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?


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.

Another day, another dollar (per serving)

June 6, 2009

The only night this week that we didn’t eat something that could be referred to in some way as a salad was last night, when I worked later than expected and we ended up meeting at Planet Sub for dinner. Matt had a free sub card so it still ended up fitting vaguely in with the theme of the month.

Tonight was salad again, although I 85% promise that I’ll make something outside of the salad family next time I post. I just can’t help it. It’s hot and salads are cheap and easy. Just the way I like it.

Tonight’s orzo and zucchini salad was based on another recipe from Vegan Italiano, though a recipe is hardly needed. I really just borrowed the better part of the ingredient list and their clever method of putting the diced squash in a colander in the sink and draining the orzo over it, which warms it up without really cooking it or compromising its comforting summery crunch.

this + orzo + basil + spices + lemon juice + olive oil

this + orzo + basil + spices + lemon juice + olive oil

So very easy, and, once garnished with a few shavings of Parmesan (really, any cheese would work), a good lunch or light dinner for a hot day. Only 6 minutes of stovetop cooking is hard to beat.

the finished product, once again de-veganized

the finished product, once again de-veganized

the breakdown:

1/2 lb orzo = $1.00
1.28 lb squash @ 1.49/lb = $1.91
2T lemon juice = $.10 (estimate)
a few leaves of basil = $.75
a few shavings of Parmesan = $.25 (also an estimate, and a fairly high one)
and some pantry staples (olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper)

grand total = $4.01

And that’s for four servings, so the price per person breakdown is $1.00. Much better than we would have done if we’d given in and gone out for Mexican. Also, I don’t feel nearly as gross this way. Extra points for that. Enough extra points to go buy a pint of ice cream so that I can buy a little bit of that feeling? I’m going with yes.

Potato salad doesn’t have to be gross.

June 3, 2009

I was sick yesterday, and we ended up eating leftovers for dinner. That’s even cheaper than I planned, so, score one for us.

I feel like I should warn you that 85% of the food I’ll be making from now until, I don’t know, September, will be __________ Salad. Or ___________ Salad with ___________ and ____________. I love a main dish salad, and it’s usually about 15 degrees too hot in the apartment to do anything else.

So, tonight, we had Potato Salad with Chickpeas, from Vegan Italiano, which I love but haven’t used in awhile. A while? Awhile? As far as I can tell, the only thing that’s bad about this book is that it doesn’t involve cheese (and yes, I understand why). Easily remedied, so it’s a winner.

potato salad with chickpeas

potato salad with chickpeas

I truly hate traditional potato salad. I am physically repulsed by mayonnaise, and most of the potato salads of my youth had a ton of it. But I love potatoes, so I started trying new combinations last year. This is a really good one, with a light red wine vinaigrette dressing, some red onion and tomato, and chickpeas for protein. I give the chickpeas two thumbs way up, as they take something usually relegated to side dish status and move it into the realm of the main dish. You could have it as a side, or as part of a meal, but I like to go whole hog. The recipe indicated that this was 6-8 servings, but since it was in the side salads chapter, I estimate 3-4.

Even with that adjustment, it still made a fine showing in the cheap department, especially for something with so much produce:

1.45 lb little new potatoes @ 1.29/lb = $1.87
.75 lb tomatoes @ 1.99/lb = $1.49
1/2 red onion @ .89/lb = $.49
1 cup of chickpeas (cooked from dried @ 2.68/lb) = $.45
and some pantry staples (red wine vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil)

grand total = $4.30

That breaks down to $1.08 per serving if you serve 4 and $1.43 if you serve 3. Not bad, either way. Though, if we stretch it to 4, we’ll beat the current record of $1.15/serving from Monday.

Us: 2. June: 0.

Patriot pasta salad

June 1, 2009

I’m thinking of June as “recover our finances” month. Also known as “live on the cheap” month. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is that we’re celebrating our anniversary and both of our birthdays over the next five weeks, which means three dinners out, and I guess some presents or something. I also refuse to carry a credit card balance, especially since they jacked up my interest rates. So, I’ve set us up a complicated system of envelopes for receipts and a grocery budget of $40 a week. I wanted to cut it to $30, which represents a more than 50% reduction from our typical $75 or so a week, but Matt made a compelling argument that we had to live that way in college and when I was in graduate school and really shouldn’t have to now that we’re both gainfully employed. So, $40 it is.

The first meal of this experiment was a financial and gustatory success. Matt jokingly came up with the name when I was putting it together and pointed out that that it had the colors of the Italian flag. Okay, if I’m being honest, I had to confirm that with him. I’m just not good with flags. Plus, he lived in southern Switzerland for 5 years, so I defer to him on most things European.

red, white, and green

red, white, and green

Patriot Pasta Salad (serves 4)

you need:

  • 1.5 cups of cannellini or other white beans, cooked from dried (or 1 can, rinsed and drained)
  • 3/4 lb of asparagus, cut diagonally into 3 inch slices
  • 1 serving of dried tomatoes (about 5 tomatoes), chopped
  • 9-10 oz pasta (farfalle, penne, rotini, etc)
  • olive oil
  • oregano
  • red wine vinegar

and then you:

  1. Bring a big pot of salted water to boil.
  2. Add dried tomatoes and pasta to water.
  3. When the pasta is almost done, add the asparagus. You want it to be bright green and crisp, so don’t overcook it. Rubbery asparagus has no place in this pasta salad.
  4. Drain the pasta/tomatoes/asparagus. Fill the pot with cold water to stop the cooking process, and drain again.
  5. Put pasta in a serving dish. Add beans. Season with oregano to taste. Add a little olive oil and red wine vinegar, just a glug of each.
  6. Toss and serve.

I’m no stranger to pasta with white beans, though I usually add spinach and stewed tomatoes when I’m serving it hot. These flavors made the whole thing feel more late spring/early summer, and it makes for a great weeknight meal for a hot day. It takes less than 15 minutes of stovetop cooking, it’s light, and you eat it cold.

All that for…

1.5 c white beans @ .75
2/3 box of whole wheat penne @ 1.50/box = 1.00
1/5 bag of dried tomatoes @ 2.99/bag = .60
3/4 lb asparagus @ 2.99/lb = 2.24
and some pantry staples (red wine vinegar, olive oil, oregano)

grand total = $4.59

That’s $1.15 a serving. And more math than I’ve done in months.

BAM. Welcome to lean-living June.

Grilling in

May 25, 2009

Even if Memorial Day wasn’t the unofficial start of summer, the fact that it was 88 degrees in our apartment at 7:00 this morning would have tipped me off to the change in seasons. Over the past few nights, I’ve learned my lesson about seasonally inappropriate cooking. First, it is not the most awesome idea to make a spinach ricotta quiche when it is 90+ in the kitchen, however delightful it ended up being.

And  then there was this black bean soup and sauteed asparagus with cilantro pesto and lime cream…

delicious, if ill-advised

delicious, if ill-advised

It’s just too hot for soup now. It’s time for me to get real with my menu planning.

Last night’s curried beans and greens were a little better, as they required only some stovetop simmering.

basically everything I like to eat in a single bowl.

basically everything I like to eat in a single bowl.

Tonight, in honor of the holiday, we grilled in. We don’t grill out because 1) we don’t have a grill, 2) we don’t have a yard or really even anything resembling one (as much as I’d love to call the alley next to us a yard, it’s just not realistic) and 3) I’m really more of an indoors person.

What we do have is the will to grill. Also, a grill pan, a stove, and a bulk bag of bamboo skewers. Bring it.

These were pretty basic extra firm tofu, pepper, and mushrooms skewers, marinated for a few hours in a mix of soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, and sriracha. Apparently the reason I’m constantly disappointed by tofu is that I’ve been buying that silken stuff, which is the only kind they usually have at Dillon’s. When they have tofu at all. I got this at the coop and it’s like a new world of tofu. Substantial tofu. Now I know why restaurant tofu always tastes better than mine. Because it is.

on the grill

on the grill

In the grill pan over medium for 2 minutes or so per side.

all done

all done

And what’s a cook-in without slaw? I made a mix of broccoli slaw, shredded carrots, mixed bean sprouts, and a dressing of rice vinegar, honey, ginger, and oil.

and I never even had to leave the house.

and I never even had to leave the house.

Okay, I’m off to sit in the sweat lodge that is my living room.