Young, Broke, and Single

Ah, 22. That watermelon was probably the healthiest thing I ate that month
Ah, 22. That watermelon was probably the healthiest thing I ate that month

My 22 year old brother sent me a text the other day that read:

So I’m trying to eat healthier and cut fast food out. Any relatively easy recipes you’d be willing to send me? Preferably ones without a load of dairy, but I’ll take what I can get.

This goes to show that he’s already doing better than me at 22, since many of my meals at that time were either:

A) Special K red berries/chocolatey delight, with whole milk

B) A bowl filled half with warm queso dip (from a jar), half filled with salsa (duh, jar), and a bag of either Fritos or Tostitos scoops.

The rest of the time I was eating leftovers from going out with my boyfriend at the time, and thank goodness he made more money and could feed me. Such is life.

I thought it might help someone though if I posted exactly what I wound up sending him (minus family jokes), since it’s very simple and involves minimal kitchen equipment (no immersion blends in sight). So here it is, basic food for a broke, early twenties person living in a crappy apartment with roommates. We’ve all been there.


So, general tips:
  • If you live close to a Whole Foods, it can actually be really affordable for basics. We get most of our spices in the bulk section, and you can buy just what you need for one recipe for like $0.20, which also means you have fresh spices instead of ones that you’re pretty sure you’ve owned for ten years. Not that it’s ever happened to me. Also, the bulk section has things like beans, oats and even pasta. Again, you can buy just the amount you need for a recipe and not waste things, which is especially helpful when you’re single (Sometimes other grocery stores have bulk bins too, but it varies by location). Whole Foods has a great store brand (365, I think?). We’ve never had a bad experience with it and it’s a lot cheaper than other options. There’s also an organic 365 line that we use. The boxes of organic 365 cooked beans are GREAT. Especially the chickpeas
  • Learn to be flexible with recipes. The curry I’ve linked to below is a great basic formula. Instead of asparagus, we did half a head of cauliflower because we needed the other half for a different recipe. Saved us money, reduced waste, just as delicious. Potatoes would be great too. You can use this same basic recipe with red or yellow curry paste and seriously not have to change anything else (also, unless you plan to use rice vinegar a lot, don’t worry about buying a bottle just for this. The recipe will be great. You should, however, buy soy sauce, because soy sauce makes everything better. I might be married to an Asian.) As a prime example of how flexible recipes can be: I never ever put celery in anything, because I hate it. If a recipe calls for it, I might put in a little extra onion or carrot, but usually I don’t even worry about it.
  • On recipes that list garnishes: if you already have that stuff on hand for something else, great. If not, don’t worry about buying a thing of cilantro just so you can sprinkle a small bit on top of one thing. The waste will annoy you, and it will make your grocery bill more expensive for very little reason
Some good starter recipes (also, look at other recipes on these websites and see if any look good):
  • Thai green curry with spring vegetables– we don’t use brown rice, but you totally can. Whole Foods also has lots of rice options available in bulk
  • Rice and bean casserole with guac I never bother with the jalapeño in this one. Get yourself some bouillon cubes or buy a jar of Better than Bouillon just so you can always have broth on hand. Try to read the label and get one without too many scary ingredients, but don’t stress if you can’t afford the best. It’s still going to be healthier than fast food. If you don’t have any casserole dishes, Goodwill is actually a great spot for them. People get rid of that stuff all the time. Or ask Mom if she has an extra one. 
  • Overnight steel cut oats– Don’t worry about the optional milk. I never add it. You could make a double or triple batch of these at one time and just reheat some every morning in the microwave. Buy a bag of steel cut oats or get some in the bulk section. Add whatever you’d like on top. This week we’re adding coconut milk and diced mango, because mangoes were on sale. Often we add sliced banana and maple syrup. Really easy, cheap, and healthy.
  • Pasta con ceci this is one of our newer favorites. It’s kind of like a healthier, grown up version of Spaghetti-O’s. I almost always make a double batch and it reheats really well. I find this pasta shape in the bulk section, but I think any smaller pasta could work, like macaroni or little shells. Just test the pasta for doneness. This recipe is super easy, but it’s definitely one to have everything prepped and within reach so you don’t accidentally burn the garlic. Also, it says to peel and smash the garlic, but I always wind up slicing the garlic very thin instead. Just a preference thing.
  • Turkey white bean chili– okay, this one has a longer ingredient list, but it’s still super simple and SO GOOD. Sub in any ground meat if something’s on sale. Add whatever toppings you’d like, or none at all. Makes a nice big pot. I don’t bother taking the seeds out of the jalapeño because we like it spicy, but whatever
  • Eggs, greens, and couscous– This is more of a good general idea than telling you to follow this recipe (although it’s delicious and we eat it often). Just remember that: cooked grains+any greens sautéed with salt/red pepper flakes/squeeze of lemon+fried eggs (I never bother with poaching)= great dinner. This can also be a good way to clean out the fridge. Leftover rice from takeout, topped with that half a bag of spinach that’s about to go bad that you cook quickly in a frying pan, topped with an egg or two, and you have dinner. Always keep eggs on hand, assuming you like eggs.  
  • Dragon noodles– Great base recipe. We almost always add extra vegetables in at the end. Just make sure to cook them in a separate pan (or the same pan, and then dump them in a bowl to hang out til you need them). Snow peas are delicious, but seriously. Any vegetable you like is good in here.
  • Slow cooker pulled pork– So this does assume you have a crockpot (and we all know what assuming does…). If you don’t, I’m sure Mom would let you borrow one/steal one for you, or definitely look at Goodwill for one. What I really love about this recipe is all of the suggestions she makes about what to do with the meat through the course of a week. Last time I did it, I turned some into a tortilla soup, and then spring rolls, and some rice bowls with roasted broccoli and who knows what else. Honestly, her whole blog is great. Her recipes are always so delicious, and she has a bunch of meal prep posts that show all the stuff she makes on Sunday and how she uses it to feed her family through the week. That way you can start thinking about how to make the maximum number of meals with minimal effort on your part

Meal Plan: March 27-April 2

Every week we make a meal plan for the week ahead. The plan accounts for 5 breakfasts, 4 lunches (plus fruit or vegetables), 4 snacks, and 5 dinners each for the two of us. Lunches are typically a double batch of whatever the recipe calls for. We make the lunches and do other prep work on Sunday. Nearly all items are purchased from either our local farmers market or Whole Foods. We live in Cincinnati, OH.

Easter strawberry balsamic pie
Easter strawberry balsamic pie

March27-April 2

My thought that I had finally discovered the perfect pie crust was put to the test this weekend, and came through with flying colors. Yes, this crust really is that good, and that easy. I was even able to roll and cut the dough pre-coffee on Sunday morning, which speaks highly to it’s ease of use. Pre-coffee Allyn: not my best. the pie recipe was from Four and Twenty Blackbirds, and I will definitely be buying a copy of the cookbook when I have to return mine to the library. It has so many great recipes to using as a jump off point, plus it’s full of tips on pie making. Go check it out!

Easter

  • Strawberry balsamic pie p.80, plus tip on p. 64, and perfect crust

Breakfast

Lunch

Snack

  • Bananas

Dinner

Meal Plan: March 20-March 26

Every week we make a meal plan for the week ahead. The plan accounts for 5 breakfasts, 4 lunches (plus fruit or vegetables), 4 snacks, and 5 dinners each for the two of us. Lunches are typically a double batch of whatever the recipe calls for. We make the lunches and do other prep work on Sunday. Nearly all items are purchased from either our local farmers market or Whole Foods. We live in Cincinnati, OH.

Walking around a city can certainly lead to… interesting discoveries
Walking around a city can certainly lead to… interesting discoveries

March 20-March 26

Josh and I have been walking around our neighborhood almost every day lately, both to celebrate the fact that it’s no longer freezing and to get some good exercise in now that we can. This, combined with the yoga I do every day, is making me SO HUNGRY. Seriously, we walked 5 miles yesterday and I think I ate 1/4 of a chicken and countless mouthfuls of roasted vegetables that I inhaled as quickly as possible (roasting vegetables in this duck fat for the win, forever and ever, amen). Now I’m trying not to go eat a whole box of Samoas and daydreaming about dinner. Not even sure what I’ll wind up cooking from the list, but still dreaming about it. I might need to plan for heartier snacks if we keep this up.

Breakfast

Lunch

Snack

  • Bananas

Dinner

Pie Crust Perfection

The love of my baking life
The love of my baking life

Pie crust: something I’ve tackled quite a few times, but never been happy with. As someone who has never been a huge fan of crust anyway, I’ve gone back on forth on whether it was even worth making from scratch, since my homemade versions were rarely more appealing than something I could snag from the freezer section. Making them was time consuming, messy, and it always seemed like I was crossing my fingers in hopes that the final results were even edible. I read countless articles and referenced cookbooks, watched videos on shingling the butter into the flour, kept everything as ice cold as possible, and stressed about overworking the gluten.

Then I read The Science of Pie Dough from the Food Lab, and my mind was blown. It seemed too good to be true, that I could do most of the work in my food processor, and mix it more than I ever thought could be okay, and it would be easy to roll out and work with, AND still magically be tender and flaky?! No way.

Well, after making it yesterday, yes way. YES WAY. This will be my go to pie crust forever, and has turned me into a pie crust consumer because it was SO DELICIOUS. I want to make pie again and again and again. I’ll become the pie lady, and I’m more than okay with that.

Here is the recipe and all of the how-to’s. I used Kerrygold butter and my digital scale to measure everything (which is a baker’s best friend), but it was seriously so easy. Josh turned to me after his first bite with big eyes and just said “you did it.”

Exactly the reaction I was waiting for.

Meal Plan: March 13-March 19

Every week we make a meal plan for the week ahead. The plan accounts for 5 breakfasts, 4 lunches (plus fruit or vegetables), 4 snacks, and 5 dinners each for the two of us. Lunches are typically a double batch of whatever the recipe calls for. We make the lunches and do other prep work on Sunday. Nearly all items are purchased from either our local farmers market or Whole Foods. We live in Cincinnati, OH.

Jok Moo from Cravings cookbook is one of our new favorites
Jok Moo from Cravings cookbook is one of our new favorites

March 13-March 19

Cincinnati springtime (though snow is in the forecast) means that even though we don’t need coats anymore, it’s still dark and rainy enough that we want comfort food. The trick is finding things that are cozy but still a little light, because we’re no longer feeling the urge to build up our fat for winter hibernation. That’s totally a thing that humans do, right?

I’m craving summer produce, but knowing that it’s still a long way off, I’ll just hope that Whole Foods gets some rhubarb for pie soon.

Breakfast

Lunch

Snack

  • Banana bread– with a handful of chocolate chips thrown in for good measure

Dinner

Mulligatawny

We'll pretend that this was the photo I always planned to use, not was forced to use because we ate the whole pot of mulligatawny last night. Oops.
We’ll pretend that this was the photo I always planned to use, not was forced to use because we ate the whole pot of mulligatawny last night. Oops.

When Josh and I were dating, he took me to Shanghai so I could meet his dad and his dad’s wife before we got engaged. Besides being an incredible trip full of amazing food (and Josh secretly telling them the first day that he had bought a ring and was going to propose soon. NO PRESSURE), one of the best thing’s to come out of the trip was his Malaysian stepmother sending us home with two bags of her favorite curry powder, Baba’s Meat Curry.

One of the first things I used it for for was a heavily altered version of the Pioneer Woman’s Easy Mulligatawny, which is I’m sure itself a very bastardized version of the original. I am in no way claiming that this is an authentic recipe, but only stating that for 6 years now, this has been one of Josh’s favorite meals on earth.

My main advice would be to make sure you love the curry powder you use, because it really is the star player.

Mulligatawny

  • 2 whole boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 heaping Tbsp curry powder
  • 32 ounces chicken broth
  • 1 can full fat coconut milk
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
  • 3/4 cup uncooked rice (basmati or jasmine both work great)

Season diced chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden (don’t worry about it cooking through, since it will go back in later in the cooking process). Remove chicken to a plate and set aside.

In the same pot, add the remaining butter and reduce heat to medium. Add diced onion and garlic and stir to cook until the onions soften and start to brown.

Sprinkle flour over onions and stir to coat. Add the curry powder and cook the mixture over medium heat for one minute, stirring constantly.

Stir in the chicken broth and cook for five minutes. Add the coconut milk, some salt and pepper, and cook for another five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the rice and stir well. Cook for about five minutes, stirring often to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom.

Add the chicken and diced apple and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often, until rice is done. Turn off the heat and allow to stand 5 or 10 minutes before serving.

Meal Plan: March 6-March 12

Every week we make a meal plan for the week ahead. The plan accounts for 5 breakfasts, 4 lunches (plus fruit or vegetables), 4 snacks, and 5 dinners each for the two of us. Lunches are typically a double batch of whatever the recipe calls for. We make the lunches and do other prep work on Sunday. Nearly all items are purchased from either our local farmers market or Whole Foods. We live in Cincinnati, OH.

New (to us) dresser! Only took 3 years to find the right one
New (to us) dresser! Only took 3 years to find the right one

March 6-March 12

Cincinnati has a surprisingly great selection of affordable midcentury furniture, and we’ve been slowly collecting pieces since we arrived. Also, this dresser, which we share (as well as a small closet) is why I roll my eyes when people on House Hunters freak out that a walk in closet is too small to possibly share. Or the episode I saw where the woman needed 4 closets JUST FOR HERSELF. That’s insane. Less is more. All that to say… hooray for pretty furniture, especially pieces that don’t take up too much space in our tiny bedroom!

We’re continuing on the no-dairy train this week, and with spring allergies coming up, I might try to keep it this way for a while. Sniffles and snoring are bad for all parties.

Breakfast

Lunch

Snack

  • Bananas

Dinner