Slow Cooker Chuck Roast Stew: Trying to Eat Cheap, A Month of Dinners Day 30

I didn't post dinner #29 because it was Thanksgiving dinner all over again--we reheated and re-enjoyed the leftovers that our Thursday hosts graciously packed up for us to take home.

This is the last day of my "Month of Dinners" series, exploring how to cut food costs while still keeping our family meals as tasty and healthy as I can. As I mentioned in my mid-stream review, "It's All About the Seasonal," I'll write more about trying to eat cheap as the types of available foods change with the seasons.

Looking back, I see that 13 of my homemade meals cost less than $10. (That includes the $12 chili that we ate for 2 nights.) None of the at-home meals were over $14 (that was the turnip-crab soup). Factors that made a meal expensive were 1. meat and 2. multiple ingredients (like the whole-wheat mac & cheese on day 2 and the bowtie soup on day 22). However meat didn't always put a meal over the $10 mark--the turkey tacos on Day 12, the beef stroganoff on day 13, and the turkey-bacon quiche on day 28 were all under 10 bucks. There were 6 nights where I ate a shared meal or potluck or was treated by others for some reason, so those are hard to calculate. That's not exactly "frugal," it's more like "blessed." Of course we try to host and treat others, too, we just didn't happen to do so in the last 30 days.

So here's tonight's meal--slow cooker chuck roast stew. One big thing I like about slow cookers is that they can take a cheap (and usually tough) cut of meat and render it like buttah over the course of 8+ hours. So chicken thighs will melt in your mouth just like the juiciest breast, and tougher beef cuts like a chuck roast turn out as fork tender as a prime filet mignon. (Of course another thing I like about my slow cooker is the "fix it and forget it" aspect--you've already done 3/4 of your dinner dishes before dinner is even served, and you can come home from work and just relax until you're ready to spoon up your meal.)

The smallest chuck roast at the store was a monster that was over 3 pounds and cost 3.99 a pound. I cut the roast in half and froze half of it, and cut the fatty bits out of the rest. (Put those trimmings in my freezer-stock-bag to add a bit of oomph to the usual combination of carrot tops and onion skins.) So that's $6.50 worth of meat. Then I added 2 potatoes, 1 red onion, 2 stalks celery, 1 parsnip and 5 carrots, plus a bay leaf, a small can of chopped tomatoes, a sprinkle of thyme, and about 1/2 cup of wine to deglaze the pan. All told I'd say that's another $6.50 for the rest of the ingredients. So $13 total, with a bit of leftovers besides. Here it is with the festive angel chimes I broke out this weekend.

Trying to Eat Cheap: Spinach-Bacon Quiche

Frozen pie crusts are on sale this month: two for $2.99. And they're whole wheat! Here's a quiche recipe that I invented, with help from a couple cookbooks. I'll also add prices as I've been doing all month in search of the key to cheap-o dining. I used turkey bacon as an experiment, and liked it, but regular bacon would be fine too.

  • 1 frozen pie shell ($1.50)
  • 4 slices turkey bacon ($2.00)
  • 1 10 oz. pkg frozen spinach ($1.99)
  • 1 cup grated cheddar ($1.75)
  • 3 eggs ($1.26)
  • 1/2 cup milk (.50)
  • 1 T flour (.10)
  • paprika, dill, salt, pepper, thyme (.25)

  1. Heat the oven to 425˚.
  2. Fry the turkey bacon until it is browned. I didn't use any oil, but you could put a bit of cooking spray in if you're using a non-non-stick pan. (Would that be a "stick pan"?) When cool, slice it up into very small pieces. (I used kitchen shears for this.)
  3. Prepare the spinach according to the package. Mine said to boil the spinach in its plastic bag for 18 minutes. Then I squeezed it out in a fine-mesh sieve to get it as dry as possible.
  4. Place the frozen pie crust in the oven (still in its foil pan) for 5 minutes. Take it out and poke some holes in the bottom with a fork, then bake it for another 5 minutes until it's no longer doughy. Turn the oven down to 350˚.
  5. Beat the 3 eggs together and add enough milk to make 1.5 cups of liquid. Add salt and pepper to the mixture.
  6. Toss the grated cheese together with the flour. (I believe this makes the quiche "gel" better and not be runny.)
  7. Spread the spinach in a layer all over the bottom of the crust. Sprinkle on a tiny bit of thyme and a tiny bit of dill. Then, spread on the cheese and put the bacon pieces on top of that.
  8. Pour the egg-milk mixture evenly over all. Sprinkle all over with paprika. Bake for about 35 minutes--until a bit browned on top.
  9. Let cool for about 15 minutes before serving.
This cost $9.35! For some reason it reminds me of that great Beatrix Potter story The Pie and the Patty Pan, where the little dog made herself a ham pie when she went to tea at the cat's house, because she didn't want to eat mouse pie. Pie mixups and hilarity ensue. Gammon!

Cheese straws: What to do with leftover pie dough

My contribution to Thanksgiving dinner was an apple pie and vanilla ice cream. Baking is not my strong suit, but I think the pie turned out OK. My foodie pal ValleyWriter posted a blender pie dough recipe, so I tried that (though did not add sugar because Betty Crocker doesn't). As I was trimming the dough around the edges, I remembered that my mother makes delicious savory cheese straws from leftover dough like this. So I whipped up a batch. All you need extra is cheese and paprika--here's how.

First, I combined all the cuttings and rolled them out. The timing is perfect for these, because unlike with pie crust, it's good if the dough is a bit warm. After working it into a pie and trimming, dough should be just the right temperature and texture for cheese straws. Anyway, I rolled out the leftover dough and grated my favorite cheese onto it. That would be sharp cheddar.


I folded it in half over the cheese. That's not whole wheat dough, by the way, but something called "white flour with germ."


Then I rolled it out again and grated cheese on--twice more. I don't advise more than 3 layers of cheese because I believe otherwise the cheesestraw would slide apart uncontrollably once the cheese melts. After 3 layers of cheese, I rolled it out one last time and dashed paprika everywhere. Then I cut it into strips.


Now I had a quandary. I had just put a pie into a 425˚ oven on a cookie sheet. There was no way I could put my cheesestraws on that same cookie sheet with my bare hands without burning myself. Fortunately, a beloved burger flipper came to the rescue. I slid several cheesestraws onto it at a time...


... and placed them in a blazing hot oven right next to the pie.


I baked them about 10 minutes until the cheese was starting to ooze out the sides and singe, and the top looked a bit browned. To avoid another awkward transfer, I just took the pie off the cookie sheet and put it back in the oven, and let the cheesestraws stay on the cookie sheet and cool. I bet these would make a great hostess gift if tied with a ribbon and presented in a cute box!


Trying to Eat Cheap: Dinner, Day 26—Gilfeather turnip soup, part 3

This is my third post about the same recipe, Gilfeather Turnip Soup with Sea Legs. First the recipe, posted 4 years ago. Then, a little how-to followup posted last month. Well, we had it for dinner again tonight. Let me say once more, this soup is So Good! The sweet strange tang of the turnip goes perfectly with the smooth seafood bites here and there. The potato and carrot give everything heft and carry the game along. This is a fine soup. I mentioned last month that I used "an excellent crab from Vietnam in a refrigerated foil pouch." We got that again this time and I'll document it for the record.

Here's the drawback: This stuff is expensive. At $5.99 for a 6 ounce pouch the crab comes in at around $16 bucks a pound. That's a lot more than the $1.39/lb that I pay for aduki beans. But then there's my 80/20 rule (that I just made up) about frugal cooking: it's OK to have an expensive thing if it's going to be a small percentage of the whole. The turnip, potato, carrot, onion, and box of chicken broth (You di'n't! Yes, I did) cost about another $6.00. Then there was the ubiquitous toast side dish.* So let's call this about $14. I think that's the least frugal yet...

Because I'm posting so much about Gilfeather turnips, I thought I'd do some research on them using the Google machine. I found that they come from Wardsboro, Vermont, and are celebrated there annually at a turnip festival. They are beloved by both deer and humans and are said to taste just a little bit better after a good frost. One site said that these were "developed and named after John Gilfeather," which made me giggle. There are a few good-looking recipes at this soup/scalloped/soufflé post: Gilfeather Turnip Recipes from "The Heart of New England."

*Seems that if it's not lentils with me this time of year, it's toast. We found some really good Irish butter to go on it though, to replace the golden farm butter that's now out of season. Here's a shot of said farm butter by the way. It really is this color! I love the clover leaf pressed into it.


Trying to Eat Cheap: A Month of Dinners, Day 25

It's simple. Take leftovers—say a rice & legume casserole. Open a can of Indian food... mattar paneer does nicely (peas and cheese in curry-type sauce). Heat together. That's dinner! My helper-in-life prepared this for us and it was pretty good. I also found some black pepper papads in the cupboard (a thin cracker-like thing that bubbles and crisps in the toaster-oven), so made those as a side dish. There it is. Looks kind of canned, but tastes great. And since I didn't have to cook, I'm all the happier!

Trying to Eat Cheap: It's All About the Seasonal

Just a note that I'm not going to try to monetize tonight's dinner as I've been doing most of this month, because I went to a family birthday party. We all had yummy Chinese takeout and a nice thick tall chocolate cake.

Instead, I want to do a quick mid-series review of my "Trying to Eat Cheap" posts. I'm getting to the point where I'm looking back over the 20-odd dinner posts I've made and thinking that we eat a LOT of lentils and squash and kale and cheese. Where are the exotic stir-fries and coconut soups? Where are the simple salads with bacon and eggs thrown on for protein? Where are the vegetable focaccias or pasta primaveras or the grilled marinated veggie-meat kebabs? Where is the COLOR? Then I remembered. It's November. And part of eating cheap (and in my opinion, part of eating healthy) is eating with the season and trying to eat locally or at least mindfully. That means that a November dinner series is going to be a lot different than a May one or an August one. At this time of year in my part of the country, the crops are apples, butternut squash, pumpkin, kale, and lots of roots (potatoes, beets, turnips, etc.). Combine these with bulk items like brown rice and beans, and you're eating cheap. It's just doesn't seem very exciting sometimes!

Future goal: I would love to assemble a pan-seasonal "cheap eats" recipe list, with emphasis on local healthy foods along with plain cheap foods. I love garden-based cookbooks, but they sometimes don't account for the 6 months of the year when everything is under snow and we're faced with cold storage veggies--or splurging on avocadoes at $2.50 apiece! I think there is a lot of value in knowing what to do with beans and grains. They are not exotic, but neither is my heritage, which is haggis-based. So look for "Trying to Eat Cheap" posts past the month of November, as I work on assembling a solid repertoire for the whole wheel of the year.

Missing Toronto: About Arts & Crafts

Sometimes you like a bunch of different bands, and you try to find out more about them, and you find the record label for one of them, and then you realize that all the other bands are also on the SAME record label, and then you feel like you might not be so alone in the world after all, and that there might be some master plan in the universe, or at least some other people in the world who are kind of like you. And maybe, if you lived in a big city or something, you'd even get to see some of those bands live when they came through town, or if you happened to live in the same town they do, you'd get to see them all the time. This is the kind of stuff that goes through my head when I look at the Arts & Crafts roster, a label from Toronto, Ontario, the beloved city where I used to live. Unfortunately, right about the time when I want to be living in Toronto again and getting into the music scene for reals, it's also right about the time I've pretty much settled down in an entirely different country and am--let's face it--no longer living a late-night life in da club like I used to do.

All I know about Arts & Crafts I learned from their Web site, I first visited it when one of my favourite favourite (pls note Cdn spelling there) bands Stars moved from Le Grand Magistery label to Arts & Crafts. It was one of those fancy sites with lots of Flash animation and music that started playing very loudly as soon as everything had loaded, even if you were at work and weren't really supposed to be visiting record label Web sites, especially not ones that play loud music just spontaneously. Since then the site has become a bit more "normal" looking and less arty, and that's OK. Anyway, I was looking up some of the new music that made up the 2 shows below, and I found several links back to Arts & Crafts. I was like, "Who is Brendan Canning anyway? Wha--he's part of Broken Social Scene? On Arts & Crafts just like BSS? And this Apostle of Hustle sounds like Feist is singing in the background. Wait, this guy is from Broken Social Scene too? And on Arts & Crafts? And that really is Feist? Who is also on Arts & Crafts? And... OMG, The Stills are on Arts & Crafts too? What is going ON? And of course there's a new Stars EP Sad Robots, the existence of which means I am not one but TWO discs behind on one of my allegedly favourite favourite bands?" Like that.

Beef Jerky Time playlist, 11*12*08

Beef Jerky Time playlist, 11*19*08
  • Juicy: Rafter
  • Churches Under the Stairs: Brendan Canning
  • Real Animal: The House of Love
  • Kings & Queens: Apostle of Hustle
  • The End: David & the Citizens
  • My Alarm: New Faces
  • Publish My Love: Rogue Wave
  • Neo Violence: The Tough Alliance
  • Lay Down Your Weapons: Scissors for Lefty
  • God Has a Voice, She Speaks Through Me: CocoRosie
  • Independence Day: David Byrne
  • The Ghost of Genova Heights: Stars
  • Missing: Beck

Trying to Eat Cheap: Dinner, Day 23

Let's face it, macrobiotic food, aka "health food," is really cheap. I think tonight's meal comes to about $5, and we only ate half of it. That's because basically it's a bunch of brown rice with some veggies and lentils (again with the lentils...). It's another household staple of ours and excellent stick-to-your-ribs fare for the long bone-cold winter nights we get around here. Welcome to the darkest 2 months of the year, my hearties. (The blur on the right is not a ghost, it is steam.)

Here's what's in this bad boy: golden beet, parsnip, carrot, red onion, brown rice, lentils, water, wakame, rosemary (free from the garden). Throw together in an oiled covered dish and bake at 375 for at least 90 minutes. We like it with umeboshi paste and tamari.

It is not a coincidence that we are having cleansing whole grains and root vegetables practically moments before one of the biggest eating days of the year...

Trying to Eat Cheap: Dinner, Day 22

This is called "Meatball Soup" from Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook Deceptively Delicious (Melcher Media 2007). As you may have heard, Mrs. Seinfeld's idea is to put pureed vegetables into "normal" food so that children are sure to get at least some vegetables during the day. Other recipes include chocolate cake (made with beets) and pizza (with a hidden layer of spinach). This meatball soup contains carrot puree in the broth and sweet potato puree in the meatballs. I am not a huge convert on the hidden vegetables thing, but I do like some of these recipes and bowtie pasta is popular with my audience.

3 oz. pasta: .90
1 can tomatoes: 2.19
3 cups chicken stock: 2.00
1/2 lb ground turkey: 2.75
1/2 onion, 2 cloves garlic: .75
sweet potato: .33
1/2 carrot: .50
milk & parm: $.75
3 slices bread: .80
oil, spices: .50
Total: 11.47
Closing argument: I find this a frugal recipe for 3 reasons. One, it's a meal on its own. Two, there are tons of meatballs in it, but they're actually mostly bread, so quite thrifty. Three, leftovers!

Trying to Eat Cheap: Dinner, Day 21

I have been making this pizza since at least 1983. The recipe was in World magazine back then and I took a shine to it. I followed it religiously until the mid-90s, when I started mixing things up--like pre-cooking the crust, adding strange ingredients like radicchio and seafood, and trying different kinds of flour. I've pretty much gone back to the original recipe at this point (dough, tomato sauce, "normal" toppings), but I'm working on a blender version of the dough. It's still a work in progress (it gets really elastic-y in its current incarnation, and is hard to spread to the edges of the pan). I'll keep you posted.

Toppings tonight were turkey sausage, red pepper, garlic, and mushrooms.


This is a handy dish because it's an all-in-one. Vegetables, dairy, protein can all be piled on, and you don't even need a fork. Here's my cost breakdown:
yeast, sugar, salt: $1.00
flour & oil: $1.00
pizza sauce: $2.49
part-skim mozzarella: $2.94
1/3 red pepper: .75
garlic: .25
5 mushrooms: 1.32
3 turkey sausage (1/2 package): $2.00
Total: 11.75
I guess one area where I could cut back is the pizza sauce--I could use plain tomato sauce sprinkled with oregano and basil. But I have a strange weakness for canned pizza sauce. I just like the idea of it, though my own homemade sauces are probably tastier... and cheaper. Also there don't have to be so many toppings, of course!

Here's another shot of the pizza--I was trying to get the whole tray from end-to-end in this one shot. The cut-up pizza makes 8 rectangular pieces--we ate 6 of them.


Trying to Eat Cheap: Dinner, Day 20

The big eater of the house was out at a meeting tonight (the kind with free pizza!) so I made a spontaneous soup for myself and the little one. Basically, we foraged for dinner. What I ended up with was a pretty good lentil soup and, of course, my favorite side dish of toast--this time with melted cheddar.


I liked this soup. I had about 2 cups of cooked lentils sitting around. (I remind myself of Neil from The Young Ones with my constant LENTILS.) I combined them with sautéed celery and red onion, some water, and threw in dulse (seaweed, yeah), turmeric, crushed garlic and marjoram for flavoring. I also added a little of the red pepper tapenade that was featured back on Day 4. I threw in some thinly sliced kale to force some veggies on us. I served it with some grated parmesan on top. Even my sometimes picky companion said it was good! I was glad there was a bit of that tapenade left to try in another way, because it really blossomed in this soup and had a nice smoky flavor that I didn't notice on Day 4 when it was covered with cheese.

Here's my breakdown:
lentils: $1.00
celery & 1/2 onion: $1.00
kale: $2.00
garlic & dulse: .50
spices: .25
parmesan & cheddar: $1.50
1 slice bread: .50
Total: 6.75
Frugality lesson for the day: Dinner may already be lurking in your kitchen. If you don't know what to eat, don't despair. Start opening cupboards and taking things out of the fridge and it will be unable to hide any longer.

Honey Lager: Tried Too Early?

My second batch of beer this season was a Honey Lager from Charlie Papazian's book The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing (Avon Books 1991). The ingredients are very simple: light dried malt extract, 2.5 pounds of clover honey, Cascade hops and yeast. The brew supply store fellow sold me a very nice packet of yeast which (bad!) I forgot to write down. (See my "lessons learned" post about keeping good brewing notes!) But I did write down the original gravity and the finishing gravity, so I should be able to figure the alcohol content. Let's see, with the help of Beermath:
Percent alcohol=5.1%
That's cool. My problem right now is that I can't wait to try it! I bottled on Wednesday, 10/29. I ran out of will power and cracked open a bottle on Sunday, 11/16--that's about two and a half weeks later. But... it had a strange sharp pong to the aftertaste that wasn't pleasant. I don't think it's ready yet.

My personal rule is to wait 4 weeks, so I'm just learning yet another lesson by drinking too early. I just need to sit tight for the full 4 weeks before I try again. Thanksgiving weekend, you are honey lager. One note: This isn't a "real" lager because I didn't brew it in a refrigerator. I guess it is more "lager-esque"--light and sharp. Supposed to be, anyway.

Plotting my next batch as soon as I can afford the ingredients. I'm thinking about something dark and spicy. Thoughts?

Trying to Eat Cheap: Dinner, Day 19

One word: leftovers. The chili from Day 17 was reheated, covered with more cheese and filled us right up. I also stir-fried some thinly sliced zucchini in lots of butter, just for variety. The little one ate most of that, which is what I was hoping. So: 1/2 cup grated cheese=$1.00 and 1/2 squash = $1.10. Tonight's dinner cost $2.10. (Or I could cut Monday's costs in half--Monday is now $6 and today is $8.10.)

Now that's what I'm talkin' about!

Trying to Eat Cheap: Dinner, Day 18

This is kind of the opposite of last night, which was a little bit of meat with a lot of other less expensive stuff. This time the main feature was 2 nice juicy pork chops, with just a few cheap sides. I think the results are comparable in terms of both satisfaction and price. Here's my plate: boneless pork chop (cut in two), kale (my fave!) with big pats of farmer's market butter, and a mix of red onion, red cabbage and apple that I caramelized along with the pork.

Here's my cost breakdown:

2 pork chops: $5.45
1/2 red cabbage, 1/2 red onion, 1 apple: $2.00
cloves, brown sugar, s&p: .50
1/2 bunch kale: $2.00
pb&j that the little one ate as a snack and then wouldn't eat dinner: $1.00
Total: $10.95
That seems like a pretty good price for such a meaty meal. We definitely comparison shopped the price per pound of this pork with no bones compared to bone-in chops and other cuts. We decided to pay a little more but avoid the bones. Seemed like a better deal in the long run, since who knows how much the bone weighed--it looked like it took up a quarter of a chop!

Trying to Eat Cheap: Dinner, Day 17

Tonight's meal was slow cooker chili. I make this recipe at least once a month. I use bulk beans--always kidney and pinto beans, sometimes I'll also add black beans if I have them. I am a little picky with prepping the beans. First I soak them overnight (or longer if I forget about them). I put them in canning jars full of water and just let them swell up for at least 8 hours. Then, I cook them--separately. I just don't like the red kidney beans (or dark black beans) to dye my light pinto beans. Not sure why I'm so particular since everything turns out chili-colored in the end, but that's just my way. For meat, I use ground turkey instead of ground beef. It tastes pretty much the same, but is apparently healthier.

This meal is probably over the 10 dollar mark. The beans maybe cost around $3.00 and the turkey another $3. The onion, peppers, carrot, celery, canned tomatoes, spices and grated cheese probably bump things up to at least $10, maybe more like $12. However, this does make a lot and we had leftovers... maybe we'll be revisiting this chili around Day 19.

Frugal lesson from today: Use cheap beans to bulk up and extend other more pricey ingredients. They'll not only soak up flavor, but they can make the meal larger so you can eat it again another day--for free.

Trying to Eat Cheap: Dinner, Day 16

I guess in a way you could say tonight's dinner was "cheap." But actually it was more like priceless. Our fabulous friends cooked us a fantastic spread of leg of lamb, mixed greens, savory creamy cheesy scalloped potatoes (including sweet potatoes), warm artisanal French bread, plus all the red wine and beer we could ever want. And they brought it all to us, because by a fluke their power went out and they weren't able to host at home as planned. Here's my plate, although this picture doesn't do justice to the giant flavors we were having.

Some details: The lamb was thickly coated in chopped garlic and rosemary--all ingredients local and organic. The scalloped potatoes were made with sage, flat leaf parsley and smoked gruyère, which made it taste like it contained bacon. Also I threw together a few hors d'oeuvres--vegetable sticks, hummus and the store's "cheese of the week," a creamy havarti that we ate in big buttery chunks handed around on a small white plate. It was a great evening with amazing food and even better friends--THANKS P&M!! This should definitely be an annual tradition.

In terms of frugality, the lesson here is to share the good stuff with the people you love. We lucked out tonight because we got to be with some of our favorite people AND we got to share some of their excellent food. Real pleasure. Next it's our turn!

Trying to Eat Cheap: Dinner, Day 15—Potluck

You may notice there is no post for "Trying to Eat Cheap, Day 14"--that's because I was treated to dinner and drinks at the local wine bar. Actually, the local wine bar was closed, so we went across the street to a place that serves small gourmet dishes and also good wine. Yum! We tried a couple different reds, and had a mushroom tart, littlenecks in a greens & bacon broth, and a white truffle VEGAN pate. It wasn't exactly frugal, but my companion very generously covered us both. I'd been looking forward to our get-together all week and it was great.

Day 15 is another interesting twist on frugality--mixing things up with a potluck. It was a surprise birthday potluck, so I made a cheesecake with chocolate crust and chocolate marbling.

I'd say the ingredients for this cheesecake cost around $8.50. In exchange, we had a full meal of all the other potluck items--salad, lots of great cheeses and breads, pasta with some sort of caponata sauce, hot cheesy bean dip with chips (that was my favorite!), plus all manner of other desserts. What a selection and what a deal! Probably having a weekly potluck with a group would be a great way to eat cheap and get a LOT to eat. Maybe this will be one of my "save my sanity" projects as the dark days of winter close in on us.

Trying to Eat Cheap: Dinner, Day 13

Just revisited our monthly budget and got some rather harsh news, mainly that my plans to increase food spending by a tiny bit to make things more interesting aren't really feasible. We've got to keep this belt as tight as possible, period. So no chevre-stuffed chicken breasts with sundried tomatoes any time soon. But maybe I can do something with chicken thighs and feta that will be almost as good. I'll let you know!

Tonight's dinner was based on the rest of the ground beef that I used for sliders on Day 11. I bought a pound and only used half, so made beef stroganoff with the rest.

Frugality breakdown:
1/2 lb. ground beef: 2.00
1 can cream of mushroom soup: 2.29
1 onion & 2 cloves garlic: .90
1/2 cup sour cream: 1.00
1 lb bag of egg noodles: 2.00
small bunch kale: 1.50
Total: 9.69

Trying to Eat Cheap: Dinner, Day 12

No photo today as my camera battery kicked out just as I was getting ready to snap a pic of my TACOS. I always use ground turkey (dark meat) for these, plus Casa Fiesta taco seasoning. I don't usually get into brand names on this blog, but I do so love Casa Fiesta taco seasoning. We were wondering once how it could possibly be so good. Turns out one of the ingredients is chocolate! Case solved.

Here's what went into 6 hard corn tacos:
6 corn taco shells: 2.00
1/2 lb. ground turkey: 2.50
1/2 package Casa Fiesta taco seasoning: .60
3 T sour cream: .50
3 T salsa: .75
grated cheddar cheese: 1.50
1/2 avocado, sliced: 1.00
Total: $8.85

Just for the record, one of the things I don't compromise on price-wise is conventional vs. organic food. I strongly prefer organic or local food, and natural chemical-free meats. I shop at the local health food store and the local farmer's market as much as possible. I think this automatically raises my price point somewhat, and that's OK. That's because I believe that it's not healthy or necessary to get the Absolute Cheapest ingredients available. My frugality goal is to not only eat cheap, but to eat cheap quality foods that aren't going to kill me faster.

Panther: The band, not the cat or the OS

I was so obsessed with just a couple new-to-me bands this summer (Cut Copy anyone? Vampire Weekend?) that I skipped over some other interesting outfits. So I'm going back to appreciate some of what I missed in my excitement. One good thing is Panther, whose latest album is 14 kt. God. What I like about Panther is that of the 4 tracks I know well, each sounds like it's by a completely different group. "Violence, Diamonds" is a cheesy symphony by 90s poseurs that you hate to love, but love nonetheless. "Puerto Rican Jukebox" is an ever-ticking funk punk chant. It would be great jogging music. "On the Lam" is totally delicious 80s-style synth-pop with soaring chorus and incessant loops. It would be a great soundtrack for Breakfast Club corridor out-takes. And "How Well Can You Swim" is just modern and strange-sounding, a monotonous yet insidious track that doesn't say much but gets thoroughly stuck in my head. All this diversity of sound says to me this is one cool band. They're from Portland, OR (just like Menomena and The Helio Sequence, hey!). If you want to see into the mind of the lead-singer-guy, visit Rhinestone Neckbrace. Also see

Beef Jerky Time playlist, 11*5*08
  • Wet & Rusting: Menomena
  • On the Lam: Panther
  • All Too Vivid: Vega
  • Black: Okkervil River
  • Ya-Ya-Ya: Larytta
  • Campus: Vampire Weekend
  • Chandelier Searchlight: Deerhoof
  • Make It So (XXXChange remix): Daedelus
  • The Whip: Trash
  • Paper Planes: M.I.A.
  • How Well Can You Swim: Panther
  • Snowblind: +/-
  • Inspiration Information: Shuggie Otis

Trying to Eat Cheap: A Month of Dinners, Day 11

I'm so full after dinner tonight I can hardly move. I was missing "meat" and "American food" so I wrote myself out a week of dream menus that included Quiche Lorraine, cassoulet, tilapia with mustard sauce and chicken breast stuffed with feta and sundried tomatoes. But first up, garlic sliders with horseradish mayo, waffle fries and beans-in-sauce on the side. I couldn't find any official "slider buns" (surprise surprise, I thought modern supermarkets had EVERYthing), so I used small rolls. They were quite soft, but worked fine. I love the horseradish mayo idea--used Tyler Florence's idea from his Ultimate Burger bar (mix mayo with prepared horseradish, chopped herbs--parsley & chives for me, as usual--olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper).

Here's my breakdown:
1/2 pkg frozen green beans: 1.00
sour cream & parm: .75
1/2 lb. ground beef: 2.00
garlic, egg, bread crumbs, basil: .75
9 brown-n-serve rolls: 2.00
lettuce & condiments: 1.50
horseradish mayo: 1.00
1/2 package of waffle fries: 2.00
Total: 11.00
HA! I knew it! It's possible to eat "normal" food for just a few dollars more than a completely healthy, vegan, whole grain, vitamin laden meal. Just the news I needed. Because it's kind of stressful to both feel cash-strapped and to have to eat very plain food. It's not necessary! Stay tuned for more comparisons between "health food" (days 1-6 and 9) and "regular food" (days 10 & 11) in the days to come, as I try to work out exactly what I can do on a shoestring budget.

Trying to eat cheap: A month of dinners, Day 10--Salmon patties

I'm getting sick of looking at my own heavily-vegetarian posts from the last 9 days. This is what I get when I shop for the lowest possible unit price--rice and beans and many variants thereof. I have some plans to mix things up a little in the coming week. My last 7 meals made at home average about $9.86 each. I'm thinking if I raise my sights by about 25% I could incorporate some more interesting foods--like meat, more condiments, heck maybe some SIDE dishes.

As I plan, here's the recipe for tonight's main course. This is based on yet another recipe from Laurel Glen's Quick Food. They suggest serving it with a lime zest mayonnaise, but lately we've just been using tartar sauce.

1 7.5 oz can salmon (bones & skin OK)
1 egg
1/2 stick celery, cut up
2 potatoes (skin OK)
1/8 t dill
chives or scallions
2 T parsley, chopped
salt & pepper
3/4 cup bread crumbs (make your own!)
olive oil or cooking spray
Cut the potatoes into large chunks and boil for 15 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, put salmon in food processor and blend thoroughly. This helps incorporate the bones & skin. Don't worry, salmon bones are usually soft and should blend in well. I think they are a source of calcium in fact! (Of course you can remove if eating them seems weird.) Add the celery next and blend until well incorporated. Then, add the egg and blend for about 10 seconds more--until mixed. Scrape the sides of the food processor if necessary.


In a large bowl (or the pot you boiled them in), mash the potatoes roughly. It's OK if there are some chunks. I used red potatoes today, as you can see.


Mix the salmon mixture in with the potatoes. Add the chives or scallions, parsley, dill and salt and pepper.


Heat a frying pan, preferably a non-stick one. Form the salmon mixture into patties and put in bread-crumbs. Turn to coat the other side in bread crumbs. Add olive oil to pan if you're using it. Otherwise, spray the down-side of each patty with cooking spray. Place patties in pan.


Cook for about 5 minutes on each side. Makes 6-7 patties. We also had salads.


Here are my cost calculations:
salmon: 1.59 (usually 3.59 but we found it at the scratch & dent store)
potatoes: 2.00
bread crumbs: .75
parsley & chives: free from the garden
egg: .50
celery, s&p, dill: .75
salad stuff: 5.00
total: 10.59

Trying to Eat Cheap: A Month of Dinners, Day 9

This is the 5th or 6th Sunday when I've made buckwheat-butternut-cabbage soup. It's yet another meal-in-a-bowl--very easy to make, vegetarian and healthy. This recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks, Kristina Turner's The Self Healing Cookbook. Basically, if you're interested in macrobiotics, this book should be your bible. I had a four-plus month stint about 8 years ago where I was obsessed with macrobiotic cooking. I ate a lot of brown rice and lost a lot of weight. I also learned what it's like to be Really Hungry. But this soup was a later discovery--maybe if I'd known about it back then, I wouldn't have been trying to eat the linoleum just to fill my tummy with something sustaining.


Here's a "frugality breakdown":
butternut squash: 1.25
buckwheat: .25
onion: .75
wakame (sea vegetable): 1.00
cabbage: 2.00
buttered toast: 1.50 (I guess I have to admit I consider this a legimate side dish)
Total: 6.75
I made this for company a few weeks ago and it's easy to make this fancy--just add lamb meatballs (blend ground lamb with 1 egg, breadcrumbs and cinnamon, form into balls and bake briefly til cooked through, then drop into finished soup). One more note: that's my homebrew in the background.

Trying to Eat Cheap: A Month of Dinners, Day 8

Leftover night. We never managed to eat that whole wheat mac & cheese for lunch, so I revived it (and greatly improved it I think) by turning it into a pasta bake.

I followed a recipe from one of my standby cookbooks, Laurel Glen's Quick Food. We still had about 4 cups of cooked pasta. To fix it up, I started by sautéing 1 chopped small onion in olive oil, then adding in 2 thick slices of ham cut into small squares. Then I added about a cup of cream and a cup of frozen peas and stirred everything together, simmering for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile I put the mac & cheese in a big bowl with a generous sprinkle of basil and about 1 cup of grated cheddar. The sharper the better in this dish, cheddar-wise. Mix in the ham/pea mixture and put in an oiled casserole dish. Top with about 1/2 cup more cheese and cook at 400˚ for 20 minutes. Turns into a bubbly cheesy savory meal. This is a great way to use up leftover pasta--or leftover ham.

Here's my cost breakdown:
leftovers: free
onion: .75
cheese & cream: 2.00
ham: 6.00
peas (on sale!): 1.50
Total: $10.25
Guess what--we still have leftovers.

Trying to Eat Cheap: A Month of Dinners, Day 7

Fail! We didn't eat cheap tonight. Not a bit. But we had fun! The mister surprised me with a spontaneous night out at the pub. Total cost: $40.06. Here's the pretty-good mushroom/cheddar/horseradish burger I had, with spicy fries. His steak'n'cheese is in the background.


A plate of chicken tenders is off camera and another plate of jalapeno poppers already in our tummies. Beverages were also consumed. Hey, it's Friday, we gotta live a little.

Trying to Eat Cheap: A Month of Dinners, Day 6

FREE FOOD! This is the ultimate in frugality--attend an event with a nice spread and, even better, culture. We attended a fabulous spread at the local museum--I have never in my life seen cheese and crackers spread out to the very edge of a table cloth, right ON the table cloth. This photo makes it look kind of small, but I think there were about 24 square feet of hors d'ouevres here, including an excellent smoked fish with shaved red onions and a smooth garlic dip. (The dip is that spoon sticking up in the far upper right.)


In addition, servers worked the room with trays of spicy turkey meatballs and havarti puffs. And as you can see in the foreground: free wine. The event was to promote a visit of the Moscow Ballet to benefit a local children's health cause. Yes, this was our whole dinner.

Trying to Eat Cheap: A Month of Dinners, Day 5—Slow Cooker Barley Soup

I wasn't planning on posting a recipe today, but this soup was so freaking good I want to share. I'm proud of it! Here's the scoop.


Slow Cooker Barley Soup


  • 1 cup hulled barley
  • 8 cups water
  • 8 chicken thighs
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 6-8 white mushrooms, cut into chunks
  • 1 large carrot, cubed
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • sprig fresh rosemary, destemmed and chopped
  • sprig fresh lemon thyme, destemmed and chopped
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 T butter
  • 2 T sake or dry white wine

Step 1: The night before, soak the barley in about 3 cups water. Prep all the veggies and, if you're into it, store in 3 separate containers: one for carrots + bay leaf + herbs, one for garlic + onion + celery, one for mushrooms. Also, cut the chicken thighs into bite size pieces.

Step 2: In the morning (I do this before work), drain the barley and put it in your slow cooker along with the carrots/herbs and the water. Heat the olive oil and butter together and sauté the onions etc. until glassy and soft. Add the chicken thighs and stir until they've started to whiten on all sides. Then, add the mushrooms and the sake/wine, and cover. Simmer for a few minutes until the mushrooms have started to shrink and soften. Add everything to the slow cooker.

Step 3: Cook on low for 8+ hours. Serve with hot buttered toast.

This is a simple warming soup that is super tasty and filling. This is the first time I've made it with lemon thyme, and I think this herb is really something special. I'll guess this is about a $12 soup. Serves 3 with plenty of leftovers.

Happy Guy Fawkes Day

I was born during the Nixon Administration. In my lifetime, I have liked the following presidents:
  • Gerald Ford
  • Bill Clinton
I know they've each had ISSUES of various kinds. One was never elected. The other was impeached. But I find them likeable guys. Today, I find it mind-boggling but exciting to think about having another president that I might like. You go, Barack Hussein Obama.

Trying to Eat Cheap: A Month of Dinners, Day 4

Today's selection is vegetarian AGAIN. My guy suggested that we build a meal around a jar of red pepper tapenade we had in the cupboard. It was a gift and looked tasty. He brought home a baguette and we decided to do a bruschetta-type thing. We split the loaf, spread it with tapenade, and melted parmesan and cheddar cheese on top. I also sliced up a bunch of dinosaur kale and steam-fried it with garlic, olive oil and Trocomare (spicy herb salt, yum!). So for today's math:
baguette $3.50
tapenade, free
cheeses $2.00
kale $2.00
garlic, oil, salt, etc. $2.00
Total: $9.50 (or $14.50 if you had to buy the tapenade)
Also, because it was election night or something, I made myself a margarita. But I'm not adding that in to my costs. That's just found art.

Trying to Eat Cheap: A Month of Dinners, Day 3—Aduki Huevos Rancheros

Here's tonight's dinner--huevos rancheros made with aduki beans. Basically it's aduki beans cooked with vegetables, then refried with some eggs and cheese and served over corn tortillas with salsa. This photo doesn't have the salsa yet--I like to have that on the table so people can add their own.

The recipe below serves 8, but I made a smaller version for tonight. Let's see: 6 eggs is about $2.50, the bean ingredients were probably $3, we maybe used another $3 of shredded cheese and salsa. So looks like another dinner for under $10--I'm doing OK so far! One further note on aduki beans--not only are they cheap, they don't require any soaking and seem far easier on the digestive system than larger beans.

Aduki Huevos Rancheros

2 cups aduki beans
1 piece kelp
6 cups water
1 large yam or 1 cup cubed butternut squash
2 Tbsp vegetable oil or lard
1 Tbsp chili powder (at least)
8 eggs
1 cup shredded cheddar
1 jar favorite salsa
1 package small corn tortillas
tabasco sauce

Step 1: Prepare the beans—you can do this a few days in advance and refrigerate them. Wash the beans and pick out any strange-looking ones. Put them to boil with the kelp and 4 cups of water. Simmer on low-heat, using a heat disperser under the pot. Stir occasionally. After about an hour, add the yam or squash and 2 more cups of water. Continue to simmer until yam or squash is tender and most of water is absorbed (about another hour). If the beans are starting to dry out during cooking, add more water. Cool and refrigerate.

Step 2: Heat the tortillas as described on the package. For mine, I wrapped them all in foil and put them in the oven while I cooked the eggs.

Step 3: Refry the beans. Heat the oil or lard in a large skillet (mine is over a foot in diameter). Add the bean/yam mixture and the chili powder and stir together. Use a potato masher or just a regular spoon to mush everything up. Continue to simmer, uncovered, until most of the liquid is gone (when you stir, the beans ooze back into the holes slowly).

Step 4: Break 8 eggs into the pan. My beans were still runny enough that I couldn't really make "pockets" to hold the eggs, but the weight of the egg made its own pocket. I found that 1 egg in the middle with 7 around it fit perfectly in my pan. Cover and cook for at least 5 minutes--until yolks are firm when pressed from the top. Sprinkle with cheese and cover for another couple minutes until cheese melts.

Step 5: To serve, put 2 warm tortillas on each plate and scoop an egg and the surrounding beans onto each tortilla. People can add their own salsa and tabasco sauce to the top. Serves 4.

Trying to eat cheap: A Month of Dinners, Day 2

Tonight was whole wheat macaroni & cheese with steamed broccoli. There was a lot of mac & cheese left over. The pasta & sauce ingredients probably cost around $10.00 total. The broccoli was a gift, but if it was purchased I'd guess around $3.00. So that's a $13.00 meal. We'll also get a lunch out of it some other day.

Note on the mac & cheese--I used a "Cooking Light" recipe that had no butter or oil. I was supposed to use low-fat cream cheese as well (I did) and low-fat cheddar (I did not). It wasn't as cheesy as I would have liked, but the sauce had crushed garlic, Dijon mustard and Worcestershire in it, so I'll keep the recipe around to riff on some other time.

Enjoying not new music

Usually I scope out a bunch of new tunes every few weeks so I can keep my radio show, Beef Jerky Time, fresh and cool and interesting. But I haven't had time to sit down and research good new music for ages. My library is in pretty good shape though, so I can still put together good shows "from the stacks." Here are two recent ones--an all-jazz show 2 weeks ago, and a "soundtrack" edition last week. All streaming live on WVEW, Weds nites from 7-8pm Eastern.

10*22*08--Jazz edition
  • St. Thomas: Sonny Rollins
  • Blue Skies (Irving Berlin): Ella Fitzgerald
  • What's Your Story, Morning Glory (Jimmie Lunceford): American Jazz Orchestra
  • Baby, It's Cold Outside: Jimmy Smith & Weds Montgomery
  • My Fate Is In Your Hands: Butch Thompson
  • So Near & Yet So Far (Cole Porter): Bobby Short
  • Doddlin': Horace Silver
  • Egyptian Fantasy: Sidney Bechet
  • You've Been a Good Old Wagon: Dinah Washington
  • Too Much of a Good Thing: Coleman Hawkins
  • Time on My Hands: Ben Webster Quintet
  • East St. Louis Toodle-Oo: Duke Ellington

  • Dr. Who theme
  • Lust for Life: Iggy Pop (from Trainspotting)
  • Needle in the Camel's Eye: Brian Eno (from Velvet Goldmine)
  • Maniac: Michael Sambello (from Flashdance)
  • Pachanga Diferente: René Tourzet (from Bottle Rocket)
  • Pretty in Pink: Psychedelic Furs (from Pretty in Pink)
  • Lined Up: Elastica (from Mallrats)
  • A quoi sert de vivre libre: Fanny Ardant (from 8 Women)
  • You Can Get It If You Really Want: Jimmy Cliff (from The Harder They Come)
  • Look Sharp!: Joe Jackson (from Freaks & Geeks)
  • Nothing In This World Can Stop Worryin' Bout That Girl: The Kinks (from Rushmore)
  • Beauty School Dropout: Frankie Avalon (from Grease)
  • TV Party: Black Flag (from Repo Man)
  • Put Your Dreams Away (for Another Day): Ruth Lowe (from Lolita)
  • Against All Odds: Phil Collins (from Against All Odds)
  • Rollin' with my Homies: Coolio (from Clueless)
  • With These Hands: Tom Jones (from Edward Scissorhands)
  • Moonlighting theme: Al Jarreau

Keeping Homebrew Notes

Great news: I tried the beer that I brewed from a kit back in September. It's excellent! I'm really pleased with how it came out--it does taste like a Pilsner, with just a soft hint of Old Speckled Hen (something about the foam). Nice sharp-but-small bubbles. Nice sharp taste. Hoppy, clear, golden. YUM. I know I complained about that kit and how it wasn't "hands-on." But I am so impressed with the results that now I want another kit that's exactly the same!

Bad news: I have one problem with my replication plans. I don't know what kind of yeast I used. Because I wanted something like a lager, the brew store guy removed the yeast that was part of the kit and gave me a different kind of yeast. All I know is it was in a yellow package... or maybe a pink package... and it might have been Danish... or not. I just used it and--here's my grave error--threw away the package without writing it down.

I know, I know. Keeping good notes is a key part of brewing well. I have failed. Now I have a great beer on my hands and I'm horrified that I won't be able to make any more! What was I thinking? I guess I was thinking, "This is just an experiment, it's a dry run, I'm just getting started again after 5 years, there's no way this will be fantastic, if it's just drinkable I'll be happy and I'll have learned something." Well, it seems pretty fantastic. And yeah, I've learned something.

To really hammer my lesson home, I went back to my last brew notes from 2003, when I was making single-gallon batches of herbal beers. (Somehow I lost my notebook from 1998-2002.) Here are some useful things to write down when brewing:
  • All ingredients, including names, brand names, and measurements. You can even staple yeast packets and malt labels into your notebook if you want.
  • At what point (time) during the boil (or after) you add each item
  • Length of boil
  • Specific gravity at each step (before fermenting, when switching fermenters, when bottling)
  • Running notes on color, smell, effervescence, taste (if you taste it--I usually can't resist taking a swig at the bottling step), yeast activity, etc.
  • Dates for each step
  • Temperature or at least general atmosphere (dark? cool? warm? light?) of the place where you put your fermenter(s)
  • Any music that you played to your beer during the process (hey, it might make a difference! Yeast are animals, you know. Do you want to soothe them with Vivaldi? Or get them jumping with some dueling banjos?)

Trying to eat cheap: A Month of Dinners, Day 1

I'm wondering if I really do cook as frugally as I think I do. So I had a crazy idea to post every dinner I make/eat for a whole month. I don't know how realistic that is. But here's what we had tonight--dal (basically thick yellow split pea soup) with kale, over brown rice. I figure the peas & rice were probably about $3.00, the kale maybe another buck or so. There are also seasonings--cumin, ground coriander, garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric. I made the stock earlier from vegetable scraps--basically compost--so I'd say that's free. I'm going to guesstimate that this whole dinner comes in under $10.00.

OMG, time change tonight! I'm planning to TOTALLY use this to my advantage on the exercise front. Getting up at 6am will be a lot easier when it seems like I'm getting up at 7am. (That's how it works right? Math class is hard.) This will be my 8th week of 5-days-a-week running. I only missed one day so far, and that was today. Call it Halloween's fault--I was just LAZY today.