Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pantry Stocking for Frugal Living, Part Four

Here's the fourth letter in the series:

This is going to be a long one (probably the longest). I'll try to remember to break it up into categories. The main reason this section is so important is because it will fill your baking needs, and also will help you to avoid appetite fatigue.

Appetite fatigue is where a person is so tired of eating the same thing all the time they would rather not eat at all. It not uncommon in serious, long-lasting emergency situations for people to choose to die rather than to eat Beans. One. More. Day. (or whatever it is they're eating constantly) While I know you are not living in that kind of extreme poverty, it's still something you want to keep in mind when you're figuring out how to stock your kitchen. If you're not feeling appetite fatigue eating at home, you'll keep eating at home instead of eating out and spending tons of money that way. Keeping you out of restaurants is the only reason I mention appetite fatigue. :)

Anyway, just get this stuff as you can. Don't try to rush through it. You'll be able to tell what's the most important.

Spices:

Spices really are great. You can take the exact same food and make myriad different creations simply by varying the types of spices you use. Some basic spices (all of these are dried, many of them can be gotten for 50 cents per bottle in dollar and ethnic stores) that should be in every pantry are as follows. A lot of the time, for spices that are spices and not dried herbs, I go to Central Market or Whole Foods because I'd rather spend 23 cents on an appropriate amount than 8 dollars on a bottle. I'm making the assumption you don't own a mortar and pestle, so I'm not going to tell you to buy whole spices and grind them yourself, although it's cheaper to do it that way a lot of the time.

Basil
Oregano
Thyme
Tarragon (this is always a little pricier, but worth it)
Celery Salt
Seasoned Salt (Lowry's, McCormicks, Tony Cacheret's - whatever you like)
Lemon Pepper
Salt (buy a box of kosher salt, and a tub of regular salt)
Pepper, white and/or black
Cinnamon
Ginger
Allspice
Cumin
Coriander
Dried mustard powder
Fennel seeds (whole, not ground)
Curry Powder
Rosemary
Sage
Parsley flakes
Chili Powder
Paprika
Cayenne
Onion Powder or salt (I prefer powder)
Garlic powder or salt (again, I prefer powder)
Dried chile flakes (red pepper flakes)
Dill weed
Lavender (buy these in the bulk section only or they'll cost a fortune)
Wasabi powder (optional)
Cloves
Nutmeg
Italian Spices
Bay Leaf
Large container dried, chopped onion (1/4 cup of this is equal to a freshly cut onion)
Vanilla Extract
Dried Chives
Beef bouillon (you can get cubes, but I find that the Knorr powder is a better value)
Chicken bouillon
Tomato bouillon
Dried mushroom slices (asian market only)

With these staples herbs and spices, you can make nearly anything. Specialised spices, and more exotic ones can be gotten periodically as you have a little extra cash.

Other Pantry Goods (mostly for baking):

Dried buttermilk powder (store in fridge)
Dried egg whites (expensive, but good to keep on hand for baking. Not a necessity, though)
Baking Powder
Baking Soda
Cocoa powder
Dried whole milk (Nido brand; get it at Fiesta - this is great for baking also)
Assortment of dried fruits (for snacking, cooking and baking)
Powdered sugar
White sugar
Brown sugar
Dried coconut
Unflavoured gelatin
Shortening

Canned foods: (cheapest possible)

Canned tomato sauce (lots, and lots, and lots - buy 2 dollars worth of the cheapest 8 ounce cans, and 2 dollars worth of the 15 ounce cans. This *should* give you 8-10 small cans and 4 large ones)
Canned whole peeled tomatoes - buy 2 15 ounce cans and 1 28 ounce can
Tomato paste - 1 6-ounce can and 1 tube of paste (you rarely need a whole 6 ounce can)
Dice, crushed, stewed tomatoes - 2 of each
Canned potatoes - 2 cans each: diced, sliced, whole
Canned corn - 2-6 cans, depending on how much you like corn
Canned black olives - you can put these in your magic food blender to add a subtle component to sauces and such
Canned mushrooms - couple of them
Coconut milk - 2 small cans and 1 large
Artichoke hearts - 1-2 cans
Artichoke crowns (if you see it, get it. If not, don't sweat it. I have a good appetiser recipe w/ the canned salmon that uses these. Don't buy these until you have a bit of extra cash, though) - 1 can
2 cans generic chicken stock (for when you're out of homemade)
2 cans generic beef stock
2 cans cream of celery or mushroom, for casseroles
1 can soup you like, as a treat
2-4 cans of canned fruit you like
1-2 cans of beans for times you can't emotionally handle cooking beans from dry

Bottled Goods:

1 large jar white vinegar
1 small container cider vinegar
red and white wine vinegar (optional)
peanut butter - always keep this in the house
an assortment of jams, jellies and preserves (these are good for toast, sandwiches, sauces, ice cream toppings, to make jelly cookies and all sorts of other things)
molasses
corn syrup (at least light; dark if you want it)
1 jar active dry yeast (1 package is 2 1/4 teaspoons; it's cheaper to have a jar)
soy sauce
hot sauce
mayonnaise
lemon juice
assorted mustard
ketchup if you like it
anchovy paste
vegetable oil (most important)
sesame oil
olive oil
maple syrup (this is a splurge item for me; I always buy real syrup)
honey
capers

Other fridge Fridge Staples:

Medium eggs (use these for hard boiled eggs)
Large eggs (for baking and cooking)
Milk
Club soda (to make your own soft drinks)
Parmesan cheese (get the cheap stuff)

Ok, so you obviously are not going to get all this stuff at one time. This is a fairly comprehensive list of stuff you should always have on hand to be able to make a large variety of foods. This really does seem like a lot, but you'd be surprised by not only how little space it takes up, but by how diverse and long lasting it is.

Next message will be on produce, and then there'll be one on some tips and secrets for having "processed foods" that you made yourself. Also, if there's something on these lists that all you can think is "Oh, that's disgusting" (except the anchovy paste; get that anyway. It's in a lot of stuff you wouldn't expect), don't buy it. The goal is to get you eating at home. Not to drive you away from your kitchen and into the restaurants.

xoxo,

-a

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pantry Stocking for Frugal Living, Part Three

Here's the third letter in the series:

Ok, next is meat. I'm working w/ meat right now so it's on my mind.

I forgot to tell you - at the store, bring a calculator (or do it in your head) and keep track of how much you're spending as you go. Only bring in as much cash as you're ok w/ spending that day.

Canned Meat:

10-12 cans of tuna (important). Look for the cheapest brand, and get it packed in water. While the oil-packed tuna has a lot of flavour and nutritive value, it's not as versatile to cook w/. If you see this on sale, stock up on it. One advantage of buying the "off-brand" is that it will still generally come in a 6 ounce can. Most name brands have reduced the size of the can to 5 ounces but are still charging the same amount or more.

Spam. I keep on hand the individual slice packets. These are stupidly expensive, but can be nice to have at the house for rare occasions when you get weird cravings or you have a house guest who likes the stuff. I never buy a whole can, even though it's a better value, because I'll wind up throwing most of it away. That makes the little packets cheaper for me in the long run.

Canned chicken. If you see this on sale, please pick up a couple cans. This can be a lifesaver when you can't afford "real" chicken, or for salads and such.

Miscellaneous canned meats. I usually keep a couple cans of salmon or crab in the house, plus canned sardines for Peter. The salmon and crab are in the house so if I'm entertaining I can throw together some cheap, tasty appetisers that dont' break my bank. If there's specific stuff you like, keep it on hand.

Fresh meat:

Family pack is your friend. Get a package of butcher paper, or some wax paper and freezer bags. Or all three. Buy your meat in large quantities, where they sell it the cheapest. A lot of people don't want to buy 10 pounds of meat in one sitting, because they are only one or two people, but what they don't realise is that they can keep out a half a pound or whatever and portion out, then freeze, the rest and have meat for 1-2 dollars per pound. When I had a large freezer I would buy whatever meat was on sale and portion it out into whatever amount is best for my situation (now I portion for two, instead of one). Pork chops, meat, etc. All can be done this way. It's the best value, ever.

Adding to note: Middle Eastern markets often sell halal meat much more cheaply than the "regular" meat at the normal grocery stores. This meat is killed more humanely and without the assembly line mentality we often find our animals being slaughtered with. So keep that open as an option as well. Kosher meat is another alternative, but usually costs more than "regular" meat.

Two-For-Ones:

Often, stores will try to promote meat (usually sausages) by offering them two packages for the cost of one. This is generally a really great deal, so I get the two packages and toss one in the freezer. Soemtimes you can get really expensive hotdogs and sausages this way. Instead of paying 4 bucks for a package of Hebrew Nationals, you can get 2 for 4 dollars. And so on.

Expired meat:

Ok... no one actually sells expired meat. But what they DO is deeply, deeply discount meat that's supposed to be used that day, or within a couple days. Once I picked up a pound of lamb for 2 or 3 bucks because it was about to expire. Normally that would've cost 7+ dollars. Again, if you're not planning to use it immediately, toss it in the freezer. Added to note: when you thaw it out, use it that first day.

Chicken:

The best values on chicken are whole chickens and leg quarters. A whole chicken can be found on sale for 4-5 dollar (look for whole chicken at $0.89-$1.09 per pound; I won't really buy it more expensive than that) and will provide several meals. A typical chicken, in my house, will be roasted and that will be the first meal. Then I will cut off all the meat from the bones and use the bones to make a chicken stock, which goes to many other meals. The remaining meat I can portion out and freeze, or I can use it to make chicken quesadillas (yum!), chicken salad, chicken casseroles, chicken pot pie (gross), chicken whatever. You should be able to get 3-5 meals out of a whole chicken, MINIMUM (you don't eat enough to get that few meals, really), plus your stock, which can get you other meals cheaply too.

Chicken leg quarters are basically like dealing with a whole chicken, minus the mass. I have the same price guideline for them, and find that generally $1.29/pound is an average, non-sale price for this. Which makes it a cheap, nutritious value even if you can't find it on sale.

Pork: For people who don't eat pork, just skip this section, please

Bacon really is your friend. You can find it pretty cheap, and it travels far. I buy bacon in those huge three pound packs (though I'd buy it in even bigger if I could). When I get it home, I open it up and I grab my wax paper. I pull out three slices of bacon, fold them in half and wrap them in wax paper. Then it goes into my "bacon bag," which is a freezer bag. I portion out all of them (we usually eat 3 slices in a serving, but use whatever portion you find is best for you) and put the bundles of bacon in the bag. Then it goes into the freezer. When I need bacon, I just pull out however many bundles I need. It tends to thaw pretty quickly, too, and I'm never out of bacon. If I wind up w/ a bundle that has a different number than 3 slices (it isn't always divisible by 3, after all), then I just mark that bundle so I know when I pull it out.

Salt pork is a great thing to have on hand. You can pick up a pound for about 2-3 dollars (I try to get it pre-sliced) and a pound will last a long, long time. It's good for flavouring beans, greens, or as a bacon replacement in a pinch.

Ham is awesome if you can get it on sale. Sometimes they have a deal on a pound or so of ham, so I'll get it, slice it, and treat it like the bacon. Good for ham fried rice, breakfast, and all sorts of other good treats.

Other pork should follow the bulk meat rule.

Fats:

Ok, this is a weird one, but I think it's important. Sometimes you buy a bulk piece of meat (roast, usually, is when this happens to me), and when you go to use it, you discover it has a LOT more fat than you thought it did. While it's tempting to get mad and feel ripped off, try not to. This is actually a boon in disguise. What I do when this happens is carefully trim off the excess fat (make sure you don't have meat stuck to it) and put it in a freezer bag. Sometimes I can't afford to buy a new bottle of vegetable oil, but I still have to cook. When that happens, I pull out a piece of fat, render it down into tallow (or lard, or shmaltz. Shmaltz is rendered chicken fat, tallow is rendered beef fat) and I am still able to cook what I needed without having to spend the 5 bucks on a new bottle of oil. Also, it can be nice sometimes when you are out of meat and can't afford more to toss little pieces of fat into soups and whatnot.

That's all for meat right now. You're almost wishing you hadn't asked about cheap living, huh? I promise it's easy. It's a lot of stuff to know, but when you're at the store thinking about it, it'll just feel like common sense.

xoxo,

-a

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pantry Stocking for Frugal Living, Part Two

Part two of the economical eating series:

Ok... This one should be a little shorter than the last.

Price book: Many people (I actually don't do this, because I do it in my head, but it helps most people) will get a notebook and pen, then go to the store. What they do is write down the types of things they buy, or plan to buy, for their family, and then they write down the cost of the item (also the unit price, which is price per ounce, or per whatever). They will typically go to a few different store and do this. So the book might have an entry like this:

White rice, long-grain
:
HEB: 10 dollars for a 10 pound bag
unit price: $1/pound
Randalls: 8 dollars for a 10 pound bag

And so on. Don't go to a store you wouldn't feel comfortable shopping at. Even if they're a little cheaper, you won't go there anyway, so it doens't matter. Do consider looking at places like ethnic store (hispanic, asian and middle eastern stores often sell staples MUCH cheaper than american markets), and dollar stores. Dollar stores often sell real food, real cheap. A lot of the time this is where I'll get treats like potato chips (which granted, are not real food). I just got a huge ass bag of chips for a dollar. Cereal is often cheaper there too, as are some canned products and basic spices (which will be a separate email). Sometimes milk can be obtained cheaply there as well. So just kind of look around. I recommend hitting up Fiesta. The Fiesta in Austin is open 24/7, so you can go there after work and not waste extra gasoline.

Also, as annoying as those fliers in the mail are, look at them. I just found out (because of the fliers) that a store near me was offering almost 9 pounds of roast for 15 bucks. That's a steal, so I bought it. I split it into two packages and I'm using half of it today to make a pile of chili. Additionally, those fliers will tell you certain other things, like what HEB is offering for the Meal Deal and Combo Loco. When I had HEB readily available to me, I often found I could get 20-50 dollars worth of food for 10-15 bucks. The trick with those deals is to really look at what's being given away free. If you won't use more than 2 items, it's often not worth it (though look at the individual prices of the items you would use to compute its actual value to you). I donate the extra items to food banks or to friends whom I know would eat those foods normally.

The two above paragraphs deal more w/ her local grocery options, but I suspect most people will have some sort of grocer that everyone locally knows is super cheap, and I'm sure there are also cool deals to be found in "normal" grocery stores too.

If there's a CVS near you, get an Extra Care card. A lot of people are able to buy basic household items for free, using this card. Google "Extra Care" and you'll see tons of blogs teaching you how to do this. I use CVS as a convenient place to get tampons and toothpaste and stuff, because they often are selling these things for about a dollar.

When you see something is super-cheaply discounted (but not expired), buy a bunch of it, if you can afford to. This is what I do w/ pasta, canned tomato products, canned tuna, etc. I don't buy them when they're not on sale, but the large amounts I buy when they are carries me through until the next sale. If you have a good amount of freezer space, do this with meat, too. This is a little harder for me because my freezer is tiny. But lately I'm getting into canning. If this is interesting to you, let me know and I'll tell you more about it.

Where to shop at the store:

The perimeter of the store is your best friend. This is where the deals tend to be, and it's also where the food is healthiest. The closer to the middle of the store you get, the worse the food is for you. Sometimes you still have to go to the middle of the store, but I try to do it as infrequently as possible. The middle of the store will always carry the most expensive food there is.

I'll tell you more if I rmemeber more, but this is all pretty simple. It's a long-winded, detailed explanation of where to look for the best deal,s and how to keep track of the cost so you know when a good deal really IS there.

xoxo,

-a

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pantry Stocking For Frugal Living, Part One

A while back, I had a lengthy email exchange with a friend of mine. Like many of us, she was concerned about rising food costs and our troubled economy. Because I'd successfully done an experiment during the summer to see if I could eat for $9/week (with a previously well-stocked pantry), she was interested to know how my pantry was stocked and how I was able to eat so cheaply.

This is pretty long email exchange, and since I am busy with lots of homework, I've decided to leave it in its original form (just my emails, her responses are not included for privacy reasons) with only minimal editing. I thought despite its length, that the information might be useful to some of you by introducing some new ways of reducing food cost, or just reminding you of some things you may have forgotten. In this email series, it first outlines how to stock the pantry well for minimal cost, how to stock your freezer, how to minimise food waste and then finally, the $9/week part (which is, admittedly, the shortest part).

Since I don't know how to do one of those cool "read this little snippet, then click on the link for the rest" things (being a Luddite and all), I decided to break this up into one post per day, each one containing one of the letters in the series.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful to some people!

Letter One:

Ok. Here's part one of your staples list. This is going to cost a bit of money, but in the long run it will save you ... well, thousands, potentially. Particularly given how much you eat out it'll definitely save you thousands. You can get a good start on this list for 20-30 dollars, though it will cost you 50-70 to complete the list. Don't complete it now - buy the most important stuff (which I'll mark as most important) and get 1 other item on the list, as you can afford it, when you do your weekly shopping.

Rice:

10 pound bag white, long-grain rice (don't pay more than 10-12 dollars for this. Buy the cheapest white rice available that is not parboiled)
2 pounds brown rice
2-5 pounds jasmine rice, if you like it (don't spend more than 5 bucks on this)
1-2 pounds medium grain rice (for risottos and such)

The white, long-grain rice is the most important. Get that first, and when you have an extra few bucks, get the others as you can afford them. With rice, it's very important that you keep it in a food-grade plastic container. Pantry moths are a serious problem and can quickly contaminate your grains if you don't keep it in sealed plastic containers. They eat through plastic bags so those don't work. I actually just lost 7 pounds of rice (glutinous and medium grain) because I forgot to transfer them to appropriate containers and I discovered bugs eating them and had to throw them all away.

Corn:

Cornmeal - 1 bag/box of whatever brand you like. Store this in the freezer.

One small container of cornstarch. This is not crucial, but it's really good to have, since you will be doing some baking as part of your "cheap living" experiment.

Legumes:

2 pounds minimum of lentils. Store these in the freezer. ALL lentils come with eggs of some sort of grain-eating bugs in the bag. Keeping them in the freezer stops them from hatching and allows you to store lentils for years at a time. Same with split peas, should you choose to add them in as well. This is on the "important" list.

4 pound bag pinto beans (in Texas, pinto beans are the least costly. A 4-pound bag costs approximately 3 dollars. However, if you see them in bulk for 50 cents/pound, but them that way. This is the most important bean, though)
1-2 pounds kidney beans
1-2 pounds great northern or navy beans
2 pounds garbanzo beans (hummus, salads, etc)
1-2 pounds of any other bean you really like

Do not buy canned beans. While it is true that they're very convenient, you will spend 10-20x as much buying them in cans, for the quantity you get. Beans are very easy to cook, very nutritious, and filling. My rule, with the exception of canellini (I think I'm misspelling it) beans is to never pay more than 1 dollar per pound. I keep track of the cost of beans. In some stores, you will pay less if you get the beans out of the ethnic aisle. In other stores you will pay more. Look at not only the prices, but at the per ounce price - this is a good general rule of thumb. If it'll help you to remember things, you can keep a pricebook. I'll explain that in a separate email, but keep it in mind. Generally, I only buy staples when they're on sale, but when you're first starting out, get as much as you can for the smallest amount of money. You want to think about total nutrition when you do this, as well as cost. Canellini beans, which are white kidney beans, average 1.50/pound. That's just the way it is, so I rarely buy them. But they are tasty.

Wheat:

1-2 pounds whole wheat berries. You can get these in bulk usually for 50 cents to a dollar per pound. Buy spring wheat, not hard winter wheat. This is mainly to use for salads and such.

1 small bag (Fiesta carries these cheaply; in fact, Fiesta carries most of this cheaply - I once spent $200 dollars on staples at Fiesta for a very, very poor friend and she was able to eat for 6 or 8 months on just what I bought, supplementing in a little meat and fresh produce here and there) bulghur wheat. You can use this for pilafs, tabouleh, etc.

Flour - 5 pounds of all-purpose flour (most important)
1 box cake or pastry flour (this is nice for making things like homemade biscotti and other such treats, but it is also not a necessity)
1 bag of bread flour (again, nice, but not necessary)
1 small can of Wondra flour (optional also - many people find it's easier to use this when making roux and such)

Bread - buy a loaf of whatever you like best, regardless of cost. If you do not eat bread quickly, buy it anway and store it in the freezer. A loaf of bread has lasted me as long as a year stored in the freezer. I don't eat it often but sometimes I like to make french toast, or have a sandwich.

Pasta:

10-15 pounds of assorted shapes. Please be sure to get a variety of shapes, as eating the same pasta over and over gets boring. Appetite fatigue is a very real problem, and varying the shape is one way to circumvent it. In general, I buy pasta when it's on sale, and usually a lot of it at one time. I try to get pasta for $1/pound, though I will go as high as 1.29/pound. The ethnic section will also have 3-4 bags of little pastas for one dollar.

Couscous. This is actually pasta. Buy this in bulk and put it in a container (plastic or glass). Buying it in the normal grocery store is very, very expensive and not worth the cost.

Other:

1 can Old-Fashioned oats. Buy the cheapest brand there is. Often, you can get a can for 1-2 dollars if you buy the generic.

Any other assorted grains you might like: spelt, rye, whatever.

Ok... tomorrow I'll explain the price book, and I'll also do spices and baking supplies that are important to have. And probably some other stuff too. Expect a lot of reading from me. :)

xoxo,

-a

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Just Popping In

Hi. I just wanted to pop in and tell you guys I really haven't been cooking lately. Over spring break, P and I went to Dallas to visit our friend D, and we ate stupid amounts of meat. Since we've been home, I've been slammed with homework, preparing to be the dramaturg for a play on the 16th, getting things set up for my school transfer in the fall and baking. A lot. Usually, I make these ridiculous batches of bread dough, and I freeze most of the dough. But with Pesach coming along, I've been trying to bake it all so I don't have to throw it away.

In terms of eating, I have to admit, we've been eating mostly foods I've canned before (meat sauce mainly), simple pastas (though mostly w/ sauteed mushrooms and preserved lemons lately, as it's quicker). Or eating fast food. Oh, and I found some breaded chicken in the freezer, so we had "oven wings" and oven fries one day.

Tomorrow I intend to make several salads (my parsley is bolting, so I figured I should use it all before it goes to seed). Some tabouleh, a modified shepherd's salad, pasta salad and some kind of potato salad. Plus a dozen hard boiled eggs. Simple snacks for hungry, over-worked students.

Because I'm so pressed for time right now, I've been going with quick stand-by recipes, stuff I've made and canned or eating out. I'm sorry, but I have nothing new right now.

On my honour, I'll have something new for you soon. It might actually not be until Pesach, but we'll see how it goes. Anyway, I figured since I've been neglectful of you, I'd revisit some old favourites you might also enjoy, by sprinkling the links in this post.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Purim Steak

I don't use my own recipe for hamantashen, and I'm sure you've all been bombarded with recipes for them the last few days. So today, I post the Purim dinner we had. Steak and roasted vegetables. We got a big porterhouse to share, but I think this would work fine with individually portioned steaks as well. I totally forgot to take pictures of the steak until I'd cut it up for us, but you'll get the idea. Hope you enjoy!

Steak/Steak Marinade:

1-2 tablespoons each: tahini, pomegranate molasses
1-2 teaspoons each: marjoram, sumac, aleppo pepper, salt
1/2 teaspoon each: ground galangal (or ginger), garlic powder
1/4 cup each: lemon juice, olive oil

Whisk together the ingredients. Put marinade and steak in bowl or plastic bag and marinate for a couple hours. Turn once per hour. Grill steak. Serves 2.



Roasted Vegetables

2 carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 stalk celery, cut into 1 inch pieces
8 new potatoes, cut into quarters (or eighths if larger)
1 small white onion, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic (4-6 cloves)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2-3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1/8 cup each: lemon juice, vegetable oil
1/2 cup freshly chopped parsley

Heat oven to 400F. Roast 40 minutes or until done. Serves 2.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Wanchai Ferry Cashew Chicken

After two hellish days of trying to get caught up with all the homework I missed while I was sick, the last thing on my mind tonight was cooking (and yesterday I was so slammed, we ordered pizza and sandwiches). Enter the Wanchai Ferry stuff. I had two left: Sweet and Sour, plus Cashew Chicken. Nothing really is more disgusting to me than sweet and sour anything, so I'm trying to avoid it. Whenever I make it, you guys will be hearing P's opinions, not mine. :) Anyway, so I decided to make the cashew chicken one. Except I defrosted steak. So we had cashew steak tonight.

It was good. Very good. But it didn't taste like Chinese food. It smelled like Chinese food while it was cooking (lovely notes of ginger and garlic), but the flavour of the beef drastically overpowered the flavours of the sauce. When I tasted just sauce, it was very nice. Same texture as the previous sauces I reviewed. But I think if you guys get this, use a mild meat, like, uh... chicken. :) With steak, it tastes more like a quick version of beef tips and rice.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Pumpkin and White Bean Soup

Hello! Once again, I've been away for some time. Sorry for that. First I had the flu (for almost a week!), and then I've mostly been eating out or cooking some standard foods you guys have already seen (or at least seen variations of). Today though, I've made something new.

After I made this pumpkin-ginger soup, I canned all the extra to use later. I'd actually kind of forgotten about it until I was peeking through the canned goods for some meat sauce to take to my biology report. There were a few jars of that soup, so I thought it'd be nice to recreate it into something new for us. Plus, I'd taken out a few tablespoons of pumpkin puree to use for something else I haven't made, so it seemed like a great way to use that up too. Hope you enjoy!

3 slices bacon, cut into small bits ($0.50)
1/2 yellow onion, diced ($0.12)
1 pint pumpkin-ginger soup* ($0.30)
1 - 1 1/2 cup cooked white beans ($0.15)
1/8 cup dried and reconstituted wood ear mushrooms** (optionally, you can chop them) ($0.10)
3 tablespoons pumpkin shell puree (optional) ($0.03)
salt and pepper to taste (penny)
1-2 teaspoons marjoram ($0.03)
pinch freshly ground nutmeg (penny)
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek seeds ($0.05)
water from the mushrooms, plus enough water to make 1 cup (penny)

Fry the bacon, and then add in the onions and fry those. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer over medium heat at least 30 minutes. Serve with bread. Serves 2.

Total cost: $1.31
Per serving: $0.66

*If you have never made this soup or just don't want to, just simmer together some pumpkin puree, water and ginger.
** You can get these very, very cheaply in the Asian markets. They're usually packaged under "dried black fungus."