Category Archives: Kitchen


Meal of the Week: Lentil Soup

Even though the week ends tomorrow, this still counts! Right? So this week’s meal of the week definitely fits the criteria of using up food that I might not have gotten to. This is an adaptation on Arabic Shorobat Adas, a red lentil soup, and it’s very simple to make. The original version doesn’t call for chicken or peas, but I had them both, so in they went! The only purchased ingredients were the onions and the rice, so the total cost was $3.29 for five quarts. Without using leftovers, the price would have been $5.44 for 5 quarts.

For lunch every day we get one cup of soup a small home made pita to eat with it. If you’re not watching the budget, it’s really best with some strained yogurt.

Lentils and Rice

.5 lb small dice onions
3 cloves minced garlic
olive oil
1 tbl ground cumin
1.5 cups whole dried red lentils, rinsed.
.75 cups rice
3 quarts water or stock (approximate…keep and eye on the soup)
.75 lb chicken breast*
6 oz peas*
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
salt to taste

1. Saute the onion in olive oil until tender. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the cumin. Add half of the water.

2. Add the lentils, rice and chicken. Cover with water and bring to a low simmer (don’t boil chicken unless you like tough chicken). Simmer on low until the lentils are just starting to get tender, mushy and yellow. At this point the chicken should be fully cooked.

3. Remove the chicken breast and shred with a fork, add back to the soup. Add the peas, coriander, and cayenne. Salt to taste. Serve with bread and a little bit of lemon juice (or yogurt if you have it!)

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Meal of the Week: Cauliflower and Kale Chowder

One of the ways that we keep our food bill low throughout the year, and especially this month, is the Meal of the Week. All year long I make the Meal of the Week on Sunday evenings, then we have it for lunch during the rest of the week. In colder months, the Meal of the Week is usually a stew of some sort that we eat with some sort of carb. When it’s hot outside, I usually make some sort of whole grain based salad.

This week, we’re eating a Cauliflower and Kale Chowder very closely based on the one recently published at Serious Eats by my favorite food blogger, Kenji Lopez-Alt of the Food Lab. Kenji is on week three of a four week vegan break from animal products and posted this recipe last week. I thought it looked good and decided to make it the the first weeks meal of the week for the following reasons:

1. It’s meatless. Last week we had a very beef centered meal of the week, so it’s good to start with something lower on the protein scale and higher on the vegetable scale to balance out between both last week and next week.
2. Next week we’re having chicken, lentil, and rice stew, and I’m not sure how I’m going to get a vegetable in there yet.
3. It will probably be one of the more expensive meals because most of the ingredients needed to be bought. I thought it would be good to start out a little pricey and veggie heavy since the rest of the month will use sooo much of what we already have.

Cauliflower and Kale Chowder

Recipe and prices after the jump! Continue reading

Year 5 of $56 in February

Well, $56 in February started yesterday – or should I call it $56 in Februarch, since the four weeks will run through March 3? Nah, I’ll just keep it to $56 in February – it’s easier that way. For any new (ha!) readers who don’t know what $56 in February is, here’s a quick rundown.

Who: Me and Chad
What: Spend $56 on food for four weeks
Where: At home, going out to eat would decimate our budget
When: Beginning yesterday, February 5 through Saturday, March 3 (four weeks)
Why: Ahh – the juicy question. This is an exercise in mindfulness. We do this to remind ourselves that many people around the world live on much less. We do this remind ourselves not to waste our resources and our good fortune. We do this to remind ourselves of the difference between want and need.

This year the rules are much different. This year, everything we had in the house as of Friday, February 3 is free. In the past, I would have considered this cheating, but then again, this is the first year we’re planning on moving to China in five (oh my!) months. A few months ago I did a decent job of cleaning out the kitchen of food that was so old as to be inedible, but there was still some good stuff left. Like half a large bag of red lentils, one single frozen chicken breast hanging out in the freezer for six months. Add some rice to that and we’ve got a great meal of the week. I’ve deemed these items as free because I want to make sure I use them up before we leave, and I don’t want to add to the pile by buying in bulk to save a little money during February (which is what usually happens). We also don’t want to waste anything (almost finished turkey lunch meat, quarter bottle of milk) just because it wouldn’t fit in our budget. Preventing wastefulness is a key tenet for $56 in February, so it works.

Because of this pantry cleaning rule, we’re going to come in under $56 for these four weeks. I’m personally shooting for $45, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be good about blogging this year. :-)

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So much for cranberry sauce

Better late than never, right? Below is a picture of Thanksgiving dinner.

We had: Roasted turkey breast, apple cider braised turkey legs, cauliflower mashed potatoes, wild mushroom and hazelnut dressing, kale in apple cider vinegar (with bacon and crispy onions), and two types of gravy. For dessert we had our choice of apple pie, pumpkin tart, or pecan tart all with cinnamon-clove-nutmeg frozen custard.

Of course, I forgot to put out the cranberry sauce that I made last week. Of course.

Sorry the kale isn’t clear in the picture, to make up for it, here’s the recipe.

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon peanut oil
Coarse kosher salt
3 strips of bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 pounds kale stems removed, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips

crispy fried onions (French’s or Lars)

Dissolve sugar in 1 tablespoon water in small saucepan over medium heat. Increase heat; boil without stirring until amber, brushing pan sides with wet pastry brush, about 5 minutes. Add vinegar and crushed pepper (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir until caramel bits dissolve. Cool. (this is all the same)

Use store bought crispy onions (I like the Lars brand).

Fry bacon in large pot over medium-high heat. Remove the bacon to a paper towel lined plate – leave the hot fat in the pot. Add the greens, pour the gastrique over the greens and cover. After a minute toss to make sure the greens wilt evenly. Let them cook another minute or so until bright green and tender.

Serve immediately, sprinkled with the crispy fried onions and the bacon.

To further amuse, Harvey dragged his puppy pop to the spare chairs and ate underneath them…

Cranberry Sauce, Check

Thursday is already Thanksgiving! Of course, judging by all of the Christmas decorations going up this weekend, I’d almost think I missed it. Although this year will be stress free (we’re just having a couple of friends over), I like to keep it stress free by getting a few things out of the way. Today we finished 90% of the shopping, I made the compound butter for the turkey, pie crusts, and the cranberry sauce (recipe behind the cut). Just a few more days!
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January + February = Jabruary

First off, a quick update from my new endocrinologist. Both my calcium and parathyroid hormone levels are just on the line between normal and high. This is good, but strange, so my doctor and I are trying a few things in order to figure out exactly what is going on with me.

The reason the update didn’t come earlier (she called me on Friday), is because I’ve spent most of the weekend recovering from the awful cold I had earlier in the week (I missed TWO days of work), reading, playing video games with my husband, and cooking. Mainly cooking.

In the span of this long weekend I’ve baked an excellent loaf of bread ($0.29), made chickpea cauliflower stew for our lunches this week ($0.48 per serving), baked 4 dozen snickerdoodles ($0.03 each), and made the 40 chicken pies that will be our dinner every week night for the next 4 weeks ($0.33 each). Why? Because it’s Jabruary!
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My Grocery Store List

Sunday is a big day for food in the VonHinken household. It’s the day I make a big thing of whatever it is we’re going to eat for lunch during the weekend, so naturally, it’s a big day for grocery shopping. But while I may say is a big day for grocery shopping, it’s probably nothing compared to households with several children (especially boys) – Chad and I just don’t eat that much. However, I have my favorite places to buy food in Northern Virginia, so I thought that today would be a good day to share them. Here’s the quick list, in order of the ones that probably need the most explanation:

  • Super H Mart
  • Let’s Meat on the Avenue
  • Cheesetique
  • Mediterranean Bakery
  • Costco
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Wegmans
  • Whole Foods

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Essential Kitchen Tools IV: Electrics

First things first: electrics are not essential. If pressed, I could do everything that these tools do, by hand, the old fashioned way. I could also spend the entire day in the kitchen and never leave the house. Since that would not be very fun for me (or very practical), I have small electric appliances that help me feel like I’m living in the future. I think I have too many small electrics, and one of these days, before we pack out to wherever we’re going, I’m going to give some of them away (I’m looking at you chocolate tempering machine that I’ve never used. At least you were a free floor sample…) My first two essentials never leave the counter.

1. Toaster Oven
2. Rice Cooker
3. Electric Kettle
4. Crock Pot
5. Food Processor
6. Hand Mixer

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Essential Kitchen Tools III: Buying Cookware

When I started writing this post, I intended to write a guide to give you enough information to make a decision. Then I realized how long that post would be. It would have been ridiculous. So I’ve decided to just give my recommendations and let you see if it fits your life. If you want in depth analysis and a comparison chart, get an online subscription to It’s $10 a year and has been very valuable source of information to me. That subscription fee makes sure they can keep paying their staff to do all of the crazy tests they do to make their recommendations.
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Essential Kitchen Tools II: Baking Tools

I’m still not sure if I consider myself a baker. Sure, I’m getting better at pastry dough and I did make all of the cakes for our wedding, but that was pretty small scale stuff. I’ve never baked for 100, but I’ve grilled for that many (oh man there will be a separate post for grilling), so I’m still not sure – maybe one of these days. That said, there are still a handful of items that I could not do without.

Silicon Mats

Theoretically, I know how bakers managed without silicon mats to roll dough and bake on. They used parchment and/or wax paper and cloths coated in flour. I’ve tried that method and it’s hard. I have both the Silpat and the non insulated silicon baking mats and I love them both. Silpat baking mats are basically a woven fiberglass coated in silicon; the fiberglass helps even out the temperature of the baking surface and is the primary reason cookies turn out so awesomely. The other mat is huge, and wonderful for rolling out pastry or bread dough. The non-stickiness of silicone has really made a lot of changes in the world of cooking tools over the past 10-15 years, and I think it’s definitely a change for the better. With that said, NEVER use metal or other sharp cutting tool on a silicon mat. These guys are thing and even the serration of a butter knife can do some damage (yes, experience is a great teacher). If you have to cut your dough, use a thick, rounded blunt edge – I’ve used the top side of a butter knife to good effect.

Measuring Spoons

These guys didn’t come up in the cooking section because I very very rarely measure spices when I cook. Baking is another story. While I’ll cheat and eyeball something when it comes to adding flavor, I know what can happen if I use the wrong amount of baking soda in a muffin or some cookies. I also like to be consistent when I bake. The narrowness of these particular measuring spoons are part of what make them great: they will fit quite nicely into just about every jar I’ve ever tried them on.

Rolling Pin

I love this little rolling pin. The lack of handles and the tapered edges help me to feel any potential unevenness in dough. The downside is that it isn’t silicon or metal. So things stick to it and you can’t put it in the freezer to chill before working with pastry doughs. It may one day be replaced, but for now it works just fine.

So, until next week…what do you mean “that’s it?” Look, I tried. I went through my kitchen and while baking sheets and cake, pie, and tart pans are often essential, they’re just essential for cake or pie. They should be self evident and there really isn’t anything special about them. There are other things I use to help in prep, but I think those will be best represented in the electronics edition of Essential Kitchen Tools.