Grocery Challenge - Week 2 Begins

We wanted to start our grocery buying off on Monday when we realized we were out of chocolate syrup (aiee! my morning coffee drinks!) and needed a cucumber to make a batch of Chilled Tomatillo-Cucumber Soup before the tomatillos bit the dust.

It was not, however, meant to be. We wound up going to Walmart today with our usual shopping trips to Rancho and Winco because of problems with a UPS delivery. (If you watch my Twitter feed, you probably saw me bitching up a storm.)

We Spent: $8.94 (Rancho) + $4.27 (Del Taco) + $30.55 (Winco) + $3.21 (Walmart) == $46.97 Budget Remaining: $3.03

Yikes! We've spent almost our entire budget this week. Part of that was buying $SUPER_SECRET_INGREDIENT for Saturday. We did get a moneymaker though at Winco -- flyer coupon for Bar S Hot Dogs for 28c each + $1.00 off 2 Bar S Hot Dogs == 44c cash back! (They're really bad as hot dogs, but if you chop 'em up finely, they do okay when fried up. And free + cash back isn't something I'll turn down!)

But! On the upside, I won another $20 Jason's Deli gift card in the Tuesday Trivia Challenge!! I'm so excited! XD Interestingly enough, both of the challenges I won were American history related - the first was regarding the Scopes trial and the second was about President Madison's purchase of Thomas Jefferson's library.

Anyway... How are we doing on eating healthily and using up old pantry items? I think we're doing great on eating well, even if right now neither of us is inspired to do much that's original. I'm way too stressed over my senior project, but things should improve once I hand that in during July. My husband has been sick for a few days too. Not great for creativity. As for the pantry, we're slowly using things up.

Sunday: Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, Breakfast Sausage, hot fruited oatmeal (from The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook) Lunch: Maltas gaļas mērce over cheese tortellini, sauteed leek and carrots on the side Dinner: Mom invited us out to Applebee's

Monday: Breakfast: Fried egg, turkey bacon, apple and savory bacon/olive cornbread (no recipe yet, husband was inspired Sunday night) Lunch: Random fridge stirfry of broccoli, tomato, carrot, cabbage and mushrooms with black beans over steamed quinoa and bulgur. Dinner: Vistas karbonāde ar sieru, šķovēti kāposti, vārīti kartupeļi (Chicken cutlet with cheese, braised sauerkraut and boiled potatoes)

Tuesday: Breakfast: Omelette with strawberry hot fruited oatmeal Lunch: Del Taco -- because I was pissed off and hot so I missed the turn for the taco truck (on the plus side, we only spent $0.27 more than we planned) Dinner: Beef/TVP kofta/meatballs, baked potatoes, sauteed zucchini and carrots, plus roasted fresh sweet corn (just because they looked great)

Šašliks – Two Ways


As promised on Friday, here are the recipes we used for this year's šašliks.

What are šašliks? You probably know them as shish-kebobs or shashliks (š is sh) - just skewered, marinated meat that's grilled. Nom.

I don't think I could pick one of these as a favorite of the night - I wished for more of both!

Cranberry Chile Pork Šašliks [printable recipe]

  • 1/2 lb to 1 lb pork1, cut into 1" - 2" chunks
  • 150 g cranberries
  • 1 dried ancho chile, stemmed and seeded
  • 3 tbsp honey, to taste
  • 1 - 2 tsp salt, to taste
  • hot water, as needed

Soak ancho in hot water until soft, about 30 minutes. Drain and discard soaking water. In a blender or food processor, combine cranberries, ancho chile, honey and salt and puree. Add enough hot water to make the marinade pourable.

Pour marinade over pork. Marinate for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight. Remove pork from marinade and skewer. Grill over moderate fire until cooked through. Best with wood smoke!


  1. There is enough marinade for a pound of pork, maybe a bit more.

Jalapeno-Lemon Chicken Šašliks [printable recipe]

Adapted from Afghan Food and Cookery

  • 1 - 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1" chunks
  • 1 medium jalapeno, stemmed and seeded
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 3 - 5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 - 3 tbsp lemon juice (about 1 lemon, juiced)
  • 1 - 2 tsp coriander seeds, to taste
  • 1 - 2 tsp peppercorns, any variety, to taste
  • 1 - 2 tsp brown or palm sugar, to taste
  • 1 - 2 tsp salt, to taste
  • sprig of mint (optional)

Combine all ingredients except chicken in a blender or food processor and puree. Pour marinade over chicken and marinate for 4 to 6 hours. Remove chicken from marinade and skewer. Grill over moderate heat until cooked through.

As with the Cranberry-Chile Pork, this marinade makes enough for at least 2 large chicken breasts.

Grocery Challenge - End of Week 1

Phew! We reached the end of the first week!

Friday, we went into Salt Lake for an appointment and decided to grab lunch at one of our favorite spots - Jason's Deli. I'd won a $20 gift card in a trivia challenge from @jasonsdeli a few weeks ago and saved it for the next time we were up that way. We stopped at Target and bought some water for the drive home (plus some coffee, since I had a decent coupon.)

We Spent: $4.79 Remaining Budget: $8.13

Breakfast: Crepes with homemade preserves, turkey bacon and apple Lunch: Jason's Deli Dinner: Chicken pizza with cabbage-carrot-black bean salad Saturday, we knew we had a bit left in our budget and Walmart had nice looking leeks, so we picked them up and a few other things we were out of like garlic and sour cream.

Breakfast: Hash browns, fried egg, turkey bacon and apple Lunch: Pildīta pankūkas (vegetarian filled crepes), leftover salad Dinner: Dinner with Dad at Costa Vida

And the first week's result: We came in under-budget!

We Spent: $5.49 Remaining Budget: $2.64

Jāņi 2010

Boy, we had some good food this year for Jāņi and thought I'd share what we made. We didn't make as much as usual - I kinda forgot to set up rupjmaizes kartojums for dessert. If you celebrated Jāņi, what did you have?

Jalapeno Jāņu Siers

We decided to do the spicy pepper version of Jāņu siers finally, substituting very finely minced jalapeno for the caraway seeds. If you like spicy cheeses, you HAVE to do this one - it's quite like spicy Havarti or Jack. It's not really spicy in the way of "burn your mouth hot" but it has a really nice chile flavor. I think this one came out the absolute best - fantastic texture and beautifully cheesy.

We'd made two cheeses this past month - one traditional caraway and this chile one - this chile one came out so beautifully and I'm wondering if using buttermilk instead of kefir made a difference. Guess we'll just have to try again in a few weeks! (It is so, so easy now that we can make a good biezpiens.)


Normally, we do some variation on Artis' family's šašliks recipe but this year, he decided he wanted to try out a couple of ideas. Both came out really, really well, and completely deserving of their own post, so that should be up next week once I can get him to cough up the ingredients. :D

Boiled and Fried Potatoes with Rosemary

Our garden may not be doing well right now - it seems like half of everything is failing to thrive or outright biting the dust - but the rosemary is going strong. It is so, so nice to simply walk out and clip some sprigs for a meal. Read more about my favorite way to cook these.

Grocery Challenge - Days 4 & 5

Hopefully this series isn't bugging the hell out of you, my regular readers.

So far, my thoughts on this challenge is that right now, it's easy. We're doing our regular shopping, trying to avoid impulse shopping, and keeping a closer eye on things. I do not expect it to be so easy much longer.

Yesterday was our Jāņi, or Latvian Summer Solstice, celebration. We made Jāņu siers Tuesday night and found what we had thought was a good pepper had gone bad. :( Plus, we'd forgotten to get buttermilk for the cheese! (Right now, there isn't any kefir in production for no real reason.) So, we trekked to Walmart for some jalapenos and buttermilk late Tuesday night.

We've Spent: $3.43 Budget Remaining: $12.92

We also picked up a half-gallon of Tropicana orange juice free with a coupon I received from some instant codes.

Menu for June 22 - 23 Breakfast: Omelet, apple, sausage patty and fried egg Lunch: Fried rice Dinner: Spicy chicken šašliks, cranberry-chile pork šašliks, jalapeno Jāņu siers, boiled and fried potatoes with rosemary, šķovēti kāposti, lots of beer and cider Breakfast: Scottish oatmeal with fresh preserves and milk, hard-boiled egg, sausage patty, apple Lunch: Cochinita Pibil over whole wheat pasta, carrot-cauliflower-cabbage salad Dinner: Chef Salad with baking powder biscuits

Grocery Challenge - Day 3

Today is our normal grocery shopping day. Tuesdays are when the grocery store sales for the week begin and seem to be the best day to buy produce at Rancho Markets. Because the sales on produce are so good and the quality varies dramatically at Rancho, we treat it much like a farmer's market - we buy what looks good and is inexpensive.

So, today at Rancho, there were a few sale items I wanted to look at.

  • Cucumbers - 7 for $1
  • Cauliflower - 2 for $1
  • Eggplant - 2 lbs for $1
  • Pasilla Peppers - 2 lbs for $1
  • White Onions - 2 lbs for $1
  • Cabbage - 6 lbs for $1

Just because it's on sale does not mean it's good. Like anywhere else, you have to be careful about quality. Today, I found they hadn't stocked the eggplant yet, and neither the cucumbers nor the pasilla peppers were very good since they're probably blowing out last week's stock. The cauliflower, cabbage and onions were fantastic, so I bought some of each. Actually, I overbought on onions as usual because we go through so damn many every week, but they'll keep in the fridge for more than a week.

This is why shopping at ethnic markets can save so much money. I bought two heads of cauliflower at Rancho for $0.99 total. Winco had the exact same cauliflower for $1.28 each or $2.56 for two: more than two and a half times what I paid!

The rest of the list, which we picked up at Winco, consisted of a few basics: all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, milk, some beef that was on sale, and fresh strawberries. We like to freeze strawberries when they're in season because it's much cheaper than buying a bag of frozen. I've already put up the strawberry preserves for the year, so these will mostly be frozen for smoothies. I also picked up some salad ingredients.

We Spent: $28.85 Budget Remaining: $20.35

We try never to shop on an empty stomach. Since we like to go to Rancho in the late mornings when it's quiet, we usually stop for lunch before heading on to Winco. Eating out is deducted from our weekly food budget, so we had to be careful! Luckily, there was a taco truck we'd been wanting to try and those are usually inexpensive.

We stopped at Taqueria el Primo and bought $4 worth of tacos: adobada (spicy pork), carnitas (shredded pork), cabeza (cow head) and pollo (chicken). Boy, was that ever good! What's interesting: Only half of the taco menu items are translated into English - the half that Americans will generally eat and/or expect, like steak, chicken and pork.

We Spent: $4 Budget Remaining: $16.35

Today's Menu Breakfast: extra fluffy Rauga Pankūkas (yeast pancakes) and an omelet. Lunch: Taqueria el Primo tacos Dinner: Cauliflower tabbouleh with bulgur-lentil pilaf

Grocery Challenge - Day 2

We spent a little last night on a late-night run to Walmart to buy some baking powder. I don't think I've ever run out of baking powder before! And since it expires, I probably should have replaced it a while ago.

We've Spent: $0.80 Budget Left: $49.20

Yesterday, we also used up the last of our frozen strawberries. Since strawberries are in season, it's cheaper to get fresh and freeze them instead of buying a bag pre-frozen. Winco has had a good price on large flats of strawberries the last few weeks, so I'll try to pick some up this week to freeze for later.


  • Last night's dessert: Strawberry-banana smoothies
  • Breakfast: English Muffin Bread, fried egg, half an apple and a slice of turkey bacon. Coffee and iced coffee, as usual.
  • Lunch: Bratwurst, fried onions and cabbage, homemade hot dog buns, can of cheap pork-n-beans
  • Dinner: A random stirfry of things that needed to be used from the crisper drawers, incuding spring onions, zucchini, carrots and cabbage, over jasmine rice. Not bad, not great, but necessary.

I have to say, my husband made his first free-form bread loaf today, along with two hot dog buns, using a recipe from Beard on Bread. They came out deliciously if not photogenically and I think we won't be buying hot dog buns any more.


Red Lentil Dal with Toasted Garlic Millet

Oof. This is an old one that fell through the cracks. I made this to go with the Red Lentil Dal and it worked really nicely.

Millet is one of those grains that I think are under-appreciated. Okay, that and it's also birdseed. Don't let that stop you from trying it -- why should those birds have all the fun?! It's pretty plain on its own though, so I like to add different things to spice it up.

Apparently, millet (or prosa) is fairly common in Latvia. My husband was certainly happy to see it in the bulk section at Winco; I think he missed having it!

It's pretty easy to cook - quite similar to rice, really. It's a 2:1 ratio of liquid to millet and steamed to fluffiness.

Garlic Millet [printable recipe]

Serves 2

  • 3/4 cup millet
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • pinch of salt

In a dry cast iron skillet over medium heat, toast millet until it browns nicely. Combine all in a rice cooker and press Cook.

Maple Millet [printable recipe]

Serves 2

  • 1/2 cup millet
  • 1 cup water
  • pinch of salt
  • maple syrup
  • cream or milk

In a dry cast iron skillet over medium heat, toast millet until it browns nicely. Combine millet and water in a rice cooker and press Cook.

Fluff with a fork when cooked and stir in cream and maple syrup to taste.

Grocery Challenge - Day 1

It's time! The All*You Grocery Challenge has officially begun. For the next four weeks, we'll be spending no more than $50 per week on groceries, household goods and kitties excepted, and getting rid of a whole ton of things that's been hanging around in the freezer and pantry for way, way too long.

And, of course, it's a holiday, so we're starting off with a challenge on top of a challenge. Luckily, my dad asked to have dinner at our house and we had plenty stashed away. We didn't need to run out for anything! (Of course, it helped that he brought his own drink, since we don't usually have diet soda or iced tea on-hand.)

One thing that makes Cochinita Pibil so fast and easy is that we have several bags of frozen whole cranberries stashed away. At the end of the season, Winco was blowing them out at 25c a pound! Also, when we buy pork roasts, I chopped up about 2 pounds specifically to stash away for making this recipe so I could just grab a bag and go. Very fast, very easy.

In fact, I do this with a lot of things. I buy beef roasts, pork picnic roasts, and country-style pork ribs (well-marbled, inexpensive and little-to-no bone to remove), then process them at home into various meal components. I usually break down the meat into sets of stir-fry sized pieces, 1" - 2" cubes, and meat for grinding. I package all of it into individual meal portions - about 1/4 lb to 1/2 lb, depending on what I think we might make - before freezing. The meat for grinding gets marinated if it's being turned into sausage or ground for use later as meatballs or burgers and packaged in 1/2 lb packets.

So, today, we used quite a bit out of our pantry, but this is a really average meal day for us. As you'll see over the next few weeks, breakfast is never vegetarian for us though lunch and/or dinner may be.

Meals for June 20, 2010:

  • Breakfast: English Muffin bread with Breakfast Sausage Patties and a fried egg. Coffee for him, iced mocha coffee for me.
  • Lunch: Tacos - refried beans with canned green chiles, mock beef taco meat (TVP w/ Mild Taco Seasoning and beef bouillon), shredded cheese and cabbage. Water.
  • Dinner with Dad for Father's Day: Cochinita Pibil with 1/3rd TVP, Golden Rice (recipe forthcoming), sauteed Mexican zucchini and carrots. Diet soda, coffee or water for all.