Friday, January 30, 2009

English Muffin Strata with Ham and Cheese: Breakfast for Dinner

When spaghetti isn’t cutting it and pork chops have been done to death, hungry citizens all across our fine nation turn to a beloved American tradition: breakfast for dinner (or BFD for short). Truly, there are few treats more glorious than eating bacon at 7pm, eggs after work, and hash browns during reruns of “Murphy Brown.” And if you can sneak in a cup of coffee without giving yourself a raging case of insomnia, bonus.

At its core, the most fabulous aspect of BFD isn’t the infinite possibility or the low expense. It’s not even the potential for a much healthier meal than you would have eaten otherwise. Nope – it’s the ability to feel like you’re nine-years-old again. Because BFD makes you feel a little naughty - like you’re doing something you’re not supposed to. Like you’re going against the natural progression of your day. Like you’re flipping time, space, and convention the bird. That may sound like a lot of responsibility to assign a piece of toast, but I assure you, it’s all true.

Which brings me to English Muffin Strata with Ham and Cheese from Cooking Light. It’s a breakfast casserole no doubt, but it’s hearty enough to make your whole evening, especially with a nice salad on the side. Personally, I loved the bits and pieces of Canadian bacon, along with the general eggy, custardy goodness. The Boyfriend loved that there were five more pieces when I was finished taking my share.

If you decide to go forth, there are a few things to know:

1) This is an egg strata subtly flavored with ham and Swiss, not a ham and Swiss strata subtly flavored with egg. Don’t go in expecting a Philly cheesesteak.

2) It's very good, but it's not going to smack you across the face with outrageous flavor. Sprinkle it with kosher salt and freshly grounded pepper before you eat it.

3) Don’t fret about serving size. While an 8x8 pan makes six portions, each is almost three inches high. It’s a decent amount of food.

4) Canadian bacon is a pricey ingredient ($3.99 for ten pieces at my local supermarket). BUT the leftovers can be used to make wonderful things like EGG MCMUFFINS, which will be Monday’s featured recipe. Don’t forget to check back.

5) Nutritional information was provided by Cooking Light, so only the price calculations are posted below.

So, go forth, lovelies. Have a sweet weekend, and if you get the chance, try a BFD. You’ll stick it to The Man, and it might just be the best part of your day.

English Muffin Strata with Ham and Cheese
Makes 6 nice-sized servings
Adapted from Cooking Light.

6 English muffins, split
Cooking spray
3/4 cup chopped Canadian bacon (about 3 ounces)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese
2 1/2 cups unsweetened soy milk
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of ground red pepper
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites

1) Coat an 8x8 baking dish with cooking spray.

2) Slice each English muffin half into 6 equal pieces, like a pie. Place half of them in the baking dish. Layer as follows: all the bacon, half the cheese, remaining muffin pieces, remaining cheese.

3) In a small bowl or large Pyrex measuring cup, combine milk, mustard, salt, pepper, red pepper, eggs, and egg whites. Whisk together until smooth. Pour egg mixture over baking dish contents. Cover and stick in the fridge overnight (or at least 8 hours) to let everything soak in.

4) Preheat oven to 325°F.

5) Remove dish from fridge and uncover it. Bake for 60 minutes, or until "a knife inserted in center comes out clean." Remove from oven. Cool 15 minutes. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price Per Serving
253 calories, 8.3 g fat, 3.4 g fiber, $1.01

Calculations
6 English muffins: $1.13
Cooking spray: $0.03
3/4 cup chopped Canadian bacon (about 3 ounces): $1.99
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese: $0.62
2 1/2 cups unsweetened soy milk: $1.25
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard: $0.27
1/4 teaspoon salt: $0.01
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper: $0.01
Dash of ground red pepper: $0.01
2 large eggs: $0.38
2 large egg whites: $0.38
TOTAL: $6.08
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): $1.01

Cookbook Giveaway Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered the cookbook contest. There were so many great scene suggestions (Under the Tuscan Sun, Chocolat, etc.), and you can expect to see quite a few on this site over the coming weeks. Alas, there could only be one giveaway winner, and Random.org has chosen:

#49: Mindy!
She says: “It was in a hallmark movie I saw the other night where a man is trying to make a good impression on his mother in law who is very orthodox and he is not and he asks for butter with a meat meal.”


Congratulations, Mindy! If you could shoot me an e-mail (Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com) with your home address, I can send the cookbook out early next week. Thank you!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Veggie Might: Abashed Broccoli Soup

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

I am a woman who can admit when she’s wrong (most of the time). Last week, I admonished anyone who would consider making vegetable stock with “a floppy rib of celery” or any other old vegetables. You were quick to tell me that I was being silly and wasteful.

Well, I’m here to eat my words—and a bunch of borderline broccoli.

While I was in Baltimore last week, I left a beautiful, deep green head of broccoli in the vegetable crisper to wilt and yellow. When I discovered it upon my return, it almost killed my nearly week-old post-inaugural buzz. Oh, the waste!

I had a week’s worth of lunches to make, and with all the vegetable stock in my fridge and freezer, I had soup on my mind. The broccoli smelled fine, and I couldn’t bear to throw it out. There were no bad spots; it had just lost its color. I swallowed my fear of salmonella and began chopping.

The stems were tougher than usual, so I peeled off the thick outer layer. Otherwise, the whole yellowed mess of it went into the pot. Once it hit the boiling broth, it magically began to turn green again. And with the shallots and garlic, it smelled so good.

The proof was in the puree, and the puree was delicious. The little bit of soy milk gave it just a touch of creaminess without being heavy. The parsley and thyme added a fresh flavor and, of course, you can’t miss with shallots and garlic. There is nothing showy about broccoli soup. It is just simple, light, and delicious:

So far, I’ve served it over quinoa and solo to great success. (I was happy both times I ate it, and no food poisoning to report.) My roommate is out of town, or I would have made him be my royal taster. He’s got a nose (and stomach) for these things.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for the lesson in humility. Because of you, I took a chance on a peaked bunch of broccoli that would have otherwise gone in the garbage. I am richer for your comments. Plus, you saved me a $1.50; and in These Trying Economic Times, every little bit counts.

Puree of Broccoli Soup
Yields approximate 4 1-cup servings

1 1/2 tsp olive oil
5 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk
l large head broccoli, chopped florets and stems (peeled)
3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
2 shallots (4 cloves), diced
6 sprigs fresh thyme
15 sprigs fresh parsley
1 tsp salt
40 grinds black pepper

1) In a large sauce pan, sauté shallots and garlic in oil for 2–3 minutes.

2) Add the broth and bring to a boil.

3) Add chopped broccoli, thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil once again. Reduce heat and simmer over medium heat for 20–30 minutes or until broccoli is tender.

4) Stir in soy milk and parsley.

5) Remove from heat and allow to cool.

6) Puree the soup until smooth with an immersion blender or traditional blender/food processor.

7) Serve hot with crusty bread or over quinoa/rice/grain of your choice.

8) Seriously, so good over quinoa. Or just by itself. Mmm...

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
124.2 calories, 2.9g fat, $.98

Calculations
1 1/2 tsp olive oil: 60 calories, 7g fat, $0.04
5 1/2 cups vegetable stock: 110 calories, .5g fat, $1.04
1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk: 35 calories, 2g fat, $.20
1 large head broccoli: 207 calories, 2g fat, $1.50
3 cloves garlic: 12.6 calories, 0g fat, $.036
2 shallots: 60 calories, 0g fat, $.40
6 sprigs fresh thyme: 5 calories, 0g fat, $.09
15 sprigs fresh parsley: 7 calories, 0g fat, $.26
1 tsp salt: negligible calories and fat, $.02
40 grinds black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $.02
Total: 496.6 calories, 11.5g fat, $3.93
Per serving: 124.2 calories, 2.9g fat, $.98

CHG Favorites of the Week

Food Blog of the Week
Simple Mom
Another entry for the “How have I not seen this yet?” file. Expatriate mom Tsh takes cues from both Real Simple and Zen Habits to create the ultimate easygoing parenting guide. The blog design is outstanding, the recipes are fun, and the organizational tips are through the roof. Suggested.

Food Comedy of the Week
Epicurious: Salted Water for Boiling
Come for the recipe (“When salting water for cooking, use 1 tablespoon of salt for every 4 quarts of water.”), but stay for 808 hilarious reviews (“Yeah, like everyone has all that stuff in their pantry,” and “My husband hated it and refuses to eat it. He says it's too salty and watery. Thanks for nothing, Epicurious.”) (Thanks to Serious Eats for the link.)

Food Quote of the Week
“Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.” - Alice May Brock

Food Video of the Week
“Les Poissons” from The Little Mermaid
This suggestion came from Liza’s entry in the CHG Cookbook Giveaway (still happening!). Hurry and watch before Disney sues our pants off!



Totally Unrelated Extra-Special Bonus of the Week
War City
Someone took old war photos of (what I think is) Russia, and photoshopped them over pictures of the same city today. Talk about rebuilding. Brief and incredibly interesting.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

FAQ

1. What is Cheap Healthy Good?
Cheap Healthy Good is a blog dedicated to the advancement of frugal, nutritious, ethically-minded food in everyday life. All of our recipes, links, and articles go back to that main subject matter. Occasionally, we throw in some pop culture references for fun. (Like these 40 inspirational speeches in two minutes.) Our work has been featured in/on Lifehacker, BoingBoing, CNN.com, Time.com, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the CBS Early Show, among other exciting media outlets.

2. Who writes for the site?
Currently, three or four lovely people:

Kristen Swensson Sturt is the proprietor of Cheap Healthy Good, posting almost daily Monday through Friday. A Brooklyn-based writer with an MA in Media Studies, she currently works as Associate Editor at Grandparents.com. She'd like to become a better cook, eradicate mayonnaise from the face of the earth, and maybe meet Bono. Sometimes, when no one is looking, she talks to eggplant. E-mail her at cheaphealthygood@gmail.com.

Leigh Angel writes Veggie Might, a regular Thursday feature about all things Vegetarian. Like James Beard, Leigh is a former opera singer/musical theater performer. Unlike James Beard, she is not a 300+ pound culinary genius, but she tries. Leigh is a writer and editor who has met Bono, likes to ride bikes, and enjoys a good craft night. Give her a shout at leigh.angel@gmail.com.

Jaime Green's feature, Green Kitchen, shows up every other Tuesday and focuses on dishes that are as friendly to the environment as they are to your wallet and mouth. Jaime lives in the far reaches of Northern Manhattan with a cat named Meg and not enough light for an herb garden. She loves vegetables, science, Liz Lemon, and checking her email, which is jaime.green@yahoo.com.

Rachel writes the occasional recipe column and fills in for Kris and Leigh when they're away. She's an actor, writer, and aspiring cook. Given the opportunity, she will charmingly talk your face off about food.

3. What does CHG stand for?
Cheap Healthy Good. Also, California Historical Group (unaffiliated).

4. Why do you call it that?
Insouciance.

5. What kind of recipes do you post?
Our recipes cover a wide swath of cuisines and preparation methods, but they’re mostly simple, delicious dishes made of whole foods. And love. But mostly whole foods.

6. Do you write your own recipes?
Occasionally. The majority of the food comes from other sources, which we always credit, often profusely. We hate plagiarism almost more than we hate anise.

7. What makes a recipe cheap and healthy?
Nutrition-wise, we concentrate mainly on recipes with lower calories and fat, and often find those dishes naturally contain more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than most others. (We do a LOT of fruits and vegetables around here.) The cost aspect is somewhat subjective, but with few exceptions, most dishes fall between $1 and $8.

8. Why do you concentrate on supermarket shopping? Aren’t farmers markets, CSAs, and gardens the way to go these days?
Alas, CHG reflects our cooking and shopping experiences, which are limited by location and budget. However, we make it a point to emphasize fresh, whole foods, and avoid most packaged and convenience products. Our current goal is to move toward more environmentally sustainable, ethically mindful foods. In the meantime, we’re making do with what we have.

9. But you’re not above using Stove Top, canned beans, and store-bought broth. What’s that all about?
We do what works for us, and occasionally, our schedules necessitate shortcuts. Also, try as she might, Kris is perpetually unable to rehydrate dried chickpeas. It’s becoming a self-esteem issue.

10. How do you determine the cost of a recipe?
We price food according to what we paid at the time we prepared it, and only calculate for the amount USED, as opposed to the amount BOUGHT. In other words, if we purchase a five-pound bag of flour, and only use a cup for a muffin recipe, the numbers reflect the price of the cup. It’s assumed we’ll use the rest of the flour for other dishes. Make sense?

11. How do you determine the calorie and fat content of a recipe?
If we’re calculating ourselves, we use Calorie King, Nutrition Data, and Fresh Direct as sources of nutrition information. If a major publication lists the numbers, as Cooking Light often does, we take it directly from them.

12. What’s your readership like?
Right now, we’re pulling about 15000 readers per day. They tend to be men and women of all ages, hailing from all demographics, and most have an abiding love of cornbread and George Clooney.

13. Your pictures suck. You should invest in a lighting kit or a decent camera.
Oh yeah? Well, you should invest in your FACE. (Zing!)

14. That’s not nice.
Sorry. We’re working on our photography, for real. Someday, we hope to rise to the level of Use Real Butter or The Pioneer Woman Cooks, but we’d be just fine with All Recipes, too.

15. Can I offer some recipe, article, or layout suggestions?
OH, PLEASE YES. Our e-mail is cheaphealthygood@gmail.com.

16. What is that beautiful house? Where does that highway go to? Am I right, or am I wrong? My god, what have I done?
You’re on the wrong site, David Byrne. You probably want to go here.

Julia Child Cookbook Giveaway!

Hey everybody! Wednesday’s article will be posted in a bit, but in the meantime, I have a hardcover copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking to give away to a lucky reader. (Butter not included.)

To be eligible for this fabulously Gallic gift:
  1. Leave a 15-50 word comment about your favorite food-based movie scene. (Please don’t use the pie-eating contest from Stand By Me.)
  2. Sign your first name for I.D. purposes.
  3. Check back early Friday afternoon for the victor.
  4. Dance!
Using Random.org, the winner will be chosen on FRIDAY AT NOON, so please get your entries in before then.

One submission per customer, please.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday Megalinks

Great googly moogly, it’s just a faboo lineup this week, with a huge number of posts from an enormous variety of blogs. Of special quality: Tony Bourdain’s DCist interview, an advice powerhouse from Zen Habits, Simple Mom’s menu-planning ideas, and a GREAT piece on corn syrup from David Lebovitz. Enjoy!

Carrie and Danielle: Tips and Tricks to Eat Healthy on a Budget
Quick rundown of well-known tips – a good read if you need ‘em all in one place.

Consumerist: Snapple's Acai Drink Just Pear Juice And Corn Syrup
WHAT? Wendy the Snapple Lady, how could you steer us so wrong?

David Lebovitz: Why and When to Use (or Not Use) Corn Syrup
Post of the week, folks. Fantastic FAQ explains the difference between regular corn syrup and the high fructose version, AND gets into how, when, and why you should put Karo in your baked goods. (Thanks to Culinate for the link.)

DCist: Chewing the Fat with Anthony Bourdain
In which my beloved Tony goes to town on Alice Waters, then waxes philosophical on eating in America: “Alice Waters annoys the living s**t out of me. We're all in the middle of a recession, like we're all going to start buying expensive organic food and running to the green market. There's something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters that has become unrealistic. I mean I'm not crazy about our obsession with corn or ethanol and all that, but I'm a little uncomfortable with legislating good eating habits. I'm suspicious of orthodoxy, the kind of orthodoxy when it comes to what you put in your mouth. I'm a little reluctant to admit that maybe Americans are too stupid to figure out that the food we're eating is killing us. But I don't know if it's time to send out special squads to close all the McDonald's. My libertarian side is at odds with my revulsion at what we as a country have done to ourselves physically with what we've chosen to eat and our fast food culture. I'm really divided on that issue.”

Epicurious: Top 10 Money-Saving Ingredients
I was pretty surprised at this, because 50% of the list is comprised of foods I eat most: cheese, chicken, legumes, potatoes, pasta, apples, etc. Beef’s inclusion is suspect, but it passes for now. (Thanks to Slashfood for the link.)

Gather Little By Little: Festival of Frugality #162
This week’s festival includes CHG’s The Argument for Spending More on Food, plus 60+ other quality entries.

Get Fit Slowly: Ideas for Losing Those Last Pounds
Have you plateaued? Are those final ten impossible to take off? Will you ram your head into a wall if you go another week without a discernible loss? MacDaddy has the answers.

Globe and Mail: How Mark Bittman saved the world and lost his belly
The How to Cook Everything author credits his weight loss to heightened awareness, less meat, and part-time veganism. Good times. (Thanks to Slashfood for the link.)

Happy to be @ Home: Raising Good Eaters
Amy raises her kids like my mom did: she doesn’t cajole, insists they try a bite of everything, and establishes early and often that she’s not a short order cook. Hardcore!

House Beautiful: An Inside Look at Barefoot Contessa’s New Barn
I realize this post is akin to torture during these economic times, but the beautiful slideshow will make you gawk in awe. I WANT THAT HOUSE. Ina fans: please note the prominent stand mixer nook. That’s my girl. (Thanks to The Kitchn for the link.)

Jezebel: Why We Shouldn’t Be Afraid of the Word “Fat”
Writer Kate Harding is fat. But people don’t call her fat, because she argues it carries such loaded meanings, “includ(ing) ugly, unhealthy, smelly, lazy, ignorant, undisciplined, unlovable, and just plain icky.” She goes on to explain, “I want to be called fat because it's the simple truth … I am a kindhearted, intelligent, attractive, person, and I am fat. There is no paradox there.” Interesting discussion.

The Kitchn: Organize Your Fridge With Sixpacks
K.I.S.S. (the acronym, not the glam rock band) in action.

Men’s Health: The 20 Worst Foods in America 2009
I’m in sugar shock, so I’m just going to list the nutritional facts for the worst food and then go vomit:
Baskin Robbins Large Chocolate Oreo Shake
2,600 calories
135 g fat (59 g saturated fat, 2.5 g trans fats)
263 g sugars
1,700 mg sodium


My Open Wallet: Details on the Food Budget
If you ever wondered how a single woman in New York could spend $8000 on food in a year, this is a good explanation. I totally empathize.

New York Times: Flush Those Toxins! Eh, Not So Fast
Doctors generally agree that detoxes and colonics are a load of hooey. Here, the Gray Lady explains why.

The Non-Consumer Advocate: Food Waste
I really like the post (about preventing too much dinner from being chucked in the garbage), but I liked the blog banner even more. It merits a rating of four out of four adorable kitties. (Thanks to Slashfood for the link.)

Serious Eats: Store-Bought Chicken Stocks, Reviewed: Which Are the Best?
The winners: Swanson’s Chicken Cooking Stock, Kitchen Basics, and Glace de Poulet Gold.
The losers: chickens everywhere.

Serious Eats NY: Fast Food Oatmeal Taste Test – The Good, the Bland, and the Goopy
The winners: Jamba Juice and Au Bon Pain
The losers: bizarrely, still chickens everywhere.

The Simple Dollar: Treasures in the Cupboard – Eight Tactics We Use to Maximize the Value of Our Pantry
The definitive post on why stocking a pantry is important, plus extra tips on how to get the most out of yours. Related story: my office manager sent out an e-mail last year asking everyone to clean out the panty. He meant pantry, of course, but the image was fun.

Simple Mom: How to Menu Plan AND Money Saving Mom: How I Save Money by Planning a Menu
If you didn’t know the hows and whys of menu planning, you do now. Simple Mom has a particularly organized approach. She uses charts! CHARTS, people!

Wise Bread: 6 Ways That Dieting and Budgeting are Exactly the Same
#7: They both end in the letters “ing.” (Hey-yo! I'm here all week, folks.)

Zen Habits: The Zen of Real Food – Keeping Eating Simple
Read it. Live it. Love it:
“It’s as simple as ‘Eat Real Food.’ So what do I mean by Real Food? Simple…
Food grows and dies. It isn’t created.
Food rots, wilts, and becomes generally unappetizing, typically rather quickly.
Food doesn’t need an ingredient label (and probably isn’t in a package either).
Food doesn’t have celebrity endorsements.
Food doesn’t make health claims."

(Photos courtesy of USA Today, The New York Times, and I Can Has Cheezburger.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Autumn Apple Salad, My Middle Eastern Grocer, and Me

Beyond decent coffee and lots of easily obtainable heroin, the nicest things about my area of Brooklyn are the Middle Eastern grocery stores around the corner. There’s a small row of them, two of which have bulk grains, nuts, and dried fruits stretching from here to eternity. Their foods are about a billion times cheaper than my supermarket, and one of the places is even pretty clean, which is an unexpected bonus.

I bring this up is because this past weekend, I found the brain-meltingly tasty Autumn Apple Salad II on AllRecipes. It’s a simple, easy-to-make, totally delicious Waldorf-esque concoction flavored by yogurt, tart apples, toasted almonds, cranberries, and cherries instead of heavy cream and/or mayonnaise (my most hated food-like item). And since most of that stuff costs a bundle around here, the whole scrumptious shebang would have gone unmade had it not been for my aforementioned Middle Eastern grocer.

(And that, my friends, would have been tragedy. Because this salad, if I haven’t mentioned, is good.)

I popped in on Saturday, and among the trays of baklava and tins of Turkish Delight were jars and jars of every wrinkled delicacy in existence: figs, raisins, pineapples, ginger, prunes, apricots, and of course, cranberries and cherries. The almonds were located just a few urns down, hidden in a menagerie of pistachios, walnuts, pecans, and every other nut you could imagine. I could have stayed for hours, just browsing (and occasionally picking), but instead, paid my $1.77 and left.

Fortunately, within ten minutes of arriving home, I had Autumn Apple Salad II to comfort me. (Not to belabor the point, but: good.) The Boyfriend loved it, too, and I’ll be making it muchly next Fall, when Granny Smiths are actually in season.

Anyway, enjoy. And get grocer-in’.

Autumn Apple Salad
Makes about 4.5 cups of salad, or 6 servings of ¾ cups each
Adapted from All Recipes.

4 tart green apples
1/4 cup toasted blanched slivered almonds
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped dried cherries
1 (8 ounce) container light vanilla yogurt

1) In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Stir until thoroughly mixed and apples are coated.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
150 calories, 3.3 g fat, 4.5 g fiber, $0.89

Calculations
4 tart green apples: 320 calories, 0 g fat, 20 g fiber, $2.97
1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds: 167 calories, 15.9 g fat, 3.3 g fiber, $0.73
1/4 cup dried cranberries: 103 calories, 0.4 g fat, 2.2 g fiber, $0.48
1/4 cup chopped dried cherries: 100 calories, 1 g fat, 2 g fiber, $0.56
1 (8 ounce) container vanilla yogurt: 210 calories, 2.5 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.57
TOTAL: 900 calories, 19.8 g fat, 27.2 g fiber, $5.31
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 150 calories, 3.3 g fat, 4.5 g fiber, $0.89

Friday, January 23, 2009

Molasses Whipped Sweet Potatoes: Obama for Your Mama

We’ve largely shied away from expressing our views on the government here, because it doesn't seem like the appropriate forum. Sure, food is inherently political (and social and economical and mystical and lots of other things ending in “al”), but I’m of the mind that recipes for light cornbread should be uniters, not dividers.

Still, it was hard not to get totally, over-the-moon excited about the inauguration on Tuesday. Whether you dig Obama or not, there was a little something for everyone: cultural milestones, meaningful speeches, Michelle’s dress(es), Sasha and Malia’s general adorability, Reverend Lowery’s racial rhymes, Dick Cheney’s impression of Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life, etc.

Being of sound mind and perpetually hungry body, I was particularly interested in the offerings at the Inauguration Luncheon. And folks, get a load of this:

First Course: Seafood Stew
Second Course: A Brace of American Birds (pheasant and duck) served with Sour Cherry Chutney and Molasses Sweet Potatoes
Third Course: Apple Cinnamon Sponge Cake with Sweet Cream Glacé

It’s so scrumptious-looking and so … so AMERICAN. (*waves flag*) Yet, while everything seemed eminently delicious, the sweet potatoes stuck out the most. This is because A) comparatively, they appeared fairly lean, B) there’s just no good wild pheasant wandering around Brooklyn these days, and C) if given a choice between sweet potatoes and my spinal cord, I’d go with the former.

So, last night I got out my pan, my masher, and went to work. And, uh, actually? There wasn’t much work to do. It’s a pretty simple recipe, requiring a pan, a bowl, a masher, and a tongue. The tongue is used for the last step, which is, “HOLY MOLY, EAT THIS UNTIL YOU PASS OUT.”

Those inauguration folks knew what they were doing. These are (*sighs contentedly*) some dang good starches. Smooth, warm, and just sweet enough, they’d make excellent accompaniments to leafy greens and/or lean meats (or pheasant, apparently). The orange juice may sound strange at first, but shouldn’t be skipped under any circumstances. It balances the sugar and brightens the whole dish.

A few notes if you try it yourself:

1) Instead of buying a full half-gallon of Tropicana (we don’t drink OJ), I squeezed half a softball-sized orange for ¼ cup of its juice. It saved about $2, and I used the other half for breakfast this morning.

2) The potatoes will be super-hot when you peel them, but a pair of rubber gloves OR plastic bags around your hands should solve the burn issue.

3) Though the recipe asks for three pounds of potatoes, my calculations are for slightly less, since you lose about four or five ounces in the peeling process.

In conclusion, the inauguration was aces, the President is cute (!), and try the sweet potatoes. It’s what any good patriot would do.

Molasses Whipped Sweet Potatoes
Makes 4-1/2 cups or 6 servings of ¾ cups each
From The Inaugural Luncheon 2009

3 or 4 large sweet potatoes (about 3 pounds), pierced a few times with a fork
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄4 cup orange juice
1⁄2 tablespoon of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of molasses
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
2 tablespoons maple syrup

1) Preheat oven to 400°F. Prep a baking sheet. Put sweet potatoes on it.

2) Roast sweet potatoes about 1 hour, or until you can stab them through without resistance. Remove from oven, and using rubber gloves or plastic bags on your hands, peel the skin from the flesh. (They should still be hot while you're doing this.) (Be careful.)

3) In a large bowl, using a potato masher or a hand mixer, mash the sweet potatoes. There should be no big chunks when you're done. Add all the rest of the ingredients. Mix thoroughly until lumpless. Salt and pepper to taste.

4) HOLY MOLY, EAT THIS UNTIL YOU PASS OUT.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
227 calories, 4 g fat, $0.73

Calculations
4 large sweet potatoes, skinned (about 44 oz): 950 calories, 1.2 g fat, $2.94
2 tablespoons unsalted butter: 201 calories, 22.6 g fat, $0.16
1 teaspoon kosher salt: 0 calories, 0 g fat, $0.01
1⁄4 cup orange juice: 31 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.50
1⁄2 tablespoon of brown sugar: 17 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.02
1 tablespoon of molasses: 58 calories, 0 g fat, $0.14
1 teaspoon of ground cumin: 0 calories, 0 g fat, $0.02
2 tablespoons maple syrup: 104 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.67
TOTAL: 1361 calories, 24.1 g fat, $4.46
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 227 calories, 4 g fat, $0.73

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Argument for Spending More on Food

In his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, food anthropologist Michael Pollan claims modern Americans spend nearly 5% of our income on what we eat. While this might seem like a lot, consider this: we used to cough up 10%.

For people like me, that 5% difference initially seems like a good thing. It’s helped me pay off school loans, squirrel funds away for a house, and stop living paycheck to paycheck. I can bank hundreds of dollars a month because I buy generic eggs at $1.99 per dozen, rather than the cage-free, brown-ish ones for $3.50.

But what about the long run? Will that same cheap food hurt my health? Does “cage-free” merit an extra $1.51? Will the money I save on inexpensive eggs eventually go toward doctors and drugs needed to ward off the effects of those eggs?

These are complicated questions, and with the economy beating Americans to a bloody pulp, paying more for quality groceries may seem ludicrous, not to mention antithetical to CHG’s entire mission. Of course, expense doesn’t necessarily connote excellence, either. It’s never a given that pricier food automatically means tastier, more nutritious, or more humanely raised food. Still, assuming that cost often coincides with quality, there are advantages to spending more on groceries that can’t be denied.

Consider the following points, then. Admittedly, they include sweeping generalizations, and holes can be poked ad nauseum, but I think the overall arguments are worth examining. Please, feel free to comment.

In many cases, more expensive food is healthier food.

When it comes to dairy, meat, and in-season produce – a.k.a. food found around the perimeter of the supermarket - the pricier options are often those made organically, locally, antibiotic-free, or with other higher standards in mind. Sure, these definitions are open to LOTS of interpretation, but it’s largely accepted the fancier food is healthier than the 8-for-$1 oranges shipped in from Paraguay. Often, their development isn’t rushed for profit’s sake, and there are fewer chemicals to be found both in and out.

Of course, the same holds true for packaged goods. Next time you hit Pathmark (or Food Lion or Kroger’s), take a look at some labels. Generally (very generally) speaking, more expensive items will have fresher ingredients with fewer additives, while cheaper items have more processed ingredients, including 17,000 different kinds of sugar (fructose, corn syrup, etc.). Why? Well, on the whole, chemicals are easier to create and preserve than real food, meaning production and packaging are less expensive. Need proof? Check cheese, frozen entrees, or yogurt. For example:
  • Currently, a 6-oz. container of Ronnybrook Strawberry Yogurt is going for about $0.27/oz on Fresh Direct. Its ingredients are as follows: pasteurized, unhomogenized whole milk, strawberries, sugar, nonfat dry milk, pectin, natural flavors, citric acid, and imported live cultures.
  • At the same time, Dannon La Crème Strawberry Yogurts are about $0.17/oz, but they contain the following: cultured grade A milk and cream, sugar, fructose syrup, strawberry puree, fructose, corn starch, kosher gelatin, natural flavor, malic acid, carmine and annatto extract, active yogurt cultures.
It almost makes sense that YoPlait, Dannon, and Breyers construct their products out of highly processed yogurt-like compounds rather than, say, yogurt. It makes it more affordable and thus, more marketable. However, it may not be better for our bodies.

Higher-priced food is often better-tasting.

This relates again to the amount of actual food in our food. A $4 loaf of cinnamon raisin bread from the farmers market may go bad in four days, but it’s DELICIOUS and lacks the distinct chemical overtones of store-bought bread, as well as the mile-long list of preservatives. While this difference is apparent all around the supermarket, it holds especially true for fresh foods, like produce, dairy, and of course, meat.

Speaking of meat: we’ve all sampled the poultry-esque flavor of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets at some point or other. For the price, you get a lot of filling, vaguely edible niblets. But have you ever had pork from a butcher? Or an honest-to-god, line-caught piece of fish? Or chicken that didn’t come from Tyson? I have. The difference in flavor is world-changing, especially when a dish is prepared well.

Look, we do what we can with what we have. And sometimes, the results are pretty damn good. But there’s no denying that cheap, chemical-laden food products often taste like … well, nothing. For the sake of flavor, blowing a few more bucks to procure a decent chicken might be worth the money.

Some costlier foods guarantee better treatment of animals and more respect for nature.

Often, heftier price tags come with promises of better living conditions for cattle, chickens, and pigs. But why should you cough up extra dough for something that’s going to be killed anyway?

Simply, it’s probably healthier and definitely more humane. You don’t have to be a hemp-crazy hacky sacker to acknowledge that factory farms like CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) are less than ideal housing situations for soon-to-be butchered animals. Filthy and crowded, they promote disease and take short-cuts to produce in-demand meat on a faster basis. (While we’re on the subject, growing the same crops on the same land year after year can’t be particularly great for the ecosystem, either.)

Spending a few more pennies for farm-raised animals or local produce can help by promoting sustainable agriculture, along with open spaces for grazing. Beware, though, because you often have to look beyond the labels. Many “free-range” chickens don’t live on idyllic grasslands, but instead, in overcrowded coops with limited access to a tiny patch of barren, rarely-used soil. Still, research and careful label-reading can ensure your food originates from carefully-tended, pro-environment farmlands. And that? Deserves a few bucks.

Good food can make it feel like you’re spoiling yourself without blowing the bank.

A blogger named Scordo put this best in a January 9th post about his parents: “Eating well provides my parents with their own luxury lifestyle at a fraction of the price of most luxury goods.”

This particular point may apply more to foodies, but I think it’s valid enough to include. If you value and love food as much as I do, a $10 block of artisanal cheese is way, way better than a cashmere sweater or Coach bag. It costs $100 less, too.

~~~

There are more points to make here, but I think health, taste, environmental impact, and luxury are the most important four. And while CHG will continue to push less-expensive, well-cooked food, the arguments are solid food for thought.

Readers, what do you think? The floor is open.

(Photos courtesy of National Post and Shred Something.)

CHG Favorites of the Week

Hey folks – yesterday’s regularly scheduled article is coming a bit later today. In the meantime, please enjoy this week’s favorites. (Also, the In-Season Produce for January has finally been updated. Oops.)

Food Blog/Website of the Week
Health-E-Savers
For those who think coupons are only for fluorescent-hued Go-gurt, Health-E-Savers comes as a welcome exception to the rule. A lot of it seems to be supplements and vitamins, but digging a little deeper seems to score quite a few organics and such. (Thanks to Money Saving Mom for the link.)

Food Comedy of the Week
"New Martha Stewart Recipe a Message to Her Enemies" by Onion Radio
(Warning: adult language) Heh: “Many believe that Stewart’s elegant recipe for Spiced Apple Crepes led to the untimely death of rap singer Tupac Shakur.” (Thanks to Serious Eats for the link.)



Food Quote of the Week
“Abstain from beans.” – Plutarch

Food Quote of the Week #2
“Ask your child what he wants for dinner only if he's buying.” - Fran Lebowitz

Food Video of the Week
“Mexican Wine” by Fountains of Wayne
Note: that’s not Fountains of Wayne in the start of the video. Those are teen twins. FoW are the aging white guys playing the perfect pop songs later on.



Totally Unrelated Extra Special Bonus of the Week
“Aretha’s Hat is Everywhere” from Buzzfeed
Dozens of famous folks festooned with the Queen of Soul's monster inauguration bow. Cheney (below) is best, but the Terminator and Vladimir Putin must be seen, too. (Thanks to Hops for the link.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Veggie Might: Homemade Vegetable Stock and a Fresh Start

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a regular Thursday feature about all things Vegetarian. This week, it's coming a day early in celebration of the new administration. Today's regularly scheduled article will appear tomorrow.

(Editor’s note: At this article’s filing, I’m in Baltimore/DC and may just be a little swept up in Change.)

It occurred to me that I’ve used homemade vegetable stock in my last few CHG recipes. It’s not the sexiest recipe I can share with you, but it’s one of the most practical, useful, and economical things you’ll ever make, use, and love.

In the spirit of These Trying Economic Times and The New Days Ahead, we can make change possible by casting aside the bullion and canned broth of the past. We can cast off the shackles of sodium and MSG that have been raising our blood pressure. We can create from whole vegetables and herbs a brew that tastes and smells of home and garden, not of the agri-industrial complex. And we can make this for less than 20 cents a serving.

There are as many takes on vegetable stock as there are cooks in the firmament; there is no right or wrong way to make it. Whatever veggies you like are the veggies you should use. Most western cooks agree that a few carrots, a potato, an onion, a couple ribs of celery, and a generous bunch of parsley are essential. After that, it’s up to you and your taste buds.

I like to use parsnips and turnips in my stock, as well as garlic and leeks. Generally, I’ll add thyme (fresh if I have it, dried if I don’t) and a couple bay leaves too. I prefer sea salt, though many cooks recommend soy sauce, and whole black peppercorns to round out the seasoning.

The first time I made stock, I followed the directions in Moosewood New Classics, which differs not much at all from any of the countless recipes you would find on the Internet. The only major difference is what not to include. The Moosewood editors suggest you avoid tomatoes, broccoli, or any acidic vegetables in your stock. Everyone linked above disagrees, so throw in whatever you want to your heart’s and vegetable crisper’s desire.

There is a misconception out there that I feel I should address. I held this belief, too, until a bad batch set me straight: stock should be made with veggies you wouldn’t eat otherwise. Wrong! If you make your stock with questionable veggies, you will have questionable stock. You don’t have to perfectly dice your potatoes and carrots, but you definitely want to avoid that floppy rib of celery and slimy parsley that’s ready for the compost pile.

The debate about the difference between stock and broth rages, but they are mainly the same. Call it what you like, but ultimately you want your base to be versatile. If it’s over seasoned, or particularly seasoned, its uses are limited.

Your homemade stock/broth will be so much healthier than any canned version you can buy, plus you can rescue some of the veggies to get even more bang for your pennies. I use the carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and turnips to make soup or a mashed root veg side dish.

I couldn’t use my normal methods for evaluating the calorie/fat content of the homemade stock, since the veggies are not eaten, only stewed. I checked out a few sites, found the nutritional content of the recipes, and took the mean: 23 calories per cup, 0.1g fat.

You may want to add olive oil to your stock. Sometimes I do; sometimes I forget. This batch, because I used a few more ingredients than last time, came out to about 19 cents per serving. (I also made two gallons, but I adjusted the recipe for 2 quarts. Not everyone uses stock at the rate I do.)

So, with a sense of Purpose and the Mantle of Inspiration, take these tips and make stock. Fortify yourselves and your families to face the challenges that lie ahead. Healthy bodies and healthy minds working together will make change happen and always Love You Back.

Homemade Vegetable Stock
Makes 2 quarts (8 1-cup servings)

8 1/2 cups water
2 large carrots
2 ribs celery with leaves
1 parsnip
1 medium turnip
1 medium potato
1 medium onion
1 leek
3-4 cloves garlic
1 small bunch parsley (about 1 oz by weight)
1 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp sea salt

1) Scrub all veggies. I only peel the turnips, but do what feels good to you.

2) Slice the carrots and parsnips into discs, quarter potato and turnip, coarsely dice celery, onion, and leek, and chop parsley, stems and all.

3) Put 8 cups of cold water in a stock pot or large dutch oven. Add all vegetables and seasonings.

4) Over high heat, bring just to a simmering boil, reduce heat, and continue to simmer for at least 1 hour, 2 if you have the time.

5) After 2 hours, turn off heat, cover and allow stock to continue to brew as it cools.

6) You can use immediately, refrigerate for up to a week, or freeze for 2 to 3 months.

7) Make soup, etc. to your heart’s content.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
15 calories, .1g fat, $.185

Calculations
2 large carrots: $.36
2 ribs celery with leaves: $.11
1 parsnip: $.18
1 medium turnip: $.10
1 medium potato: $.19
1 medium onion: $.12
1 leek: $.12
3¬–4 cloves garlic: $.03
1 small bunch parsley (about 1 oz by weight): $.19
1 tsp dried thyme : $.02
1 bay leaf: $.02
1 tsp black peppercorns: $.02
2 tsp sea salt: $.02
Total Price: $1.48
Price per Serving: $.185

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tuesday Megalinks: The Barack Cookies/I Want Jill Biden's Boots Edition

Three things to love today:
  1. New President! I loved the message of his inaugural speech: “Yeah, we’re a pretty cool country, but we gotta work at it, folks.”
  2. My absolute favorite food blog, Words to Eat By, is back to regular entries after two years on the d.l. If you’ve never been, go now. Debbie’s chocolate chip cookies changed my life.
  3. This week’s links are totally sweet. Tons of good stuff from Jezebel and the Kitchn, plus indie blogs a-plenty.
P.S. Google just acquired Feedburner, and not all of my feeds have been transferred yet. Let me know if you’re having difficulties.

Chow: 10 Tips for a Healthy Diet
I liked “Create a Salad Bar in Your Fridge,” “Investigate Funky Grains,” and “Eat Breakfast in Bed” very much. The other suggestions aren’t half bad, either. (“If It Has a Label, Don’t Eat It”? Ooo … provocative.)

Get Fit Slowly: Food Propaganda is Everywhere
When I first read this headline, I pictured Joseph Stalin standing angrily over canned tomatoes. But he has nothing to do with it. Girl Scout Cookies, on the other hand…

Get Fit Slowly: Portion Control – One Battle at a Time
MacDaddy struggles with one of my main downfalls: chowing down on too much of a good thing. He says, “I’m not good at eating just one serving of cookies, or chips, or ice cream. Nor am I good at eating one serving of chicken, or spinach, or blueberries.” He says more, too, but you’ll have to read.

Gourmet: Alice Waters’ Letter to Barack Obama
Chez Panisse’s main maestro offers her assistance as part of Obama’s “Kitchen Cabinet.” Ballsy and smart ideas from Slow Food's biggest American champion.

Jezebel: Is it Ever Okay to Tell Partners They Need to Lose Weight?
Question of the Century, folks, followed by an extensive comment thread arguing every possible scenario. Personally speaking, I would have been devastated. I knew I was bigger than I should have been, and didn’t need reminding. But I would have acquiesced his point, too. It was affecting the way I felt about myself, and in turn, it affected how I related to him. Tricky subject.

Jezebel: Are Women to Blame for the Loss of “Kitchen Economics”?
Man, another loaded question. Overall, I agree with the author’s main point: as a nation, our culinary skills have taken a dive since everybody started working five days a week. However, I’m not crazy about the way he pins it entirely on female full-timers. Guys can pick up a pan, too, you know.

Jezebel: Study Finds Women Have Harder Times Combating Food Cravings
Crap! I knew something was up.

The Kitchn: Easy and Portable Breakfast Recipes
Ten suggestions with plenty of follow-up ideas in the thread. And – homemade English Muffins? To put it simply, WANT.

The Kitchn: How Can I Make Healthier Instant Ramen?
The very first commenter seems to know of what she/he speaks: “If you don't want to actually go to the trouble of making your own: boil the ramen for about 2 minutes, instead of the recommended 3, then drain the water, and rinse, this gets rid of a lot of the oil used to preserve the noodles. Measure out ONE cup of water, instead of two, and only use half the package of seasoning. Add veggies, and bring to a boil. While stirring briskly, add an egg white (you're making egg drop soup, here), then add the noodles back in and boil until done.” Bravo!

The Kitchn: Meat Substitutes – Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em?
Vegetarians? This one’s for you. MorningStar seems to be a universal favorite among commenters, but having had their Chix Patties, this was to be expected.

Lazy Man and Money: How to Stock a Bar
This is much better than my bar (two liters of Curucao, half a pint of Irish Crème, and rum from the beginning of time).

Money Saving Mom: Making Your Own Baby Food
I would like to try this. Just need a baby. Anyone want to lend?

MoneyNing: Festival of Frugality #161
CHG’s “65 Cheap, Healthy, One-Dish Meals with Good Leftover Potential” post is included, along with some impressive entries in the Editor’s Picks.

Like Mother Like Daughter: Did You Have Fun Making Menus?
On the pleasures of eating at home AND the virtue of not ordering restaurant food you can just as easily make in your own kitchen. With pictures. (Thanks to Like Merchant Ships for the link.)

Scordo: Everyone Needs to Feel Wealthy or How to Live a Good Life Via Food
“Feeling good about buying stuff or a particular type of high-end lifestyle is not inherently a bad thing,” and for Scordo, that means good food. Different, welcome perspective on the occasionally high costs of decent living.

Serious Eats: Eating Well and Cheaply – Any More Ideas Out There?
Killer thread with suggestions for the farmer, suburbanite, and apartment dweller alike.

Wall Street Journal: How to Read a Wine Label
Did you know that a phone number is usually an indication of a good wine? And that alcohol content shouldn’t go much above 14%? Or that specificity rules? I didn’t. Now I do. (Thanks to Chow for the link.)

(Photos courtesy of BarackObama.com, and Flickr members mischiefmari and Dolands.)

City Kitchen Chronicles: Lentil Soup and Righting Wrongs

City Kitchen Chronicles is a bi-weekly column about living frugally in Manhattan. It's penned by the lovely Jaime.

About nine-tenths of the way through making this recipe, I was despairing. Rather than the delicious soup that I nearly lived on last winter, I was stirring a pot of tomato paste-flavored lentils. It was pretty gross.

What had gone wrong? This was already a day of things-going-wrong, a general wrong-side-of-the-bedness, but I’d hoped that returning to a favorite, healthy recipe would pull me out of the funk, not sink me deeper. I wondered if the crushed tomatoes the recipe called for were too pasty, if I’d previously made it (incorrectly, but fortuitously) with diced. I’d followed the recipe to the letter, plus the secret ingredient I remembered stumbling upon last year. So what was wrong? What a waste of food! Waaah!

Then it popped into my head, the second secret ingredient I’d used before, and I added it, and holy moly, there we were.

Turns out I was despairing at the nine-tenths mark because I thought I was done, and I was wrong.

I don’t know how this recipe can be thought to work as written. It comes from the usually-genius 101 Cookbooks, but without these two additions, it tastes like tomato paste and lentils. That’s not a good combination. Using fire-roasted tomatoes helps, when you’ve got a few extra cents to spare, but even still. Without the additions I not pledge never to forget, I don’t get it.

I don’t mean to be ramping up some anticipation for my announcement of these amazing secret ingredients or anything, but:

Balsamic vinegar and cumin.

That’s what they are. They turn this soup into a sweet, savory, complex, earth-shakingly delicious bowl. And it’s already super-healthy, full of fiber and vegetables and good lentily protein.

And as long as you don’t get yourself down mid-recipe, this soup will turn your day around.

A couple of notes, other than DON’T FORGET THE CUMIN – I used chard, and rather than discarding the veins and stalks, chopped them up and added them to the soup. Why waste perfectly good veggie parts? Also, the recipe calls for 1 big can of crushed tomatoes, but I think it’d be good, maybe better, with 1 small can crushed and 1 small can diced – I miss tomato chunks. Fire-roasted if you’ve got ‘em. And my chard was hella expensive, so unless you decide to buy greens at Whole Foods, your cost will likely be less.

Make-Your-Day-Better Lentil Soup
Serves 6
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks.

2 cups black beluga lentils (or green French lentils), picked over and rinsed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 cups water
3 cups of a big leafy green (chard, kale, etc), rinsed well, deveined, finely chopped (stalks, too)
3 T Balsamic vinegar (or to taste)
1 t cumin (or to taste)

1) To a medium pot or Dutch oven, add 6 cups water. Boil. Add lentils. Cook until tender, around 20 minutes or so. Drain and walk away.

2) While the lentils are boiling, get out a large pot or Dutch oven. Heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and salt. Cook 4 to 5 minutes, until onions are a little soft and translucent, stirring occasionally. 

3) If you’re using your greens’ stalks (and do, especially with chard!), add them and sauté a couple more minutes.

4) Add tomatoes, lentils, and 2 cups water. Cook until soup is simmering again.

5) Add vinegar and cumin. Stir.

6) Add chopped greens/chard. Stir. Cook 1 minute. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
282.5 calories, 3.6 g fat, $1.18

Calculations
2 cups lentils: 1200 calories, 8 g fat, $1.50
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil: 139 calories, 13 g fat, $0.12
1 large onion: 45 calories, 0 g fat, $0.25
1 teaspoon salt: 0 calories, 0 g fat, $0.01
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes: 151 calories, 0.8 g fat, $1.59
2 cups water: free!
3 cups chard: 130 calories, 0 g fat $2.99
3 T Balsamic vinegar: 30 calories, 0 g fat, $0.30
1 t cumin: 0 calories, 0 g fat, $0.30
TOTAL: 1695 calories, 21.8 g fat, $7.06
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 282.5 calories, 3.6 g fat, $1.18

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy MLK Day!

Hey folks,

No regular post today for the holiday, but please enjoy this old-school U2 clip to celebrate.



Kris

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tomato and Bread Soup: Raising a Bowl to Sully

I have a theory that everyone in America has at least one friend named Sully. (Also, if you are between the ages of 27 and 34, you know 30,000 Jens.) Sully’s a genial guy. Likes beer. Probably has a big ol’ dog. Maybe he’s married and has a just-as-genial wife. (Who, for some reason, is always 4’10”.)

If you didn’t know a Sully before, you do now. You were officially introduced to him last night: Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, a.k.a. The Guy That Landed a Presumably Doomed Plane Full of Scared People Safely in a Frozen Hudson River. Put simply, Sully is a stud. A playa. The Chairman of the Awesome. And I’m betting his retirement package just got about 1,000,000% better.

Today then, we’re dedicating Serious Eats/Jamie Oliver’s Tomato and Bread Soup (Pappa al Pomodoro) to Sully. Because a guy like that deserves a soup like this. It’s one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of making, and I’m not terribly crazy about tomato soup in the first place.

About it: a combination of roasted cherry tomatoes and good canned tomatoes makes a wonderful base, and a handful of basil adds a fragrant sweetness. And the bread? Ohhhhh …. the bread. Added at the very last minute, it thickens the soup beautifully, making it much more filling than it would have been otherwise. The Boyfriend had three bowls for dinner. If I wasn’t on Weight Watchers (*sigh*), I would have had four, and then eaten him for good measure.

Even better, a 1-1/2 cup serving is a mere 8 grams of fat and 204 calories. Jamie/SE’s recipe called for quite a bit more olive oil, but halving it didn’t affect the soupy goodness in the least. It lowered the price, too, which ... welll …

About that price.

Here’s the thing: the cost for this dish will vary wildly depending on the season, the brand of canned tomatoes, and whether you use a Trader Joe’s gift certificate you got for Christmas to purchase 30% of the goods. Total, everything cost me a little over $5, but it would have been closer to $8 if the cherry tomatoes weren’t free. Then again, it would have cost $6 if I bought the cherry tomatoes, but didn’t have a coupon for the canned tomatoes. Then again again, it would have been $4 if I’d bought the cherry tomatoes AND had the canned tomatoes coupon, but didn’t buy the most expensive basil in measurable history.

So.

This is what we’re gonna do: I’m gonna list what I actually paid for it. Depending on your geographical location, the number may be waaaaay off, but I’m rolling Sully-style today.

Speaking of our beloved pilot, don’t forget to raise a glass (or a bowl) for him today. He’s done the name Sully good.

Tomato and Bread Soup (Pappa al Pomodoro)
Makes 4 servings of 1-1/2 cup each
Adapted from Serious Eats and jamieoliver.com.

12 oz. cherry tomatoes, each one pricked once or twice with a toothpick
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
a large bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked, stalks finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
28 ounces canned tomatoes
2 large handfuls of stale good-quality bread, torn into chunks (about 1/3 large baguette)

1) Preheat oven to 350ºF.

2) In a medium bowl, combine cherry tomatoes, 1 clove garlic, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 5 large basil leaves. Stir. Pour on baking sheet or roasting pan. Roast 20 minutes, until tomatoes are "collapsed and slightly shrunken."

3) In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add basil stalks and other 2 cloves of garlic. Cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in canned tomatoes (undrained), and "additional half can full of water." Jack the heat up to high. While mixture is coming to a boil, break the tomatoes up with a wooden spoon or good set of kitchen shears. Once it starts boiling, drop heat to medium-low and cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4) After 15 minutes, add bread and remaining basil, chopped. (You can leave some basil for garnish if you like.) Then, add roasted tomatoes (which should be out of the oven by now). Stir everything together, very gently, so bread won't disintegrate. If you like the consistency, serve. If not, cook a few more minutes to reduce.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
204 calories, 8 g fat, $1.26

Calculations
12 oz. cherry tomatoes: 110 calories, 0 g fat, FREE (gift certificate)
3 cloves of garlic: 13 calories, 0 g fat, $0.12
Large bunch of fresh basil: 11 calories, 0.3 g fat, $2.49 (!!!!!!)
2 tablespoons olive oil: 239 calories, 27 g fat, $0.22
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper: 1 calories, 0 g fat, $0.02
28 ounces canned tomatoes: 151 calories, 0.8 g fat, $1.25
2 large handfuls of stale good-quality bread: 290 calories, 4 g fat, $0.93
TOTAL: 815 calories, 32.1 g fat, $5.03
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 204 calories, 8 g fat, $1.26

Veggie Might: Pumpkin Orzo with Sage ... Chasing the Pumpkin

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Sometimes a recipe falls through the cracks and doesn’t get written about right away even though it’s so good I can’t stop thinking about it. Sometimes a recipe is like crack, and once it’s made, it demands to be made again and again. This is both of those recipes.

Pumpkin was one of the few vegetables I managed to freeze from my CSA. I had more of it than I could use, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. When L, the farmer, recommended pairing it with sage, I had no idea that was a common way to serve it. Pumpkin was pretty much found in pie or nowhere growing up at my house.

I poked around the interwebs for a pumpkin-sage recipe, and everything jumped out at me. Unfortunately most of the recipes were so heavy, or drowning in cream and butter, that I gained five pounds in contemplation.

I decided to wing it and make a mostly vegan lasagna with the pumpkin-sage combo. Oh dear. If only I’d followed even part of a recipe or at least taken a photo of the disaster. It was one for the Hall of Shame. There was no sauce to speak of which caused the noodles edges to come out crunchy. The pumpkin puree filling, however, was perfect.

Keeping the part that worked, I switched the pasta to orzo (I have no patience for sweating over a pot of risotto.) and experimented with a rice milk broth to add creaminess without adding a ton of fat. Eureka! A pinch of this, a splash of that: it was just what I tasted in my mind.

This little pot of joy was embarrassingly simple. Especially after I’d toiled so over my failed lasagna. That pan of orange, leathery straps was redeemed by fluffy, sweet-and-savory taste of heaven.

Now that the kinks have been worked out, the variations I have planned for the puree are endless. Any pasta or base grain will work. Oh! I just nearly passed out imagining this with quinoa. I think leafy greens would compliment the pumpkin nicely: a Swiss chard or spinach wilted in the broth stage could add another layer of complexity and give more nutritional punch.

Nothing this easy should taste this amazing. I shed happy tears with every bite. Then I called several people to brag. My doggie even did a little dance. I can’t believe it took me so long to tell you about it. Maybe you should give me your phone numbers.

Pumpkin Orzo with Sage
Serves 4


8 oz orzo
3 c vegetable stock
3 c water

1 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (or squash of your choice)
1 1/4 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup rice milk
30 sage leaves, cut into ribbons
1 shallot
1 tbsp vegan nonhydrogenated margarine
3/4 tsp salt
20 grinds fresh black pepper
3 tbsp Parmesan cheese (optional, but oh so good)

Pumpkin Puree
1) If you’re starting with a fresh pumpkin or squash, slice in half (lengthwise for butternut and its ilk) and place cut side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes or until tender. Allow to cool and scoop out with a spoon. Puree in a food processor until smooth.

The Sauce
2) Sauté shallots and sage in margarine for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add 3/4 cup of broth and 1/2 cup of rice milk. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes or so.

Meanwhile…The Orzo
3) In a large saucepan, bring 3 cups of broth and 3 cups of water to boil over high heat. Add orzo. Return to a boil and cook for 9 minutes or until pasta is al dente. Drain and set aside.

Back to the sauce...
4) Add pumpkin puree to simmering broth and stir well. Add salt, pepper, and remaining 3/4 cup of broth. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 more minutes on medium low.

5) Stir in Parmesan cheese (if you so choose).

6) Toss over orzo and serve hot.

7) Melt with delight.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving:
290 calories, 1.7g fat, $.73
(With parmesan: 305.6 calories, 5.2g fat, $1.01)

Calculations
8 oz orzo: 840 calories, 4g fat, $.50
3 c vegetable stock: 36 calories, 0g fat, $.39
1 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (or squash of your choice): 73.5 calories, 0g fat, .93
1 1/4 cup vegetable stock: 15 calories, 0g fat, $.16
1/2 cup rice milk: 45 calories, 1.75g fat, $.20
30 sage leaves: 10 calories, 0g fat, $.40
1 shallot: 40 calories, 0g fat, $.20
1 tbsp vegan butter: 100 cal, 11 fat, $.12
3/4 tsp: salt negligible calories and fat, $.02
20 grinds fresh black pepper: salt negligible calories and fat, $.02
(3 tbsp parmesan cheese: 63 calories, 4.2g fat, $1.11)
Totals: 1159.5 calories, 16.8g fat, $29.4 (1222.5 calories, 21g fat, $4.05)
Per Serving: 290 calories, 1.7g fat, $.73 (305.6 calories, 5.2g fat, $1.01)

CHG Favorites of the Week

Food Blog of the Week
Frugal Village
This frugal-minded website looks to be only a few months old, but it came at exactly the right time. The forums, full of real people with real money-saving strategies, are undoubtedly the highlight, but the articles are pretty dang solid, too.

Food Comedy of the Week
"Target Women: Diets"
Sarah Haskins strikes back.



Food Quote of the Week
(Editor’s note: I barely know what this even means, but it’s fun in a tortured metaphor kind of way.)
“When I am faced with a beautiful, well-reared piece of meat, I don't want to stand back and admire it, I want to have full-blown unprotected sex; I didn't even get to first base with the pork.” – Toby Young, Top Chef

Food Video of the Week
“I Heard it Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye
Man, Marvin could sing, and his a cappella version of “Grapevine” will absolutely knock your socks off. I guarantee you haven’t heard anything cooler this week.



Totally Unrelated Extra Special Bonus of the Week
Kermit Bale
Either Kermit’s been taking notes from Christian Bale, or vice versa. Either way, the genius architect of this Batman/Frog pictoral exploration needs a long, peaceful rest.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

65 Cheap, Healthy, One-Dish Meals with Good Leftover Potential

A few weeks ago, we posed a question to CHG readers, asking what kind of posts y’all would like to see more of in 2009. Overwhelmingly, the response was: easy, one-dish meals that make excellent leftovers, posted alongside gratuitously good-looking pictures of George Clooney. (I may have added that last part.)

It was a challenge, but I think we may have come up with a few ideas, thus fulfilling your wildest frugal foodie dreams. (We’re also very modest.)

It’s a big internet out there, and there are several billion interpretations of “one-dish meal,” so our first step was narrowing the field. Here were our initial criteria:
  • The whole meal – vegetables, starch, and meat (if included) – had to come to the table in a single pot, skillet, bowl, or dish. This DOES NOT mean it was entirely prepared in one implement. (Though quite a few meals are, and those have a ** next to them.)
  • The meal shouldn’t require additional side dishes, breads, rice, or other accompaniment.
  • The meal had to be relatively balanced, meaning no all-vegetable, all-meat, or all-starch dishes, a la macaroni and cheese.
  • Preparation and dishes had to be kept to a reasonable minimum. Chopping an onion, salting an eggplant, or sautéing a chicken breast was allowed. Creating a from-scratch, two-hour tomato sauce before adding it to a dish: not so much. (This killed a lot of lasagnas.)
  • No Cream of Mushroom, Chicken, or Whatever soups allowed. Because I hate them.
  • No thin soups, salads, pizzas, sandwiches, or slow cooker dishes were included, mostly because they’re subjects for another post. Stews were okay. (Logic? Not allowed, either.)
  • If a recipe wouldn’t be any good the next day, it was disqualified. (This ruled out a lot of egg dishes.)
  • As always, if the dish came from an aggregate site with ratings (All Recipes, Epicurious, etc.), it must have had at least an 85% approval from reviewers.
  • “Cheap” and “healthy” parameters were determined however we usually do it on this blog. (Meaning: low fat, low calorie, and otherwise subject to our whims. Muahahahahahahaha!)
Needless to say, after hours of searching, we found a LOT of chilis and pasta dishes. They’re all listed below, along with various bakes, casseroles, rice dinners, meaty mains, full-on veggie deals, and quite a few bean-based meals. To reiterate, if a recipe can be prepared using just one heating implement (one pot, one pan, one skillet, etc.) there are two stars (**) next to it.

The list is by no means definitive, but it’s a nice start. Readers, please add your suggestions in the comments section, using the guidelines listed above. When we’re done, this is going to rule.

BAKES & CASSEROLES

CHG/All Recipes: Meatless Shepherd’s Pie

CHG/Cooking Light: Baked Eggplant with Mushroom-Tomato Sauce

CHG/Bon Appetit: Ratatouille

CHG/All Recipes: Cheesy Eggplant Bake

**CHG/Weight Watchers Boards: Bruschetta Chicken Bake

Martha Stewart: Baked Eggplant Parmesan
(This looks GREAT. Use part-skim mozzarella for less fat.)


BEANS & LENTILS

CHG: Garlicky Long Beans and Cannellini Beans

**CHG/Yeah That Vegan S***: Curried Apple and Lentil Dal

**CHG/International Vegetarian Union: Tunisian-Style Greens and Beans

**CHG/Amateur Gourmet: Bodega Beans

**Eating Well: Kale, Sausage, and Lentil Skillet

**Greedy Gourmet: Pork Sausage, Leek, Carrot, and Butter Bean Casserole
(I listed this because you might be able to pull it off with turkey sausage and a minimum of olive oil. Plus, the picture looked REALLY good.)

**Recipe Zaar: Beans and Greens


CHILI

**All Recipes: Pumpkin Chili
(I would substitute ground turkey in here to keep the fat down.)

**CHG: Camp Stove Veggie Chili

**CHG/Cook’s Illustrated: Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili

**CHG: Leftover Turkey Chili

**CHG/Bon Appetit: Turkey Chili with Beans

**Epicurious: Chicken and White Bean Chili

**Recipe Zaar: Santa Fe Chicken Chili


MEATS

Eating Well: Chicken Tagine with Pomegranates

Eating Well: Honey-Mustard Turkey Cutlets and Potatoes

**Recipe Zaar: Pan Roasted Chicken and Veggies

**Chicken Stir-Fry With Yams, Red Cabbage, and Hoisin


PASTA (Meatatarian)

CHG/Jenny Craig: Moroccan Chicken and Orzo

**CHG/Words to Eat By: American Chop Suey

CHG/Giada DeLaurentiis: Orzo with Sausage, Peppers, and Tomatoes

CHG/Cooking Light: Noodle Salad with Shrimp, Chicken, and Mint

CHG: Whole Wheat Penne with Grape Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Navy Beans, and Sausage

CHG/Cook’s Illustrated: Maque Choux with Chicken and Turkey Kielbasa

Serious Eats/All Recipes: Basil Chicken Pasta


PASTA (Vegetarian)

CHG/Weight Watchers: Angel Hair Pasta with Eggplant-Tomato Sauce

CHG/Ellie Krieger: Aromatic Noodles with Lime-Peanut Sauce

CHG/Sara Moulton: Orecchiette (er, Macaroni) with Broccoli and Chickpeas

CHG/All Recipes: Pasta with Asparagus and Mushrooms

CHG/Moosewood: Penne with Lemon, Potatoes, and Cannellini

CHG/Reluctant Gourmet: Pasta with Nettles, Sorrel, and Lemon

The Kitchn: Arugula with Orzo and Garden Tomatoes

The Kitchn: Israeli Couscous with Chard

The Kitchn: Velvety Broccoli and Feta Pasta

**Martha Stewart: Spaghetti with Pecorino and Black Pepper

**Martha Stewart: Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Vegetables and Peanut Sauce

Serious Eats/Cook’s Illustrated: Baked Rotelle Puttanesca


RICE & GRAINS (Carnivore)

CHG/Betty Crocker: Stuffed Peppers

**Cooking Light: Louisiana Goulash

Cooking Light: Shrimp-and-Rice Stuffed Tomatoes

Cooking Light: Turkey Jambalaya

**Martha Stewart: Lemon Shrimp with Rice

**Recipe Zaar: Lemon Chicken and Rice


RICE & GRAINS (Vegetarian)

All Recipe: Quinoa Tabbouleh
(I would halve the dressing here to keep the fat down.)

**CHG/Wildman Steve Brill: Sesame Rice with Burdock

CHG: Shredded Zucchini and Chickpeas Over Polenta

DK’s Culinary Bazaar: Grilled Eggplant Moussaka with Brown Rice

Epicurious: Quinoa with Corn, Scallions, and Mint

Recipe Zaar: Bulgur Pilaf with Broccoli and Peppers

Serious Eats/Cooking Light: Couscous with Chickpeas, Tomato, and Edamame

Serious Eats/Epicurious: Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa
(You’re only cooking the quinoa here. Also, it’s FREAKING DELICIOUS.)


STEWS

Cooking Light: Braised Chicken with Potatoes and Tarragon Broth

Ellie Krieger: Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta

**The Kitchn: Tomato and White Bean Panade

Martha Stewart: Quick Vegetable and Navy Bean Stew

Serious Eats/Jamie Oliver: Bread and Tomato Soup
(This has much more of a stew consistency, which is why it’s included here)


VEGETABLES

All Recipes: Vegetable Phyllo Pie
(Use low-fat feta crumbles to keep fat down.)

Cooking Light: Butternut-Cheese Pie

Serious Eats/The Kitchn: Spaghetti Squash with Ricotta, Sage, and Pine Nuts

For kicks, these three cookbooks looked helpful, and garnered good ratings on Amazon: Readers, I throw it back to you. Any suggestions?

(Photos courtesy of Live Journal, Bitten and Bound, and Contact Music.)

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