Saturday, September 17, 2011

(Not Really) Moroccan Chicken & Lentils Recipe

Not Moroccan Chicken
Hunger ChallengeThis might be my favorite Hunger Challenge recipe. My apologies for it being brown on brown on brown, but trust me, it is delicious. On a bed of earthy and mildly spiced lemony lentils rests sweet roasted onions--some soft and some chewy--and tender roast chicken with crisp skin. It's is a combination of two different Bon Appetit recipes, but modified pretty significantly because I didn't have all the ingredients necessary. The technique for pan roasting the chicken thighs is a good one though I had to adjust it to keep the chicken from overcooking.

Beans and legumes like lentils are a very economical way to stretch a budget and more expensive ingredients such as fresh vegetables and meat or cheese. My chicken thighs were over 6 ounces each, so one per person was plenty, but if you need more for bigger appetites by all means double the number of chicken thighs. I baked this dish in the toaster oven, you may need to cook it a little longer if you use a conventional oven. I'm not sure how Moroccan the original recipe is. My version is undoubtedly even less Moroccan which accounts for he admittedly goofy name.

A few other tips for saving money when it comes to cooking and shopping:

* Canned beans are more than dried beans. Cook things like chicken broth, beans and rice ahead of time and keep them in the refrigerator all week and use them as you need them.

* Look for vegetables that are in season and on sale. Compare the price to frozen vegetables especially for things like spinach and peas.

* Soups and stews like chili are easy ways to save, but you may get tired of eating soft food. Make some crunchy raw salads with carrots or beets to add variety.

* Scour the "ethnic" food aisles for bargains. Sometimes spices and even staples like rice can be cheaper there.

* Cook double portions and you'll have something to eat on days when you don't have the time to cook.

* Buy in bulk. Instead of buying a jar of spices and bags of dried fruit and nuts, buy just a few teaspoons or tablespoons.

* Price out "value packs." The chicken I bought was only 99 cents a pound, but most packages were at least four pounds.

* Utilize ingredients that add flavor, texture and visual appeal to your meals, but don't cost a lot such as fresh cilantro, green onions and toasted bread crumbs.

Not Really Moroccan Chicken & Lentils

$2.09 for 2 servings (double the chicken for bigger appetites)

1/4 lb brown lentils .32
3 cups water

2 chicken thighs, bone in 1.60
1/2 onion, sliced .20

2 Tablespoons olive oil .40
Juice of 1/2 lemon .17
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon .05
1 garlic clove, minced .05
Chopped cilantro to garnish .10 (optional)

Preheat toaster oven to 450 degrees. Combine water and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a saucepan over high heat. Add lentils; bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain well; rinse with cool water and drain again. In a mixing bowl combine the olive oil, lemon juice, chile powder, cinnamon and garlic. Add the lentils and toss. Season with salt to taste. Make a bed of lentils on each plate that you will serve the chicken on.

Season chicken with salt, pepper. Heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat until hot. Place thighs in dry skillet, skin side down, and cook 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; continue cooking until fat renders and skin is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Flip and cook for another 5 minutes. Flip again so skin side is down and tuck sliced onions into the skillet, between the pieces of chicken. Transfer to the oven and cook 12 minutes. Check the skillet occasionally to make sure the onions are not burning and stir as necessary. Flip chicken so skin side is up; continue cooking until skin is crisp and meat is cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Chicken is done when it reaches the internal temperature of 165 degrees. Remove from the oven. Place onions on the lentil salad and chicken on top of that. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Friday, September 16, 2011

More Observations on the Hunger Challenge

Food Bank pantry
Yesterday's post was the most pitiful thing I think I've ever written. I tried a new recipe, Queso Panela Kebabs, and it was a failure. The cheese melted into a sad pile of goo. Failure happens but it's all the more discouraging when you're on a budget. It's not like you can run out and buy more ingredients. Also, you can probably tell, my heart just wasn't in it. I was feeling uninspired and that always comes across when I'm cooking (and writing). So I made a dull meal lacking any real creativity. It makes me embarrassed to read that post. But my embarrassment is nothing compared to the feelings that someone really living on a limited budget would experience.

There has been some criticism of the Hunger Challenge specifically from people who have experienced real hardship, some of whom have been on public assistance. I can completely understand why they would not want to participate and would feel uneasy with the Hunger Challenge. If I experienced real hunger I would not want to relive it or even be reminded of it. The Hunger Challenge is about the experience of living on a very limited budget. It is NOT an attempt to fully experience what someone actually living on a food stamps budget experiences, because that would be impossible.

In the future I hope the Hunger Challenge will make room at the table for those in our midst who have experienced hunger. I'd like to see a space for those who are willing to share their stories, like KitchenMage. Painful as it may be, those stories are more powerful than anything we who are taking the Hunger Challenge could ever share. Like the Hunger Challengers they raise awareness about hunger and also inspire readers to make donations. And really, no matter what we do, that's what it's all about.

Ways you can help

♥ Read blogs by people taking the Hunger Challenge. There's a blogroll here.

♥ Follow the Hunger Challengers on Twitter. There's a listing here, or search for the hashtag #HungerChallenge.

♥ Learn more about the San Francisco Food Bank - and make a donation. For every $1 donated the food bank can supply hungry people with $6 worth of food!

♥ Follow the San Francisco Food Bank on Twitter or visit their Facebook page to see how they're fighting hunger every day.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blueberry Orange Sour Cream Bread


Sweet breads are a great way to enjoy the goodness of a cake-like dessert which can be relished by itself, or even be paired with tea or coffee. Fruit breads are not only easy to make, they can be really versatile to incorporate seasonal ingredients. This week we enjoyed baking this Blueberry Bread, made even more delicious by addition of citrusy Orange flavor, and made soft by using Sour Cream. The bread not only smells great, it can fill your kitchen with a refreshing aroma that lingers long after you've finished your delicious loaf of Blueberry Orange Bread.

1 cup whole grain flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sour cream
1 stick butter - at room temp
1 1/2 cup cane sugar
4 large eggs
Zest of 2 large oranges
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tsp vanilla
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup blueberries

Spray 2 bread pans generously and keep aside. Preheat oven to 350 deg F.

Cream butter and sugar in large bowl. Beat in eggs one at a time, then orange zest, orange juice and vanilla.

Thoroughly combine flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl and add to creamed butter mixture. Slowly add the sour cream and mix everything well to form an even blend.

Fold in the blueberries, taking care not to mix too hard so s to break them.

Bake in the middle rack for 45-50 minutes at 350 F, until the loaves swell up and pass the toothpick test. When done, let them rest on the wire rack till they cool to room temp. Only then attempt to cut the loaf into slices.

Store in a cool, dry container and you can relish this bread for up to a week. It tastes great 2-3 hours after baking, as the orange and blueberry juices slowly sink in to make a moist flavorful bread!

This has now become one of our cherished breakfast recipes. Enjoy it yourself either with your morning tea, or serve them as a sweet treat at your next Tea party!

Chicken & Vegetable Kebabs

Chicken Vegetable Kebabs
Hunger ChallengeI believe there's a trick to making kebabs. While skewers threaded with alternating chunks of vegetables and seafood, meat or whatever-you-put-on-a-skewer look great, they are difficult to cook so that everything is done at the same time. On the other hand, if you make each skewer with just one ingredient, it's guaranteed to cook evenly. Another thing, I have metal skewers and bamboo ones as well. Recipes always tell you to soak the bamboo skewers so they don't burn. But I can't be bothered. I'm going to throw the skewers away after I use them anyway so what do I care if they burn? I've never had any kebabs burst into flames and I'm not cooking over an open flame (unless I'm broiling) so it's really no big deal.

Food on a stick always seems to be more plentiful than just plain grilled food-on-a-plate. I don't know why. I had lots of chicken thighs, because I bought a "value pack" for 99 cents a pound. But I had to buy 4 pounds. Luckily I have a household of two. I can't imagine one person eating anywhere near that much chicken.

I made a simple marinade for the chicken and the vegetables, using the paltry ingredients I had on hand. I used only vegetables that were on sale. Fresh herbs would have been a nice addition but I didn't have the budget for them and my dry Italian seasoning mix probably would have burned. I served these skewer with couscous but really any starch would do. After I bought the bulk couscous I saw bulgar which was much cheaper and probably has more nutritional value. In an attempt to use everything possible, I added the lemon zest from my half lemon to the couscous. This is not a recipe I would make again. It was healthy, cheap and fast, but it was also boring.

Chicken & Vegetable Kebabs

$2.92 for 2 servings

1/2 onion .10
1/2 zucchini .34
1 Anaheim chile pepper .29
4 oz. button mushrooms, stems removed .99
2 chicken thigh, skinned and boned .80

1 Tablespoon olive oil .18
Juice of 1/2 lemon .17
I clove garlic, pressed .05
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Mix the marinade, toss the vegetables in it then thread on skewers. Then place the chicken in the marinade, allow to marinate for 10 minutes then thread on skewers. Grill or broil until done.

Picnic ~ Beverly Exel

For more minis by Beverly Exel, visit:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hunger Challenge Chili Recipe

Hunger Challenge Chili
Hunger ChallengeThis is one of the cheapest meals I know how to make. There are a lot of tricks to make it taste good without using very many ingredients. Chili is all about layers or flavor and texture and spice. While texture is not the hardest thing to achieve on a budget, flavor and spice are a bit trickier. To make up for the lack of complexity in the spices, I overcompensated in the texture department and also tried to get the most flavor out of the ingredients I could afford.

I like some fresh vegetables in my chili so I used one Anaheim chile and half of a large onion. I also used mushroom stems. Surprise! I will use the caps for another recipe and I would have just discarded the stems. Mushrooms, even just the crumbled stems, lend savory "umami" flavor and also meaty texture. Speaking of meaty texture, this is not a purely vegetarian chili. It has two slices of bacon which might not seem like much, but it adds a bit of meatiness and fat for cooking the vegetables.

I used a combination of white beans and red beans which made it more visually appealing. The beans were cooked from dry beans so I spent less money than if I had bought canned beans. I also used one can of corn. I bought a 2 1/2 ounce packet of ground New Mexico chile powder I found in the Hispanic food section of the store. I used 3 Tablespoons but you could use less or more to taste. Likewise the amount of salt you use will vary depending upon your taste. I only used one clove of garlic which was probably a mistake. I would recommend at least two.

Because I cooked all the beans earlier, the chili comes together quickly. I normally don't buy diced tomatoes because they don't break down very well, but in this case that was fine. I primarily chose them because they had "mild green chiles" in them and I was looking for all the flavor I could find.

Frankly this chili isn't all the different from my normal everyday vegetarian version, though it has a lot less spice. Depending upon your serving size, you could certainly add cilantro, chopped green onions and a tiny bit of cheese on top of each serving and still stay on budget.

Hunger Challenge Chili

$3.68 for 4 servings

2 slices bacon, diced .58
1 Anaheim chile pepper, diced .29
1/2 onion, diced .11
1 clove garlic .05 (I would recommend adding more)
3 Tablespoons ground New Mexico chile powder .30
Mushroom stems from an 8 oz pkg of mushrooms (no cost since they would normally be discarded)
2 cups water
1 can diced Mexican style tomatoes .98
2 cups cooked red beans (1/4 lb dried) .31
2 cups cooked white beans (1/4 lb dried) .31
1 can corn .75

Generous toppings for 1 serving, about 35¢
cilantro .05
cheese .24
green onions .06

Heat a large dutch oven and saute the bacon for a few minutes or until beginning to brown. Add the onions and pepper and continue cooking until they are soft and onions are golden. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook for another couple of minutes then add the chili powder, water and tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes before adding the beans and corn. Simmer another 10 minutes and season aggressively with salt.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Eggless Butterless Oats cake

This week, my partner for the Blog Hop Wednesdays stared by Radhika of Tickling palates is Kalyani of Sizzling Tastebuds..I chose to try her Eggless Butterless Oats cake but brought in minor changes to make it a Vanilla flavoured one.


2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup coarsely powdered oats
1 1/2 cup sugar (powdered)
1/2 tsp baking soda
Salt 2 pinches
10 tbsp cooking oil
1 cup water
1 tsp vanilla essence

Sieve the flour with salt and baking soda 2-3 times. Add the sugar and oats to it and keep aside. Beat cooking oil, water and essence for a few minutes and add the flour mix to it. Gently get everything together and pour in a greased pan. Preheat oven to 180 degrees and bake for 30-40 minutes checking if the cake is done by getting a clean toothpick back when inserted in the cake.

Cool well and garnish as desired. I cut the cake into two and make a orange flavoured butter cream with orange essence, butter and icing sugar. Spread the cream over one part and cover it with the other part. Spread some more butter cream over it and in the sides.  Add a bit of red orange colour to the remaining butter cream mixture and garnish the cake as desired.

Although this cake wouldnt be fluffy and the texture wouldnt be like the normal cake because of the addition of oats, it definetely is a good option to try for kids evening snacks.