No Murders In The Rue Morgue


Beans and Rice
July 8, 2009, 9:04 am
Filed under: Cheapo, Cooking, Easy, Uncategorized

That’s right. I’m blogging beans and rice. What are you going to do about it? You’re going to love it!

To get you up to speed: I’m broke. I eat. Therefore, I’m trying to eat cheap.

I can’t think of a “real” dish that’s much cheaper than rice and beans. My recipe is basically what I ended up making with Food Not Bombs scaled down to a reasonable, 2 – 4 person size. The great thing (well, one of the great things) about this recipe is that pretty much all the ingredients are available either in bulk (cheap!) or at whatever cheapo produce stand you frequent (also cheap!). Here in San Francisco, there are a number of produce stands that sell fruits and veggies for ridiculous prices (my favorite is a place that sells about-to-go stuff for 75 cents per giant bag – score!). I usually head down there and see what’s cheap that day. If you don’t have this luxury, just hit up whatever’s cheap in your neighborhood. The key produce ingredients for my rice and beans are onions, tomatoes, and peppers, so if you can score bags of those for cheap, then you’re golden. If not, they’re all usually pretty cheap anyway.. except for the tomatoes. If you can’t find cheap tomatoes (and be sure to check all the varieties at your store – sometimes you will be surprised at what varieties are on sale), feel free to buy a can of cheap diced tomatoes. They’ll work just fine for this. Other than those four ingredients, you can feel free to experiment and add whatever looks good to you when you’re produce shopping. I’ve added spinach and chard with great success, and I suspect squash (either summer or winter) would be good too. Or mushrooms. Or broccoli.

The other great thing about this recipe is that it’s really only a suggestion. My recipe here will give you a good, basic pot of rice and beans, but it’s very amenable to experimenting, so go all New Mexico with squash and corn and chipotle and sage! Go french(ish) with carrots, celery, thyme, and wine! Go American and add a whole bottle of ketchup! The sky is the limit, friends!

Beans and Rice That’s Nice

1 large diced onion (whatever colour is fine with me!)
1 or more diced non-hot peppers (any variety, however many you want)
3 or more large-ish diced tomatoes (or one 14 oz. can of diced, though you could use more if you like)
1 – 2 tablespoons chili powder (or add/substitute whatever kind of spice you want to accompany whatever veggies you throw in)
2 cups long-grain brown rice (though don’t freak out if you have short or medium grain – they’ll work!)
6 cups veggie stock (or you can use water if you don’t have stock – just add salt to taste while it’s simmering)
2 cups soaked beans* (I use red kidney beans most of the time, but you can use whatever you like – even chickpeas!)

Saute the onion in a bit of oil in a large pot (I usually use a stock pot for this) over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the peppers and saute for 5 more minutes. Add your tomatoes and your spices, and let it go for 2 – 3 minutes, or until the onions and peppers are cooked and just beginning the caramelize, and the tomato is juicy and cooked down a bit.

Throw in your veggie stock (or water) and your beans. Reduce the heat to medium low, stir the whole thing up, and cover the pot. Leave to simmer (checking periodically to stir and make sure things aren’t sticking or burning) for about 20 minutes. Add the rice, stir the whole deal up, and cover again. Leave this for about 45 minutes (again, stirring and checking periodically), and you’re done!

Let the rice and beans cool a bit before attempting to eat, because you’ll regret it if you don’t. I like to garnish this with some green onion, diced avocado, and diced tomato (and even some cilantro if I have it), doused liberally with Crystal hot sauce, which is like my crack. You can top your beans and rice with whatever you like (you can even wrap it in a tortilla and call it a burrito if you like!), just be sure to bask in the smug satisfaction that comes with eating a cheap, satisfying, healthy meal that you cooked yourself. Good job!



Cheap and Easy
June 20, 2009, 10:17 am
Filed under: Cheapo, Easy | Tags: , , , , ,

I recently had my mom and little brother leave after a pretty epic visit, during which I more or less sucked my bank account dry. If I’m going to make my rent next month, I have to tighten my belt, but I refuse to survive on ramen and veggie dogs. I may only have $5 a day for the next little while, but I’m still going to cook… and bake! First up? Chard soba.

Noodles

My favorite cheap and easy go-to standard is soba noodles with greens. You can use whatever kind of greens you feel like, but on this day, I used rainbow chard. I love chard, but right now, I love it even more because it’s $1 for a big, leafy bunch of the organic stuff at my local farmer’s market. If kale or collards or spinach are cheaper wherever you are right now, use those! You may have to adjust the cooking times slightly, but you’re all big boys and girls and can totally handle it.

To make this dish, you’ll need a package of soba noodles (or enough of a package to feed two people), some sesame oil, tamari (regular soy sauce or even Braggs works too, but it tastes better with tamari), red pepper flakes, white pepper, and (if you feel fancy) some toasted sesame seeds. If you have some ginger on hand and are feeling feisty, you can grate some of that in too, but it’s good without it too.

First, wash off your greens and roughly chop them. Set the greens aside, and grab yourself a big pot of water. Bring it to a boil, and throw in your soba. Soba cook quickly (around 5 minutes, though I know my package says 3 – 5, which I think is a lie), so don’t leave the room or anything. After 2 or 3 minutes of cooking, toss your greens into the pot (unless you’re using spinach, then you only want it in the water for maybe 30 seconds), cover, and let cook for another 2 minutes or until both noodles and greens are tender. Strain everything and put back in the pot.

Now, I tend to not measure things very exactly, especially with dishes like this, so forgive me. Add to the noodles and greens in the pot about 1.5 tablespoons of sesame oil and 2 tablespoons of tamari. Shake on however many red pepper flakes you desire and some sesame seeds and some white pepper to taste. If you have grated ginger, now is the time to add it to the pot as well. Mix everything together well, dish up, and eat!

All told, this dish costs around $3-$5 to make, depending on what you’ve got on hand, and feeds two people (or one starving person).



If I Had A Million Dollars…
May 22, 2009, 11:01 pm
Filed under: Cheapo, Cooking | Tags: , , , ,

… I would eat elaborate organic salads every day. As it is, my bank account is just barely holding on for dear life, so I find myself falling into the starch trap so familiar to my fellow bums. It makes sense; pasta, rice, potatoes, and bread (and the various configurations thereof) are cheap, so when times are tough, we eat lots of whites and browns, and not a lot of greens. Recognizing this habit in my husband and I, this summer I’m doing what I can to make sure the residents of Casa Sunburn (our humble abode) don’t get scurvy, and I’m starting with salad.

So yeah, buying a lot of fresh, organic produce can be expensive, especially when you take the fullness factor into account (veggies and fruits may fill you up for a while, but they don’t have the staying power of pastas and grains, which will keep you full all day if you eat enough). It’s hard to justify spending $20 on veggies and fruits that will feed you and keep you full for a day or two, when you could spend $20 on pasta, dried beans, rice, and canned tomatoes and feed yourself for a week, easy. However, with a bit of digging around and some smart shopping, you too can deliciously avoid scurvy!

1. My first tip is to shop in bulk wherever possible. Yeah, you can’t get kale in bulk (if only!), but if you save money by buying things like olive oil, pasta, rice, beans, and cereal in bulk (I recently discovered I could get a half litre of locally-grown olive oil from my co-op for under $3 – score!), then you have more available cash to spend on veggies and fruits. While you’re at it, do your best to limit your buying of packaged foods, period. Some things (Earth Balance, Vegenaise) are more indispensable than others, but I find that when I buy only bulk items, I spend a lot less, take home a lot more, and end up with healthier stuff.

2. Scope out what’s seasonal and what’s on sale. Things are cheaper when they’re in season, so take advantage of whatever happens to be plentiful where you are. I find I come home with more stuff if I head into the produce section with an open mind rather than a shopping list. This week, I noticed a decent deal on organic golden beets (my favorites!), so I grabbed a huge bunch. Had I only been looking for apples and cucumber (or whatever), I would have missed my favorite root vegetable!

3. Go to the farmer’s market. I wish I could buy more organic stuff, but with my current personal financial situation, I’ve had to prioritize actually eating vegetables and fruits over eating organic. Yeah, it’s not great, but shit happens. This is relevant to the farmer’s market because whereas the organic vendors at my local market tend to sell at prices comparable to the expensive co-op, the non-certified growers sell for dirt cheap. I’ve gotten $1 kale, $1 asparagus, and all kinds of crazy deals from the non-organic vendors at the market, and unlike the non-organic stuff at the local megamarket, at the very least, I know the non-organic stuff at the market is local (or local-ish). Plus, it’s often more-or-less organic but simply not certified. Plus, did I mention it’s cheap?

4. Shop around. I save lots of money by getting different items at the places where they’re cheapest. I go to the farmer’s market first and get whatever’s cheap there. Then I hit the co-op (which can be pricey) and grab what I can get for cheap there. After that, I hit the produce stands (which are dirt cheap and sometimes have cheap organic stuff too), and if I’m still looking for things, I hit the big, evil discount grocery. The strategy is to hit the expensive places first and snatch up the sale items and cheap but higher-quality stuff. Then you hit the less expensive places where you can get whatever you need for less than at the market or co-op. Yeah, it’s a bit of a pain, but I save a whole lot of money by being willing to walk a bit more.

Anyway, my point is that a bit of legwork can save you money (and, incidentally, can make you feel familiar and grounded within your community, which is nice).

The other thing that can be cheap is learning to love the simple things. Simple things like roasted beets.

I snagged a large bunch of golden beets from the co-op the other day, so today, again too lazy and broke to go out and buy more ingredients, I made a super simple roasted beet salad for lunch.

Roasting veggies is super easy and super delicious. For this salad, I peeled two very large beets, halved them, and then cut the halves into thin (1/8 inch) semicircles. I then tossed them with some olive oil, a touch of balsamic vinegar (on the suggestion of the lovely and wise Jess Sconed), and some salt, threw them in a pan, and chucked them in the oven at 400 degrees for around half an hour. Out of the oven, I put them on a bed of salad greens and topped with a simple olive oil/balsamic vinegar/dijon mustard (seriously, that’s it) dressing, and I got this:

Not bad, eh? The whole deal cost me about $3.50, with some greens and one gigantic beet (plus beet greens) left over. Sure, it’s not loaded with micro greens and pine nuts, but it was satisfying, healthy, easy, and cheap. What’s not to like?



Tea Cookies, Literally
May 21, 2009, 11:55 am
Filed under: Baking, Cheapo, Cookies
Cookies and Easter Island Tiki Thing: A Still Life

Cookies and Easter Island Tiki Thing: A Still Life

I started this blog with the intention of posting financial-crisis-compatible recipes, so I thought I’d start off making something using only the stuff I had in my kitchen. I’m a grocery store junkie, so it was hard, but I was pretty pleased with what I came up with. All of the ingredients I’ve used are cheap and readily available (with the possible exception of Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which is a bit hard to find in the US – I imagine you can substitute brown rice syrup, agave, or even 1/4 cup brown or regular sugar with an extra 2 tablespoons of liquid added), so you should be able to make this recipe with very little investment.

Back to the creative process, I’ve found that the best way to come up with ideas to use up stuff you’ve already got is to lay it all out on the counter and look at it. Maybe it’s just me, but my brain comes up with way better ideas when I actually look at my ingredients than if I just think about what I’ve got. So, I laid all my stuff out on my counter and saw this:

Counter

The lemon/ginger/golden syrup combo screamed “Tea!” at me, so after a bit of mental gymnastics, I came up with the idea of a lemon ginger cookie with black tea ground into the flour. While next time I make these I’m going to experiment with giving them a stronger black tea flavour (I think I’ll substitute strong brewed black tea for the soy milk and perhaps add a bit more ground tea leaves to my dry mix), they came out pretty, pretty, pretty good for a prototype. I imagine these are the kinds of cookies Bruce Dickinson would serve me in bed every morning if we were married…

Lemon Ginger Tea Cookies

Cookies II

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon black tea, finely ground (I used a mortar and pestle, and it worked perfectly)
1/4 cup oil
1/3 cup golden syrup (you could probably sub 5 tablespoons agave for this if you don’t keep any Lyle’s on hand)
2 tablespoons soy or rice milk
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
zest of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon grated ginger
juice of one lemon

Actions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease a baking sheet or two.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and ground tea in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

In a seperate bowl, whisk together the oil, syrup, soy milk, lemon juice and zest, vanilla, and grated ginger. Make sure to mix well; golden syrup is thick and will tend to clump up in the bottom of the bowl.

Add the wet ingredients into the dry mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Don’t overmix or you’ll get tough little rocks, but make sure everything is combined.

Portion the cookies by the tablespoon onto the greased cookie sheet. These cookies don’t spread much, so flatten them a bit and form them into nice little circles. Bake for 8 – 12 minutes (I like my cookies softer, so I leave them in around 9 minutes). They’ll be a little soft in the middle still when you take them out, and that’s okay.

These are good on their own, but I was feeling fancy and added a bit of a frosting made just of icing sugar and lemon juice. They would also be great as sandwich cookies. I imagine a cooked lemony frosting would be pretty awesome… Best enjoyed listening to Iron Maiden’s “Killers” album and dreaming about flying your band around the world on your own private plane making metal history.

Cookies III