I’ve moved!

Well. I’ve gone and done something not very cheapskate-ish, which was to register a domain and move this blog over to its own little home at culinarycheapskate.com.

Along with a new design, you’ll find a few new features and improvements over there, including a recipe plugin that makes it easier to print just a recipe and not an entire blog post, and an easier-to-navigate recipe menu, which now includes categories for filtering recipes by cost and mess factor.

So come check it out!

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Tanzanian Black-Eyed Pea and Coconut Soup with (optional) Zanzibar-Style Curry Powder

Tanzanian Black-Eyed Pea and Coconut Soup

Tanzanian Black-Eyed Pea and Coconut Soup (with Brown Rice)

I got a cookbook for Christmas that is quickly becoming my primary go-to for delicious, healthy, inexpensive recipes: Bean by Bean, by a woman named (❤) Crescent Dragonwagon. (I am firmly against ever changing my last name upon marriage, but I would make an exception for this woman’s son, if she has one.)  As previously discussed in a post way back when, I really, REALLY like beans. They are nutritious yet extremely affordable, and come in about a zillion shapes and colors, which makes them kind of exciting. They can also be incorporated into just about any type of cuisine, as this cookbook makes clear. I thought I had a pretty sizable repertoire of bean recipes up my sleeve, but this cookbook has proven otherwise, and I’ve spent the past couple of weeks trying out all kinds of new bean recipes. Pass the Beano, ha.

My favorite thus far has been this Tanzanian black-eyed pea soup with coconut milk. It’s FANTASTIC. Assuming you stick with coconut oil or some other kind vegetable-derived oil, it’s vegan, but it’s one of those dishes that’s so rich and delicious, a devoted carnivore would never miss the meat. It calls for a particular Zanzibar-style curry powder blend, which isn’t widely available, so I’ve included a recipe to make it from scratch; however, you likely won’t notice much of a difference with a standard Indian curry powder.

Tip on buying coconut oil: Coconut oil is pretty much the Next Big Thing in cooking oils – it has all the health benefits of olive oil, with a much higher smoke point and a richer, warmer flavor. As a result, it’s SUPER expensive at grocery stores and natural foods markets – $12+ for a 15 oz. jar. It’s much more economical to buy a large tub it on Amazon, such as this one, which is currently $26.59 for 54 oz. Coconut oil is extremely shelf-stable – an unrefined one will keep for upwards of two years – so if you have space for a huge tub in your cupboard, definitely go this route. (And then use it with reckless abandon! It’s friggin’ delicious.)

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Zanzibar-Style Curry Powder (adapted for this soup from the recipe here)
Zanzibar curry powder has less turmeric and a slightly different spice mixture than Indian curry powder. Making this spice mixture from scratch is entirely optional; your results will be just as good (though slightly – slightly – different) with a regular Indian curry powder.

  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds, if you can find them
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Dry-roast the coriander, cumin, mustard, fennel, and fenugreek seeds in a small frying pan over medium-low heat for several minutes, until they become fragrant. Be careful not to overdo it – mustard seeds in particular go from pleasantly toasted to burned very quickly.

Immediately transfer the roasted seeds to a spice grinder, clean coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle, and grind into a fine powder. Add the remaining ingredients, and set aside to add to the soup when indicated.

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Tanzanian Black-Eyed Pea and Coconut Soup (adapted from Bean by Bean by Crescent Dragonwagon)

  • 1-2 c. dry black-eyed peas (depending on how thick and hearty you want your soup to be), rinsed and soaked for at least four hours
  • 2 Tbsp. coconut oil, ghee, or a neutral oil such as vegetable
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 green or red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 serrano chile, seeds removed (unless you like things pretty spicy) and chopped
  • 1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled (if not organic) and minced or grated
  • 1 recipe Zanzibar curry powder (above), or 1 Tbsp. store-bought curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with their juices
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1 15 oz. can unsweetend coconut milk
  • 4-6 c. vegetable broth/water/water + bullion cubes, depending on how much water boiled off when cooking your beans
  • 1 banana and/or banana chips, for garnish (optional – I omitted this, as I have trouble mixing sweet and savory foods)
  • 1 lb. white or brown rice, for serving (optional – serve with something else if you’d prefer)
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Cook the beans: Drain the soaking water. Place the beans in a pot with 2-3″ of water to cover. Bring to a boil, and simmer, partially covered, for 45-75 minutes, or until the beans are tender.

Prepare the Zanzibar curry powder, if using.

Get the rice cooking, if you’ll serve the soup with rice, using to the instructions it came with.

When the beans are nearing done-ness, heat the coconut oil over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the bell pepper, serrano, and ginger, and cook for another 4 minutes. Lower the heat, add the curry powder and cloves, and sauté for another 1-2 minutes.

Add the cooked or mostly-cooked black eyed peas to the onion mixture, along with the canned tomatoes, honey, coconut milk, and veggie broth. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 10-20 minutes. Crank in some black pepper, taste, and adjust for salt and pepper levels.

Serve with a scoop of rice in each bowl (again, optional), and sliced banana and/or banana chips on the top (also optional).

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Cost of core ingredients: All primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

  • ~1.5 lbs. black-eyed peas @ $1.99/lb.:~$1.50
  • 1 large onion: ~$1.20
  • 1 red bell pepper: FREE (well, effectively so) from my freezer
  • 1 serrano chile: $0.30
  • 1 piece of ginger: $0.30
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes: $1.59
  • 1 15 oz. can unsweetend coconut milk: $3.19 (oof, pricey…but SO delicious)
  • ~1 lb. brown basmati rice @ $2.59/lb: ~$2.59

Total cost for six servings: $10.67 plus the cost of small amounts of oil, spices, honey, bullion, salt, and pepper.

Bon Appétit!

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Slow Cooker Cochinita Pibil (Mexican Slow-Roasted Pork)

Cochinita Pibil with Brown Rice

Cochinita Pibil with Brown Rice

Though my seven year stint as a vegetarian ended over a year ago now, I still feel inexperienced and unwise in the ways of cooking meat. So much of cooking is learned through experience (and a fair amount of trial and error), and I just haven’t had enough opportunities to  try different cooking methods for meat to really feel like I have any idea what I’m talking about. It’s a strange feeling, for someone who cooks as often as I do.

However, as I discovered when making this recipe, throwing a hunk of meat in the slow cooker is about as simple as it gets, and at the end, you are richly rewarded for your non-effort with the most tender, delicious stuff imaginable. It kind of feels like cheating. This recipe is extra-great as far as slow cooker recipes go (though my experience up until now has been limited to veg dishes) because the long cooking time gives the dish’s many spices and flavorings a chance to fuse into one seamless, incredible taste. Plus, it will make your house smell amazing! The first time I cooked this, I left it in the slow cooker while I went out to run some errands, and when I came home, I could smell the stuff from my apartment building’s front lobby.

This recipe is adapted from this crazy old Mexican cookbook from 1989 that a friend gave me – Mexican Cookery by Barbara Hansen. The book is full of hilarious, 80s-style, grandiosely-staged photos of Mexican dishes set on a table alongside elaborate candle holders bigger than a human head, and things like that, but everything I’ve cooked from it has been FANTASTIC. It’s out of print, but I highly recommend picking up a used copy on Amazon, if you’re into Mexican food.

This slow-cooker version of cochinita pibil yields a falling-apart tender meat that’s ideal for shredded pork tacos, though you can also serve it over rice, as shown in the photo. Either way, it’s ridiculously delicious, especially considering how little effort goes into making it!

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Slow-Cooker Cochinita Pibil (adapted from Mexican Cookery by Barbara Hansen)

  • 2 lbs. pork shoulder or leg (pork shoulder is also known, for some bizarre reason, as “Boston Butt”)
  • 1 onion, halved and sliced into thin strips
  • 2  cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 good-sized, juicy orange, juiced, or 1/2 c. OJ from a carton (look for an orange that’s pliable when you squeeze it – it will likely be juicier and have less skin)
  • 1 lime, juiced, or 2 Tbsp. bottled lime juice (same)
  • 2 tsp. ground annatto (also known as “achiote” – look for this spice in Mexican grocery stores)
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tsp. white vinegar
  • 2 tsp. water
  • Tortillas, taco shells, or rice, plus taco garnishes, for serving

Remove any bones from the pork, along with any large pieces of fat. Plop it in the slow cooker, followed by the onion slices and garlic. Mix the OJ, lime juice, all spices, vinegar, and water, and pour this mixture over the pork.

Slow cook on high for about 4 hours, or low for 7-8 hours. I recommend checking on it after about 3 hours (6 on low) to make sure that the liquid hasn’t all burned off, but if you’re not going to be home, add 1/4 c. water so that the pork doesn’t dry out.

It’s done when you poke the pork with a spoon and it falls apart. Lightly mash the pork to break it up into small pieces, and serve with tortillas or over rice, along with whatever typical taco garnishes you feel like.

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Cost of core ingredients: Naturally-raised pork is quite a bit cheaper at my co-op than grass-fed beef and the pricier chicken parts, so this does not make for an especially expensive meat dish.

  • 2 lbs. pork shoulder @ $3.49/lb.: $6.98
  • 1 onion: ~$1
  • 1 large orange: $1.72 (for a single orange, seriously? Yeow)
  • 1 lime: $0.40
  • ~1 lb. brown basmati rice, for serving, @ $2.59/lb.: ~$2.59

Total cost for four servings: $12.69, plus the cost of all spices, vinegar, and garnishes, if you have them. Not too shabby.

Bon Appétit!

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Reconceptualizing the Culinary Cheapskate

Hmmm, it’s been a while since I posted. This is partially because I’ve been busy, but mostly because I got a “real” job that pays me more than the piddly graduate student research assistant salary I’d been making before, and with this job came the freedom to be a lot less careful with my food budget. And since cooking good food and eating good food happen to be two of the great loves of my life, I celebrated this newfound freedom by going a little nuts with my meal planning. I’ve spent the past several months buying whatever food I’ve felt like, and it’s been SO great – not because I’ve been eating better (I hope that this blog has at least proven that you CAN eat well on a very small budget), but because I’ve been able to try out some new recipes that call for pricier ingredients, mostly meat. Plus, it’s just nice to not have to count every penny, and I love that I no longer cringe when the cashier rings up my grocery bill total. In fact, the first time I went grocery shopping after I got this job, I realized hours after the fact that I had absolutely no idea – literally, none – of how much I’d actually spent; I just handed over my debit card and went on my way. You can’t put a monetary value on that kind of freedom.

One thing I’ve struggled with as this blog has evolved over the past year is that my approach to food, and thus, the approach to cooking that I advocate here, is not really about keeping costs as low as possible, but rather about eating the healthiest food possible without going broke in the process. I’ve done a lot of reading on nutrition and dietary topics, and I’ve come to the conclusion that spending money on higher-quality foods – organic vegetables, naturally-raised meats, hormone-free dairy products – is an incredibly sound long-term investment in your health. Even on my crappy $1200/month graduate assistant salary (and even my $800/month + food stamps AmeriCorps salary before that), I made purchasing healthy, high-quality foods my top financial priority after basic living expenses were taken care of. I pay nearly $10 a gallon for grass-fed milk and $6+ per pound for grass-fed meats. I buy expensive organic vegetables (which seem to go for about twice the cost of supermarket fare, on average), and pay a premium to cook exclusively with high-quality, healthy oils, such as olive oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter and ghee. I truly believe that I have no choice in the matter – knowing what I know about nutrition and health, I absolutely cannot go back to eating (and recommending!) the “conventional” versions of these ingredients. But these ingredients definitely do not lend themselves towards “cheap” cooking, and I’ve struggled to fit recipes containing these ingredients into a “cheap” paradigm.

Nothing made this clearer to me than my post back in October in which I polled readers/random internet people about their weekly per-person grocery budgets. I included an “under $30” category with the caveat that I have a friend who actually does eat on $25-30 a week (he lives in Arizona and shops exclusively at a market catering to low-wage immigrants), and I truly thought that no one – or at least no one who reads this blog – would report surviving on such a small food budget. But I was wrong – three people, or 9% of respondents, reported just that. Back when I was a vegetarian and on a very tight budget, I used to spend $40-50 a week on food. Once I became an omnivore, this crept up to $50-60. Once I became frequent meat-eating omnivore, it was more like $60-70. Today, I have no idea, as I honestly haven’t been keeping track. (Such a wonderful luxury!) Like I said, I buy the highest-quality foods I can get my hands on – organic, naturally-raised, hormone-free – and in that light, these weekly food budget figures are still somewhat of an accomplishment; if you took my weekly shopping list and went to a Costco or an Aldi or even a regular grocery store, there’s a good chance you’d come in at under $30. But realizing that I spend twice as much on groceries as some people has made me rethink whether framing this blog as an inexpensive food blog is really appropriate.

So I’ve decided to rework my concept of this blog to include the pricier ingredients I choose to include in my cooking. In the past, I’ve tried to only post recipes that come in at under $3 per serving (with a primarily organic ingredient list); going forward, I won’t put a cap on the cost of things I post. But I will still approach the recipes I post with a focus on saving money (either by selecting recipes that include inexpensive ingredients, or by making less-expensive substitutions/adaptations), and I will still include a cost total for each recipe at the end of each post. The blog’s focus will shift from eating extremely cheaply to eating extremely well, but in  way that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and that cuts the crap, pretension, and needless complication that you get with a lot of recipes. I will likely post more musings on the cost of food (as I have plenty of these), more cost-comparisons, and more recommendations for where to get your hands on the really good stuff. Hopefully, I will just post more in general!

So stay tuned!

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The Farmers Market Files: Italian Sausage and Kale Stew (or Soup)

Italian Sausage and Kale Stew

Italian Sausage and Kale Stew

This is a great fall stew that I threw together after going a little crazy at the farmers market one weekend (did I mention I got a job?) and ending up with more stuff than I could fit in my (albeit small) refrigerator. I bought one bunch of kale that was so large, it took up almost an entire shelf in my fridge all by itself. I needed to act, and fast. So I made up a recipe that used a little bit of everything I had on hand, plus ALL of my kale, and the results were so fabulous that I did it all 0ver again the next week, enormous bunch of kale and all.

I was tempted to call this “Kale Stew, With Some Other Stuff” when I first tried it, because it does contain quite a bit of kale. However, the other ingredients ultimately hold their own, making this a great recipe for really packing away (or getting rid of, depending on your perspective) the veggies without feeling like you’re eating rabbit food. Plus, did I mention that it’s delicious? My significant other, who isn’t nearly as enthralled with veggies as I am, ate second helpings both times I made this, and insisted on taking leftovers for lunch the next day as well. (However, if eating enormous helpings of kale doesn’t sound like your thing, you can easily turn this stew into a less kale-centric soup by doubling the broth and halving the kale.)

Serve this with a hearty loaf of bread, and you’ve got yourself a fantastic meal for a cool fall evening!

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Italian Sausage and Kale Stew

  • 1 1/2 lbs. hot Italian sausage (I thought chicken sausage worked especially well in this dish)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 parsnips, if you can find them, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium-sized leek, white/light green and dark parts separated, chopped
  • 2 medium-sized waxy potatoes, eyes removed, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 4 cups chicken or veggie broth (or 8, if you’d rather make soup)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground fennel, or 1 tsp. fennel seeds, lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • 2 supermarket-sized bunches kale (or only 1 for the soup version), tough inner rib removed, cut into ~1-inch-thick slices
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

Remove the Italian sausages from their casings by slicing each lengthwise and removing the inner meat. Discard the casings. Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large soup pot, and sauté the sausage meat, using a spoon or spatula to break it up into smaller pieces. Once the meat has browned, after about 5 minutes, add the onion, celery, carrots, parsnips, leek bottoms, and potatoes, and sauté for another 10 minutes.

Add the broth, along with the dark green leek tops, nutmeg, and fennel. Turn up the heat and bring the soup to a simmer. Once it is simmering, add the sliced kale. If you’re using two full bunches of kale, it will probably be pretty hard to stir the kale in at this point, so cover the pot and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes; this will steam the kale, which will start to reduce its volume somewhat. After 5 minutes, take a stab at stirring the kale into the rest of the stew. Cover, and cook for another 10 minutes.

The stew is done once the kale is cooked and the potatoes are beginning to fall apart. Add salt (if your broth contained salt, you might not need much) and pepper to taste, and serve.

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Cost of core ingredients: Since I only buy organic, naturally-raised, hormone-free, etc. etc. etc. meats, the 1 1/2 lbs. of Italian sausage in this recipe cost a pretty penny, making this dish the most expensive per serving of all the recipes I’ve blogged about to date. Still, at less than $3/serving, this slight indulgence definitely didn’t throw off my food budget for the week.

  • 1 large onion: ~$1
  • 2 farmers market carrots: $0.50?
  • 2 farmers market parsnips: $0.50?
  • 1 farmers market leek: $0.50?
  • 2 farmers market potatoes: $0.75?
  • 1 ENORMOUS bunch farmers market kale: $2 (this would be far more expensive if I bought it at my food co-op)
  • 1.5 lbs. chicken Italian sausage a@ $5.99/lb. = $8.99

Total cost for five servings: $14.24, plus the cost of small amounts of olive oil, celery, Better than Bullion (LOVE that stuff), spices, salt, and pepper.

Bon Appétit!

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Poll: What’s your average weekly grocery bill?

Alright. I’m not sure if I even have enough readers to make this poll work, but I’m curious to know how much people are spending on groceries every week. I ask because I recently came into some money (read: got a job…or rather, a consulting gig), and I’m looking at being able to spend a bit more on food. This likely won’t translate into anything drastic for me – I like the way I eat, and for the most part, I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing for the sake of thrift. But I will probably start watching my costs a bit less (which I’m sure will translate into higher food costs overall), so I am curious to know where others fall on the grocery spending continuum, cheapskate or not.

So. What’s your average weekly grocery budget look like – let’s say per family member over the age of five? (And yes, I do actually know someone who spends less than $30 a week.)

 

Feel free to leave more details in comments, if you wish!

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The Farmers Market Files: Sweet Red Pepper and Tomato Spread

Sweet Red Pepper and Tomato Spread

Sweet Red Pepper and Tomato Spread

Here’s another great way to preserve the farmers market bounty for the sad, dark, monochrome days of winter when there is nary a brightly-colored food item to be found that isn’t from Florida or Mexico. This spread is great on sandwiches, crackers, and pasta, and can be used to dress up soups and stews as well, kind of like a sweet harissa. You might be surprised by how sweet it is, given that it only calls for five ingredients and none of them is a sweetener. Cooking down the red peppers concentrates their flavor, and the combination of this sweetness with the tart tomatoes and pungent garlic produces a perfect end-of-summer flavor medley.

A little bit goes a long way, so I always set aside some to use fresh and put the rest in the freezer for later. The recipe below yields about 2 cups of spread, though this recipe is easily doubled/tripled/etc., if you’d like to freeze it in larger quantities.

(Keep in mind that this recipe really only qualifies for cheapskate status when made at this time of year, when tomatoes and red bell peppers are fresh and abundant, and can often be bought in bulk quantities at farmers markets. Otherwise, you’re looking at a $20+ spread!)

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Sweet Red Pepper and Tomato Spread

  • About five large ripe red bell peppers, or the equivalent*
  • About 10 large or 15 medium picked-ripe roma tomatoes, or the equivalent*
  • 1 head garlic, separated and peeled
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt, or to taste

*Note on quantities: Don’t worry too much about precision here. The beauty of ingredients that are this delicious is that your end result is going to taste good, no matter what.

Preparing the veggies: Roughly chop the peppers, tomatoes, and garlic, and process finely in the food-chopping appliance of your choice. This spread is best with a bit of texture, so try to avoid processing the vegetables into a puree – very small pieces are ideal.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. When hot, add the vegetable mixture. The vegetables will begin to release their liquid and simmer. Cook at a low simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reduces to 1/2 to 1/3 of its original volume. (It will thicken to a paste-like consistency once it cools.) Remove from heat, stir in salt, and let cool.

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One of my favorite ways to serve this is on a sandwich with avacado, cheese, and a fried egg:

Sandwich with sweet red pepper spread

It is surprisingly hard to take an attractive picture of a sandwich.

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Cost of core ingredients:

  • 5 farmers market red peppers, bought bulk: $3?
  • 15 medium farmers market tomatoes, bought bulk: $3?
  • 1 head garlic: ~$1

Total cost: ~$7, plus the cost of small amounts of olive oil and salt.

Bon Appétit!

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