Category Archives: Less than one dollar a serving

an act of creation

I know there are legions of people, men and women alike who cook out of necessity and may not have developed any other connection to it. but for me, i’ve come to be drawn to it as an act of creation. one of the few that i am able to fit into my lifestyle. i guess that is my honest truth.

today on the creation block–after a dreary work day–i did two dishes. Both of them involved the ease of tossing several ingredients in a bowl and then baking. The first was a brussel sprouts dish from (yet again) American Masala. Now don’t get me wrong, I have my own fave brussel sprouts recipe, sent to me by my dear friend Anne-Marie. But I’ve made it many times before and it really wouldn’t feel as much like creating as making something new, now would it? This one was pretty simple—mixing sprouts, apples, red onions and currants (i used a mix of cranberries and raisins) with flavors such as red pepper, black pepper, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt–and baking it with some butter for about an hour. You can add slivered almonds in it too. You know it was similar to some Thanksgiving sides or stuffings I have made. It was delicious, like he said it would be, though i would cut down on the number of shakes on the red pepper flakes. I am excited to have it in the fridge to accompany lunches and dinners this week. I have to do the math on this but for rough approximation I think this will turn out to be between 50 cents and a dollar a serving.

The second act of creation is pumpkin custard. I have been craving this for a long time. and i am physically miserable today and wanting to give in to my sweet tooth. it was beautiful, and simple (recipe here). It simply took about 15 minutes to mix the ingredients, mostly spices with a can of organic pumpkin mix, milk, cream and sugar. I then poured them into various baking dishes and voila, a beautiful custard i could cut with a knife. it was a surprisingly pleasing, subtle custard, mildly sweet and not over powering. would definitely do well in a crust, like a profiterole or something.

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an attitude of gratitude (with lots of stuffing)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I have enjoyed games of SET and Boggle and we are now onto family scrabble. Its been a truly bountiful year and we feel quite blessed in our household.

After scaling down my Thanksgiving cooking projects, I put my energies into three dishes. I am providing links for two which were real crowd pleasers.

The stuffing and tart were both very yummy. I make a different stuffing every year. This year I chose something filled with more classic flavors. It turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever made. The combination of flavors that really worked together was the apple cooking with the celery and then the sweet dried fruit (a fave flavor technique of mine, as seen by other posts) just spikes up the flavor another notch. First time using dried cherries and it won’t be the last. I added dried figs because I didn’t have dried apples. I also used vegetable broth instead of chicken broth and did not really need to add any salt. But thank you NYT, I loved how this turned out and it was a real hit. It makes alot–easily ten cups if not more. I used organic vegetable broth from Whole Foods for $1.29.

The savory tart–I used a technique out of Provencal Light which says that the classic French Provencale tart also has you roast some garlic and then rub the juices of it on the tart dough before sticking in the oven. Definitely do this as a low cost flavor boost. I did splurge $1.99 for fresh thyme which was worth every penny. With frost and the patio herb gardening, we have lost our basil and most of our thyme so I bought. Otherwise, caramelizing onion is simply a delight. Its a very simple recipe and I felt that the flavors really took about 10 minutes after I turned off the stove. I did not add cheese. I also “cheated” and used ready made pie crust from Pillsbury ($2.50 on sale for two boxes (4 crusts). Here is a link to other savory tart recipes by Martha Stewart which look divine (and fun).

We also made the sweet potato and apple puree from a previous post. I will give it props for being very healthy–it used the basic flavor of the foods to derive the majority of the taste. But I must say, we needed more flavor, either in the form of brown suguar, cinnamon and nutmeg but otherwise, it was really quite pleasing. A much healthier alternative to candied yams, etc.  

Since its Thanksgiving I am forgoing nutritional analysis.
I am however updating this post to include cost per serving. Cost per serving for the bread and fruit serving is coming out to just under $0.90 cents a serving. The big splurge here was for the dried cherries. I included the cost of all ingredients.

Please let me know anything that you enjoyed, either making or eating!

The Beet

Steamed Beet Salad with herbed goat cheese and balsamic vinegar

Steamed Beet Salad with herbed goat cheese and balsamic vinegar

When spring started slipping into summer this year, it also brought a new food to our home: the beet. There seemed to have been multiple chance meetings–an article in the NYT on the 11 best foods, a random walk through our local farmer’s market in Vienna where we felt tentative about buying some but were assured by others in the crowd about what to do, and best of all, my Trader’s Joes find of ready-to-eat steamed beets for under $2 (you get six).

The NYT post says to think of beets as red spinach. Its most healthy raw apparently. I was never brave enough to buy them raw, thinking I didn’t know what to do with them. I was at a Farmer’s Market in NJ and found that they sold them sans greens so I got some. I took out my bamboo steamer (these are cheap at Chinese markets) and placed two beets in it and let them steam away. It took a good 30 minutes but I was rewarded. I hadn’t imagined that the skins would get so soft. It was simple to peel them off and slice up the beets. I got to do whatever I wanted in those 30 minutes while they steamed, to boot. Again, since I didn’t really have a go-to recipe, I turned to my imagination which could only show me one thing, a beet salad. I drizzled or sprinkled the following:

o some grapeseed oil (obviously olive oil is good) (Trader Joes)
o some balsamic vinegar (Trader Joes Modena, good quality stuff)
o toasted pine nuts (from my store of Whole Foods bulk section pine nuts)
o goat cheese.
o black pepper

I decided to save money on the goat cheese since it didn’t call for alot and got a 5 ounce package of herbed goat cheese from Trader Joes for $2.49. This is delicious and quick and a great way to get in one or two servings of vegetables.

Cost per serving: appoximately $0.63. I made 2 servings, each using 1 beet.

Alternative approach: Interestingly enough, though I bought the beets raw, I didn’t really save much money there. The pre-steamed ones at TJ’s are also $1.99. However, the raw beets were easily much bigger so presumably I would have to use less of them. The packaging from the pre-steamed ones is also an environmental issue. But given the time and nutrional value with no price differential, I would say you doing well even if you bought them cooked. My sense is that if I had bought the beets with the greens intact, I may have likely saved a few more cents. but i’m glad i didn’t have to deal with the hassle of washing and chopping them for now. 🙂

Coming home

Tonight, after a restorative and “fun”-derful weekend with our friends, I knew I was coming home to a surplus of tomatoes and red bell peppers that were getting on. (this was due to an slightly uber-exuberant grocery trip in NJ near my sister’s house). I had a plan to make sausage-red pepper tomato pasta sauce. When I got home, I dusted off an old recipe from the Silver Palate cookbook. It was a simple concoction of browning the sausage, cooking onions with the thyme and oregano we grow on our balcony, adding red bell peppers, garlic, red wine, tomatoes, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and my secret ingredient: organic tomato sauce from a can. I was pleased with the balance between spicy (HOT from the red peppers) and sweet (from the tomato sauce). It was a pleasure watching everything cook on low and dissolve into each other. I ladled it on top of Whole Foods Whole Wheat Linguine.

Cost Effectiveness of Cooking:
To make this dish cost effective, I always go to larger scale produce stores or Asian grocery stores which I can find between VA and NJ. I get my red bell peppers for $1.25 a pound. This is one of the few areas I cannot use products from Whole Foods or even conventional grocery stores. Too rich for my blood. The red peppers I currently have are superb–firm and succulent. I used only one in this recipe (because I was tired and only made half a batch of the sauce). In fact, I also got vine ripe tomatoes for a steal, at $0.69 a pound, which were the main reason I needed to make this sauce in the first place!

As I noted above I also used herbs that we grow. I traditionally have grown: basil, oregano, thyme and mint. These are hardy plants that can immensely boost flavor for relatively no work (or fee) at all! I do need to buy my cilantro though and I also like dill quite well so go to asian stores or some such for these.

On the wine. If I didn’t have any on hand, I would have eliminated that step though it does add tone to a meat recipe. I did use this red wine in a box that we found at Whole Foods. Its pretty cheap and good for kitchen wine. Its not really a recommendation for an approach. Its just something we had on hand.

Where I didn’t compromise–my meat. Turkey sausage at Whole Foods is about $5.99 a lb. I used a little more than a half-pound which was two links for $3.29. This is free range turkey sausage (it said on the package) plus no hormones, no antibiotics, no animal by products in the feed–so on the higher quality side.

The pasta at whole foods, at least the whole foods brand of past, I find affordable. Its a $1.69 for the equivalent of a normal box of spaghetti–something of a value, really. They have a variety of healthy grains that they make it from, and a variety of pasta shapes too. We don’t eat it frequently because of the carbs but I always make sure I have at least one or two bags of it as stock inventory in our pantry. I used tomato sauce from Trader Joe’s but right now, the price I am aware of is Whole Foods’ own brand at $1.29 for a normal sized can (15 ounces?).

Cost per serving: What does the grand price come out to? Approximately $0.90 per serving just for the sauce. I made 6 servings — 2 servings each for both my husband and me for dinner and 2 servings left over. With the pasta, the cost increases just slightly, to about $0.96 per serving. I assumed that the four tomatoes I used were nearly two-thirds of a pound. I did not include the cost of the salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes.

Nutritionally, this dish gives you at least 2 servings of vegetables and 1 serving of protein per serving. Check out the nutrition spokes for the whole wheat pasta! It adds 6 grams of fiber and 7 garms of protein per serving with nearly no fat! I am surprised. It seems like a solid “good carb” candidate but still for weight loss, use sparingly. The turkey sausage adds some fat but also completes the protein profile in this recipe.

Potential variation: The nutritional profile for the whole wheat pasta showed that it is pretty complete in terms of its amino acid profile but lacks lysine (I hope I have this correct). It appears to require a complimentary food with a high lysine:Tryptophan ratio to fulfill its requirement as a complete protein. Go know! While turkey meat does fit, it appears that mushrooms (Crimini or Italian) would provide a vegetarian complement and nearly eliminate the fat. Que bueno!

How about you? Any twists to make it healthier or more cost-effective?