The cheap and the supercheap

So maybe I mentioned how in love I am with my new iPod nano. It is so cute and sleek. It is easy to use and charge and update. It has games and family photos on it. I am slowly and lovingly crafting the Ultimate Running Mix. I put all my kid's music in one playlist so it's easy to find. And I have rediscovered podcasts.

I first got into podcasts in 2007 with a clunky little mp3 player that has since ceased to communicate with my computer at all. I downloaded a LOT of Manic Mommies and dabbled around with other stuff that seemed interesting based on its iTunes icon. (Note: icons not good indicators of content.) Now that I have the gorgeous iPod interface, it's been a welcome break from audio books to get into podcasts again! Besides Manic Mommies, I of course listen to This American Life, also Scotland's Funny Bits, Behind the Bar Show, and The Splendid Table--"the show for people who love to eat." I am really enjoying this last one and the deep friendly voice of host Lynne Rossetto Kasper solving all our food questions and dilemmas. Apparently this show has been around for ages, but I am only just discovering its joys and the jolly genius of LRK.

So that brings me to food. Turns out that The Splendid Table, in keeping with the times, has a section on their site called "Splendid Cheap Eats." The goal is a panoply of cheap-o recipes that listeners and visitors can use to maybe save some pennies. LRK mentions it on every show, but I never got around to visiting until she described her mouthwatering recipe for 21st Century Mac and Cheese. It sounded so good, I had to try it!

Now for regular visitors, you might remember my Trying to Eat Cheap Series from last November--a series I may pick up again this summer, when I can use fresh produce instead of LENTILS. Eyeballing this mac & cheese recipe, I saw a couple stumbling blocks to my cheap-eating goals. The first is the inclusion of Gruyère cheese. That stuff is just not cheap! I used some American Swiss slices and tore them up into bits as a substitute. Next, "good quality, extra-sharp cheddar" is not very cheap either. However, I think it's an important ingredient taste wise, so I splurged on some Cabot Hunter's Seriously Sharp cheddar. My last issue with this recipe was a purely personal problem--it calls for 12 saltines. I just never eat saltines. But they sounded like a very important ingredient (coated in butter, spread on top, browned, MM!). So I ended up spending $4.39 to get the only size box I could find. That size would be... one pound. My saltine needs are met for the next 3 years!

I whipped up this recipe for dinner a couple nights ago. It was, if not really cheap, really good. Only our smallest family member complained because it was not BRIGHT ORANGE like she thinks all Mac & Cheese should be. (If I make this again, I'll have to investigate using some annatto or something so it looks "normal" to her!) But here's my problem. I had boiled up too much pasta and it didn't fit in my baking dish, so I refrigerated it for some unspecified use. And I bought 8 ounces of cream cheese but only needed 5. Then, I got home a bit later than usual tonight and needed to make dinner pronto for Miss Orange Mac & Cheese. What to do?

I went supercheap.

Here's my emergency recipe. I call it Mac & Cheese with Easter Leftovers.
  • Take several slices of leftover Easter ham. Cut into squares and sauté.
  • Add a generous pat of butter and stir.
  • Add about 1.5 cups of cold whole wheat macaroni.
  • "Crumble" 3 ounces of cream cheese over all. (The Splendid Table uses this verb but it is like crumbling Play-Doh--you tear it into goopy hunks and scatter it, then wash your hands a lot.)
  • Pour in about 1/4 cup of milk.
  • Stir together until heated through, breaking up the cream cheese as you go.
Done. It took me 15 minutes to throw this together and it tasted fabulous. If you don't have Easter ham, some minced slab bacon might do. (I've discovered this recently--all in a hunk, ready to cut, cheaper than slices!) Little One didn't even complain that it wasn't orange. And because it was all made of leftovers that had no real purpose, it was kind of... FREE!

Thanks to Gladys Glover for supporting me in actually trying a Splendid Cheap Eats recipe!

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