budget talk

Oh No, Not Carrots Again!

One day I was in the middle of making dinner when I realized I was preparing carrots and broccoli. That shouldn’t sound too alarming. After all, they’re good for us. However, the scary thing was I’d served those same two vegetables almost every night that week. I only hoped that no one else had noticed how repetitious dinner had become.
It’s all too easy to fall into a routine of cooking the same foods and making familiar dishes that we could throw together while wearing a blindfold. And nothing shouts budget food more than serving the same old, same old, over and over again. My epiphany that day made me pull out my cookbooks to search for some new ideas.

It’s a New Season
One thing I love about spring is new vegetables are hitting stores and farmer’s markets. Just take a stroll through the produce department and pick out one vegetable you haven’t tried before or haven’t served for months.
Last year I found a recipe that used beets. When I was growing up, we always added beets to dishes like salads, but when I saw this recipe, I realized I hadn’t eaten one since I was a teenager. I not only bought beets so I could try this new recipe, but for the first time in my life, I cooked beet tops and served them as a side dish.
Summer’s here, more vegetables will become abundant and hence cheaper, and it’s the best time of the year to take a chance on something new at the dinner table.

Don’t Forget the Frozen Food Section
I’ve found the frozen veggie section another good place to visit if you’re looking for new ideas. I’ve found packages of mixed vegetables like green beans, slivered almonds and pearl onions. Combinations I wouldn’t think about using on my own.

Don’t Forget the Canned Food Section Too
I’ve also found some great finds in the canned vegetable section too. Things like green beans with dill added to them. Even if you don’t buy them, it gives you some idea on what types of seasonings you can add to vegetables.

Change the Way They’re Cooked
Okay, I didn’t give up cooking carrots and broccoli completely. They are favorites of mine, but I did start varying the way I prepared them. I combined the two together and steamed them. I’ve added a low fat cheese sauce to the broccoli. And I even tried adding a low fat spread and a sprinkling of ginger to the carrots.

A Recipe to Try
Last week I bought some tomatoes that looked like they were going to be tasty on a salad, but after the first bite I knew their looks had been deceiving. My first thought was to turn them into soup but then I came up with this recipe. It’s light and makes the perfect meal when the weather turns warm.

Baked Tomatoes with Blue Cheese Risotto (Serves 4)
4 medium tomatoes
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons low fat spread or butter
I tablespoon low fat spread or butter for the topping
½ cup of arborio rice
1 ¼ cups boiling vegetable or chicken stock
½ cup crumbled blue cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup breadcrumbs
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a shallow ovenproof dish with cooking spray. Cut the tops off the tomatoes and remove and throw away the flesh and seeds.
Melt the butter or low fat spread in a skillet and add the chopped onion and cook for about three minutes or until the onions are transparent. Add the rice and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring constantly so it doesn’t brown or burn. Slowly add the vegetable stock, about ¼ cup at a time. Keep adding the stock until it’s all been absorbed and continue cooking the rice for about 15 minutes or until the rice is tender. Remove the rice mixture from the heat and stir in the blue cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Stuff each tomato with the risotto mixture. Sprinkle each tomato with a dusting of breadcrumbs and a dollop of low fat spread. You can top each tomato with more blue cheese if you like.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Serve the tomatoes warm with crusty French bread.

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