Dinner, Lunch, Staples

Frugal Food Series | Tip 7: Squash

It’s squash season!!!  Pumpkin baked goodies and butternut squash bisque and squash ravioli.  Mmmm.  Squash is delicious.

As we have been very mindful lately of how we spend our grocery budget, we have been turning to squash.  A lot.  We are currently paying $0.69 a lb at the grocery store for a variety of different winter squashes.  And a 3-4 lb squash has a large yield.  Not to mention the nutritional value of those vitamin dense, harvest season veggies.  To be short, it’s a lot of bang for your buck.

Growing up, my mom used to split an acorn squash and roast it with butter and brown sugar.  I was not a fan.  And (no offense to my mom) this is a lot of people’s experience with squash.  Just kind of boring mush.  While, now I like this boring mush, I have also learned how versatile a squash is.  Dont’ believe me?  Here look.

This is the 4 lb buttercup squash I bought at the store this weekend.  It has a deep yellow flesh with a rich, sweet flavor. We will use it for 2 meals this week, none of which will include mush, or most familiar squash dishes. Frugal Food Series | Tip 7: Squash // Keeping Willow

I preheated the oven to 350°F, cut the squash in half, scooped out the seeds, drizzled it with olive oil and seasoned it with salt and pepper.  I put the squash halves facedown on a foil lined sheet pan and baked them for 50 minutes.  I let them cool to room temperature.  I stored one in the fridge to put in the 3 bean chili we’re having for dinner later this week.  I kept the other one to make these black bean and squash burgers, which completely rocked.Frugal Food Series | Tip 7: Squash // Keeping Willow

I have made black bean burgers with sweet potatoes before but the squash worked just as well if not better.  This recipe makes enough for about 8 burgers.  Whatever we don’t eat gets frozen and saved for when we need a meal in a hurry.Frugal Food Series | Tip 7: Squash // Keeping WillowFrugal Food Series | Tip 7: Squash // Keeping WillowFrugal Food Series | Tip 7: Squash // Keeping Willow

Sometimes (and by sometimes I mean usually) veggie burger recipes turn out crumbly and fall apart.  But these hold together perfectly.  I served them on some fresh baked, whole wheat bread I baked yesterday with lettuce, tomato, avocado, goat cheese and Sriracha mayonnaise.  After I took some photos of this burger, I was cleaning up and turned around to find this little monster going to town.  Frugal Food Series | Tip 7: Squash // Keeping Willow

This should be enough proof that it’s really good.

I hope this inspires you to experiment a little with squash.  You know, do something crazy you’ve never tried before.  Like squash in a burrito, on your pizza (oh yum, with goat cheese, shitake mushrooms, walnuts and a chive, arugula pesto!!!) or in your oatmeal (with cinnamon and maple syrup).  And if you don’t like it, that’s ok because it literally cost you cents to buy. So happy, healthy, hedonistic and frugal eating to you all.  I hope you love these burgers!


Frugal Food Series | Tip 7: Squash // Keeping Willow


2 cups cooked black beans (1 can)
1/2 of a 3-4 lb squash (butternut, buttercup, kabocha, or acorn will all do) roasted and cooled (directions above)
1/2 small onion, diced small
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup packed, chopped cilantro
1 cup oatmeal (old fashioned)
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (sub quinoa or millet if gluten free)
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
1-2 Tbsp pure olive oil

1. Scoop the flesh out of the skin of your squash.  Sometimes the skin peels right off.  Combine the beans, squash, onion, garlic, cilantro, spices and salt and pepper in a medium size mixing bowl and mash with a potato masher.
2. In a food processor or blender, grind up the oatmeal until it has a similar consistency to breadcrumbs.  Make sure to use gluten free oatmeal if you are making a gluten free version. Combine the oatmeal and breadcrumbs (or gf grains) to the bean and squash mixture.
3. Portion out the burger patties into half cup portions.
4. Warm up some of the oil in a cast iron skillet or frying pan on medium heat.  Cook the burgers on either side until they are golden brown.  Serve immediately garnished with your favorite toppings.

Dinner, Staples

Frugal Food Series | Tip 6: Roots

Root vegetables.  I wish I had a good story about them.  But I don’t.  All have is a deep love and appetite for the dirt, dwelling bulbs.  Roasted, mashed, fried or steamed, it doesn’t matter.  My infatuation for roots is broad.  Maybe it’s because I’m from the midwest(ish) where roots are regular fare, and/or because I’m Irish, where roots were all anyone could afford.  But most likely it is due to those fancy root chips they sell at the grocery store.  I. Just. Can’t. Stop!

Ok, I lied, maybe I do have a story.  As I said, I’m Irish (well, half Irish and half Dutch) and my mom’s side of the family, I would say, is pretty proud that they are Irish (not to say my dad’s side isn’t proud to be Dutch).  Every holiday celebration, whether Thanksgiving or Christmas, my great grandma Mildred Murphy, and later my aunt Kay after my great grandma passed on, would bring a dish of mashed rutabagas [or as my family says, although I’m not certain why, “rutabeggars”].  It was kind of just a thing that you had to do every holiday because you were Irish.  It was usually a small dish and usually no one ate them, or at least not much of them.  I was pretty young and usually the rutabagas were passed right by me.  But this particular holiday celebration I decided I want to try the “rutabeggars”.  Even at a young age, I liked to eat and I didn’t want something that looked an awful lot like cheesy, mashed potatoes to get passed over my head.  So I asked to try them.  I quite vividly remember family members asking me if I was sure I wanted to try them, as if they were snails or liver and onions or something.  Of course I wanted to try them!  It would be a predictable and entertaining outcome of this story if when I tasted these “rutabeggars” I hated them so much that I had a vile and over-the-top reaction, spitting rutabaga mash everywhere.  But the truth is, I loved them.  I remember eating a lot of them.  Even more than I ate of my old favorite, mashed potatoes (OMG, so passé!).

Rutabagas are now one of my favorite foods, if not my favorite. They are buttery and just enough starchy to give you that comforting feeling, but not enough starchy to make you feel like a sack of potatoes after you eat them (pun intended).  I am a rutabaga evangelist.  I always bring them to special occasions and I am the new, designated rutabaga preparer in my family.  I even bring them to holidays on my dutch side of the family!  And people love them.  They are weird looking and no one knows what to do with them or how to prepare them, so a lot of people have never made them.  Well, you’re in luck, because I’m ready to share with you my Irish wisdom.

First, here is a little tutorial on how to prep and cut a rutabaga.
That big purplish brown looking root, that’s a rutabaga.  They can sometimes be found by the potatoes or the squash at the grocery store and they are usually covered in thick wax to preserve their freshness.Frugal Food Series | Tip 6: Roots // Keeping Willow

The first step is taking off the skin.  Chop the top and the bottom off the rutabaga to give yourself a wide flat surface to work with.Frugal Food Series | Tip 6: Roots // Keeping Willow

Cutting from the top of the rutabaga to the bottom, run your knife along the side, cutting of the skin and staying with the shape of the root.  Work your way around until all the skin is removed. (Use a good, sturdy knife. You will have a hard time with a cheap, flimsy or serrated knife)Frugal Food Series | Tip 6: Roots // Keeping Willow

Cut the rutabaga into slices between 1/2″ to 3/4″ wide.Frugal Food Series | Tip 6: Roots // Keeping Willow

Cut each slice into cubes by cutting them lengthwise and then horizontally. Frugal Food Series | Tip 6: Roots // Keeping WillowFrugal Food Series | Tip 6: Roots // Keeping Willow

That’s it!  Now they are ready to boil but you can also roast them in the oven with rosemary and olive oil.  So good.
Hey! Bring a little Irish to your holiday celebrations this year.  Maybe you’ll start a new tradition.


Frugal Food Series | Tip 6: Roots // Keeping WillowFrugal Food Series | Tip 6: Roots // Keeping Willow

Mashed Rutabagas (Murphy Style)

1 large or 2 small rutabagas, peeled and diced into 1/2″-3/4″ cubes
1 russet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks (optional, I’ve done without it, but this is the Murphy way)
1-2 Tbsp or butter (depending on your taste)
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Put your diced rutabagas and potato into a large pot of cold water with a large pinch of salt.  Cover and bring to a boil.
2. Remove cover and turn heat down to a simmer.  Allow to cook for 18 minutes or until the rutabagas are tender. Drain the water.
3. Place the rutabagas back in the pan and mash with a potato masher.  Add butter, salt and a generous amount of pepper.  Whip with an electric mixer. (A food processor or immersion blender works well too.)
4. Put the mashed rutabagas in a casserole dish and bake for 1 hour.  Eat and share with your friends and family.




A Case of the Fridays

I don’t really get the Mondays.  I’m not sure why.  I guess I typically feel refreshed and energized by the weekend.  You know, a weekend that was equally as productive as it was entertaining and relaxing.  But recently I have been experiencing this oppressive cloud of anxiety and depression, not on Monday and not on a Sunday evening, but on Fridays.  FRIDAY!  The one day out of the week, according to the Cure, that is supposed to be the best.

What is wrong with me!

Ok, usually my Fridays start out great.  I’m stoked, beyond excited, that I don’t have to go to work tomorrow.  There’s maybe even a little spring in my step as I head for the subway.  Lunch time comes around and I’m still feeling great.  But by 4 and 5 o’clock, all of the exhaustion that has built up from the past, really long work week is reaching it’s breaking point.  My commute home always feels/is so much longer.  I come home not ready to party hard (ok, I know, as if), but ready to lay in bed for 2 consecutive days.  But that’s just the beginning.

I begin to think about all of the things that NEED to get done during the weekend: grocery shop, finally make it to the library, bake bread, make stock, do the dishes, and scrub the bathroom.  Simultaneously, another list compiles of all the things I WANT to get done during the weekend: try out that new coffee shop that is serious about their coffee, check out a new part of town, get some work done on the blog, use that H&M gift card my mom sent me, paint my nails (or at least take off the old polish), go for a walk, watch Game of Thrones, eat cookies, and invite friends over for dinner. Achieve all of these things with a not-even-two-year-old running through my legs all day (I say that literally, because the girl will run through my legs– for hours!)

How?  I can’t?  My weekend is ruined before it even began.

And then I go to sleep.  And I wake rested.  I drink some amazing coffee that my handsome, husband brews for me every morning, with his timer and scale and Hario-Kalita-ma-bobs, and suddenly Saturday is full of possibilities.  Boom!  I just bought a weeks worth of groceries for $50. Pow! The house is clean and I look fly.  Bam! On the streetcar ready to taste some Joe.  [Honestly, I never talk like this.]

The “Fridays” have ended and my weekend was everything I hoped it would be.  And I feel fulfilled by Sunday evening.

Am I alone?  Do you ever get the Fridays?  I sure hope not.

Let this classic cheer you up and help you get through the hardest day of the week.  And remember, you just need to go to bed and drink some coffee in the morning.


Dinner, Lunch, Staples

Frugal Food Series | Tip 5: Greens

In 2005, I spent a summer doing a culinary apprenticeship at a hotel in Scotland.  It was one of the more fun, hard and complicated things I’ve ever done.  I mean, the cooking wasn’t hard.  It was really everything else.  The homesickness, the lack of female co-workers, the drinking, the drama and the living situation.  The hotel provided their staff with accommodations, which were not much different from my freshmen dorm room.  No kitchen, tiny room with a dresser, a closet, and a shared bathroom.  Only, there was no cafeteria or Jimmy Johns close by to keep me fed and plump.  I worked 50 hours a week so most of my meals were taken from the kitchen.  Usually pockets full of shortbread and chocolate chips I took from the pantry.  Because we didn’t really get breaks, and dinner was usually eaten after your shift was over at 10 pm, I had to eat when I could.  It was no wonder with such sweet, buttery diet, along with all the beer I drank, that I gained 10 lbs that summer.  One particular day I was really feeling the extra weight, so I decided to make a beautiful, massive salad for dinner after my shift.  It was gorgeous, with loads of veggies, feta cheese, and a creamy balsamic vinaigrette.  I sat down by my co-workers and began to shovel salad into my face. After a couple minutes of silence, I looked up to see my colleagues all staring at me.  “What?” I said, with a extra long piece of lettuce still protruding from my mouth.  “What are you, a rabbit?” one of my co-workers replied.  Everyone started to laugh.

Apparently giant salads is an American thing.  Lesson learned: never eat a huge salad when you’re in Scotland.  Or maybe just go about it more attractively than I did.

I love greens.  They are a major staple of our family’s diet.  Willow has even grown fond of salad.  It is so good for you and tasty but the other great part is, it is frugal, frugal, frugal (the repetition of the same word, over and over for emphasis is called an epizeuxis.  Just because I wanted you to know that I know a big word). A giant bundle of kale costs a little over a dollar but adds so much substance and nutrition to your meal.  Many times, food considered “frugal”in our culture, are typically processed, boxed foods.  Although coupons and all that other “money saving” nonsense is typically for your packaged foods, I think they are a royal waste of your money.  With greens, you spend some change and the nutritional output is 100 fold compared to that garbage that food producers are making.  Oh, by the way, that boxed food, that is what makes grocery stores and food producers the most money.  Although it’s cheap, it would be so much cheaper for you to make it yourself.  And even if it’s not cheaper to make homemade mac and cheese, the most frugal foods are typically whole foods.  Ok, off my soap box.

We tend to eat a lot of kale 1) because we like it 2) because it keeps longer than other greens and 3) because it makes us feel better about ourselves [a little self-esteem boost couldn’t hurt].  Some other greens we tend to chow down on is swiss chard, spinach, romaine and arugula. The microgreens tend to be a little more expensive, but we indulge every once in a while.  And we have stopped buying boxed lettuces altogether.  They go bad quickly and are way more expensive per ounce than just buying a head of lettuce or bunch of spinach.

In honor of the green, I’m sharing with you one of our standard salad recipes that we really adore.  It is a vegan avocado, kale, caesar salad.  It is garlicky and citrusy and really gives the creamy dressing sensation that a traditional caesar delivers. It’s amazing. I hope you give it a try and tell me what you think.  Try to keep from shoving the entire salad into your face at once.


Frugal Foods // Greens-- Vegan Avocado Kale Caesar Salad | Keeping WillowFrugal Foods // Greens-- Vegan Avocado Kale Caesar Salad | Keeping Willow

Vegan Avocado Kale Caesar Salad

1/2 avocado
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (about half a lemon)
1 clove of garlic finely minced or grated
2 Tbsp tahini
1/4 cup olive oil
kosher salt and fresh black pepper
1 bunch of kale

1. The key to a successful kale salad are 2 things.  1. finely chop the kale.  2. massage the kale in the dressing (like, with your hands– please wash them first).  This keeps that choking sensation to a minimum and tenderizes the leaves.  Wash, dry, and devein your kale (hold the stem with one hand and pinch the other end of the stem where it begins to turn into the leaf.  Quickly drag your pinched fingers along the stem, toward the leaf, separately the leaf from the stem.)  Finely chop the kale and set aside in a large mixing bowl.
2. In another bowl, combine all remaining ingredients except the olive oil.  Whisk them together fiercely until you get a smooth, creamy paste. Slowly drizzle in your olive oil while simultaneously whisking.  Taste to check if you need to adjust the salt and pepper. [You can also do this in a blender.  I just hate cleaning my blender.]
3.  Pour the dressing over the kale and massage with your hands, firmly squeezing it, until combined.  Serve immediately with croutons or as is [this is not a dressing you will want to make ahead of time as the avocado will oxidize].