Love Spinach? How about this So-Simple Spinach Recipe? Budget Meal # 8 April 5, 2010

Filed under: Budget Meals,Meals — sotsil @ 1:55 pm

And it is really so simple!

I buy spinach regularly, mostly to add to my favorite soup which also has green beans.  I feel clean after eating spinach – it’s like having your inside pipes cleared of all debris and grease.  One day I bought a bag of spinach and absent-mindedly shoved it into my shopping cart.  It was only when I was about to throw the bag away did I notice this tiny box at the back of the bag.  It said, "So Simple Spinach."  It had only four ingredients, and that already includes the bag of spinach.  The spinach is a product of the United States and it was by a company called Fresco (or Frisco?).


I made the dish.  On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest, this recipe merits a score of 10 for nutritious and a score of 9.5 for delicious (usually anything nutritious in my book is NOT delicious).



I’m copying the recipe straight from the bag of spinach.  To make your so-simple spinach dish, you’ll need:



1 – 10 oz bag of spinach, rinsed once.  Do not dry, but do remove the long stems.

1 tbsp olive oil (I’d make it 2 tbsp)

1 medium size onion, finely chopped

1 – 8 oz store bought tomato bruschetta (about a 227-gram bottle).



Heat olive oil in a large frying pan and sauté onion until soft.  Turn heat to low, add the bruschetta and let simmer for 5 minutes.  Add rinsed wet spinach and mix, until spinach shrinks in size.  The recipe says to cover the pan after adding the spinach for 3 minutes until wilted.  I did, but the spinach did not wilt.  The next time I make it, I would leave it uncovered, stirring it with the bruschetta.  The recipe also says it is great as a side dish with lamb or as an omelette filling.  Personally, I love spinach with white rice.


It was a large bag of spinach but there were no leftovers.  It was excellent.  That feeling of having clean pipes filled me…again.


How can anyone not love spinach?  I hear many kids don’t like it.  That’s probably because they never watched Popeye cartoons on TV – like I did!


Total cost:

bag of spinach:  1.60 (if it’s on sale, you can get it for 99 cents)

1 tomato:  20 cents

Bruschetta:  2.75

olive oil:  c’mon, you’re not going to ask me to cost this item, are you?


Zucchini, Carrots & Mushrooms: Budget Meal # 7 February 10, 2010

Filed under: Budget Meals — sotsil @ 7:06 pm
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When you hear “zucchini” do you get excited?  I don’t, but I try to eat it maybe once every two months.  I like it for making muffins or bread because it gives these baked goods sufficient moisture (they have a high water content).  You know that feeling, don’t you:  “I don’t mind eating it as long as it’s tucked in somewhere…”

Yet, I make it a point to eat it…even if it’s in full view!

I’ve decided that zucchini is the kind of vegetable that tastes better when combined with other vegetables or other ingredients like beef or pork.  On its own, it has very little character or taste.  Carrots even taste better.  Zucchinis are a plain Jane. 

But before we turn up our noses…

They are packed with Vitamins A & C, potassium and calcium.  A nutrition web site said that the flavor of zucchini is better when it is less than six inches long.  (Oh…okay).  It can grow as large as a baseball bat, but are flavorless when they get to that size.  It’s the best vegetable you can put on your plate when you’re counting calories (and pennies).  Choose the darkest green you can find, and please…don’t peel them.  The skin is where you get all that wholesome goodness. Half a cup of uncooked zucchinis is equivalent to 13 calories.  Now…that’s a very good reason for falling in love with this Plain Jane, isn’t it?

Here’s a completely vegetarian dish that won’t break the bank.  One thing good about zucchini is it does not fluctuate in price with the seasons, unlike broccoli that seems more expensive in the winter.

This budget recipe is rather simple.

You need:

3 zucchinis (about 4-5 inches long)

2 medium carrots

1/2 cup of sliced mushrooms (you can use the ones in a tin)

2-3 tbsp onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

canola or vegetable oil

beef broth (next time I’ll use oyster sauce diluted in a few drops of water for more flavor)

salt and pepper to taste


Cut up your zucchini, carrots and mushrooms as shown in the picture.  Heat oil in a large frying pan (about 2 minutes).  Sauté onions and garlic (1-1/2 minutes).  Add your veggies in this order:  carrots (cook for 2 minutes), zucchini (cook for 2-3 minutes or until tender but not soggy), mushrooms (another 2 minutes).

Pour your vegetable broth (or oyster sauce) just before serving.

Unless your fellow diner(s) adore vegetables, I don’t think this dish is going to be an instant hit or evoke fond memories…so you may want to have a luscious and evil dessert on stand-by.  Reward them for giving this meal a try.


Filled Buns: Budget Meal # 6 February 2, 2010

Filed under: Budget Meals — sotsil @ 10:39 pm
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petit pains1

A good friend gave me this recipe more than 10 years ago.  It’s called petits pains fourrés – which means “small filled buns” (the verb “fourrer” in French means “to fill”).

When I read the recipe, I decided it was doable.  When I was still working, I used to tell my colleagues that I could not, would not, make recipes with a list of ingredients a mile long.  They knew that if a recipe had more than seven ingredients, there was no point trying to convince me to try it.

Those were the days when I had zero appreciation for cooking.  I was what my French Canadian friends would call a “barbare” (a barbaric person) because I had the habit of eating out of cans or going for take-out.  They found it strange that a person who loved to eat didn’t want to cook.  It was a disturbing contradiction.

I never made the petits pains fourrés.  The recipe got buried in my junk bin and was relegated to oblivion.  Then after the holidays, I was clearing out my kitchen cupboards and voila – there it was!  I remembered my friend.  She must have wondered whether I gave this one a kick at a can.  I did make them early this year and will make them again.  They hit the spot.  This recipe’s a keeper!

If you have young kids who are ravenous after school, they’d grab these buns and gobble them up in a nano second.

You’ll need:

Half a pound of lean ground beef (more if your kids bring home their friends)

1 small can of Cream of Mushroom (I use Campbell’s)

1 tbsp mustard

Onions (optional)

12 salad rolls (I used burger buns, so the filling was enough only for 2 large buns)

To make the filling:

1.  Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

2.  Brown onions and meat.  Drain excess fat.

3.  Add soup and mustard.  Stir until you obtain a smooth texture.  Reduce heat and let simmer until thickened – about 15 minutes.

4.  Fill rolls with meat mixture (like filling in open faced sandwiches).

5.  Bake rolls until they turn golden brown (about 6 minutes).

A great budget meal.  It will cost you:

$3.50 for a tray of ground beef (you’ll probably use only half)

$1.50 for the soup (if it’s on sale, you could get it for under a dollar)

$ 0 for the mustard (you might have it in your cupboard.  Or next time you go to McDonald’s, pick up a few mustard packs).

$0.20 for onion

That comes to a total of $5.00 – well, slightly over $5.00.  My calculation is based on two adults, or 1 adult and 2 kids, one eating session.  If you want leftovers, you’ll have to add more ground beef and soup!

What does one say, in French, after eating des petits pains fourrés?  “Ayoy, je suis bourrée” (Oh goodness, I’m stuffed).


Quebec Cabbage + Chinese Sausage: Budget Meal # 5 December 18, 2009

Filed under: Budget Meals — sotsil @ 7:26 pm
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The holidays are not the time to scrimp and save, especially when it comes to eating.  Christmas is a time to share and to let go off the purse strings no matter what.  Putting plentiful food on the table mirrors our desire for prosperity in the New Year.  Abundant food and drink chez nous is de rigueur as it is in many countries.

Back home, grapes were a luxury (we can’t grow them because of our tropical climate), and my parents would shell out more money without an ounce of hesitation to buy good quality imported grapes; to us they symbolize good fortune for the coming year.  We’d also have lots of noodles as they symbolize long life.  Grapes and noodles plus a dozen other gourmet treats laid out beautifully was our way of celebrating the birth of Christ and welcoming the New Year – not to mention the deafening fire crackers that go off at midnight on the 31st, making you feel like the country is under siege. 

With all the good food eaten at midnight on the 24th and all day on Christmas Day,  there’s that period after Christmas and before the New Year when we get that desire to give our digestive tract a break by eating more simple and less expensive meals.  You know you’ve eaten too much rich food when you start yearning for a no-fuss, frugal meal.

My budget meal # 5 is so easy to make…it won’t chisel off your already dwindling budget.  If you haven’t yet tried Chinese sausage, don’t wait until the Chinese New Year to do so.  I combined the sausage with Quebec cabbage.  You can use ordinary cabbage for this dish (and of course any kind of sausage).  I don’t know if Quebec cabbage is available outside the province – I believe it’s home grown.  The inner leaves are curly, have a dark green color and feel just a tad rubbery.  I love it!  They can be used to decorate salads too.

chinese sausage quebec cabbage

This meal is good for 2 people.

  • take 6-7 leaves off the cabbage and cut into julienne strips, rinse in cold water and then set aside (one head of cabbage costs about $2.80)
  • chop onions and garlic (about 2 tbsp each).
  • cut up 3-4 Chinese sausages into thin slices using a diagonal stroke as in picture above (simple pack of 6 sausages about $3.50)
  • oil, salt and pepper

Total cost:  about $7.00.

To cook:

Heat oil for 1-2 minutes.  Sauté onions and garlic, and lower your heat to medium or low-medium (to avoid the garlic from getting too roasted).

Throw in your strips of cabbage and continue sautéing until they’re crisp (don’t overcook them; you’ll end up with wilted strips).  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Fry your sausage slices in a little oil – about 1-3 minutes (be careful not to burn them although they would still taste good)!

Arrange your cabbage strips on a serving platter and sprinkle your sausages on top.  Serve!

Chinese sausage is available in most oriental stores and come in different varieties (some are made with duck liver).  When you buy them, buy only the quantity you need because Chinese sausages have a distinct taste – I’ll go as far as saying they’re an acquired taste.  Their taste ranges from very sweet to very spicy.  Asian stores sell them in vacuum-packed plastic bags.  The ones that are available in Canada are manufactured mostly in Vancouver and Toronto where there are large Chinese communities.  Note, however, that Chinese sausages are not exclusively from China.  The generic name is used to describe any one of the varieties from Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan or Singapore.

To know what they look like, google “Chinese sausage” and you’ll see about four different images on the first page.

This meal goes great with rice, by the way…


Eggplant with Shrimp Paste: Budget Meal # 4 December 8, 2009

Filed under: Budget Meals — sotsil @ 10:35 pm
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aubergines Here’s a recipe that will feed two people for under $10.00.  The bonus is if you eat it for lunch, you’ll have enough left for dinner (that is, if the one you’re eating with agrees to leave some for later).

You need:

  • 3 slender eggplants like the ones in the picture.  They’re sold in Asian stores (don’t buy the fat ones that supermarkets sell).  About $3.00.
  • Shrimp paste (picture below, about $2.50 to $3.50 per bottle)
  • garlic (5 cloves, diced or smashed)
  • small onion (diced)
  • Italian tomatoes (2 small ones)

Wash the eggplants well and wipe them dry with paper towel.  Cut each into 3-4 pieces and then slice the pieces lengthwise.  Turn on your broiler (I have two broil levels – high and low.  I use the high level).  Arrange eggplant pieces on a cookie tray.  Brush with olive oil.  Place the eggplants in the broiler (in my oven, I leave them for 10 minutes, rotating the tray every 3 minutes so all the pieces are evenly browned).  These are what the eggplants look like after the 10-minute broil:

At this point you have two options:  (a) slice the eggplants into bite size pieces or (b) scoop out the flesh, discarding the the skin.  I leave the skin on because I like it.  It’s edible and does not cause any indigestion…


Set aside your eggplant.  In a frying pan, heat some Canola oil (any oil will do), and then add your garlic.  Sauté for a minute and then add the onions and tomatoes.  Continue sautéing for about 3-4 minutes.  Take 2-3 tablespoons of shrimp paste (the amount will depend on how salty you want it) and lower the heat.  Using a teaspoon, take a small amount of the mixture and taste it.  If it’s too bland, add more shrimp paste.  Note that shrimp paste is VERY salty, so there is no need to add salt or pepper to this dish.

Take your onion/garlic/tomato/shrimp paste mixture and pour it over your eggplant.  Mix well to make sure that all eggplant pieces are coated.


Word of caution:  shrimp paste will not appeal to everyone.  In fact some people who have never eaten Asian fare will probably be repelled by it.  It’s an acquired taste, a favorite among Filipinos and other Southeast Asians.  If you don’t think you can stomach shrimp paste (it doesn’t look palatable either when you look inside the jar :)you can vary this recipe by mixing your onions, garlic and tomatoes in a few tablespoons of vinegar (or you can be creative and use your own vinaigrette or a store-bought dressing).

If you’re a daredevil and think you’ll survive after consuming shrimp paste, here’s a picture of what it looks like.  The word “Lingayen” on the label is the brand.  There are other brands.  Ask your Asian grocer for shrimp paste and you’ll be taken to the right aisle.  It keeps well in the fridge for months, thanks to the high salt content.


I know some cooks boil eggplants in water and then when they’re soft, they are peeled and mashed (almost like puréed form) and then mixed in with a nice dressing.

So many ways really!  They can also be grilled and used as a garnish for pizza.

How do you cook yours?


Asparagus Cutlets in Adobo Sauce: Budget Meal # 3 October 6, 2009

Filed under: Budget Meals — sotsil @ 1:27 pm
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Let me clarify.  This qualifies as a budget meal because you can buy fresh asparagus on sale at 99 cents a bunch and you need only a few ingredients: soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, oil, salt and pepper.  Even if asparagus is selling at $3.00 a bunch, you get to spend only $6.00.  Make that $10.00 if you have to buy a small bottle of soy sauce, vinegar and some garlic.

asparagus  I got this recipe from  It’s owned by a lovely Filipina – Lori – who resides in rural Maine with her hubby and kids.  Her blog has grown with an impressive following – mostly overseas Filipinos who yearn for foods back home and who want to learn the more intricate recipes like ensaymada (a sweet brioche) or lumpiang sariwa (fresh egg roll).  

I have visited many web sites run by Pinoys (slang for Filipinos) but I think Lori’s is by far the best one.  There are hundreds of recipes in there and she writes with such an engaging style that it’s easy to get hooked.  She’s a “go-to” resource when I need to learn how to cook something – whether native or international dishes.  I’ve learned a lot from her, so when someone asks me to recommend a Filipino recipe web site, hers would be my # 1 recommendation. 

Now about adobo:  my ignorance soon vanished when I did a bit of research.  I thought adobo was strictly a Filipino invention – a vinegar, soy sauce and garlic concoction.  It isn’t.

Adobo is the seasoning or marinade used in Spain and other Latin American countries and is closely associated with chipotles and other peppers.  Like Pinoys, they use it to marinate chicken, pork and beef – and sometimes vegetables.  I’ve seen some Adobo products in the spice racks of Oriental stores so if you don’t have time to do this seasoning from scratch, you can use the powder form.

According to Wikipedia, adobo also has a Puerto Rican version – using the same ingredients (vinegar and garlic) but with the addition of oregano.  This is what Wikipedia says:  “It is a mix of crushed garlic, olive oil, salt, black pepper, dry oregano, citrus or vinegar or a mix or both citrus with vinegar. More widely used on the island is a dry mix, adobo seco. It is easier to prepare and has a long shelf life. Adobo seco is a mix of garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper, dry oregano and sometimes dried citrus zest.”

If you can take a strong marinade like adobo and the combination of vinegar and soy sauce does not bother you one tiny bit, you’ll enjoy this recipe.  It’s so simple and unpretentious and packs a lot of taste, despite the few ingredients.  Use fresh asparagus, though.  Hop over to Lori’s blog and look at the left hand column – you’ll see “asparagus”.  Click on that.  After your first visit, I think you’ll get hooked. 

I’ve made this dish three times now.  There are never any leftovers.  The adobo marinade can be used for other vegetables as well – broccoli or Chinese bok choy would be excellent candidates.


Gnocchi, Spinach & Pine Nuts: Budget Meal # 2 September 26, 2009

Filed under: Budget Meals — sotsil @ 11:34 am
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Jackie Mills (MS, RD) contributed this recipe to  It was originally published in the January 2009 issue of Cooking Light.  And light it is, despite the butter.

I call it my budget meal # 2 because I spent only $7.00 and it’s good for two people!  Get the recipe from the link above (it’s still there because I just checked).  The recipe is called Brown Butter Gnocchi with Spinach and Pine Nuts. 

I had never tasted gnocchi before and I love pine nuts so the time was ripe for me to try this recipe.  What I like about it is that it calls for fresh spinach which doesn’t need to be cooked (you just throw it in) and there are only 8 ingredients – which already includes your salt, pepper, garlic and butter.  The only expensive item in this recipe are the pine nuts.  I keep a supply of it because I like adding them to aglio e oglio (poor man’s spaghetti as my sister calls it).  I buy them in a small plastic container from one of my favorite supermarkets – Mourelatos – and they cost about $6.00.  This quantity is good for five cooking sessions of aglio e oglio or five cooking sessions for this gnocchi recipe.

For a step-by-step instruction on how to make this dish, watch the video here:  If this link doesn’t work, go to the first URL above and then scroll down to the section where it says “See this recipe in…”  It’s below the image.  You’ll see the video recorder icon.  In the video, Polly says to add your cooked gnocchi to the mixture so you’ll have to cook the gnocchi before you saute the garlic, pine nuts and spinach in the butter .  Boil water and then put your gnocchi.  Drain them only after they rise to the surface of the water – this takes about 5 minutes, maybe even less.  When you buy your gnocchi, instructions will be on the package.  If you overcook them, they’ll crack!

Here’s the breakdown for this budget meal.  I won’t include the salt, pepper, garlic and butter because these are foods you already have:


Jackie Mills suggests adding bacon bits on top and pairing it with a Sauvignon blanc!

Trivia:  gnocchi means lumps; singular form is gnocco.  It was very popular in northern Italy but Brazilians also love it.  Gnocchi can be made by hand, but you need a truckload of patience, a potato ricer and a gnocchi mold.  I believe the pressure-packed supermarket variety is just as good!

If you look again at the photo above, there’s a cream-coloured handmade doily – that’s from my good friend Gina (a creative woman who comes up with wonderful creations using her hands – and she has fed me many times in the past with her Italian cooking!)