October Week 2 Update: Food Wastage and Eggs

My sister came to visit last weekend, which was great for me and even greater for being a lazy butt around the kitchen. We ate out a lot over the weekend, which was really fun. I had no expectations on staying on budget during her stay, but she’s been gone for days and things have continued to deteriorate.

This whole budget mindset is built on sand, the smallest change and it all comes tumbling down. Much like that time I decided to give up refined sugar. Did I even last a day? After roasting beets and sauteing their greens, I ended up throwing out the whole thing five days later, because they took on a weird sour taste. The bag of spinach also liquefied. Natalie: 0; Food Wastage: 2.

In preparation for my sister’s arrival, I did my grocery shopping early and then promptly lost one of the receipts.

In terms of subsistence, I’ve been eating a lot of eggs, boxed mac n cheese with fresh broccoli, and finally, on Wednesday, I cooked the first proper meal of the week. It was a hodge podge of half a pound of spaghetti with pan fried chicken sausage with mushrooms and zucchini and half a cup of Trader Joe’s olive tapenade. Remember those disgusting slimy meatballs of last month? Well, it wasn’t entirely my fault. Even pan fried, the sausage has a weird rubbery, almost mcnugget-y texture. That will not be a re-purchase.

Suffice to say, the pasta wasn’t the best thing I’ve made. But Tj’s olive tapenade isn’t bad as a pasta sauce and it’s amazing as a pizza sauce. And after YEARS of trying to discover the perfect brownie recipe, it was a mixed blessing to discover how nom nom delicious TJ’s gluten free brownie mix is. My sister and I had it for breakfast in a pizza pan (more chewy end pieces, yo!). She added slivvered almonds and sea salt.

In other news, I’m thinking about buying a 20 pack of Shin Ramen from Amazon. It was less than a dollar a packet, but the price has since gone up in the past few days so I’m going to wait. Even though it’s probably terrible for you, I love ramen as an easy carb. It’s already fully cooked so it only takes a few minutes. I like making “fancy” ramen with soft boiled eggs or cooked “dry” with tomato sauce and sea food. I really want to try making budae jjigae. According to Wikipedia, it originated during the Korean War and incorporated foods available on army bases such as sliced American cheese, spam, sliced sausages, baked beans, and macaroni. I have my eye on Cherry on my Sundae’s recipe.


October Week 1: Amateur Mistakes

Week one of my normal life and I make a rookie mistake of not taking stock of my pantry before going to the store, and I didn’t take the half an hour of google magic to plan my week’s menu. Thus while I spent a good ten dollars more than I have in the past few weeks, I have very few dishes that pop to mind. It’s not a complete wash, because I was able to get some things that will be part of some incredibly taste meals in the future. Perhaps the answer is to separate regular groceries from pantry re-stocking?

My major splurge this week was $7.47 I spent on a basil plant, a sage plant, and thyme. I was really into sage butter a month or two ago, and the sage never really recovered. I think one of the biggest headaches is that my balcony is incredibly windy and even after a just few days, the new basil looks rumpled and bedraggled even though the soil is damp.

At Trader Joe’s I purchased:

  • 3 fresh plants for me to murder in the following weeks
  • 2 cans of coconut milk, so I will never have to wait again for Thai noodle soup
  • 1 can of pumpkin, but unfortunately no pumpkin spice for copycat pumpkin spice lattes
  • 1 bag of tortillas
  • 1 brick of part skim mozzarella
  • 1 jar of pineapple salsa
  • 1 jar of olive tapenade
  • 1 box of croissants (I ended up returning the croissants because they didn’t rise and tasted sour. TJ’s customer service is great and I was in and out of the store within five minutes.)

Total: 30.89 26.40groceries

At the farmer’s market, I got
Stall 1:
3 pluots
2 plums
1 peach
Total: 4.50

Stall 2:
1 head of broccoli (in retrospect, that was expensive broccoli)
1 bunch of beets
Total: 3.50

3 zucchini
1 8-ball (round zucchini)
Total: 2.30
Grand Total: 41.19 36.70


This is the first time in a few weeks when I didn’t plan out my menus and I’m already regretting it. A week of quesadillas isn’t appetizing, and I’m a few ingredients short of burritos. What am I supposed to do with that much zucchini? For Saturday’s, I had a chicken quesadilla and chicken breast holds up surprisingly well in the freezer.

What can I make with the ingredients on hand? I’m not currently in the mood for Thai Noodle soup, but I’ll probably change my mind if it rains. I do have some pizza dough in the freezer so I can make zucchini spinach pizza with olive tapenade as the sauce. But I had pizza twice last week. Can one freeze zucchini?

Checking the fridge, I still have loads miso eggplant, most of a bag of spinach, some miscellaneous Chinese veggies from my mom, and the crowning glory: four salted eggs. They are incredibly delicious in rice porridge with fermented tofu and pickles, of which I have neither. Though I’m fairly sure that possessing fermented tofu would not endear me to my roommate.

I have made some amateur mistakes in buying too many veggies (that’s a first) and not having a solid menu in the works. Let’s see how the rest of the week unfurls.

Budget Challenge Update #6: Week in Review

Sorry for the delay in getting this post up. I was having some technical difficulties.

I’m elated that the September budget challenge is over. It wasn’t difficult to get enough to eat due to foodstuffs in the pantry, but I did have to put off buying unnecessary food like ice cream, chocolates, pumpkin spice, and croissants.

Not that I’m ready to go back to regular spending. I think I’ll continue posting my groceries for the next few weeks just to see how it goes.

In addition, to the roast chicken, potatoes, and green beans, I finally cooked up the miso eggplant to go with sesame noodles. I had dinner with my mother this week and was lucky enough to score leftovers; there was also a pizza party at work. I also ended up eating out twice this week (three times if you count Chez Mom).


I used an Epicurious recipe for the miso glazed eggplant, but I am less than enamored with the results. It may be because of the lackluster performance of the toaster oven, but I did note that the cooking time for the Epicurious recipe was significantly less than the one for the New York Times (six minutes versus fifteen to twenty). The result was a combination of burned yet raw.


I used the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Sesame Noodles. They were delicious.


Budget Challenge Update #5 Groceries

receiptLast night while I was doing my grocery and meal planning I had a huge craving for roast chicken (I’ve been eyeing the Zuni chicken recipe), and at $10.46, this 3.9 pound bird swallowed up nearly half of my budget. The previous week was mostly vegetarian. The total of this week’s grocery bill is $21.21.

I rationalized the meat purchase because of all those “one chicken, five dinners” blog posts. Though, I might have changed my mind if I googled a little more extensively. The meat only lasts two or three meals, and they use stock to make soup or risotto for the rest, which I think is sorta cheating. But a month or so ago, my roommate bought a rotisserie chicken and after picking the carcass clean, she froze the nuggets of meat in Ziploc baggies to add to soups and quesadillas and all sorts of convenient deliciousness. Continue reading

Budget Challenge Update #4

zucchini gratinDuring the weekend I succumbed to boxed macaroni and cheese. I was feeling incredibly lazy and I need to pack something for lunch on Monday. I also finally threw out the dreaded slime meatballs but I kept the tomato sauce. It actually has a really nice meat-y flavor. I had it with pasta for dinner on Monday and lunch on Tuesday with a bit left over for today. Continue reading

Top 5 Savory Toaster Oven Recipes

For about four years, I cooked with a toaster oven that you couldn’t even fit a shoe box into. I consider it one of my greatest skills and I continued to hone my technique when I moved back to the states. A few months ago, the toaster oven caught fire and hasn’t been the same since. But sometimes I still think of the glory days! Here is a compilation of my favorite savory toaster oven recipes. To my friends back in Taiwan and China, I’m missing all those good times. Continue reading

Budget Challenge Update #3 Groceries


The weather has warmed up again so it looks like fruit smoothies will make up the bulk of my breakfast this week. I can also mix things up with avocados and eggs for breakfast or as part of dinner. I wanted to focus on getting more veggies this week, and use my stores of quinoa, farro, and rice. Miso glazed egg plant, stir fried zucchini, etc. Continue reading

Budget Challenge Update #2

After a rough start, the first week of the budget challenge did not go too poorly. I had oatmeal for breakfast most days and mixed things up this morning with an almond berry smoothie. In addition to making the meatball disaster, this is what I made this week:

Continue reading

Update: Printable Recipes!

I’ve been wanting to make my recipes more easily accessible. Personally, I like to print out new recipes so I don’t get flour and eggs all over my laptop and I can also jot down adjustments quickly in the margins. While many websites use plugins, it’s not an option for WordPress.com blogs.

I stumbled upon this old blog post which lays out five options for making it easier for readers to print recipes, lists, tutorials, etc. Of the five options, I ended up using a free service called Print Friendly. You can find it at the bottom of each post. I have labeled it with a handy dandy red arrow. Just click on it, and you’ll be able to print out the blog post without weird spacing and links. Continue reading