop and don’t need to add the rest of the stock.) Remove from heat, stir in the parmesan cheese. Add salt to taste.

Serve short ribs over the risotto with some of the veggies and braising liquid. Optional – use a roux to thicken the braising liquid before serving.

Low-Budget Food Challenge: Wrap-Up

So I failed at the low-budget food challenge. Feeding America will be getting a donation for all of the times I cheated. On day 2 or 3, I started to realize some of the mistakes I made that made it harder. But what the reinforced even more was that shopping on a very small budget requires a lot of planning to make the ingredients stretch so you don’t end up hungry.

I think the biggest thing I would do differently if I tried this again would be to not get white bread and peanut butter. Instead, I would have gotten a dozen eggs instead of 6 and some soft tortillas. I could have used the potatoes, eggs, and chili to make breakfast burritos, which would have been more filling. I would also probably have purchased mayo (or made some from the eggs) so I could have chicken salad wraps for lunch.

Overall, I was hangry, I was miserable, and I realized how fortunate I really am to not have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. In my original post, I mentioned I didn’t want this to be a one-time thing where I do the challenge and forget about it. I’m probably going to be looking to do more volunteering to make a difference, and I’ll be posting lower-cost recipes (and tagging them into a low-cost meals category).

Low-Budget Food Challenge: Day 1 Recap

It’s the end of day 1 of my 7-day low-budget food challenge. Spoiler alert: I already cheated, which means I add $5 more to my donation to Feeding America.

Strangely, I woke up hungry. I’ve never been a big breakfast eater, so this was a little odd for me. I was planning to have a scrambled egg and potatoes for breakfast, but I got a last minute invite to go flea marketing and wouldn’t have time for the potatoes to cook. So I had a scrambled egg, toast, and a banana for breakfast. I felt kind of full, but not really. A second egg probably would’ve done the trick, but I only have 6 to last me the week.

We got to the flea market about 45 minutes after I had breakfast and I started to get hungry. Then I was starving. I was on the verge of headache starving. I continued to tell myself I could wait until I got home and have a peanut butter sandwich and carrots. Slowly the awful hunger started to go away, and I was only slightly hungry. But I cheated. I went to Firehouse Subs and got a turkey sub and chips. Part of this was because I was with someone who wanted to go out to lunch, but also because I was just really hungry and I didn’t do a great job exercising self-control. I can say with relative certainty that I would have still been hungry after a peanut butter sandwich and carrots.

I also walked around Total Wine with a friend and sampled a bunch of things, which was free. I bought a few gifts, but nothing that I’ll be consuming this week.

I made this chili for dinner using the ground beef, canned tomatoes, and chili seasoning I bought. I also used some of the beans and an onion, but I still have plenty of each left over. The chili was filling enough, and I have plenty left over to reheat throughout the week.

I analyzed today’s nutrition as if I hadn’t cheated for lunch using the USDA SuperTracker. This would have been 839 calories for the entire day, being under target for grains, vegetables, fruits, and proteins – and no dairy at all. (Note: I had the choice to move the beans in the chili from the veggie to the protein basket, but I left them in the veggie basket. I moved them to the protein basket, and I was OK for protein.) I was under target for most vitamins and minerals, and over for fat. When I analyzed what I actually ate, my day was 1180 calories. I was close to the target for protein, and had some dairy.

We’ll see how I do tomorrow. I plan to eat an egg and potatoes for breakfast (which I will likely make tonight and reheat because it’s Monday tomorrow and I’m not a morning person), and I’ll stop for one of the 5 McDonald’s coffees I’ve budgeted for. I’m going to pack a serving of chili, half a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, carrots, and a banana in my lunch box for a combination of lunch and snacks. For dinner, I might eat chili, or I might roast the whole chicken I bought.

Simple Chili (for low-budget food challenge)

Simple Chili

One of the meals I made to last most of the week for the low-budget food challenge was a simple chili. I was surprised I was able to pull this off without my usual poblano and jalapeno peppers, among other ingredients. This isn’t the best chili I’ve made, but it tasted good and it was quite filling.

I made this in the dutch oven, but it could easily be made in any large pot. It could also be made in a slow cooker after browning the beef.

Servings: 7

The 7 total servings is based on 1½ cups per serving – the recipe makes 10½ cups of chili.

Ingredients

  • ½ pound ground beef (I used 80% lean, and the package I bought was just short of a half pound at 0.44 pounds)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • ½ cup dry black beans
  • ½ cup dry kidney beans
  • 1 – 28oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 packet McCormick Original Chili Seasoning
  • 1 tbsp salt

Instructions

Soak beans per the instructions on the bag, either quick soak or overnight method. Do not get rid of the liquid!

Preheat a large pot over medium heat. Add ground beef and cook until brown, stirring occasionally and breaking up the pieces. (Note: Normally I would start with olive oil and cook some garlic and onions first, but being limited in resources due to the challenge, I did not have olive oil to use, and I didn’t want to waste any of the butter. I decided the fat from the beef would be just fine for cooking the onions.)

Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add beans (including the liquid from soaking), canned tomatoes, chili seasoning, and salt. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook for at least 20 minutes. I let mine simmer for about an hour (stirring occasionally) because I was doing other things, but it would have been fine to eat after 20 minutes.

Nutritional Information (per serving)

I estimated the nutritional information using the recipe builder on the USDA SuperTracker. If you’re on a low sodium diet, you can reduce the amount of sodium by about 78% if you don’t add the 1tbsp of salt to the recipe.

Nutrient
Amount
% of Daily Target or Limit
Total Calories 165 8% limit
Protein 12 g 26% target
Carbohydrate 21 g 16% target
Dietary Fiber 7 g 30% target
Total Sugars 4 g No daily target or limit
Added Sugars 0 g 0% limit
Total Fat 4 g No daily target or limit
Saturated Fat 1 g 6% limit
Monounsaturated Fat 2 g No daily target or limit
Polyunsaturated Fat 1 g No daily target or limit
Linoleic Acid 0 g 2% target
α-Linolenic Acid 0.1 g 10% target
Omega 3 – EPA 1 mg No daily target or limit
Omega 3 – DHA 0 mg No daily target or limit
Cholesterol 18 mg 6% limit
Minerals
Calcium 68 mg 7% target
Potassium 563 mg 12% target
Sodium 1269 mg 55% limit
Copper 224 µg 25% target
Iron 8 mg 42% target
Magnesium 55 mg 17% target
Phosphorus 159 mg 23% target
Selenium 6 µg 11% target
Zinc 2 mg 27% target
Vitamins
Vitamin A 29 µg RAE 4% target
Vitamin B6 0.3 mg 22% target
Vitamin B12 0.6 µg 23% target
Vitamin C 16 mg 21% target
Vitamin D 0 µg 0% target
Vitamin E 1 mg AT 5% target
Vitamin K 6 µg 7% target
Folate 106 µg DFE 27% target
Thiamin 0.8 mg 75% target
Riboflavin 0.1 mg 13% target
Niacin 2 mg 17% target
Choline 34 mg 8% target

Low-Budget Food Challenge: Grocery Shopping

Step 1 of the low-budget food challenge I’m undertaking was grocery shopping. Tomorrow I start the actual challenge. I’m raising money (and donating funds myself) for Feeding America while I do the challenge. If you’d to donate, click here for my fundraising page.

Lessons Learned From Grocery Shopping

  • It was really hard and took twice as long as my usual shopping trips due to the amount of planning needed, and because I went to two stores (in the same shopping center)
  • I shopped at Target and Wegmans. Some things really are cheaper at Wegmans, and simply not available at Target.
  • Spices, seasonings, and other pantry staples are luxuries I take for granted
  • Meats that I thought would be OK because I could make them last for 5 meals still didn’t fit the budget
  • Sometimes I had to buy things that were not the greatest value (for example, chili seasoning pack for 99 cents instead of separate seasonings that would last longer)

Tips If You’re On A Budget

  • Planning in advance is extremely helpful.
  • If you have more than one grocery store in your area, do some price comparisons. Everyone is always surprised when mention my spreadsheet of Wegmans prices (for the essentials, not the “fancy” stuff) vs. other stores in the area.
  • If you can afford it, try to pick up one item each grocery trip that will help build a baseline pantry. This will help in the long run because you’ll be able to begin using more and more things you have on hand. (I’m developing a checklist, which I’ll link here when I’m finished.)
  • Know what items you can use for multiple things (for example, a whole chicken for $6 can yield a couple of dinners, chicken for chicken salad, and chicken stock).
  • Be careful of the “cost per unit” price comparisons on store labels. For example, canned kidney beans were labeled as 67 cents per pound, and the dry ones $1.49 per pound. But this does not take into account that 1 pound of dried kidney beans will yield about 2 lbs 7oz of cooked (source: Serious Eats). So really, the dried beans were about 61 cents per pound when considering how much the package would actually produce.
  • Choose your battles on getting the best value vs. saving money now. Even though it might be cheaper per unit to buy the 12-pack of whatever item, this may not be feasible to do for everything.

What Did I Buy?

  • Whole chicken
  • Ground beef
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Green beans (frozen)
  • Black beans (dried)
  • Kidney beans (dried)
  • Canned crushed tomatoes
  • White bread
  • Peanut butter
  • Butter
  • Brown sugar
  • Eggs (half dozen)
  • Goya seasoning
  • Chili seasoning packet

Total = $32.19, which leaves a little room for me to stop for a $1 coffee during the work week. I made my initial donation for the difference between what I spent (plus the coffees I’m going to buy) and my weekly grocery budget.

The Whole Story

I knew grocery shopping was going to be hard, but I underestimated how hard it would be. There were some items that I picked up (for example, a whole chicken) that I knew would last and I could get a lot out of. My confidence quickly faded after choosing the chicken. It also took me about twice as long to shop than normal because it was hard to think about how I was going to make everything last the week. I definitely made some poor choices along the way, which resulted in backtracking and putting items back.

low budget challenge lesson 1Baseline Pantry – Yikes!

One of the biggest realizations I had during my shopping trip was how fortunate I am to have a well-stocked pantry and fridge, and that I take this for granted. Things like flour, butter, olive oil, herbs, and spices are not something I have to think about. So how could I make this $38 stretch and get some items that would give my meals some flavor? I have plenty of seasonings at home, but I’m not going to cheat and use those. The only things I’m going to use that I already have are salt, pepper, flour, and sugar. I looked for seasoning blends that I could use for multiple things. I chose Goya’s Sazonador Total. I’m going to use the one I already have at home, but I included the cost in my calculations as if I bought it. After deciding I was going to make chili (see next paragraph), I needed a seasoning for that. Normally I season my chili with chili powder ($1), cumin ($3), paprika ($3), and cayenne ($4, or $1 if I bought red pepper flakes and ground them myself). My $38 budget couldn’t afford all of those, so while it’s not the best value, I opted for a 99 cent package of chili seasoning mix.

Meat is Expensive!

One of the poor choices I made, and had to put back, was a half sirloin (confession: it was also grass fed and organic – what was I thinking?!) I was going to get the sirloin strips that I normally use for beef stew, but at $17 there was no way that was happening. I thought spending $11 on a half sirloin that I could cut into cubes would be OK because I was planning to make beef stew to last the week – but even considering that being one meal over at least 5 days, it wasn’t going to work. I changed directions and decided to go for ground beef for chili. I lucked out because I found a very small package of it.

Morning Coffee

This was a tough one. I have a Keurig, so I was limited to k-cups (cheapest I could find was $4.49 for a pack of 12). I drink milk in my coffee, which was $1.69 for a half gallon. So $6.18 total, and each cup of coffee would be about 52 cents when considering the cost of the k-cups and the milk. However, this is one of those things where I considered opting out of morning coffee a few days out of the week and stopping by McDonalds for a $1 coffee. If I just had coffee 3 days per week, the total cost would be $3.18. If I stopped each work day, it would be $5.30. So I’m going with the McDonalds plan. This is one of those things where it would be a better value to get the coffee and milk and make at home, especially because I would’ve gotten 2 weeks out of the coffee. I could also use the link for mashed potatoes. But similar to the chili seasoning situation, I decided to go for overall lower cost here instead of value. I think this is an important point to recognize. Certainly it would be great if we could all buy the best value every time because it saves money in the long run, but the unfortunate reality is that not everyone can afford to spend more in the short term to yield long term savings.