Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mexican Bean Bake with Cheesy Corn Souffle (Vegetarian)

This recipe has a lot of steps, but it’s a tasty, vegetarian, protein-packed meal that costs almost nothing to make.


For the beans:

  • 1 lbs dry pinto beans (or some such bean) or 4 cans
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cups (16oz) of tomato salsa (whatever’s on sale)
  • 3 tbs cumin
  • 2 tbs cayenne pepper (I used chipotle powder though)
  • 1 tbs. oregano (Mexican if you have it)
  • 2 tbs. garlic powder
  • Salt and additional seasoning to taste.
  • Some sliced green olives if you want them. I did, but they work better with meat.


  • 1 cup frozen corn, pulverized in food processor
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 4 tbsp flour (Wondra works best)
  • 8 oz shredded cheese (colby, muenster or jack)
  • 6 egg whites
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp salt


  1. If you are using dried beans, cook them. I just put them right in the slow cooker, cover with water (plus 1”-2”and heat on high for several hours.
  2. Cook the rice
  3. Add all the bean ingredients together. You could sauté the onions first, or don’t. See if care.
  4. Put it all in 2 9x13 baking dishes (or one really big one like I did).
  5. Melt butter in saucepan
  6. Stir in flour to make a paste
  7. Whisk in milk and keep under medium heat until thickened.
  8. Add cheese, corn and egg yolks and turn off heat
  9. Whip egg yolks until soft peaks form
  10. Fold yolks into cheese sauce slowly and carefully
  11. Pour over beans and bake at 400 for 1 hour or so (until topping is set)

Frugal Factor: $2.50 for the cheese, $1.50 for the beans, $1.50 for the beans, $2 for the salsa, $2 for everything else. Serves 12. That’s $0.75/serving.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Vegetarian Lima Bean and Cabbage Cassoulet

I love the French dish cassoulet, but it requires finding just the right sausages, cooking a duck or goose (and reserving the rendered fat) and roasting some lamb. I made mine vegetarian out of laziness, especially because there we got two feet of snow and I didn’t feel like going out for any food not already in my house. Cooking the beans is probably a weekend thing unless you have a timer on your slow cooker and have tested it before. However, you can make the rest any time.

Looks-wise, this rather monochromatic dish, especially because I was out of carrots. You could probably use kale instead of cabbage and get a nicer color, but cabbage is what I had, so that's what I used. (I also overcooked the beans because I was out at the pub drinking beer.) No matter how it looks, it's a super-frugal winter meal.


  • 1 lbs (aprox. 2 cups) dried lima beans (or any other white bean)
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 tbsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. rosemary
  • 1 head cabbage
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 onions
  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • 2 tbs. garlic powder
  • 1 stick of butter
  • Salt to taste


  1. Rinse dried beans and place in slow cooker with 4 cups water and the dried herbs and one diced onion
  2. Cook on high for about six hours (really depends on your make, model, age of beans, etc), until beans are soft but still firm to the tooth (al dente). Add water if needed. Drain and reserve cooking liquid
  3. Dice up a head of cabbage and carrots; steam until al dente, set aside
  4. Dice remaining onion into half-inch pieces, toss with some herbs and olive oil, and roast at 400 for 20 minutes or so
  5. Melt butter in saucepan and add bread crumbs, garlic powder and salt to taste. Mix until all crumbs are coated
  6. Toss cabbage, roasted onions and beans. Add cooking liquid until mixture is very loose (like a thick stew)
  7. Salt/pepper/season to taste
  8. Coat a 9x13 baking dish with half the bread crumbs.
  9. Add the bean mixture
  10. Top with remaining bread crumbs, spreading evenly and as flat as possible
  11. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.

Frugal factor: Off the charts. Dry beans and cabbage are two of the cheapest forms of nutrition. This made eight portions. Figure $1.50 for the beans, $2 for the cabbage, $1 for the bread crumbs, $0.50 for the butter, and $1.50 for everything else. That's about $0.82/portion.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Carmelized Pot Roast w/ Gorgonzola Cauliflower

It’s not every day I discover a better way to cook meat, but that’s exactly what happened this weekend. I set out to make a slow-cooker pot roast. In the past, the meat ended up swimming in its juices, so I propped it up on top of potatoes. In this manner, the potatoes cooked long before the meat was fork-tender, so I drained the juices for gravy, removed the vegetables, and placed the meat in the dry crock and set the temp to high. Hours later, an amazing thing happened. As the fat and connective tissue cooked away, the beef was now slow-frying in its own fat. The entire outside of the roast browned like Carnitas, yet as I broke apart the roast with two forks, the meat was hardly dry at all. Once I tossed the chunks of meat in the gravy, I had a perfect freezer entrée.

Served here with a baked cauliflower casserole consisting of a steamed and mashed cauliflower mashed with 1 cup of béchamel w/ 1/4 lbs gorgonzola and baked at 450 until browned. Yum.

Frugal Factor: 2 lbs. bottom round roast, $4, cauliflower, $2, potatoes, $1, mushrooms $2, milk and butter, $1. $10 for 5 portions is $2/portion.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Chicken Marsala w/ Escarole and Potatoes

Chicken Marsala may be a staple of catering hall buffets, but it’s one of my favorites. Marsala is a sweet fortified wine with a long shelf life, so I always have it in the pantry. On the side, I chopped and sautéed one head of escarole in garlic with a dash of chicken stock.I also nuked a couple russet potatoes, removed the skin, chopped into chuncks and sauteed in olive oil and herbs. Easy.


  • 8 Chicken Thighs, skinned, de-boned and pounded flatFlour seasoned with salt, pepper and dried herbs – Wondra works best.

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 8 oz chopped mushrooms1 finely diced onion

  • 6 cloves garlic

  • 1 cup marsala wine

  • 1-2 cups chicken stock

  • 2 tablespoons butter

  1. Dredge the chicken in the flour.

  2. Pour olive oil in 12” skillet and add whole garlic cloves and chicken, then turn on medium heat (trust me)

  3. Brown chicken on both sides and set aside.

  4. Stir about two tablespoons of the dredging flour into the olive oil to create a loose paste (roux).

  5. Add mushrooms and onion and stir until cooked through.

  6. Add marsala and scrape and fond off pan.

  7. Crush up those garlic cloves.

  8. Add chicken and enough stock to half cover the other ingredients.

  9. Continue cooking until sauce thickens and chicken is cooked through, adding more stock or flour to get the desired gravy consistency.

  10. After turning off heat, stir in a few tablespoons of butter to enrich the sauce.

Frugal Factor: 2lbs chicken at $1.89/lbs, $3.78. Mushrooms, $2, onion, garlic, wine, stock, oil, butter: $1.50 (est.). I made four servings, so that’s $1.82/serving not counting the sides, which would probably add $0.75/serving, for a total of $2.47/serving.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Balsamic Chicken with Eggplant and Roasted Vegetables over Polenta

As the local growing season ends, I’m back to getting my veggies at the supermarket. One way to make supermarket produce shine is roasting, which concentrates the flavors and brings out the sweetness. This recipe also uses canned roasted peppers, sundried tomatoes and capers – essential pantry items for the winter. This recipe has a few make-ahead steps, but is well worth the effort. The chicken is optional, but as always, dark meat is best if you plan to freeze and reheat.


  • 1 large eggplant

  • 1 red onion

  • 6 portabella mushrooms

  • 1/2 cup sliced sundried tomatoes, soaked in hot water until soft and drained

  • 2 cans roasted red peppers

  • 1 bulb garlic (preferably North American)

  • 1 lbs chicken thighs, sliced

  • 2 tbsp capers

  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes

  • 1 tbsp. dried Italian herb mixture (fresh works too, but it’s winter)

  • Parmesan cheese – to taste

  • 1 cup balsamic vinaigrette (see below)

  • 1 6x9 dish of polenta (see below)

  1. Marinate chicken strips in half the balsamic vinaigrette for one hour or overnight.

  2. Peel eggplant and slice into quarters and the slice into ½ inch pieces.

  3. Lightly salt eggplant and layer on paper towels for 1 hour or overnight (rinse and pat dry

  4. Slice onion in half and then into slices

  5. Rinse the mushrooms and cut out the black gills and discard.

  6. Slice the mushrooms into bite sized pieces. If stems were included, chop off the duty end and discard, and slice the stem into thin pieces.

  7. Toss each vegetable separately in some olive oil, herbs and pepper flakes and put on roasting pans (keep veggies separate in case their cooking times are different.
    Place veggies, as well as whole bulb of garlic, in a 450 degree oven until browned but not burned. 20-30 minutes on average.

  8. Open cans of peppers. Drain the first can and and slice into bite sized pieces, set aside. Run the other can, liquid and all, in a blender until smooth.

  9. Pat dry the marinated chicken and sauté under high heat.

  10. Add all the veggies

  11. Squeeze roasted garlic cloves into mixture.

  12. Add a dash of the vinaigrette, the pureed peppers, and the capers

  13. Serve over warmed polenta squares with grated cheese. Fresh parsley might be nice too.

For the balsamic vinaigrette: 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, 2/3 cup olive oil, 1 tsp prepared mustard, 2 tbsp lemon juice, salt and Tabasco to taste. Put it all in a blender and blend until opaque and emulsified..

For the polenta: Bring two cups water/stock to a boil, lower heat to simmer, whisk in 1 c cup cornmeal and stir slowly for 30 minutes, until mixture pulls away from pan (add water if it gets too thick to stir). Pour into greased casserole, cool, and cut into squares.

Frugal Factor: This makes six servings. $2 for the eggplant, $4 for the mushroom, $1 for the onion, $4 for the chicken, $1 for everything else. That’s $2/serving. A little high – darn those mushrooms.

Monday, September 14, 2009


A ridiculously easy recipe. I made two batches, one with ground beef and one with texturized vegetable protein. Like many things in life, it is better with meat, but it’s a great way to use TVP too. This is the kind of Middle American recipe you see on those little booklets in the supermarket checkout line. But it's mighty tasty. I only had penne but it should really be made with elbow macaroni.

  • 2 lbs ground beef (or 2 cups of TVP, rehydrated)
  • 2 packets of taco seasoning (or bulk from Penzey’s)
  • 1 lbs macaroni, cooked
  • 2 jars mild salsa
  • 2 cans pinto beans
  • 1 8 oz block of cheddar or jack cheese, ½ shredded, ½ in quarter-inch cubes
  • 1 cup sliced green Spanish olives
  1. Cook the ground beef or TVP according to the taco seasoning directions
  2. Add everything but the shredded cheese, mix together.
  3. Top with cheese.
  4. That was easy.

Frugal Factor: Made with beef, $5 for supermarket beef. $2 for cheap macaroni, $5 for two jars of salsa, $1 for the seasoning mix. Thats $14 for 9 portions, or $1.55/portion

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sauerkraut, Ham and Kasha (slow cooker)

This isn't a complicated recipe, but it was delicious. Buckwheat groats, a.k.a. Kasha, are one of the healthiest and filling things you can eat, loaded with protein. Only this is, while I have had wonderful Kasha at Russian restaurants in the Far Northeast, mine always tastes like socks. However, toss it with sauerkraut and the flavor is much better (assuming you like sauerkraut).
  • 1 Bag Fresh Sauerkraut, rinsed
  • 1.5 lbs. smoked meat (I used the remannts of a ham and three smoked turkey drumsticks)
  • 1 tsp. caraway seeds and
  • tsp. thyme
  • 1.5 cups buckwheat groats
  • 2 cups stock
  • 2 tbs. butter


  1. Toss the first four ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on low until meat is falling off bone. Remove bones.
  2. Put the groats, stock and butter in a saucepan, cover, bring to a boil and simmer 20 minutes
  3. Add cooked groats to kraut and meat slowly (until it's about 1/3 kasha and 2/3 kraut.
  4. Season to taste.
  5. Eat.

Frugal Factor: Ridiculously cheap. $1 for the groats, $1.50 for the kraut, $2.75 for the turkey legs. That's $5.20 for four portions, or $1.31/portion.

Risotto w/ Scallops, Saffron and Fava Beans

Fresh green fava beans have been showing up on American menus a lot lately. I use frozen ones, sold as Broad Beans by Goya. One benefit to the frozen beans is that if you just run them under hot water for a minute, the inedible shells thaw while the beans stay frozen, so it’s easier to remove the shells without crushing the bean.


2 cups chopped scallops (chopped if big, whole if small)

2 cups shelled fava beans (you could use peas too)

1 chopped white onion (leeks would be great here)

2 chopped garlic cloves

2 tbs. olive oil

2 cups Arborio or Sushi Rice

4-5 cups Stock (I used Better than Bouillon lobster stock, which works well here but is generally disgusting. If you don’t have time/constitution/ventilation to make your own fish stock, chicken or vegetable stock will do.)

Pinch each of saffron, white pepper, marjoram, and cayenne pepper

1⁄4 cup heavy cream (optional)

Lightly sauté onions in 1 tbs.olive oil. Add rice and brown the rice a little. Add garlic. Add half the stock and stir. Set to simmer, and add fava beans when rice is half-cooked. Slowly add rest of stock. When rice is a just a bit harder than al dente, add the spices and scallops. Keep stirring until a creamy, loose consistency had been achieved. Finish with cream and 1 tbs. olive oil and serve immediately.

For the portions you freeze, add a little stock to help with reheating in the microwave.

Frugal Factor: I bought the main ingredients so long ago I am a little lost. I think it would be $4 for the scallops left over from a big bag I got on sale, $1.50 for the fava beans, $4 for the Arborio rice at the overcharging supermarket price, $1 for everything else. I got 6 servings out of this recipe, so that’s $1.75/serving. A restaurant would sell this for $15!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Swedish Meatballs over Kluski Noodles

The Jan/Feb issue Cook's Illustrated had a recipe for Swedish Meatballs. I always like getting them at Ikea, so I gave it a try. The recipe called for heavy cream in both the meatballs and the sauce. I used evaporated milk - it's cheaper, lower in fat and won't separate when reheating like cream often does. The recipe called for half a pound each of ground pork and ground beef. I doubled the recipe so I could use the whole package of each. I meant to add some fresh dill or thyme - that would have made it better. And I needed lingonberry sauce. Doh!

In my mixer bowl, I made a panade of 4 crustless slices white bread soaked in ½ cup evaporated milk, two eggs plus a half tsp. each of allspice and nutmeg, 2 tsp.each of baking powder, salt and brown sugar plus two grated onions. I gave it a quick mix to form a paste, added the meat, and mixed on medium for 45 seconds until everything was incorporated. Forming 55 little meatballs took forever. I wonder if Swedish Salisbury Steak would be just as good.

The recipe called for pan-frying, but I split the batch between the frying pan and the broiler. Frying takes a lot more attention, stinks up the kitchen and adds extra fat. The fried meatballs were a bit more crispy and fluffy but they also tended to fall apart. With the sauce it was hard to tell the difference. Broil. Just remember to put some water in the bottom of the broiler pan so the drippings don't smoke and stick to the bottom.

The sauce is pretty basic - two cups of broth thickened with flour and enriched with 1/4 cup evaporated milk. The recipe called for chicken broth but I used Better Than Bouillon beef base. It tasted like that was a mistake at first, but once I added the tbsp. of brown sugar 2 tbsp. of lemon juice, the sauce had a bright sweet and sour flavor. I added a little allspice and white pepper too. I tossed the meatballs right in the finished sauce to keep warm while I boiled some Kluski noodles and finished cooking some squash for the side dish.

Frugal Factor: I used the last of my ground pork from the 1/4 pig I bought which worked out to about $4/lb. The ground beef from Shop Rite was $2.19/lb. 12 oz bag of kluski noodles, $1.79; evaporated milk, 12 ox can, $0.89. That's $8.87. Let's round that up to $10 to cover the pantry items (bread, onion, spices, sugar, etc.) Yielded 55 meatballs - 8 portions plus the ones I sneaked while finishing the sauce and such. That's $1.50/portion. (the side dish was a butternut squash I bought for $2.50 - so add $0.42 for that for the meal)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Scallops Lo Mein in Black Bean Sauce

I had some Chinese yam noodles, leftover cilantro, and some scallops in the freezer from the 5 lbs bag I bought on sale for $20 at Shop Rite a while back.
I made a double-portion of fermented black bean sauce from an earlier post and threw half a bag of frozen spinach in the sauce once it was done cooking. drained the liquid from the thawed scallops (added it to the sauce) and tossed them in some soy sauce.
After searing the scallops, I added the sauce w/ the spinach, deglazed the pan, tossed in the cooked noodles and some chopped cilantro and dinner was served
Frugal Factor: $5 for the scallops, $1 for the sauce ingredients, $1.50 for the frozen spinach, $3 for the noodles, $1 for the cilantro. Let's round that up to $11 for four portions - $2.75/portion. Not ultra frugal but cheaper than takeout and way tastier.

Fish in Packets

Fish in packets is an easy dish as long as you can fold the packets of parchment paper. If you can't, well-oiled foil works too. I used 11 lbs Mahi Mahi but any white-fleshed fish works

Julienne one leek and one carrot and toss veggies in bowl with a dash of salt, pepper, thyme, olive oil and vermouth

Preheat oven to 350. Divide fish into four portions. Wrap each of the fillets in parchment with the vegetables. Bake 10 minutes, unwrap and serve.
Frugal Factor: $1 for the leek and carrot, $0.50 vermouth, $6.50 for the fish. Serves 4, $2/portion, not including those mashed potatoes

Fish Cake Sandwich w/ Slaw

This was an easy little recipe to use stuff I had in the fridge. I had some leftover broiled mahi mahi which I supplemented with a can of mackerel. I like to use masa harina, the processed corn flour used to make corn tortillas and tamales, as a coating for fried fish.

Ingredients: 1 can mackerel, a few slices of stale bread pulsed in a in the food processor, 1 egg, 1 tbsp. smoked paprika, 1 tbsp. dried chives, 1 grated shallot, 1 cup masa harina

Mix all the ingredients except the masa harina together. Form into patties. If it falls apart, add a little of the masa. Once formed, dredge in the masa and fry in a pan with 1/2 inch of oil (I like peanut oil for pan frying - it's light, a litttle nutty, and you can get it very hot.

I shredded some cabbage and a carrot and tossed it with some tartar sauce to make a fish slaw, put it on a crusty roll with the fish cake, and had a tasty sandwich.

Frugal Factor: Mackerel, $2; egg, $0.25; cabbage, $0.50. Let's say $3 for four portions, or $0.75/portion plus whatever the cost of the roll you choose.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fisherman's Pie

Thanks to Crash Kitchen for this idea, although I made no effort to actually follow their recipe. I was skeptical of an English fish pie but this creamy concoction of smoked and fresh fish was a huge hit. It's basically a shepherd's pie but with fish and a bechamel. For the topping, I tried the latest "perfect mashed potatoes" method from the OCD folks at Cook's Illustrated. You steam the peeled, cubed potatoes for 10-15 minutes, rinse them in cold water, and then steam them anotgher 20 minutes until mashable, then rice them. The result really is some insanely light, fluffy mash that's perfect for a dish like this. This method is also fasterand easier - the riced potatoes incorporate with no effrt and you don't have to wait for a pot of water to boil (just a feew cups in the steamer). Any fish will work as long as some is smoked. In fact, using pimenton (smoked paprika) in the sauce might even make up for having no smoked fish.

Ingredients: 8 med. potatoes (about 2 lbs), 1/2 stick butter, 1 15 oz can of mackerel (large bones removed and "dark meat" fed to Marcel), 1 lbs smoked fish (I smoked some whiting fillets out back and used a can of Trader Joe's smoked trout I had opened earlier for a snack), 1 leek, 4 shallots, 3/4 lbs of peas or green beans, 2 cups milk, 3 tbsp. flour (Wondra is best), Worcestershire sauce, paprika and pepper to taste

  • Make mashed potatoes with 1/4 stick of butter; set aside
  • Melt 1/4 stick butter butter on low heat in saucepan
  • Whisk in flour and add leeks and shallots; saute a while
  • Add milk and seasoning. Some people say to use warm milk, but I just crank up the heat and whisk it to death
  • Add a 10 oz block of frozen vegetables such as peas or green beans (I used blanched fresh green beans because they were already in the fridge) and the fish (if your fish is raw, dice it and throw it in. If cooked, simply break apart.
  • Pour sauce in greased casserole dish. Top with mashed potatoes
  • Bake at 375 for 30 minutes
  • Eat right away or somebody else will

Serves 6-9 (depending on whether Dave and Heather are over and have seconds and thirds)

Frugal Factor: As prepared, this is a really frugal dish. You could go all out with cream instead of bechamel and something other than the two cheapest fish at the grocery store, but I'm not sure if it could get much tastier. 15 0z can mackeral, $1.10; 1 lbs whiting, $3.00 (plus the cost of some wood for smoking); frozen peas, $1.25; $0.35 for 2 cups milk; $0.35 for 1/2 stick butter ($2.79/lbs at TJ's - wow); $1.60 for 2 lbs potatoes; $1.50 for the leek, shallots and spices. At $9.15 for 6 servings, thats $1.53/serving.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Stuffed Acorn Squash w/ Quinoa, Dried Fruit and Nuts

If you have been reading this blog from time to time, you know I'm no vegetarian. But sometimes a meatless meal is a nice change from ham, sausage, pork chops... Anyway, I came up with this recipe as a vegan entree for festive holiday meals. Quinoa is a superfood of sorts in that it has a very high amount of complete protein, so it's all you need. This recipe does have that 1970s Rodale Cookbook feel, but it's a great winter dish anyway. Just don't serve it with steamed brown bread.

Ingredients: 2 acorn squash, 1/2 cup quinoa, 1/4 cup dried fruit (apricots, cranberries, currants, cherries are all good), 1 diced onion, pinch of sage, pinch of thyme, cinnamon stick, 1/4 cup chopped pecans, 2-3 tbsp. shredded unsweetened coconut.

  • Halve each squash and scoop out the seeds (The truly frugal will roast those for later snacking. I will not).
  • Slice just a little bit off the bottom of each half to make a flat surface
  • Roast open side down at 375 for about 45 minutes or until soft but still structurally sound
  • In a rice cooker, combine quinoa, fruit, onion, herbs, cinnamon and 1 cup vegetable stock or lightly salted water (you can of course make it on the stovetop, but maybe w/ more water)
  • Scoop out 1-2 tsp. of squash flesh and stir into the quinoa pilaf (this helps it hold together)
  • Sprinkle the coconut and pecans - you can spray a little oil to make it stick, and press the nuts in a little.
  • Bake at 375 for 30 minutes
Serves 4

Notes: The pre-roasting of the squash and the cooking of the quinoa pilaf can be done a day or two ahead. This is also good with curry powder. The natural sweetness of the squash and fruits may make you want to go all out and make this a sweeter dish. I haven't tried, but I will warn you that unsulphered apricots can get a little bitter and when cooked this way, so taste the pilaf before you stuff.

Frugal Factor: Hard to estimate on this because most of the ingredients are pantry items I usually buy a lot of. The squash were $3 for 2 at the discount produce; at $4/lb bulk, the quinoa would be $0.70, everything else was maybe $1.50. That's $1.30/serving.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Spinach Feta Endive Poppers

I may have created a new appetizer. Well, it needs dome work but it's getting there. I like Belgian Endive cooked, like in a gratin, but I didn't have any melty cheese. I has feta though. And spinach. I like spanakopita, but I had no filo. I did have panko though, and I finally got around to fixing my deep fryer a while back. (Ugg, that was a pain. I had to buy a special scredriver just to take apart some kind of switch with a broken spring.) Anway, the pictures tell the story. No frugal factor, because endive is expensive because it has to come all the way from Belgium.

Liberty Cabbage (Ham n' Sauerkraut)

When I was a kid, my dad used to get a whole bunch of wursts and pork from the German butcher and cook them with sauerkraut in a Romertopf - a semi-porous clay roasting pan and lid. Today, I use my slow cooker. It's pretty much the same idea.

Any collection of pork products will do, particularly the large or fatty pieces that need slow cooking like shoulder, hock, etc. Cured sausages and franks are great too (uncured ones will dry out). In this case, I used some ham that's been in the freezer since Thanksgiving (to make way for a new ham) and some German-style franks that were getting a little freezer burned.

I also added potatoes and a few herbs and spices which really add to the flavor, mainly coarse mustard, caraway seeds and savory. The latter two are rumored to reduce the social liabilities of cabbage. I don't know if that's an issue with a fermented product like sauerkraut, especially after six hours of cooking, but they are mighty tasty.

I'm not much for these raw food people, but raw sauerkraut is loaded with vitamin C. Canned sauerkraut is not, so I suspect cooking reduces the vitamin. That is why I reserve 1/4 of the kraut to stir in after slow cooking the rest with the pork. At minimum, it adds a little crunch that is lost in the cooking. If it wards off colds and improves your digestion, even better.

1 32 oz. bag sauerkraut, 2 lbs diced potatoes, 1 sliced yellow onion, 1-3 lbs of pork, 1/4 tsp. caraway, 1/2 tsp savory, 1 tbsp coarse grain prepared mustard.

  • Put potatoes and onions in bottom of slow cooker
  • Drain sauerkraut and put 1/4 aside for later
  • Layer kraut with the meat and herbs and spices
  • Cook on medium (autoshift) for 8 hours or so
  • Stir in reserved raw kraut.
Serves 6

Frugal Factor: Hard to say. The kraut was on sale for $1 (that's why I bought it) but usually it's $1.50. I went lighter on the meat - 3 franks and 1 lbs ham. That's $5 or so. The mustard, savory and caraway would probably be about $0.50. Potatoes about $1.60. So you're looking at about $8.60 for 6 servings. That's $1.43/serving. You could do it for less or more.

Note: One nice variation if you have more time is to make buttery mashed potatoes separately instead of cooking the potatoes w/ everything else. If you really want to go nuts, fry up some crispy diced bacon and sprinkle on top. That's how you change this from a weeknight meal to Das Sonntags-Abendessen. And hey, if you have a Romertopf, break it out (just remember to soak it in water and put it in a cold oven).

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Going Whole Hog. Well, Quarter Hog Anyway.

Because I think pigs are lovable but delicious, I have been trying to avoid factory farmed pork. It's unspeakable cruel to animals, workers, neighbors and the environment. Also, supermarket pork shops taste like crap. But buying from farmer Tom at the Saturday market is, A) Expensive, B) I overslept, C) Not possible until the market starts again in April, D) All of the above.

Lucky for me, my uncle is a member of the Winter Harvest buying club and has a freezer of his own. So we split a half pig, pasture-raised on a Pennsylvania farm. For $300, you get approx 70 lbs; cuts include (approx weights): chops with bone 12 lbs; ham 16 lbs; 2 shoulder roasts 6 lbs total; bacon 6 lbs; country sausage 12 lbs; scrapple 10 lbs; ground pork 8 lbs. So I have half that in my freezer. Well, less than half that. I ate some bacon and scrapple for breakfast, gave away a pound of scrapple (5 pounds is seriously more than I will eat in a long time) and I made pork chops stuffed with apple stuffing in a cider sauce.

So, needless to say, stay tuned for lots of pork recipes soon. I may even attempt The Bacon Explosion.

Frugal Factor:
To buy all this a' la carte from the buying club would have cost me $245 and possibly even more at the farmer's market. Well, to be fair, I would have bought less scrapple. I love scrapple and all, but c'mon. But let's just say $245. I spent $150. That's 39% off. So for the ham, usually $8/lb, I spent only about $4.89. I paid $3.99 for a Smithfield on sale around Thanksgiving, so that's not too much more to pay for something much more delicious and less cruel.

Of course, the some of the other stuff is much more expensive either way. Supermarket pork is often only $1-$2/lb for chops or sausage. But really, meat should not be that cheap. It's a little obscene in this country that a pound of pork costs less than a pound of broccoli. No wonder everybody's on Lipitor.

To further alleviate my omnivorific dilemma, I also made a donation to Heifer for three shares of a pig for a family in some country nobody wants to visit. Holy man that I am, I'll still have a heart attack if I eat that bacon explosion.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Beef Barley Soup

There is something about barley in a soup. It provides this thick, buttery texture to the whole broth. In fact, if you want to get really crazy, start a barley soup with a butter roux. The barley will incorporate the butter and make something truly awesome.

I made this soup with venison because it was in my freezer, but it is actually even better with ground beef. It is also really good with no meat at all and more vegetables. In fact, years and years ago when I was working at a restaurant, we got a huge bag of jicamas delivered by accident. They are usually eaten raw in a salad or in a stir-fry, but we used them in a soup with barley. Wouldn't you know, we actually had to start ordering jicamas because people went wild for the soup. And this was Bel Air, MD in 1996. Ceasar salad was considered ethnic food.

Ingredients: 3 quarts broth, 1 lbs 1/2 inch cubes of beef or venison, flour to coat, oil, 2 diced carrots, 2 diced celery spears, 1 diced yellow onion, 1/2 lbs chopped mushrooms, 3/4 cup barley, 2 tbs. thyme, pepper to taste (after it's done)

  • Toss meat lightly in flour and brown in a hot oiled pan
  • Remove meat and put aside, throw in vegetables
  • Cooke vegetables until soft
  • Add meat, barley and broth
  • Bring to a boil and then cook on low for 2 hours (or overnight in slow cooker, as I did)
Serves 8 (1.75 cup portions)

Note: Especially with the slow cooker, browning the meat and sauteing the vegetables is not so crucial.

Frugal Factor: I would pay $4.50 for grass fed beef or $2.25 for supermarket beef, $2 for the mushrooms at discount produce (maybe $3.50 at the supermarket), and I'm guessing $0.75 for the carrot, onion, celery, and barley. So that's $5.00-$8.75 or $0.63-$1.10/portion. Either way, it's cheaper and better than a can.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Red Beans and Rice

First thing I ate in New Orleans after a 20-hour drive w/ Gene during spring break of 1998. Went to some place Adrienne took us to by Tulane where they didn't card me for the Turbo Dog. Nothing tastes as good a spicey food and cold beer after a 20-hour drive. This actually tastes pretty close to the real thing. It's not a hard dish to make and it's pretty forgiving as to the specific ingredients, as long as the beans are red and the cayenne pepper pours freely. I might just have to go to the distributor for a case of Dog and listen to Tom Waits*

Ingredients: 1 lbs dried kidney beans, 1/2 lbs diced smoked sausage , 1/4 lbs diced ham, approx. 3 cups stock (ham is good), 1 diced onion, 4 diced celery stalks, 5 diced or pressed cloves garlic, 2 tbsp paprika, 1 tbsp thyme, 1 tbsp cumin, 1 tbsp sugar, hot sauce, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper to taste (I like lots), 2 cups rice (cook separately), 1/2 bunch scallions

  • Soak beans and cook until soft (I put them on high in the slow cooker for a couple hours)
  • Drain beans, place back in slow cooker or pot
  • Add all the other ingredients (except the rice and green onions), pouring in stock to cover about an inch over the beans (more if cooking on stove)
  • Cook on medium (auto shift on mine) overnight in slow cooker or for a couple hours on stove, stirring often.
  • Blend 1/3, either in a blender or by just lightly using an immersion blender.
  • Taste, season if needed. Add stock if it gets too thick.
  • Serve with cooked rice and garnish with green onions.

Serves 6 (not 5 for once)

Notes: I like to do the presentation shown above with the beans in a shallow bowl w/ a 1/2 cup mould of rice on top, but when I freeze portions I just throw them together because you end up just mixing it all up anyway. If you don't want to deal with the blender, another method is to season a little more heavily and use a little more stock and add a can of unseasoned refried beans to get the right consistency.
I used your basic smoked sausage or kielbasa at the supermarket because I had some in the freezer, but to do this right use andouille would be authentic and Niman Ranch has one but the only price I could find online was $10/lb - maybe cheaper in Whole Paycheck store or something at TJ's. For the ham, tasso is authentic but I don't like it. Dry hot Capicola sliced extra thick from a deli would actually be great.
This can also be a good vegan dish too, but that's a completely different recipe I'll offer later on. If you want to try and let me know, I would think you would want to use a chipotle pepper for the smokey flavor, double the onion and celery and slow-cook it, maybe with some red peppers for texture, and use some extra spice

Frugal Factor: Beans, $1.50; Sausage, $1.50 as prepared but maybe $4 to get good stuff; Ham, $1 as prepared but $2 if using capicola from Shop Rite or something; Rice, $0.50; onion, celery, scallions and spices, $1.00. So, $5.50 as prepared or $9.00 as recommended. That's $0.92-$1.50/serving.

*I'll drink you under the table, be red-nosed, go for walks,
The old haunts what I wants is red beans and rice
And wear the dress I like so well, and meet me at the old saloon,
Make sure that there's a Dixie moon, New Orleans, I'll be there

Italian Meatballs

I hate nasty factory meatballs, with their spongy rubber ball texture. I know I said in my last recipe not to worry about making everything as authentic as an ethnic grandmother. When it comes to meatballs, I take it back a little. There is an art to meatballs that you shouldn't mess with too much, and it took me many failed attempts to arrive at this technique.

In image of meat in the bowl below, I photographed the meat mixture with the garlic and onion on top so you could see the consistency of all three but usually I would mix all together at the same time.

Ingredients: 1 lbs ground beef, 1 lbs ground pork, 2/3 cup bread crumbs, 1 cup milk, 2 eggs, 2 tbsp Italian seasoning, 5 cloves of garlic, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp. salt coarse/kosher salt, 2 beaten eggs, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, 1 red onion or a few shallots.

  • In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and milk and let rest (this is called a panade)
  • Wrap garlic in foil and roast at 350 for 30 minutes. Squeeze garlic from cloves and make a paste with the salt and olive oil (the coarseness of the salt helps grind up the garlic) - I use a mortar and pestle but a bowl and a wooden spoon would work too.
  • Grate onion on a cheese grater - the one you would use to grate cheddar. Place in bowl and soak in vinegar and water for 15 minutes to reduce the onion burp factor and then rinse in strainer
  • Wash your hands
  • Combine everything in bowl and work it gently into a uniform texture with your hands (see, aren't you glad you washed them?). Don't overwork these or they will become bouncy balls
  • Get out your broiler pan and spray the top insert. Put a little water in the bottom part - this keeps the grease from burning and the steam helps the meatballs cook on the bottom faster so they lose their shape less. Preheat your broiler.
  • Make meatballs. I like them medium size, which is 2 tbsp of meat mixture, or 36 meatballs in this recipe.
  • Place pan on a rack one up from the middle and broil 15 minutes (as always, broilers vary so keep an eye on them)
  • Remove and flip over to brown other side.
  • Break one open and see if it's done. If it's fully cooked, go ahead and eat it.
To freeze these, put them on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper so they don't touch and pre-freeze, then put in bags. This way, they don't stick together and you can grab just a few for soup, spaghetti dinner, sandwiches, etc. To reheat, just toss in sauce and cook on the stovetop.

Note: Frying meatballs in olive oil is mighty tasty but it's a pain and not worth the effort and extra fat in my book. If you do choose to fry, lightly coat the meatballs in flour first. These are great not only in tomato sauce (aka gravy) but in my favorite food in the world, Italian Wedding Soup, which is basically a chicken soup to which you add escarole (found w/ the lettuce in some supermarkets), little meatballs (these are a little big but that's okay), cooked rice and plenty of grated Parmesan on top.

Frugal Factor: I spent $4.50/lb for the local grass-fed ground beef. I am not buying factory pork due to the horrendous cruelty and environmental impact, so I would pay $4.50/lb for that too if I hadn't had some pork chops from an Omaha Steaks box I got for Christmas and a meat grinder. Shoprite sells 85% lean ground beef for $2.59/lb and ground pork for $1.62/lbs. The cheese is probably $1/worth, and figure $1 for everything else. So that's $6.21 w/supermarket meat or $11 for local pastured meat. I think 4 meatballs is a nice portion (a little light for some), so that works out to 9 portions @ $0.69 - $1.22/portion.

Ham and White Bean Soup

When I divided up a spiral ham into portions to freeze a while back, I wasn't too stressed about getting all the meat of the bone. I froze that too. Used it today in this super-simple soup. Sorry, this is more eyeball than recipe. ALERT: TWO DAY RECIPE (as written - if you are a better fat skimmer than I, maybe not)

Ingredients: 1 ham bone w/ lots of meat on it, 1 32 oz can diced tomatoes, drained, 1 halved onion, 1 diced onion, 2 spears celery, 1 lbs dried white beans (cooked separately to a slightly al dente state), 1 shredded cabbage, 2 russet potatoes, 1/2 tbsp. each of rosemary, sage, thyme, and savory (savory is optional but helps in the digestion of beans and cabbage, which is helpful if you don't live alone in the woods)

  • Put ham bone in a pot and submerge in water with the halved onion
  • Cook on medium low until meat has fallen off the bone
  • Pour into another container through sieve. This is your stock
  • Separate bones from meat and refrigerate meat (throw bones away)
  • Refrigerate stock overnight, remove fat from top and discard (or save it it that's your thing)
  • In pot, pour defatted stock over all the other ingredients (if you have more stock than you need, save some for something else... like red beans and rice)
  • Cook until everything is tender. Add more salt, a hit of better than bouillon or whatever to taste. You can scoop out some of the beans and potatoes and mash them up for a richer texture.
Serves 12

Frugal Factor: Off the charts but here's my best estimate: $4 for the ham bone (prorated from the whole 3.99/lb ham); $1.50 for the beans; $1 tomatoes; $1 cabbage; $1 for everything else. $8.50 total, 12 servings $0.71/serving.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Money Saving Tips? Maybe

Even Epicurious is getting in the frugal bandwagon. Their top-10 money saving ingredients is both obvious and limiting, largely indicative of the diet that already puts poor people at risk for obesity and diabetes.

Here's the list:

  • Potatoes - Duh, everybody knows it's cheap.
  • Rice - See potatoes
  • Pasta - Okay, we get it - load up on raw carbs. Diabetes takes years to develop.
  • Chicken - Sure it's cheap, as long as you don't buy white meat trimmed tenderloins. You might as well pay someone to chew it for you at that point.
  • Beans - Duh, but with a better glycemic index. One note though - every time I get dried beans from the supermarket - usually Goya brand - they never get soft after hours of cooking, probably because they are too old. Perhaps I am just the only person who buys them. I have had much better luck with the ones from the discount produce store that appear to be packaged locally.
  • Apples - They quote $1.50/lb for Red Delicious, but the recipes they list call for more expensive apples that are actually edible and might stand up to cooking something other than apple sauce. Red Delicious apples, bred for their unnaturally red skin rather than taste, represent everything that is wrong with the last 50 years of the American diet and food system. Supermarkets sell the better apples for $2.50/lb or more, but Trader Joe's has honeycrisps and other great varieties, $4 for a 3 lb bag.
  • Canned Tuna - Canned tuna, like Spam, is convenient but it's not actually all that cheap, especially considering a can of tuna is half water. Obviously Starkist paid to be listed in this list. But it is tasty, and you know you don't get enough mercury in your diet. Cheaper, however, is canned salmon. It's half the price of tuna by weight, and much lesswater. Some bones though, which they say you are supposed to just eat. I can't bring myself to do it though.
  • Eggs - Yup, eggs are cheap.
  • Cheese - Cheese is not all that cheap these days. $5/lb for cheddar is optimistic.
  • Flank Steak - Yum, flank steak, and also skirt steak, are delicious and one of the main reasons to visit Whole Paycheck (better if I ordered from a CSA, but I am lazy)

They are all fine ingredients, but they are mostly basic staples that can form the basis of expensive or cheap dishes. Better advice would be listing cheap nutritious vegetables that are a good value in winter, such as cabbage, broccoli, and squash in all its varieties.

One thing I did find interesting was that they got prices for these ingredients from the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey. The bureau seems to be finding good deals on dry beans, but $7.29/lb for flank steak is a little high - Whole Paycheck sells if for $6.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bhindi Masala w/ Chick Peas and Kidney Beans

Great, authentic Indian food is hard to come by. Horrible Indian food is everywhere from West Philly buffets to cans and pouches in the Co-Op or Trader Joe's. Happily, "pretty good" interpretations of Indian favorites are easy to make at home.

I made this vegan dish entirely with things from my pantry and freezer. It was light, tasty, healthful and frugal. Many recipes will explain that for truly authentic Indian cooking, you must collect a variety of fresh, exotic whole spices, grind them by hand and fry them up in a paste of ghee, a type of clarified butter.

Maybe that's true, but they sell a ground garam masala spice mix at the Indian grocer and I bought it. In fact, I bought it years ago. Any good chef would tell me to throw it out. But it was delicious. I did fry it into a paste, but I used corn oil.

Don't hold yourself back from cooking something just because you can't cook it like someone's grandmother. Authenticity is a wonderful thing, but cuisine also changes all the time. Cooks from Italy to India make authentic dishes with tomatoes and beans, neither of which were available until Columbus pillaged the Americas. To paraphrase Duke Ellington, if it tastes good, it is good.

Ingredients: 1 14oz can diced tomatoes, 1 16oz can kidney beans, 1 16oz can chick peas, 1 cup chopped okra (frozen is fine and more is fine too - okra, aka bhindi, is tasty in any language), 1 diced onion (I used a sweet vidalia), 3 cloves crushed garlic, 2 tbs corn oil, 1 tbs masala spice mix, 2 tbs Goya Recaito (optional), and fresh cilantro to finish (optional - I didn't have any).

  • Start cooking 1 1/2 cups of basmati rice to serve with the meal (don't you hate when they save that part for last?)
  • Heat oil in skillet, stir in masala and cook for 30 seconds on high
  • Add diced onion a stir in to combine with spice paste
  • Add garlic
  • Thoroughly drain diced tomatoes, reserving the juice
  • Add the tomatoes and okra to the pan. Stir and cook for a couple minutes - you want everythingcarmelize just a little
  • Add the reserved tomato juice and deglaze the pan
  • Drain the beans and add them too, along with the recaito if using
  • Cover and cook on low for 30 minutes
  • Serve over rice. If you have cilantro, chop some up and toss it on. If you have chutney, serve it on the side.
Serves 5 (why do all my recipes always serve 5?)

Frugal Factor: Hard to say. I actually used dried beans that I had cooked previously and okra I forgot to put in a stir fry a few months ago and threw in the deep freeze and ancient spices. But at today's Shoprite prices, here goes: All three cans, $1.50 (wait, is the can can sale still on?); 1/2 bag cut frozen okra @ $1.67/bag, $0.83; 1 oz recaito @ $2/12oz jar, $0.16; 1 1/2 cups basmati rice (12 oz) @$6/4lbs bag, $1.08. If a supermarket sells garam masala, it will be in a $5 jar that holds 1.25 oz but a spice store or Indian store will have it waaaay cheaper. Let's just say $1. That's $4.57 for 5 servings, or $0.92/serving.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Turkey Tamales w/ Red and Green Salsa

When I visit friends or family back in Maryland, I often come up Rt. 1 to save the $9 in tolls. Of course, I usually spend that $9 by stopping at El Sobrero in Avondale, PA, a fantastic Mexican restaurant on Rt 41 just off the exit. They sell the most wonderful tamales frozen in packs of a dozen.

When I found a pound of cooked frozen turkey leftover from Thanksgiving, I decided use it to make my own tamales.

For the dough, I followed this recipe for a crockpot. I didn't have any corn husks so I used parchment paper. I didn't have any Crisco or lard, so I used peanut oil. Maybe that's why my dough didn't float no matter how long I beat it. For the filling, I just reheated the turkey w/ a can of supermarket enchilada sauce and mixed in leftover creme fraiche (a suitable substitute for Mecican creme).

I was a little worried because turkey was dry after reheating w/ the sauce but after cooking inside the tamales, it was moist and delicious just like the ones from El Sombrero. The tamale dough wasn't as good as theirs, I think because they must use something some coarse cornmeal in addition to the regular masa. However, these were a lot better than the ones at Trader Joe's.

I was not so sure about the crockpot part - usually tamales are steamed, which is a lot faster. However, on high for several hours, these got a little bit caramelized and crusty around the edges, which I liked a lot. And I have to to assume that helped the dry turkey end up tasting like somebody's abuelita cooked it from scratch.

I froze portions topped with grated mozzarella cheese I had left over from something and red and green Mexican salsas. They tasted great reheated, which is good because I have 8 2-tamale portions.

Frugal Factor: Everything in this dish has been in my pantry or freezer forever, but it must be insanely cheap. Definitely under $1/portion

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Meat Loaf Muffins

Meatloaf is delicious, but mine always falls apart when I try to cook it, whether I use a loaf pan not. Cooks Illustrated claims to have the perfect solution, involving gelatin and a panade of fresh bread crumbs and milk. Sounds like a pain. Instead, I solved the problem by making meatloaf muffins. Easy to portion, fun to eat. However, halfway through they were bobbing in watery grease so I had to take them out of the tins and finish on a cookie sheet, which was good because then I could fully glaze them in BBQ sauce instead of just doing the tops. Next time I'll try just molding them w/ my hands or these little silicon prep bowls I have and bake them on a broiler pan.

Thanks again to Marquita for sending Rudy's Original BBQ Sause from San Antonio - a light-bodied sauce rather than the thick sludge sold in supermarkets seemed to be a good fit in this recipe. The best thing about using a really tasty bbq sauce is that it provides all the needed seasoning, but feel free to add stuff too.

Meat Loaf Muffins

1 1/2 lbs ground venison (or other lean meat), 1/4 lbs pork breakfast sausage, 1 cup BBQ sauce plus 1/4 cup set aside for glazing, 1 cup dried bread crumbs, one finely diced onion, 1 tbsp thyme, 1 egg

  • Mix everything together.
  • Scoop into muffin tins. Mine filled 10 of the 12.
  • Bake at 400 for 15 minutes
  • Transfer meatloaf muffins from muffin tin to a foil-lined cookie sheet and brush them liberally with BBQ sauce.
  • Put cookie sheet on middle rack and switch to broil. Keep an eye on them - in five minutes they should done, with just a few tiny burn marks on them. But gas broilers vary and I've never used an electric, so your results may vary.

serves 5 (two muffins each)

Serve with mashed potatoes. Really, that's the only acceptable way to enjoy them. Or maybe mac n' cheese. I made my mashed potatoes with buttermilk, which cuts down on the fat. But that's hardly a recipe, so I'll leave it to you to figure out. The only vegetable I ghas was a block of frozen chopped broccoli I was saving for a casserole, but sauted over incredible high heat in garlic and olive oil, it tasted okay.

Notes: I made these with venison and pork sausage, but you could substitute any ground meat- lean meat with sausage or fatty meat with no sausage (or fatty meat and fatty sausage - go nuts). Different meats may yield different results but all will be delicious. Definitely don't stress about equal parts veal, beef and pork or whatever - those pre-packed meat loaf mixes at the supermarket are often overpriced and tend to stick around on the shelves past their prime.
If nobody sent you any Rudy's BBQ Sause, the closest thing widely available in supermarkets is Stubbs. You could try using Kraft or something, but the liquid smoke might be overpowering. Or make your own: equal parts vinegar, molasses and tomato paste (one can) w/ a pinch or two of , paprika, cayanne, thyme, salt, pepper, garlic powder, mustard powder, celery seed and allspice would work great. Ketchup

Frugal Factor: Again, the venison was a gift, but for comparison, ground buffalo is $5/lb so this is $7.50 worth of meat. BBQ sauce also a gift, but Stubbs brand is $4/bottle and I used 1/3 so $1.35 . Onion and bread crumbs, $0.50. Total, $10.25 for 5 servings or $1.87 per portion (two muffins). Not really all that frugal, especially since the mashed potatoes and frozen veggie add another $0.75 per portion for a total of $2.62/portion.