Archive for ‘Eating on a Budget’

June 11, 2012

The Perfect Summer ‘Slaw

Does not have any mayonnaise in it.

Does not require you to go to the store.

Does not require any heat-producing devices to be turned on.

So with my trusty How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by my side, I whipped up a batch of Spicy Slaw from pg. 48 to take on a picnic by the Potomac.

First, I chopped up the head of green cabbage that we had from the CSA.

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May 8, 2012

What To Do With Lettuce

The New York Times Health section online is focusing on lettuce recipes beyond salad in preparation for CSA time. This I am bookmarking. My last attempt at lettuce soup was an abject failure. Today’s recipe looks great, however, and it will provide me with an excuse to use my immersion blender…

Already, lettuce is everywhere!

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April 5, 2012

My Poultry Problem Is Our Poultry Problem

Chicken is my problem. If you read Nicholas Kristof’s column this morning in the Times, you’ll see that it is our problem too. Or pop in Food, Inc for an eye-opening journey through poultry production. As you know, we humans eat a lot of chicken. And the price of chicken has gone down drastically over the past decades because of changes in the means of production. Chickens bred for roasting often are confined and can’t move because their breasts are too heavy for them to move. They are fed feed filled with antibiotics. And these changes mean that you can buy a roasting chicken at the local grocery store for 49 cents a pound when they are on sale. Trying to feed a family of five on a budget, it can be very hard to turn away from these rock bottom deals. Especially when the organic chicken of the same size is about 5 times as expensive. Or sometimes even more if you get it from the farm directly.

Fascinatingly, at least for me, I don’t find it difficult to rationalize grass-fed local beef — because we don’t eat steak that much, and ground beef from the butcher is comparable in cost. Bacon isn’t a problem either, but again, when you have bacon from the farmer’s market, taste is extraordinary, and cost, while greater, is not so different that it makes me pause. We don’t eat bacon everyday.  But chicken is different. It is the foundation of many of our meals.  And it has been really hard to rationalize the increased costs for organic or farmer’s market chicken. But what I have been reading and learning about and most recently eating, is really affecting how I approach my chicken consumption. And I am trying hard to change how I think about and purchase chicken for the Family Foodie.

So several weeks ago, we ordered a chicken from South Mountain Creamery, our dairy that delivers happy milk and eggs to us once a week. And in our cooler, we received a nearly 6 pound bird. Plump and sweet smelling. Seriously. Farmer direct chicken smells sweet. Nothing like chicken from the grocery store.

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April 3, 2012

If I Ever Need To Cook A Wolf….

…I want Tamar Adler to be with me. Not only would she be able to provide me with excellent advice about the best techniques to use, I know she would write a wonderful book about it.

But if you can’t wait for me to find a wolf to cook…and it might take a very long time for that to happen in the DC ‘burbs (although we just got visual confirmation that coyotes are wandering around in Arlington…), I recommed that you pick up a copy of Adler’s new book, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace.

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March 1, 2012

Can You Make Dinner on $5.50 for 5 People? The Family Foodie Gave It A Try.

I hated history in school. Lists of dates were just drop dead boring. Fortunately for my kids, their school district uses a curricular approach called “History Alive.”  This year, they have reenacted The Civil War, immigrated through Ellis Island, carried out trench warfare from World War I, and had a 20s Dance Party. But this week, the kids got to do my favorite assignment…the Depression Dinner.  Each kid has to plan, shop, and prepare dinner for a fixed amount of money determined by the number of family members you are making dinner for. As a family of five, the twins each got to spend $5.50 including tax. And we got to enjoy two “Depression Dinners.”

Of course, both kids are well aware of the time that I spend grocery shopping, and turned to me for advice. First, they both checked with their teacher to make sure that they could use coupons. Then, they checked what was on sale that week. Then, they spent some time dreaming.

The Picky Eater asked her teacher if we could use the pesto in the freezer that we made from the garden last year. No go, said the teacher, you need to use something prepped recently from the garden (uh, it’s February) or else get it from the store. Of course, she doesn’t eat pesto, so I guess she was just planning on plain pasta.  I think she just thought she could count it as free.

Then she checked the sale circular. Chicken thighs/legs were on sale for 69 cents/lb. So she started thinking about chicken. She quickly abandoned that as too expensive when she realized this was for the value pack size. Next up, she decided to make the potato-leek soup that we had made a couple of weeks ago, with some homemade biscuits. Cool, I thought.

But then, we went to the grocery store (we had to get a receipt – so the farmer’s market was not an option….). She got 5 potatoes, weighed them, and was dismayed to realize that it would cost her $2.50 to get enough potatoes.  Then, she looked at the leeks, and just about died when she saw that they were $3.99/lb. Thinking on her feet, she asked if she could use green onions as a substitute. Sure I said. At $1 a bunch, they were closer to her budget. But then she was at $4.50, and still needed to get chicken broth or boullion.  That was the deal breaker. She was over $6.

While she was regrouping and thinking about plan two, the Fruit Hater and I (aka her twin brother) turned to his menu. He had decided to make one of our favorite go-to dishes: pasta with lemon, ham, black olives, and thyme. Fortunately, spices and olive oil didn’t count against his total, so he just had to get lemons, ham, and black olives in addition to the thyme.

Ham was easy. We stopped at the deli. Boiled ham was on sale, and he got 1/4 lb for $1.15. Then, he looked for lemons. All he could find were organic, and he asked the produce man if they had any of the “regular” lemons in the back. Lucky day for him — they said no — but they gave him an entire bag of lemons for 99 cents — score!! Then he found a can of black olives for 88 cents (big decision was sliced or not…). Next stop was the pasta. Straightforward – pasta was available for $1.29. So, he was pretty confident that he was good at $4.45. But then he remembered parmesan cheese. Shoot – how could he afford that? After, much decision, he returned the olives, and got a small can of fake parmesan. He came in under budget. No vegetables at all, but certainly an edible meal. And enough lemons to add to our required water (no milk for the kids or wine for the grown-ups).

Meanwhile, the Picky Eater was thinking. As we were pricing pasta, she found store brand macaroni and cheese for 22 cents a box. So, 2 boxes of mac and cheese became the cornerstone of her meal. As we wandered past the processed meats, she saw some smoked sausage on sale for $2.50. As a lover of all things hot dog related, that fit both her budget and her preferences. But then, she wanted to use the coupon we had for frozen boxed vegetables. If we bought 3 and used the coupon, the price per box would be 67 cents. So, we bought 2 boxes of brussel sprouts (her choice, can you believe it?!) and a single box of sugar snap peas for the freezer and another meal.  So, she was feeling victorious – and well under budget. She had a brief moment of panic however, when her mac and cheese rang up at 79 cents a box. Turns out that the 22 cents was what was saved because they were on sale…. but since she was only planning to serve two boxes of brussel sprouts, she was okay.

And then they both prepared their dinners. While we missed our regular salads, we were certainly fed. And among other things, the kids learned about how much food costs — and why we have a garden, and use coupons, join a CSA, and frequent the farmer’s market.

What would you make for a family of 5 on $5.50 for a meal?

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October 2, 2011

The Season for Soup: Black Bean Soup

The weather has turned here in the greater metro DC area, and in our house, this means that soup will begin to be featured on our menus.  I had been having a hankering for black bean soup, and had purchased some ham hocks in preparation.  Last week was nutty at home (nothing like two back-to-school nights in a row) and work and I was planning to use the slow cooker.  But the Man of the House raised a red flag.  He protested that making the soup in the slow cooker would lead to mushy beans, and that was completely unappealing to him. Of course, when we’re out of the house all day, it’s hard to get the soup going  on the stove top.

So, I put my thinking cap on….and thought that if  we soaked the black beans during the day when we were at work instead of overnight as cookbooks typically suggest, then maybe we could make the soup in the evening and we could eat at a reasonable time. [Note to any readers with young kids – we have three teens, so dinner is often served on a later schedule in our house (we like to think of it as European style), typically between 7:30 and 8:30 — which might not fit your model of a reasonable dinner time.]   And you know what?  It worked!

So here’s what we did:

First, we soaked a 16 ounce package of dried black beans all day while we were at work.

At 6:30, when I returned home, I drained the beans, refilled the pot with fresh water, added two ham hocks, brought the pot to a boil, then brought it to a simmer and partially covered it.

Then, the Man of the House and I took a 45 minute walk while the kids finished their homework.

When we got home, we checked the beans.

They were “al dente” (okay, that’s probably not the right term, but you know what I mean – soft but not mushy). VICTORY!

So, I then prepped the veggies (all local in origin – either from the farmer’s market or our CSA):

carrots, red onion, celeriac (the funny looking vegetable in the picture – leaves like celery, root like a mild fennel), red pepper, leftover corn, a handful of leftover rice, and  a mix of dried Italian seasoning, and added them into the pot.

We let it simmer for another15 or 20 minutes until the carrots were soft (cutting them thin helped here), toasted some leftover sourdough bread from last week’s farmer’s market, and served it up with fresh lime slices. Pictured below is what is left – not too much broth left – fortunately we can just add a little more water when we reheat and we’ll be ready to go.

Easy to make, fits into our evening schedule, and is much better than when it’s made in the slow cooker.

I’m moving to the soaking during the day model from here on out….

January 10, 2011

Eating Well on a Budget, According to… ELMO! (via Capital Spice)

Those of you who don’t follow Capital Spice might find this interview both entertaining and thought provoking…

Eating Well on a Budget, According to... ELMO! While the blessed and food-obsessed among us are craftily plotting how to be even more selective about what we eat in 2011, nearly 17 million American children (roughly one in four) are “food insecure,” meaning they do not have access to food that meets basic nutritional needs due to their home’s financial situation.  It’s a sobering thought, e … Read More

via Capital Spice

November 11, 2010

Foodies Need Herbs and Spices

As we move into the winter season here in NoVA, and the season of giving thanks, I want to trumpet my thanks to the Man of the House who loves his herb gardens.  As any foodie knows, herbs and spices can cost a pretty penny at the store or market, but they are central components to any meal.  Given the Man’s passion for herbs, and belief that grass really has no purpose, large areas of our front yard are full of herbs.  And while I have been known to register some concern at the rapid decrease in the amount of grass upon which the children can play, I have come over to his side on this matter.  The herb garden is beautiful in all seasons, and practical as well.  In fact, when he asked me to assist him in an inventory of the gardens last spring –I the scribe, he the identifier — we recorded more than 50 different varieties of herbs growing – both evergreen and annual.  Even he was surprised at the count.  Rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage are perennial favorites.  Basil, cilantro, and mint are regulars in the summer garden. 

And now as frost is on the horizon, it is remarkable to note just how many of these herbs are hardy and keep on producing.  Just this week, he harvested a second crop of orange mint, currently being dried, that will be regularly used throughout the winter. 

Orange mint has a unique and wonderful smell and flavor that we use in soups, and stews, and omelets, and really anything else that we think might benefit from a little bit of extra “oomph.”  A whiff of the mint as you open the jar makes you smile.

The one indoor herb that we have kept is a bay tree, that although it suffered a setback when we were on vacation two summers ago, it quickly revived and is now thriving.  Fresh bay leaves add an entirely different level of flavor than dried to all those slow-cooking tummy-filling winter meals.

And in the garden today, we have sage leaves for the sausage-sage stuffing that will be prepared the week after next,

and rosemary for the turkey,

and thyme and oregano for the turkey soup are hiding under the fallen leaves,

and cilantro and mustard leaves continue to grow – we’re hoping no hard frost for at least another two weeks or so!

The garden continues to be bountiful, and there is nothing like the scent of rosemary to greet you as you brush past it as you walk up the front steps. 

So if you are considering putting in a hardy herb garden, and you live in a climate that will support it, give it a shot.  It will make you smile in every season, and you can watch as neighbors, both young and old, walk by and wonder.

October 27, 2010

Reading on the Metro Led to Dinner

…those of you in the DC Metro area know that train ride into or home from work can provide you with lots of time for rumination, and if you’re really lucky it can even lead you into inspiration for dinner, when your planning time at home has been taken over by all the other tasks vying for your attention ….

Thank goodness I remembered to put my new Eating Well in my briefcase because I had plenty of time to browse on my way home. In the back of my head, I knew that I needed to use the butternut squash and the cauliflower in the fridge, and so I was quite pleased to see the Braised Winter Vegetable Pasta in the Healthy in a Hurry section.  Our variation was not vegan, nor vegetarian, because we used chicken broth and added in some ham for seasoning, but it turned out quite tasty.  Even the older boys who proclaimed — “We don’t like cauliflower” — devoured their bowls quickly.

Our version is below:

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pot big enough for pasta.  Add 1 small onion diced, 1/2 cup of good ham diced, and 1 teaspoon of drided, rubbed sage.  Stir until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Add 4 cups of chicken broth, 1 cup of dry white wine (okay I used a sweeter wine than perhaps was envisioned in the recipe, and added an extra cup of broth to cover); bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Then add 8 ounces of whole-wheat pasta (we used rotini), 2 cups of bite-sized cauliflower, 2 cups bite-sized butternut squash cubes, salt and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is not quite tender, about 10 minutes.  Then Eating Well recommends sitrring in 1 10-ounce bag of frozen lima beans — we didn’t have any, but we did have a box of frozen peas, so we added that to the pasta – veggie – broth mix.

Then, the steaming bowls were topped with grated Fontina cheese, and rapidly consumed by all (except the Picky Eater, of course, her pasta was plain with cheese).

October 20, 2010

Red Beans and Rice

One of the benefits of an unanticipated telework day is that you can decide to make a dish that takes several hours in the middle of the day….and you can make chocolate chip banana bread to greet the children as they walked in the door after school. 

So as I read reports, I thought about what was in the fridge (meal planning has been vague this week), and Mark Bittman came to the rescue.  I wanted to make a bean dish, and use the one bratburgur from our local butcher that needed to be cooked.  So, I spent my lunch break deciding what to do… “Red Beans and Meat” was the winner.  Not such a fancy title, but a perfect meal given that there was a marching band event that started at 6:30 pm.  What was great is that I had everything I needed…except a ham hock.  So I just made the almost vegetarian version.
While the red beans were simmering,

I browned the bratburger,

and sauteed some onions, and garlic,

added some red and yellow peppers,

and let it bubble for a while.

Then I added a can of diced tomatoes, two bay leaves from our bay plant, some orange mint dried from our garden, some allspice, and the browned bratburger.

And, then we added that to the simmering red beans and let it simmer for a couple of hours….

The kids got home, and devoured the chocolate chip banana bread,

And I made some rice in the rice cooker, and it was nearly time to leave for the Marching Band Festival, and we ate quickly, and I forgot to take a picture of the finished dinner — served with Tabasco and grated cheddar cheese!!  Yummy!

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