(Leftover) Chicken Noodle Soup

Although you might not know it from the 20-degree weather we’re having up here in Toronto right now, soup season is definitely around the corner. Warm, comforting, delicious, seriously portable – soup is one of my favourite things about a long winter.

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Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash

Of course, as with anything, you could take the humble bowl of soup and turn it into a pricey dish indeed. Organic veg, expensive spices, buying pre-made stock – that all adds up. Or you bypass making it at all and shell out money for a premade version from a carton. But, I’m a firm believer that you almost always have the makings of a good soup lurking somewhere in your kitchen, and that’s where this recipe comes from.

This one’s a classic of course – chicken noodle soup. Curer of colds, protein blast, and bringer of fresh lemony goodness. It’s a complete meal in a bowl, and it’s just so satisfying.

I always make my chicken soup from leftovers. Whenever we buy one of those rotisserie chickens (which, btw, in our neck of the woods works out cheaper or the same price as buying one of our own and roasting it) I know we’re never going to get through the whole chicken. So I always have the same plan: soup. The recipe is a little vague for that reason, but the joy of this kind of meal is you can make it a little bit different every time.

Continue reading “(Leftover) Chicken Noodle Soup”

Convenience versus cost

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New though this blog is, you’ve probably noticed a theme: my approach to building a more budget approach to my food involves making a stuff at home. I’ve switched from buying bagels to making my own bread at home, I’m making yoghurt from scratch, I’m making granola, I’m rummaging through my leftovers to put together a meal, rather than reaching for the takeaway menu or a microwave meal.

Of course, there’s a cost included in all of these activities beyond the straight up dollars and cents I’m spending on raw ingredients. There’s the cost of production (electricity, water, heat, use of resources, etc). And then there’s time. Making bread requires that you’re around for a good couple of hours. Yoghurt takes more like 14-16 hours to process. This isn’t all active time of course, but there is an investment that I’m making here.

I’m lucky enough to work as a freelancer and I can organize my time to set some of these projects going and then wander back to my desk on the other side of the apartment while dough rises or yoghurt incubates. While I might be cash-strapped, I’m relatively time rich, and I know that isn’t a privilege that everyone (or even many people) share.

So what do you do if you’re working a 9-5 job + commute + family obligations + hobbies + social life + trying to get some sleep, once in a while? (Believe me, I’ve been there).

Here’s a few questions to ask yourself if you’re looking to balance convenience versus cost in the kitchen: 

  1. What do you actually enjoy doing? There may be some home cooking projects that you already know you enjoy and you’d like to get back to. Maybe you’ve always had a thing for meal planning. Maybe kneading dough is a great stress relief for you. Maybe the idea of batch cooking and freezing meals for future-you fills you with joy. Start with what feels easy and what feels good.
  2. Look for small wins. Although some home cooking is time consuming, lots really isn’t. Take a look at your daily eating habits and see if there’s anything you could easily make for yourself rather than buying at inflated store prices. (Making your own granola or granola bars is a great example of this – super easy to do, cheap, and way more delicious).
  3. How else can you economize your food budget? It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to give up on all convenience foods. But are there ways you can cut down on their costs without making everything from scratch? Maybe you always buy brand name soda – could you switch to the store label instead? Do you find yourself stopping at the super bougie grocery store just because you happen to be passing – what if you tried to buy in bulk, or go on a trip to a local market on the weekend? There are lots of ways to cut down on food costs, not all of them involving hours spent in the kitchen.

Convenience isn’t the enemy – but it can sometimes eating up more of our grocery budget than we at first realize. What are your top tips for balancing cost versus convenience?

The Art of the “What’s in the Fridge” Dinner

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One thing I’ve thought a lot about since trying to be more budget-conscious with my cooking is the art of “what’s in the fridge” cooking. Now, I’ve always been more of a recipe follower than a “throw things together” type cook. My tendency when faced with a fridge full of ingredients which I don’t have a pre-set plan for is panic. (This is how I’ve ended up making some really weird concoctions in the past including my classic stir fry with peanut butter and honey thrown at it *hangs head in shame*)

However, the problem with always cooking to recipes is that without careful planning you can end up creating a lot of waste and spending more money than you intended buying speciality ingredients that you may only use once in a blue moon. (I’m looking at you, Yottam Ottolenghi – your recipes may be delicious but you have a lot to answer for in terms of my bulging spice cabinet!)

So while this isn’t something that comes naturally to me, I’ve been trying to think about what the secret to creating an AWESOME weeknight dinner from what just happens to be in your fridge/freezer/stock cupboard might be. Here’s some guiding principles I’ve developed so far:

  1. Take a good and thorough look at what you have. Have in an in-depth rummage, maybe even make a list of some of the things you have lurking in the fridge. Really slow down and think about what you have available. (Aka: don’t panic).
  2. Lean into your instincts. Repeat the mantra to yourself: “I am a good cook. I can do this.”  Remember classic flavour combinations, think about core dishes you make often and then what substitutions can be made.
  3. Speaking of substitutions: don’t be afraid of them! Necessity is the mother of invention, after all, so if you don’t have something that you think your meal “needs” think through what might create a similar flavour profile. So, if you need an umami boost in your recipe for example, but you happen to be all out of soy sauce, maybe you have something else on hand that can give it that extra little punch. (For example: Worcestershire sauce, parmesan, tomatoes, etc.)
  4. Google! Google is your friend. Never underestimate the power of typing “chicken + celery” (or whatever it is you have to hand) if you’re really stuck for ideas. For the recipe lovers amongst us this might be the extra bit of hand holding you need to unleash your imagination.

Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, that picture above is my leftover chicken chilli that I whipped up last night – following this exact process. I went shopping in my fridge/cupboards, figured out a dish that could be assembled from what was there, did some googling for inspiration and even made a substitution or two. What you can see is: Frozen leftover chicken, a can of pizza sauce (we were out of tinned tomatoes!), chopped veggies that I just happened to have on hand, some spices, some stock, a tin of black beans, and a handful of frozen corn. Oh and a whole bunch of spices I just happened to throw at the pan. And there you have it, a perfectly delicious weeknight dinner (with enough for lunch leftovers) that I didn’t have to spend any extra money on. Perfect.

So, I’m curious – are you a whizz at whipping up leftovers into a culinary delight? What’s your process for making a delicious “what’s in the fridge” dinner?

 

Adventures in yoghurt making (Part 1)

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I’ve recently become a bit obsessed with the idea of homemade yoghurt. I think it probably started with our trip to Greece, when each morning part of breakfast was the creamiest, most delicious yoghurt I’d ever tasted, topped with fruit and maybe just a swirl of honey.

I was sold – it tasted nothing like the yoghurt we get in stores here in Canada, and I started trying to figure out where I could get this amazing product here in Toronto. If I scoured Greektown, would I find it? However, after a few unfruitful searches, I gave up and decided that it was just one of those “taste of vacation” experience that I wouldn’t be able to relive.

Until – I took a trip with my mum up to the Bruce Peninsula where our B&B hostess – a woman, coincidentally, of Greek descent – served us a similarly amazing yoghurt each morning. It was heavenly. I finally worked up the courage ask our host Kathy where she got her amazing yoghurt.

(By the way, if you’re ever planning a trip to Northern Ontario, I can highly recommend the Purple Frog B&B. Some of the best food I’ve ever eaten and the most amazing hosts).

She looked at me a little funny and then told me: “I make it. The way my mother taught me.”

In this moment, my mind was a little bit blown. Homemade yoghurt. Of course, I vaguely knew this was a thing people did in the past, but now? How? What would I need? Would it  be difficult?

I decided to do some research and experimentation.

Continue reading “Adventures in yoghurt making (Part 1)”

Quick Tip: Make Your Own Vegetable Stock

 

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Stock is just one of those staples, isn’t it? A lot of my favourite go-to meals, from a simple weeknight soup to a showstopping beef bourguignon, rely on the humble stock. For years, I’ve relied on store bought options. Whether its cubes, stock pots, or cartons, buying vegetable stock from the store can set you back between somewhere in the range of CAD $3-5.

And yet for most of us, we have the resources to make delicious vegetable stock right on hand for almost no extra cost at all. It just takes a little planning.

I wish I could remember where I first saw this tip so I could give credit, because it really has been life changing for me. But here it is: save your vegetable peelings. Yep, it’s that simple. Whenever you’re peeling anything (onion skins, carrots, potatoes) or chopping off the stems or stalks of a vegetable – pop them in a large ziploc bag that you keep in your freezer instead of the green bin. In no time at all you’ll have have a big full bag.

Once you’ve got your bag on the go, making your stock is this simple:

  1. Take your desired amount of veggie peelings from the freezer bag. You want a fairly decent amount each time (1-2 cups worth approx) to make sure you get enough flavour in the stock. Add to large pan.
  2. Fill pan with water and bring to the boil. Add salt to taste. Then simmer until your stock is at your desired intensity. (I usually spend about 30 mins simmering it while I get other parts of whatever I’m making ready).
  3. Drain your stock into a bowl/ container and discard of used peelings.

This gives you a lovely, rich, stock, that tastes slightly different each time depending on the peelings you had to hand on any given day. Earthy, full of flavour, and practically cost free.

This is one of those things that’s so no-nonsense and self evident that it almost seems silly to write it out here. And yet so many of us (myself included) have become addicted to the myth of “convenience” foods that we forget how easy and cheap making our own food can be; we also forget how much better it tastes.

Adventures in Bread Making: Soda Bread

1 loaf homemade soda bread: ~ CAD $1.86
Standard store sliced white loafs: CAD $3 – $4

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When I first started my quest for cheaper grocery bills, bread was one of the first places my mind turned. Not because we eat a lot of bread in my household, but because when we do eat bread we eat the fancier stuff. It’s pretty rare that we buy a standard loaf of sliced white bread – a pretty common purchase is a bag of Montreal style bagels (which even on the day old special one of our local grocery stores is $3 pre tax for 5), and on special occasions we’ll often grab an outrageously good loaf from the local Italian bakery. Truly, we are spoiled, and I’m not really interested in eating tasteless white slices in the name of economy. If it’s a choice between that, and no bread, I’d rather go without.

Luckily, there is another option.

Continue reading “Adventures in Bread Making: Soda Bread”