Dec 102013

Komibrot from

I made Eggs Benedict for my family a few days ago and had leftover egg whites. I usually freeze my egg whites (I keep them in a plastic bag and I just change the number as I add more), but this time I decided to make Komisbrot instead.

This is one of the lightest and tastiest desserts that I know, as well as unbelievably simple and fast to make. It was not a sweet that Mother would deem special enough for for guests, but rather a spur-of-the moment kids-need-an-after-school-snack thing. It is light, with very little fat, studded with dried fruit and nuts, very similar to angel food cake as it uses only egg whites. In Serbia, we call it Komisbrot, the name I am certain originated somewhere in the German-speaking part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I was taught by Njanja and Mother both how to properly flour and grease a baking pan to avoid unsightly cakes and sticky messes. They were pedantic and fastidious, and I learned the hard way not to challenge the wisdom of the experience: my short-cuts inevitably resulted in the batter stubbornly adhering to the walls of the pan, while I saw in my mind the smirking faces of my two culinary mentors.

These days I am the fastidious one as I teach my girls the basics of baking. But instead of swirling flour to cover evenly the buttered walls of the baking pan, I now use the baking oil spray. They are not all created equal, and I had some misgivings about using them, until I tried Pompeian Grapeseed Oil spray.

Its light flavor does not interfere with the flavor of food, it has a high smoke point, it’s rich in antioxidants and vitamin E, and it’s packaged in a pretty-looking, eco-friendly can which contains no propellants because of the newly designed pouch system, that also protects the oil from damaging light.


Pompeian Grapeseed Oil Spray

There is always a moment of trepidation when I lead the knife around the edges of the cake to loosen them. Will the batter Gods be merciful or will I be forced to use every ounce of creativity to salvage my baking disaster? I have to say that my “komisbrot” plopped beautifully on my hand after I turned the bread pan upside down. I patted my shoulder congratulating myself and seeing in my mind the admiring and approving  faces of  my mother and Njanja.

Komisbrot from

Komisbrot, a Serbian Angel Food Cake: Pompeian Grapeseed Oil Spray

Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: European
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4-6
The recipe does not ask for specific number of egg whites, as they are measured by volume, along with the other ingredients. I happened to have 6 egg whites, which amounted to about 1 cup.
  • 1 cup chilled egg whites
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup various dried fruit and nuts, chopped (I used cranberries, white raisins, pecans, and walnuts)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • Pompeian Grapeseed Oil Spray
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Lightly spray a bread pan with Pompeian Grapeseed Oil Spray.
  3. Beat your egg whites with salt on high speed until stiff peaks form.
  4. Add the sugar and mix to combine.
  5. Stir in the flour, fruit, nuts, and lemon zest.
  6. Pour into the prepared pan and flatten the surface.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes (if the knife pierced through the middle comes out clean, it is done).
  8. Let it cool in pan for 10 minutes and turn over to the bakers rack to cool completely.
  9. Cut into slices and serve.

To learn more about the benefits of Pompeian Grapeseed Oil, visit the Pompeian site.  Take a few seconds to answer a couple of questions for a chance to win $200, and continue on to get the $1.00 off coupon for Pompeian Grapeseed Oil. And  for the latest news and promotions, like Pompeian on Facebook.

Disclosure: Thanks to Smiley360 and Pompeian for providing me with Pompeian Grapeseed Oil Spray for the purpose of my review.  This is not a paid post and the  opinions are my own.

Aug 242013

Hatch Chiles at Bristol Farms from

Wednesday morning, I dared the rush hour traffic on PCH heading north to Santa Monica. It was my day off and I decided to spend a part of it with a few of my blogger friends at the opening of a new Bristol Farms store on Wilshire Boulevard, as guests of Melissa’s Produce and the store management.

You can send me to Tiffany’s and I’d probably meander around the aisles for a few moments just to show good graces before exiting in haste with sighs of relief. On the other hand, exploring a brand new grocery store filled with the most delectable food stuff is definitely a reason to get excited.

Right at the entrance to the store I was greeted by a bright display of Melissa’s Hatch chiles – a reminder of Bristol Farms’ efforts to offer the most seasonal, local, natural, organic, and community-driven produce. These New Mexico chiles are in season for only a few weeks in August and September, and now is the time to get a box or two, roast them (either at home or at one of the roasting events scheduled throughout southern California), freeze them, and bask in the happy thought that come January, you can start the pot of Chile Verde, or enjoy Hatch Chiles Rellenos at any time.

Hatch Chile Products at Bristol Farms from bibberche.comI have Melissa’s Hatch Chile Cookbook, but as I walked around the store, I encountered a few items that used Hatch chiles in the most creative ways. OK, corn bread and cheese might be somewhat expected, but trail mix and sushi? Definitely intriguing and, in the case of trail mix, seriously addictive.

I spent a few hours weaving around the aisles, impressed by the choices and delighted by the knowledge, passion, and zeal of the employees. Having my friends by my side made this experience even more enjoyable.

We took turns snapping the photos  and admiring the vibrant colors of the fresh and versatile produce section.

Produce Bristol Farms from

Am I the only one who finds beauty in all different shades of pink in this meat counter? The beef is grass fed, the poultry air-dried, and most meet in general is natural and organic, void of antibiotics, growth hormones, extra water, preservatives, and chemicals.

Meat Department Bristol Farms from

I don’t have to complain any more about the lack of game meets in California and lament the glory days spent with my hunting friends in Serbia and Ohio, who generously shared their catch. I saw elk, ostrich, antelope, venison, wild boar, bison, and even kangaroo!

Specialty Meats Bristol Farms from

I have never seen fish cut and displayed this way in a grocery store and it left me speechless. To make it even better, swordfish was on sale and I knew I would not be leaving the store without it.

Seafood Bristol Farms from

Yes, there are a dozen or so different soups offered at the lunch counter and they have a pizza oven, a sushi station, make-your-own wok bowl station, a deli station with freshly roasted tri-tip and turkey (carved per order) – just to name a few delicacies.

Lunch at Bristol Farms from

And then there is cheese. I roamed the store, but I returned to this section again and again, drawn by artfully arranged tables offering hundreds of cheese varieties. If anyone asks, I’d like to stake a claim underneath one of those tables and live there forever!

Cheese Department Bristol Farms from

I thought of my girls as I ogled the dessert case, wishing they were here to sample the perfect little bites, but secretly glad they were not, as I know that some of my baking and decorating efforts might lose their high ratings compared to these masterpieces.Desserts at Bristol Farms from

The cupcakes were not small, nor dainty, and we attacked them as a group at the end of our working lunch. If I call it work, eating cupcakes counts as research or quality control, not pure, unadulterated indulgence. So work it is. And the researchers were happy.

Cupcakes from Bristol Farms from

Remember the swordfish? The piece I brought home was about one and a half pounds and the three of us feasted on it like queens. Hatch chicken sausage is on the menu tomorrow and I cannot wait to taste it.

Bristol Farms from

I am sure that Bristol Farms store will be wildly successful in this increasingly affluent Santa Monica neighborhood. The management hopes that it will become a regular stop for the locals who demand and expect the best. As for me, I’ll visit occasionally to sightsee, sample, and purchase another exquisite piece of seafood.

Aug 132013

Chile Verde from

I pride myself on being an organized person who writes endless lists and plans ahead for even the smallest events. I like to know what lies ahead if I can control it, and to prepare for any predictable outcome. Yet, when it comes to cooking, I find that I often disregard the methodical and follow the path of spontaneity.

Sure, I try to plan our weekly meals ahead and adapt the menu to my working hours. There is a grocery list written on a dry-erase board attached to the fridge by a few magnets. I do my best to stick to the items on that list, but so many times I allow beautiful produce to seduce me and I return home with cheap, local, seasonal fruits and vegetables that I cannot  bear to see go to waste.

And as I have no clue what to do with them, I try to squeeze a few recipes into the planned menu, or to push a meal to a later date to accommodate my newest impulse buy. I always offer valid excuses to that whiny little voice of buyer’s remorse: the season is so short and the produce tastes the best right now; it’s cheap; it’s filled with anti-oxidants and vitamins that we all need; I’ve seen a recipe on my friend’s blog that I must make; and so on…

Chile Verde from

A few days following my purchase I am in a frenzied mode. I buy in bigger quantities as I carry the genes of food-hoarders. We eat very little and I rarely prepare big batches of anything but beans, which I freeze in smaller portions for those almost non-existent days when I do not feel like cooking. The challenge is always in finding several ways to use the produce before it becomes inedible, and I impose these ridiculous rules on myself as I cannot stand throwing food away.

I have so many ideas and if the life did not intervene every single time, I would have an idyllic existence, filled with me flitting from one part of the kitchen to another, dashing outside to clip a sprig of an herb, and feeding errant birds crumbs from the third version of a recipe I prepared in an attempt to find perfection. But, that is not my life, no matter how many mornings I get up at dawn and how many nights I turn the lights off at the wee hours.

Chile Verde from

Several days ago I received a box from Melissa’s Produce packed with amazing-looking, fresh, Hatch chiles which are in season for a few very short weeks in August and September. It wasn’t an impulse buy, but it was an impulsive and very enthusiastic affirmative reply to an email. After an initial happy dance (cardboard boxes full of food seem to inspire in me some of the most embarrassing expressions of happiness), I had to make a master plan, as there were way too many chiles for immediate consumption.

I have to report that I am extremely satisfied with my creative process. Barely a week later, all the chiles are accounted for. I roasted them, peeled them, and separated them; some were sequestered in Ziploc bags in the freezer, and some became a part of our daily menu. I added them to my home-made mayonnaise for a spread for hamburgers; I chopped them along with tomatillos, eggplant, and onions for a Mediterranean relish my grandmother Njanja used to make; I used them sparingly in quesadillas.

Chile Verde from

But they really shined in Chile Verde with Pork, a slow-simmered stew imbued with different layers of flavor, which made me wonder if my Serbian ancestors ever crossed paths with my new Mexican neighbors, as our common love of peppers, onions, and beans is evident. I reached into my mother’s treasure of recipes for the basics, and browsed the Internet for the details of preparation. I chose to roast all my vegetables, not only peppers, and I was pleased with their rich, smoky undertones.

This dish tasted oddly familiar, even though I have never had it before. The girls were away at camp, and I was the only one at the dinner table. OK, I am fibbing: I ate two bowls of chile verde and rice curled up on the lower bunk of their bed, reading a Murakami book, trying to drown the voices in my head and their incessant “what ifs”. It worked for a while, which is enough.

I felt relieved after the pile of chiles disappeared, but a few hours later I was planning an expedition to a neighboring grocery store where red peppers were 4 for $1.00 and plums .68c per pound. Will someone, please, organize an intervention?

Chile Verde from

Chile Verde
5.0 from 2 reviews


Recipe type: Main Dish
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
Roasting vegetables adds flavor and depth to the finished dish and it’s worth it. Serve with plain rice, corn tortillas, and a cold Pacifico.
  • 1 lb pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • Marinade:
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 TBSP freshly squeezed lime juice
  • Vegetables:
  • 1 lb tomatillos, husked and washed
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 Hatch chiles, mild or hot
  • Stew:
  • 2 TBSP lard or bacon grease (you can use any grease/oil you like – I just prefer lard:)
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 bunch cilantro stems
  • 1 tsp Mexican oregano
  1. Place the pork in a large, non-reactive bowl.
  2. Mix all the ingredients for marinade and rub into meat,
  3. Let marinate for 30-60 minutes,
  4. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 400F.
  5. Place the vegetables on a rimmed cookie sheet.
  6. Roast for 40-45 minutes, until slightly charred and soft.
  7. Remove from oven and let the vegetables cool a bit.
  8. Peel tomatillos if burned.
  9. Pell and de-stem peppers.
  10. Chop or vegetables in small dice.
  11. Heat a Dutch oven on medium-high temperature.
  12. Add lard.
  13. When it starts to sizzle, add pork.
  14. Brown on all sides and remove to a plate.
  15. Pour all chopped roasted vegetables in the Dutch oven.
  16. Stir for 1 minute.
  17. Add the pork, chicken stock, cilantro stems, and oregano.
  18. Heat until it boils.
  19. Turn the heat down and simmer for 1 hour, until the pork is tender and stew has thickened.
  20. If necessary, add some more stock.
  21. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
  22. Serve with rice and corn tortillas.


Sep 202011

srpski pijac from bibberche.comIt has been sweltering hot in my Serbian home town the last few weeks. As soon as I get up and water my mom’s geraniums and azaleas, I close wooden shutters on all the windows, drape a dark green tablecloth over the upstairs bathroom window, and close the back door in an attempt to block the ruthless heat from penetrating the house. (Husband, the mole, would find himself at home, enjoying the dusk-like quality of light and deep shadows that preserve the traces of fresh morning air).

I make Turkish coffee, strong and black for me, weak with a touch of sugar for Mom, and we drink it in the back yard, at the table in front of the house, chasing the shade cast by the roof. My sister-in-law, Tanja, joins us if she is not at school where she teaches Language Arts, and we spend a leisurely half an hour gossiping, exchanging stories and advice, laughing, and reminiscing. I sweep the leaves that magnolia shed during the night, not missing the beat in the conversation. When the sun reaches the six terazzo steps leading to the back door, leaving us no respite whatsoever, I pick up the cups and follow Mom as she slowly makes her way up, leaning on two canes, one metal, one wooden, that Father had bought in San Francisco’s Chinatown last Fall.

Cacak from

Once she is comfortably settled in her bed, with four pillows meticulously arranged to support her aching spine, I bring her breakfast on a small purple plastic tray with a white damask napkin as the nice, antique silver trays lining the upper pantry shelf on the right are too heavy for her to support while laying down. I learned the first day that she eats very little and I bring her very little, aware that even the sight of too much food will make her nauseated. I start auctioning food, offering everything available in the house and in the stores a few blocks away, knowing that I can make it back in time. She scrunches her nose and makes faces until a craving appears. When she locks onto an idea, she looks at me with her big, blue eyes and asks me for a soft boiled egg with sliced tomato, a warm croissant from the corner bakery, cream of wheat with raisins and cranberries, or a half a piece of toasted French bread with a slice of Havarti I brought form the US, knowing that she would enjoy it.

She turns her TV on and watches the morning shows, while texting with family and friends. With one last glance I make sure that she is feeling alright for the moment. I drag the white and navy checkered grocery bag with wheels, don my straw hat and my cheap, oversize a la Victoria Beckham sunglasses, and head for the market. I walk briskly, weaving in and out of shades that our linden trees provide, my feet following with certainty the path they carved so many years ago.

Cacak from

Going to the market is a social occasion. I will invariably meet several people on my way to the store. I will stop and chat, punch in a long-lost friend’s cell phone number to connect later, make a date for another day, and continue with my enjoyable daily task. During the week, outside cafés are filled with people huddled under the awnings, seated as if in a theater, facing the main  pedestrian walkway down the middle of the street that has been closed for traffic since I was a teenager. On the weekends, there are only a few souls brave enough to face the merciless heat, as the wise and knowledgeable blue-hair ladies have finished their daily shopping hours before.

The first stop is a grocery store, where I usually buy juice, yellow European butter that smells like fresh milk, yogurt, Happy Cow cheese, and a variety of small portions of deli meats, always hoping that I could coerce that stubborn woman to take a piece for a mid-day snack. Knowing that Father will dutifully collect all flimsy plastic bags that come in various pastel colors, unable to part with them, fold them neatly, and lay them carefully on top of another hundred or so neatly folded bags, I refuse the offer from the cashier, and place the groceries one by one in various pockets of my huge canvas bag.

Cacak from

Moving along, I cross a little square and pass by the pastry shop Pelivan, where mothers and children sit and eat gelato, cream puffs, or baklava, chasing the sweets with the best tasting lemonade in town. I arrive at the butcher’s appreciative of the modern addition of air-conditioning, while reveling in the old-fashioned custom of not having every cut of meat on premises at all time. I buy on recommendation, trusting my butcher’s pride in his craft. Our dinner plans may change drastically based on my purchase, but I embrace the challenge and adjust to the moment.

As I approach the farmers’ market, my step quickens and my eyes focus on the first stalls laden with beautiful produce, looming just beyond the cast-iron gate. The merchant who makes leather goods stands erect in front of his shop just before the gates, his arms crossed behind his back, his mustache curling upwards, the caricature of one of the hunters in fairy tale Peter and the Wolf. I have to weave through a throng of Gypsies hawking cheap socks, t-shirts, and soap bars, and move to the side when old women march ahead, burdened with overfilled canvas bags.

srpski pijac from

I am mesmerized by color and smell, and overwhelmed by a feeling of abundance every time I come to the market. I always visit every stall, remembering not only the best produce, but the friendliest and most sincere vendors. By now, I recognize most of them, and have a few that that are definitely favorites. In the beginning, I wanted to but everything every day, greedy for the luscious, sweet tomatoes, firm peppers that take my breath away with  their smell, perfect young potatoes, curvy and lopsided carrots that remind me how carrots should taste, and pale yellow beans speckled with purple that I rarely manage to find in farmers’ markets in California.

I still have to restrain myself, but the temptation is weaker now, as I know that only fifteen minutes separates me from this place. I dutifully follow the plan, only occasionally picking a beautiful eggplant that seduces me, sitting innocently next to the onions I really have to buy, or a head of cabbage picked that morning, so cheap that it could be free. I carefully place my vegetables and fruits in the bag, making sure that nothing gets squished, and with a last longing glance I leave the market and head home.

srpski pijac from

As I close the gate behind me and enter the yard, Mother is already watching her Turkish soap opera, alert and freshened from her nap. I recite to her who I met and what I bought. After taking a vicarious walk through town with me, she smiles mischievously and makes a dinner request. I play along and feign annoyance at her choice, inwardly beaming, happy that she feels anything at all about food. I bring her a juicy peach or a few figs, fluff her pillows and kiss the top of her head as I leave the room to start unpacking my purchases and putting every vibrantly colored piece to its designated place.

fruit from the farmers' market from

I struggle between laughing and crying, anticipating nutritious meals that would boost her immune system and keep this filthy disease at bay. And I know that she trusts me, even though I see myself as a Don Quixote, foolishly attacking these windmills with nothing else but a bunch of vibrantly colored vegetables and pure love for the woman who taught me to how to laugh, how to cry, and how to love.

Serbian farmers' market from

Last year, about this time I wrote about the book Hungry Planet and Chicken Makhani in my Hunger Challenge series.


Sep 152010

For a couple of years I have been keeping tabs on our monthly grocery-shopping expenditures. No, I do not employ Excel or use the computer in any way to facilitate this tedious task. After each trip to one of the stores we dutifully write the date, the name of the store, and the total on the dry-erase board attached to the fridge by magnets. The sums for each of the previous months are tallied on one side, and on the other is the grocery list. This prehistoric technique drives Husband crazy, but I need to have the numbers right in front of my eyes. They get lost in the directories, files, and folders cluttering our computers, and it takes me much longer to access them. I am still a child of another era, and even though I learn something new every day about computers, the old ways are so hard to change.

Our monthly expenses for food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and alcohol vary between $600.00 and $800.00, depending on the number of mouths we feed and special occasions. Most of our produce and meat we buy at the local Persian store. They offer a great variety of fruits and vegetables at half the price of major grocery chains. I practice my Spanish with the Mexican butchers, while Husband slips them a buck each time, to ensure we get the best meat in the store.

The Asian pantry staples we buy at 99 Ranch Market in Irvine. Their prices are incredible, choices overwhelming, and shopping is like going to a theme park. We discover something new each time we visit. I love watching the Beasties explore the fruit aisle, touching the mangosteens, admiring the size of the jack fruit, and wondering what lychees taste like. I consider these visits educational filed-trips. While I have not yet reached for the package of pig uteruses (uteri?) or duck tongues, I bought the chicken feet for the younger Beastie (thanks, Mother, for turning her into the feet lover!) to add to chicken soup, and pig liver (hmmmm, sauteed in lard with lots of garlic, instant jump in time to my childhood).

We buy our cheese and pork mostly at Costco, trying to avoid going there on the weekends. What a madhouse! Husband likes to sample food, while I buzz right by old ladies with hair nets pushing teriyaki chicken or caramel popcorn, rewarding myself with Nathan’s hot dog for lunch after successfully avoiding running over the little kids with the cart.

On Mondays and Tuesdays we receive the major grocery chains’ fliers in the mail, Albertson’s, Pavilion, Vons, Ralph’s, and Stater Bros. I write down the best deals on an index card and take the fliers outside to be used next time we grill. I do not cut coupons. We buy so few processed food items that the effort is not worth it. We buy the fish, the bulk food, and anything organic from Henry’s, which is pretty cool quintessential Californian store that even comes with the Green Peace volunteers waiting outside imploring you to save the whales.

It takes time and planning to be savvy shoppers, but the results are immeasurable. We go to one or more stores almost every day. We try to adhere to the grocery list and not waiver too much. We avoid buying on impulse. We do not buy our drinks at the Persian store, and we do not buy our produce at the grocery stores (unless the deal is just to good to pass).

Our routine has not changed much with The Hunger Challenge. The budget we are working with is slightly smaller, but manageable. The most important thing to remember is that food has to taste good and we have to be satisfied. For three days I have not heard one peep of a complaint. We can do it for the rest of the week, for sure.


Half an English muffin

2 eggs


$1.04 per person for the kids, half a bagel with cream cheese at work, .99, and Husband had coffee .50c

.81c per person

  • English muffins, $2.79 for 6 (.23c per half)
  • Milk, 2 gallons for $4.99 (.15c per cup)
  • Eggs, $4.00 per dozen (.66c for 2)


Tuna salad




$1.35 for the Beasties, .95c for Husband, .99c for me (cup of tomato bisque soup)

$1.16 per person

  • 2 cans tuna in oil, .89c each
  • 1 hard boiled egg, .33c
  • 2 Tbsp homemade mayonnaise, .10c (?)
  • 1 Tbsp sour cream (.5c)
  • salt, pepper
  • total for salad $2.26, divided by 3 (Beasties+Husband), .75c
  • Sarah Lee Buttermilk Bread, 2 for $4.00 (.10c per slice)
  • Pudding, 4 for 1.00 (.25c each)
  • Capri Sun juice, $1.99 for 10 pouches (.20c for each)
  • Water bottle, $1.99 for 8 (.25 for 1)


Spinach and rice soup

Potato dumplings with caramelized onions (Å¡ufnudle)

milk and diet soda for the Beasties (.20c each), wine for the adults ($1.25 for 2 glasses)

$1.12 per person

  • 4oz frozen spinach, .50c (big bag from the Persian store, blanched, cut, divided, frozen)
  • ½ cup basmati rice , $6.99 for 10lbs (.13c per ½ cup)
  • 1 egg, .33c
  • 2 Tbsp yogurt, $1.99 pound, .12c
  • salt, pepper, paprika, .5c
  • total for soup: $1.13

  • potatoes, .89c for 10lbs (2lbs, .22c)
  • flour, store brand, $1.99 for 5lbs (1 cup flour, .10c)
  • 1 egg, .33c
  • onions, .49c per pound (2 lbs, .98c)
  • oil, salt, pepper, .10c
  • total for potato dumplings: $1.73



These were so unbelievably soft and pillowy, that I could not stop eating! The trick is not to overwork the dough.


For the dough:

  • 2lbs russet potatoes (about 4 large)
  • 1 egg
  • 1cup all purpose flour

For the onions:

  • 2-3 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 lbs yellow onions, sliced thinly
  • 1tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425F. Puncture the potatoes with the fork in few spaces and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until fork-tender. In the meantime heat the sunflower oil on medium heat, and add the onion. Cook until soft, translucent and slightly brown. Season with salt and pepper. Mash with potato ricer as soon as possible, or peel with hands, being careful not to burn yourself. Let the potatoes cool off.

Heat the water in the stock pot to boiling, adding a couple of tablespoons of salt. Add the egg and flour to potatoes, and mix tenderly to incorporate. Dust the board with flour lightly. Divide the dough in 4 parts, and roll each one into a snake ½ inch thick. Cut pieces 1 inch in length, and roll with your palms into finger-shaped dumplings, about 3 inches long and 1/3 inch (1cm) thick. Put into the boiling water and mix a bit to avoid sticking. When the dumplings float to the surface, pull them out into the caramelized onions and mix gently. Serves 4.

Variation: The same dough can be used to make the gnocchi. Follow the recipe exactly, but cut the pieces twice as small and roll them along the fork tines for the classical roundish, striped shape.

Sep 132010

I have been reading food blogs for several years. The blogs with really pretty pictures, the blogs with true and tested recipes, the blogs that care about the origins of food, environment, and sustainability, and the blogs that deal with food policies, trying to make a statement. My blogroll is as immense as my interests. I learned a lot from the veterans and I still keep on learning. This is my first year of active participation in the blog-world and I am perfecting my style of writing, my voice, and my agenda.

I have always been frugal, especially with food, and feeding my family on a strict budget, without sacrificing quality or taste has been my credo for years. Both of my parents lived through a period of scarcity in childhood, and they instilled in us a very specific view of food. To this day I cannot stand to see a morsel wasted. I recycle the leftovers, buy in bulk, and freeze. I roam the stores looking for a sale, shop at ethnic markets knowing I can get a deal on various items, and bask in glory when I manage to replicate a nice restaurant meal at home.

I remember reading in 2007 on Kate’s extremely educational and thought-provoking blog Accidental Hedonist the official USDA report on US food spending on four different levels. The amount listed for “low” astounded me, because I fed my family of five, with frequent long-staying visitors for about that amount. This included the toiletries, cleaning supplies, and alcohol. And we were not hurting for money.

In September of 2008, the San Francisco Food Bank initiated The Hunger Challenge for the first time. I heard about it on one of my favorite blogs, Cooking with Amy. The participants had a budget of $3.00 a day per family member (the approximate value of food stamps in California) and a week to try to envision the life of the poor. At the time I chuckled because the idea hit too close to home, after we got completely destroyed by the mortgage industry crash. We fought every day just to survive until another sunrise, too proud to apply for any assistance.

But this year I have decided to participate. We are not living the life of plenty, but the Beasties need constant reminding that nothing should be taken for granted, especially not food. They have given up toys, games, and clothes to take to an orphanage. A tenth of their weekly allowance goes into a can for charity. And this holiday season I plan on taking them to a soup kitchen, just to face the reality and imagine the life of the indigent.

The food stamps amount has risen in the last year to allow the “luxury” of $4.00 per family member a day. For the purposes of this exercise, that includes all the food and drinks during the day. I have a college-ruled notebook and a calculator nearby. I collect all the receipts from the stores and apply my superb mathematical skills in adding, multiplying, and dividing. I had a stocked pantry, pretty full box freezer, and all necessities safely stored in the fridge. We did not have to start from zero this time, like we did back in 2008. And even though it has been only two years since then, this little adventure is definitely going to teach us not to get lax, not to get self-indulgent, and not to forget how it feels to be hungry.


Roasted red peppers sautéed with cream cheese

Whole wheat ciabatta rolls


$1.33 per person

  • milk – .15c (cup)
  • peppers – .37c each (we had two each)
  • cream cheese – $1.99 for 8oz, .50c for 2oz, divided by four (.12c)
  • lard – rendered by my friend at .39c a pound for pork fat
  • ciabatta rolls – $2.49 for four (we had two, a half each, .32c pre half)



  • 2 Tbsp lard or sunflower oil
  • 8 red, orange or yellow bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and destemmed
  • 2-3oz cream cheese
  • salt and pepper


Heat the pan on medium-low heat. Melt the lard or add the oil. Season the peppers on one side and put them in the skillet seasoned side down. Season the other side and let the peppers warm up. Scoop up several little piles of cream cheese and put into the skillet. Turn the peppers and lay them on top of the cream cheese. Allow the cheese to melt a bit. Take off the heat and serve with a lot of freshly baked bread to soak up all the juices.


Grilled cheese sandwiches

Fresh peaches



.59c per person (I did not eat lunch, too stuffed from breakfast)

  • Sarah Lee Buttermilk Bread, 2 for $4.00 (1 slice=.10c)
  • Havarti cheese (Costco, $6.00 a pound, .18c a slice)
  • Butter, $2.00 per pound
  • Peaches, .49c per pound at our local Persian store (1/2 large peach=.5c)
  • Fritos, $2.00 a bag (kids got about .10c worth each)
  • Milk, .15c per cup


Cream of celery soup

Hunter pork schnitzels with gravy

Mashed potatoes

Roasted Beets Salad

$1.89 per person

  • Soup, .70c
  • Pork loin, $1.99, Costco ($2.70, it was a bit more then a pound)
  • Flour, garlic, white wine, homemade stock, vinegar, salt, pepper, parsley, .50c
  • Potatoes, .89c per 10 pound bag at our local Persian store (2lbs=.18c)
  • Beets, roasted, dressed with vinaigrette and garlic, .69c
  • Soda for the kids, .20c each
  • Wine for the adults, $2.49 a bottle (1 glass each=.62c)



  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • ½ large onion, diced
  • 5 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 quart chicken (or vegetable) stock, or water
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper


Heat the oil on medium heat and sautee the onions until translucent, 6-7 minutes. Add the celery and the potato, and cover with stock or water. Season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat up to high until it boils, and then turn back to medium to medium-low. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Puree with the immersion blender and pass through a mash to get rid of the celery strings. Adjust the seasonings to taste. Keep on low heat until ready to serve. Serves 4.

Cream of Celery Soup

TOTAL: $3.81 per person

With .50c for the morning coffee for the adults, and .60c for the bed-time ice cream for the beasties, I had to add another .27c per person.

GRAND TOTAL FOR THE DAY: $4.08 per person.