Hue-faux rancheros

June 29, 2009

One of the gifts I got in my birthday package from my in-laws was an issue of Eating Well magazine, which had a “fast weeknight dinners” section. I’m a sucker for a fast weeknight dinner, and I had a bag of pinto beans to cook, so their recipe for huevos rancheros caught my eye. The only issue for me with huevos rancheros is that I hate hate hate fried eggs. They gross me out beyond explanation. But, I’m good with eggs in many other forms, so I subbed in scrambled. An abomination? Maybe. Delicious? Yes.

the colors in this picture are kind of insane

the colors in this picture are kind of insane

Besides the different style of eggs and the use of red salsa in place of green, I didn’t do much to modify their recipe. I even dutifully served it with rice and avocado, as suggested.

the breakdown

1.5 cups of pinto beans (@ .99/lb dried) = $.25
8 sprouted corn tortillas = $2.46
1/2 jar salsa = $1.35
4 large eggs = $.83
sharp cheddar cheese = $.20
cilantro = $.10
1 cup rice = $.74
1/2 avocado = $.65

grand total= $6.58

A semi-respectable $1.65 for each of the four servings. Interestingly, more than they indicate it should be. It must be those sprouted corn tortillas. On the pricey side, but they just crisp up so nicely.


Ahead of the game.

June 25, 2009

This afternoon, one of my co-workers offered to cover my evening shift and I thought about it for about negative point five seconds before I said yes.

That meant that I came home to an already prepared dinner and I got to sit around reading for an hour before the NBA draft, luxuriating in the fact that I didn’t have to cook anything. This must be what it feels like to be prepared.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I couldn’t handle all that excess time, so I filled it by cooking dinner for tomorrow. It’s kind of a sickness. In my defense, though, I’ll only have about 20 minutes to prepare and consume dinner tomorrow, so it’s good that I got it off my plate. Now I can use that entire time to savor the Corn and Edamame-Sesame Salad from Veganomicon.

Anyway, the Smitten Kitchen-inspired peanut sesame noodles turned out well, except that I forgot to toast the sesame noodles and toss them in. Oh well. I toasted some extra for tomorrow’s dinner, just to make up for it.

soba + veggies + tofu + peanut sauce over spinach

soba + veggies + tofu + peanut sauce over spinach

The love I have for peanut butter cannot be described. I like other nut and seed butters – almond, cashew, pecan, sunflower, what have you – but peanut butter is my desert island food. Still, I was a little nervous about how thick the sauce would get with as much peanut butter as the recipe indicated, so I cut it down a good bit, to about 3T. I’ll have a few spoonfuls from the jar later to make up for the deficit.

the breakdown

8 oz soba noodles = $2.79
1 red bell pepper = $.99
2 carrots = $.15
3T peanut butter = $.32
1T sesame oil = $.40
and some pantry staples (crushed red pepper, rice vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ground ginger)

grand total = $4.65

Four servings at $1.16 a serving. I’m kicking myself for paying $10+ for various versions of this dish at restaurants. Curses! I had mine over spinach again (it’s still really hot out and it was on the verge of wilting. Actually, so am I).

On this side: my new favorite summer treat.

any day over 95 calls for a shandy

any day over 95 calls for a shandy

Our recipe: mix equal parts beer and lemonade in a pitcher. Chill. Enjoy. We used High Life and Country Tyme, but you might not be as classy. That’s fine. Just make sure it’s a beer that’s lighter in color, like a wheat beer or some kind of lager-style beer. I could have the lemonade myself but that’s like 3 extra steps, and I’ve had a long week.


Double dinners

June 24, 2009

By some scheduling accidents of my own doing, I am working from 8am to 8pm tomorrow. Which means that tonight I made two dinners. I wanted to make some peanut sesame noodles that we could eat both tonight and tomorrow, but I misjudged my supply of soba noodles and it turns out that I was wrong. So I was left with a fully prepared meal that I didn’t want to eat yet and half a block of tofu.

Ever since we thawed out our wedding cake (which was, miraculously, still delicious; that’s the beauty of peanut butter and jelly cake with buttercream frosting), I have been feeling this compulsion to clean out the rest of the freezer. Since I had this half block of tofu, I rooted around and found a bag of frozen “stir fry vegetables” that we were going to use for pasta salad or something, but I made the executive decision to actually use them as they were intended: in stir fry. For frozen vegetables, they actually turned out fairly well, although the picture on the bag was a total lie. It looked like a balanced mix of green things and carrots, red peppers, and mushrooms. There were literally two mushrooms in there, and I only saw one pepper. But, whatever, if you stir fry anything in sesame oil and douse it with a soy sauce/rice vingegar/ginger/garlic/crushed red pepper sauce, it tastes fine.

do you see any red peppers? no. i didn't think so.

do you see any red peppers? no. i didn't think so.

This was cheap, too. Cheap cheap. Especially compared to those frozen bags of “stir fry” that are supposed to be a complete meal so they cost $5.99 or something. If I’d been really smart I would have added the half bag of “peppers and onions mix” that I have taking up space in the freezer. More peppers in the meal and more space in there for beans and chocolate. But I guess I’m not really smart.

the breakdown

1 bag of “stir fry vegetables” = $1.00
1/2 block extra firm tofu at $2.69/block = $1.35
1 cup short grain brown rice = $1.00
1T sesame oil= $.40 (this is really a pantry staple but it’s much more expensive that oils I usually use, so I feel like I should count it separately)
and some pantry staples (crushed red pepper, rice vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ground ginger)

grand total = $3.75

That’s $.94 a serving. Which is cheap. Also, did I mention that I can actually see the bottom of one of the shelves in the freezer. That’s worth something.


A gallery of cheap eats

June 19, 2009

I am seriously exhausted, but I also have anxiety issues, and these pictures piling up, plus all that math that isn’t going to do itself, well. It’s getting to me.

pesto vegetable soup, or, a rare moment of foresight

pesto vegetable soup, or, a rare moment of foresight

This seems a little pricey at $10.06 for the whole recipe, but it actually made 10-12 servings, which makes it around $1.01 per serving. And also very handy to have around when you’re too tired to cook.

matt's request: spring rolls

matt's request: spring rolls

Because the stupid organic shrimp that is so delicious we can’t quit it costs $8.75 for a half pound, these were on the pricey side. The total was about $11.39 for 14 spring rolls, which I’d call at least 4 servings, but, in the interest of full disclosure, I ate 3 and Matt ate 11. So I don’t know if I can call it 4 servings in good conscience. Although later, he did say something about them expanding in his stomach, so maybe that was a little much, even for him.

couscous/lentils/chickpeas/delicious things

couscous/lentils/chickpeas/delicious things

This one wins the cheap contest. I used this recipe and it came out to a total of $4.09 for 4 servings, for a total of $1.02 per serving. Also, I loved it, but Matt found it bland. I think maybe those spring rolls were still expanding in his stomach.

looks can be deceiving

looks can be deceiving

I know this looks like someone already ate it, but seriously. It was really good. I’ve never cooked with garam masala and it made everything smell good and taste even better. Plus, there are apples in there. I used a version of this recipe, which is an adaptation of another one. Also, they did the math for me. Which is great, because I lost some receipts and I also bought those red lentils about 6 months ago.

Tomorrow marks a year since we legitimized our union in the eyes of the state of Kansas, which is a great reason to go out for dinner and split a bottle of prosecco if there ever was one. After that, and some cake that I’m crossing my fingers isn’t too freezer-burned, it’s back to the frugal gourmet.


Try, try again.

June 12, 2009

We caved. Again. We went out to eat last night, too. June is really sticking it to us.

I worked from home this afternoon, which has many advantages, one of which is that I had time to do some really quick prep work for dinner on my lunch break. Another bonus? No 1/8 mile round trip to the bathroom. That can really start to wear on you if, like me, you drink approximately a gallon of water every hour or two. At home, I think I’d have to take a few laps around the outside of the house to get in 1/8 mile. And that would require getting off the couch.

Anyway, during lunch, I mixed up a quick marinade (1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, a little olive oil, garlic) for some sliced portobello mushrooms and put them in the refrigerator for a few hours. When it was time for dinner, I just seared them in a hot pan with a little more olive oil, and served them with quinoa and some double garlic swiss chard. Now I have room for more large-stemmed green vegetables, which is great because I saw some serious looking bok choy at the farmer’s market last Saturday, and I fully intend to get in on that action tomorrow.

this looks disturbingly like steak to me

this looks disturbingly like steak to me

the breakdown

.37 lbs portobello mushrooms @ $4.99/lb = $1.85
2/3 bunch swiss chard = $1.34
3/4 cup quinoa @ $4.43/lb = $1.66
and some pantry staples (olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic)

grand total = $4.85

At 3 servings, this comes out at $1.62. Not bad. Not bad at all.


Back on the wagon

June 10, 2009

Last night, I was so tired and so hungry when I got home that I caved. We went to La Fiesta and I got my greasy Mexican food and a mix and match six pack and I came home and went to sleep. I got the vegetarian #3 which was a burrito, some rice, and a stuffed poblano pepper, which is my new #1 cheese vehicle. I mean, it was amazing. So there was the pepper, which was just kind of an afterthought, really, filled with cheese, rice, maybe some spinach, and something the menu referred to as “butter egg.” Which is either a buttered egg, or butter formed in the shape of an egg. Either way, frighteningly delicious. With emphasis on the frightening.

Tonight, I was equally tired, but I forced myself to go to power yoga to get a little energy and sweat out some of that stuffed pepper. Seriously, nothing makes you feel like a pansy quite so much as having every single muscle in your body shake during Warrior One. I guess I’m not the finely tuned machine I think I am.

What better way to refuel after such an intense experience than with… beans.

I know! I eat beans every day. But at least it wasn’t a salad.

pasta with lentils over lemon-garlic spinach

pasta with lentils over lemon-garlic spinach

This obviously isn’t my first pasta with legumes dish, and I’ve even made pasta with lentils before, but I liked this iteration a lot better than the last time I tried it. It was super garlicky, which I love, and the acidity of the tomatoes and a little red wine vinegar balanced out the earthiness of the lentils. I’ll try to add in the recipe later, WHEN CARLA STOPS CRYING on this rerun of last season’s Top Chef finale. She’s making me cry. AGAIN. Unless that’s still sweat from the yoga.

Let’s get to the important stuff.

the breakdown

1/2 bag spinach = $.99
8 oz random pasta = $1.00 (estimate)
1 cup green lentils = $.31
1 can stewed tomatoes = $.63
1/4 cup diced onion = $.10
a few shavings of Parmesan = $.25
and some pantry staples (garlic, vinegar, oregano, olive oil

grand total = $3.28

Lentils are so cheap. And, luckily, I’ve got a freezer full of them, filed between bags of chickpeas, white beans, black beans. So, this serves 4, for a per-serving price of $.82. That helps to make up for last night’s relative extravagance.

And did I mention the lentils only cost 31 cents?


Enchi-not-as

June 8, 2009

Ha! Right?

I’m really tired.

I have been having this internal struggle because I really want to go eat at La Fiesta but I know I shouldn’t because 1) I will feel gross 2) sometimes they sing there 3) we’re better off saving our money for more exciting, higher-quality meals in the next few weeks and 4) it’s right next to a liquor store where you can build your own six pack of delicious beers and that would just be more money spent. But sometimes you just really want that oily cheese that congeals like hard shell on the beans.

So, anyway, I was going to make enchiladas or burritos tonight, but when I came home and actually looked at the tortillas I had, I realized that they were way too small for any kind of wrapping or folding. So, I improvised and made a casserole out of it. Just as good and, bonus, Matt had a crown replaced today and was pretty pumped about eating some soft food.

If there’s anything the Moosewood Collective has taught me, it’s that black bean and sweet potato burritos are a wonderful thing. Maybe even better? Black bean and sweet potato enchilada casserole.

BBSPEC (serves 4)

you need:

  • 1-2 sweet potatoes
  • 1.5 cups (or 1 can, drained and rinsed) black beans
  • 8 smallish corn tortillas
  • spices to taste
  • red sauce – mine was 1/2 can of tomatoes, crushed red pepper, about 1/4 cup of diced onion, 3 cloves of garlic, all combined in a food processor for, I don’t know, a few seconds

and then you:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Cook the sweet potato(es). I did it the easy way and diced mine up and cooked them in the microwave for 6-7 minutes until they were easily speared with a fork.
  3. While they’re cooking, put some onions in a hot pan for the red sauce.
  4. When the sweet potatoes are done, mash them up with a potato masher. Not super smooth, still a chunk or two here and there. Think sweet potato casserole, not baby food.
  5. Make your red sauce (see above).
  6. Layer four tortillas on the bottom of a casserole dish.
  7. Spread the mashed sweet potatoes on top of the tortillas. You will need to use your hands unless you have some kind of magical sweet potato spreading instrument that I am not aware of. Which you might.
  8. Add a layer of black beans.
  9. Cover with another layer of tortillas.
  10. Spread red sauce on top. And an appropriate cheese if you have it. We didn’t. I was ashamed.
  11. Bake for about 20 minutes.
BBSPEC and rice

BBSPEC and rice

Obviously, I made some rice. I was starving while I cooked this, and I got really nervous that it wouldn’t be enough because it’s a fairly compact little casserole. So I made some short grain brown rice cooked partially in lime juice and spiced with cumin and chili powder. And topped with some mozzarella I found when I was foraging in the refrigerator. It didn’t really go but, hey. It’s cheese. It’s a good thing I went for the rice, because I basically put my face in this bowl and inhaled it. I think I saved just enough space for one of the freezer-burned lime popsicles I found last night when I was freezing a jillion tons of black beans, though.

the breakdown

2/3 package sprouted corn tortillas = $3.14 (an estimate, and on the high side, because I’ve had this bag of tortillas in the freezer for longer that I’d really like to think about; on the plus side, they are my new favorite)
1.5 cups black beans = $.63
.68 lb sweet potatoes @ .99/lb = $.67
1/2 can diced tomatoes = $.31
1/4 cup diced onion = $.10
1 cup short grain brown rice = $1.00
2T lime juice = $.10

grand total = $5.95

So that brings the price per serving to $1.49. Which now seems oddly expensive to me. Forcing yourself to do math after every dinner really changes you.