Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011, It was a pleasure to know you.

This year is almost over.  Like, three more sleeps and then it is another year.  Remember how when you were a kid and it seemed like Christmas took forever to get here?  Now it just comes and goes in a blink of an eye.  Whoosh.

Looking back on 2011 I see this as my year of creativity being realized.  I had an article published in Guideposts Magazine, I took engagement pictures and maternity pictures and trash the dress pictures plus some more, and I really put myself to work in the kitchen.  And of course, I started this blog!  Obviously, there is a whole lot more to say about this year, mostly good, some bad, but that is what I will always remember this year for.  

Let's take a look at where this blog/this year has gone:

It all started as a way for me to record my recipes and to keep track of how much money each one cost.  I was not concerned with getting into the "blogging world", I just wanted to share with my friends and family.

Learning to cook is a tall order.  Learning to cook while blending two cultures is a doubly-tall, doubly difficult order.  But it is fun.  Challenging things aren't always bad -- sometimes they are the motivation you need to keep things interesting.

(This is Prestigio Cake, by the way.  My husband's favorite.)

PS - We also went one month (yeah, you heard that correctly) without spending any money WHAT-SO-EVER on eating out.  One month. 

Teaching my baby brother how to cook.  It took me years of begging him to join me in the kitchen, but he finally decided to humor me.  And he was good at it!  Don't let the badass tattoos fool you; he has many talents.  (Did I ever mention that he has a beautiful singing voice?  Beautiful.)
My first (and only) attempt at "cute food".  Yeah, there are some things I am not cut out for.

Challenge of one week, completely new recipes with fresh ingredients.  My favorite food week of the year.

I hosted a Foodbuzz 24x24 party, themed "Festa Brasileira".  Not only did we get fourteen Brazilian and American friends together to eat and have a good time, but we had had money left over and were able to donate $100 to the World Hunger Project.  Win-win in my book.

Oh yeah, and I learned some more of that all-important-Brazilian-cooking.  Triple win.

Being a lover of good photography, I decided it was time to bring my food-pictures up to the level I expect of all my pictures.  I don't always make it happen, but I do make an effort.

October Unprocessed: one month of NOTHING I didn't make from scratch.  It was difficult, eye-opening, and fun.  I actually cried when I made vegetable stock from scratch.  To see that I have the ability to make something without relying of food companies to do it for me... exhilarating.
My friends and I gave thanks while trying give others a reason to do the same.  With a team of young adults and people willing to join us, plus a 7x matching opportunity, we raised enough money to provide 35,112 meals to those in need in Africa.  That's 35,112 reasons to give thanks.
And that brings us to now, December.  What can I say about this month?  I realized that along with developing my cooking skills I have also developed my photography, my writing, and have connected with people around the world I would have never met otherwise.  I have become a better cook, for sure, but I have also become a more well-rounded person. 

2011, you have been a good one.

And now on to see what 2012 has in store for us...

May your New Year (eve/day/year) be filled with love, family & friends, good food, and laughter.  Thank you for being a part of my inner-creativity discovery process!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Almost English Toffee

Yes, you read that right.  English Toffee  FUDGE.  Except it's not really fudge.  Nor is it really English Toffee.  Actually, it is an accident.

An amazing accident.

Two days I go I was cruising food blogs and I found out that English Toffee is incredibly easy (sounding) to make.  I wanted to make sure if I was going to make some I was going to make the best possible, so I googled recipes for it and compared them.  Finding the one that sounded the best, I set out to make some of my own.  I already had all of the ingredients on hand except almonds, but I don't like almonds, so I grabbed some walnuts down and was set.

There were tons of suggestions how to make it work correctly, and I read them all -- I promise.  I guess I just didn't fully understand them all, because what I wound up with was not English Toffee.  It was softer, melty-in-your-mouth, and oh-so-good.  So I did another google search for undercooked English Toffee.  According to everyone there, it should have been really sticky and get all stuck on your teeth, which mine did not.  So then I googled fudge.  Wouldn't you know it, fudge and English Toffee are almost the same concept, but one main difference (among the smaller ones): the temperature.  I guess my thermometer reading skills need a little improvement.  Oh well.  This was the best kitchen accident I have ever had.  I showed my husband a picture of what I supposed to be making and he told me to keep making this accident again and again, because he has had English toffee, but this is better. 

The best part?  It tastes like English toffee still.  So I have flavor of something delicious with the texture of (slightly grainy) fudge.  Score!

I am going to give you the real recipe for English toffee, but note my mistakes changes in italics.  Follow either version to have something delicious.


(Yields two pounds/ 32 servings)
  • 2 cups butter
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup finely chopped almonds


  1. In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the butter, sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the butter is melted. Allow to come to a boil, and cook until the mixture becomes a dark amber color, and the temperature has reached 285 degrees F (137 degrees C). Stir occasionally. OR cook until it reaches about 110C or 230F. 
  2. While the toffee is cooking, cover a large baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
  3. As soon as the toffee reaches the proper temperature, pour it out onto the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle the chocolate over the top, and let it set for a minute or two to soften. Spread the chocolate into a thin even layer once it is melted. Sprinkle the nuts over the chocolate, and press in slightly. Putting a plastic bag over your hand will minimize the mess.
  4. Place the toffee in the refrigerator to chill until set. Break into pieces, and store in an airtight container.               

SOME VERY IMPORTANT TIPS I found included stir continuously with a whisk (which I did), use a casserole dish instead of a baking sheet (which you should do if you are making it my way), and keep in an airtight container in the fridge.  Use Bing or Google to find out more, but good luck!  And if you happen to recreate my accident, well, good for you :)

COST: $8.00                     COST PER SERVING (32): $0.25

And from our family to yours, we hope you had a wonderfully beautiful Christmas. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Have Some Aloha in Your Life & Save Money

A few days ago I shared with you about saving money by shopping for produce at Mi Pueblo.  I got tons of people (here and on Facebook) who were surprised.  I wasn't.  I had known for awhile that I saved money by shopping there, I just didn't know how much.  Now I do, and that makes it more real to me (and apparently you, too).  Of course, that got me going, and I couldn't stop.  So today, after I went grocery shopping to get us through to next Tuesday (there is NO WAY I am stepping foot in any store between now and Christmas, nor the day after!) I had to do again -- this time with my purchases from Trader Joe's.

There about a kajillion reasons (give or take) why I love Trader Joe's.  I have mentioned it (many times) before, but they just have the best stuff around.  Taste-wise, creativity-wise, and healthy-wise.  I am not one of those big everything-must-be-organic people.  Quite the contrary, actually.  I kind of just buy things that sound healthy, make sure I have a lot of veggies and fruits, not so much dairy and fat, and OK, yeah, I love my sugar.  But I do try to avoid preservatives and added junk.  I try to make sure the food we eat is just that -- food.  Not chemicals and colors, but things I could find in my kitchen.  Good ol' Joe provides me with healthy, usually organic, DELICIOUS stuff.  And at a great price.  GREAT PRICE. 

Don't believe me?  Here, my list for today:

Do you see that?!

If I had gone to Safeway I would have spent $19.13 more, MORE, just because I chose one store over the other.  Um, I'm sorry, but what makes Safeway so special that it can charge me so much more?  I mean, I like Safeway, and I kind of feel bad for beating up on it this week, but you know... not really.  If they want to bring their prices down, then I will stop harping on them.  But until that happens, I will not be shopping there.  (And the same goes for all the other major grocery stores in my area.)

<FYI -- A Trader Joe's commercial just came on Pandora.  What are the odds?>

Just so you know, I did not get these numbers arbitrarily.  I actually price checked and found the equivalent item -- and the cheapest version of it.  In times that I couldn't find a match I did the math and found what the item would be for something of the same size.  (Yay for passing 5th grade math back in the day.  Let me tell you, as a teacher, if you can pass 5th grade math you can do almost anything in life.)  I did not choose any organic items in Safeway, although most of my TJ's item naturally came that way.  So these numbers you see?  They are the real deal.

So, what's this for a month?  $76.52   Yup, you read that right.

And a year?  $994.76  

Read it and weep, Baby!  Almost one thousand buckaroos, right there.  Plus my Mi Pueblo savings (because, let's face it, as wonderful as Trader Joe's is, most -- not all -- but most veggies straight from Mexico are going to be cheaper...), that comes to around $1,400 or so per year. 

Of course, I only went shopping for four days.  I will have to do another check when I do a whole weeks worth of groceries.  But until then, go and visit our friends in Aloha shirts at Trader Joe's.  Enjoy their samples, chat it up with the friendly people (who happen to me by name in my town -- yeah, I shop there a lot), and save some dough.  Like I said before, we all work hard for our money and I am pretty sure we want to keep it in our bank account where it belongs.  Or cash it in for some plane tickets to Hawaii and get some Aloha on for real.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Very Peary Christmas (Pear Smoothies)

For the past week I have been drinking a banana smoothie for breakfast everyday.  I found this great, easy recipe and tried it.  A total winner.  But this morning when I went to get my banana to throw in the blender I came to a big block in the road: there were no bananas left.  This wouldn't have been a problem but I already had all the other ingredients in the blender, ready to be whirred together.  So I looked at my fruit basket:  oranges, tangerines, limes, and a tomato.  Nothing that would go well with milk, peanut butter, oats, and honey.  Quite a problem.  Until I remembered that I had a special delivery yesterday: a box of pears.

Not only did I get a box of pears from family, I received this beautiful pear ornament from one of my students.  I don't think I have had more than three pears in my house -- not "at a time" but ever.  I have never really been a pear person, but between that pear h'orderve dish I made up yesterday (I am starting to drool just thinking about it...) and all these pears sitting on my table and hanging on the tree, I guess this was the Christmas that I was destined to become a pear person.  So, I grabbed a pear and dropped it in the blender. 

Want one?  It is simple.  Take two tablespoons of oats (like Quaker Oats) and blend them until they become a powder.  Add one cup milk, one pear (cut up), one and half tablespoons of peanut butter (I do half Skippy/half healthy junk), and a smidgen of honey.  Blend.  Enjoy.  And share with a friend because it makes two servings.

There we have it, another winning pear recipe.  I think I have to blame The Cheesecake Factory for my sudden love of pears.  Have you tried their pear/blue cheese/arugula flat bread?  Oh.My.Word.  To die for.  Last time we went I ordered two of them.  Yes, two of them.  That was it, nothing else.  I could only eat one, but I had a great lunch waiting for me the next day.  You will probably be seeing my attempt to recreate that sometime soon.  After all, I have a lot of pears to get through!

To you and yours, I hope you... well, see for yourself :)  (Yes, I am a corn-dog sometimes.)

COST: $1.30          COST PER SERVING (2): $0.65

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pears with Bleu Cheese and Arugula

My oh my. 

You will DEFINITELY want to make these little bad boys for your next get together.

These are quite possibly the tastiest and easiest h'orderves I have ever tried.  They take no special technique, which makes someone like myself (AKA someone who abhors anything requiring fine motor skills) able to do these.

Shoot, if you can finger paint you can make these -- they are that simple.

First, you need four ingredients:

Three pears, creamy bleu cheese, prosciutto, and arugula.  Turkey bacon works, too, if you don't like prosciutto.  You just need to cook it first, but the rest of the instructions are the same.

Cut the pears into eight wedges.  Smear cheese on top.  Layer two to three pieces of arugula.  Wrap in your meat. 


I told you it was simple ;)

**If you are making them in advance, toss the sliced pears in fresh lemon juice before hand so they don't brown.

I found another great thing about Christmas break: the fact that I can take pictures when their is sunshine outside!  Finally I can do real pictures.  Sure, I may have looked like a fool walking to the park carrying a plate of h'orderves, a bowl of arugula, a pear, and a camera slung over my shoulder... not to mention my beautiful outfit of sweaty gym clothes and a post-Zumba hair-do.  Whatever.  I walked with my head held high knowing I would get some good pictures that my little apartment could not provide -- and I offered an h'orderve to anybody staring at me.  That shut it down real quick ;)

Recipe from Real Simple, January 2008

COST: $9.70                 COST per piece (24): 41 cents

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Costa Rica Salad with a Brazilian Twist

A few weeks ago I posted about the dinner my friends and I put on to raise money for the world hunger project.  I was so excited to tell you all about the dinner that I didn't even tell you what we ate.  Well, have no fear, I have that information for you right here!

After all of our eating out this past week, we decided we needed to eat fresh food this week -- and lots of it.  So I rummaged around in my recipe book -- AKA my brain -- and came up with fresh and light but filling foods.  Costa Rica salad was high on my list of fresh-and-hearty foods to eat. 

As you can see above, I start with beans.  In our house beans come in the form of dried beans that I cook in the pressure cooker, but you can use beans from the can if you want.  However, fresh beans taste so much better.  I always cook my beans with lots of onion, garlic, and two bay leaves.  And let me tell you, my beans are incredibly good.  My rice on the other hand, eh...  but you do need rice for this dish, so find a way to make it that works for you.  (I try to make Brazilian rice, with sauteed garlic and onion and salt, but it always come out half Brazilian/half Filipino.  Both styles are good, to be sure, but for rice you want one or the other.)

Ok, so now you have your rice and your beans.  The rest is simple.

Easy ingredients: Chopped cabbage, shredded carrots.  Make a dressing out of 3 T. olive oil, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, the juice of two limes, some cilantro, and salt.  Mix it all together and let sit for 15 minutes.

Then, when everything is done, pile it on your plate.  Beans first, rice on top, cabbage salad on top of that, and some sliced tomatoes to finish it off.

Simple?  Yes.  But fresh, delicious, and hearty?  Yes, yes, and yes.  And coming in under a buck per serving AND using no animal products, I consider this dish a winner.

Ingredients needed:
1 onion
1 head garlic
2 bay leaves
beans (canned or fresh)
1 1/2 cup rice
3 cups water
1/2 head of cabbage
3 carrots
1 tomato
1/2 bunch cilantro
3 T. olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 limes
salt to taste

COST: $3.65              COST PER SERVING (4): $0.91

Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup

I have a super big perk to my job: free lunch.  Yes, I am a little spoiled, I know.  During school vacations I have a different story, however.  I have to provide lunch for myself.  But I like that.  I take these days to make things that Mr. Brazil does not believe is real food, such as a grilled cheese sandwich with a side of tomato soup.


You all know how to make a grilled cheese, I am sure.  And if you don't, well... it isn't that hard.  There are a couple of things that I would like to point out that you need in order to make the perfect (according to me) grilled cheese sandwich:

Put stuff inside of it!  Today's sandwich had my typical fillings: avocado and tomato.  Really, though, you can put anything inside of it.  My absolute favorite is my "Tropical Reuben Grilled Cheese".  It has a secret spread, tuna, and sourkraut.  Weird?  Maybe.  Delicious?  Definitely.

I believe the best sandwiches are made with sourdough bread and Colby cheese, except I use very little Colby myself.  Those slices on top are there to show you what yours should look like.  That orange stuff on the bottom is mine -- and are actually not cheese slices, but faux-cheese, some soy-based stuff.  Cheese and my stomach have a touch-and-go relationship, so I use my fake cheese and buy Colby for the others who might be around.  You, however, should just use cheese if you can. 

Of course, you want to have buttery-spread on both sides so they grill evenly and crispy.  One other thing I like to do is place a smaller lid on the top.  This helps keep the heat in while pushing down on the sandwich, allowing the cheese to melt faster and all the ingredients inside not to fall out.

Now for the soup.  I would like to say I made it from scratch, but I did not.  I grabbed some off the shelf at Trader Joe's, Organic Creamy Tomato Soup.  IT IS AMAZING.  I have been eating bowl after bowl.  My husband is starting to get worried that I am going to turn orange or something, but so far I am OK.  I think I am going to go buy some more tomorrow...

Perfect for a rainy day, or any other day for that matter. 

COST: $2.45 per sandwich & bowl of soup

Monday, December 19, 2011

Practice Spanish, Save Some Money...

Way back when at the start of this blogging journey (Ok, it was like eight months ago, not eons ago, but still...) I made a proclamation that I like to spend as little as possible on groceries so I could spend my money on other things.  Completely true, so I said it.  And then I never really said much more about it after that.

Today as I unpacked my bags of produce for the week and looked down at my receipt I started wondering how much money I actually do save.  I mean, I know that I don't spend a lot, but I started to really ponder how much I actually do not spend that I would have spent had I shopped elsewhere.

See, I went shopping at Mi Pueblo.  Actually, between Trader Joe's (which has excellent prices on all non-produce items) and Mi Pueblo (my go-to for the veggies) I do a pretty good job.  Here is the thing about Mi Pueblo though: you have to be willing to practice that long forgotten high school Spanish.  Because chances are you might be the only English speaker around.  I took a friend their once and she said she felt like she crossed the border.  It is true, you walk in and feel like you are in Mexico.

Great!  I love Mexico.  Beaches, pina coladas, tacos... and fresh produce.  So why say no to it here?

Did you see that picture up there?  Two full bags of produce.  FULL.

As you might be able to tell, we try to eat a rainbow every week :)

Here is something you might not know about me: I am a number person.  I love seeing how much things cost/don't cost, the MPG I get every time I empty a tank, so on and so forth.  So of course I had to figure out how much this food would have cost me if I had shopped at Safeway AKA the "normal" grocery store.  See what I found:

DO YOU SEE THAT?  I saved $9.19 by just going to a place that speaks a different language.  And let me be the first to tell you, the produce there is FRESH.  And BEAUTIFUL.  And TASTY!

"So what?" you may think.  "$9.19?  That's not that much."  Well, if I save that much per week (give or take), that comes out to $36.76 per month.  What can $36.76 per month get you?  Another tank of gas?  A nice top?  Dinner out?

How about per year?  It comes out somewhere between $441.12 if you are counting by months (4 weeks/month) or $477.88 if you are counting straight weeks (52/year).  I don't know about you, but I could do a lot with $400+ .  That's a whole lot of eating out/ clothes/ bills to pay/money to put in savings.  Shoot, I could buy a ticket down to Mexico to practice some more of that Spanish! 

Ok, so maybe I look too far down the road, but hey -- I work hard for my money, don't you?  Why would I want to throw it away?  I don't, and more importantly, I won't.

Speaking of Mexico, I just went and dug out some pictures from our trip to Mexico two years ago.  It isn't only the produce that is beautiful...

My husband in the midst of playing soccer in the street with some local kids.  If you had any doubt of his nationality, this should clear it up for you.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I've Got the Whole World (On My Plate)

My husband and I are not big eaters-out.  Although we do love to go to restaurants, he doesn't like to spend the money and I enjoy the process of cooking.  You add those two things together and you get a couple that spends way less eating out than most of our friends.  We are those boring people who, when friends call to see if we want to get a bite to eat, we often opt out.  Don't get me wrong, we DO go out to eat, but we just pick and choose carefully when we can.  (In all other regards, we are not boring, I promise.  You know that team building thing they make you do in high school and such, where you have to go around the circle and say something nice about everyone?  All the other kids got, "Jenny is so sweet and gives the best hugs," or, "Steve is such a solid friend.  He really knows how to listen."  They got these really nice, sweet words of affirmation.  Me?  Always the same -- "Tiffany?  You're never bored when you're around Tiffany."  So there, the verdict is out.. I am not that boring.  Unless you want to spend a lot of money on food.)

But this week?  WOW.  This week we ate out.  And then we ate out again and again and again. 

It wasn't because of laziness on my part or the sudden urge to throw away money from my husband (that will never happen, I promise).  Things just lined up that way.  Christmas parties with birthdays and anniversaries and Christmas programs and family visiting and so on.  Basically, we went on a tour of the restaurants in our area, starting with

(Picture from
See this fancy pants restaurant?  This is where my husband's work Christmas party was held.  It was one of those almost-black tie affairs, with men in nice suits and women in snazzy outfits, tons of waiters walking around with glasses of champagne and h'orderves, and a little Italian man who took our order -- and ordered for us when we were too slow. 

I wish I had a picture of us fully done.  We looked great.  This is after his jacket came off and my hair was not perfect anymore, but whatever, we still look great, right? :)

The next on our list? 


(both pictures from

We have been looking forward to Pampas for quite some time, and a co worker's birthday gave us the reason to go.  Pampas is a Brazilian barbecue place -- or a churrascaria.   If you like meat a churrascaria is the way to go.  All you can eat meat, straight off a skewer to your plate.  It was one of these restaurants that turned me from a white-meat-only kind of girl to a lover of red meats as well.  It was good, for sure, but we have been to better -- and cheaper.  I filled up on pao de queijo because it was delicious, but for the meat?  It was OK.  I don't think we will ever go again, but I am glad we went once.

Tokyo Tokyo

Thursday night found me eating a Bento plate from a little hole-in-the-wall-almost-fast-food joint near my work because I had to stay late for the annual Christmas program.  Nothing to show here.  You've seen one bento plate, you've seen them all.  (BTW, I love Japanese food, it is one of my favorites.)

El Torrito
Friday found me eating Mexican food with my colleagues.  You know you are blessed with a good job when you are actually friends with the people you work with -- ALL the people you work with.  We are a fun bunch, can't you tell? 

(picture OBVIOUSLY from  I could not find any pictures of the actual place.)

Saturday afternoon we had friends and family around and we needed a place for all of us to eat.  This is by far one of the best restaurants I have been to.  Mediterranean.  AMAZING mediterranean.  This was my second time there, and both times were amazing.  Good prices, too.  I know officially pronounce this as my favorite non-chain restaurant.  That is a high honor, to be sure ;)

And finally...

Chez Papa Resto
(picture from

Chez Papa is hands down one of the classiest dining establishments we have ever visited.  It is one of those places that has the date on the menu because the chef decides daily what he will be serving.  You have five options or so, and that's it.  But that is OK, because everything tastes delicious.  This was where we celebrated our third anniversary.  Three years, Baby!  I guess we are no longer newlyweds, but my husband says that is only if you decide not to be.  See why I married a Brazilian? :)

The "newlyweds" exploring Union Square in San Francisco.  I love this man!!!

We have been walking around feeling quite stuffed, as you can imagine. And now off to planning my weekly menu: I am thinking salad, salad, and salad...
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