Tuesday, June 24, 2014

5 Intensely Cheap Recipes

Every once in a while Yahoo (or whoever) will run an article boasting a recipe for cheap food--something like salmon that comes out to something like $3 or $4 per serving. I'm not bashing that, but it doesn't impress me. Every time I read those articles I think, "That's just homemade food; homemade food is always cheap." And it is. Or at least cheaper than it's restaurant or TV dinner counterparts. But that's not really really cheap. And really really cheap is what I want to talk about today.

Really really cheap is what you need if you already make most of your food at home, but still need to pinch a grocery penny. Really really cheap is how people have survived through famines and depressions, war rationing, and other shortages. And every once in a while, even in our so-privileged-we-don't-always-remember-we're-privileged society, we need to cut back severely and it's really really cheap that comes along to save the day. Here are some ideas for eating well, but crazy dirt cheap--like, less than $.50/serving.

I should note that it's helpful to find yourself a super cheap store in which to buy your food. In the Midwest we've got Aldi and Ruler Foods. These super cheap stores are the type of stores where every single item is (almost always) cheaper than Walmart. These stores are little gems of cheapskaterlyness. Most of my pricing is based on these stores. That said, you can generally find super cheap produce (and other cool things) at Asian stores. Or shop sales. Or with coupons. But even if you don't do any of those things, these foods are the cheapest there are.

1. Rice and beans and beans and rice. It doesn't have to be unpleasant. Check out these crock pot re-fried beans. Serve them with rice if you want a meal for less than $.25/person. But if you're, like, rich and stuff, you can serve them with tortillas and a little cheese, or maybe some salsa or garden tomatoes. Or sauteed peppers. Or whatever awesome summer veggies sound good. A whole pot of beans (4-8 servings) costs $.35-.40. That is $.05-.10/serving. This (with all due respect to those fabulously well-written Yahoo articles) is cheap. But it is still oh-so-good.

2. Lentils. They're a legume that's quick, cheap, and healthy. Not everyone loves them. Some people hate them. I believe that if there's a solution for that problem, it is this dal. I have tried dozens of dals and lentil soups, but this is the best I've found (by a good long shot in my humble opinion). Even my husband--a devout lentil hater--likes it. This comes up to about $.50/serving. Add a tortilla or somekindawonderful naan and you're up to a whopping $.60, you big spenders you. (And, yes, you will be full. And happy. And full. )

(Note: This is the Coconut Red Lentil Dal--it's my second favorite and it had prettier pictures.)

3. Eggs Eggs Eggs. You can eat them a billion ways. Recently I posted a Dutch Baby recipe, which is a fabulous way to dress them up, but these deviled eggs can't be beat either. Add a seasonal salad and you're set. Two deviled eggs (4 halves) are going to run you about $.20/serving. Add yourself a cucumber tomato salad and you're going to add another $.50 (with summer seasonal veggies). Note: I get that if you're a man or teenage boy, this might not tide you over, but it's pretty filling and satisfying for me. And there's always bread....(see number 5).

4. Potatoes. This is our favorite potato soup. And this one--a close second for me--has a potato base, but also boasts a whole lotta spinach. More spinach than the average American eats in a meal or likely a week. More spinach than the stereotypical poor person (should he or she actually exist) ever eats. And that for $.40/bowl.

5. Bread. Oh poor bread. It's gotten such a sad, bad name for itself in recent years. But bread is cheap. And it can be healthy. During the summer, after I've made some homemade jam (which I do once or twice a summer because I think it's fun and awesome), one of my favorite things in this world to do is to make a loaf of bread, eat it with some fresh jam, and a bowl of fruit thereby. It's like heaven on a table. It's like mid-summer Thanksgiving. We all love it. Bread is also a great receptacle for eggs, cheese, nut butters, and other healthy stuff. This 100% whole wheat bread is classic and delicious ($1.15/large loaf). Want one that's dumb easy (and doesn't require kneading of any sort)? Try this refrigerator bread ($.50/loaf). Or this one-hour bread ($.45/loaf).

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dutch Babies with Whey (with option Lemon Butter)

I think that one of the secrets to super cheap eating is that sometimes (as in at least once a week), you eat a meal that is intensely cheap.

Dutch babies (otherwise known as German pancakes) are the perfect fit. Generally made with eggs, milk, flour, and a bit of butter, a pan-ful can usually be made for about $.50. They can be topped with savory toppings like sauteed greens or mushrooms. Or sweet things like syrup, powdered sugar or fruit.

(oh, look, it's like a 3-eyed strawberry monster with creepy blueberry teeth--and this is what happens when i try to pose my food)

These are even more exciting because they use whey. Okay, so that's only exciting if you make homemade yogurt or cheese. (Note: If you don't have whey you can absolutely use regular milk in these.) If you make yogurt or cheese (and this crock pot Greek yogurt is as stupid easy as they come), you will know that after all is said and done you have a bunch of whey. Now some of those foods (like crock pot Greek yogurt--shameless 2nd plug) are so cheap to make that throwing out the whey is not a terrible financial crime, but whey does carry with it some of the proteins and calcium from the milk. And sometimes it feels a shame (and a waste) to just toss those nutrients out. And yet, if you've ever made yogurt or cheese, you know that you can be just drowning in whey. What to do with it all? This is just one idea. And it's a good one--it doesn't feel like you're subbing in whey at all. If feels like it was born to be made with whey.

And cost? This meal comes up to about $.12/serving. And, yes, that is what I mean by a super cheap meal. I will confess that a serving of Dutch babies might not fill you up (depending on how big/hungry you are), but two servings (at $.25) would more than fill me up, plus they leave plenty of wiggle room in the budget for a side of fruit, salad, nuts, or whatever.

Dutch Babies with Whey
adapted from Smells Like Brownies
serves 4
Makes 1 10-inch skillet of food
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cost: $.55
eggs: .30, whey (free, but milk would be .10), flour: .10, butter: .15

-This is for a 10-inch skillet. I only have a 12, so I added an egg and upped the whey and milk by a couple tablespoons each and that worked.
-You must use a skillet that is oven proof.
-If you'd like you can double this and make it in a 9x13 inch pan.

3 eggs
2/3 C whey (or milk)
2/3 C flour
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 450 (yup--hot). As it preheats, put the butter into the pan and let it melt while the oven heats.

Mix together eggs, whey, flour, and vanilla. (A few lumps are no big deal.)

When you're butter is melted and your oven is HOT, pour the batter into the pan, right over top the butter (some of the butter will likely come to the top of your batter--that's okay).

Bake for 15-20 minutes (I pulled mine out at 17). This is going to puff up into a crazy puff monster and the edges will brown. You'll know it's ready when the edges are brown.

Take it out of the oven. (Note: Don't forget to use a hot pad. Maybe that sounds like a no brainer, but when you see a pan, sometimes you just grab the handle because it's, well, a pan. This pan handle is 450 degrees. For the love of epidermis, do not grab it without a hot pad.) It will immediately deflate like this (see that butter up top).

Cut and serve. We served this with some lemon butter (1/8 C melted butter, 1/8 C powdered sugar, 1-2 Tbsp lemon) and fruit. (Note: The lemon butter will add $.45 to the cost of your meal.)


Monday, June 16, 2014

Black Rice Wraps

Never heard of black rice? It's okay; I hadn't either. And then a few weeks ago, there I was at our co-op picking up my raw milk, like a properly crunchy mother. And there in the bulk bins was black rice. It was beautiful, like little slivers of onyx. Which may not have quite been enough to win my heart except that my picky picky son who loves rice wanted to buy some. So we did. Just a little to test it out.

I had no idea what to do with it. Did I cook it like normal rice? Were there dishes people made with such a food? Turns out that black rice is actually crazy healthy. It's a whole grain rice with all the anti-oxidants associated with purple foods (think blueberries and acai berries). In ancient China the nobles did what nobles do and they took it all and forbade the peasants to have any at all. Thus, it is often called "forbidden rice." Which, I don't know, just makes it seem even more cool, doesn't it (not the whole repression of peasants thing, but the title--"forbidden rice")?

For our first foray into Forbidden Rice, we made...wait for it...rice. That's right--I wanted to see how it would taste when we just made it, well, like normal. And guys--it was really good. I mean, I don't want to amp it up too much and make you think it will taste like chocolate. It is still rice and all, but it was very very tasty rice. It had a more complex flavor with more depth and nuttiness--I would almost say sweetness (you'll be seeing a black rice pudding on here soon). So it had the whole grain goodness of brown rice with the semi-sweetness of white rice. And then it had something else--something complex and nutty. Also, it's a very very dark purple when cooked. Seriously, I loved it.

Maybe that's unfortunate because for rice (motto: cheapest food on earth), it is expensive. Not quite organic raw nut expensive, but definitely much more expensive than we normally pay for our grains. Ours rang up at a little over $4/pound. Also, you will probably not find it in a normal grocery store. You'll likely find it in a health foods store or perhaps an Asian market. It is the hope of my heart that it gains popularity in the U.S. and becomes a bit more accessible and less expensive (less "forbidden" if you will--ha ha, why am I too funny). For now, I will enjoy it for what it is--which is not a cheap side dish, but a wholesome and delicious main course. Or--as is sort of the case in today's dish--a delightful and complex component of your next burrito. 

People often use black beans in burritos. I like black beans okay and they're good for you, but my family won't touch a black bean so they usually get left out. But this. This was better than black beans and without the texture of black beans (which is what my family dislikes). Yet it added the color and a pleasant textural contrast to the wrap. It was just good. And simple. And the family didn't hate it. And you don't need a ton so nobody has to break the bank.

Here's how we made them.

Black Rice Wraps

You'll need:

Ground beef
Pork and beans
Cheese (sharp cheddar is my favorite, but knock yourselves out with whatever)
cream cheese
black rice
corn, cooked/warmed

Step 1: Cook your black rice. It's like cooking brown rice.
-Add 1 C rice to a pot with 2-2 1/2 C water.
-Bring to a boil.
-Reduce to simmer.
-Cook for 40-45 minutes or until very tender.
-Note: If you'd like to reduce your cooking time, you can soak your rice for 1-8 hours. Then your rice needs a bit less water and only takes about 25 minutes to cook. Of course, then you have to have several hours of foresight, but it is my understanding that there are people like this in the world. As for me, I think these wraps are just the perfect way to use up leftover rice. Then you've got a 15-minute meal and you don't waste you $4/lb rice. Win win. 

Step 2: I made a batch of cheap ground beef by using my favorite beef cheapening technique: I combined ground beef and a can of pork and beans (yeah, you heard me). Even for chief bean hater among us (that'd be my husband), this is a hit. The pork and beans adds a bit of a sauce and a bit of something barbeque-y to the beef, which he loves. The ratio is 1 pound ground beef to one can of beans.

Step 3: Warm your tortilla (if you wish).

Step 4: Layer tortilla with beef/bean mixture, then a scoop of cooked rice, then cheese, corn, salsa, and sour cream.

Step 5: Wrap it up. Told you it was good.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Rainbow Salad

This salad is super fun and super crunchy (both literally and figuratively). It is super pretty and super yummy. It is super healthy and super raw. It is, in a word, super. (In case you missed that.)

Also, it makes a rainbow. Well, sort of. I mean as much as any salad could make a rainbow. There are the dark red cherries or cranberries, the orange-ish red apples, the yellow sunflower seeds, the green edamame, the blue kale (yes, it is missing in this picture--I ate all my kale and had to sub in some lettuce), and of course the purple cabbage. Some of those colors may be a wee bit of a stretch, I admit, but still--throw them all into a bowl and I'll be darned if it doesn't feel like you're eating a rainbow.

Also, even though this salad is super healthy, it doesn't feel at all spartan; it feels indulgent. I love that in a salad.

And price? The bulk of this salad is made up of super cheap foods--cabbage, apples, kale. These pretties can all usually be found for under $1/pound. I'd never bought edamame before and was surprised that it wasn't a bank-breaker either (you can find it in the frozen foods section--my package was $1). And the more expensive cranberries and sunflower seeds--those you just need a bit of.

This salad recipe came with its own dressing, which was delicious. It will be posted below. However, I found myself using the Treehouse dressing (which is dumb easy) on it as well and I think most simple/sweetish dressings would rock it.

Rainbow Salad
adapted from The Spicy RD
Makes a whole bunch (I did not make this whole recipe--I halved it; it probably makes 12-14 servings)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cost: $7.00 (or about $.50/serving)
cabbage: 2.00, kale: 1.00, berries: .75, edamame: .50, sunflower seeds: .50, apples: 1.00, olive oil: .75, other stuff: .50


3/4 C olive oil
1/4 C balsamic or apple cider vinegar (I used apple cider)
1 Tbsp maple syrup (the real stuff)
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp salt

Combine in tight-lidded jar or mini-blender. Blend/mix until emulsified (oil and vinegar combined). Let it sit for flavors to meld if you've got the time. Otherwise, you're still good.


Note: I give these as a guideline only. I noticed after making this a few times that I liked my salad a little cabbage heavy, and that I could easily just throw in a little of this and a little of that and it was awesome.

2-3 C chopped kale
3 C chopped purple cabbage
3/4 C dried berries (I used cranberries that are tart)
1/2 C shelled edamame, thawed
1/2 C raw sunflower seeds (roasted work too, but I love raw seeds)
2 C apples (a tart one is nice; I used pink lady; Granny Smith would be good too)

Toss ingredients together. Add salad dressing.


Sunday, June 8, 2014


I realize that sometimes this blog is a little schizophrenic. Sometimes it's got really healthy foods--the kind most of us would have gawked at when we were kids. The kind that would shock my mother if she knew I were eating them. The kind full of vegetables and ingredients I'd never even heard of until a few years ago. And sometimes it's got desserts--decadent, fattening, sugary desserts. This is kind of how I eat. Really well most of the time and then, sometimes, I treat myself, but not with any old candy (I haven't eaten a full candy bar for over 15 years), but with something I consider really amazing.

So it stands to reason that I had trouble deciding what to make for Secret Recipe Club this month. When I got the blog, Smells Like Brownies, I figured I would just have to make a treat. But then there were these really delicious looking healthy foods. I wanted to make the Lentil Chickpea Salad, the Couscous Stuffed Eggplant, the Dutch baby with whey(!--perfect for when I make yogurt), and the Spanikopita strudels.... I ended up making the Lentil Chickpea Salad and I thought, "This salad is it; it's delicious and it's what I'm posting. And then I realized that I've done a salad for Secret Recipe club for the last two months. And that I haven't done a sweet from SRC for a long time...and I'd been assigned a blog called Smells Like Brownies for heaven's sake. So I trolled around for some sweets and found these Camp Hanover Fudgies. We were going camping that weekend and I can see the hand of fate when it slaps me in the face. So I made them for us to take. They're a lot like no bake cookies, only with less oatmeal so that they're fudgier and shinier. And yummy. Really really yummy. They're just super simple and super good. (P.S. They do smell like brownies.) Make them.

from Smells Like Brownies
Makes about 2 dozen
Prep time: 5 minutes
Set time: 20 minutes
Cost: $1.65
butter: .50, sugar: .25, cocoa: .10, milk: .10, peanut butter: .50, oats: .20

1/2 C (1 stick) butter
1 3/4 C sugar
3 Tbsp cocoa
1/2 C milk
1/2 C peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 C oats

Combine butter, sugar, cocoa, and milk in a saucepan. Mix together as the butter melts. Stir constantly at medium heat until this starts to boil. When it starts to boil (as in--when those first few bubbles pop the surface), stop stirring and let boil for exactly 1 minute. This is important--as in 'set a timer.' If you go too long, your cookies will get chalkie (and maybe burnt). If you don't go long enough, they will not set up and you'll have some kind of funky (yet still surely delicious) hot fudge sauce.

After one minute of boiling, remove from heat and whisk in peanut butter and vanilla.

Then add the oatmeal.

Spread parchment paper on your counter and drop spoonfuls of this onto the parchment paper.

Let set until cool (or, like, spoon the stuff into your mouth like pudding--I won't judge you).


Monday, June 2, 2014

Red Velvet Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting

I'm kind of a red velvet fanatic. I guess anyone is who posts red velvet recipes in June instead of the appropriate month (February in case you were wondering--red velvet is often a Valentine's recipe). I don't know what it is about red velvet things. The good ones are dense with a tight, moist crumb, and just delicious. For some reason they're always tastier to me than the same recipe would be without the food coloring. And no, I don't know why. And, yes, maybe that's in my head. But, no, I don't really think it is. 

I made these for our end of school piano recital and they were a hit (they were also really pretty for minimal effort). I'm really glad I had the pigginess to sneak one before we went to the recital because I did not get one once we were there.

They embody the red velvet cake in spirit while being much easier to make. Don't worry, you can complicate them if you wish. For the 4th of July, I'm thinking about making a pan of red and then a pan of blue and then we cut red cake with star shapes cut out and then blue stars and then we put the blue stars in the red cake and visa versa. Come on, it'd be crazy awesome. And, you know, just crazy (I mean, did you even follow that sentence--I almost got lost in it myself). I'll let you know if the madness overtakes me. If not, you could still keep with a nice red/white/blue theme--You could do these red bars with white frosting and blue sprinkles (maybe even blue star sprinkles) and then your holiday is complete and nobody has to be committed to the looney bin. That's what I call win win.

Red Velvet Bars
adapted from The Recipe Critic
Makes 1 9x13 inch pan
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cool time: 1-2 hours
Cost: $6.85 (sounds expensive and it is compared to brownies or wacky cake, but still only about $.25/bar if you cut 24 bars)
flour: .40, cocoa: .25, butter: 1.00, sugar: .20, eggs: .10, food coloring: 2.00, other stuff: .10
cream cheese: 2.00, butter: .50, powdered sugar: .30

3 1/3 C flour
1/4 C cocoa
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 C butter, softened (quite a bit)
1 1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp red food coloring (yup, it's a lot--about a 1-ounce bottle--those are the big bottles)

Cream Cheese Frosting:
2 8-oz cubes of cream cheese, softened
1/2 C butter, softened
1 Tbsp sour cream
2 C powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

For the bars:

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Line your pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper and then spray that.

Cream butter and sugar for several minutes--2-3. It should be light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, then vanilla. Add food coloring.

To this add your dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, salt,and baking powder). I always just throw them in and then give them a swirl together for my "sifting." However if your cocoa is chunky (as mine sometimes is), then sift it or get those chunks out.

Beat together dry and wet. It will make a sort of loose batter/soft dough. Press this into your pan. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs (I usually shoot for moist crumbs).

Cool before frosting (for reals or your frosting will melt).

For frosting:

Beat together cream cheese, butter, and sour cream. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat together until smooth.

Frost the cooled bars.



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