Category Archives: Shopping

Hunger Awareness Project: Snacking on a SNAP budget

Could you make 30 days of snacks out of $16 of groceries? Here's what's snacking on days 22 & 24 of my plan: Cucumber Raita with Radishes and Cucumbers

This is the first in a series of three posts I’ve written for the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance Hunger Awareness Project. I recently joined the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance and we’re all working together with the Capital Area Food Bank to help raise awareness about hunger in Central Texas.

For this first post, I’m focusing food education for kids by making healthy, easy snacks on a tight budget– just $16 for two kids’ snacks for the month. $16 is the smallest amount of support the government provides to food stamp recipients, and it’s possible that this small sum could make the difference between a family’s kids eating snacks after school and going hungry.

My snack menu features six easy recipes that I imagine children might enjoy preparing and eating. No cookies here. These snacks are all fruits, veggies, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil. The total cost of all the ingredients for my month’s worth of snacks was $16.02 at HEB, a grocery store on the bus route home from my job. I bought organic eggs, popping corn, and yogurt; the rest is conventional.

Grocery List
32 ounce bag popping corn, $1.99
4 ounce bottle olive oil, $1.79
16 ounce bag of dry chickpeas, $1.09
32 ounce bag carrots, $.88
small bag of radishes, $.99
two, 8 ounce packages of plain greek yogurt, $2.84
one cucumber, $.50
Garlic powder (no salt added– just plain garlic), $1.50
Ground cinnamon, $1.13
Five small apples, $.85
1/2 dozen eggs, $2.50

Shopping for these ingredients made me highly aware of what a sacrifice it can be to cook with high quality ingredients. For example, that tiny bottle of olive oil was twice as expensive as a mid-sized bottle of canola oil. Garlic powder costs three times as much as garlic salt. And organic, free range eggs cost $1.50 more than their factory farmed counterparts. Choosing to cook with these good ingredients meant that I could afford dry chickpeas, but not canned. And I had to settle for five tiny, Red Delicious apples instead of my favorite Pink Ladies or Cameos.

Even though shopping for the ingredients was a bummer, I like the snack recipes I created. I think I would have enjoyed eating all these things as a kid, especially the popcorn and the deviled eggs. (Mom? What do you think?) Here are the snacks I prepared with my $16 of groceries. In my instructions, I did my best to keep everything kid-safe, but since I don’t have kids, these are educated guesses.

Apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon: Grown-ups should slice apples, kids can sprinkle with cinnamon. Step-by-step instructions.

Popcorn: This one’s super easy. Pour 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels into a plain paper lunch sack. Fold the top of the bag over three times, then cook for 90 seconds in the microwave. Eat the popcorn plain, or sprinkle with garlic powder or cinnamon. Detailed, step-by-step instructions.

Popcorn is an inexpensive, healthy snack for kids. Just put 1/4 cup of popcorn in a paper bag, close the top and microwave for 90 seconds. No need to add butter or oil, and it costs less than $.15 for two servings.

Carrot sticks with chickpea hummus: Grown-ups should slice carrots into sticks. Kids can make hummus by using a fork to mash together in a bowl 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas, a little olive oil, a tablespoon of water and a heavy sprinkle of garlic powder. The Kid Can Cook has an ingenious, kid-friendly method for making hummus, too.

Roasted chickpeas: Kids can use a paper towel to dry 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas, then toss the chickpeas in tablespoon of olive oil with some garlic powder. Grown-ups should spread chickpeas in an even layer on a cookie sheet, then bake at 450 for 30-40 minutes until chickpeas are crunchy.

Confetti deviled eggs: Kids can help crack and peel hard-boiled eggs, and grate one radish and 1/4 of a carrot. Grown-ups should cut eggs in half and scoop out yolks. Kids can mix together the egg yolks and most of the grated veggies, and then spoon the yolk mixture back into the egg halves. Garnish with remaining veggie “confetti”.

Shredded veggies provide lots of color and texture in this simplified deviled egg recipe. Kids can help peel eggs, grate vegetables and smash together the yolk filling. I used a sprinkle of garlic powder instead of salt for extra oomph.

Cucumber raita with radish and cucumber slices: Kids can grate half a cucumber and mix it with 8 ounces of yogurt and a sprinkle of garlic powder. Grown-up should slice the remaining cucumber and radishes. Raita tastes best if it sits in the fridge for a few hours before serving. (This dish is pictured at the top of the page).

By using these simple recipes and staggering snacks throughout the month, I stretched $16 of food into 62 servings of snacks. You can see there’s a whole lot of popcorn on the menu, and lots of chickpeas. I tried to alternate these inexpensive snacks with more luxurious offerings like the cucumber raita and deviled eggs.

Do you think the snack plan I laid out here is realistic for a single, working parent to carry out? And would kids really eat these things? How would you stretch $16 to help feed your family?

Find out more about the Capital Area Food Bank and the Austin Food Blogger’s Alliance Hunger Awareness Project here. 

#12: Antonelli’s Cheese Shop

If you live in Austin, you owe it to yourself to stop by Antonelli’s to try some of the fantastic cheeses that they offer. This particular cheese-cupcake is made of Havarti from Brazos Valley Cheese in Waco, Texas. Antonelli’s is a big supporter of the Central Texas food economy, and besides cheese, they carry various olives and charcuterie and lots of other goodies. They are located near Quack’s Bakery and Asti in the heart of Hyde Park and recently celebrated the first anniversary of their business. Happy (belated) First Birthday, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop!!

On a side note, Liz Love and I actually took this outfit picture much earlier in the challenge, but I haven’t been well enough to edit the image and post it until today. I’m feeling tip top now and posting should resume as usual this week. Sorry for my absence!

Music + Food + Holiday Shopping = Must Go!

See that handsome man holding the soprano saxophone? That’s my husband, Rami, along with his friends Sunil, Spencer, and Michael in the Bel Cuore Quartet.  You can see their stunning visages in person this Wednesday when they perform at the Local Foods Holiday Gift Fair at City Hall.  Sponsored by Better Bites of Austin, the gift fair is a chance to sample local foods and stock up on holiday gifts from Central Texas food artisans. You can also bid on pre-made gift baskets in a silent auction benefitting Urban Roots.  Best part? Holiday music by the Bel Cuore Quartet! Oh, and the whole thing’s free, including parking.  See you there on Wednesday night!

Challah Pear Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce

I first read about Confituras’ Salty Caramel Pear Butter in one of my favorite Austin food blogs, Local Savour.  I knew right away that I wanted to use it to make Christmas cookies, and last Wednesday I bought a jar of pear butter from Stephanie herself just for that purpose.  Well.  Sort of.  I never actually made it to the cookies because as soon as I sampled a little of the pear butter, I ended up eating half the jar.

I still needed to make something for dessert that night, so I came up with this challah pear pudding with salty caramel sauce.  For the recipe I used cinnamon challah from  UT’s Challah for Hunger, incorporating into the dessert flavors from Confituras’ Salty Caramel Pear Butter.

Wowza, what a great idea!  This bread pudding is easy to prepare, indulgent, and fancy enough for serving at a holiday dinner where you want to impress. And while I made my own salty caramel sauce, topping the dessert with Confituras’ Salty Caramel Pear Butter is just as tasty. (I know, since that’s what happened to the other half of my cookie-making jar.)  A recipe of this bread pudding along with a few 8 oz. jars of pear butter would make a creative and delectable holiday hostess gift.

Challah Pear Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce (Serves 8 )
Bread Pudding:
1, one-pound loaf cinnamon or plain challah bread*
3 ripe pears
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (omit if using cinnamon challah)

Salted Caramel Sauce:
1 cup white sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 tablespoon salt
OR top pudding with 8 oz. Confituras Salted Caramel Pear Butter

Prepare bread pudding: Preheat oven to 325 degrees and butter a 2-quart baking dish.  Cut challah bread into 1-inch slices, the cut those slices into 1 inch cubes.  Set aside.  Core and dice pears (no need to peel them) and set aside.  Heat butter, brown sugar and white sugar in a microwave safe bowl in the microwave for 90 seconds, stirring every 30 seconds with a wooden spoon to keep mixture from scorching.  Carefully pour mixture into a large mixing bowl and whisk in milk.  Add eggs, nutmeg and cinnamon, whisking until mixture is well combined.  Add challah and fold together with a rubber spatula until bread cubes are coated.

Pour 1/3 of the pears into the prepared baking dish and cover with 1/2 the bread mixture.  Repeat, and top the casserole with the remaining 1/3 of the pears.  Use the rubber spatula to smoosh down the pudding so that it sits in an even layer in the dish.  Cover the casserole dish with foil and bake for an hour in preheated oven, or until pudding springs back. Remove foil in last 10 minutes of baking so that the top of the bread pudding is golden brown.

To make salted caramel sauce:  cook 1 cup white sugar in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.  It will take about 8 minutes of frequent stirring for the granulated sugar to transform into an amber-colored caramel.  At that point, remove the pan from heat.  Slowly add one cup heavy cream to the melted sugar, stirring constantly.  (Mixture will bubble and foam; this is good.) Add butter and salt, stirring until caramel is thickened and a little glossy.

Here’s how the sugar looks during the transformation from granulated white stuff to amber-colored caramel:

Top the finished bread pudding with caramel sauce and serve warm.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

*I’ve mentioned UT Challah for Hunger on my blog before, and they are one of my favorite local food sources. The group of UT students sells regular, cinnamon, and chocolate chip challahs for just $5 every Wednesday on the west mall of campus, with proceeds benefiting Darfur. Unfortunately, this past week was the students’ last time to bake for the year, and they won’t be back in action until late January. (In the meantime, you can get your challah fix on Fridays at Upper Crust Bakery in the Rosedale neighborhood.)

The Knife Sharpest

Tonight I visited The Knife Sharpest, an all-service knife shop located at 4703 Burnet Road in the Rosedale neighborhood of Austin. In the past several weeks I’ve noticed my knives weren’t cutting as well as they used to, and with lots of holiday cooking in store I decided to go get them sharpened.  Since the shop is open until 6 PM on weeknights, it was an easy errand on my way home from work.  Bad news first: I forgot my camera.  Now good news: they did a great job sharpening four of my kitchen knives, total cost $16!

I was a little intimidated when I walked up to the little stone shop.  As I walked to the shop’s front door from the backyard parking lot, I saw a line of wood targets used for knife throwing! (The Knife Sharpest apparently offers regular tomahawk and knife throwing classes.) The front of the store is bright yellow, but since the shop is so small it’s easy to miss along Burnet Road.

Image courtesy of The Knife Sharpest

The shop interior is pretty no-frills.  There’s a wall of kitchen knives on the south side of the store, and several glass display cases with all manner of throwing stars, straight razors, and specialty blades in the center of the store.  At the back right of the room is the counter, where I dropped off my kitchen knives and noticed the big “Cash Only” sign on the register.  The knife sharpener was real friendly; when I explained that I’d need to run get cash, he told me how much the knives would cost to sharpen and promised to have them done when I got back.

Boy, did he deliver! Within 15 minutes, he had sharpened my paring knife, serrated bread knife, santoku knife,  and a chef’s knife.  I paid $16 including tax and left with four like-new knives. Tonight I am happy to report that my little paring knife peeled persimmon’s tough skin like butter, and I used the chef’s knife to chop apples with much less effort than before it was sharpened.

This was my first experience with a professional knife sharpener, and I am much happier with these results than my at-home attempts.  The serrated blade and the large santoku knife, in particular, have a much nicer finish than I have achieved in my kitchen. In a few weeks comes the ultimate knife test, though: carving a turkey!

Pumpkin Patches in Central Texas

Now that the weather is cooling off I’m finally excited about fall.  I wore some boots and a sweater today, and I am really excited to tackle a few pumpkin recipes I’ve been eyeing.  The only bummer is that I can’t find any locally sourced, organic pumpkin here in central Texas. The closest grower I could find is Krause Farm near Navasota, Texas, about two and half hours east of Austin. That’s stretching the bounds of “local” for me, so I’ll probably be picking up a few organic pie pumpkins at Central Market this afternoon.  I’m planning to try to make version of this Pumpkin Infused Vodka and my own recipe for Pumpkin Bagels in the next few days.  Wish me luck slogging through all those snotty pumpkin insides!

Out of fairness, I should mention that there are a few local non-organic pumpkin patches close to Austin that might be fun to visit.

  • Sweet Berry Farm in Marble Falls, Texas has a pumpkin patch, corn maze, and hay rides available.  Jack o’Lantern pumpkins are 29 cents a pound and pie pumpkins are $2-3.  My friend Joanna of Keep Austin Stylish visited Sweet Berry Last weekend and got some great pictures of the jack o’lantern pumpkins they have for sale, plus her awesome riding boots. (Click the picture to see a complete account of her experience at Sweet Berry.)

  • Evergreen Farms is the closest pumpkin patch to Austin. Located in Elgin, Texas, Evergreen sells non-organic jack o’lantern pumpkins, plus they offer pumpkin decorating, a petting zoo, and the intriguing sounding “Pumpkin Launcher” for just $2.  They also have a cut-your-own Christmas tree lot starting the Friday after Thanksgiving.

My Open Pantry

Internet, meet my pantry.

This hutch was a hand-me-down from my sister when we both moved earlier this year.  Since I cook so much at home, this is one of the most-used pieces of furniture in the whole apartment.  I store a lot of produce on the hutch, plus my collection of vintage glassware.  You may recognize that green cake plate and the pressed glass pieces from my wedding.

I purchased that green cake plate at an antique store in El Campo, Texas, and the other pressed glass pieces were thrifted here in Austin and in Pella, Iowa.  (You can see a whole album of our wedding pictures by clicking on either image above.)  Now those pieces are used almost every day when I’m cooking dinner.

I know it’s unconventional to store staples out in the open, but we use up our veggies really quickly and seeing all that yummy glassware and food together makes my heart happy.

Speaking of the heart, check out that footed glass trifle bowl in between the potatoes and the peppercorns.  It’s filled with glass alphabet beads that spell Rami’s and my last names, all jumbled together.  I bought those just a year after Rami and I started dating, fully intending to display them in our home together some day.  I hid them in my closet for more than 24 months before he proposed.  Sometimes you just know, I guess!